On Tuesday, Netflix launched its very first interactive TV show; Puss in Boots: Trapped in an Epic Tale. For the first time in streaming television, the viewer is given a myriad of options to choose, all of which change the adventure of Puss in Boots. But how much is the viewer really in control? Turns out, not all that much. As it stands, the interactive Puss in Boots mostly offer a smattering of different middles, and only two distinct endings.
In order to control the action of Puss in Boots: Trapped in an Epic Tale you’ll have to access your Netflix account via an IOS device or a TV with a remote. This means you can’t do the interactive stuff on your laptop, at least not yet. Maybe Puss is in Cahoots with mobile device-makers.
Once you get going, there’s a scrolling menu at the bottom of the screen which gives you an idea of which points in the story where you’ll have choices. The reason why Puss in Boots is being given choices by the viewer actually pays homage to the Choose Your Own Adventure books of old: Puss in Boots is trapped inside of a magic book about Puss in Boots. This transforms the viewer into the “reader.” Meta, right?
Throughout the various tales, both Puss in Boots and the Storyteller try to influence the “reader” to make different choices. For example, you can put Puss into the story of Jack and the Beanstalk or Goldilocks. But, a lot of these choices are illusionary. If you make the “wrong” choice, the narrative will send you back on the “right” choice.
For example, if you take the Jack and the Beanstalk “choice,” it actually won’t stick; the story will eventually force you back on the Goldilocks path. This kind of false choice happens a lot, meaning that there aren’t really different stories here, but instead, a series of brief breaks that Puss takes from one of two over-arching narratives.
The only true choice is whether you send Puss on a pirate adventure with Sinbad or into a kind of faux-Snow White story, in which he is destined to end up with the evil queen. The Sinbad one is a little less interesting, and mostly has an unhappy ending, which makes the Snow White/Evil Queen storyline a lot more enticing for the “reader” — so much so, in fact, that you’re given several opportunities to head on that path.
Weirdly, two different scenarios along the Snow White path allow the “reader” to decide if Puss will end up kissing someone or not. The first involves Puss (a cat) kissing a sleeping human woman. The second, gives Puss the option of kissing the Evil Queen (also cat), or shaking hands. Some kind of over-arching morality is clearly at play with these fake-choices. If you opt to have Puss kiss sleeping woman, the Storyteller will create an abrupt ending, one which again, corrects the story and sends Puss back on a story path to pursue the Evil Queen.
At the end of this story-branch, if you try to get Puss to only shake hands with the Evil Queen, a kiss is still coming. Because if Puss decides to shake hands, the Queen will kiss Puss, which will create a musical montage identical to the one in which Puss “chooses” to kiss her first. The message? The Netflix gods don’t condone cat-on-human romance, but cat-on-cat kissing is actually compulsory.
At one point in the journey, Puss tries to declare his autonomy. “I think I am alive!” he bellows a cartoon paraphrase of Descartes. For children, he certainly will seem more alive than ever. But for those adults wondering about the potential of streaming interactive TV, this will seem like and adventure they’ve chosen many times before.
Netflix will release its next interactive show, Bobby Thunderstruck, next month.