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Don't Get Too Attached: Is There a Pattern With Cancelled Netflix Shows?

By Sarah Druhan

Photo: Netflix – Source

With the streaming service’s recent penchant for abruptly cutting off shows at their prime, it almost feels dangerous nowadays to let yourself fall in love with a show on Netflix. Pop culture favorites such as The Society, Glow, and Santa Clarita Diet are only a few of the many productions that the platform has given the axe to in the past few years, resulting in anguish from fans and protest from critics. As a rule, Netflix generally isn’t that fond of letting its shows run for too long, and many of the recent cancellations are likely owed to disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. But, is there a pattern between the content that the platform chooses to pick back up and the content that is unexpectedly canceled?

When it comes to its cancellations, Netflix mainly receives complaints for its choices to end critical successes and fan favorites such as Ozark and The OA while repeatedly giving chances to more poorly-reviewed fare like Emily in Paris and the After franchise. Furthermore, it has been noted that Netflix productions with casts featuring minorities are more likely to be canceled than those with a majority white and heterosexual casting.

One Day at a Time, a beloved Netflix show that premiered in 2017, was a landmark in that it featured one of television’s only Latino families: the Alvarez-Rieras. The series focused on the everyday life of the Cuban-American family as they tackled personal and societal problems, and was praised for its exploration of themes like mental illness, homophobia, and racism. One Day at a Time was ultimately canceled on Netflix after four seasons, despite being named one of the best shows of 2017 and winning Primetime Emmy Awards in 2019 and 2020. Likewise, the dark teen comedy I Am Not Okay With This quickly gained a cult following during its 2020 run and was one of Netflix’s only shows with a queer female lead, but was canceled after only one season that ended in an unresolved cliffhanger.

On the other side of things, the notorious 2018 Netflix film The Kissing Booth was heavily critiqued for, among other things, the problematic romance at its center and its repeated issues with sexism. The teen movie’s cast of characters were very largely white and heterosexual. However, despite the film’s almost universal ill reception from reviewers, Netflix ended up greenlighting two more Kissing Booth sequels that were both shot pretty much back to back. Critics noted that while The Kissing Booth 2 added black and brown characters to its main cast and featured a subplot with a queer character, these characters ultimately felt more like plot devices to support the movie’s primary white straight couple than real people, present in the narrative to tick off a box for diversity rather than for any authentic attempts at representation.

Emily in Paris, a currently streaming series valued mostly for its glossy escapist feel over its actual story, faced backlash for its first season’s lack of inclusivity but was still renewed for a second season and then immediately for a third and fourth. It’s true that at the end of the day, Netflix is obviously going to renew what makes it the most money. But the fact that their cancellations and renewals seem to lean these ways speaks to a bigger problem in the streaming industry.

While it’s true that Netflix is the most popular of the streaming giants and one of the biggest companies in the world, there is hope for maintaining ideals of diversity and quality on the platform in that fans do not let many of these canceled shows die easily.

In 2017, Netflix chose not to renew Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s Sense8, a sci-fi drama about 8 psychic individuals from around the globe, for a third season despite the cliffhanger ending of the second season finale. During its run, the show was frequently praised for its diverse cast and settings, and was beloved by queer communities around the world for its LGBTQ+ representation. One of the main characters, Nomi Marks, is still one of the few examples of an out trans lesbian woman on television. The response from Sense8 fans to this news was overwhelming — the hashtag #RenewSense8 flooded social media platforms from Twitter to Instagram, and Netflix was flurried with petitions over the following month demanding the show’s return. Many were outraged by the fact that news of the show’s cancellation broke on the first day of Pride Month. After almost a month of the network insisting the series could not be brought back, Netflix unexpectedly greenlit a two hour finale special that would give Sense8 another chance to provide for its fans a feeling of closure. Upon this announcement, co-creator Lana Wachowski tweeted out an emotional letter to the show’s fans, citing how, in the case of Sense8, ‘love’ had prevailed over the ‘bottom line’.

“In this world, it is easy to believe that you cannot make a difference,” wrote Wachowski, “that when a government or an institution or corporation makes a decision, there is something irrevocable about the decision…[b]ut here is a gift from the fans of this show that I will carry forever in my heart: while it is often true those decisions are irreversible, it is not always true.”

Because Netflix’s primary goal in moderating its content is always going to be profit over caliber, the guarantee of a long life on the platform is often rare, and it can be difficult to find shows that promote both quality and inclusion. But cases like that of Sense8’s demonstrate that, when communities and fans raise their voices for the art they love, even one of the largest corporations in the world is capable of listening. The future of the streaming world is something that is in the hands of not just its distributors but also its viewers, and, as Lana Wachowski said, the decision of the ‘bottom line’ is not always set in stone.

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