The Characters Is Netflix in a Bottle


Netflix’s strategy for releasing new shows and seasons this March has been unparalleled. Sure, everyone heard about the release of season 4 of House of Cards, but since the premiere of the political drama’s fourth season, Netflix has premiered two new original shows and is set to premiere a new special on the 18th. Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is said special, and Flaked (starring Will Arnett) and The Characters both premiered on March 11. The Characters, an 8-episode comedy special starring some stellar comedians encapsulates the idea behind Netflix originals.

Since every episode of The Characters is written and directed by a different comedian, the show is hit-and-miss. Not to say that there are necessarily any bad episodes in it. The enjoyment of an episode is based more on your sense of humor than anything else. If you enjoy cringe humor, then John Early’s episode is definitely for you; if you’re a fan of reality show parodies like Kroll Show, watch Lauren Lapkus’ episode (featuring some of the funniest people in the NYC comedy scene); and if you’re a fan of the few good SNL sketches in the past years check out Natasha Rothwell’s or Tim Robinson’s episodes.


The point is that Netflix’s strategy for the show was to give total freedom to the comics, and this allowed the show to be an impressive tableau of comedic sensibilities. The episodes are not connected, so you can watch only the ones you want, and they’re short enough that if you find out halfway through an episode you’re not feeling it, you know you’ll have something new and different in no time. This odd constant baiting is exactly Netflix’s model for all of its original content.

I have long argued that Netflix’s original content is not what it originally appeared to be. Netflix’s strategy is not to create prestige television for a refined audience. It’s to create television. Period. For anyone and everyone. Netflix’s strategy of buying content rights is like a medieval royal marriage. It’s a stable relationship based on mutual need where no one really likes each other very much. With more and more networks developing their own streaming platforms, the possibility of Netflix losing much of its content is a real fear. This is why Netflix has to create a lot of content, really fast. This is where the strategy of The Characters comes in.

Netflix is creating a lot of original content, and not all of it is good. House of Cards is a decent show, and Narcos has some mass appeal, but other than that all of Netflix’s other shows are niche creations to pull in different audiences. Orange is the New Black is a great show, but its fans are not necessarily the same fans as the ones who watch Daredevil or BoJack Horseman. There might be some overlap between Jessica Jones viewers and Master of None watchers, but those liberal audiences might have a problem with Jeremy Clarkson spearheading a new car show. Netflix’s strategy is to make us watch all of its content like a casual viewer might approach The Characters. You assume the shows are good and to be fair they’re not bad. Some are pretty good, but you only really like a few and none of them are truly great. And yet, we still watch them, because like with The Characters, while we may not fully enjoy a show, we trust that the next one will be really great. And sometimes it is, like Natasha Rothwell’s episode which ends with this masterpiece.