Welcome back to an occasional feature entitled “Connecting Imaginary Dots.” The concept is we take something curious we see in the latest MCU news and start to hypothesize what it might mean. None of this is likely or probable, more like a conspiracy theory from possibly unrelated data points. With that explained, let’s dive into the possibility of a major change to Netflix’s approach to show releases.
Data point one on this subject is the general shift in television, including Netflix. More and more networks are ordering short seasons of shows. Network TV usually does 22-24 episodes of a show, but Inhumans will only be eight episodes. Similarly, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has begun to split up its 22 episode orders into “pods” of seven or eight, with hiatus periods in between, to define story arcs. Other shows on cable outlets like Walking Dead or Breaking Bad have played with “half” seasons. HBO does 10 episode seasons. Even at Netflix things are changing, with The Defenders being only eight episodes. Other shows like The Get Down are now released in half seasons as well.
That change in scheduling began for the ease of international marketing. As the television landscape has changed, networks (particularly cable networks) found that shorter seasons of shows were more marketable to international markets, where a shorter season is standard. But also, the move is largely responding to creative and critical reception issues.
What is perhaps the most often heard complaint about MCU shows on Netflix? They are too long and unevenly paced. Often critics will say, “This would have been really great if it was three episodes shorter.” In response, we have seen an obvious move by Netflix to add distinct partial season arcs, with Luke Cage and its villain switch at the halfway point being the biggest example. Other shows on Netflix, like Stranger Things, have won plaudits for their compressed schedule.
So the problem appears to be that the 13 episode structure of Netflix isn’t really working either on the creative side nor on the fan or critic appreciation side. So what could Netflix do? Completely change their release schedule for Marvel shows, so that partial, mini-seasons air more frequently. What would this look like? A six-episode arc of Luke Cage which dovetails with another five of Jessica Jones which then hands back off to seven of Luke Cage which then connects with Daredevil for eight episodes and so on. Instead of Netflix releasing one show every four or five months, they could release a pod or half season every two months.
It is fun to imagine what such an arrangement might look like for fans. It would make the Netflix shows even more interconnected and serialized than they are now. One of the challenges for the characters in these programs is that they soon will know each other from The Defenders. They live in a very small geographic area. It is hard to believe that Jones, for example, will have need of a lawyer in Season 2, and wouldn’t consider calling up Murdock. If Luke Cage needs backup up, why wouldn’t he call up Iron Fist? Interlacing the shows is a natural plot element. The release schedule would be great because it would allow a more digestible mini-binge of 5-8 episodes, on a more regular basis. Also, fans wouldn’t have to wait two and a half years for new content focusing on one character, as fans of Jessica Jones fans will have waited between seasons.
Now is this just a pipe dream to solve a fan gripe? Probably. But there are a lot of weird scheduling things happening with the Netflix shows. Currently, we have Jessica Jones filming right on top of Luke Cage. That isn’t totally unheard of as The Defenders and Punisher did film concurrently for long stretches. The second season of Luke Cage, however, came up suddenly and unexpectedly. Furthermore, the schedule is ridiculously long. Work started in April, and Mike Colter has suggested that it will last until March. This is the same amount of time that goes into a full season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Why would 13 episodes of Luke Cage take as long as a 22-episode season?
The long filming schedule may be due to interruption. They aren’t filming thirteen in a row, they are filming these half seasons or pods I’m hypothesizing, so Colter will be on set long enough to film half a season, take a break, and then return for the other half. This would also allow space for him to return to Jessica Jones for a while as well. It may seem far-fetched, but it’s also impossible to think that Netflix is making a show as expensive as a nine-months-for-13-episodes shoot would be. (While reports of filming for “Tiara” began in April, filming began this week.) The opportunities to appear in other shows will also be much greater because everyone is already in and out of New York with such regularity that some of the appearances could remain under wraps. In fact, Finn Jones appears to be living in New York, even though Iron Fist is not filming. Charlie Cox officially relocated to the Big Apple after filming the second season of Daredevil.
Ultimately this all may be wishful thinking and we will still see thirteen episode seasons dropped every four months by Netflix for decades. Maybe Mike Colter’s comments on the shooting schedule are misinformed. But Netflix revamping their release schedule to allow interconnected storytelling, shorter seasons, and more team ups is a good idea. It could finally give fans “Heroes for Hire” or “Daughters of the Dragon” concepts, within or even across existent shows. Given the rocky road for the first season, Iron Fist Season 2 would definitely benefit from a Luke Cage lead-in storyline and Colter’s presence for a few episodes. There are dangers of over-complicating things and alienating those who don’t want to watch all four shows, but there also would be opportunity to on-ramp Jessica Jones only viewers to another part of the universe. Time will only tell, but it would be a lot of fun for fans to see this change happen.
What would you think of this change in the release of the Marvel Netflix shows? Would you prefer more frequent, shorter seasons, or do you enjoy the 13-episode binge? Let us know, in the comments!