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Monday Mailbag! (May 2021 edition)

Will Netflix ever release a scripted show weekly? And what movies should be plays?

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Emily VanDerWerff

May 17 2021

14 min read

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Welcome to the Monday Mailbag, published the third Monday of every month! It's May 2021, and y'all want to know about Netflix, stage plays, and my cis alter ego Emily Rogers.

Let's open the mailbag!

[insert mailbag opening sound effect]

Alan from Twitter writes:

(For those of you who can't see the Twitter embed, Alan asks: "Will Netflix ever release a scripted show as a non-binge? If so, how long will that take to happen?")

The thing is, the conditions for this to happen already exist, which is to say that I don't think Netflix is planning to release a scripted show as a non-binge, but it just might end up forced to do so somewhere down the line, due to the fun vagaries of international release schedules.

For instance: Babylon Berlin is a massive hit in some corners of the globe but not really in the United States, where it's a cult hit. As such, Netflix feels more than comfortable waiting for a full season to air everywhere else before dropping the season for binge viewing in the US a few days after the finale airs internationally. This is exactly what happened with the third season. The season finale aired on Feb. 28, 2020, in much of the world, and then the full season dropped in early March on Netflix.

But imagine if Babylon Berlin were a slightly bigger hit here. Would Netflix release episodes each week, alongside international release? I think that's incredibly possible. After all, The Great British Baking Show was released weekly on Netflix here, concurrent with airing in the United Kingdom. It's not hard to imagine a scripted series from overseas receiving the same treatment were it successful enough.

Indeed, this is what happens with plenty of American series that Netflix has international distribution rights to. A few years ago, I was in Mexico and watched that week's Better Call Saul on Netflix, where episodes released each week. So I don't think it's out of the question for the situation to be reversed in some way.

But if you're asking "What's the first scripted show Netflix will develop with an eye toward dropping it weekly?" I don't know that it ever will, or if it does, it will be many years from now. But as Netflix starts to just become regular old TV, it will surely need to develop some shows that fill the gap of the 22-episodes-per-season sitcoms and procedurals, and I wouldn't be surprised if those start to release weekly. Someday.

I'm reaching back into the mailbag to reveal...

Nate from Twitter asks:

"What film would you most want to see staged as a play?" (Nate's pick is Margin Call.)

Margin Call is an amazing choice!

In thinking about this question, I boiled it down to five different movies, all in a genre not terribly common to the stage (though not absent from the stage entirely or anything like that). Those movies are:

  1. The Thing: John Carpenter's version of this story is one of my favorite movies ever made, and I can see an amazing one-location play that escalates the tension with minimal special effects (though you would absolutely need some cool special effects). I would see this adaptation playing off the tension of actors leaving stage and coming back onstage. Every time an actor leaves the stage, they might become an alien monster. Or they might not.
  2. Alien: I feel like a puppetry-heavy stage version of Alien has almost certainly been attempted. I could see two ways to go with this: a multi-story stage structure like in many plays (here's an example from Stephen Karam's The Humans), so we can see the alien skulking around while the characters are doing other stuff; or a Sleep No More style immersive theater thing. Alien would exploit a different tension within the stage experience, wherein the audience is able to see more than the characters can at all times. A skilled director can manipulate that geography in ways that the audience finds terrifying.
  3. Arrival: Alien puppets, part deux. Imagine a big, blank translucent wall as the backdrop of our show. The human cast walks in front of it, and occasionally, puppets that tower over them appear and spit out weird word cloud things. It would be rad!
  4. Ex Machina: Weirdly, this is the movie that would require the most rethinking to be turned into a stage adaptation, because it's already so close to being a stage play. My first three suggestions all need to be rebuilt from the ground up. This could reasonably be done as is on stage. But I would push to find a way to do it all on one set.
  5. Midsommar: This should obviously be a musical.

I also thought about The Exorcist, but I think that movie relies too much on the build of tension that comes from the characters slowly but surely letting themselves believe in demonic possession to really work on stage. Prove me wrong, stage adapters of America! Prove. Me. Wrong.

As I peer into the mailbag, Georgia from Twitter's question flies up into the sky and bursts into flame across the horizon!

Georgia asks: "How long do you think it'll take cable companies to come up with plans only with streaming services, instead of regular channels?"

Since 2016, I've been predicting that the inevitable end result of the streaming boom was going to be... people having to pay hefty fees to cable companies for bundles of programming. Yes, a la carte subscriptions are likely to be much easier now than it would have been to, say, buy a satellite dish and subscribe to certain cable stations one by one. But as programming is distributed across more and more streaming services, the urge to bundle will only grow, and the cable companies (which own a ton of the country's internet infrastructure) are in the best position to create those bundles.

I do think the intermediate step is the one we're in right now, which involves individual corporations creating bundles just of their own properties, as we see with Disney offering a bundle of Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+. For my money, that's the best streaming option out there, but it still only gets me about half of what I want to watch. (After I had filed this, rumors began to fly that Warnermedia will merge with Discovery in some capacity, so I'm sure an HBO Max and Discovery+ bundle is in our near future.) But this is only an intermediate stage. Eventually, things will become so atomized that either all of these companies will become one or two mega companies or (more likely to my mind) somebody will create a bundle of streaming bundles. The cable companies are probably best positioned to do that.

This is to say: I think a cable company-driven streaming service bundle will exist before 2030, and I think I'm being a smidge conservative with that estimate.

Mitchell sent me an email to ask (after a really long wind-up about how the long gap between seasons of Atlanta resembles the long wait between albums for many artists):

"What’s stopping a show like Succession or Barry or I May Destroy You (or other successful non-HBO shows) from releasing in the same manner as [Donald] Glover does Atlanta, disappearing for years at a time only to re-burst back onto the scene?"

My answer to this is: Atlanta isn't really unusual in this regard? TV shows have been taking longer and longer gaps between seasons pretty regularly since the mid-2010s. By the time Stranger Things season four drops, it's entirely possible three whole years will have passed (though I think it will drop slightly before it his that three year mark). It's increasingly common for TV shows to take two years or longer between seasons, and I think it's only going to become more common for the reasons outlined in this piece.

That said, a big part of the reason Atlanta will see such a big gap between season two and season three is Covid-19 related. Indeed, basically all of the shows we've talked about here will have longer than usual gaps between seasons thanks to the pandemic.

My guess is that if there hadn't been a pandemic, we would have already seen Atlanta season three, as FX would surely want to have it in contention for the 2021 Emmys, which would require releasing at least half its episodes by May 31.

Finally, the mailbag emits the sound of Lily from Twitter, who asks:

"What's Emily Rogers up to these days? Anything new with her family? Any of her kids come out or win awards? Has she made any notable pies or tarts in the last month? Has Covid-18 finally ended?" Later, she added, "Also, could you rank the Dakotas?"

I'll handle that last question before calling in Emily Rogers, my cis recipe-blogging alter ego from another universe, to answer the rest.

Dakotas, ranked

  1. South Dakota
  2. North Dakota

Thanks.

And now, Emily Rogers takes it away!

"Gosh, Lily! You're so sweet to ask how we're all doing here at the Rogers Compound, even if I'm not sure what some of your questions are supposed to mean! Good news first: Covid-18 is finally under control, thanks to the vaccines developed by the Cargill corporation, and administered brilliantly by the Williamson administration. (I had my doubts about Marianne, but she's doing great things! That's it for politics talk!) As you've surely seen on the blog, Hubby David threw out his back the first time he went out to play basketball with his buds after he got the all-clear on his vaccine, so he's gonna be stuck at home a little longer! No fun for him! (Or for me!) I've been busy working on my new book Better Than Takeout, which I hope will still be timely now that we're all leaving our houses again! I've also been perfecting my 'spicy rugelach' recipe, which I'll debut on the blog soon! So stay tuned! Finally, both of my children won awards for being great kids. We'll have some big announcements about them on the blog soon, as well as a contest to win a stand-mixer from the Coors corporation! Keep reading, Lily!"

Wow! Thank you for that update, Emily Rogers!

Remember: The third Monday of every month is MAILBAG MONDAY! You can tweet me questions at @emilyvdw or email them to me at episodes.pitches@gmail.com or just post them in the comments of this article. I'll pick another five to answer in June!


Talk back to me: What movies would you like to see become plays? I'd love to hear some other thoughts!


What I've been up to: Barry Jenkins's adaptation of The Underground Railroad is phenomenal, and I'm really happy with this review I wrote. It's also the first TV review I've written in over a year, and I'm glad that the muscles seem to still work!

I want to tread carefully in discussing The Underground Railroad, a 10-episode adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning 2016 novel. In its portrayal of Cora (Thuso Mbedu), a slave running less toward freedom than she is running away from slavery, the series tells a story about systemic racism and the perniciousness of white supremacy, offering an uncompromising look at the lasting and ongoing burdens of white America’s inhumane treatment of Black Americans. In no way should it be hailed as a story anyone can see themselves in.


But director Barry Jenkins (who won an Oscar in 2017 for his screenplay for Moonlight) finds a way to encompass all of humanity in his work without so much as hinting at easy forgiveness for those who either do great evil or are complicit in great evil. The Underground Railroad made me feel things about my own life and personal pain very deeply, while never letting me forget that while I could relate to aspects of this story, it is not my own.
This series is a specific story about the treatment of one specific group of humans in one specific country. But it’s also a story about humans, and Jenkins gives you space to find yourself in it without sacrificing the focus of this story — even if you might not like what you see.


What you missed if you aren't a paid subscriber to Episodes: Last week, theater historian Margaret Hall introduced us to John Kenley, a Midwestern theatre impresario whose love of stunt-casting proved hugely influential. Also, I finally got to the episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender most routinely described as "the best."

One thing shows with 8- or 10-episode seasons often struggle with is building a sense of place. Avatar is a travelogue show, which broadly means that its characters visit a new location every episode or so, learn about that location's secrets, then move on to the next one. Thus, the sense of place for each village is necessarily flimsy, because the larger story being told is about the world as a whole.


Ba Sing Se has to be different. We have to have a sense that it's a place worth going to, a place worth living in, and a place worth saving. But we also have to get a sense of just why it's not better prepared for the arrival of the Fire Nation, despite how last episode featured a giant drill that almost penetrated the outer wall. "The Drill," "City of Walls and Secrets," and "Tales" all show us three different views of the city, but I would argue "Tales" is the most vital of them in getting us on board with whatever is to come.


Remember: Your subscription money goes toward paying freelancers for their pieces, and you get access to my Friday recaps, too! Once I finish Avatar, I'll move on to Fleabag and then Cowboy Bebop!


Read me: Eve Ettinger is someone whose every piece I read, and I always learn something new from their writing. This week, if you're trying to figure out why Josh Duggar is back in the news, Ettinger has both an explainer on that and on the Quiverfull culture that birthed Duggar.

In my ex-Quiverfull community, I’d be hard-pressed to find an adult escapee who wasn’t themselves a victim of child abuse, be it sexual, physical, or verbal. In fact, we were raised believing that children are born bad, with active and willfully sinful natures that require beatings (i.e., spankings) in order for them to be trained up in the ways of godliness. This feeds into the aforementioned belief that suffering leads to holiness. Every suffering is a trial—a test of your faith, obedience to God’s will, and willingness to humble yourself before him—to admit wrongdoing, perform grief over your sins, and dedicate yourself to doing better. Because the salvific act of Jesus’s death is taught as leveling the playing field of transgressive acts and considered sufficient for saving both the worst sinners and the least sinful, your sinful act of, say, back talking your mother isn’t perceived as worse than the sin of molesting a child.


Watch me: May Leitz over at Nyx Fears always makes amazing video essays, and this one, about Terry Gilliam's Tideland (which I have never seen), is one of her best. It's well worth watching, even if you haven't seen the movie.


And another thing... This tweet punched me right in the face. "Oh," I thought. "That explains a lot."


Opening credits sequence of the week: Have you heard of McDuff the Talking Dog? It was a Saturday morning show about a dog who could talk and was also a ghost and... just watch it, okay? This is the wildest opening credits sequence I've seen in a while.


A thing I had to look up: The Netflix release date of Babylon Berlin season three in the US was, indeed, around 24 hours after the season finished airing in Europe. Hooray for iron-clad contracts!


This week's reading music: "The Old Home Filler-Up An' Keep on A-Truckin Cafe" by C.W. McCall


Episodes is published three times per week. Mondays feature my thoughts on assorted topics. Wednesdays offer pop culture thoughts from freelance writers. Fridays are TV recaps written by myself. The Wednesday and Friday editions are only available to subscribers. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox.

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