Perhaps you flicked on your Netflix-connected device this past Friday to learn that a new season of The Great British Baking Show was streaming, then became distraught to learn there was only one episode available for viewing. Perhaps you’ve seen a headline or two about Netflix’s plan to distribute its upcoming hip-hop competition, Rhythm + Flow, one round of Cardi B critiques at a time. Perhaps you even wrote one of those headlines, and unnecessarily raised concerns that this was the way all future series on the streaming service would roll out. If any of the following apply, please allow The A.V. Club to offer these assuring words: No, it’s not.
Never mind the coincidental timing of these two news items. Never mind that, for the first time in the show’s history, The Great British Baking Show is airing nearly simultaneously in the U.K. and the U.S. Never mind that, for all the inexplicable and indecipherable programming decisions made by Netflix in 2019, the most inexplicable and indecipherable would be giving up on the world-altering TV gambit that kicked off when eight episodes of Steven Van Zandt playing a mobster who isn’t Silvio Dante magically popped into queues in February of 2012. Just know that there’s no reason to panic about these developments because it’s not the first time this has happened—and it won’t be the last.
As the service itself has noted, the weekly schedule for The Great British Baking Show is unrelated to its approach to Rhythm + Flow. This is standard procedure for licensed series, as can be attested by any U.S. Netflix subscriber who’s ever crossed an international border, logged into their account, and been surprised to find the most recent episode of Riverdale or Better Call Saul. You could witness the reverse of this phenomenon as far back as the 2015 premiere of the Canadian sci-fi drama Between, which inspired its own round of “You can’t binge this Netflix show” headlines. Like this one!
And in the case of Rhythm + Flow: Some types of TV narratives are told better this way. Why can’t a streaming show take advantage of the episodic suspense and the shared viewing experience that were definitive aspects of the medium for the first 70-odd years of its existence? What if, like Patriot Act With Hasan Mihaj, The Break With Michelle Wolf, The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale, or Chelsea, the very nature of the series or its method of production prohibit an all-at-once drop? Hulu took a flier on releasing all of Veronica Mars’ fourth season simultaneously (and then pulled a surprise-release stunt on top of it), and the race to reach the season’s shocking conclusion left creator Rob Thomas wondering if a serialized mystery, like a competition reality show, isn’t better off holding onto its big reveals for a little while.
The binge-watching toothpaste is completely out of the tube, as evidenced by some of the incensed reactions to the tweet above. Netflix has altered viewers’ expectations for when and how they can watch their favorite shows, even as its competitors—namely Hulu—have racked up accolades and awards while hewing to a more traditional broadcast schedule. The next challenger to streaming supremacy waits in the wings, but Disney+ is unlikely to completely reshape these habits by putting seven days between every new installment of The Mandalorian.
For as brazenly as Netflix has been shedding programming as of late, it is reassuring that it’s considering what’s best for the shows that remain on its slate. Also, there’s nothing saying that you can’t accumulate several weeks of unwatched Great British Baking Show and gulp it all down in one sitting, as our ancestors taught us to do with their reality shows and primetime soaps in the benighted age of DVR.