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Fast forwarding through time: VCRs vs. Netflix

As I caught up recently with an old grad school roommate, we began to reminisce about renting VCRs from a place called Acme Wood Stove and Video. And no, they didn’t also sell anvils and bundles of TNT to slingshot in the direction of the Roadrunner.
I believe we paid $25 to rent the VCR and another $5 per tape rental. A $50 dollar investment for a weekend of entertainment was hefty if you consider that the same amount will now buy you more than five months of Netflix, which could translate to hundreds of shows. Our VCR parties weren’t a bargain, but we looked forward to them because there wasn’t a lot on TV then — although we did gather religiously on Friday night to watch “Miami Vice” (or “Don Johnson, Pretty in Pink”).
Thirty years later, renting a VCR sounds impossibly quaint. Young people in the generation after the Millennials, whatever we’re calling them, are so used to instantly streaming entertainment they can’t grasp how miraculous that phenomenon still seems to those of us who used to lug home a VCR and then labor to hook it up.
We have so many great shows to indulge in now that the average person with a job and a family and a life outside of Netflix and HBO has tough decisions to make. What to choose?
The big buzz recently is for the second season of “Orange is the New Black” on Netflix, and like most everyone I know, I’m happily working my way through it.
“Orange” is a Netflix original blockbuster, as is “House of Cards,” but there are fantastic lesser-known series streaming on Netflix if you dig around. One is an Australian crime series, set in 1920s Melbourne and based on a series of novels by Kerry Greenwood, called “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.” Another brilliant import is “Call the Midwife,” a period BBC drama about London midwives in the 1950s that is, for me, better than the more well-known “Downton Abbey.”
Yet another British series available on Netflix that makes me happy is “Derek,” in which Ricky Gervais plays a 50-year-old man who works in a nursing home, or, perhaps more accurately, an assisted living center.
Derek is…well, one is not exactly sure. Different. Challenged in some ways, weirdly gifted in others, especially in his ability to see the good in everyone around him. The show is frequently rude but hilarious and surprisingly poignant. One of the best things about it is that characters who seem like caricatures deepen unexpectedly. The resulting moments of grace make this show worth watching, but the show’s crudeness may keep some away.
Another Netflix recommendation for those who missed the show the first time around is “Freaks and Geeks,” a series about high school life in 1980 that was inexplicably cancelled after one glorious season (1999-2000). Many of us still mourn it. The cast went on to do big things, and it’s worth checking out the show out to see the youthful incarnations of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel and Linda Cardellini, 13 years or so before she was cast as an unhappy housewife having an affair with Don Draper on “Mad Men” — another solid Netflix recommendation.
One final show making me happy is the first season of “Silicon Valley” on HBO. A satirical comedy about the high-tech gold rush, this series is incisively funny and perfectly cast, and I am told by a friend familiar with the culture that there’s a lot of truth in it. I can’t wait for the next season.
And I won’t even have to rewind any tapes or drive to the Acme store to return them. That’s a happy thought.
What’s making you happy? Email me at salposthappy@gmail.com.

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