'Daredevil' and the Diminishing Returns of Netflix's Binging Model

Will Netflix's current tactics affect the future of the Marvel show?

Daredevil Trailer
Netflix

The third season of Daredevil hit Netflix back in October, featuring everything you’ve come to expect from the Marvel show– a delightfully show-offy single take fight, long monologues from Vincent D’Onofrio, and a whole lot of Catholic guilt. And while season three fired on all cylinders, there was very little buzz surrounding the season, which came and went with minimal fanfare.

When Daredevil‘s first season premiered back in 2015, it was a pretty huge deal. Released just weeks before Avengers: Age of Ultron, the highly anticipated follow-up to the 2012 mega-hit, season one couldn’t have hit at a better time. While fans were busy going over every detail of the trailers, along came an exciting, well-made show, rebooting one of Marvel’s most popular characters in a fresh context.

And the show was popular enough to launch the Netflix corner of the MCU, with shows that range from equally as strong (Jessica Jones) to a bloated mess (Iron Fist). Throughout this experiment though, some problems have emerged– from overlong seasons to the sameness of these shows, giving viewers less and less incentive to power through another season.

An early complaint of Marvel’s Netflix output was that at thirteen episodes, these shows suffered from slow pacing and overlong mid-sections. And while this was less of an issue early on, with each new installment following the same structure and decreasing in quality, this would become an ongoing problem. The idea of binging thirteen hours of television is certainly less appealing when the show in question is barely worth getting through.

And this issue also extended to a number of the streaming service’s other shows, with shows like Ozark proving that less is more in some cases. Just look to HBO’s recent stream of perfectly paced miniseries for examples of how to keep an audience hooked. And with a combination of bloated storytelling and entire seasons dropping at once, it’s easy to understand why the Netflix model may now be exhausting to some.

The same also goes for the sheer amount of content Netflix is putting out these days, and the rapid pace at which we’re expected to consume it all. Even just on the Marvel side, this season of Daredevil landed only a month after Iron Fist‘s latest crop of episodes, which doesn’t exactly leave much room for anticipation. And that’s to say nothing of their always-increasing selection of original shows, movies, documentaries, and stand-up specials. We, therefore, have to be considerably more picky as viewers and cut certain things out (hands up who skipped IF season 2).

And due to all this, the single dump of thirteen episodes can end up feeling like something of a chore. Especially when the next big show is about to release its new season in another week, with much of the conversation moving on to that. Although, yes, “having too many shows to watch” is the definition of first world problems, this binging model has changed a lot about the way television is created and consumed.

Conversations around shows have gone from weekly dissections of the latest episode to a race to finish and questions of “how far are you?.” Which, to be fair, can be fun in itself, but does have the effect of steering the conversation away from the merits of each episode, to a season of television being discussed as one long movie. And while settling into binge a new show can also be enjoyable; it isn’t nearly as fun as week-to-week discussions, recaps, and speculation.

But Netflix may be looking to change this. They’ve already given weekly releases to comedy shows like The Break with Michelle Wolf, while international audiences have streamed episodes of Better Call Saul and Star Trek: Discovery weekly. Whether any of their own original dramas will ever be released this way remains to be seen, but them putting these shows out may indicate a willingness to do so. And a genre show with a built-in fanbase like Daredevil could be a solid place to start, especially when the viewing figures are reportedly down from season 2.

Another reason for the somewhat muted Daredevil response may be the Netflix algorithm. Which has been known to bury shows and movies, not only to make them difficult to find but also leaving people unaware that a new season has even dropped. And in addition to Daredevil, the “new” Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind was also notably missing from many front pages when it landed on the streaming service, highlighting a real flaw in the algorithm.

But what does all this mean for Daredevil‘s future? Well, with the recent cancellations of Luke Cage and Iron Fist, the future of all these shows is uncertain. And with a similarly unceremonious release, the Man Without Fear could be in trouble too. Even with the streaming service indicating that the show is safe for now, they have been known for their unexpected cancellations as of late. And with the future of Marvel television looking to Disney’s streaming service for a new crop of shows involving second-tier movie characters, the Netflix shows could be a thing of the past.

Sometimes knows what he's talking about.