This week's selection of Netflix highlights and lowlights features all manner of themes – TV shows, the 1980s, double-bills, you name it.
On the topic of TV shows, it is worth mentioning that Netflix now carries both Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, both of which are of course tremendous, but probably too well-known to bother highlighting here at length.
If I were putting together an all-star team of Nettflix-accessible TV shows, my starting five would be Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Arrested Development, the newly added Archer (although that show is so horribly offensive that the best I can do is mention it here in passing and then very quickly move on) and then maybe Twin Peaks, if only because I love the fact that David Lynch managed to keep that thing on the air, even if it was for just two seasons.
On the bench: Damages, Futurama, The Office, Firefly, Life On Mars (the British one, because I haven't seen the other one), Mad Men (haven't seen it, but the fans would probably vote it in) and the recommendation below.
(And if there was such a thing as the opposite of an all-star team? Too many to mention. But at the very least I'd include 1,000 Ways To Die, which is about exactly what you think it's about, and America's Funniest Home Videos, which I recently discovered will never go away, because the show's creators apparently have a fallout shelter's worth of home video backlog sent in by fame-seeking viewers over the years.)
Freaks and Geeks (And also Undeclared)
Before he went on to make every big-budget comedy of the last 10 years, Judd Apatow made TV shows – specifically, TV shows about school.
The best of these efforts – and there were only really two of them – was Freaks and Geeks, a not-quite-comedy, not-quite-drama chronicling the myriad indignities and hormonal whiplash plaguing a group of high-school students in 1980s America.
Freaks and Geeks, which Mr. Apatow produced, worked in large part because it never did too much. The show was never outlandishly funny or goofy, and only sometimes reached My So Called Life levels of melodrama. Instead, it just kind of quietly went about the business of dissecting high-school life. In some of the best scenes, including in the 14th episode where one of the aforementioned geeks makes a grilled cheese sandwich and watches TV, almost nothing happens.
As is the case with most shows that end up labelled cult classics, Freaks and Geeks lasted a grand total of one season (less than that, actually – a bunch of episodes were filmed but never aired). Mr. Apatow went on to produce a second show called Undeclared, which was basically Freaks and Geeks in a college setting. Undeclared also turned out surprisingly well, although it was a lot more goofy than its predecessor. Undeclared also lasted one season before falling victim to Fox's longstanding tradition of not letting any good shows live.
Both Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared are currently on Netflix, so you can cue up a double-bill featuring awkwardness at multiple scholastic levels.
Knight Rider (Both the 1982 and the 2008 versions)
One of the worst parts of growing older is the realization that many of the shows you enjoyed as a kid were, in reality, criminally awful. This queasy sensation most recently came over me as I watched David Hasselhoff and his unusually big hair in an episode of the original Knight Rider.
As a child, I loved this show. As an adult, I am amazed it ever got made. For an action drama, it is often monumentally dull. Mr. Hasselhoff reads dialogue the same way nearsighted patients read optometrists' eye charts. The voice of KITT sounds like a passive-aggressive accountant (as an aside, this show would have been infinitely better if the producers had recruited Bobcat Goldthwait to do the voice of KITT, and made it clear in the first episode that the car only runs on pure, uncut cocaine).
Also – and it is difficult to overstate this point – the show is about a talking car.
In hindsight, Knight Rider had only two redeeming qualities. First, the opening sequence music is still pure gold, and will likely serve as rap song sample fodder for the rest of time. Also, along with Blade Runner and much of the Dead Kennedys' back catalogue, old-school Pontiac Trans-Ams are among the very few cultural hallmarks of the 80s that are still cool.
So of course, 25 years later, someone decided to remake Knight Rider just to ruin the last vestiges of the original show that didn't suck.
Neo-Knight Rider recycles the same broad premise as the original, in that it features a talking, bulletproof-armoured supercar and an endless parade of gun-toting bad guys who simply refuse to understand how bulletproof armour works. Instead of a Trans-Am, KITT is now a Shelby Mustang – a production decision undoubtedly lubricated by Ford marketing dollars. As for the theme song, it has been warped into some kind of thrash-rock mess that sounds like something Trent Reznor might have come up with while being held hostage in the world's most obnoxious frat house.
These two particular grievances aside, everything else about the show is terrible. Whereas the original Knight Rider featured early hints of the Hasselhoffian kitsch/charm that would later go supernova in Baywatch, KR 2.0 had no sense of humour whatsoever. An alarming percentage of the cast spends much of each episode staring at a screen inside a dressed-up grain silo that's supposed to serve as Knight Rider HQ. And as the new voice of KITT, Val Kilmer may well have literally been phoning it in.
Both the old and new Knight Rider are currently on Netflix, so you can cue up a particularly masochistic double-bill featuring a show that aged badly, and a show that everythinged badly.
READERS: Any of your childhood memories destroyed by watching shows that haven't aged well? Or has everything you liked held up? Tell us about it in the comments.
As always, here are some choice reader comments from last week's column:
Finn1712: Omar - you asked about the good Indian movies on Netflix Canada. Many of them are really bad. Here are some better ones in my opinion:
Great movie: Swades - major Bollywood star but not a typical Bollywood movie. One of my favourites.
Bollywood'ish movies I enjoyed: Band Baaja Baaraat, Wake up Sid, Rang de Basanti (you have to get past the so-so first half). I'm told that Khosla ka Ghosla is funny. Ghajini is not too bad.
Non-Bollywood'ish movies that are decent: Main Gandhi ko Nahi Mara; A Wednesday; Rocket Singh.
Passpatoo1: For Hindi movies, try Veer-Zaara.
Darren X2: check out a Korean film: The Housemaid.
We also had a defense for last week's Watch Out:
ronin x: The first two Tetsuo movies make Bulletman look slow as a Terence Malick film.
Forget about number 3 and seek out the first Tetsuo. The Matrix directors stole some of that movie's tricks...
And we had to include this nihilistic view of all film, for, uh, reasons:
Robert320: Sorry but there hasn't been a really good movie produced in the last 20 years. what has got better is the hype surrounding them.