The Power and Frustration of Netflix

When it comes to technology, I am change-resistant. Staying “current” is a costly, never-ending battle. I tend to find something I like and stick with it until it falls apart.

There are alleged exceptions to this methodology, however. My upgrades to our home entertainment system often seem to occur right around the time of the latest home media release of a certain movie saga.

These are only coincidences and cannot be proven otherwise.

In fact, it is normally my wife who drags me kicking and screaming into a new technology realm. Back in 2008, she was adamant about getting me an iPod music player. “Why would I need that? I have CDs,” I said.

Apple’s iPod and associated iTunes software quickly became an obsession that unlocked my music collection. Now, all of these great songs stuck on otherwise mediocre albums were suddenly getting personal airplay due to the power of (carefully controlled) randomness. While I still collect CDs for key artists, I have fully embraced digital music. As with my record collection, I still keep my CDs, though.

A few years later, she tried again with a Kindle Fire, Amazon’s combination touch screen tablet and eBook reader. “Why would I need that? I have a laptop for mobile computing, and I have real books,” I reminded her. On this, she was only half victorious.

The Fire demonstrated for me the potential of a touch screen tablet, but the clunky interface left much to be desired. I soon found Apple’s iPad 2 much more to my liking – but it all started with that Kindle.

As for eBooks, they have yet to catch on with me. I understand the appeal, particularly since storage space can be such a premium. I still prefer either to buy physical books and donate unwanted titles later or to borrow them from our public library.

Another piece of evidence that I will offer that my wife is actually the instigator on our technology upgrades is that she also pulled me into the smart phone era. “Why would I need that? I have a perfectly good flip phone. Plus, I have an iPad and an iPod,” I said.

Ah, well, you guessed it, I was wrong again.

Despite the valuable information my iPhone provides access to in a moment’s notice, however, I do miss that flip phone sometimes. It felt a lot more like a Star Trek communicator than my iPhone does (which was recently upgraded from a 4 to a 6 due to you-know-who).

Anyway, my dear wife’s latest attempt to pull me out of the 1980s and into the 21st century involves that powerhouse of streaming media known as Netflix.

Netflix

Netflix

Back in June, over my futile objections (“We already have more Blu-rays and DVDs than we could ever watch”), she signed us up for a free trial of Netflix. Ostensibly, this was so we could finally catch up on Scandal and actually stay current with the upcoming season for a change, rather than always being one year behind on DVD.

I quickly found Netflix to be a treasure trove of old shows (and, to a lesser extent, movies). I had enjoyed some streaming with Amazon Prime in the past, but it seemed every show I started to watch for “free” on Prime would get yanked back over to the pay side.

On Netflix, I started watching old favorites like Magnum, P.I. or The Wonder Years.

I also rediscovered shows like Cheers – which I had only sporadically watched in the past (I am nearing the end of Season 3 now).

Then there was Emergency!, a show I spent the first few years of my life watching. I called it “Johnny & Roy” back then and would re-create their adventures using my fleet of Tonka fire trucks. While I no longer play with toy trucks, it turns out I still love the show.

Though not really required for most of these old-school shows, I enjoy watching them in sequence from the beginning – filling in so many gaps that were missed by my irregular viewing habits over the years.

Some shows, such as Knight Rider, I found were better left in my fond memories. KITT was still awesome, but it turns out the car really was the best actor on the show. Who knew?

I was finally able to find an old movie I had only caught pieces of on TV about 15 years ago. It reminded me of a Twilight Zone tale, except in movie length. I was never quite able to remember the name of the movie to find it again.

Turns out it was 1961’s The Flight That Disappeared. To be honest, I do not even remember how I managed to find it on Netflix. I was glad finally to see it in its entirety, but the movie unfortunately fizzles out near the end after an intriguing set-up.

I also found Pee-wee’s Playhouse – one of the most creative Saturday morning shows ever. Imagine Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe on steroids. While revisiting the series one episode a week during breakfast each Saturday, I have been surprised at how many specific episodes I remember watching as a kid.

As I started researching the show (remember, I like knowing details), I discovered that it was none other than Cyndi Lauper that performed the wacky opening theme song. To me, the song is a classic, but it manages to annoy both my wife and our dog. There is no accounting for taste.

While searching for a specific title on Netflix is easy, I found it difficult to browse around and find random things. There are third-party websites out there that sort of help, but that should not be required.

After lots of random searching and surfing, though, I had added over 150 titles to “My List” on Netflix.

I realize all of this makes me sound like a real couch potato, but just know that I did search to see if Netflix offered any exercise videos to stream. Unfortunately, it does not.

I would have enjoyed watching a roomful of people exercise on TV as I ate my morning pop-tarts.

Despite the variety of non-fitness content available, the Netflix experience has not been perfect.

At first, we had issues maintaining connectivity. Since there were many potential points of failure (our Internet provider, our new router, our Blu-ray-player-turned-streaming device, various cables between all of these things, and Netflix itself), I knew troubleshooting would be a hassle. I swapped out some cables first, but the underlying issue remained.

Despite the fact that we had only had it for two years, I next started to suspect the Samsung Blu-ray player. I usually do not have much luck with Samsung products, but had selected this one simply because it seemed a lesser evil than Sony, whose electronic products also traditionally fail me. I researched Blu-ray players with streaming capability to replace it, but found little that was neither Samsung nor Sony.

As I was suffering from analysis paralysis around replacing the player, my wife resolved the issue by buying an Apple TV – a small and surprisingly inexpensive streaming device that hooked up to our television and surround sound system. Netflix has been fine ever since.

The Apple TV opened the door to other digital possibilities – like easily displaying the screens and playing the audio from our various Apple devices on our main television. Admittedly, I have not had any real reason to do so other than, “Because it’s cool!”

The Apple TV is also able to access my Mac’s iTunes library over the home wi-fi network, meaning I can play music from there on our surround sound system. This I have actually been doing quite often, despite the fact that it was nearly just as easy to dock my iPod into the same system. I like that all of the local cover art properly displays using the Apple TV method.

A second issue I have encountered with Netflix is not so easily resolved. It is an issue that is apparently common in most streaming services. I start watching a television series, only to have it leave Netflix before I finish.

For instance, I did not even make it through the first season of Magnum before it was gone. I might have to buy the DVDs of that one, as the show was just starting to hit its stride. Now I understand why so many people “binge-watch” marathons of various TV series on Netflix. They are afraid the shows will leave.

In addition, some shows have seasons missing, but even more problematic is that some seasons have episodes missing. I ran into this with Quantum Leap, which is missing the pilot episode that sets up the entire series. The second or third episode leads off the first season on Netflix and is even wrongly labeled as the first episode. Instead, with no warning, Sam Beckett’s adventures are joined in progress.

While I enjoy and use Netflix more than I expected, the non-permanence of streaming content makes it unlikely to replace Blu-ray or future physical media options for me. On the other hand, it is a fun way to watch TV without commercials as well as try out shows I might not otherwise attempt.

Now, if you will excuse me, it is time for another episode of “Johnny & Roy.” Where are my toy fire trucks?

5 thoughts on “The Power and Frustration of Netflix

  1. Joyce Bova has updated her Don’t Ask Forever 1994 Elvis bio with a new chapter, all photos are colour and more are added – and apparently it totally makes the Nixon weekend something completely different

    only in e-book, not dead tree reprinting…

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  2. I also watched “Emergency!” as a kid and stumbled on it years later at midnight on Saturdays on a local station after moving to the sticks. I love the show and have bought the seasons on DVD. Part of what I love is when they travel to different neighbourhoods and homes I see the world as it was when I was five or six. And Netflix? It’s different here in Canada – they’ve got nothing I’m interested in so I don’t even bother.

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    • Oh yeah, I love looking at all of the business signs, buildings, and cars as Squad 51 goes down the road on a call. There’s a similar experience when watching CHiPs. Sometimes, they go past a gas station, and it’s always fun to look at the prices.

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