New Netflix originals need to learn from the past

December 11, 2018 — by Neeti Badve

We’ve all been there: sitting on the sofa, determined to find a new show to obsess over, only to waste half an hour browsing through the Netflix show options and ultimately deciding to rewatch an episode of “Friends” or “The Office.”

Too real?

Netflix itself seems to agree as the company paid a whopping $100 million to renew “Friends” until the end of 2019 due to fan outrage. However, due to the unquenchable thirst for content the digital age has brought, Netflix needs to fix its content fast to be able to make up for the potential loss of “Friends” and similar shows.

An example of a newer series on Netflix that simply does not live up to the older classics is “Riverdale,” which saw a viewer decline near the end of its second season due to its struggle to find a single direction to go in. Every episode contains three to four disconnected storylines. In order to meet the demand for more episodes, the plot strayed so far from the “small town with big secrets” world they intended to create that the characters do not seem legitimate anymore.

So what makes shows that wrapped up three, five and even 14 years ago consistently more appealing than the new shows Netflix continues to release? Most of all, it’s their relatability.

All the highest-rated Netflix originals share this common characteristic: The characters are authentic and relatable. “Stranger Things,” “American Vandal” and “Orange is the New Black” all succeed in portraying conceivable characters, even if some situations they are put in are not possible in the real world.

I found this feeling lacking in newly released shows like “Insatiable,” which is marketed at teens but unrealistically depicts a high-school life filled with stereotypes, unnecessary drama and a confusing plot.

Critics and viewers have called “Insatiable” the worst Netflix original series ever. In fact, a petition to cancel the show received more than 230,000 signatures, and these people are right to show their displeasure.

“‘Insatiable’ purports to be satire, playing every bit of offensive dialogue and questionable storyline for laughs, yet none of it is funny,” said AV Club critic Danette Chavaz.

It portrays high schoolers as shallow, narcissistic and always on the look for revenge, when really, we are too busy studying or doing homework to plan elaborate schemes of retribution or murder. All the show really accomplishes is an overdose of fat-shaming.

With a new Netflix original series being released monthly, it would seem as though there are hundreds of options to choose from, but what Netflix really needs are shows that audiences can come back to at any time and still feel connected to.

Instead of advertising cliché teenagers or the same stories told in a different way, Netflix should highlight real problems without unnecessarily overdramatizing them.

Netflix attempted to do this with “13 Reasons Why,” and they made a product that impacted viewers. However, the added drama was still noticeable. For a topic as serious as suicide, their depiction of it essentially led to its glorification, earning the show backlash from organizations like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which voiced concerns of copycat acts on the part of vulnerable teens.

Furthermore, the show never tells the viewer how to better their mental health, nor does it show any character learning how to cope with the problems they face.

What makes older shows like “Friends,” “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” appealing is they address real-world issues and situations through humor and provide solutions and explanations for them.

“Parks and Recreation” does just this when Leslie Knope and April Ludgate are angry that the garbage men would not hire women because they were not “strong enough.” To fight against the sexism, they volunteer to join the garbage route and prove women can do the same job as men. Through humor about trash and subtle references to feminism, the show tackles women empowerment and its importance while still being entertaining.

While it’s unrealistic to expect every Netflix original to be groundbreaking, it has to learn to keep its audience in mind when deciding what shows to produce. The company needs a wake-up call. As “Friends” icon Monica Geller once said, “Welcome to the real world! It sucks — you’re gonna love it.”

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