Much has been published about the groundbreaking Bandersnatch interactive story released this week by Netflix. The story is the first on the platform to give the viewers choices on how the narrative will play out on the screen in the same basic way that old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books captivated kids (and adults) in their heyday.
This won’t be a review of the story (I loved it overall) or a a list of the possible endings that had many reviewers going through it time and again for hours in order to get the full picture. Instead, let’s talk about what this may mean for entertainment in the future.
As usual, this is spoiler-free.
As a proof-of-concept, this was a huge success. Many have speculated that the future of television entertainment was one that took into account the viewers’ wishes while telling the story. We’ve seen this to some extent with reality TV in which the fate of contestants on shows like American Idol were determined by the voting public. But Bandersnatch took it to a whole different level by allowing the individual viewer to experience the story as they saw fit based on choices given to them on the screen. Which cereal will our hero eat? What song will he play on the bus? Will he yell at his dad… or kill him?
In many ways, this makes the story much like a video game. But the gimmick of the choice-based narrative is only part of the bigger picture. Netflix took it a few steps further by creating interactive elements outside of the story. Again, I won’t do spoilers here, but readers should know they can find pretty amazing Easter eggs by reading some of the stories that have been written about the show so far.
Do we even call it a “show” anymore? For now, we must. But the future of television entertainment may be more of an experience than anything else. It’s one that’s quite personal; friends talking about it after watching it separately likely had different experiences and possibly saw different endings to the story. This is what makes this proof-of-concept so interesting. This wasn’t just about what everyone saw, but also how they went about seeing it, where they ended up, and what they did afterwards.
Again, this is an experience more than just passive entertainment.
The only problem we have with shows like this will be time. A comprehensive storyline (which this, frankly, was not) could have literally dozens of hours of watchable footage when all is said and done. Someone could whiz through a show in an hour or two, or they could spend days delving down the various paths that are made available.
What Bandersnatch really does is open up the possibilities. As an individual work, it’s impressive considering the ground they were breaking. But it’s what can spawn from this experiment that should really excite viewers. This could be a moment worth remembering.