I was a late bloomer when it came to streaming services. Call me old fashioned, but I had grown up accustomed to that “once that ship sails, wait for the re-run” if I didn’t have the foresight to have it recorded. Then something ‘strange’ happened. My social media feeds all started to blow up. Scarlet letters glowing in a sea of black. Everyone seemed to to talking about it. Critics, friends, colleagues. Naturally, like a moth drawn to a lightbulb, I looked up a trailer. I was hooked. A small town, 80’s vibes, ‘Silent Hill’ like monsters and 4 kids we all wished we could have been as 10 year olds, (yes even Dustin). Stranger Things made me sign up for Netflix. I watched it over weeks, still observing the primetime rule of an episode per week. I mean, why release a WHOLE series at once? Ridiculous! Then season 2 came out. I finished that over the course of 3 days. Season 3 was done in a day. I had become what I had always feared I would be. An instant gratifier. No need for patience or discipline. I wanted it ALL. When the final credits rolled, I was already looking for a replacement and was met with…disappointment. Had my foray into this on demand, always at your beck and call entertainment finally amounted a huge letdown?
You might ask what I was doing in between seasons of Stranger Things. I might be inclined to tell you, if you had a few hours and I had a bottle of scotch. Let’s go with the abridged version. I forgot I had Netflix. Yes, Daredevil was an atmospheric beauty. I may have to write a lamentation piece on that show. For the most part, I just did other things. The time wasn’t right for me to get engulfed in a new adventure. Game of Thrones was always on the sidebar. I had stopped watching the series after one the series’ most memorable episodes, ‘The Door’. I had just grown a bit bored with the whole thing. Westworld, that show had me hooked for a minute. Suddenly, when I thought Netflix had devolved into nothing more than a monthly charge, they, released ‘The Haunting of Hill House’. Reignited by a spark and love for horror, my faith in Netflix Originals was starting to be restored. Releases like Castlevania, Altered Carbon and one of my personal favorites, Kingdom, a Korean drama set in a feudal Asian Kingdom where the dead don’t quite stay dead. If you are a fan or korean drama, political intrigue or horror, I recommend Kingdom. A true masterpiece. Be warned, you might never look at ramen again in the same way. Scratching noises in the dark…
None of the shows I listed above were able to match the same emotional attachment I had to Stranger Things. Inherently, they weren’t meant to, or made to. Nor would they really be able to capture the same vitality and sense of oomph as the new kid on the block. Enter the White Wolf of Rivia, Geralt and company.
I will start by earnestly admitting that I am somewhat biased when writing about this show. My goal, however, is to demonstrate how that bias was created along with some real facts. Let’s start with the bias. As some of you may know from my work, I am an avid gamer. Much like I was a late bloomer when it came to streaming services, I was a late bloomer when it came to The Witcher. Originally a series of fantasy novels by author Andrzej Sapkowski, which I haven’t read, the series was realized in video game form. The first two having been Xbox exclusives, I never really paid them much mind. The games were met with critical acclaim, earning accolades and recommendations from reviewers that these games were worth a place in your collection. It wasnt until 2015, when the Witcher 3, The Wild Hunt, was released onto PS4, my native console. Friends who had bought the game were constantly praising the game. I had my reservations. Why would I start playing a video game series on it final installment? What was the point? I would be lost, with no idea who or what this seemingly rich tapestry of characters and places would represent. It just seemed like a cash grab at expanding the marketshare with the titanic Playstation base by developper CD Projekt Red. The reviews kept piling in, my friends kept talking and one day I caved. Stopped by a local Bestbuy, picked the game up and installed it. I can tell you my presumption had never been so erroneous or misguided in my life. Remember me telling you I am biased? Well hear me out. You see I started the video game series much like many of you started the show. Clueless.
In terms of the game, about 2 or 3 hours into the game, through use of conversations, cutscenes and flashbacks, I knew enough that this was a narrative I was going to want more of. Videogames can take up to 40 hours or more to complete. If we speak in relative terms, I think most people decided they would pursue the narrative set forth in the show after the first or second episode. I wasnt sure how I would react to the show. Honestly, I knew I would be willing to overlook a few misteps, maybe play devil’s advocate here and there. Truth be told, I think Henry Cavill is perfect for Geralt. I don’t mean to typecast, but the man has embodied one of my favorite video game heroes perfectly. Right down to the gruff, one word expletive. As childish as this may sound, I hate Superman, unfortunately by association, that meant I didn’t have a lot of love for Cavill. I can tell you that has changed quite a bit. Henry, you went from being a goodie-two shoes alien God to being a socially inept mutant, who hates to admit it, but loves people around him tragically. I like the latter better to be honest. Anya Chalotra’s standout performance hit the mark as Yenefer, a proper feminist heroine, who proves a point she will not easily be stereotyped as a love interest for Geralt. In a fashion, the show is as much about her and her hardships as a woman in a male dominated world as it is about Geralt and the ever present theme of racism and xenophobia. We might be talking about a medieval world setting, but the present day issues are something Sapkowski is a master at portraying in his work. The series keeps pacing taut, despite some complaints that the timelines were confusing. Paying very close attention to detail is the price to be paid for an artfully sculpted story. Like all beautiful things in life, a little effort is required. Role diversity was also a point of contention, especially regarding Triss Merigold. Red-haired and Celtic in the game, dark haired and mixed race in the series. Was I a bit confused at first? Yes, for a minute. Did it change anything in terms of plot or world building? No. If you feel it does, you have the right to your opinion, but I truly don’t believe a character’s merit in a FICTIONAL world should be dictated by the color of their skin. My two cents. Like myself going in blind to the world of the Witcher, viewers with no prior knowledge of the lore, can agree that the show is great. How great are we talking though? Quantitatively. We’ve discussed my bias. Let’s look at the numbers and why the Witcher could become Netflix’s coup de grace.
From a critical standpoint, it would seem the show fared as mediocre. A 60% grade is barely a pass. Audiences were much more favorable homing in at just shy of the 90% mark. A critics job is to remain as critical as possible, as a consumer, I take that with a grain of salt, as when your job is to be critical, we can sometimes be more punitive than we mean to be. It’s human nature. Audiences, were much more receptive, whether for the ladies or gents who found Anya Chalotra’s or Henry Cavill’s lack of clothing pushed their mark up just a wee bit higher. Again, take this with a grain of salt. If we average the two scores, we get about 75%. What is that, a B – or a C +? I never was very good at those, even in university. Personally, I’d give the show a solid 90%, a tad bit higher than audience score because the narrative was a lot easier to digest given my exposure to the narrative through other media. This was a pleasant surprise considering I wasn’t sure if this show would be a flop. Now, given these points, what would make this series a flagship? HBO had Game of Thrones, AMC had the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad and let’s not forget Amazon Prime’s Man in the High Castle.
I think that the other heavy hitter here is a show I adore. Set in the iconic, multigenerational universe of one of the most recognizable and marketable franchises in cinematic history. Disney + has a gritty, tautly heroic and ultimately touching story in ‘The Mandalorian’. I will be touching points on this show in a seperate piece at another time. If 2019 endee with a bang in streaming services, the two titans here were very clear. The objective here is merely to showcase numbers. Both shows have their merit. Netflix executives surely will make the same case as I am considering the following.
According to Parrot Analytics, The Witcher surpassed The Mandalorian in total demand streams. Despite being released very late in the year, with, at the time of report, only ablut a month under its belt, came close to topping demand views for shows that were available all year. Let that sink in. The Witcher came in second as a Netflix original for lifetime demand streams. In one month. Who is still the demand stream king for now? You may have guessed it. Stranger Things. Oh lover of mine, we come back to your open arms. Stranger things will only have one more season as per series writers and producers, the Duffer bros. One more glorious season. Without a doubt, Stranger Things season 4 will make a huge splash when it releases and by splash I mean Tsunami. What happens when that final curtain call is made? Does Netflix really need to look any further? The replacement is already being groomed. You see, Stranger Things is what made me sign up for Netflix, The Witcher is what is making me stay.