Confessions of a former NETFLIX ZOMBIE: As the streaming giant reveals it soon expects to have lost two million subscribers, SIMON MILLS charts the highs and lows of his own love affair with its shows
- Stuart Mills explains how he fell in love with Netflix from its launch in 2012
- On 1 February 2013, House of Cards dropped and everything changed for him
- UK-based reveals that his love affair with Netflix could not go on forever
I was there. A true early adopter, ‘scrolling’ the menu, talking about shows in terms of ‘seasons’ and ‘narratives’, shunning terrestrial as if it were some blowsy old lover who’d gone to seed.
For the first year after its UK launch in 2012, Netflix only offered an occasional diversion from my regular homespun viewing. But then, on 1 February 2013, House of Cards season one dropped. And everything changed. For ever.
The super-smart political thriller may have been on my small screen but its impact was cinematic. The opening credits (which you could skip if you so desired – how about that!?) were a little arthouse movie in themselves. The series starred proper Hollywood actors and the story was utterly compelling: ruthless pragmatism and manipulation, libidinous cigarette smoking, betrayal and corruption. ]
As the streaming giant reveals it soon expects to have lost two million subscribers, Simon Mills charts the highs and lows of his own love affair with Netflix shows. Illustration: Tim Mcdonagh
Newly single at the time, and without a TV aerial on the roof of my new home with which to receive BBC, I inhaled every delicious, internet-streamed episode of the first season over a single weekend, truly believing that I had invented a new way to enjoy TV; binge-watching, I termed it. Buying box-sets, renting DVDs, paying late return fines – that stuff suddenly seemed like home entertainment’s dark ages. In just two days I became a Netflix minx, next inhaling all 62 episodes of Breaking Bad then discovering the narcotic, labyrinthine delights of Narcos. By perfecting my deep-scrolling technique, I also discovered weird, quirky, cultish stuff (much of it actually about cults – Wild, Wild Country being an old favourite), including a documentary called My Friend Rockefeller which has since disappeared.
Of course, Netflix and I couldn’t go on for ever. It couldn’t keep up the quality levels and I simply couldn’t keep up with the sheer volume of stuff available. It was lockdown’s obsession with the service’s new and trashy shows, such as Tiger King, that marked the beginning of the end. I watched it, of course – all 12 grisly, sweary, elaborately mulleted, trainwreck episodes – but it left me feeling icky and sullied.
I also began to slightly resent the snoopy Netflix Recommendation Engine (NRE) algorithm which ruthlessly filters content based on your viewing. That’s why when you’ve watched Breaking Bad, the NRE will suggest that you might want to see the execrable Jackass vehicle Bad Grandpa. Like The Crown? You’ll love The Duchess .
So, ten years in, I’m not exclusive. Yes, I still carry a torch for good old Netflix, but I flirt outrageously with Disney+, Mubi and Amazon. I spend dirty weekends with BBC iPlayer, BritBox and Now. I also quite fancy a bit of Hulu. You like the sound of me, the dirty, rotten, two-timing content cad? Then you simply must watch The Tinder Swindler – streaming now on Netflix.
WHAT KIND OF NETFLIX VIEWER ARE YOU?
You know you have consumed way too much Netflix when the ‘continue watching for Simon’ bit of the menu includes titles that you have little or no memory of. Even more worrying is the fact that you may have viewed several seasons of that Scandi noir murder drama less than 12 months ago, and still have absolutely no recall of plot, location or characters.
THE GENRE BUSTER
What’s with Netflix’s thing for categorising its content using increasingly bizarre and oddly specific names? I mean, exactly what is a ‘hidden gem, fight-the-system’ film? Do any subscribers actively seek out ‘violent nightmare-vacation’ movies?
THE DREAM STREAM: MY TOP TEN NETFLIX PICKS
- The Kominsky Method
- Better Call Saul
- Breaking Bad
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Marriage Story
- The Crown
- House of Cards
The Crown: Princess Diana (Emma Corrin) and Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor)
THE SUBTITLE STREAMER
Netflix has found itself in the unlikely role of the United Nations of TV, encouraging us to hoover up stuff from France, Sweden, Germany and Poland. People who once turned up their noses at subtitled telly and movies for being ‘too arty’ are busy bingeing on Squid Game (South Korea) and Money Heist (Spain). Who would have thought that smart dinner-party conversation would now revolve around opinions on season three of gripping terrorism drama Fauda… from Israel?
THE RAGER AGAINST THE ALGORITH MACHINE
Yes, I know that I devoured Breaking Bad and its excellent spin-off Better Call Saul, but Netflix now seems to have me down as some sort of crack-addicted, litigation-obsessed lowlife who might enjoy hoary, schlocky guff like The Sinner. Recently it’s been suggesting that I try watching a Ricky Gervais stand-up thing. Netflix, you know I can’t bear Ricky Gervais. Or maybe… you don’t know me at all?
THE MENU BROWSER
Ten years in, the Netflix content I view the most is called ‘The Netflix Menu’ (and no, this one doesn’t get really good in series four). I sometimes spend nearly an hour scrolling and clicking, desperately searching for something new and interesting that I haven’t seen (or have I?) before. By the time I’ve found it, my girlfriend is asleep and I have drunk half a bottle of wine.
THE DOUBLE SCREEN WATCHER
Sorry, but I blame the ephemeral aspects of Netflix for the fact that I often only half-view its content. I glimpse-watch – screen-in-screen style, in the corner of my laptop – a show that I am only half-committed to while answering emails or paying some bills.
THE NETFLIX DESERTER
During lockdown, I overdosed on Netflix, cruelly abandoning BBC and ITV to spend pretty much every pandemic night self-medicating with The Queen’s Gambit and Black Mirror. I wasn’t alone. Almost 16 million people created accounts in the first three months of 2020, apparently beginning a love affair with streaming.
But it turned out to be just a meaningless fling, with Netflix revealing it had lost 200,000 subscribers in the first three months of 2022 and warning that another two million were expected to bale in the coming quarter.
Have you ever watched a show called Line of Duty? It’s really rather good. All six seasons are now streaming on something called ‘BBC’.