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Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

If I asked you what your favorite TV drama was, current and/or all-time, what would you say?

What’s mine? Oh, thank for asking, loyal reader! A few months ago, I’d have been ready with my oft-repeated answer: HBO’s The Wire and AMC’s Breaking Bad. These were my 1 and 1a.

Yet recently another show has emerged that has earned its share of a three-way tie in my TV drama Mount Rushmore: NBC’s Friday Night Lights. The series centers around a high school in the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, and its students, its football team, the team’s first year coach, Eric Taylor, and his wife, Tami Taylor. The Taylors are played by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.

What’s strange about this addition to my list is that the Friday Night Lights hasn’t been on the air since 2011, when it wrapped up an improbable five-season, 76-episode run. I say improbable because like The Wire and Breaking BadFriday Night Lights was critically acclaimed but low-rated, and was always on the verge of cancellation due to lack of viewership.

My wife and I binge-watched the final four episodes of the series this past Memorial Day Monday and I’m still pretty amped after the finale. But I’ve been thinking about FNL’s place on my list for a while now, so we’re outside the PH zone when I say it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

FNL1Netflix-recommended, wife-approved. Friday Night Lights came highly recommended via Netflix’s aptly named “Recommended for Bobby” section. I figured it would become one of my shows, like Louie, to watch when my wife was not home (this, rather than one of our shows, like Orphan Black, which I’m forbidden to watch without her).

One night my wife came home to me watching FNL and realized she’d actually seen the episode I had on. It turned out she’d already seen the entire first season when it had originally aired on NBC. From that point on FNL was officially an our show.

We were, of course, tempted to speed through seasons 2 through 4 in a week or two because we couldn’t get enough. But really there was no time crunch to catch up before the next season started—the supposed “Netflix Effect”—because the show was already off the air (this also effectively eliminated the possibility of reading spoilers online). So we took our time and only watched a few episodes a week—a true test of our collective willpower.

How the hell did I (almost) miss this show??? The one gripe I have with FNL is NBC’s marketing of it back in 2006. When I first heard there was a new show coming out called Friday Night Lights based on the eponymous book and movie (which I saw and enjoyed) I thought, “Now it’s a TV show, too? Haven’t they already squeezed enough out of this one story?” I didn’t know the show would be fictional (i.e. inspired by but not based on the actual 1988 Permian Panthers high school football team from the book and movie), would take place in present day, and would be, well, really freakin’ good.

When the show came out I was 24 years old and exactly the sort of person who would have watched Friday Night Lights—had I known a little more about it. In fact in Grantland’s terrific oral history of Friday Night Lights, co-executive producer John Zinman mentions the lack of clarity of the promotional posters, which made it seem like a football show rather than a drama with football in it.

Gloriously in-your-face product placement. Sometimes product placement on TV programs is seamless, and other times it’s uber obvious. On FNL, two brands’ product placements stood out, but each was pulled off in a way that I didn’t mind as a fan of the show–or as an advertising professional.

The characters on FNL spent a lot of time at Applebee’s. When a scene opened at the leading “neighborhood” family restaurant chain, the external shot always clearly showed the Applebee’s signage. My favorite Applebee’s placement within the placement was Coach Taylor’s quip, “Did they change this menu or what?” (They did, Coach Taylor. Thanks for bringing this to America’s attention.)

Coach Taylor’s teams wear Under Armour uniforms and accessories. There is no mistaking the UA logos that are EVERYWHERE. In season 4 when Coach Taylor’s team is strapped for cash, his friendly Under Armour sales rep is willing to work with him on deferring his payments a while. (And your friendly local Under Armour rep would be willing to work with you as well, America.)

For the record I found product placements far less distracting than the fictitious colleges constantly referenced on the show: TMU? Braemore College? Oklahoma Tech? The Chicago Art Institute?

FNL3

Tough love from Coach Taylor.

The Great Coach Taylor. We’re led to believe that Coach Taylor knows the X’s and O’s of the game better than anyone, but to me it always seemed that he was no better an on-field coach than the next guy (though his play-calling was certainly ballsier than most). What makes him The Great Coach Taylor is his ability to work with teenagers, often whom are inadvertently sabotaging themselves for reasons they don’t entirely understand. As his wife tells him in a moment of self-doubt, “You are a molder of men.”

(Mancrush alert: I became so enamored with the Coach Taylor character that most of my time watching the show I was terrified he would do something “bad” and I’d have to find a new idol. Spoiler: That didn’t happen, and my new mantra is WWCTD?)

Tami Taylor. In that same Grantland piece Connie Britton said she wasn’t willing to reprise her role as the “coach’s wife” (she was Billy Bob Thornton’s wife in the movie version of FNL) unless her character had more depth than simply rooting for the Panthers from the stands.

Talk about ballsy play calling. Britton wasn’t working a ton at that point and could have used a steady gig, even if it was glorified extra work. But she was right: her role on the TV series turned out to be as important as any character’s, including Coach Taylor himself. The balance the character provides as Coach’s counterpart both inside their home as a wife and mom and as a fellow molder of young men and women as a guidance counselor makes the show. As much as I love Coach Taylor (see above), the show just wouldn’t be as strong if he didn’t have Tami to support and challenge him (more on that in the next section).

(Britton’s stellar work on FNL no doubt helped her score her next two TV series, FX’s American Horror Story and ABC’s Nashville.)

Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden play mom and daughter, Tami and Julie Taylor.

Connie Britton and Aimee Teegarden play mom and daughter, Tami and Julie Taylor.

Mr. & Mrs. Taylor. Part of me is glad I missed the boat when FNL originally aired on NBC and I was still in my twenties. Now that I’m in my thirties and married I have a much stronger appreciation for Eric and Tami Taylor’s relationship.

If the show is about a handful of subjects—perhaps least of which is high school football in Texas—one such subject is Taylors’ marriage. They negotiate every minor disagreement (Eric invited the entire team to a barbecue at their house and didn’t tell Tami until the last minute!) and major family decision (no examples here as not to spoil!) with mutual respect and are never intentionally hurtful. Coach Taylor: “Marriage requires maturity. Marriage requires two people that will listen, really listen to each other. Marriage most of all requires compromise.” This friggin’ guy.

Football is dangerous. While I respect the fictional Coach Taylor (and the men like him who I’m sure exist in real life) it’s tough to reconcile the ideas that 1) football is a team sport that at its best can build an individual’s character and bonds among teammates that few other activities or sports can, and 2) football at its worst can be extremely dangerous and in some cases deadly.

Many questions about the safety of football have arisen in the last few years since FNL went off the air. I can’t help but wonder whether growing criticism, particularly as it relates to head injuries, might have marred the show’s positive depiction of football in some way. A critical scene in the pilot addresses this—a player is paralyzed as a result of an on-field collision—but rarely again in the series are we reminded how dangerous the game can be.

Needless to say I recommend FNL to anyone who has Netflix and loves compelling stories and great acting. Have you seen FNL? What’s your all-time favorite TV drama?

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Playing Catch-Up

When I was a kid my mom would sometimes take my brother and me to visit her friend from high school, Lana. Lana and her husband Richard had a great apartment in Queens filled with assorted kitsch I can still picture twenty years later.

Lana and Richard have always enjoyed traveling, especially by train. (I’m serious. The day after our wedding, Richard commended my wife and me for how convenient our wedding venue was to a train station.)

Apart from countless train-related talismans, the apartment also featured Lana’s collection of Coke cans from around the world. And I can still vividly recall a photo of the two of them floating in a boat on the Ganges River in India.

Yet the most memorable aspect of their charmingly cluttered apartment was a library of VHS tapes, what seemed like a hundred or so, lined up in small wooden bookshelf beneath their TV. Lana recorded every episode of her favorite soap opera, General Hospital, on her VCR. But because the show aired during the day and she didn’t have always have time to catch up on the latest episode, Lana fell behind on her GH. Years behind.

Back then, before the Internet or DVRs, staring at a bookshelf full of unwatched tapes might have seemed daunting (the show’s been on since 1963 and as of 2013 has shot over 13,000 episodes). But Lana simply kept plugging away, happily reporting the year she was up to when we asked how far along she’d gotten.

It turns out, Lana was ahead of her time–in today’s media landscape, “time-shifted viewing” is all the rage. Why watch your favorite show on the network’s schedule when you can simply craft your own prime time lineup?

Meanwhile here in 2013, my wife and I have recently embarked on the modern day, VHS-less version of catching up on a show. Rather than working our way through a stack of black tapes with white sticky labels, we had the first thirty or so episodes of our new favorite show queued up on Netflix’s instant streaming service. And of course this takes up a lot less space in our apartment than it might have using Lana’s system.

(I’d tell you what show we’re hooked on, but we’re absolutely terrified of spoilers at this point. The other night we were in the middle of a commercial break while watching a different show on the same network that airs The Show That Shall Not Be Named and a promo for its next episode sneak-attacked us. After looking at each other for a split second with legitimate panic in our eyes, we did the LALALALALALA thing until we were sure it was over. It was a close one.)

Spoilers aside, we’re really into our new show. Thanks to Netflix, we binge-watched the entire first season and several episodes into the second over Thanksgiving weekend. But now we have a problem: we’re almost finished with the second season, and the third isn’t available on Netflix yet because it’s still in the middle of the season on TV.

Lucky for us, most TV networks have a system in place for people like us who want to catch up to a current season. Either using Time Warner Cable’s video-on-demand service, or by going to the network’s website, episodes from the current season are available for free.

But there’s a catch. Only the most recent five episodes of the show are available on demand or online.*

*The reason for this is a little complex, but I’ll do my best to explain succinctly.  When Netflix makes a deal with a TV studio for the rights to air a program on its service, it demands that the studio doesn’t make more than five episodes of a series available at a time elsewhere (i.e. on demand or online). By limiting it to the “rolling five” episodes, fewer people have the opportunity to catch up from the beginning after episode 5—once episodes 2-6 are available but not episode 1. Meaning would-be viewers would have to use a service like Netflix to catch up from the first episode of the season once the current season is over. Like I said, it’s a little complex. For more background, this article from Vulture explains the whole thing really clearly and in much greater detail.

Because we’re now nine episodes behind on the current season, season 3, and the network’s website only has episodes 5 through 9 available, we need to figure out a way to watch the first four episodes of the season. And we’d like to be able to do this for free.

Yes, we could suck it up and purchase the episodes for $2.99 on iTunes or $1.99 or Amazon Video. But is it worth $8 or $12 to buy individual episodes of the show when we’re already paying over $100 for a cable subscription and $7.99 for Netflix each month? Assuming we choose to attain these episodes legally, that’s probably what we’ll end up doing–meaning neither Netflix nor the network will profit by pushing us in this third direction.

Obviously it’s easy to complain about these things in the digital age, when not that long enough I would have basically no options for catching up on a show already in its third season besides having a friend who had watched the show from the beginning who could tell me what has happened so far. But knowing that a large chunk of Netflix’s business is reliant on people using their service to catch up on shows, it seems ironic that Netflix itself—by way of its contract with the studio–is preventing us from catching up on ours.

If we had started our catch-up process just a few weeks earlier, this wouldn’t have been an issue—we might have found ourselves completely caught up by the time the first episode of the third season aired (or at least somewhere within the five-episode window). But organically, we took exactly this long to discover our new favorite show, and now the only thing we’re caught up in is a spider web of media entities, a no-man’s land of prime time TV programming.

We have given Netflix our $7.99 in exchange for thirty episodes of our show, which we watched in an embarrassingly short amount of time. But now it’s time for Netflix to step aside and let us join season 3 in progress—before our show is irrevocably spoiled.

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