The Slippery Slope

And, so, Roku it is. Fifty bucks for the Roku 1 (I needed analog sound out as I am using a retired PC monitor and not a TV), a few trips up and down the stairs to input things on my PC, and I’m watching much better-than-expected video (with the puzzling exception of HBO Now, which has an alarming lack of black level and, surprisingly, the worst interface of them all considering it is also the most expensive of the streaming channels) and hearing terrific audio in my family room, making me wonder what on earth I’d been thinking all these years. I’m now binge-watching Larry David’s hysterical Curb Your Enthusiasm while sipping True Detective Season One like fine tea.

The New Republic’s David Thomson wrote, “True Detective has the aggressive casualness and dense texture of a novel by a writer who doesn’t care if he’s only ever going to be mid-list,” which also aptly sums up my own prose writing. The difference between commercial writing and writing for yourself is exactly that. I suspect the key to becoming a good novelist is to differentiate between being good and being successful; stop worrying so much about whether or not you are or will become successful, and concentrate on being good (or, failing that, at least enjoying yourself).

I can’t imagine why show creator Nic Pizzolatto could ever be considered “midlist,” but this miniseries—an animal separate and apart from Season 2—is just a delicious, thick, slow, meaty narrative. Series leads and executive producers Woody Harrelson and an extra-creepy Matthew McConaughey appear to be having the time of their lives in a tour de force of dueling Southern drawls acting in a 8-hour film about which’s success neither actor appears overly concerned. It just looks like everybody’s doing good work, and HBO seemed content to let this be whatever it is rather than pressure all involved for big numbers. As such, it is an amazing, dazzling visual, perhaps glacially slow—which may lose most anyone born after 1990, but screw ‘em.

So, my TV bill is $22.99, counting Hulu—which I wish I hadn’t subscribed to. I now realize most if not all of what I actually want to see is on HBO. Hulu is home to my classics—fare Old Guys prefer over what’s currently airing—but most of that stuff is available free online. Netflix has, umm, maybe three or four exclusive series I’d like to see; HBO has a couple dozen. I don’t need Amazon because I can apparently stream Amazon stuff a la carte without having to pony up the hundred bucks (allegedly soon dropping to $79).

And, of course, there’s lots of free stuff, including lots of news (albeit reheated rebroadcasts and third-tier anchors; but PBS NewsHour is one of the best and it’s free). I’m still figuring this thing out, but at this point I can’t imagine why so many people are still paying $100 and more per month for cable.

Now, mind you, the math isn’t nearly as rosy as people think: mainly because broadband is not free. Unless I want to spend all of my time in a coffee shop, I’m still paying Ma Bell for the internet. Because I do not have a package, I am paying the highest rate– $45, which somehow ends up being $60 by the time they add in modem rental and a bunch of fees nobody understands. So my $22.99 TV is actually more like $80, still cheaper than a lot of cable bills but when you consider most cable/satellite deals include the broadband access, it’s less of a bargain than it initially seemed and for a severely constricted set of channels with no live TV at all.

Which now makes $80 my ideal price point for “real” TV, if broadband is included, and I’ve seen lots of offers at or below that price point (albeit they won’t include HBO and, if I was only using Hulu and the free channels, my price point would be $65 including broadband and, so far as I can tell, that offer does not exist).

If I had any sense at all, I’d strike a deal with the Dog Guy next door and go in halfsies on the broadband connection. We’re both divorced New Yorkers living twelve feet apart. Then the numbers get even more attractive, plummeting to around $52.99 including HBO and broadband.

The larger concern is, I am somewhat back to watching TV again, albeit very well-written TV. Still, I took a great deal of snobby pride in being able to tell people, honestly, “I don’t watch TV.” Technically, I still don’t—at least, not in any traditional sense. Streaming is not much different from buying TV shows on disc—which I consider to be okay while I consider commercial TV to be The Great Satan. But this feels a lot like backsliding. I fear for my immortal soul.


  1. Bill says:

    Is all the video on HBOnow bad? Or is it just a particular series?

    • Priest Priest says:

      Everything I’ve watched on HBO Now, including its startup screen, has a very dark gray where black should be (incl the startup screen; the HBON logo is black with white letters; it is gray with white letters on my 1080p 25-inch HP monitor, which I color calibrated routinely).

      Then I switch over to NBC News and am startled by how amazing the high-def video looks.

      I hope they fix this. Not happy that HBON is fifteen bucks, but, OTOH, it’s only fifteen bucks (only six if you already have HBO on your cable or sat), and I can watch it on my phone or iPad if I’m stuck at the dentist office, etc.

      FTR: I assumed steaming content would look and sound like crap. Where have *I* been.

      • Bill says:

        Do you also see this if you try HBOnow on a phone or tablet? I’m trying it on my devices, and see decent black; certainly not a grey.

        I work for the company that makes the HBOnow company; I’m interested in your experience. Feel free to email me, maybe I can help figure this out.

        • Priest Priest says:

          Bill: will do. I can also try and take a photo of the screen along with a reference photo of other streamers on my Roku box. Don;t rule out the possibility that the problem is Roku, not HBON.

  2. Ralf Haring says:

    It’s ok, you can discard the artificial snobby pride of not watching tv and replace it with watching tv’s new golden age, when there are more good shows than anyone reasonably has time to watch. See, different snobbishness. 🙂

    True Detective’s pace didn’t turn off young people. It was a huge breakout hit, even moreso because no one had been hyping it at all. There was just an amazing amount of stuff to unpack in those few episodes. It’s a series that I had a hard time figuring out how to recommend to people I knew would like it. The slow burn of the additional genre it layers on as it goes was so subtle and well-done that I was stunned when I realized where it was going. I’ve got a folder full of links I saved somewhere with a bunch of interesting articles about it from the time after I had finished watching it. I was slackjawed at the end of the lift from a particularly memorable Alan Moore scene. SO brazen!

    Which Netflix shows are you looking at? Spacey and Penn revel in House at Cards, though after three seasons it might have run its course. The two Marvel series so far, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, have far exceeded my expectations. The latte is amazingly subversive. I don’t know if you ever watched Arrested Development back in the day, but the entire thing is an astonishingly dense series. I’m surprised it was ever on network tv, never mind for as long as it was. You should check out the British show Black Mirror, just watch the first episode last (they’re all one-off stories and that is the worst by far).

  3. Priest Priest says:

    I haven’t subbed to NF yet, but expect to when the novelty of HBO has worn off. I have precious little time to watch TV, so, yeah, it needs to feed rather than insult my intelligence. Make no mistake: there’s still lots of truly awful shows on the air, most of them on network TV and, you know, OWN.

    I think perhaps a surgical approach to television, with you only paying for stuff you actually watch, isn’t so bad. But I miss the high horse I’ve been sitting on lo these many years.

    A second thought about the cost: rather than obsess that “real” TV would only be another 20-30 bucks, maybe I climb on my low pony instead and brag about saving the 20-30 and not having a hundred channels of utter dreck blasted into my home.

  4. Dave Van Domelen says:

    Have you checked out the HBO Sesame Street yet?

      • Dave Van Domelen says:

        Oh, you hadn’t heard? HBO took over first run rights to Sesame Street, they’re going with 30 minute episodes (but about twice as many, so same total hours for the season). PBS will get to air them some number of months later.

        • Priest Priest says:

          Huh? Isn’t SS a CTN/PBS thing? You mean kids now have to PAY to watch SS?

          • Ralf Haring says:

            From wikipedia:

            “On August 13, 2015, as part of a five-year programming and development deal, Sesame Workshop announced that first-run episodes of Sesame Street would move to premium television service HBO beginning with season 46, which premieres on January 16, 2016. HBO will hold first-run rights to all newer episodes of the series, after which they will air on PBS member stations following a nine-month exclusivity window, with no charge to the stations for airing the content. The agreement also gives HBO exclusive rights to stream past and future Sesame Street episodes on HBO Go and HBO Now – assuming those rights from Amazon Video and Netflix; on August 14, Sesame Workshop announced that it would phase out its in-house subscription streaming service, Sesame Go, as a standalone service; the service will remain in operation, likely with its offerings reduced to a slate content available for free or serving as a portal for Sesame Street’s website. The deal came in the wake of cutbacks that had affected the series in recent years, the changing viewer habits of American children in the previous ten years, and Sesame Workshop’s dependence upon revenue from DVD sales.”

          • Priest Priest says:

            Seems like a bad deal to me. Most parents I know will simply continue to use PBS and ignore HBO. A five-year old can’t tell and won’t care that it’s a rerun. Unless HBO will allow non-subscribers to view SS free, I don;t see what’s in this for them. I honestly don;t know any parents who don’t already sub to HBO who would pony up $$ just so the wee little ones can watch SS, espec with all the other free kid shows out there.

  5. Isaac Lawrence says:

    If I could ever break my alphabet-addiction of MSNBC and CNN and ESPN then I would drop cable in a second. And thinking about it, aside from sports and the local news (and the Sunday political shows), the only thing on free TV that I watch is Law & Order, but I don’t even do that anymore. Instead, Wednesday at 9:00 I’m watching Rachel Maddow.

    I know that ESPN has hinted that they’re going to go in the direction of an HBO NOW type deal, but I guess the question is when: this year or next? Once it does happen though that’s one down, and I would just have to find a 24-hour news alternative (BBC or something, maybe) or wait-out MS or CNN until they go subscription.

    On HBO: “Game of Thrones,” of course. And I’m really looking forward to “Westworld.” And I like Bill Maher. So I could go the HBO NOW route and just pay for the months that those three shows are on, but between them I’m almost at a year anyway due to the timing of their seasons.

    Netflix: Yeah, I’m on a wait-until-it-comes-out deal with that. The only thing that I currently want to see is Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation.” The “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sequel is coming up, so that could be fun. And Baz Luhrmann’s “The Get Down” (a musical drama about kids growing up in the Bronx in the late 70s) in August is probably the thing I’m most looking forward to from Netflix. Of course, Netflix has also said that they’re working on a “Lost in Space” series, so we’ll see if that turns out to be insanely great or just awful; it’ll be one or the other.

    Oh, and I’ll be glad when we get some info on the CBS All Access “Star Trek.” If they go with a “Game of Thrones” budget, then we’ll be in for a treat. And if I get a Benjamin Sisko-type Captain then I’ll be over the moon. (But I’m not going to even let myself go in that direction because I know it won’t happen…)

    • Priest Priest says:

      I’d think a lot of nets are watching HBO Now to see how that experiment works. HBON has the potential to greatly speed up households dumping traditional cable. CBS is relying on Trek the way The Paramount Network relied on Trek to launch/boost their streaming net. I presume 1/4 of the Hulu pie isn’t enough for CBS. Too bad; if CBS was all-in for Hulu, it would make Hulu the obvious Big Dog of streaming services. Then there’s al of these very weird side deals preventing shows like NYPD Blue from wide access because Fox signed a odd deal with Spike TV or something.

  6. Nick says:

    Now that you’re streaming, do you have any interest/intention of checking out Daredevil and/or Jessica Jones? I’d be curious to see how close you think they come to “the Way.” For my money both do a better job of telling a story about characters than any live action material Marvel or DC has produced up to this point, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still room for improvement.

    • Priest Priest says:

      Would like to see DD; JJ is a surprise in that it is so well received. As a male black from NYC, some 1940’s chick in a red hat holds little appeal to me. FTR: I’ve never seen Alias, either. But I don;t have a lot of time to watch TV, and I suspect I’ll be gorging myself on HBO for a few months before even considering anything else 🙂

      • Nick says:

        Fair enough, though I’d say if you have any lingering fondness for Luke Cage that it might be worth your time to check out JJ; he features prominently and it’s one of the best treatments of the character I can remember.

        • Priest Priest says:

          Oh, ok, wasn’t aware of that. I don’t watch much TV, obviously, and rarely leave my house 🙂

        • Oscar Jimenez says:

          Geez… my biggest gripe with that show is the casting. The writing’s OK -IMHO- but casting that anorexic*, sick looking girl to portrait what -again IMHO- should be a plumpy, average, mold-breaking character and a metrosexual Calvin Klein male model-looking dude to portrait one of the toughest street characters ever reeks of TV stereotyping/looks over substance to me -nothing surprising, considering the showrunner is a former Twilight writer-.

          *And I have my reasons to HATE that to death, my sister’s just the shadow of what she should be at her age because of that hideous condition that has left her damaged forever.

          • Nick says:

            Reasonable men can differ here, but I thought they nailed the casting.

            While I’d have been fine with a “plump” Jessica, I thought Ritter was great, and she’s at least less “anorexic” than the character was sometimes drawn ( Moreover, she’s looks like someone who’s been through some stuff, which suits the character.

            At a slightly more pretentious level, having her be physically slight helps subtly emphasize the way men in the show try to bully and intimidate her non-verbally, and makes it that much more satisfying when it repeatedly backfires.

            As for Colter, he’s probably a little svelter than comic Cage usually is, but there aren’t a ton of dudes out there with comic book Cage physique; comic-Cage usually exists in the middle of a magical Venn Diagram between the body types of power-lifter, linebacker, and cage-fighter that doesn’t really happen much with real people; there’s probably two hundred or so dudes in the world who look like him, but I’m not sure how many are both age appropriate and talented actors. I’m guessing very few. I’d rather have a better actor who looks a few inches off than a dead-ringer who can’t sell the part.

            Colter’s at least a cut, big dude who nailed the part (though, granted, his Cage is further from his comic counterpart than, say, Cox’s Daredevil).

      • Dave Van Domelen says:

        Sounds like you may be mixing up Agent Carter and Jessica Jones. Agent Carter is on ABC as a winter break replacement for Agents of SHIELD, and she’s the 1940s chick in the red hat. Jessica Jones is Alias, aka “Bendis wanted to do a gritty Jessica Drew comic but was told no, so he filed the serial numbers off and did it anyway.” She and Luke have a kid together in the comics now, and their relationship was kept for the Netflix version.

  7. Ibrahim Ng says:

    Eeeeek! I didn’t even notice the three subsequent volumes of 1999 were out on Kindle!!! You need to announce this stuff on your site!

  8. The Doc says:

    “Modem rental”? Priest, what’re ya doin’, m’man? That’s how they get ya. Go on eBay, buy your own modem, send their blood box back to them and be done with it.

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