My son is nine – he has a TV in his room and used to have a DVD player until that got subbed out when he received an X-Box for his last birthday. He would desperately like his own YouTube channel.
When I was his age, I had a TV in my room too. I was pretty lucky! It was black and white and you had to slap it when you turned the dial to change channels between 6 (TV 1) and 8 (TV 2). I woke up on my 8th birthday to the sound of The Muppet Show’s theme tune. My favourite. Saturday morning cartoons. This was how I knew I had a TV in my room – a big old cheap dunger of a B’n’W set blasting away with variable loudness and I was over the moon.
Skip forward many years and we are just getting used to TV 1 and 2 again – via Freeview and On Demand. For years we didn’t have access, never sought it out. We had a DVD player – which seems rather archaic, but there’s a shop down the road from us and last I checked (most days) it’s still open. And we had Netflix of course. Because everyone has Netflix.
Lightbox was free and at that price it almost seemed worth it. And then it merged with Neon (polite speak for being swallowed up by it) and somewhere along the way Neon stopped glitching five times per program so we added that back into the rotation.
My least favourite of the streaming platforms is Netflix. I could easily live without it. But I am one of three people in the house. And the other two like Netflix more than me. And of course I still watch plenty of things on Netflix – including loads of utter garbage. And the odd very good movie or series. But as long as we have a Netflix account I’ll get caught watching true crime mini-series trash. I’ll love the first episode and hate the show and myself by the final frame. And possibly not in that exact order.
The golden age of TV – or the second golden age, to be fair – has been and gone. And now the algorithms are in charge we have given ourselves over to the TV Dinner version of TV. (Possibly while still having an actual TV dinner).
My favourite of the streaming platforms – my absolute favourite – is YouTube. I feel like I’m in charge. Obviously I’m being recommended things, my search history is catalogued, my data was collected and sold off long ago, all the usual horrors. But the wormholes I head down…well, I chose to believe they’re entirely my doing. I don’t feel that way anywhere else.
A couple of years ago I stumped up for the YouTube Premium account. It’s worth it. No ads, making playlists, and I was an early adopter of Cobra Kai (before Netflix paid for it and no one can convince me season three was a patch on the earlier two, season four will absolutely be worse). There wasn’t much else to enjoy in terms of YouTube Originals, but the luxury of being able to find things on the weird whims as and when they arrive, that’s something I’ll pay the monthly fee for. From full episodes of Taxi to BBC music docos that don’t ever seem to screen here to old, old horror movies, B-grade trash and anything and nearly everything in between. I’ll sometimes pay to rent a new release on YouTube or find old horrors to complete my watching (or re-watching) of a favourite franchise.
Amazon Prime is ludicrous. But in the lockdown of last year – Season One of Lockdown, that is – I loved Amazon Prime. Music documentaries, bizarre 80s comedy-horrors and classics like Back To The Future. It was on all day every day for a while. I cancelled Amazon Prime for a while – and the I brought it back without little reason at all; much like the many horror sequels I enjoy…and often via Amazon Prime
But hang on, there’s a new player in the mix. Disney Plus has added ‘Star’ to its folders. This is basically a play to take place over Netflix in homes. Families that have Disney for the kids can now use the Star channel to watch nostalgic comedy movies, slightly more adult animated series’ (Bob’s Burgers, Futurama, Family Guy, etc) and a great range of sports docos.
I’ve recently watched documentaries about boxing, basketball, pro-wrestling and Bruce Lee. I’ve checked a couple of horror remakes and I’ve added loads of things I’ll never actually get to onto the magical, mythical watchlist. But for now at least I’m confident that I’ll absolutely check in on the channel from time to time.
I am no early adopter with this stuff – as a rule. I feel no push or pull towards MUBI or Shudder or Apple or any of the other options. I don’t feel I have to take the new kid on the block for a test-run. Netflix is the Google or Amazon or bloody Dan Brown or frigging 50 Shades of TV now init? You Netflix and Chill. Apparently. And if you’re not doing that – someone is. So you have Netflix in your life. I could do without it in my life.
So my concentration at the moment is on Neon, YouTube and Disney Plus. Which is already ludicrous and more than enough. Particularly because I also still get sent DVDs to review, I have a video rental store a short stroll from my house, I have DVDs I bought years ago that I still haven’t ever watched and I’m able finally to watch TVNZ on Demand and TV3’s version of that too NOW.
Some days I am almost nostalgic for the choice of only 6 or 8 – that big old dial like a rotary phone. Give it a slap on the side like it’s your favourite racehorse. Sit back and next thing it’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights…
Ah, but also, YouTube is where I can find seven hours of Adam Curtis’ latest documentary series and a live performance of the actual play, Glengarry Glen Ross. And the two-and-a-half-hour supercut of every appearance Amy Sedaris made on David Letterman’s show. And when Rhiannon Giddens mentioned Disney’s nasty Song of The South during her concert, the context being around the amazing music that exists in some of the most racist content ever created, well, where was I going to find that when Disney had wiped it from its streaming memory. YouTube of course! And…and…well, you know, Spalding Gray’s monologues, John Cassavetes’ dramas, Ken Loach’s kitchen sink Wednesday Plays, and the TV movie of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan from 1994.
Square eyes forever. Fuck yeah!