Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An open letter to Netflix

     Photo Credit: HBO

Dear Netflix,

My name's Brendan, and I'm one of millions of people who subscribe to your instant video service. I know there are about 28 million subscribers in the U.S., but I'm from Canada so I don't have an exact number to count myself among.

Let me begin by saying that I can feel the greed flowing through me as I type this. To ask anything of you right now seems ungrateful of me, because in May you will be providing me with 14 new episodes of "Arrested Development" that I never thought I would see. That should be more than enough. Your response to anyone asking you for anything at the moment, even basic tech support, should be, "Sorry, what's that? I can't hear you over the new 'Arrested Development' episodes we're giving you." And yet I do have something rather important to ask of you, and it's this:

Millions of years after mankind has died out, leaving the Earth nothing but a dust-collecting, burnt to a crisp ball of dried mud, what will be your legacy to humanity?

It sounds like an odd, laughable question. Netflix is a streaming video service. Will you be fondly remembered for anything among the great minds and historical moments of human history? Of course not, one might say. But I completely disagree. Because right now, Netflix has the chance to carve out its place in history as lifelong defenders and a preservation of modern art.

I study journalism at a fairly small liberal arts university, hoping to learn the skills I need to make a professional career out of this whole "watching TV and writing about it" thing. And damn if there isn't a day that goes by where this place doesn't make me feel like a shitty person for not wanting to save the world. I should be trying to shine a light on the stories that need to be told but aren't, they tell me. I shouldn't be wasting my time on the trivialities of popular culture, they condescend to me. I do agree those things are important. And they'll be well covered, as it seems all my classmates are interested in covering those things. But I feel like I'm constantly trying to defend my professional TV cricket aspirations to those who assume my aspirations as "entertainment journalist" are a job with TMZ covering the exploits of Lindsay Lohan. It's like there's this odd fight between intelligence and art, as if there's no way for them to co-exist anymore. If my school is teaching me anything, it's that art is in serious danger right now - not from being produced, but from being absorbed, admired, and discussed by seemingly intelligent people who have no awareness of "Mad Men" and "Louie" and are constantly bombarded with "news" about the Kardashians.

Yesterday, HBO cancelled one of the best television shows I've ever seen. It's a bizarre, half hour non-comedy written by Mike White called "Enlightened". White himself plays one of the show's main characters, a lonely IT worker named Tyler. One of the 18 standout episodes of "Enlightened" is told from his point of view, and it opens with this beautiful bit of narration from Tyler:

"It's okay to be a ghost. It has its pleasures. You're light. You float. You slip in and out, unseen. There's no love to lose, or burden to be. You have so little to hold you down. You are free. Some pearls are never found. They hide, under the sand on the ocean floor. No one knows they're there. But the pearl knows. Maybe there was a time where he wanted to be found - to be seen, and to be held. But now, only hope hurts. I am my own secret - a secret kept by me."

"Enlightened" is a tremendous secret that has yet to be discovered. To the credit of HBO, it's not the easiest show to grasp hold of or jump into. It's much more complex and thoughtful than the average television show. But it will not have a third season, and it makes me disappointed to see every celebrity tweeting out photos of the personalized chest of "Game of Thrones" DVDs that HBO sent to them with their names on it in order to advertise a great show that doesn't need any special help. From "The Sopranos" to "The Wire" to "Deadwood," HBO has long been a unique home to, and defenders of, great art, particularly art that doesn't appeal to the massive audience the broadcast networks cater to. And this feels like a poke in the eye - they claim they love the show, but can't seem to work this out for another season of what has to be one of the least expensive shows on TV. There are no costly sets or special effects, no large scenes to be choreographed. It's Laura Dern, Mike White, and their brilliant friends telling one woman's engaging, specific story that's unlike anything else TV has to offer. "Enlightened" is a pearl that hasn't yet been found - we hoped for a renewal, and in exchange we were only hurt when it didn't come.

You recently got into the original programming game, and in February launched the outstanding "House of Cards". In doing so, you didn't immediately change the way television is distributed. But you made the first significant crack in the great wall of networks, timeslots, and the weekly, episodic structure. Like "Enlightened," your impact is starting to get some buzz, one that will be viewed years from now for having changed the way we watch TV. But there's no point in changing the way we watch television if the content you're offering isn't at the same, game-changing level of the distribution model. This is why I implore you to consider taking on the challenge of acquiring "Enlightened," a show that is being discovered by more people every day and being hailed by many critics (I assure you "Enlightened" will be in many Top 10 lists this December), and producing a third season.

By providing us with tremendous originals like "House of Cards" and acquiring gone-too-soon favourites like "Arrested Development" and "Enlightened," Netflix cements itself as the unquestionable priority destination for quality and entertainment, as well as the saviour and historian of great art in a culture overwhelmed by lowest common denominator fare that succeeds financially in a broadcasting model that you have begun the ground work on killing.

Tyler offered the above narration at the beginning of the fifth episode of season two of "Enlightened". But after finding love over the course of that half hour, he closed the episode with a very different monologue:

"Something has changed. Now, the ghost is scared. He cannot float. He's heavy. He's flesh and blood. He must open doors. He can't slip away unseen. The ghost is sad. All those years, invisible, haunt him now. Why didn't he try? Or care? Or be? The ghost is happy. He is found. He is held. And he is seen. The ghost is seen."

Netflix, you have the power to make this ghost seen. And in doing so, you would leave the kind of lasting impression that Amy Jellicoe would be proud of.

With continued appreciation,

An agent of change.


  1. Wonderful plea to reason! Here Here!

    1. You can help save "Enlightened". Sign the petition here … … #Enlightened #saveEnlightened