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Bloated run times tend to hinder Netflix shows, but Stranger Things is the exception
Stranger Things 4 concludes Friday with an 1-hour, 25-minute penultimate episode, followed by a season finale that runs 2 hours and 19 minutes. While Netflix isn’t the only streamer with extended episodes, it seems to have built its strategy on keeping viewers hooked with “Netflix bloat.” "Last year, extended runtimes went from a side effect of streaming’s structure to an outright incentive," says Alison Herman. "That’s when Netflix started sharing a limited slice of its ratings data, ranking shows by the metric of hours viewed. It doesn’t take a PhD in data science to figure out that shows with 80-minute episodes stand a much stronger chance of topping those charts than streamlined sitcoms—or that the rubric reflects a general desire on the part of streaming services to keep us engaged for as long as possible, whatever it takes. That’s how you get the 90-minute pilot for Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down, or the 63-minute season premiere of The Witcher, or the 76-minute finale of the most recent season of Money Heist. Netflix isn’t the only culprit, of course; just one episode of The Staircase on HBO Max comes in under an hour (and at 59 minutes, only barely). Nor does every Netflix show succumb to temptation—the latest season of The Umbrella Academy stays entirely under 53 minutes apiece. But Netflix shows do tend to epitomize the pitfalls of running long for long’s sake. Runtime is just one of many flaws in Inventing Anna, Shonda Rhimes’ take on iconic scammer Anna Sorokin. Yet the show’s poor choice of framing device and lack of perspective are all the more glaring when we’re forced to sit with them for nearly two hours. Such is my feeling about episodic bloat: It’s rarely a fatal flaw in itself, though it tends to make other weak spots stand out, or at least less easily skipped over." But as Miles Surrey notes, Stranger Things "has certainly managed the meatier runtimes far better than Inventing Anna or any other shows guilty of Netflix bloat. I’m inclined to think Stranger Things will handle its uber-long finale better than most series, if only because it has more in common with a summer blockbuster—all the way down to its hefty price tag."
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