signs of sanity in an increasingly insane world: part one: Netflix (and M*A*S*H)

I don’t care if it’s dorky to praise a big company, I love Netflix so much that I will tolerate any attendant dorkiness. They are an avowed liberal-leaning place (too lazy to Google to convince you of that, so either believe me or not, but remember how they were the sole distributor for that Embedded movie? And I seem to remember The New Yorker doing a little piece on the non-horrible working conditions of the people who fill those zillion red envelopes all day long), unlike Blockbuster, or, of course, Wal-Mart, but more importantly: they are efficient.

In a ridiculous world, efficiency is what keeps me sane, so I’m always pleased to find others who clearly feel the same (Apple computers, Thomas Keller*, pastry chefs, etc.).

The website is insanely, intuitively, even pleasurably easy to use, and the whole thing just works. Yes, once in a while a DVD will have a scratch. This is life. And though I have heard people complain about their DVDs not getting to them in a speedy manner, this has never happened to me in the four or so years I’ve been ‘Flixing. I almost always watch DVDs on Saturday nights and Monday nights, then put them in Tuesday’s mail. By Thursday or Friday I have my next batch of M*A*S*H or West Wing all ready to watch while I’m making seitan, chopping onions, or frosting cake. Bizarrely, even the much-discussed recent service interruption didn’t actually disrupt my schedule at all.

Lately, though, I’d been having Netflix issues. My queue seemed to be arriving all out of order. It freaked me out a bit – if even Netflix was screwy, then the world truly was fucked.

It’s a little embarrassing to admit to the world, but I’ve been working my way through 11 seasons of M*A*S*H for the past few months (I didn’t think it was embarrassing until a Netflix friend – also a real life friend, I’m not so dorky as to have internet-only friends checking out my queue – took me aside at a party a few months ago and quietly told me, “I just want to make sure you know: you have all of M*A*S*H in your Netflix queue, was that a mistake? That’s like a year’s worth of M*A*S*H!”).

TV series are the perfect thing to watch while cooking, because you don’t really need to pay attention. Also, each DVD is like 3.5 hours long – great for those of us who have 16 hours of cooking time to fill. And since I don’t own a TV, it provides a handy way to catch up on good shows. M*A*S*H was childhood favorite of mine, and I was eager to see if 20 or so years later I’d still have the same affection for Hawkeye Pierce (is it weird for a thirty-year-old to have a painfully strong lifelong crush on Alan Alda? Perhaps the M*A*S*H project was a subliminal way to try to rid myself of this childhood obsession.). In the beginning, the constant casual rape jokes (oh, Hot Lips) were really annoying, and probably a more radical feminist than I would have dropped the whole project, but Alan Alda’s dark eyes and utterly perfect hair and quirky comforting voice won out, and I love the show just as much as I did when I was fifteen.

Let’s be clear: it’s pretty stupid. The ridiculously hokey jokes can get tiring – but though I recognize it as tiring it never tires me out: I’d follow M*A*S*H anywhere. If M*A*S*H is aiming to make me cry, I will cry. If M*A*S*H is aiming to make me constantly annoyed with Frank, I will do as told and will scowl every time he appears. I am putty in M*A*S*H’s hands.

And here’s something: yes, not many plots are about women, but believe it or not, most of M*A*S*H would pass Mo’s Movie Measure (which I always use when deciding whether or not to see a movie, and you should too): when the female characters are on screen, they do talk about more than how manhandled they are by Hawkeye – there’s the constant subplot of the friction between the nurses and Hot Lips. Yes, their screen time is teeny compared to the men, and yes that is a reflection of the times and also something that hasn’t changed hardly at all, but let’s face it: the show is about Hawkeye.

Compared with today’s idiotic sitcoms, with their horribly precocious wisecracky children and their nerve-wracking breakneck pacing, M*A*S*H is charmingly antiquated. Every plot “twist” is anticipated far in advance, the message of the episode is so heavy handed that it borders on ham-fisted, and the same themes and memes return again and again and again (partially this is to underscore the banality and boredom of war, of course). But I don’t care. I’d follow M*A*S*H off a cliff. Unlike almost anything else on TV today, M*A*S*H has a heart. Yes, this heart is almost always prominently attached to its sleeve, but who cares.

I was talking about how much I love M*A*S*H with a friend the other day, he said he had a theory that the world divides into people who either love Three’s Company or love M*A*S*H, but no one loves both equally. I’m not a big Three’s Company fan. I told him my theory that the world divides into people who like eggs and those who think eggs are frightening if you really sit around thinking about them too long, and he didn’t really go for that.

ANYWAY. I was awaiting Season 8 (if memory serves, Radar leaves!), when the first West Wing DVD arrived. What on earth? I checked my queue, and all was right, WW was scheduled to start after M*A*S*H. I watched it, and more WW arrived. Then, bizarrely, The Wizard showed up. For reasons I will not go into here but which are fairly obvious to those who know my affection for certain bands, yes, I actually put The Wizard into my queue. Perhaps I should remind readers that I don’t sit and watch movies, and if I did I would not sit and watch The Wizard. The Wizard was, as I figured it would be, completely useless except for the thing I wanted to see, which lived up to all cute expectations.

Not being able to figure out why my queue was all screwy on their site, I called their customer service center and spoke to a real person in just 3 minutes – amazing! My very nice customer service dude explained to me that all the first Season 8 M*A*S*H DVDs were out, and while waiting for them to come back they wanted to make sure my M*A*S*H flow wasn’t ruined, so they sent the next series in my queue. Strangely, the same thing happened again with The West Wing, which is why I got The Wizard. He explained that if continuity didn’t matter to me he could set my account to just send the next disk in the series, but of course it does matter, and how lovely and thoughtful of Netflix! I guess a grump could complain that they don’t have enough copies of certain DVDs (how many people are really watching M*A*S*H Season 8??), but who cares. They have systems! They have efficiency. It’s all good.

Stay tuned for Part Two!


*Dear reader, I do not wish to talk down to you, but that link is very special and exceptionally rare: a four star New York Times restaurant review! Per Se is an amazing place indeed. Last year my sweetheart and I had the same meal Frank Bruni did – well, the veganized vegetable tasting menu – and it was perfectly transcendent, with amazing wine to match. And yes, we spent enough to buy a small used car. A rather broken-down car, perhaps, but seriously – a car. Did I mention that we don’t get to see each other that often, and thus need to make our special nights even more special?

7 Responses to “signs of sanity in an increasingly insane world: part one: Netflix (and M*A*S*H)”

  1. Maggie

    aw, your crush on Alan Alda makes me a little weird, even though I really like him, but not in that way. ;)

    Oh, The Wizard! I actually saw that in the movie theater. Horrible movie, but I know why you rented it.

  2. Ruby

    Really? I though everyone loved Alan Alda in that way. Smart, tall, funny, comes across as lefty, good hair. He’s aged so well, doing those science specials on PBS (although last time I looked those weren’t on netflix – they may be now). Thus, of course, I love M*A*S*H. I can’t stand Three’s Company and I think eggs are gross things to eat. They smell horrible when cooked.

    I haven’t seen The Wizard since I was little, but Foxfire was on TV at someone’s house the other day and I watched it for a bit for the same reason.

    We got netflix this winter to watch The Wire, it hasn’t disappointed.

  3. lagusta

    Johanna – yea, the Wal-Mart thing is a good point. But do you think maybe that could be a good thing (a little bit) because they don’t censor movies like Wal-Mart supposedly does?

  4. lagusta

    Ooh, Ruby, I’ve got to look up the PBS science specials! And I have a video of Foxfire I found at a yard sale – it is a crazy crazy movie. Jenny sings in it! So adorable!


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