This is the future, streaming is the future. TV will not be TV in five years from now...everyone will be streaming.
That's up above, head writer and showrunner for Netflix's breakthrough hit, House of Cards, talking about the future of original programming.
Is he right? Consider this: Sales of traditional television sets are noticeably down, as an increasingly busy world that wants instant gratification demands that entertainment bend around our schedules. We want it when and where we want it, and all of it at once, if that's what we decide we feel like at that moment.
Go into any college student's dorm room and you'll be likely to find one glaring omission: A television set. Similarly, step into any young professional's apartment and you'll probably find them watching their television shows and movies on their laptops, phones, and tablets rather than their televisions. As the options for what and how we watch become more diversified, streaming video services have come into their own.
Recently, Netflix stepped up its game and started offering original series programming (Amazon has, as well, but with not nearly the quality nor success of Netflix). At first, questions abounded: Would the content be equal in quality to what broadcast and cable offered? Would it be able to lure big names? Would audiences respond? Would it be viable for the future?
And with Netflix garnering a solid 14 Emmy nominations, with 9 of those alone for House of Cards, including Best Drama, Best Director, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama, and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, it's safe to say those questions have been answered: No. It's better; do and ring a bell?; overwhelmingly positively; it IS the future.
But it can be hard to keep up with all the best shows you should be watching (but aren't) on broadcast and cable, let alone knowing what to watch in a brand-new medium, and why. So let's break down the best of the bright and shiny original shows Netflix has to offer, and why you should start caring.
House of Cards
The world of 7:30 on Tuesday nights, that's dead. A stake has been driven through its heart, its head has been cut off, and its mouth has been stuffed with garlic. The captive audience is gone. If you give people this opportunity to mainline all in one day, there's reason to believe they will do it.
— David Fincher
Emmy contender House of Cards, based on the BBC series of the same name, was not Netflix's first foray into the world of original programming (that was Lilyhammer), but it was certainly its biggest and most risky. And my, has it paid back the time and money Netflix has funneled into it and then some. It is a legitimate contender for nine different Emmy nominations, including the heavyweight categories mentioned above. But what's the reason for those awards?
Look at the images above, and they tell you all you need to know. House of Cards showcases Oscar winner Kevin Spacey at his sneering, drawling, power-grabbing best as Congressman Frank Underwood, a South Carolina Democrat and the House Majority Whip who launches a ruthless, manipulative campaign of revenge in Washington when he is passed over for the position of Secretary of State that was promised to him. It is a role that Spacey, who perhaps plays a snarky, smoothly menacing villain better than anyone in Hollywood, was born to play.
is just as brilliant as his equally ambitious, embattled wife, Claire, who heads a non-profit organization that is regularly getting drawn into Frank's political machinations, much to her dismay. While Frank is the knife at his colleagues' backs, it's safe to say it's Claire's hand that holds it, and Wright's spot-on portrayal garnered her a nod in the Best Actress category.
The show also boasts a solid supporting cast, including as Zoe Barnes, an ambitious young reporter who strikes a Faustian bargain with Underwood to gain the inside Washington scoop, and as Peter Russo, a troubled U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania who gets trapped under Frank's thumb when Frank threatens to expose his drug and alcohol addictions.
Credit also goes to visionary director David Fincher (Fight Club, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), whose dark, frenetic pacing and snappy editing lends itself well to the wide-open medium of Netflix. Of particular interest is the way in which Spacey continually breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the viewers as he delivers his droll asides to explain his thoughts about the situation. While it might take some viewers a bit to get used to, it's a unique take in delivery that is far more effective and integral to the pacing than the gimmick it appears to be at first glance.
Orange is the New Black
Netflix finally achieves its eureka moment with a terrifically entertaining piece of original programming that's truly and bracingly original.
— Matt Roush, TV Guide
With Orange Is the New Black, Netflix showed the world that it was bolder, braver, and had more moxie than its outdated and antiquated counterparts in broadcast and cable television. Based on the memoir of the same name by Piper Chapman, it's completely hooking audiences in an unprecedented fashion. You can search, but you will absolutely not find another show on television quite like Orange. Netflix not only giving it the greenlight, but also ordering a second season before the pilot episode had even aired, was unprecedented. It was risky, it was weird...and it was also insanely brilliant.
While House of Cards might be the awards wrangler, it's Orange is The New Black that everyone and their mother (and their father, and their next door neighbor, and their cousin's barber's wife...) is talking about. The dramedy features something that does not exist anywhere else on television: Namely, an almost all-female cast for a gritty, dark comedy. There are a handful of men in the show, but only one of them is a decent person, with the rest simply being foils to the brilliant women behind bars. But it's not just women who are falling in love with the show; men are also being drawn to it in record numbers.
The writing is taut and daring, exploring concepts and relationships and storylines that network and even cable execs are too hesitant to approve and air - and the results are showing that those white-collared, silver-haired executives have been wrong, very wrong, profoundly and laughably wrong, in believing that audiences wouldn't warm to a predominately female cast.
Standout newcomer in the lead, (Piper Chapman), deserves every award nomination for her portrayal, while it would be a crime if supporting actresses , who plays Piper's former drug dealer lover, Alex, and as Galina "Red" Reznikov, the prison's go-to woman to get things done and mother figure for the other inmates, did not also receive serious critical acclaim.
The show is laugh until you cry funny, and, at times, heartbreakingly sad, but it's always something to talk about, providing endless "Oh, no they DIDN'T" moments and water cooler conversation. Simply put, it is the show to be watching right now. And if you're not, you should start. Immediately.
The first thing you notice in Lilyhammer...is the big red Netflix logo. It announces that this is a Netflix original series (its first) and that another front is being opened in streaming video's war on television.
— Mike Hale, NY Times
Lilyhammer is the granddaddy of Netflix original programming (if one can consider a series that started airing in 2012 to be of grandfatherly age), a team-up between Netflix and a production company for the Norwegian Broadcasting Company. While it may not get as much press or viewers as the other four on this list, it's still a weird, dark, sometimes brilliant little comedy-drama.
It features a scowling, droop-jowled in the lead as Frank Tagliano, a former mobster-turned-rat who enters the Witness Protection Program after testifying at a trial. He relocates to Lillehammer, Norway, but soon finds life there as an unemployed immigrant is vastly different than the mobster's life of crime to which he was accustomed in New York. With boredom setting in and a dwindling wallet, he resorts to his old ways in rural Norway to get ahead.
Like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black before it, it employs the use of something that you would never see on mainstream television, namely, a foreign-based show that takes none of the foreign out of it, or dumbs itself down for American audiences. It comes complete with subtitles, though it must be said that the majority of the dialogue, including almost all of Van Zandt's, is in English. Still, it's a bold move to make, considering that most foreign films almost never arrive intact and unchanged to American shores, let alone a quirky original series.
This is the television industry turning to Netflix and saying: 'you have created quality shows, this is something people should pay attention to.'
— Eric Deggans, Tampa Bay Times
Cult favorite Arrested Development, unlike the other shows on this list, does not really need an introduction. Most audiences at least know of the Bluth clan, if they haven't ever watched them, and are familiar with the show as having made star turns of the likes of , , and , as well as putting the careers of and back in the public eye.
And audiences also have at least a passing familiarity with the story behind the show, which is that it got canceled after its third season after gaining a staunch cult following and being critically acclaimed, but struggling for big ratings that network executives like to see. As a result, it floated around in purgatory for a while, an unfinished business of a story and a cast that wanted to return to their roles but could find no outlet.
Enter Netflix in 2012, making fans of the Bluth clan everywhere cheer when it announced it would be picking up the little show that could and producing a fourth season of the beloved comedy. Proving the old adage that one man's trash is another man's treasure is true, the show dropped its full season on Netflix in May and helped the streaming video service gain over 600,000 new subscribers in the last season. What's more, in taking a chance on resurrecting the show (and announcing there would be a fifth season if the cast was willing), Netflix opened the doorway of a new potential outlet for canceled television shows that have solid followings but perhaps hadn't yet found the right medium.
What's most exciting to me is creating the series for Netflix, which as a feature filmmaker is like telling a story in a new medium. Netflix as a platform is the perfect hybrid of cinema, television, and social networking, with the creative freedom to go as dark as the story needs.
— Eli Roth
Unlike the above shows, which are based in gritty realism and aimed more at an adult audience, Hemlock Grove plays more to the CW audience. It incorporates both fantasy and horror into the mix, and the result is something far darker and more complex one would find on network or cable. The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural, it ain't.
Based on the bestselling and acclaimed fantasy-horror novel by Brian McGreevy, it follows the story of Peter Rumancek (), a gypsy and werewolf who wanders into the small town of Hemlock Grove, a town full of supernatural secrets and residents with things to hide. When a teenage girl is brutally murdered (which opens the pilot), the blame is placed on Peter, who then teams up with rich boy Roman (, little brother to True Blood's ) to discover the identity of the killer and unravel the town's dark secrets.
And lest you think that Netflix can't offer the visual effects and design of bigger-budgeted cable and network fantasy series, I'd point out that Hemlock Grove was also nominated for a few Emmys, one of which was Outstanding Special Visual Effects. When you watch one of Peter's gory, visceral werewolf transformation scenes, you'll understand why.
Speaking of gory and gutting, there is a reason the show came as slick and well-produced as it has, without falling into the cheesy and awful realm of Amazon's short-lived Zombieland series: It has a bona fide helmer in , the horror genius behind such films as Hostel, Grindhouse, and Inglourious Basterds. He carries with him a street cred that is hard to match, and immediately lets you know you're in for something eye-popping and twisted whenever you sit down to watch.
Where does this leave the future of television programming? In fact, can we even call Netflix and other streaming services television, or will we have to coin a completely new term? Netflix programming garnering the Emmy nods it did was impressive enough, but when you consider that they were nominated and chosen in favor of other traditional cable and network shows that seemed like locks, it starts to paint a picture of a landscape in original programming that is about to change. Massive hit cable show The Walking Dead didn't score a single Emmy nod in any of the major categories, but House of Cards ticked off every checkbox. And it's Robin Wright standing amongst the contenders for best female lead, rather than Orphan Black's dynamic . Likewise, comedic stalwarts such as Parks and Recreation and The New Girl were completely snubbed...but Arrested Development certainly wasn't.
So, are we seeing the future of original productions? You betcha. But it's not cable or broadcast, not our television sets we'll be looking toward - it's our laptops, our tablets, and our phones. Forget what you've always watched...because the best shows out there just might be the ones you're not watching.