Published on [Permalink]
Reading time: 3 minutes
Posted in:

Polished excrement and diamonds in the rough

I think I figured out what bugged me about Netflix-produced live action shows: their gloss-to-effort mismatch.

Imagine a 2x2 with the horizontal axis showing effort required to make something (time spent developing the script, repeating takes, editing) and the vertical axis showing how glossy the output is (which is mostly a function on equipment quality and CGI). Here are the four quadrants, clockwise from top right:

  1. High effort, high gloss: the HBO quadrant or, if you are move into movies and like aliteration, the Kubrick quadrant — where show runners obsess over every detail and are sometimes even accused of mistreating employees. The quadrant where a man notorious for going behind schedule over budget builds a ship only to sink it — and win nearly dozen Academy Awards for it. Note, however, that many HBO shows are actually in the
  2. High effort, low gloss: the CGP Gray quadrant, where hundreds of hours of research are sublimated in talking stick figures. The Wire and Curb Your Enthusiasm would be here, as would some of the best movies coming out of Hollywood which have to make an additional effort not to be too glossy and feel “more authentic”, though there is a thin line between actual and high-gloss authenticity. Interestingly, CGP Gray himself is on YouTube, but most of YouTube is in the
  3. Low effort, low gloss: the YouTube quadrant, epitomized by its very first upload and now flourishing with DIY instructions, unboxing videos and attempts at ASMR. I suppose most if not all of TikTok, YouTube shorts and Instagram Reels (or are they Stories?) would also be in this, the quadrant for the rest of us. Note, however, that much of what we now think as “YouTuber content” falls instead in the
  4. Low effort, high gloss: the Netflix quadrant, also known as “we’ll fix it in post”. Expensive actors aren’t that expensive if you only do one take per shot and you don’t need to scout for locations if every scene is shot in front of a green screen, but hey it’s a Dolby Atmos DolbyVision Dolby Everything 4K HDR 120Hz wonderland which screams high-quality but feels fake. Much of highly lauded AppleTV+ content would also be here, Disney+ as well, Amazon Prime Video goes without saying. Billions of dollars spent on fake gloss that people easily sense, and even if they can’t put it in words they vote with their eyeballs which continue to be glued to the other 3 quadrants.

To be clear, there is effort spent on the gloss too — but that effort could in some cases be seen as polishing a turd. So another way to name the quadrants would be:

  1. Polished diamond
  2. Diamond in the rough
  3. Turd in the rough
  4. Polished turd

Only one of those doesn’t make sense, and it’s the one we are avoiding! “Turd” may be too harsh — I view this very blog as having both its feet planted firmly in quadrant 3, but I hope you get the idea. Terminology aside, it’s a useful mental model to have.

✍️ Reply by email

✴️ Also on