Netflix's expanded Watch Instantly queue may end stream of bad movies watched

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 20, 2010

In a happy development for couch potatoes everywhere, Netflix last week announced a partnership with Epix entertainment channel. Beginning on Sept. 1, movies from the Epix catalogue will be available for Netflix viewers to stream instantly onto their computers, or televisions via Wii or PS3. This is frabjous news: The Epix catalogue includes "Iron Man 2," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and other big-name films that will increase choices for a population that prefers to watch movies curled up with an iPad.

And yet, the Epix deal also brings cause for sadness. With an influx of good titles, will we have less of an occasion to watch "Class of Nuke 'Em High," "Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter" or "Carny"?

Will "Transmorphers" viewings be replaced by introspective viewings of "The Godfather"?

As a new Watch Instantly dawn approaches, we retrospectively celebrate the awfulness.

"There was definitely a cowboy and Indian, and they were buying a present for a horse?" Steve Kroll, a Washington college student, is trying to remember a French claymation movie that he instantly streamed late one night. "And they ended up ordering bricks, but there were too many bricks . . . and then this sea monster came and stole the bricks?" He knows how odd this sounds.

"There was a documentary about a son who was killed," says Mary-Elizabeth Murphy, reminiscing about her strange Watch Instantly experiences as she sits at a Columbia Heights happy hour. "But then, halfway through, the father was killed, too."

"Remember 'Robin's Hood'?" asks a friend sitting with Murphy. "Robin's Hood" was a horrible lesbian drama about a social worker who begins an affair with a mechanic and then becomes a thief. "Then at the end," the friend remembers, confused, "It was dedicated to 'The Ancestors.' "

Ancestors of lesbians? Ancestors of mechanics? The movie didn't say. It just faded away, leaving behind the eternal question: Why Did I Watch This, Why?

Variety of tastes

The traditional Netflix queue -- the DVDs delivered to your house -- is like the carefully constructed menu of a diet plan. You might arrange for three foreign films to be followed by a Jennifer Aniston palate cleanser, or you make sure that Apatow is served with a side of Scorsese. The Watch Instantly films, however, are like the midnight refrigerator raid where you eat half a birthday cake, nine olives and the leftover lo mein, just because it's there.

Watch Instantly movies are the movies we watch because we can't sleep, because we need something to do while folding the laundry, because we are too impatient for the next DVD shipment, because a movie suggestion popped up in that oddly specific "taste preferences" box (Cerebral Suspenseful Romantic Comedies) and we decided to give it a try: Because you liked "Sunshine Cleaning," you might also like "The Beach Party at the Threshold of Hell."

Well, sure. Why not?

It's not just Netflix, of course -- Hulu.com offers plenty of opportunities for catching up on vacuous Bravo reality shows -- and there are endless niche Web sites that specialize in streaming documentaries or animation of various quality. In each case, the lack of DVDs (and the physical act of unwrapping them, loading them, mailing them) makes viewing an ever more mindless activity. Just click and watch.


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