Netflix’s ‘Most Popular’ List Is a Wasteland


Even if intriguing projects do make it onto the Top 10, it can be hard to tell the names apart. According to Netflix, U.S. viewers are currently obsessed with In the Dark and Dark Desire, Last Chance U and The Last Dance, The Kissing Booth and The Kissing Booth 2. Sometimes, sensational titles spend weeks in the No. 1 spot, such as the erotic drama 365 Days, which titillated touch-starved viewers with its sexual hijinks. But the makeup of such rankings reflects a rather banal truth: People are really bored right now, and that leaves a lot of room for uninspired content to flourish.

If HBO’s Game of Thrones was the last great piece of TV monoculture, then the pandemic has popularized a series of forgettable productions that each offers a fleeting, miniature facsimile of communal attention. Absent the usual summer blockbusters, and with few prestige shows rolling out new episodes, the landscape of American entertainment is barren enough for C- shows and movies to rack up the viewership of B+ productions, if not the associated enthusiasm. The mechanism by which Netflix measures its subscribers’ consumption habits is itself a paragon of low expectations. The company, which has historically withheld actual audience numbers, recently revealed that it counts anything longer than two minutes spent on one movie or show’s screen as a “view.” Whether because of the content’s mediocrity, or the sheer exhaustion brought on by living through a historical event, few of these “most watched” works have generated a collective viewing experience that feels cohesive, much less exhilarating.

What is there to text a friend about the way that Murphy Mason trips over herself in every other In the Dark scene because the show is hell-bent on reminding viewers that she is, in fact, blind? Even while trapped in a braiding chair for upwards of eight hours, I had nothing to say about it. That Fatal Affair, the new Perfect Stranger–esque thriller starring Nia Long and Omar Epps, would go largely unremarked upon by Black Twitter—despite putting up a decent showing on the most-popular list—felt symptomatic of this broader apathy, too: How, I wondered while watching that movie, had Netflix found a way to make me yearn for the days when the worst thing a Long character did was date a slam poet with a hoop earring?

Still, no production better captures the unbearable adequacy of such offerings than Netflix’s Kissing Booth franchise. The second film in the series has been planted firmly at the top end of the most-popular list since its release last week, even dragging the original into the ranking with it. The Kissing Booth cinematic universe, which includes another forthcoming film, is a world of middling teenage romantic hijinks that make me—a noted and very forgiving fan of the genre—contemplate never kissing anyone again. “No boobs are worth a broken nose,” a line uttered by one of the characters in the first film, has haunted me since I first heard it.

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