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Up your act, Netflix

ODAAT frequently tackled big issues in a non-judgemental manner.

ODAAT frequently tackled big issues in a non-judgemental manner.  

I had no clue that a show called ODAAT even existed until it was canned

Lin-Manuel Miranda, beloved creator of Hamilton, pulled out all the stops on Twitter (where he has close to 3 million followers) earlier this month, after Netflix announced the cancellation of One Day At A Time, an earnest, endearing sitcom that established itself as a critics’ darling across three seasons. Miranda shot a brief video with Rita Moreno, one of the stars of ODAAT, vowing to save the show by roping in a different network as producer. An outpouring of social media support had rescued Brooklyn Nine-Nine not too long ago; after Fox pulled the plug, NBC had picked up the show.

In a cancellation announcement on Twitter, Netflix heaped praise on the creators Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce, and thanked the principal cast members, while reiterating its commitment to telling more diverse stories — ODAAT, after all, is the story of a Cuban-American single mom Penelope Alvarez, a war veteran struggling with PTSD, raising her children, Alex and Elena, with the help of her mother Lydia, a former dancer who escaped Cuba after Castro came to power. The show frequently tackled issues like queerness, addiction and mental illness in a wholesome, balanced, non-judgemental manner, which is why it’s clear Netflix was trying to insulate itself from a very predictable backlash.

Red flags

There are two major issues at play here, both of which reflect poorly on Netflix, a 21st century start-up that’s now worth billions of dollars — and one that’s trying hard to cement a progressive, millennial-friendly image. The first red flag is how poorly the show was marketed — this writer tweets daily and binge-watches as much as the next millennial, and had no clue ODAAT existed until it was cancelled. Meanwhile, the Netflix Twitter account piles on the Bird Box memes like there’s no tomorrow, boasting about the Sandra Bullock-starrer’s viewership figures (as a rule, Netflix does not disclose viewership figures).

The second, more troubling issue, is piggybacking. Netflix famously spent $100 million to stream Friends for a year. It is always quick to pounce on indie films or shows that achieve “breakthrough” success, profiteering off products that it had declined to invest in sometimes. In India, Netflix now streams films like Soni (2018) and Gurgaon (2017), hard-hitting indie films that earned a truckload of critical acclaim — before Netflix decided it could maybe shore up its own indie credentials through them. Meanwhile, whether it’s in India or abroad, Netflix originals seem to be star-studded affairs (or sensationalist, shock-jock products like 13 Reasons Why) as a rule. For a company that’s supposed to challenge broken, nepotistic Hollywood/ Bollywood structures, it seems to resemble the enemy more and more every day. This is opportunism at best, hypocrisy at worst, and predatory capitalism if taken to its logical endpoint.

Netflix tweeted, “To anyone who felt seen or represented — possibly for the first time — by ODAAT, please don’t take this as an indication your story is not important. The outpouring of love for this show is a firm reminder to us that we must continue finding ways to tell these stories.” That last line is quite revelatory — the “we” is not just Netflix, it can also be read as “we the people who enjoyed ODAAT”. The tweet seems to put the onus on viewers, as if the show’s fans are somehow to blame for not drumming up the massive numbers (in Netflix’s case, massive and covert, as no one knows exactly how much) required to greenlight another season.

This is massively duplicitous, given that what people watch is informed significantly by what Netflix’s own algorithms decide to place their way. Is the pace of social change to be dictated by machine logic? We’re familiar with how that’s turning out for Facebook, you know.

The writer and journalist is working on his first book of non-fiction.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 9:27:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/up-your-act-netflix/article26673897.ece

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