Will 2021 be known as the year TV binges went bust?
Halfway through the year in television, the majority of the best, most talked-about shows haven’t been the ones that just dropped all of their episodes on a Friday, but ones that conjured up the old TV pleasure of getting one installment per week, or maybe two. Some of this reflected a resurgence from traditional linear cable channels like HBO, but a lot was simply the fact that the newer streaming services seem more willing to experiment with release models: binges for some, weekly and/or hybrids for others. Even Netflix’s biggest global hit of the year — and the streaming giant’s one show on our list of the year’s best series so far — wound up splitting its first season into two, five-episode chunks, the better to keep the conversation lasting longer. While there’s still a rush that comes from having an entire season in front of you, too many other things get lost in the process: the chance to talk about it with friends without having to worry that one of you has gotten ahead of the other; or even just the opportunity to think a little longer about how much you enjoyed a particular episode without feeling like you have to rush immediately to the next one.
A few of the shows on this list opted for a binge release, though at least one of them (Amazon’s The Underground Railroad) would have been better served going weekly to stoke the public conversation and let the episodes breathe. But in most cases, these series provided ample pleasures week in and week out.