These days, binge-watching is a commonly accepted practice; streaming platforms dump entire seasons of our favourite shows online and we blitz through them in a weekend. However, over the last couple of years, you may have noticed that this is starting to change, with the likes of Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV+ moving away from the full season, “box set” model in favour of releasing episodes weekly. This has sparked considerable debate, with a vocal contingent of fans unhappy about this imposed delay – and I should know: I was one of them! But that’s all in the past; now, thanks to Marvel Studios’ Loki – which has been cranking out lone instalments on Disney+ these past five weeks – I’m convinced that some shows are a perfect fit for weekly release.
Of course, there are benefits to the binge model. Dense, slow burn shows along the lines of House of Cards, Ozark and Mindhunter were clearly designed to be watched in marathon multi-episode sessions and play better that way. Heck, even shows that pre-date binge TV like The Wire and The Sopranos are arguably better enjoyed as a box set than rationed out as individual episodes. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s also something undeniably comforting about queuing up a batch of lightweight, comfort TV – think Emily in Paris or Schitt’s Creek – and letting it run. And regardless of what you end up watching, there’s the convenience to consider – I mean seriously: who wants to sit around waiting for new episodes in an era where almost anything is available on-demand?
Like I said, these are all valid points. But just because the binge-watching model works for most shows, that doesn’t mean it works for all of them. On the contrary, the worst way to experience an “event” series like Loki – which trades in season-long mysteries and big last-minute reveals – is to race through it in a single sitting. Why? Because of three key benefits exclusive to the weekly release model: anticipation, participation, and perpetuation.
Weekly release schedule benefit #1: anticipation
The most obvious upside to releasing a series like Loki in a more “traditional”, serialised way is that it builds audience anticipation. Think about it: when you have to wait days (not seconds) between episodes, it gives you more time to get hyped up trying to figure out how the jaw-dropping cliffhanger you’ve just seen will be resolved.
Take the ending of Loki’s first episode, “Glorious Purpose”, which teased the existence of another, even more evil Loki variant. We didn’t find out the identity of this mysterious figure straight away; instead, we had to wait a whole week – and this prolonged expectation and delayed gratification was ultimately a key part of what made the episode so enjoyable.
Better still, the extra time between episodes afford by a weekly release schedule allows you to channel your anticipation into speculation, which leads me to the next major advantage of pushing out episodes week by week…
Weekly release schedule benefit #2: participation
It’s impossible to overstate how crucial group participation is to the success of a show like Loki. Whether it’s casual chatter with friends in person or more intense discussion on social media, connecting with other people to theorise where the story and characters are going next adds an extra, active dimension to what is otherwise a highly passive medium. It transforms a TV series into a game: a puzzle that can only be solved with the help of others – and it’s intoxicating.
It’s also unique to the weekly release model, because when you binge watch a show at breakneck speed, there simply isn’t the time (or the need) to dissect what you’re watching. Nagging questions and mind-melting twists are addressed so quickly there’s no real window for conjecture, which would be devastating for Loki and “event” shows like it.
Imagine a moment like the mid-credits sting of Loki Episode 4, “Nexus Event” – where our anti-hero survives seeming death only to be confronted by a trio of alternate wildly different versions of himself – in the context of the binge-watching model. Rather than waiting seven days to find out who these three Loki variants are and what their mission is, the next episode would load straight away, and you’d know the score mere moments later.
The knock-on effect of this is huge. It means that all the excited conversations with friends you’ve had about “Nexus Event” over the last week wouldn’t have happened, and the deep-dive articles and posts you’ve devoured wouldn’t exist – reducing your engagement with Loki to a single night with nothing to talk about after.
Which brings me neatly to the greatest weekly release schedule perk of all…
Weekly release schedule benefit #3: perpetuation
The binge TV approach means that (almost) everyone has watched and digested the latest season of a show within a week of its release. This means that what little group participation there is – typically confined to speculation around where the show is heading in the next season – amounts to a brief blip that fizzles out a few days later. It’s one final shot of excitement, then nothing.
By contrast, the weekly release model keeps stoking our enthusiasm over its entire run; we’re thinking about it and talking about it for two or more months while it airs, plus in the weeks after it finishes. This makes for a longer-lasting, more satisfying relationship with the source material, and explains why shows that are released weekly generally remain part of the pop culture conversation longer than their box set peers.
So, stretching out a show like Loki across six weeks isn’t just about Disney executives keeping their subscribers on the hook for longer (although that certainly doesn’t hurt!). It’s about giving us more time to appreciate these shows and keeping them from getting lost among the content churn that characterises the TV landscape today.
Can the wait between episodes of Loki (and similar “event” TV series) sometimes seem unbearable? Absolutely. But remember: patience is a virtue – especially when it means we’ll benefit from the anticipation, participation and perpetuation of the weekly release model.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook!