Maybe This Shouldn’t Have Survived, Netflix

As an occasional binge-watcher of various shows, I enjoyed the first season of Designated Survivor from its ABC days. The second season certainly declined in quality, but kept me watching. Then ABC killed the show and Netflix picked it up.

Netflix didn’t ruin Longmire when they did the same thing. If anything, the final seasons of that show were better than the A&E seasons. But these days, the streaming juggernaut has determined to make everything as coarse and as politically skewed as possible. Let me give a few examples.

Let’s start with some of the easy pickings. In Season 3, it feels as if DS had a quota of f-bombs to drop. At least twice in the first five episodes, characters have actually commented on their foul language: “Can I talk like that in the White House?” My reply is, “Yes, you can, but you can’t do it in my living room.”

Then there’s the sex. Did we really need the somewhat graphic and decidedly casual gay sex scene between a social-media aide and a Secret Service agent? And what ever happened to Dante’s boyfriend from earlier? I’ve resigned myself to the idea that every show needs a gay character if the executive producers want to be invited to all the right parties, but this scene was excessive and pointless. It was as pointless as the scene with Kiefer on the toilet. I know everybody poops, but I don’t want to watch. We also were treated to the campaign manager Lorraine Zimmer (Julie White) dismissing a bare-butted male prostitute. Did this advance the plot or significantly develop her character? Not hardly.

All of this is enough for me to stop watching, but I did get far enough along to recognize that the politics is just what we’ve come to expect from Netflix’s offerings. There are some nice jabs taken at the press, but that’s about the only redeeming thing. Instead, we’re treated to a series–at least one per episode–of standard 2019 SJW fare. We’ve got your transgender story line to go with immigration, American hypocrisy, racism, sexism, and much, much more.

The producers love to insert brief videos that we’re told were shot unscripted from real people. I don’t doubt that they were, but the shots are obviously cherry-picked, not just for quality but for content. If these videos and the attitudes of Designated Survivor were to be believed, then everybody in America is a libertarian eagerly waiting for the government to fix all the same things. (And yes, I’m aware that my last sentence, just like much of the worldview of DS doesn’t exactly make sense.)

I’ve watched The West Wing twice through. While Aaron Sorkin and I do not share much in the way of political outlook, I respected the nuance and complexity of that show. Yes, it had its bias, but everyone and everything has a bias. At least The West Wing represented the complexity of human interactions and didn’t portray every conservative as a knuckle-dragger.

The closest thing that Designated Survivor gets to nuance is when President Kirkman has a hissy fit about “child marriage” in Saudi Arabia only to discover that many American states allow marriage below the magical age of 18. This plot line–and really, it’s generous to call this a plot line rather than an excuse for polemics–allows for a Saudi diplomat to walk into the Oval Office and lecture the president on all manner of ways that the United States is not measuring up. Frankly, this entire sequence is the strongest argument for why Tom Kirkman really is unfitted for high office.

I would like to believe that the average American is smart enough to see when they’re being manipulated. However, we might be mistaken, if the writers of the show are indicative. In one episode, teacher strikes spread ominously across the land as educators demand “a living wage.” The solution is so simple that we wonder how nobody thought of it before.

President Kirkman gets a bunch of rich foundations to pony up $3 billion, leaving the strikes ended and the stars aligned. Did nobody in the writer’s room do the math? Take that $3 billion and divide it among the nation’s 3.8 million teachers and you can give them a life-changing $833 this year (and nothing next year), leaving no money for the class supplies also demanded. If these supposedly educated writers think that striking teachers can be bought off for a one-time $833 or if American teachers are really that short-sighted, then I worry about the future.

I Have a Zombie Problem

I’m pretty much convinced that the zombies are after me and that they want to eat my brain. Yes, I know that you think I have a zombie problem, what with my “Easter Zombies” and observations on Night of the Living Dead. But bear with me.

Not too long ago, I accomplished something truly worthwhile, finishing the entire run of the now-cancelled TV show Z Nation. Think of this program as a less somber, less serious The Walking Dead. I’m not sure exactly when I started watching Z Nation, but I do know that I wrapped it up about two weeks ago. I’ll assume that I ran through the series in about two months, but I rather suspect it was quicker than that.

There were 69 total episodes of this program, spanning five seasons. With each episode weighing in at about 40 minutes, that’s a total of 46 hours of my life that I dedicated to Z Nation. What a great investment of my time those 46 hours represent!

What could I have done with those hours? At my normal reading speed, I could have read six 300-page books and still had time to watch Avengers: Infinity Wars to make my Netflix subscription seem worthwhile. At my normal writing speed, I could have probably gotten somewhere near 40,000 words on the page. Instead, I watched a ridiculous TV program about zombies.

What if I invested that time in reading? If I did, I could read three more books each month. That’s 36 extra books a year. Who could I be if I processed 36 extra books each and every year? What could I accomplish?

I ask this because I’ve been thinking over my Netflix subscription and feeling uneasy about it. The Puritan writer Richard Baxter proposed four questions to consider when deciding on reading material. (I find these questions repeated in numerous online spots, but I haven’t located the original Baxter source.) While all four of these questions seem relevant, I just want to focus on number one:

Could I spend this time no better?

How many better things could I have done with those 46 hours than to have watched Z Nation? I’ve already mentioned reading several books, but are there some other things I could have done? How about these:

  • Study Latin
  • Refresh my Spanish skills
  • Create several teaching videos
  • Work on the ramp from my deck
  • Build steps into the root cellar
  • Meet my neighbors
  • Perform some genealogy research
  • Write a bestselling novel

These are some crackerjack ideas. I know they aren’t your ideas, but they are perfectly good. And having watched Z Nation, I have allowed the opportunity to achieve these things to fade forever into the past. I can always do them next week or next month, but that’s not the point. My Z Nation side-trip sets back my accomplishments and leaves me with pretty much nothing to show for the time.

It turns out that I do have a zombie problem. By wasting my time on mindless video, I’m turning myself into a zombie.

 

 

Netflix and the Problem of Evil

“Who are you fellas?” Ray Hamilton asks.

“We’re the bad guys,” answers Frank Hamer.

This exchange takes place in the Netflix film The Highwaymen as Hamer, played by Kevin Costner, and Woody Harrelson’s Maney Gault pursue Bonnie and Clyde.

There’s something fascinating about the saga of Bonnie and Clyde. This pair, both dead by 26, rambled around the central United States for two years, racking up over a hundred felonies and a staggering body count. Even in their lifetimes, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were romanticized and given the bizarre sort of celebrity treatment that America sometimes accords to those who are clearly not a benefit to society.

A great deal has been made over the years about the ambush that brought this pair down. When you cast a young Warren Beatty and a young Faye Dunaway, which was the lineup in the 1967 film, you aren’t looking to portray them as a true menace to society. Any realistic depiction of the shooting will look like overkill. The bullet-riddled Ford is a chilling icon, which some would present to suggest that the encounter was barbarous and excessive, but these were heavily armed people who had reportedly killed nine law officers already.

The Netflix film does not glamorize the pair. On the other hand, the two retired Texas Rangers, Costner and Harrelson, do not compare with Costner’s earlier role as Eliot Ness. These guys were not untouchable. Forced by circumstances and their profession to face the savagery of human life, they each managed to keep moving forward while haunted by past events.

Harrelson told of an encounter, early in his career, when he inadvertently shot a 13-year-old while confronting an incredibly dangerous gang of outlaws. “I still see his face,” Harrelson’s character says, yet he accepts that the violent encounter was necessary. Both men pursue the work because it has to be done.

In a sinful and violent world, somebody has to step up and do the unpleasant things that keep society from devolving into chaos. In saying that, I sound like Colonel Jessup from A Few Good Men:

Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom.

Hamer and Gault are portrayed as guarding those walls. They do it well, but we shouldn’t for a moment believe that stepping up to do these things will leave the person unscathed. They put down a couple of dangerous characters but leave others running free. Still more will arise down the road.

The problem of evil, which The Highwaymen does an admirable job of portraying, is that it cannot be ended by human means. So long as we inhabit the flesh, we’ll be dogged by sin:

So then, brothers and sisters, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, because if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.–Romans 8:12-13

We shouldn’t be surprised that Netflix didn’t provide that answer for the problem, but at least they didn’t make heroes of the criminals.