How’s that for a title? We’ll get to what it means in a moment.
One of the first pieces I wrote for this blog was about how happy I am to own the TV shows I love on DVD. That has not changed.
It isn’t just the ability to watch any episode any time I wish. It’s the years spent acquiring them and filling shelves with lines of colorful boxes, and then checking tvshowsondvd.com to see what other sets were coming out soon. Just scanning the titles and seasons still makes me happy even between viewings.
I like the menu screens on each disc, especially when some effort is put into making them appealing (the sets for Bewitched and Top Cat are personal favorites).
I appreciate the blooper reels and the interviews and the episode commentaries. With the best sets you don’t just get the shows, you get some history and context for them, and why they worked and why they sometimes didn’t.
But since I wrote that piece five years ago, the DVD market has collapsed. Complete series sets can now be purchased for less than a single season once cost. And the prospects are dimming that any seasons from any shows not yet released may never be produced at all. An official release of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet? By the time they get around to it, anyone who remembers the show will be sharing a banana split with the actual Nelson family in one of heaven's celestial malt shops. More volumes of The Love Boat, The Defenders, Room 222, or Family? We can hope, but I don't expect the news will be good. In this era of streaming services, hard copies of shows are deemed a waste of money and space.
Will DVDs one day be as obsolete as VHS cassettes? I hope not. Especially since streaming offers none of the bonus pleasures of collecting DVD sets. But that is hardly my only issue with this content delivery system.
The other night I began watching a Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why, an adaptation of a YA novel about a high school girl named Hannah Baker who commits suicide, and leaves behind a box of cassette tapes explaining why she took her life, and who she blames for driving her to such a desperate act.
Like so much contemporary TV, the show features teenagers who are quick with a quip but world-weary beyond their years, while the adults – parents and teachers and guidance counselors – are largely silly and clueless. As each new character is introduced you can almost see the producer marking boxes on his multicultural casting checklist so no group is left out.
Still, halfway through episode two I was intrigued by where it was going. And then, as often happens with Netflix, the picture froze. And then a swirling red circle materialized in the middle of the screen, with a slowly rising percentage number within the circle. When it reached 25% it stopped, and then this message appeared: “Your device may no longer be connected to the Internet.”
Obviously this is a problem, especially since I have no idea which device has been singled out for derision. Is it the television? The DISH Network box? The modem? I don’t know. All I know is a device that was connected to the Internet a minute ago isn’t anymore, even though I’ve been sitting on the couch the whole time and no one has touched any device suspected of failure.
As I said, this happens often. I should call someone. Netflix? DISH Network? My Internet service provider? I tried one and they referred me to one of the others. At least that’s what the pre-recorded message said after I pressed 1 for technical support. No one at any of these companies wants to talk to me about why it sometimes takes three days to finish a 56-minute program.
So I went online for answers – fortunately my computer was apparently still connected to the Internet. If you’re having problems with Netflix, one site advised, try the following:
1. Restart your iPhone.
2. Restart your Router
3. Restart your Modem
4. Move your Router to a higher place in the room.
Do I need to restart my refrigerator as well?
Another site offered this helpful advice: Open Netflix and then use your remote to enter, “Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Up, Up, Up, Up”
Okay, now you’re just putting me on. I’m reminded of the Dick Van Dyke Show episode where a practical joker calls Rob, posing as a telephone repairman, and tells him to fix his phone he should put it in a paper bag, take it outside, wave it over his head, and scream like a chicken.
It’s not just that all of this stuff was never necessary to watch television. I don’t like feeling stupid when something stops working and I don’t know why. And I don’t think it’s too much to ask that all of these companies get the bugs out of their respective systems before they start charging me a monthly fee to use them.
Right now I’m sure some of you are thinking, “What a moron.” And that’s fine. You’re right, this is not something I know a lot about, and I don’t really care to know more about it. For me technology falls into just two categories: “works” and “doesn’t work.”
My DVD player always works. I insert a disc and press play and that’s what it does. It never stops halfway through the episode and says it can’t play the rest because the oven timer is three minutes off. It just does what it’s supposed to do without making excuses or trying to shift the blame to some other appliance in my house.
“Oh, but with streaming you don’t have to get up off the couch and find the box with the DVD and carry it over to the DVD player and find the right disc and press ‘open’ then ‘close.’ And then when it’s over you don’t have to get up - again! – and take it out.”
Yes, what an ordeal that has been all these years. I’m sure that coal miners from the 1930s would feel sorry for the arduous exertion of energy required to watch a DVD.
If streaming works for you, mazel tov. But even if the technology were perfect, it would not surpass the satisfaction I derive from owning hard copies of nearly all the television shows that were a part of my younger days.
As for 13 Reasons Why, I did eventually finish it. It's a hard show to discuss without spoiling any of its revelations. In fact, there are times it's just a hard show to watch, period. But the performances are excellent, and it paints a vivid but bleak picture of where our culture is now.
There were two aspects I found particularly interesting. First, there is not one mention of God in 13 episodes. That’s not in any way a requirement for me to enjoy a program, but you’d think its preoccupation toward inclusion might extend to at least one character of faith, especially in a story about how to cope with despair and find reasons to live.
The second is its implication of the extent to which Hannah's actions were driven by those around her. As someone who believes the concept of personal responsibility has been replaced by a culture of safe zones, I'm not sure I am comfortable with the message the show is sending. However, if it starts discussions about this and other topics, it will have served a purpose beyond entertainment.
But I have no plans to buy it on DVD.