Digging into a Variety of Modern Shows

by Nick Christiansen

The Santa Clarita diet is an interesting show because it is built off of two very different genres. It blends horror and comedy into something very unique. The dialogue, set design, and general vibe all make you think the show is just a simple comedy. I mean everything is lighthearted, most of the shots are vibrant and sunny, and even the music is cheerful and fun. But when it comes to the plot, the show is simply a horror. It revolves around a man’s wife who goes crazy and gets an appetite for human flesh. Cannibalism and zombies are textbook horror elements but they are used in a non typical way. The scariest part of the pilot episode is when the wife is seen gruesomely eating a man that she works with. When the husband steps outside and sees this, he is shocked like anyone would be, but then just has a puzzled and almost playful look on his face. It then became apparent to me that this is the trick to balancing the two opposing genres. You can expose the audience to grizzly murders and lots of blood as long as you keep it lighthearted. Things can be made lighthearted by using vibrant sets, happy music, and unrealistically relaxed actors. This show does this perfectly from what I’ve seen.

The show Godless is in the genre of western but it explores fresh themes. It sets up a unique setting where a town is filled with mostly women as a mining disaster killed off 80 men. This leaves the town particularly vulnerable to the dangers of the wild west. In this show, the main danger is a man named Frank Griffin and his 32 men. Frank is seen in the first episode leading an attack on a town killing men, women, and children. It is mentioned that no group will go against him so the military may have to be contacted. So what does all of this have to do with the name of the show? Well from what I can tell by reading the articles, the show has a major theme of survival of the fittest and deals with how it’s better to count on yourself for survival than to count on God in such a cutthroat environment. A character in the show even says, “God created man but also created the rattlesnake.” This is a very intense theme and it makes the show grittier than most. It also ties into the modern day because no matter what time period you’re in, life can be brutal, difficult, and unforgiving. Perhaps the show tells us not to get soft just because we now live in a more advanced society, but to stay tough because tough circumstances will always arise. The show also contains many typical elements of a western including horses, single action revolvers, and beautiful scenery. It goes for historical accuracy and adds it’s own flair through impressive cinematography achieved through modern cameras.

The show Lost in Space is an interesting one because it harnesses classic sci-fi elements and makes the story family friendly. The pilot starts off with a family playing cards at a table inside a spacecraft. Immediately families can vibe with this, but then the situation takes a turn for the worst. The ship they’re in begins landing on a planet, but is then struck by debris making the landing much rougher than expected. The family then has to work together to solve a number of challenges that follow after landing using scientific and practical knowledge. For example, to try to melt out their frozen daughter, the father and son go after a flammable material the son recognizes off in the distance. The use of scientific knowledge to problem solve is something that has been seen in sci-fi dating back to the original Star Trek series. After all, sci-fi is an abbreviation of science fiction so you would expect science to play a large role. Another thing that is very classically sci-fi in this show is the use of spacecraft and the inclusion of aliens. An alien ship lands near the family and the son saves an alien by allowing it to reconnect it’s body. The aliens are more like re-programmable attack droids leading us to assume a true alien master exists. This show even makes classic sci-fi mistakes like when the crew takes off their helmets; this leads to the demise of the main characters in the last two Alien movies. This would never happen in real life. Just because the atmosphere is breathable doesn’t mean that it is safe. I like this series because it provides good quality adventurous content to a family audience and encourages children to use their brains.

Blog Post 2: Engineering a show to be binge-worthy

by Nick Christiansen

When Netflix launched House of Cards, they stated that their goal was to shut down a portion of America for a whole day. So when they launched the show, their goal was actually to have people binge watch the thirteen episodes posted. Never before had a show been worked on where the writers and producers knew all of the episodes would be available at once. This allowed the makers of the show to change the dynamic of their content to fit this style. So how does this change things? I believe that this structure allows content creators to pack in a more dense story because the person watching will have previous episodes fresh in their mind when they experience the total continuity of watching multiple episodes back to back. Shows made for television in the past would have a section of the show at the beginning go over the plot points from the last episode to make sure audiences were up to speed. Now, Netflix shows can use every minute of their show developing the plot. Netflix’s structure also probably makes it easier to follow multiple character arcs because all your knowledge of the characters is much more fresh in your mind. I’m willing to bet that people can probably follow an additional character arc or two when binging a show on Netflix compared to when viewing a show once a week on TV.

Another way that House of Cards embraces binge-watching culture is by naming the episodes as chapters. This way, the show seems more like a book and it invites the reader to consume the media at their own pace much like when reading a book. After all, it’s not frowned upon to read an entire book in two or three days. the next way that the show complements binging is when Frank breaks the fourth wall and address the audience directly. This goes well with the Netflix experience because users often watch shows on a laptop close to their face so these moments create more of a connection between the audience and the show. Also people who are binge watching may be doing it out of loneliness or boredom (which I find closely interlinked) and having the main character directly address you to fill you in on something may create a feeling of comfort or companionship.

The show also includes many themes of addiction with the main characters smoking cigarettes, engaging in video games, and drinking and having to go to rehab. This draws a connection to the nature of binge watching along with in the first episode when Frank says that there will be many late nights like this.; the number of subtle nods to binge watching are numerous. Also, the main plot itself is easy to binge because it is the archetypal story of success with numerous setbacks along the way. The farther in we watch, the more power Kevin Spacey’s character gains. It’s like watching a vague analogue to our own lives on fast forward; it’s exciting and rewarding.

So what do we know about the affects of binge watching on an audience? We know that binge watching a Netflix series is much more mentally tasking and engaging than watching a casual show one episode at a time. So right off the bat, we have one positive point. People’s brains will be kept active which will keep people sharper than if they casually watched sit-coms. The down side is that all of this stimulation conditions the brain one way or another. The example given in Snider’s passage is that binging Damages in the hospital resulted in him being paranoid by the streets of NYC. Snider subjected himself to such an elaborate and extensive plot of danger and backstabbing over such a large percentage of his waking hours that he was tuned into reality the same way one of the characters would be tuned into the reality of the show. I noticed this myself when I went over with my friend to his girlfriend’s house and binge watched Criminal Minds with them for hours on end. After watching countless gruesome murders and overall nasty situations, I went to the grocery store and felt like an FBI agent who just finished a mentally scarring day at work. I glanced at people with a feeling of, “you haven’t seen what I’ve seen.” After that, I became much more careful with what shows I was subjecting myself to. I hope others will also come to this same understanding that what you watch (especially when binging) matters significantly. If I look back to House of Cards through this same lens, I can say that the show actually put me in a good mindset of being ambitious and driven. Around the time of watching the show, I felt motivated to start a coding project which I just finished today. I can’t say for sure that there’s a correlation, but my gut says there is.

A Battle Between Companies

We all know that Netflix dug a grave for Blockbuster, but how did it happen? It seemed like Blockbuster had a fighting chance seeing how they even had a streaming service and seemingly superior movie renting over mail program where you could even drop off your movie at a local store. Their streaming service re-engineered Netflix’s site on a superficial level but couldn’t replicate their smart algorithms that could do things like suggest the right movies to watch. Realizing that their company’s clunkier site couldn’t compete with Netflix, they tried a different approach. The company accumulated over 20,000 movies for it’s streaming website just so that they could say they had more movies than Netflix. The problem was that a lot of these “movies” were filler and consisted of videos of fish tanks, fireplaces, and bad amateur films.

Blockbuster also had to tackle the problem of overnight delivery. Netflix was able to do this but the Blockbuster team wasn’t sure how. They sent amateur spies into Netflix warehouses to snap pictures but the info they got from these missions didn’t tell them enough. Netflix had an algorithm that posted a map every six months of where the next distribution centers should be located to ensure overnight delivery. It even calculated the cheapest delivery routes and how many of a DVD the warehouse had to supply based on demand.  Blockbuster was getting left in the dust wherever it tried to follow Netflix. Netflix had a long head start meaning that competition would never be able to keep up. Once Blockbuster launched online, the website couldn’t handle the level of traffic it was getting and the website would crash frequently; it was a total disaster. Because of word of mouth, most people went for Netflix. By the time Blockbuster was able to scrape together a working service, Netflix leaped ahead once again by publishing artistic, fresh new content that the consumers could get excited about. Blockbuster had no original content to show for. What Netflix’s next move will be, no one knows. My best guess is that they will continue to invest billions in original content every year to act as a totally independent entity.

Hulu and Amazon are still strong competitors to Netflix, but Hulu requires it’s paying subscribers to sit through commercials and Amazon requires it’s patrons to sometimes have to pay an upfront charge in order to watch a newly released movie. For the foreseeable future, I believe Netflix will stay on top for these reasons. The competitor’s best shot in gaining some turf would be to heavily invest in not only original content, but in good original content. For example, HBO gained many subscribers through their exclusive access to the highly regarded Game of Thrones.

How we consume media is always changing but like mentioned in the readings, it appears that the relationship between corporations and media consumers is symbiotic in nature. The power is in the people’s hands as they can subscribe and unsubscribe from any service they want. This leads to companies to tailor their service to meet the needs of the consumer. After all, consumers loved being able to stream movies on their laptops and Netflix was there to fit their demands. Let’s not forget, however, that people will always want to go to the movies and will always want to watch live sporting events and news, so as long as the demand is there, TV and cinema will be supported. So if there’s anything that media companies can learn, it’s that they aren’t entitled to anything and that giving the consumer what they want will always prove prosperous if done right. Change is always gonna come around in the entertainment industry so it needs to be expected.