The Umbrella Academy and the Netflix Bloat

by thethreepennyguignol

Yeah, I’m late getting to covering The Umbrella Academy. And you know why that is? It’s because of The Netflix Bloat.

The Netflix Bloat isn’t just something that I get from eating too many vegan snacks while I’m binge-watching Psycho-Pass for the eight thousandth time. It’s the fact that Netflix seems to struggle to release an original series that isn’t drowning in about four episodes too much of it’s very self, and starts feeling like a chore right about the four-episode mark when you realize this story is going to be doled out to you by fucking pipette.

Now, let’s take The Umbrella Academy as a good starting point: the comics are solid, but they’re also not the densest things in the world: they’re little slips of brilliant stories, more style than substance. And let me assure you that I have watched and enjoyed three seasons of Riverdale, and thusly mean that firmly as a good thing in this context.

So when Netflix announced a ten-episode season, I was…nervous. You know, not nervous enough to override my sheer excitement at seeing Robert Sheehan in a leading role again, but still nervous. And I was right to be – because, like so many other shows, The Umbrella Academy is about five solid hours of excellent television crammed right up against another five of obvious filler. Every time I felt like we were getting somewhere, we were off on another pointless side adventure that felt like the underwater level of every video game ever – which is to say, I wished I could have just skipped right through it. I’m not averse to a show that takes it’s time – hello, The Haunting of Hill House – but I don’t like it when it feels as though it’s actively wasting mine because it had a ten-episode order and it’s going to fill that, gosh-darnit.

And that’s been true of so many Netflix shows of the last couple of years – Jessica Jones, Stranger Things, Conversations with a Killer, The Defenders. And it often seems to apply to shows that have some kind of previous fanbase – for Jessica Jones and Stranger Things, the bloat really came into play in their second seasons after acclaimed debuts, while The Umbrella Academy relied on the passionate fanbase for the comics to allow them to laze around in a whole lot of filler. I’m not alone in saying that I will sit through a lot of “meh” television to get to the parts I actually care about, and that’s what Netflix is relying on. Without advertisers to provide income in traditional methods, it feels like they use just ridiculously bloated seasons to keep viewers on the site in the hopes that finally we’re going to get to the good stuff promised by the source material or a snappy trailer or just the potential of a great first season.

There are obvious exceptions to this rule of course – Bojack Horseman continues to knock it out of the park with season upon season of lean storytelling, while Russian Doll‘s crisp eight-episode run feels lean and taut and just enough to leave us wanting more – but I’m becoming increasingly wary of Netflix’ original programming, just because so much of it is about fifty percent excellent television mixed indiscriminately in with bloated attempts to fill an overambitious runtime. And it’s taking away from what could be some great stories – it’s hard to drag yourself through a bunch of overextended half-plots just to get to the good stuff. No matter how good that stuff actually turns out to be.

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(header image via Variety)