With Netflix, a service about whose value proposition I was sceptical, offering a free one month trial, effective timing seemed at least prudent, if not essential. I restrained myself as their first slice of original programming, House of Cards remade in America’s image, received high praise, because I knew the future held something altogether sweeter, a dysfunctional family whose tantalising promise I could not hope to resist: the Bluths. Following the now all-too-common mould of a not particularly successful TV show whose genius earns it a cult following once it is gone, an Arrested Development film was talked about for at least half a decade. Eventually its saviour proved to be Netflix, embarking on a “semi-original” programming endeavour.
Whilst the nostalgia hit was instantly appreciated, I felt the new season got off to a slightly rocky start due to its approach of focusing on a single family member in each episode. Not all characters are born equal and not all of them can carry an episode. With several years to catch up on, the less interwoven plotlines seemed reasonable but the result was also less of the sharp interaction between all of the family together. However, from around the halfway point, things picked up dramatically. Not only was it clear that the story threads were all still densely layered over the season as a whole, but once these strands were mostly laid, the focus could shift from the story to the characters and dialogue where the show excels. The meticulous detail, with numerous Easter eggs and subtle jokes littering the sets, shines through as the highlight. Whether its future ultimately lies in Ron Howard’s intended film or a further series, things are finally looking up for the Bluths. And for all those who binged on the new season a little too fast, I recommend taking my approach and filling the void with Archer (also on Netflix) as I have for the past few years.
House of Cards, a tough sell for fans of the BBC original, is exquisite. Translating the political thriller to modern American politics works seamlessly and Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood is ruthlessly compelling, his drawl somehow increasing his sense of Machiavellian menace. The production values are excellent and if this is the level of programming Netflix are able to produce on a consistent basis, I’m inclined to keep this subscription up.
The Netflix brand of freedom suggests you should be able to devour TV however you like, so every episode of its shows are made available at once and the viewer can choose to dip in and out or to binge, and its apps run on virtually every entertainment device. I initially approached it via Xbox 360 but, although I am a Gold subscriber of Xbox Live, this restriction proved a serious flaw. With my Internet connection flaking briefly in a manner that did not affect the buffered stream, it did sign me out of Xbox Live and immediately cease playback. By comparison the PS3 add-on sailed effortlessly through such blips. Better yet, the mobile apps detected that I was signed in on another device and allowed me to browse, search and select shows on a mobile or tablet before streaming them to the PS3.
With two high-quality shows in the first half of the year, if Netflix can manage a third that attracts my attention it would justify the monthly fee even without access to a range of older shows and films. And I can always spend the rest of my trial period catching up on Justified whilst I decide…