It can be extremely hard to measure the success of streaming shows in this day and age with so much information kept under wraps by these black box companies who only share data when it suits them. So we have to rely on other metrics, like the fact that The Witcher is one of the highest rated Netflix originals on IMDB, alongside other hits that have gone on to last multiple seasons. Or from analysis by external companies.
One of those companies is Parrot Analytics, who (via BusinessInsider) said that The Witcher, in its US debut, was the third most “in demand” original streaming series, behind only the likes of megahits Stranger Things and Disney Plus’s The Mandalorian.
Parrot’s process measures “demand expressions,” which is “its globally standardized TV-demand measurement unit that reflects the desire, engagement, and viewership of a series weighted by importance.” That’s a little nebulous, but it may be the best we’re going to get. Netflix often avoids releasing numbers about its original series, sometimes because they’re nothing to brag about, but other times, because if they are positive, revealing something as a huge hit may lead to pesky requests for increases in pay from the cast and crew of that successful show, something many creators and actors have complained about for some time. Though on its top series, there do seem to have been successful negotiations for those increases over time, as we saw with the Stranger Things cast.
Netflix clearly is all about The Witcher, despite a slew of critical reviews that paint it as “rotten” overall, a sentiment that I, one of said critics, emphatically disagree with. Showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich has tweeted that negative reviews don’t get her down (she cites an infamous EW review that admits it skipped a number of key episodes), and she’s more concerned about what fans think. And most fans seem to love The Witcher, judging by all public metrics we can manage from IMDB scores to RT audience scores to Parrot’s “demand expressions.” Netflix already greenlit The Witcher season 2 before the first season ever arrived, so it is certainly satisfied with it.
Where is the critical and audience disconnect coming from? I’m not sure. For me personally, while I may not be a Witcher superfan on the level of some, I have read at least the first book and sunk 100 hours into The Witcher 3, so I have some level of attachment to these characters and have a general sense of what’s going on. I also braced myself for trying to sort out multiple timelines in season 1, as I was told ahead of time that was a point of confusion, and it’s easier to process if you know that’s coming (and know which of these characters don’t age as the decades pass).
I understand the Game of Thrones comparisons in the sense that yes I do think Netflix is trying to find its own answer to Thrones with The Witcher. They want a show that has that level of success and a place in the cultural conversation. But when critics expect the show to be Game of Thrones, that’s a different thing altogether, as despite the fantasy setting and emphasis on magic, the two are wildly different properties, much more focused on three main characters than sprawling ensembles. And next season, once they ditch all the winding timelines, should be easier to process for the uninitiated.
The Witcher is a hit because it’s satisfied both existing fans of the games and books, and is enough bloody, sexy fun for even non-fans to appreciate it. And yes, it does feel like a nice fantasy palate cleanser after that disappointing series finale of Game of Thrones. It scratches that itch for fans, if not critics, that much is clear.
I predict The Witcher will have a long and healthy life on Netflix, and maybe the other critics will “get it” at some point when in returns for future seasons. We’ll see.