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It might soon be possible to burn through episodes of The Office even faster. Netflix is now testing variable playback speed from 0.5x to 1.5x on Android devices, tech news site Android Police confirmed yesterday. The news quickly drew backlash from Hollywood big shots, who see the option to alter playback speed as yet another blow to the vision of creatives and to the cinematic experience.
"Don’t fuck with our timing. We give you nice things. Leave them as they were intended to be seen," wrote filmmaker Judd Apatow. Animator Brad Bird, directors Peyton Reed and Peter Ramsay, and Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul shared similar thoughts. "That would mean they are completely taking control of everyone else’s art and destroying it," Paul tweeted. But hear me out: What if speeding videos up isn't bad after all? What if, for some things, it's actually great?
Their argument against playback speeds is fair when it comes to some shows and movies. It would be a disservice for anyone's first viewing of Breaking Bad to be one in which Walter's voice is sped up by 1.5x and Vince Gilligan's iconic time-lapses become even more rushed, and as much as one might want to speed up parts of Martin Scorsese's hulking three-and-a-half-hour-long The Irishman, there's probably cinematic merit in watching the whole thing as-is. But that's not what this is for. Variable playback is for bad stuff, not "art," and it's for all of us who watch it even though we know it doesn't really deserve our full attention.When Grey's Anatomy has given you 16 seasons and you're just trying to catch up with who the hell Meredith is even dating these days, put it on 1.5x. When the couple on House Hunters is too insufferable, speed up. When you've seen too much violence on Walking Dead, make it go by faster, since you're probably switching tabs anyway. There are plenty of shows where the common use cases aren't what anyone involved in the creative process intended—like binging Grey's while sad, zoning out on Planet Earth while stoned, replaying Office episodes while trying to fall asleep. But fast viewers are better than no viewers and maybe variable speed can keep people watching when plot lines drag on too long.Taking time into your own hands isn't just a good thing when it comes to bad shows. Plenty of podcast and audiobook apps offer variable playback speeds, perfect for when standard pacing makes a series feel too dragged out, and variable speeds up to 2x are a blessing on YouTube, when sitting through 20 minutes of someone's half-hearted apology video starts to feel pointless.So many things have been blamed for destroying the cinematic experience. Legacy directors like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola rail against Marvel for cheapening cinema, while Marvel directors now take their potshots at Netflix. A beef between big streaming services and Quibi, an upcoming short-form platform where shows will be only seven to 10 minutes, seems pretty much inevitable. Some things, however, aren't really about the experience, and for some of the junk we indulge in now, it's probably best to have it over faster.