Friday, September 30, 2011

The Netflix Dilemma

Brendan < nearly unlimited Netflix freedom < time < money / education / social activity

by Brendan Cavanagh

Like a freshly-struck match, August seemed to begin and end in one hot, instantaneous flash of major personal changes. During what seems now a very brief month, I stopped working near-daily shifts at Illini Country Club for the summer, left my family at home to begin life as a sophomore at Butler and just before the month was extinguished, I bit the bullet and entered into an account with Netflix.

I felt like it was manifest destiny. The problem is I would sit in my dorm room with nothing to do, and I'd want to watch a movie or a television show. I don't have a car, so I couldn't rent a video. Once I got a video from the dorm's help desk in the lobby, but there collection is really only useful if you're a fan of every single installment of every single blockbuster franchise from Transporter to Disney / Disney Pixar to James Bond: 007 (by the way, the movie I borrowed was Disney's Sleeping Beauty. It's one of my favorites). And then, I would always try to catch up on television episodes I had missed from present or past seasons on the Internet, but there would only ever be a few available episodes to watch, if any. Ultimately, an undeniably innate moral obligation guided me to Netflix.

Did I want to pay monthly fees? Well, there is a one month-long free trial, and if I only pay for instant watch on my computer, I only pay $8 a month and can still borrow DVDs from other libraries that I plan to watch at some time in the near future when I feel like it. And $8 a month is a pretty pretty pretty small sum of money, if you think about it. I thought about it, sought some advice- basically, the third base coach was waving his arms frantically and yelling at me to run home. So I ran. I ran fast.

Since then, I've consumed instantly watchable movies and television programs as I imagine would a man who's just returned home from months of isolation on an uninhabited deserted island in time for Sunday dinner. Let's take a glance at my viewing history:

Holy ghost. A minute ago I arbitrarily searched Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide on Netflix and discovered that it is, in fact, available to watch instantly. And although only limited episodes are available on DVD (except, for some reason, Iceland has all three seasons), all three seasons are on here! Take that, Iceland!

I started off hesitantly, afraid and unsure of the power I had just been afforded. The first thing I felt like watching was a Scorsese-directed documentary on Bob Dylan I had seen three times already, No Direction Home. So after I fortunately found it, I spent a few days watching it in casual installments of varying length. Then the following weekend, for some inexplicable reason, I just had an insatiable craving for some terrible stand-up comedy, which in itself is hilarious, so I did some browsing and came across an interactive improvisational comedy performance hosted by Whose Line Is It Anyway?'s Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood. Despite my fondness for Colin back when I thought Whose Line was absolutely hysterical in fourth grade, I knew this improv bit with the less-gifted, recurring guest, Brad, had to be dumb enough. Boy, did I hit the nail on the head. The first night I subjected myself to gloriously punny program, Two Man Group, I made it through about seven minutes of a painfully unfunny "sound effects" sketch followed by one in which Colin & Brad, like puppets, could only speak to one another, their bodies manipulated entirely by two willing audience members. Basically the show's formula consisted of unfunny sketches initiated and further exacerbated by lame audience participation. Essentially Colin & Brad played comedic custodians- like a janitor might attempt to contain and clean up a first-grader's vomit with that ubiquitous, malodorous sawdust, the two man group took bad sketches and made them just a little bit more tolerable. Anyway, I wound up wanting to watch seven more minutes the next night, but since then I've lost my taste for it.

If you don't believe me, see for yourself.

I went on to watch an uncharacteristically substantial amount of stand up before easing my way into contemporary, small-time shows I never finished or got around to watching when they were on the air. I plowed my way through The League's defensive line, laughed at Louis C.K.'s believably bleak life in Louie, revisited season four of The Office, began season season four of 30 Rock, fell in love with the unfairly and prematurely cancelled Party Down and ultimately embarked on a mission to work my way through the entirety of Rescue Me, a show I had always looked over before it wrapped up on TV this month. So far, I'm on season three and still going strong. In addition to the aforementioned titles I've started several seemingly random features, though most can be attributed to nostalgia, like an episode of Rugrats, Austin Powers in Goldmember and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

The problem is this: am I spending too much time watching Netflix? I manage to squeeze it in most days between procrastinating on homework, eventually doing it, spending time with friends and accomplishing other banal tasks. So I guess I really am not wasting my life away on Netflix. My instant watch history just seems overwhelming when viewed all at once. At the risk of looking like Peter Sellars in Being There, I feel like it's not done me too much harm. Though I do wish I would spend more time reading books or getting homework done in advance. But then that's just it- if I allot myself small proportions of Netflix-watching time, will the inevitable monthly payments be worth it? Should I watch as much as I can in order to get my money's worth? At this rate, I will be, but I don't want to feel like I'm contractually and fiscally  obliged to watch obscene amounts of TV. My first scheduled payment is in two days. Do you think I should go ahead with it? They have Ned's Declassfied...