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watch it/watch out

Justin Timberlake performs a holiday R&B jam in a 2006 SNL Digital Short.Dana Edelson

A couple of days ago, through circumstances involving a plane trip and insomnia, I watched about 90 per cent of the Sex and the City movie where they go to Abu Dhabi and wear outfits designed by somebody who's having a serious misunderstanding with the visible colour spectrum. When I returned home, I immediately logged in to Netflix to see if the service carried the film, because it is easily the worst thing I've ever seen – and I once saw a ferret fall into a garbage disposal.

Alas, Netflix Canada doesn't carry what I later learned is called Sex in the City 2 (Two! They made two of these!). Rest assured, dear reader, if this ever changes, I will promptly post a warning in this space.

Anyway, this week's round-up of the highlights and horrors of Netflix is a bit of a jumble – the pick of the week is definitely an acquired taste, and may well creep you out a bit, and the lowlight is more of a cautionary illustration of where Netflix's business model hits some serious bumps.


I Think We're Alone Now

Sure, the Netflix library is full of critically acclaimed documentaries about serious, important subjects. But there'll be plenty of time to watch those later. Right now, you need to get your hands on this deeply personal, immediate and ethereally creepy story about a couple of borderline stalkers obsessed with 80s pop star Tiffany.

For those of you not familiar with Tiffany, who momentarily and regrettably dominated American pop culture in 1987 with the song from which this movie takes its name, her musical sensibilities can best be described as what would happen if a shopping mall fashion show and high-fructose corn syrup had a baby.

And yet, despite the manufactured teeny-boppish-ness of Tiffany's music, she built an inexplicably rabid fan base that continues to follow her to this day. I Think We're Alone Now chronicles perhaps the two most rabid members of that base. I won't give up too much about either of the main characters, but suffice to say there are plenty of supremely awkward encounters and even a brush with Tiffany herself (flanked, of course, by her security detail). But more importantly, the documentary eventually becomes a quietly engrossing study of obsession, self-worth and crippling loneliness – which is good, because I couldn't care less about Tiffany.


Saturday Night Live

I have nothing for or against SNL. Any show that's been around for more than 35 years is bound to have its highs and lows. Generally, everyone has a different opinion on when such long-running shows hit their apex.

(The one exception to this rule is The Simpsons. It is a well-established fact that The Simpsons reached its pinnacle around the early to mid-90s, when Conan O'Brien was running things and the show hit such tremendous home-runs as the Monorail episode. Everything since has been part of a slow, sad death spiral, kind of like watching the TV equivalent of an old, tired snake consuming its own tail – but I digress).

The problem with SNL on Netflix isn't the episodes themselves, which are actually arranged pretty well by decade, theme and even "best-of" collections featuring the biggest stars in the show's history. The problem is that a lot of the content is missing. TV episodes from the same show tend to all be the same length, but SNL episodes on Netflix are all over the place – some run less than 30 minutes, while others go more than 50. The reason for this is because, in virtually every episode, the musical content has been stripped out. At some point during the negotiations to get SNL on Netflix, somebody couldn't or didn't bother to secure the rights to the various live musical acts on the show. This also extends to some of the skits that use licensed music.

Now, for some folks, stripping out the musical acts from SNL isn't a bad thing. But it does get to just how difficult it is to wrangle all the various license-holders and geographic permissions needed to get a show on Netflix in the first place. Think about this sort of thing the next time you wonder why Canadians can't get Hulu or Pandora or any of the good Super Bowl commercials.