The Curious Case of Canadian Netflix
- by Clinton Hallahan
Netflix. You may have heard of it. The service out of California that made its name by sending millions of DVDs around the continental United States by using a high-tech system of online queue, recommendation engines and envelope management systems from the future has, overnight, switched its business model to online streaming.
Not needing to futz around with the lockout-prone Canada Post, they’ve availed themselves to those of us north of the border at long last. For the low, catch-free price of $7.99 per month, Canadians can now enjoy unlimited (ISP permitting) film and television streaming on a variety of devices (see appendix). The future is truly here.
Except for one catch.
You see, Canada is what some people refer to as an info-tech backwater. Sure, we were hot stuff with Nortel and RIM for awhile, but as a country our telecom and digital copyright law are so far back in the ’80s we’re still worried about the Russkies.
So, while the United States version of Netflix enjoys a comparable or even superior selection to your local video store, the Canadian version is a little more complicated.
While Netflix streaming and competitor Hulu were getting started down South, Canadian television providers were inking exclusive online streaming rights deals. So while usage rights negotiations go hand-in-hand with providing content on this scale, Netflix just won’t be able to score some shows locked and bound to the atrocious CTV, Comedy Network and Global online streaming solutions.
But never fear. While the lawyers lock horns and various copyright laws snake through Parliament to screw you over, Netflix Canada has become a de facto film and television discovery service. Bunches of what you want to see have been added to the service, but more often than not you will search for something and come up with a screw-you-Canadian (i.e. “Not available, but these are similar”) page.
It’s the perfect opportunity to watch something new, and we here at The Snipe want to help you enjoy yourself, even when you can’t watch exactly what you want.
Want to watch Lord of the Rings? Watch Mongol (2007) instead!
The first chapter of a planned (and possibly stalled, unfortunately) Russian trilogy, Mongol is a gorgeously shot and tightly plotted Academy Award nominee from director Sergei Bodrov. Following the exploits of Genghis Khan before he would go on to conquer most of the known world, Mongol makes a human out of a popular monster. With epic set pieces, affecting character work and a similarly endless running time, it will fill the hole left by The Lord of The Rings just fine. Fair warning: subtitles throughout.
Watch – Mongol (trailer):
Want to watch Toy Story (or anything Pixar)? Watch Avatar: The Last Airbender instead!
Just hear me out. Yes, I realize one of the worst films of the decade was based on this Nickelodeon series, but there is a reason why Paramount Pictures gave scads of money to the wrong person to adapt it. Avatar: The Last Airbender is an incredible series, and the easiest way to describe it is as the TV series Pixar wishes they made. It’s a cartoon, yes, and takes it’s time establishing itself as a franchise for children, but as with a Pixar film, nobody who has seen the series would call it kid stuff.
The series follows the exploits of Aang, the only person who can manipulate all four basic elements with a martial art called “bending”, as he fights with his friends to neutralize the despotic Fire Nation. Sharply written, beautifully acted and tremendously witty, Avatar‘s only downside is when you’re done you’ll check out the Shyamalan Airbender and rage about what could have been. Plus it co-stars Mae Whitman and Dante Basco, better known as Ann from Arrested Development and Rufio from Hook. It’s all on Netflix, so you really have no excuse.
Want to watch Mr. Show? Watch Little Britain instead!
David Cross and Bob Odenkirk are pretty great, but Netflix Canada hasn’t wrangled them quite yet. The service is long in British sketch comedy though, including the phenomenon Little Britain.
The brainchild of David Williams and Matt Lucas (whom you saw in Bridesmaids as the male portion of the creepiest siblings ever), the pair exploit the “repetition is comedy” mantra to great effect. Several characters return through each season, and the Lucas/Williams penchant for inhabiting these characters – in both demeanor and some surreal costume work – put Little Britain on the comedy map for a reason. It’s not for everyone, however, and if it proves a little much, check out That Mitchell and Webb Look for more sterling British sketch work.
Watch – Little Britain – Carol in Spain (clip):
Want to watch Moon? Watch Primer instead!
Did everybody talking about it finally convince you to watch Duncan Jones’ masterful Sam Rockwell vehicle Moon? Well Netflix can’t help you there. But it can introduce you to the other sleeper sci-fi hit of the decade. Concerning the accidental discovery of time travel by two colleagues working on entrepreneurial experiments in their garage, Primer is a mind-bending vision of causality and the issues arising from the exploitation of time travel. Made for a reported budget of $7,000, the 2004 movie is a clinic in creative editing and creative screenwriting. Watch with friends so you can join the club of people trying in vain to puzzle out what really happened.
Watch – Primer (trailer):
Want to watch 30 Rock? Watch Community instead!
Tina Fey can’t come to play, but the breakout comedy of the last couple of seasons sure can. The first season of Community is up on Netflix and ready to be consumed at your leisure. The series stars Joel McHale as a smarmy ex-lawyer disbarred after it was discovered he never completed an undergraduate degree. The focus has left him and discovered a stellar ensemble cast including Alison Brie (Mad Men), Chevy Chase (everything) and Donald Glover (Derrick Comedy, Mystery Team), to make this one of the most inventive and daring comedies on network television. Community Season One is an incredibly solid set-up for a legendary second season that uses the earned leeway to start a revolution. Community, which leads into 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, is too good to survive long, so don’t delay and hop on the bandwagon.
Watch – Community (trailer):
Want to watch Buffy: The Vampire Slayer? Watch Angel instead!
Fatigued of the drama when Buffy moved from The WB to UPN, series creator Joss Whedon decided to focus on the spin-off series the institution had spawned. The first two seasons of Angel are enjoyable, but all the quality missing from Buffy in seasons six and seven was transferred directly into seasons three-to-five of Angel. David Boreanaz plays a vampire cursed with a soul, unable to experience a moment of true happiness lest he lose his humanity and turn into an impossibly handsome killing machine. If the idea Buffy regulars co-starring and the conceit of a vampire being a supernatural private dick don’t tickle you, I just don’t know what will.
Watch – Angel (trailer):
Want to watch Knocked Up? Watch Cyrus instead!
The Judd Apatow dramedy classic might be one of the first you think of when dialing up Netflix for a quiet date, but the Duplass brothers have your back in a pinch. Utilizing the talents of John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill, the pioneers of the groan-worthy subgenre “mumblecore” have crafted a romantic comedy that is both of those things. Easy enough – that kind of movie comes out all the time, right? Well, Jay and Mark Duplass do something interesting: they treat the viewer like an adult by treating their characters like adults. They operate within the same sport as lesser romantic comedies, but they’re in a whole new league in terms of intellectual and emotional depth. Cyrus was one of the standouts of 2010, and with it we are this close to getting rid of Reese Witherspoon and Kate Hudson films forever.
Watch – Cyrus (trailer):
Subscribers can access Netflix on pretty much anything. Many media streamers (set top-boxes designed to transport digital media to your television) like the Roku or the Boxee Box can stream Netflix films, but the real standout devices are video game systems. The Wii version of the Netflix client is merely okay, but the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are top notch. The 360 gets the edge for the more inviting interface, however. And don’t forget to grab it on your iPhone and iPad (and soon, your Android device)!