This fall, Netflix released episodes of The Great British Bake-Off—also known as The Great British Baking Show—every week, a few days after they’d premiered in the UK. That was, in a word, brilliant. At our house, we watched new episodes each week, and kept up with the season.
I wish they’d done the same with their original series The Circle. Because the schedule of four episodes a week for three weeks is too much, too soon, and I’ve felt perpetually overwhelmed and behind. And that’s going to be even worse come Wednesday, when the final four episodes are dropped, and the winner is revealed.
Netflix’s general strategy is to drop an entire season of a show for immediate binge-watching. That once felt refreshing, and it’s great to have the option to create your own marathon. I watched many episodes of The Repair Shop in a row, and did the same with The Great Interior Design Challenge last summer before it left the service forever.
But in this era of overwhelming amounts of television—more than 50 reality shows premiered in the first 12 days of 2020 alone!—a pile of episodes increasingly feels overwhelming. It’s kind of nice to discover an old show that’s there when you need it; it’s stressful to think of a brand-new show being released in chunks that are about as long as The Irishman.
That’s an especially acute feeling that I have with The Circle, because it’s a strategic reality competition. Episodes don’t always end with an elimination, and there are some dead spaces in the middle of episodes, but so much happens over four episodes that it feels like too much to process and talk about all at once.
Netflix released episodes of the hip-hop competition Rhythm + Flow in a similar way, so the winner wouldn’t be revealed on day one. Yet a music competition is different than a strategic competition, and even four hours of The Circle a week feels like a lot.
Because some people watch immediately, at midnight, I’m immediately behind, and there are spoilers everywhere. If I want to talk about episode 5, and other people want to talk about episode 8, now we can’t really talk about the show together.
It fragments the audience instead of uniting us. This is the first show on Netflix that I’ve really wanted to discuss on an episode-by-episode basis, and yet, the show is almost over and all I’ve done so far is review it based on the first few episodes.
I’m working on a recap of the second batch of episodes, but I still haven’t watched episode eight! Aack! And Netflix has given TV critics access to all 12 episodes, but somehow that’s even more overwhelming, and also I don’t really want to know what happens before everyone else does.
What if The Circle episodes came out weekly? Or daily?
Why not release it a little more slowly? Maybe daily? That does feel like a lot, and almost the same as doing four episodes at once. Perhaps a few episodes a week?
Or what about just weekly? An hour a week would not be overwhelming. Sure, some of the cliffhangers would really leave us hanging for an entire week, but I’d prefer excitement and anticipation over feeling despondent. Also, that gives time for all of us to talk about it—and for people to catch up.
Of course, that’s basically the model that broadcast and cable reality shows use, though shows that’re filmed live like Big Brother and Love Island have more episodes per week.
That’s another thing about The Circle: since it’s all been filmed, there isn’t any audience interaction with the show, but that’s all the more reason to encourage audience reaction among each other. Even if it’s going to be pre-taped and not involve audience input—which is fine with me—a more standard schedule would give more time for community to develop around it.
Later this week, after those episodes drop, will The Circle be done and forgotten? Will people still be talking about it in a month?
Look at the success Disney+ had in releasing The Mandalorian weekly: Sure, Baby Yoda is too cute to have just disappeared had the show’s episodes all dropped at once, but the release schedule undoubtedly contributed to its sustained presence in pop culture conversation throughout the end of last year.
In August, The Verge pointed out that “Netflix has the freedom to release entire seasons at a time because of its continuous waterfall of content.”
But that doesn’t mean it should, and the slightly staggered release schedule for The Circle is an acknowledgement that not everything works when dropped all at once, even if that is the model that Netflix has trained us to expect: show up, watch and watch and watch, eventually turn it off.
This was, I think, the show that Netflix should have released weekly: one episode every Friday, giving people the chance to watch over the weekend and discuss every week. If there’s a The Circle season 2, and I hope there is, maybe Netflix will try something new with it, to see how it performs compared to this season and its release schedule.
I’m curious what other people think. Earlier tonight, I asked about this on Twitter, and while that does not constitute a scientific survey, many of those who responded were equally frustrated, or at least would prefer a different release schedule—though few of us were in agreement about what that schedule should be! Here are a few examples: