I was an early adopter of the -by-mail service of Netflix, signing up in June 2000, and maintaining my subscription without break to this very day, when few people watch DVDs anymore and indeed the company itself has orphaned its division, to concentrate on streaming and original content.
As a cable TV subscriber, I was for a number of years happy with DirecTV satellite service with TiVo recorder, especially to follow my beloved Cleveland Indians with MLB Extra Innings, but became an early cord-cutter when streaming options began to supplement s. The problem there was an inadequate DSL internet connection, which frequently made watching a frustrating experience.
Last year, after four decades in this house, we finally got a cable company to extend the connection to our rural location, and signed up for a package that included cable TV and broadband internet. The improvement in streaming was enhanced when we got a simple and economical Roku system. From that moment, I was eager to cut the cable cord again, with news, sports, and Colbert the only hold-ups. Now I’ve made the break and gone exclusively to a variety of streaming services, and this blog will reflect that change.
The “long tail” that offered so much choice in the earlier days of
has atrophied and fallen off, and now we are left
mostly with the choices presented by various streaming services. So instead of DVDs or cable broadcasts, I
will be relying on Netflix, Amazon, PBS Passport, Hulu, YouTube, and other
streaming services to deliver my daily viewing.
And as I comment on a film or show, I’ll link to the service through
which I watched it.
Not willing to give up my long-term source of DVDs by mail altogether, I’ve cut back to one disk at a time. Once my subscription was for eight at a time, but that was when Netflix had only one warehouse, out on the west coast, so turnaround was up to a week.
Not altogether coincidentally, I won’t persist in my attempt of recent years to see all the best-reviewed films of the year just past (per Metacritic and other year-end compilations). I will pre-select more according to my specific interests, and to themes offered by the respective channels.
Here are a few tv series and films that have caught (and held) my eye over the past several months, organized by streaming channel or other provider. I’m going to power through with the most cursory of comments, just to feel current once again.
Netflix still leads the list of streaming services, despite changing their focus from depth of “backlist” or reach of coverage to their own original programming, much of it very well done. (Other services followed suit, and the proliferation of them compensates for the loss in comprehensiveness.)
As an example, I was already a fan of GLOW (MC-85, NFX), and recommended its first season, but it only got better in its second. The whole concept of 1980s female wrestling may come across as T&A exploitation, but the creators of this series are almost all women, except for the Marc Maron character who is the impresario and nominal director of the show within a show. As in that show, the patriarchy is supplanted by a feminist (or at least female) collective. Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin lead a diverse and talented cast. Offering a wealth of women’s stories and portrayals, this show has more staying power than Orange is the New Black, in my opinion.
While eagerly awaiting another season of Fleabag from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, I caught up with her other series from 2016, Crashing (NFX), which certainly features her same brand of cringe humor, fearless and clueless, scathing yet humane, bordering-on-disgusting-but-nonetheless-hilarious. This show is about a group of young people who get to crash in an abandoned hospital - as “guardians” until it is torn down - and makes for a diverting take on the typical Friends template.
If you only know Hugh Bonneville as the pompous papa of Downton Abbey, you’re in for a treat with two series that show off his comic chops. W1A (
NFX) is the follow-up to Twenty Twelve, but it’s
the better show and easier to see. In
each Bonneville plays the same character, Ian Fletcher, as the BBC’s “Head of Values” after serving as “Head of Deliverance” for the 2012
London Olympics. In the distinguished
tradition of dysfunctional British workplaces, from The Office to The
Thick of It and beyond, this mockumentary brings us inside the modern
organization to observe the (lack of) work done by its denizens. It was one thing for the BBC to parody preparations for the Olympics, but a delicious layer of
self-parody is added in W1A (postal code for BBC headquarters). Each of the characters has catchphrases that
they repeat endlessly, as bureaucratic cover for being clueless or
devious. The dialogue is inventively
repetitious, and all the players have the expressiveness and timing to make the
phrases, while absolutely predictable, always fresh and frequently surprising. I don’t remember any show that made me giggle
W1A makes fun of the
BBC’s reliance on its flagship success, The Great British Bake Off,
which was tasty to me, because I have quite unexpectedly become a devoted fan
of The Great British Baking Show ( NFX), as it’s known in the Just as the U.S. BBC lost GBBO to a commercial network, with a change of cast, the
latest seasons now appear on Netflix instead of PBS, where I watched most of
the previous seasons. I
miss Mary and the two original comedians, but the charm of the
show still resides in the characters and travails of the contestants. This is the only food prep reality show that
I have ever watched, and I don’t intend to watch another, but I’m pretty well
hooked on this one, for its cross-section of British character types. Berry
As Netflix original series go, I have to register disappointment at the sequel to The Staircase (MC-92, NFX), brought back largely to cash in on the true crime serial craze. I was riveted by the first ten episodes sometime back, but finally made up my mind of the convicted murderer’s actual guilt. And these extra three episodes, as he is released from prison on a technicality and has to decide whether to take a plea or be subject to retrial, as far as I was concerned, just gave a narcissistic psychopath the chance to perform for the camera. It was especially annoying because that difficult choice was exactly what was offered so poignantly to the hero of Rectify, one of my all-time favorite tv series.
On the other hand, Netflix’s money was very well spent with Tamara Jenkins’ film Private Life (MC-83, NFX), starring Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti as an artsy
Lower Manhattan fortysomething couple trying to have a child “by any
means necessary.” Funny and true, at
human scale, with generous acceptance of the characters and their foibles, this
film is a delight. Fertility treatments
and adoption interviews consume much of the couple’s time and energy, with high
hopes and crushing disappointments. Hahn
and Giamatti are outstanding as the neurotic and dyspeptic pair, who are
amusing and affecting by turns. Kayli
Carter offers welcome support as the sort-of-niece who moves in with them and
becomes enmeshed with their baby-making hopes and schemes. This is independent filmmaking at its best,
and Netflix deserves credit for throwing a bit of its money in this direction.
To a lesser degree, the same might be said of The Land of Steady Habits (MC-71, NFX), but while Tamara Jenkins outdoes herself, Nicole Holofcener does not come up to her very estimable best. The title connotes suburban
, where Ben Mendelson has dropped out of the whole
commuter-consumer lifestyle. The best
thing in this Cheever-esque film is his against-type casting. His characters usually convey a sense of
underlying menace or madness, but here he is by turns endearingly and
infuriatingly bemused and befuddled by the new life he’s trying to find. Edie Falco is his ex-wife, and Connie Britton
is a potential new girlfriend. (But
where is Catherine Keener, Holofcener’s mainstay, in this man-centered
I doubt the Coen brothers were dependent on Netflix to back The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (MC-79, NFX), but I bet they relished not having to worry about box office gross, while still being in line for film awards recognition. Though not always attracted to their gleeful mayhem or sardonic (if not nihilist) worldview, I always have to tip my cap to their mastery of filmmaking and witty approach to genre. This six-part deconstruction of the Hollywood Western is shot and acted exceedingly well, beautifully designed and cannily directed, if a little off-putting in gore, and somewhat hollow at the core. The gunslinger, the rustler, the traveling thespian, the gold panner, the gingham girl on the
Oregon trail (an outstanding Zoey Kazan), the odd assortment of
characters on a stagecoach – you’ve seen them all before, but given new life by
the literate and visually acute style of Joel and Ethan Coen.
Netflix also unearths some otherwise hidden independent films like Krisha (MC-86, NFX), which won some festival awards in 2016, then disappeared from view. Trey Edward Shults raised money on Kickstarter to shoot this film, his first feature, in nine days at his mother’s home in
, cast mostly with family and friends – but there is
nothing amateurish about it. It’s a
typical story of family dysfunction at Thanksgiving, but with a granular
particularity that sets it apart. It
plays almost like a real-life horror film, but clearly went to school on John
Cassavettes’ A Woman Under the Influence.
The title character, as performed by Shults’ aunt Krisha Fairchild,
is an aging hippie with a history of addiction, trying to reconnect with her
estranged family. His mother is her
sister, in the film as in real life, and their mother also appears as
the grandmother, while he himself plays Krisha’s son, who wants nothing to do
with the mother who abandoned him. It
sounds like a prescription for embarrassment all round, but unfolds like an
accident pile-up in slow-mo, from which you can’t look away. Texas
[Click through for further choices from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other streaming services]