Category Archives: Entertainment

The Rise of Netflix

From Humble Beginnings

It’s interesting to think back to a time when Netflix was simply a movie rental company that sent you DVDs in the mail.  You could order from a catalog of titles and it would appear in your mailbox for your viewing pleasure.  You’d then return it to them, regardless of how long it took you to watch, and you’d receive another in its place.  There were no late fees and, at time when brick-and-mortar video stores were much more common, this was a relief to those of us who were too lazy to go return the movies on time.

Once Netflix started its online streaming service, television viewing was on a crash-course for revolution.  No one could have predicted the wild success that the company has enjoyed since, and its new shows are outshining most, if not all, cable companies and even broadcast networks.

Rising Stars

Providing a huge catalog of movies for its subscribers for a small monthly fee is what made Netflix the force it is today.  Not only could you rent movies which were difficult to find in a traditional video store, but you could also watch movies at home via your internet connection and a computer.

Eventually the streaming service continued growing, and people started paying attention.  Hollywood blockbusters became available online, alongside classics that we hadn’t seen in years.  TV shows that we watched growing up could be streamed at our leisure, as well as current shows.  With the streaming service the term, “binge-watching” was brought into the mainstream vocabulary.

Independent Network

Beginning with the runaway hit House of Cards, Netflix was now producing original content in the same way that networks and cable channels did.  Netflix had become a TV network-that-wasn’t-a-network and continued producing shows.  Orange is the New Black was another critical and fan success, along with shows like Lillyhammer, Marco Polo and the comedy The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

On top of the original programming, Netflix resurrected another cult favorite: Arrested Development.  The show ran from 2003 until 2006 and gained critical success as well as a number of awards and nominations.  Netflix then licensed the show and released them on their streaming service, and producer Brian Grazer has recently said that there will be another season of the show.

Most recently, Netflix debuted Marvel’s Daredevil, which currently holds a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  The show brings a darker edgier version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to fans.  Daredevil dares to push the envelope for violence in the Marvel Universe, as it isn’t restricted by broadcast network standards, or the PG-13 restrictions placed on the movies.

Not content to stand still, Netflix will be bringing more Marvel to our screens with shows involving Comic heroes Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist.  If that isn’t enough geek for you, it will be followed by a Defenders miniseries.

Stormy Weather

It hasn’t all been roses for Netflix.  With success comes challenge, and there have been some that have given Netflix something of a headache.

In September, 2013, the Canadian CRTC demanded that Netflix hand over user data to verify that Canadian content was being provided to subscribers as per Canadian regulations.  Netflix refused to hand over the data, and the CRTC response was that Netflix would be ignored in future talks about television in Canada.

In another public battle in the war over net neutrality, Comcast, an American ISP, demanded that Netflix pay for access in order to provide proper streaming service to its customers.  Netflix fought back, but Comcast began throttling streams from Netflix.  A settlement was reached, with Netflix paying an undisclosed sum.

The Future is Bright

Netflix is going nowhere anytime soon, and that’s great news for subscribers.  The company only continues to grow.  With anticipated new shows on the horizon, such as the Marvel shows and Sense8, the network’s popularity will only increase.

It was just revealed that Netflix has now overtaken CBS in market capitalization.  Seeing has Netflix is smaller than any of the other major conglomerates, this is an astounding feat.  It shows that the company’s management is doing something right.

So, it’s time to get the popcorn and sit back on the couch.  Binge-watching is here to stay, and Netflix is aiming to have the best content when and where you want it.  That’s not bad for the little movie rental company that could.

FRIENDS: 10 Years of Character Progression

This September marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of a little show called Friends.  The show ran from September 22, 1994 until May 5, 2004 and became a runaway hit and cultural sensation during its ten year run.  After I realized that the show had been off the air for ten years, I found that I missed my old friends, and started watching the series again from the beginning.

It was interesting to go back and watch the first few episodes again to see where the characters started.  Fans of the show, like me, have fond memories of everything that happened after and we all have our favorite moments from the series.  But watching that first episode, it really struck me how much the characters had grown throughout the course of the show.

Each of the friends was a much more simplified version of themselves, but developed depth as the first season and the whole series progressed.  Joey was the dim-witted one with a good heart, Monica the responsible and slightly neurotic one, and Phoebe was the flighty but bubbly new-age girl.   Understandably, this was done to help viewers associate with each character.  Friends was a new show, and we didn’t know who they were yet.

By watching the show again, with episodes back-to-back, I began to realize just how far the characters had come.  In particular, Rachel had developed the most out of all of the characters.  Not only did they grow from a basic type of character, their personalities completely changed from the beginning to the end of the show.

Rachel, after running out on her wedding.

Rachel began as a self-absorbed, naïve girl who ran away from her wedding.  We saw that she had been a privileged girl, living on her parents’ money and never having done a day’s work in her life.  In fact, she was clueless about doing laundry or cleaning the apartment.  After being cut off from her family’s money, she was forced to take her very first job at Central Perk—a job which she was terrible at, and didn’t enjoy.

Eventually, Rachel gets a lead on a job in the fashion industry—a career that she has always wanted.  She is happy to quit her waitressing job and go into her dream job.  Unfortunately for her, she has to pay her dues and ends up serving coffee to the people she is working for.  Through the rest of the series, she becomes more confidant and progresses through the ranks of the fashion industry to Bloomingdales, then Ralph Lauren.

By the time that Rachel’s sisters visit her, she has a secure job, making good money and has learned a lot of life lessons.  Her sisters, Jill and Amy, serve as a mirror to show us where Rachel had come from at the beginning of the show.  The contrast between Rachel and her sisters is striking by this point in the show and, if we didn’t realize it before, we finally see just how far she has come.  They are spoiled and self-centered, and Rachel has a hard time dealing with them, yet she used to be like them.

Rachel and her daughter Emma.

Some of my favorite shows have shown a lot of character progression, in fact that’s one of the factors which make a show great.  Friends had that progression for everyone, and especially Rachel.  We got to see her go from a sheltered life with no skills to a confident working mother.  We lived and laughed with all of these characters for ten years and watching the show again is like a reunion with people you haven’t seen in a long time, but you love hanging out with them from time to time.

The Sense8 Triple-Threat

Netflix has recently become the home of some very high profile television series.  With the runaway success of both House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix has begun to have some serious clout in Hollywood.  Then, back in March, 2013, Netflix announced development of a new science fiction series called Sense8.  I was curious, and after reading more about the show, I’m genuinely excited for it.

The show revolves around eight people from all around the world who share a violent vision.  Afterward, they find they are telepathically linked with each other, sought by a man who is trying to unite them and hunted by another who is trying to kill them.

Perhaps the biggest reason I’m geeked about this show is the talented and respected individuals developing the show: Joe Michael Straczynski (writer) and Andy and Lana Wachowski.  All three of these individuals have created some great entertainment, and their collaboration could mean something truly special.

Straczynski has had a long and successful career as a writer and producer.  Some of his credits go all the way back to episodes of animated series like He Man and the Masters of the Universe,  and The Real Ghostbusters.  Episodes written by Straczynski for The Real Ghostbusters are among fan favorites for that series.

Joe Michael Straczynski

Straczynski  has also written for shows such as Murder She Wrote, Jake and the Fat Man and, most famously, Babylon 5, for which he also served as Executive producer.  Some of his big-screen credits include the highly underrated Changeling and Underworld: Awakening.

Babylon 5 was and still is loved by its fans.  Straczynski went to great lengths to map out an entire story over five seasons, which gave the show a feeling of direction and continuity between seasons.  Where some shows seem aimless and not thought out, Babylon 5 always knew where it was going.  Although the production sometimes showed its low budget, the show’s enormous and intertwined stories carried it with characters that we could all related to in one way or another.

With Straczynski behind the writing of Sense8, we can expect the show to be filled with interesting characters and a strong story that carries from episode to episode and season to season.  In fact, the show was planned out as a five season story from beginning to end, then pitched that way.  The cast has reportedly been signed on for the full run of the show too, so fans can rest assured that the series will run its full course without being cancelled (I’m looking at you, broadcast networks).

Lana and Andy Wachowski.

The other two thirds of the Sense8 creators are Andy and Lana Wachowski, creators of the mega hit franchise The Matrix.

The two also have writing and producing credits for V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas and the upcoming Jupiter Ascending.  Their geek cred is also further extended, since they have written for the comic book medium early in their careers.  The Wachowskis admit that they like telling multi-part stories, making a series the perfect medium for them.  Add to that their visual style and creativity to potentially make Sense8 something much better than your average show.

On top of the powerhouse show runners, is a strong cast made up of several sci-fi alums.  The cast includes Naveen Andrews (Lost), Daryl Hannah (Kill Bill), Tuppence Middleton (Jupiter Ascending), Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who) and Brian J. Smith (Stargate Universe).  Sci-fi lovers rejoice!

Naveen Andrews, Daryl Hannah and Brian J. Smith.

Sense8 has potential to do for science fiction what House of Cards has done for political dramas.  With Netflix on board and a top-notch group of people producing and writing the show, it’s something that I’m very much excited to see.  The show is slated for release either in late 2014 or early 2015.  I will be binge-viewing!