Prairie Post

Navigating Netflix: Why am I watching this?

Anyone who has Netflix is guilty of this. Scrolling through the choices and picking something pretty much out of the blue. Maybe you liked the poster image. Maybe there was an actor in it you like. Maybe it was a movie that passed through theatres before you got a chance to watch it and you decided now is the time.

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And you regretted it, the whole way through.

As vast as Netflix is and as many hidden gems as it has, there are those offerings you take advantage of and end up regretting. But is there truly nothing redeeming about them? Here are few of my recent regrets…

The Nanny – If you watched sitcoms in the late 90s, there was a lot to choose from. This was the heyday of Must See TV on NBC, you know. But CBS had a few heavyweights of its own, such as The Nanny which did surprisingly well during its six season run despite the notable handicaps of being awful and Fran Drescher’s voice.

Based somewhat on Drescher’s own experiences growing up in Queens, The Nanny is the story of a girl from the block mistakenly hired as a nanny for a wealthy British play producer with a vendetta against Andrew Lloyd Webber. The rest pretty much writes itself…

The show was filled with the most hackneyed, stereotypically sitcom plots, punctuated by laughable performances and catchphrases. And it won awards! But it’s the guest stars that made this show worth watching. From Marvin Hamlisch playing a music teacher who looks like Marvin Hamlisch to Ray Charles’ recurring character as Fran’s Grandmother’s fiancé, this show had a rotating door of guest stars from film, TV, fashion, music and theatre that has to be seen to be believed.

The Watch – This is a Ben Stiller comedy. To many people, that phrase alone should sound a warning bell. Stiller plays a suburbanite who recruits a bunch of guys from the neighborhood to watch for crime after an employee of his is murdered at Costco. They stumble upon an alien invasion centered in their town. Yes. You read that right.

Stiller’s crack team consists of Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn and Richard Ayoade. Frankly, any one of Hill, Stiller and Vaughn are capable of getting a laugh out of me in the right roles. Though Hill isn’t all bad, this is not a good showing for Vaughn or Stiller. They kind of sleepwalk through the entire movie.

Richard Ayoade, on the other hand, shines through. Possibly best known for his hilarious role on The IT Crowd, also available on Netflix, Ayoade steals every scene he’s in. The Watch is worth watching if just for him and Will Forte as the bumbling/arrogant local law enforcement.

Wings – Speaking of bad 90s sitcoms…

Wings was the laughably mundane story of two brothers running a charter airline on the island of Nantucket near Boston. For eight seasons, Wings churned out plots straight from the standard NBC sitcom playbook and won a few awards for it. They even crossed characters from the ratings giant Cheers in an attempt to spice it up. But despite the commonplace plots, there are a couple of standout elements.

Two careers were launched out of this series, Thomas Haden Church and Tony Shalhoub. Church appeared for the first six seasons and a bit of the seventh as Lowell Mather, the shockingly stupid mechanic for the tiny airport. While the ‘dumb character’ is pretty standard for sitcoms, Lowell was a special kind of ridiculous, often responding in unpredictable ways even within the context of his own character.

And then there’s Tony Shalhoub who played Antonio Scarpacci, an Italian immigrant living on Nantucket. Antonio first appears midway through season two as a waiter, then joins the main cast at the beginning of season three. The progressive downfall of Antonio starts here as he has lost his job as a waiter and is now a highly unsuccessful cab driver.

Antonio’s story is a surprisingly dark subplot to the series. He is definitive casualty of the American immigrant dream, destined to watch others succeed and find happiness while his life disappears into a black abyss of misfortune. And the rest of the cast seems aware of his ongoing ruination yet entirely oblivious to it or at least unwilling to do anything about it. For me, 90% of the laughs in this show came from him with the rest coming from Lowell.

I definitely wouldn’t call these recommendations but they’re also not warnings, either. As bad as much of this was, I still got some surprisingly good laughs. So why did I watch this material? In the case of The Watch, I missed in theatres and thought I’d give it a shot. And as for The Nanny and Wings, it was pure nostalgia.

If nothing else, they were definitely worth the price of admission on Netflix to watch and sometimes that’s all the prompting you need to press play.

Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at