Releasing It’s A Sin on demand does a discredit to its importance

It’s a Sin is undeniably a monumental moment in British television.

A mainstream show about the AIDS crisis in Britain with a cast made up almost entirely of gay men.

The mere thought of this was inconceivable even in recent years, and it is truly wonderful to see it on screen.

The thousands of closeted teenagers who will see themselves represented in a show made about gay men by a gay man is a beautiful thought.

Beyond this, the Russell T Davies show opens up incredibly important conversations about the treatment (or lack of) AIDS patients experienced at the hands of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government.

AIDS activist and writer Larry Kramer called America’s response “genocide by neglect”, and the sentiment is the same across the pond.

The shame instilled in gay men by a homophobic status quo from the minute they were born is another key theme throughout.

The five episodes are such a rich tapestry of historical references, characters influenced by real people and talking points that it is a huge shame that the show is available to stream all at once on All 4.

Themes explored are strongly developed throughout, but such is the benefit of television and its longer form that it covers an immense amount of ground in five hours, and still has so much more to offer.

Episode four sees Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) eviscerate Section 28, Thatcher’s regressive legislation that banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, at a party to great applause from all attendees.

The scene is a sidestep from the general narrative of It’s a Sin, but as Ash speaks to his audience on screen, he is also directly addressing the audience watching at home, it is a call to arms to talk about Section 28, to raise these conversations and the effects they had at the time, both on the AIDS crisis and on queer life in general, and to the lasting effects they still have to this day.

These moments deserve further conversation in the press and by the general public, they deserve to be discussed in rich detail, their real life effects cry out for more analysis, yet by making every episode available on demand this conversation has been stifled.

With hit shows such as this, weekly release schedules work in perfect harmony with the press to produce more in-depth criticism and reporting.

While releasing a show all at once might produce a slew of click-bait articles to entice the baying mob momentarily desperate for more content, a longer release allows for more in-depth commentary of each episode.

A perfect example of this is 2019’s Watchmen, while every episode was richly detailed and just elusive enough to always leave you questioning what you had watched, episode six – This Extraordinary Being – was particularly arresting, and prompted some of the best critical writing on television in recent memory.

It is not the fault of Channel 4, the TV market simply dictates that a majority shows are available to stream in their entirety as soon as they premiere, but it simply is not conducive to promoting long-lasting conversations around their media.

The same phenomena is easily observed any time a new show is released by Netflix. Twitter is awash with everyone binging it in days, only for no one to care a week later.

Take Regency era drama Bridgerton for example.

All eight episodes were released at once on Christmas Day, and conversation around the show is nearly dead just over a month later.

Were the show to follow a weekly rollout, it would not have finished yet, and would have at least another two weeks of coverage in the press and on social media.

While the current media landscape, heavily oriented towards streaming services, might make this seem the most desirable way to release the programme, with Netflix reporting that 82 million households have watched the drama in its first 28 days on the platform (although they do not specify for how long those households watched), the conversation around it is now almost entirely dead.

It has fallen into the vat of series and movies on the platform, to be forgotten about until the second season inevitably arrives and is devoured with the same fervour only for the cycle to repeat itself.

The weekly rollout works for many reasons, most notably, the element of suspense.

The week spent waiting to see how that cliffhanger is going to resolve itself, the conversations in the workplace or increasingly on social media about your theories, pouring over the minutiae details in anticipation.

Releasing a show in its entirety instantly begins a race to finish the show for fear of missing out or seeing spoilers online, yet this does little justice to the viewers enjoyment of the show.

In fact, one 2017 study by researchers from the University of Melbourne found that binge watching a show can have a negative effect on its enjoyment.

Three groups were studied on their memory and enjoyment of BBC Cold War drama The Game, the groups were split into those who watched the entire series in one day, one episode a day and one episode a week.

Those that binged the show in one day showed significantly less enjoyment than the other two groups, and despite scoring highly on a memory test 24 hours after watching, their knowledge decreased the most over a 140 day period.

In contrast to this, the groups with more traditional daily and weekly viewing schedules had higher self-reported levels of enjoyment and better recollection over time.

TV scheduling creates a communal experience first and foremost, the joy of watching something and knowing everyone is watching alongside you in their own living rooms, and it is an experience that is particularly to be savoured in our current lockdown circumstances.

Police and detective shows are frequently scheduled for weekly releases still, escaping the wrath of being dumped all in one go, as to keep the suspense between each episode, and it is time, for the sake of everybody, this same courtesy was payed to other dramas.

BBC police drama Line of Duty is perhaps the most notable of these shows, the multi-award winning programme follows anti-corruption units investigating bent coppers.

Season five aired in 2019 and followed them on the hunt for crime top dog ‘H’, cliffhangers galore and a million different possibilities sent audiences into overdrive, coming up with their own theories between episodes, and showed that viewers are still receptive to weekly release models.

It’s a Sin is still airing weekly over the next month, so please, try not to forget about it if you have already finished it.

The show deserves your full attention for the following four weeks it will air and for much, much longer.

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