Netflix Turned a Creative Corner In 2017 With Originals Like ‘Dark,’ ‘Suburra’ and ‘The Punisher’

Call it the Lilyhammer of the Gods.

In February 2012, Netflix established its creative model right out of the gate. Its first original show, Lilyhammer, starred “Little” Steven Van Zant, fresh from playing a mobster on The Sopranos…as a mobster, albeit one who’s relocated to Norway for witness-protection purposes.

The road from Lilyhammer‘s quirky Sopranos rehash to Stranger Things‘ unabashed theft from ’80s pop-culture staples is not a particularly long one. All that changed was the company’s self-identification as a creator of original content rather than an online video store, and its subsequent accumulation of user data and development of a predictive algorithm to deliver the goods.

Many of the network’s original series —”original” being a relative term— speak to this desire to please the crowd with things that have already pleased them. Why have only one off-beat comedy about the mildly crazy lives of young people set in New York (Master of None), for example, when you can also have one in Chicago (Easy) and Los Angeles (Love) as well? It’s too bad Donald Glover titled his show Atlanta and took it to FX, or else I’m sure Netflix would have something on the docket for that youth-culture mecca as well. In a more traditional move, reboots are common, from the campy (Fuller House) to the acclaimed (One Day at a Time). And that little row of Netflix Original rectangles contains enough grim-visaged cops, crooks, and killers to look like a photo array you’d use to identify suspects in the world’s most focus-grouped crime.

Which is what makes shows like DarkThe Punisher, and Suburra: Blood on Rome stand out. From the outside, these 2017 debuts seem like status-quo programming. But each veered of the course they could have cruised down effortlessly, taking creative risks that yielded entertaining and provocative results.

Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action: Over at Decider I wrote about the possibility that Dark, The Punisher, and Suburra represent a creative turning point for Netflix, in which the sheer volume of material the network puts out is now enabling some shows to complicate and interrogate their genre elements rather than serving them up straight.

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