For those of you who like to curl up with a DVD at night mailed to you directly from Netflix, only to be disappointed after watching it for ten or fifteen minutes, or finding that the DVD is defective and unwatchable, let me suggest some of the winners we have seen on Instant Queue in the last several months. Watching a movie via Netflix streaming isn’t much different from renting a DVD, but for TV fans it offers a unique way to view one episode after another of addictive series such as “Mad Men”, “Damages”, or “Breaking Bad”. Viewers can now watch two or three one-hour episodes (or more, like us) in one sitting. A Netflix user can easily watch the whole series, even years after the series has ended. Trying to catch up on a popular TV program that is a cumulative narrative is almost impossible, without Instant Queue, even with online services like Hulu. You don’t have to bother trying to remember what happened in last week’s episode, or worse–not understanding the three-minute recap!
Netflix has now become one of the entertainment industry’s largest buyers of television reruns, committing billions of dollars to multi-year deals. (Netflix owns a house in Park City specifically for the purpose of scouting independent films for distribution rights at the Sundance Film Festival.) Consequently, some of the choices on Instant Queue have expiration dates. So, you may find that you postponed seeing a selection on your queue to discover that it is no longer available. The nearly 10,000 films and television series available via Netflix streaming are independently financed pictures, movies that are not first-run, or television series, including BBC.
Reed Hastings (the Netflix founder and current CEO) may be taking only one dollar in salary but he needs to move on acquiring more content for Instant Queue. That may be why two original TV series, financed by Netflix and intended to compete with HBO and other cable channels, are premiering this week. Netflix committed to 26 episodes of “House of Cards,” at a cost of about $4 million per episode, based on the concept and talent involved (namely, Kevin Spacey). A crime comedy called “Lilyhammer,” starring Steven van Zandt of “The Sopranos,” premieres Monday, February 6. The fourth season of “Arrested Development” will be financed and produced by Netflix as well.
Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer, said Netflix is “dabbling in original programming” in case it becomes “necessary to produce more ourselves.” Sarandos claims that the company’s algorithm derived from the massive database of Netflix customers’ viewing patterns and quality ratings can predict what will prove most popular and bid accordingly for distribution rights. (Are you kidding me? Has anyone seen how many 3-out-of-5 star ratings there are–the equivalent of a “C” grade, which is not very informative.)
But, no need to wait for the new original series to fill up your list on Instant Queue. There is a wide range of less well-known movies and television programs than on the DVD listings but we haven’t been disappointed in these series and mini-series produced by BBC (and usually first shown on public television via Masterpiece Theater).
1) Bramwell (1995): In 1895 London a woman doctor, facing extreme discrimination by all the elite hospitals, decides to open a free clinic for the poorest patients in the East End, supported by her physician father. Starring Jemma Redgrave, Bramwell prevails under the most heinous circumstances with the best of intentions if not the most successful outcomes. (31 episodes)
2) A Politician’s Wife (1995): The politics of Great Britain, that will trigger associations with “The Ides of March” as well as “The Iron Lady”, this mini-series is about a political wife’s saga to outsmart her unethical husband for his day of reckoning, starring the sublime Juliet Stevenson. (3 episodes)
3) The State Within (2006): Mark Brydon, a British ambassador to the United States, is caught in the middle of the political intrigue and coverup between the US government and Great Britain over war in Afghanistan. Jason Isaacs stars in this Golden Globe-nominated political thriller. (7 episodes)
And a few that are not from BBC:
4) The Tunnel (2001): Loosely based on true events during 1960s Berlin, an Olympic swimmer plots to dig a 145-yard underground tunnel to help his sister and others escape from the eastern side of the Berlin Wall. Absolutely riveting.
5) Casino Jack (2010): Political lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), who stole tens of millions of dollars from Native American reservations, sells his influence to Washington’s “finest” and most corrupt. As justice slowly works its way into Abramoff’s office and closes off his escape route and that of his associates, the viewer realizes that not much has changed in DC. A useful companion to watch with this drama–“Casino Jack and the United States of Money”, a documentary.
Try some of these five from my list, let me know what you would recommend, and continue to discover the more obscure but worthwhile cinematic treasures we have to choose from–more than ever before!