Review: House of Cards

House of Cards (2013

Netflix is playing a very interesting game lately, not only continuing to swipe content typically reserved for cable television, but also dipping their toes into exclusive first-run content the likes of which only the HBOs and Showtimes of the world get access to.  House of Cards is the second of these series (and actually a re-make of an early-90s BBC production), following Lilyhammer (which I haven’t seen), and will be joined soon by their third offering, another season of Arrested Development (and believe you me, Brooke and I are excited about that one…).

House of Cards, specifically, is the product of Netflix’s enormous data mining initiative.  Everything you watch, they pay attention to.  They know how often you pause during a show, how often you repeat a given segment (and which segment), and how everything you like relates to one another.  Case in point, courtesy of Salon: “Netflix subscriber viewing preferences clinched [the] decision to license a remake of the popular and critically well regarded 1990 BBC miniseries. Netflix’s data indicated that the same subscribers who loved the original BBC production also gobbled down movies starring Kevin Spacey or directed by David Fincher. Therefore, concluded Netflix executives, a remake of the BBC drama with Spacey and Fincher attached was a no-brainer, to the point that the company committed $100 million for two 13-episode seasons.”

Greenlighting the series for two seasons from the beginning allows production to plot an outline for those seasons from the very beginning (with, of course, the ability to opt for more depending on performance).  Creatively speaking, this is very attractive, as most networks won’t guarantee you more than a season (or a few episodes) from the outset.  This kind of freedom was helpful in attracting David Fincher to the series, who served as Executive Producer and directed the first two episodes.  If you don’t know who Fincher is, you should recognize his work as director of The Social Network, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Se7en and Fight Club (not exactly a “nobody”).

House of Cards focuses on Congressman and Majority Whip Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), who is passed up for the Secretary of State nomination by the newly-elected President in the first episode.  The series focuses on Underwood’s sophisticated plotting as he and his wife, Claire (Robin Wright), seek revenge against those that wronged him.  In many ways, he’s playing a long chess match, where he’s always looking many moves ahead until “checkmate” is within his grasp.  The relationship between Frank and Claire is a complicated one, where each has their own interests that serve each other’s purpose at any given time, further complicated by favors and lobbying that pull them apart (and back together).  All the while, you sense they care deeply about each other, perhaps not necessarily as “husband and wife,” but more as teammates determined to achieve the same goal(s).

The acting is unbelievable, especially between Spacey and Wright.  By the end of that season, you know that Frank and Clair, both individually and together, are capable of doing just about anything to get what they want.  You’ll recognize a host of actors in the series, and they’re all superb.  I had no idea who Corey Stoll was before this show, but geez, he convinced me he’s a drug-addicted congressman, or at least knows one in real life.  Kate Mara is an actress I wasn’t particularly familiar with, but certainly did a great job in her own right.  Spacey and Wright, however, are the two that steal the show.  They both deserve Emmy nominations, though apparently, Netflix doesn’t count as “broadcast television” and may be ineligible.

The hype leading up to the release of the series was coincident with various articles discussing how to even talk about it, as there are no general “rules” for spoiling “last night’s episode” at the water cooler for those that haven’t seen it.  Conceivably, anyone that had 13 hrs to blow on the first night of release could have seen all of it before going in to work.  By most accounts, House of Cards is performing well, however. Though Netflix won’t release specific numbers, it’s apparently the most-watched “thing” on Netflix in 40 countries.

I’ll definitely be back for season 2.  And so should you.

The Walking Dead

I usually reserve the month of October to partake in some “scary movies,” but this month has been a bit busier than usual with me being out of town for a conference and the Cardinals being in the playoffs.  As they so spectacularly collapsed at the end of the NLCS, I’ve got a bit more time to catch up on movies I’ve been waiting to watch…

However, I did find the time to watch the second season of “The Walking Dead,” as it appeared on Netflix a few weeks ago.  The third season has just started on AMC.

The reason I find this concept so fascinating is perfectly encapsulated in the tagline to the third season: “Fight the dead.  Fear the living.”  The story of The Walking Dead is essentially the same one that’s been told for decades in other zombie movies: an unexplained infection causes the dead to start walking, eating the flesh of the living, leaving a limited number of survivors to fend for themselves.  The distinction with this particular story is that much of the focus is on the survivors, not on the zombies.  Indeed, there are lengthy portions of the show (as in, 40 out of 50 minutes) that don’t involve zombies at all: the story focuses on whether the survivors can work together, whether they support each other, or whether they are willing to sacrifice another human in order to save themselves from “the walkers.”

“The Walking Dead” actually began as a comic book in 2003, written by Robert Kirkman.  I have never read the comic, though it continues to this day with over 100 issues.  It seems like many transitions from comics to other mediums, be it video games or movies, suffer because the interpretation by the new producer does not translate the original intentions of the author.  It took decades before Marvel and DC took a long, hard look at how their material was being portrayed in other mediums and actually put the effort into ensuring their properties were represented in the spirit they originally intended (think the difference between Adam West’sBatman” series versus Christopher Nolan’sBatman Begins“).

In “The Walking Dead,” Robert Kirkman is an Executive Producer, giving him some say in how the story is portrayed and how the feel of the comic is translated into a television format.  The series was developed by Frank Darabont, best known for his work directing “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile,” both of which also set in the deep south, much like “The Walking Dead” (which is filmed in Georgia).

Alongside the TV series, I have been playing “The Walking Dead” adventure game.  An “adventure game” is a bit different from many other traditional games in that it’s more focused on story and less on action.  There’s absolutely “action” at points, and “quick response”-kinds of reactions, but much of the game is like the TV show: conversations with other characters where you choose what to say and who to say it to.  In some instances, you can make a friend or make an enemy, and the words you choose, or the people you choose to save (you are frequently given a choice between one survivor and another: you can’t always save both) affects the course of the story.

This game is released “episodically,” so each episode is released every month or two and lasts about 3 hours.  Four episodes have been released so far, with the fifth and final episode releasing next month.  This story is completely new, not coming from the comics or TV show, but is still set in the same world with the same themes.  In that way, it’s nice because it doesn’t try to re-tell a story you already know (thus affecting your decisions as you play the game), but also introducing new characters and new problems in the same world.  The critical reception has been pretty spectacular.

So that’s “The Walking Dead.”  It’s a fascinating world to interact with, though definitely gruesome and violent.  But if you go into it wanting to experience the relationships between survivors that just happen to be fighting a zombie apocalypse, there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had.  The first season is 6 episodes long and the second season has 13 episodes, both of which are available via Netflix Instant.

Waning Attention Span

Remember this? ...'cause we don't get this anymore on televisions...

We’ve noticed, in recent years, that it’s getting harder and harder to sit down and watch a television series as it happens, with weekly episodes and breaks around Christmas and March (let alone summer…) where nothing new is on TV.  I’m sure most of this is due to the fact that we don’t have cable, so we’ve had to shift our viewing habits to some degree.  But even on Hulu, which has a “regular stream” of episodes, similar to what you’d have on a television network, we have a queue of 22 episodes right now waiting to be watched, across various different shows.  Some of those are “my” shows, some are Brooke’s, and others are for the both of us.  Our varied schedules (and toddler…) make it difficult to schedule that time for both of us to sit down and watch something.

As our schedules are difficult to manage, I’ve found that I prefer shorter TV seasons now.  There was a time when I balked at the idea of a show only having 6 or 12 episodes in a season, but now I can’t imagine getting through the 22 episodes most traditional networks seem to favor.

Case in point: “The Walking Dead” is a show on AMC that is based on a comic book about the zombie apocalypse (though it’s really more about how the human survivors deal with it, and less about the zombies themselves).  The first season was 6 episodes, and the second season is 13 episodes.  The first season is on Netflix streaming.

I watched all of it on Saturday.

So, because there was a shorter season, the writers were able to tell a compact, yet full story that lasted throughout their season.  They weren’t trying to keep a story line going over 22 episodes, but it also wasn’t a serial a la your typical cop drama.  Each episode was connected, made you want to watch the next one, and kept you engaged.  There were no breaks for you to lose track of what’s going on (granted, I watched it all in one day, but the show premiered on AMC with a weekly episode over 6 weeks).

I’m having the same issue with video games now, too.  I’ve been trying to work my way through “Mass Effect 2,” a sci-fi role-playing game I picked up for $5 awhile back.  Games like this take at least 20 hours to complete, while many can immerse you in the world for at least 60 hours.  Now, it isn’t unusual to spend 60 hours playing a video game, but I’m finding it difficult to keep going back to that game because the story is complicated, it’s spread over a lengthy period of time, and if I can’t go back to it within a few days, I forget what I did before.

I guess I’m saying that my attention span, or at least, the amount of time I have to devote to things that require such attention, has waned.  I just don’t have the time anymore for 60 hour games or 22 episode TV shows spread over a full season.  I’d much rather play a shorter game, or one that can be enjoyed in shorter bits of time.  I’d much rather watch a 6-12 episode season of a show that Brooke and I can watch within a few weekends.  We can get a clearly defined story and won’t forget what happened “last time on…”

Thankfully, this is a purpose Netflix is well-suited for.  Shows like “Downton Abbey,” a critical darling recently, has 7 episodes in its first season.  “Mad Men” has 13 episode seasons.  “Breaking Bad” has 13 episode seasons.  “Doctor Who” as between 13 and 15 episodes per season.  Each one of these have a general story arc that takes place over that time frame, as well as the individual “bits” that make each episode distinct.  You’ll notice a trend that all these shows are either British or from the cable networks, both of which apparently figured out how to achieve excellent storytelling decades ago.  It’s no wonder these kinds of shows are the ones that win Emmys.

It just seems like shows along these lines are easier for me to digest now, rather than being bothered with the Law & Orders or CSI:s on network television.  It isn’t even because the subject matter is stale:  it’s because they’re just too long.

Pirates on the High Seas (of the Internet)

I read a pretty spectacular article from today about how the MPAA and RIAA are fighting a losing battle against piracy.  The article echoes statements I’ve made in the past, though not on this blog (…that I can find, anyway…).

The author is blunt and to the point: the movie industry is being dragged kicking and screaming to a future that practically all their customers want, and they’re losing revenue in doing so.  They could make their money back on volume by making their movies a). easier to access, and b). cheaper.

The primary problem movie studios have to realize is that everything they charge for is massively overpriced. The fact that movie ticket prices keep going up is astonishing. How can they possibly think charging $10-15 per ticket for a new feature is going to increase the amount of people coming to theaters rather than renting the movie later or downloading it online for free? Rather than lower prices, they double down, saying that gimmicks like 3D and IMAX are worth adding another $5 to your ticket.

They have failed to realize that people want things to be easy. Physically going to the movies is hard enough without paying way too much for the privilege. Going to a store and buying a DVD instead of renting or downloading is generally an impractical thing to do unless you A) really love a particular movie or B) are an avid film buff or collector.

Here’s the part I’ve been most concerned by: rising ticket prices.  Why go to a movie theater to spend $10-$15 on a ticket, plus an additional $10+ on “food?”  Granted, I have a toddler so my movie viewing in theaters has decreased tremendously in the past few years anyway, but with the advent of Netflix, I have all kinds of things to watch, and now I have the will to wait until a movie comes out on DVD.  Especially when the summer blockbusters are looking more and more like that “Battleship” ad you saw during the Super Bowl.  Now, if I could see a non-IMAX, non-DTS movie in the theater and get a medium-sized non-refillable soda for $10?  I’d do that.  No question.

Finally, the author suggests a solution to this problem: the movie industry needs their equivalent of the gaming industry’s digital distribution platforms (e.g. Steam). Heck, they need Apple’s iTunes.  Make buying the product so stupid simple that it takes less effort to buy it than it does to steal it.  As he points out, it takes 7 steps to download a movie illegally, and depending on your internet connection, you could have an HD-quality movie in a half hour.  If the movie industry would just get behind an Apple or Amazon model of 1). find movie, and 2). click “buy” (for a reasonable price).

Let us recall music piracy of the late-90s/early-2000s for a moment.  Back then, you could go on Napster or Kazaa and search to find music you wanted, but you’d easily find tens or hundreds of the same track, each one with different sound qualities.  You could easily download a track you thought was good, but after downloading, you’d find actually had multiple “hiccups” in the file.  iTunes streamlined the process.  Search to download one song that you knew was of relatively high quality and was consistent with the rest of your iTunes library.  Moreover, you’d see that you could get a song for $1, but the entire album for $10, undercutting what was easily $15 at most brick-and-mortar retailers.  So in many respects, at least with iTunes, there was a chance you’d “up sell” your customer on getting the whole album, rather than just a single song.

iTunes made it easy and people flocked to it.  Does music piracy still happen?  Absolutely, but now, people have a reasonable, viable alternative that I’d argue most people consider before pirating albums.

Steam did the same thing for the gaming industry, making it stupid simple to download a digital copy of a computer game without having to search through seedy sectors of the internet looking for a pirated copy (that could include viruses or other malware).  They can even upgrade your graphics drivers and more for you when you install the game, streamlining the process further to make life for the consumer that much better.  Many PC games are released day and date with their “physical media” counterparts.  In many cases, you can actually have the game downloaded and then get it “unlocked” at midnight on its release day.  For PC games, you can’t get much more convenient.  You don’t even have to get out of your pajamas…

If piracy has taught us anything it’s that the movie industry thinks that an audience watching their movies on a computer or TV screen, while that same movie is still out in theaters, is important.  If this is really the case, the movie industry should do the smart thing and release movies online day and date with their release in theaters.  Charge $10 to rent it, making the cost comparable with a ticket to the theater (though that $10 is then divided up among the number of people watching the movie in your living room).

Obviously, some people don’t care if the movie is in IMAX or has super-duper Dolby Digital Sound or smell-o-vision: they just want to watch the damned movie.  They don’t want to deal with crappy popcorn prices.  They don’t want to deal with screaming kids or people talking through the whole thing.  They don’t want to fight for a decent seat in a packed theater.  They don’t want to drive their car and park in a lot.  They don’t want to pay upwards of $30 to see a movie on a Saturday afternoon.  There are any number of reasons folks don’t want to go to a movie theater, while others still like going.  There’s no reason the movie industry can’t cater to both demographics and make money doing it.

So, take heed, Movie and TV Industry. You’re being surpassed by other content purveyors.  Make it easy to access your content and I assure you, people will return to you and buy more of your stuff.

And stop taking your anger out on Netflix…that isn’t helping anything…


Ah, it’s like I said: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

— Quark, speaking the final line of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

The third Star Trek series, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” is now on Netflix Instant Queue.  I don’t want to dwell on the series or the franchise as a whole, but I do want to say that I’m looking forward to re-watching the series.  I have seen all of “Next Generation” and all of “Voyager” twice (or more…) when they’ve been in re-runs over the years, but “DS9,” for some reason, hasn’t been re-played as often since it left television 12 years ago.  At the time, I didn’t like “DS9” as much because, especially in the latter half of the series, they moved to more of a “serial plotline” structure where each episode tied into subsequent episodes.  Back then, I didn’t like it, but now, in the wake of excellent shows like “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica,” I think I may appreciate “DS9” more than I did.  Today, it seems like practically every drama on television is doing it.  As my Mom always says, “everything goes back to Star Trek”…

Nay, the real reason this post exists is because we visited St. Louis this past weekend.  As has been mentioned before, Brooke has been living down there four days a week while Meg and I have been in Iowa, only seeing each other on weekends.  This past Thursday, however, I went down to speak with a potential employer at Washington University.  No details to write on that front yet, but hopefully it’ll pan out in the near future.

As part of the visit, I decided to stay down there through Sunday (with Meg, of course), getting a chance to see some people that I haven’t seen in awhile.  Meg and I went by SLU on Friday morning, then I went out to lunch with some friends from there.  We went apple picking on Friday afternoon (more on that in another post) with other friends, and then had dinner with them Friday night.  We checked out a potential place to live (assuming I get this job soon…) on Saturday, then went out to dinner with Brooke’s family on Saturday night.  And finally, we went to our old church, Webster Hills, on Sunday morning.

And that brings us to the apropos quote from above: the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Things at SLU had definitely changed a bit.  Some new construction, some new faces.  Dr. Westfall will be retiring sometime late next year, so more changes are definitely in store for my old department.  New progress on research that has carried on in my absence, which is the way of things.

Oh, and in news where change isn’t so good, it seems like every light on Kingshighway now has a “Photo Enforced” sign on it.  Very bad.  I’ll be doing my best to avoid those shenanigans.

At church on Sunday, though, in many ways, it’s like we’d never left.  They did an acoustic “service in the round” where all the folks in the congregation were in a circle surrounding the altar area (this was our idea a few years ago, for the record).  The music was mostly stuff we knew, but there was a newer one we hadn’t heard before.  They also interspersed Bible verse readings between the verses of some of the songs: a nice addition.  There weren’t many new faces there, but there were quite a few people there we hadn’t seen in a long time, so that was excellent.  Basically, being there felt like “home” again.

I guess this separation of our family is just getting to me.  While I don’t mind moving forward with life, getting to do “bigger and better things,” in many ways, I just want to go back to the life we had when we lived in St. Louis: just with a baby along this time.  We ate out on the patio in Soulard on Friday for lunch and all I could think of was how I missed living down there.  It was a spectacular day, after all, and with the leaves starting to change color, it made me wish I could walk home rather than have to drive 5 hours to get to my real house.

It will be interesting to look back on our time in Iowa in 12 years like I’m looking back on “DS9,” whether I will dislike it because of our most recent experience(s), or whether I will grow to appreciate it more.  Right now, though, to continue the analogy, I just want to go back to “The Next Generation:” I was happy with it.

On Netflix

There has been a reasonable amount of vitriol on the interwebs with regards to Netflix in recent weeks.  First, it was the price increase and separation of DVDs and Instant Queue into separate plans.  Then, Starz pulls out of negotiations to keep their content on the streaming service, including Disney movies and TV shows, meaning that a lot of content will disappear in February.  Finally, today, it comes out that Netflix will begin enforcing its rule to only allow streaming to a single device on an account at one time (or two devices if you have a two-DVD plan, and so on).

I’ll read comments from folks on blogs saying that they’re going to cancel their accounts over all this.  That Netflix isn’t adding enough new content to justify their $8/mo.  That they are screwing over their consumers.

Well, folks.  Get used to it.  The cost of doing business with Netflix will keep going up, and they aren’t alone.

Hulu famously created “Hulu Plus,” a separate entity that you pay $8/mo to use.  Hulu carries shows from ABC, FOX and NBC, as well as many of their affiliates.  Some shows appear the day after airing on TV.  Other shows appear after 30 days.  Hulu Plus gives you the ability to watch some of these shows on your television, but the nature of the deal that Hulu was able to work with The Powers That Be dictate that not all of Hulu’s content can be sent to your TV.  They still want you to watch that content on a TV, through your cable provider, rather than do it through the internet.

Oh, and Hulu Plus still contains ads.  You pay $8/mo extra for different content than you get through their website, and you still get ads.  All just so you can watch it on your TV.  Because an LCD TV is different than an LCD monitor, apparently.

The content providers in the motion picture and television industry want a large piece of the proverbial pie, and they have entrenched interests with the cable providers that have built and “maintained” that infrastructure for decades.  They see upstarts like Netflix to be a threat.  A company that provides a really nice service to their customers that the vast majority of people are happy with.

Netflix has almost single-handidly destroyed the DVD industry.  In the early-2000s, I bought tons of DVDs, but now that I have Netflix, I have no need.  I can order a DVD and have it the next day, any time I want to see a movie.  Half the movies I own are on Netflix Streaming.  I still prefer the video quality of popping the disc in rather than using the internet to watch it, but still: if I want to see it, I can with only the most minimal of planning.  There was a time where I would rarely walk out of Wal-Mart without a DVD in town.  Now, I can safely enter and browse DVDs without fear of actually buying one.

Thus, these companies will charge Netflix exorbitant amounts of money to license movies and TV shows.  They will keep increasing the licensing costs, not because the content is actually worth that much, but because they want to destroy Netflix and keep their business model intact.

This is all aside from the fact that cable seems to have less and less that I want to watch.  Whenever Brooke and I are at our respective parent’s houses, we’ll flip on the TV and see what’s on.  Invariably, the answer is a resounding “nada.”  The only thing I miss having is the occasional sporting event.  So if I cared about sports more, we’d have to have cable.  Other than that, we just don’t watch much on TV anymore, at least stuff that isn’t available digitally through Hulu or, or that will eventually be available through Netflix in some form or fashion.  Part of me wants to get the basic “Family Package” of 30 channels when we move just so I don’t have to deal with bunny ears anymore, but thankfully, St. Louis gets a good number of channels over-the-air, so even that isn’t as big a deal.

Netflix provides me with a good service.  I have almost no desire to return to cable.  I can watch what I want and there’s plenty of material available, with new content arriving frequently.  My Instant Queue has 63 items in it, and it should be longer except that I know I barely have enough time to watch what I already added.

Keep on going, Netflix.  I’ll continue to support you.  And I imagine most people will, too.

Of Movie Ratings and “Black Swan”

We grabbed “Black Swan” from Netflix this weekend.  The film was directed by Darren Aronofsky, a guy whose movies I can’t say I’ve been particularly fond of (“Pi” and “Requiem For A Dream,” specifically).  Unlike those previous flicks, I can safely say that I enjoyed this movie, though it was definitely weird.  I can understand that it probably isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea, but it is more suspenseful than I expected and the story worked on a variety of levels, which I always appreciate.

I only write about this because I had to think a bit about how to rate the movie on Netflix.  They let you rate movies on a 5 star scale, which then helps them suggest more movies for your viewing pleasure.  I tend to struggle with such things because, in some ways, you’re trying to think about Netflix’s rating system and assess what you think about a movie and what you want them to think you think about the movie.  For example, I love me some “Army of Darkness,” but by most accounts, it’s a terrible movie.  Perhaps it’s best not to rate a movie based on whether you believe it deserves critical acclaim for technical accomplishment and performance by the actors, but instead on whether you’d see it again or not.

Thus, I have settled upon the following system:

  • 5 Stars: I’d watch this movie again and again for all eternity.  I’d buy the DVD and the Bluray if I could.
  • 4 Stars: Great movie that I’d watch again, but I don’t need to own it.
  • 3 Stars: Good movie.  Glad I saw it.  Don’t really need to see it again.
  • 2 Stars: Not very good.  I’ll never watch this again and I’ll steer others clear of it.
  • 1 Star: Minutes of my life were taken by this movie.  It’s almost worth buying a copy so I can burn it.  In a barrel. “Battlefield Earth,” I’m talking to you.

Under this system, I think I’ll give “Black Swan” 4 Stars.  It’s a pretty great movie, I think.  I need to see it again just to see what I missed during the somewhat difficult-to-follow plot line, but I really like where the writer went with it.  I’d say more about the story, but I’m afraid I’d give too much away.  I definitely recommend you see it.

Glee-king Out Over Little Things

After we finished up most of our regular season television programming, Brooke and I decided it was about time to see what this whole “Glee” thing was all about.  The first season has been up on Netflix Instant Queue for awhile, and will hopefully be followed by the second season once it releases.

For the uninitiated, “Glee” follows a ragtag group of high school students from Ohio as they attempt to get first place at the otherwise nondescript “Regionals.”  As it is a show focusing on high school, it tends to alternate focus between characters, looking at their lives, troubles and growth as individuals, and as a singing group.  The difference from other high school dramas, however, is that each episode is marked by musical numbers from a variety of sources, including Broadway and classic and modern pop.  The show has also featured guest stars, from Olivia Newton-John to Josh Groban to Neil Patrick Harris.

I think Brooke likes the show a bit more than I do, which is somewhat counter-intuitive in that I tend to like musicals more than she does.  For me, I think my main problem comes from the somewhat “rough-shot” execution of the whole endeavor.  For example, some of the kids do a much better job lip syncing than others, and it’s really obvious to the point of distraction.  Also, the background story thread about budget cuts constantly threatening to shut down the glee club flies in the face of the elaborate musical numbers utilizing huge sets, expensive lighting and professional-grade sound systems. Some episodes feature an inner-monologue a laScrubs,” yet others don’t use one at all.  The perspective in each episode could be third-person, or it could become first-person mid-episode, only to switch around again 5 minutes later.  Finally, musical numbers tend to feature either a guy on a piano, or the school’s apparently awesome jazz band…yet you can pick out solos and effects in the music that the instrumentation presented are incapable of producing.

These are all complaints that Brooke can move past, as she will continually remind me that “it’s fictional.”  I dunno.  I watch a good deal of science fiction and I can get past some things, but for some reason, I think it’s the lack of consistency episode to episode that annoys me most.

That all said, the music is pretty good.  I do enjoy hearing different versions of familiar songs performed in context with the story outlined in the show.  You find yourself pulling for them as they deal with their disparate struggles throughout the season, despite the fact that the story really isn’t all that complex or revolutionary.  I guess I’d just like some of those rough edges trimmed a bit, not necessarily to make it more believable, but at least make it consistent from episode to episode.

We’ll watch the second season once it releases on Netflix streaming.  Not sure we’ll get it done in time for the third season to start on live TV, but we’ll try.  Until then, we have “Mad Men” premiering on Netflix Instant this Wednesday, so we’re excited to finally jump on that train a few years late as well.

Oh, and speaking of shows we’re just now getting to, we rented “Modern Family” and watched its first season, as well.  Here’s an example of a show that is unbelievable, yet is consistent enough that I don’t pay attention to it.  5 stars for that one, folks.  Hope the second season is as good as the first one.

A Year Without Cable

I realized recently that, besides the fact that we’ve now lived in Iowa for the last year, it also means we’ve lived without cable television. After all that time, what have we missed?

Not a whole lot, it turns out.

Sure, there are some things that I would like to have.  Some deficiencies I figured we would see in this newfound lack of endless channels, but there are others I didn’t expect.  For one thing, I knew we’d miss having the ability to record a program on a DVR, as we’d gotten used to having one for the previous 4 years.  I thought that we’d be fine without it, however, as most of the shows we watch were on some kind of digital service, a la Hulu, etc.  And for most shows, we were right.

Unfortunately, a select few of my shows (e.g. Stargate Universe and Sanctuary) have some silly deal with SyFy that makes them show up on Hulu 30 days after premiering.  That, my friends, is an eternity.  Those shows, however, are the only ones that seem to have this problem.  Many of the others, in fact, show up the day after premiering on television, while others show up a week later.  These are time-frames we can deal with.

One thing I didn’t think I’d miss, however, was baseball.  I don’t really watch baseball religiously, but I do like catching the occasional game on a rainy Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  For the most part, many Cardinals games are actually televised up here in Iowa, using KDSK‘s feed.  This isn’t always the case, however, and sometimes, because we’re in Iowa, we get enough wind that the TV station’s antenna is cutting in and out, making my viewing of a game troublesome.  I have considered getting service, which would allow us to watch any baseball game throughout the season in HD through the PS3, but at $90 per season, I just don’t watch enough to make it worth it.

Other than that?  I don’t think we miss all that much.  We watch quite a bit of Netflix, streamed through the PS3 or Wii, and we have a few “standby” shows in our Instant Queue at all times when we get that “we just want to veg out in front of the TV and watch nothing specific” feeling, such as No Reservations, Man v. Food, Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs.  The best part being that we can choose which episodes we want to watch, rather than being at the mercy of whatever theme that particular station is running on that day.  And, no commercials.

We are still watching Hulu through the computer, but it seems to work alright.  I’d prefer to have it on the TV, but I don’t want to run a cable that far, and the 19″ monitor we’re using is “big enough” for our purposes.

In the end, I don’t think we miss cable all that much.  We can find little things here and there that would be nice to see live, but more often than not, we’re living without it.

Not something my parents could have believed they’d ever say, methinks…

And the Oscar goes to…

Brooke has a friend that’s slowly making their way through all the “Best Picture” winners via Netflix, so we figured that, as we aren’t really devoted to a single show right now in our Netflix Queue, we can probably start heading that way, too.  We’ve seen quite a few of the more recent ones, so I’ll just highlight the ones below that we’re going to try and watch.  Movies that aren’t highlighted are those that either we’ve both seen, or one of us has seen and can’t convince the other to watch it (I’m looking at you, “Return of the King” and “Titanic“).

This will take practically forever to accomplish, but I figured it was worth posting.  We’re only going back to the year of my birth, at this point.  Once we get that far, then we’ll re-evaluate whether we want to go further.

Academy Award “Best Picture” Winners