Netflix’s supernatural thriller, Chambers, was not renewed for a second season. On the surface this might seem puzzling because the show has an interesting hook. A Native American teenager suffers a heart attack during a rainstorm. Miraculously, a donor is found - a wealthy white teen girl from the neighboring town. However, there’s something strange about this new heart, as the main character begins experiencing the dead girl’s memories and the heart starts to take over its new host. Naturally, the town and everyone in it has secrets which are gradually exposed during the course of the show. It ends on a series of cliffhangers that were so obviously structured in anticipation of a second season that it almost makes you feel bad for creator Leah Rachel. Almost.
Is that a good premise for a supernatural thriller set in the parched landscape of the Southwest with the potential to explore themes of class and racial inequality? Yes, it is! And it was that premise that sustained my interest in the show, even in the face of diminishing returns. So here are the main reasons why the show was bad:
It’s too long. Plain and simple. The first season was 10 episodes, but the plot is actually pretty simple, as is the big reveal at the end. It certainly didn’t need 10 hours to be fully teased out and developed. What ends up happening is that the writers were clearly scrambling to think of ways to pad it out to the full episode order, instead of letting the plot move along at a natural pace. This means characters are frequently forced to do really, really illogical things - often directly contradicting statements that they made moments earlier - simply because the writers need an excuse to stretch things out. Now compare that to the tight, logical consistency of Requiem’s 6-episode first season, which had basically the same plot but was executed far more elegantly, economically and smartly.
Over-confidence. Not only was the first season too long, but it was also so sure that it would be a smash and get a second season that it doesn’t even answer most of the questions it raises, while using the finale to annoying raise even more questions. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I don’t mind some ambiguity, but when a show is structured in such a way that the ambiguity is basically the whole point (what I like to call the Damon Lindelof Effect) it’s not going to be good. Structure your first season in a way that you raise some interesting puzzles that get solved, or at least partially solved, in a satisfying way. Don’t structure your first season to make it as long as possible, just so that at the end the viewer can enjoy the promise of…. even more, longer half-baked mysteries.
It’s badly acted. I don’t know if they blew their entire casting budget hiring Uma Thurman, but they apparently didn’t have much left to spend on the rest of the cast. Sivan Alyra Rose is pretty good in the lead role, and some of the supporting characters are not half bad. But when it comes to Big Uncle Frank, his acting was so bad it actually took me out of the show. Repeatedly. There are a number of characters for whom that is true. If you’re going to stretch your cocktease of a first season out as long as possible with a bunch of nonsensical character actions, it’s just an added insult to subject the viewer to bad acting as part of the deal.
Not surprisingly, Netflix didn’t pick it up for a second season leaving everyone to wonder for all time whether Big Frank will ever get out of jail, or whether that other kid will get out of that place he is staying or what those crystals were, except actually nobody is going to wonder that because nobody cared.
TL;DR: Make shorter shows, America.