Welcome back to FlixWorthy, your guide to Netflix streaming...and more. To help you navigate the new and notable streaming releases, each new installment of FlixWorthy will highlight new and/or notable releases on Netflix, but also on two other competitors who offer premium memberships to huge catalogues of content: Hulu (Hulu Plus) and Amazon Instant Video (Amazon Prime). We'll also include an a la carte pick from Amazon, iTunes, or elsewhere, for those of you who prefer to buy your shows by the episode/season instead of paying a membership fee. Here's what's FlixWorthy this week, kids.
A La Carte Pick: The Wire: Season 1
If you haven't yet seen HBO's The Wire it's easy to feel like you've somehow failed as a TV viewer. The show has received so much praise, both public and critical, and I think most of us have at least one friend who's had the "I can't believe you haven't seen it yet!" conversation. Thankfully, if you're looking to sample the show, Amazon has digital downloads of the entire first season on sale today for only $12.99. That's a savings of 49% off list price, and a perfect chance to check out what genuinely is one of the best shows ever made, and to finally get your Wire-evangelizing friends to shut the hell up already.
Created by David Simon, The Wire unfolds very much like a novel for television, with each of the five seasons examining a different subculture of the crime-ridden city of Baltimore. In Simon's words, the show is "about the American city, and about how we live together. It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals." Season one follows a special police task force attempting to bring down a powerful drug lord named Avon Barksdale. It's both a procedural that examines the day-to-day operations on both sides of the drug war, and a character drama examining a cast of deeply flawed individuals who are often at each others' throats as much as they are focused on dismantling Barksdale's drug empire.
Amazon Prime Pick: Life on Mars
Life on Mars introduces us to Sam Tyler (John Simm), a cop for the Greater Manchester Police who is about to have a thoroughly unusual day. After being hit by a car (while David Bowie's "Life on Mars" is playing), Sam awakens...in 1973. He returns to the police station to find himself expected, but everyone thinks he's a newly transferred officer. As Sam attempts to figure out what the hell is going on, he finds himself working under the command of the unsavory Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and working a case that is eerily similar to one from his present of 2006.
As the show's two seasons unfold, co-creators Matthew Graham, Tony Jordan, and Ashley Pharoah keep the audience guessing. Has Sam really traveled through time? Is he insane? Is he in a coma back in the real world, and all of this is just a dream? It's a credit to the show that all of these possibilities seem equally plausible at various points through the series. And unlike the American version, the British original wraps up with a satisfying and organic conclusion. If you've avoided having the ins and outs and ending of Life on Mars spoiled for this long, then for the love of God dive in and watch the show while you still can.
Netflix Pick: Highlander: The Series
It's tough to be a Highlander fan. Sure, Trek fans have suffered through a couple of subpar series and disappointing movies, but after a classic first outing, the Highlander franchise nosed into the dirt and then started digging. Thankfully, in the aftermath of the craptastic Highlander II: The Quickening fans were treated to something much better in the form of Highlander: The Series. Launched back in 1992 and wisely ignoring the events of the second movie, the series introduced a new protagonist in the form of Duncan MacLeod, yet another immortal highlander with a knack for swordplay.
As in the first film, Duncan regularly crosses paths with other immortals, some friendly and some hoping to take Duncan's head, and with it his power. The show mixed the plot-of-the-week with flashbacks exploring Duncan's long history, a format that prefigured flashback-heavy shows like Angel or Lost. As with many shows, Highlander's first season is shaky, but as the series continues it weaves a solid cast of characters and an intriguing mythology involving dueling immortals and a secret organization committed to keeping tabs on them. Consider it a refresher course before the reboot starring Ryan Reynolds hits theaters.
Hulu Pick: Death Valley
Prior to last year, I don't think I'd watched more than 20 minutes' worth of MTV in the past decade. I was quite surprised, then, when I found myself enjoying not one, but two new shows on the network formerly known for music television. Good buzz drew me in to the charming teen comedy Awkward, and the sheer oddity of Death Valley ensured I gave it a chance as well. Set in California's San Fernando Valley a year after hordes of supernatural creatures mysteriously moved into the area, Death Valley uses a mockumentary setup to follow the local cops as they deal with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the like. The show unfolds like Cops with monsters, or like an ongoing sequel the X-Files episode "X-Cops."
The show features a cast of "Oh yeah, that guy/girl" actors, including Bryan Cullen (The Hangover Part II) and Tania Raymonde (Lost). The show is uneven, but it frequently find genuine laughs, such as a lycanthrope porn actor wolfing out in the middle of a sex scene, or when one of the cops mistakes an old man at a rest home for a zombie, which results in Internal Affairs forcing all the officers to carry cards with checklists to help them identify the undead. The writers are good about imagining the sort of mundane, day-to-day problems that would occur if we suddenly found ourselves sharing a zip code with the undead, and the show gets away with a surprising amount of gore that should please the horror enthusiasts out there. The show hasn't been renewed for a second season, so Death Valley is a nice, bite-sized bit of entertainment if you're looking to kill an afternoon.