When I watch a show, I want to be an active viewer, assuming the material merits scrutiny. With the good, complex TV shows, I want to interpret and psychoanalyze and look for symbols — the PhD approach to Peak TV. But I don’t actually want to control the narrative. Do you?
Netflix is about to allow us to shape the plot according to our own whims. In one episode of the forthcoming season of “Black Mirror,” we will be given the chance to select among alternative scenarios. The episode will develop according to our particular choices. And after we’ve chosen one arc to watch, and finish the episode, we can go back and choose other arcs to follow.
Whatever. I wish Netflix weren’t performing this experiment with one of my all-time favorite series. I suppose it’s the video-game effect, to a great extent. Many younger viewers are accustomed to interactive TV, since they play a lot of games. And reality-contest fans also like participation, as they vote for winners. So the makers of scripted TV are wondering if those same people might like to chime in on comedy and drama. HBO has also explored the interactive approach with “Mosaic,” but only in coordination with their app.
I’m a fan of the “on demand” approach to when and where I watch. But I don’t want my demands to alter story lines. The storytelling is the job of the writers and the showrunners, not the inexperienced schlepps on the receiving end. Charlie Brooker, the creator of “Black Mirror,” and his writers have done a great job for four seasons so far, and I want them to continue. I want them to commit to one story direction, not write and produce four or so different options. And if I don’t like their choices, I can take advantage of the only good interactive activity: changing the channel.