Breaking Bad, the amoral thriller about a mild-mannered family man who becomes a drugs baron, is celebrated for its mesmeric slowness.
It is also the show that, more than any other, turned online video service Netflix into the 21st century way to watch TV.
This exceptional drama, hailed by many as the best crime serial ever made, can be summed up by one of its most powerful images — a desert tortoise that has been wired up as a bomb. It moves so slowly, yet creates such a devastating impact.
The fact is there’s nothing in the Netflix catalogue that could be improved by watching it faster. Every edit and every performance will be ruined when speeded up. Either watch a show as it was made, or don’t watch at all [File photo]
So it is more than incomprehensible, it is an act of what to me seems like inexplicable self-harm, that Netflix announced this week a feature that lets viewers speed up shows.
Dramas and documentaries stream 50 per cent faster than normal — catering for a new generation with an attention span literally less than that of a goldfish.
Songwriters are under pressure to create hits with the hook, the catchy bit, in the first few bars, while long intros are all but forbidden on the streaming music services such as Spotify.
Take Netflix smash hit Stranger Things. Inspired by Eighties horror movies and the stories of Stephen King, it’s the story of four schoolboys who befriend a girl with psychokinetic powers and battle a ravenous beast that exists in a parallel dimension
Every gag has to be a one-liner, every political policy condensed to a slogan, because internet browsing habits have taught us never to pay attention for more than a few seconds.
We’ve all seen couples in restaurants who can’t look away from their phones to feign interest in each other for more than a few moments. These are the customers Netflix hopes to attract and keep with fast-forward TV.
Electronic sleight-of-hand means the voices and soundtrack stay at the same pitch, so the actors don’t sound like chipmunks. But they spit out their lines like they’re rushing through the terms and conditions for a credit card advert.
This feature, currently available only to viewers with Android phones and tablets, is doubtless a clever piece of computer engineering. Netflix prides itself on technical innovation.
Apart from the miracle of being able to play thousands of movies and shows to individual users on demand, whether on TV, laptop or even via smartphone on the bus, the California media company also developed predictive software that seems able to ‘read’ viewers’ minds.
By 2017 attention span was down to eight seconds. To put that in perspective, biologists think goldfish have nine-second memories. Modern humans can no longer focus for as long as a fish in a bag from the funfair
Using algorithms to analyse what each subscriber watches, Netflix computers can recommend other films from their archives.
They gauge different tastes with surprising accuracy — it’s almost embarrassing to discover an algorithm can guess your guilty pleasures.
But just because a feature is technically possible, that’s no reason to make it available.
Actors and directors have reacted with fury to the thought of TV on speed. Aaron Paul, star of Breaking Bad, tweeted: ‘That would mean they are completely taking control of everybody else’s art and destroying it. Netflix is far better than that. Am I right, Netflix?’
Judd Apatow, producer of films such as Anchorman and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, fumed: ‘No, Netflix, no. Don’t make me have to call every director and show creator on Earth to fight you on this. Don’t f*** with our timing. We give you nice things. Leave them as they were intended to be seen.’
Netflix is unlikely to back down. YouTube already offers the function, giving viewers the chance to double the playback speed.
However, the innovation on YouTube provoked little outcry, since much of its output is amateur.
And if you’ve ever sat through a homemade YouTube instruction video explaining how to unblock a sink or assemble a bookshelf from Ikea, you might think fast-forward is a very useful feature.
Now there is TikTok, a phone app that automatically plays users’ homemade videos, never more than 15 seconds long. If you can’t get enough of schoolboys doing geeky dance moves to autotuned pop, TikTok will fill that gaping hole in your life ... until you get bored by that, too [File photo]
The same applies to many amateur podcasts. These DIY radio shows can be sources of fascinating information, discussed by people who