TV review: Bandersnatch, Kimmy Schmitt and the interactive Netflix Experience
Image: Taken From Netflix Website
What would happen if we had the opportunity to recognize the implications of our choices, only to relive them until the desired results are achieved? Netflix’s approach to this is “Netflix Interactive”, attempting an answer through special ‘choose your own adventure’ episodes with shows like Black Mirror and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt. The repercussions of singular choices are shown throughout the episodes, with death, marriage, success, and bouts of insanity resulting from seemingly insignificant decisions in one’s life.
According to the streaming service’s website, “In each interactive title, you can make choices for the characters, shaping the story as you go! Each choice leads to a different adventure, so you can watch again and again, and see a new story each time.”
Netflix offers nine interactive titles at this time, varying in genre and audience reach. Titles can be found Here. I am going to reflect on the two most popular titles as of now: Bandersnatch, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy Vs. The Reverend.
Bandersnatch follows a young programmer in 1984 England, who “begins to question reality as he adapts a dark fantasy novel into a video game.” It's marketed as a ‘mind-bending tale with multiple
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy Vs. The Reverend, on the other hand, takes a more absurd, eccentric approach to the nature of Netflix Interactive. A synopsis of the episode reads, “Explosions! Josh Groban! A dancing hamburger! Kimmy’s on her biggest adventure yet - and you decide how the story goes.”
Despite highly contrasting content and genre with these two shows, the episodes both explore the concept of free will as it relates to daily life decisions and impending outcomes. In doing so, audiences engage with both mundane and far-fetched choices which shape the rest of the episode.
This method of viewing entertainment draws the audience into the narrative presented to them; it breaks the fourth wall just as when we, in real life, may deliberate over our own consequences. It makes television that much more realistic, in an era when shows already infringe on individuality and identity.
Will the drugs Titus consumes stop him from assisting Kimmy in her mission? Will Jacqueline’s incessant attempts at saving Titus’s role in a movie leave her with hopelessness? Will Kimmy make peace with her past, making her future with her new husband that much more meaningful? These results are up to the audience - they control the narrative.
Bandersnatch works similar to this, though with darker results. How can viewers choose the right path towards Stefan’s success? How can they avoid a timeline in which Stefan succumbs to madness, murder, or selling himself out towards larger corporations? Does the episode serve as a warning to viewers that their passions and drives can send them down a path of darkness and hopelessness?
As someone who struggles with anxiety and the seemingly infinite amount of results that may occur from my actions, my experience with Netflix Interactive was almost therapeutic. Varied choices result in varied outcomes, and I can see how my actions have consequences without having to deliberate on them for too long.
When I’m paralyzed with fear or uncertainty over my future, I have to remember that things present themselves without thought, and likewise I must react with a forethought that remains undetermined at the moment. In this sense, my actions matter significantly, and are meaningless just the same. And I can find comfort in this ambiguity.