Of the many brilliant, hilarious gags in Mel Brooks’ classic The Producers (1967), my favorite is the one where theatrical producer Zero Mostel and his accountant partner, Gene Wilder, have been up all night delving through a stack of scripts in order to find a surefire Broadway flop. “Read, read,” Mostel insists. “We’ve got to find the worst play ever written.” A moment later, he contemplates a possible winner-loser (The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka). “Ah. Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover that he had been transformed into a giant cockroach.” Mostel pauses for a precious millisecond then shakes his head and says, “Too good,” tossing away the script. The recent flight of customers from Netflix — 200,000 at last count — suggests the company may be selecting properties from Mostel’s script pile.
Deluded by the COVID-captive audiences of the past two years, Netflix miscalculated both the durability of streaming and viewer interest in its product. And rather than become a welcome alternative to struggling mainstream studio fare, it exceeded even their virtue-signaling wokeness. The result was no Springtime for Hitler–style success but a total collapse, beyond Max Bialystock’s wildest dream. A quick look at some new Netflix Original titles may solve the mystery of the vanishing viewership.
Heartstopper (TV series)
The friendship between two boys at a British high school blossoms into something more intimate. The fact that the leads are young adults and not in grades K-3 probably made them too old for Disney.
He’s Expecting (movie)
A man becomes pregnant, but that’s not the main premise. IMDb’s (Internet Movie Database) logline for the film completely bypasses the impossible, ridiculous concept to focus on the “deeper” issue: “When a successful ad executive … becomes pregnant, he’s forced to confront social inequities he’s never considered before” — yeah, like his being a scientific freak. Five years ago, anyone reading that line would have been perplexed. Today, normal people know just what to expect, and avoid.
Two strangers, a man and a woman, wake up with their stomachs sown together and seek out the person responsible. Nothing says “must watch” like the idea of two abdominally attached protagonists hopping sideways after a villain. Yet the film not only got made but found a home on Netflix.
Coming Out Colton (documentary)
A former marginal NFL player — whom most sports fans couldn’t recall — and The Bachelor personality – which no real man would know — spends six episodes sharing his life as a gay semi-celebrity, and that’s only Season 1! That pro athletes have outed themselves since I was a kid following the Washington Redskins didn’t stop Netflix from scooping up this property like it was viewer dynamite in 2022.
Lead Me Home (short)
This documentary follows the lives of several homeless denizens of West Coast cities. Of course, residents of Democrat-run LA, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York don’t have to turn on their TV sets to find out about homeless folks. They have a hard enough time not stepping on them or their waste matter.
Of course, if homeless wretches were a Netflix Original draw, the company offers plenty of darker, uglier fare in its library, such as serial killers, gangsters, and slashers, real and supernatural, from all around the world. As a fiction author, I prefer more inspiring human drama and comedy, which is why I mostly watch Turner Classic Movies. Because nothing on Netflix even approaches the writing of Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder, Ernst Lubitsch (The Shop Around the Corner), Preston Sturges (The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels), Philip Barry (The Philadelphia Story), Raymond Chandler (Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, The Blue Dahlia), Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest, The Sound of Music), and other true artists. But recently I made two Netflix exceptions with a positive and negative result.
One was The Last Kingdom, which Scott McKay has rightly called “masterful” in his American Spectator articles. It’s an exciting, politically incorrect saga about the precarious formation of England in the 10th century against overwhelming, savage odds. I’m a huge fan of the Bernard Cornwell novels on which the series is based, and it astonishingly does them justice. It is no coincidence that the show started on the BBC, but credit to Netflix for picking it up in style.
But the other miniseries I watched, Anatomy of a Scandal, typifies the problem with Netflix streaming. Created by superior television auteur David E. Kelley (L.A. Law, Boston Legal), Scandal tells the story of a blue-blood British MP, James (Rupert Friend) and his beautiful homemaker wife, Sophie (Sienna Miller), rocked by his workplace affair and rape accusation. For five episodes and most of the final sixth, it was a riveting, intelligent, well-mounted, marvelously acted legal thriller featuring a great twist.
Then, at the very end, it went woke, with a phony, immoral, moronic, female-empowerment cliche that soured the whole thing, contradicting all the good that came before. Up to that point, the story unfolds through Sophie’s point of view, as she tries to determine whether a sexual encounter in the office elevator was consensual, like James says, or rape, like his accuser charges. But whether errant husband or repeated rapist, James is shown to be a wonderful father to their two darling children, a little boy and a girl. Sophie’s ultimate decision will permanently shatter the kids’ universe and deny them their dad. This is never touched on, yet the final shot is of the two happy children, fatherless forever, skipping ahead of Sophie to a seaside cottage. What seems more important to the show-makers is that Sophie bonded with the totally unethical but haunted female prosecutor.
Kelley is astute enough a writer to know he betrayed his characters and contradicted his own story structure with this cheat. But he couldn’t help himself and chose message over medium. As the great American novelist Andrew Klavan said, “Feminism ruins everything,” especially art. It most certainly ruined Anatomy of a Scandal.
I, however, had invested six hours of my precious time in a Netflix series, and I never will again. Judging from the current mass exodus of subscribers, I’m in fine company.