When I crawled out of bed Sunday morning, I didn’t even bother to put on pants. The dog had his walk. The girlfriend was busy with crunches, dips, and bends at the gym. (That’s what you do at a gym, right?) And I had but one priority: Sit on this here couch for as long as possible, responsibilities and self-respect be damned.
At the impassioned suggestion of friend and fellow DT-ite Jeff Van Camp, I had added “Breaking Bad” to my Netflix cue with steely resolve to crack into the euphoric haze that is a gripping TV series addiction. I had seen the first few episodes on more than one occasion. But despite the show’s cult-like following and rave reviews, Walter White and I never got that close. I planned to change all that, by sheer force of will. I would become a “Breaking Bad” fan if it killed me. With four glorious seasons lying in wait, I scrounged up some food for the day, laid it out on the side-table, and plopped down on the sofa. Click — my “Breaking Bad” binge began.
TV series marathons are what Netflix does best. And thanks to its new “post-play” feature, which automatically plays the next episode of a series, it now does it even better. Lucky for me, Netflix had already flipped on the “post-play” switch when I kicked off my Sunday bender. I didn’t even have to move — the sweet, meth-filled badness just kept flowing into my sodden brain, no remote needed.
The veg out problem
Good as “post-play” is, however, the feature only begins to scrape away one of my biggest complaints about Netflix and other streaming video services: The simple human need to completely veg out. I’m talking thoughtless, day-long, wallowing-in-a-puddle-of-Cheetos-crumbs-and-Code-Red-Mountain-Dew kind of vegging out. The kind of vegging out that makes you question who you are as a person. On this count, cable or satellite TV service wins by technical knockout.
Though the tell-tale indention in my couch after Sunday’s eight-hour “Breaking Bad” session proves that Netflix is doing something right, the experience still lacks that numbing bliss of channel surfing — of settling for whatever’s on. This is where streaming video services remain weak. Aside from the dearth of quality, new content that afflicts Netflix, the main reason I am still willing to sell my kidneys to afford cable TV service is that I don’t want to have to choose what to watch. Yes, I am that lazy. And I am 100 percent positive many other TV watchers are, as well.
For reasons that some will never understand, flipping through the channel guide, landing on something random, and watching it just ’cause taps into a strange part of the human psyche — the part that invented pizza delivery, escalators, and the Clapper. It’s not just about a lack of effort — it’s about a lack of caring. And forcing me to commit to a specific TV show or movie, as Netflix does, also forces me to care, at least at the brain-stem level. After a long day’s work, the last thing I want is to make another important decision.
Rather than just moan about this pressing first-world problem, I have an idea: Netflix needs to create pre-programmed streaming playlists that I can subscribe to. The shows and movies in the playlists are set to a pre-ordained schedule, so that something is already on when you hit “play.” This will mean that sometimes you miss the beginning of a show or film, of course, which is why Netflix should also add in a “watch from beginning” option if you happen to land on something you want to watch. Or you can just carry on from wherever you jumped in.
These playlists can be organized by genre or some other theme, that way you’re not stuck watching 35 episodes of the same show — unless you want to, of course. Netflix should also make it easy — a one-button click — to flip from one streaming channel to the next, which would perfectly recreate the heavenly non-activity of channel surfing.
Further, pre-set playlists would provide a great way for users to discover new content that they might not otherwise choose to watch on their own — like Pandora, but for shows and movies instead of music. This, in turn, would alleviate a good amount of the sting inflicted by Netflix’s lack of new-release content.
Now, I realize there are likely some complications to this, at least on the business side of things. Video distribution deals are notoriously mucky, and I would bet my first-born that someone at Netflix has already thought of this idea and failed to bring it to fruition due to some vicious lawyering from Hollywood.
Even without this imaginary streaming playlist feature, I still love what Netflix offers. By Sunday’s end, Walter White and I had become partners in crime thanks to the dozens of episodes the service put at my fingertips. And “post-play” is a great feature that allowed me to achieve a dormant, near-vegetable-like state. But it’s just not quite enough. For me to slip into full-couch potato, Netflix needs to remove that final barrier — the requirement that I care, even for a moment, about what’s on the tube. Do that, and cable and I will part ways forever.
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