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Ricky Gervais, co-creator of Britain's ‘The Office’ plays David Brent, who would have driven viewers to riot had his self-aggrandizing shtick lasted 10 seasons. But for two seasons, it was comedy gold. (BBC Worldwide/AP File)
Ricky Gervais, co-creator of Britain's ‘The Office’ plays David Brent, who would have driven viewers to riot had his self-aggrandizing shtick lasted 10 seasons. But for two seasons, it was comedy gold. (BBC Worldwide/AP File)

Watch it/Watch out

Shaw Cable’s subscriber-only Netflix rival only kinda sucks Add to ...

Now that we’re doing this weekly best and worst of Netflix feature, representatives from several Netflix rivals have been calling us up, urging us to take a look at their services. This week the good people at Shaw Cable lent us a shiny new iPad loaded with Shaw Go Movie Central, their on-demand streaming app for Apple’s iThings.

Given that people are always looking for alternatives to Netflix’s hit-and-miss collection of movies and TV shows, we thought we’d start checking out what the company’s competitors have to offer. So, before we get to this week’s very good and very bad picks, here’s a quick review of Shaw’s Go Movie Central app:

The first thing you notice when you load the Shaw app is that the content doesn’t suck. This is, of course, by design – Shaw has designed its app to load directly to a home screen that prominently features its most appealing movies and TV shows. Click past the home screen to the full content listing, however, and you’ll quickly find that this service contains just as much unwatchable nonsense, per capita, as Netflix (although Shaw’s app has far fewer total movies and shows than Netflix).

Nonetheless, when it comes to the really good stuff, Shaw has built up an impressive selection. This is especially true in the TV show category, where the company’s deal with HBO Canada and other shops means you get access to shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm , The Wire and The Sopranos . This is the kind of stuff that would populate our Netflix highlights for weeks.

But load any of these shows up and you quickly hit a pretty major snag. Rather than any kind of consistent selection of episodes, you get an anaemic patchwork. Only seasons one and eight of Curb Your Enthusiasm are available on the app. The Sopranos , despite having ended years ago, is only available through season two. And Boardwalk Empire ‘s first season isn’t available. After a while, Shaw’s service starts to feel a bit like those in-flight entertainment systems that carry just two or three episodes of half a dozen shows.

On the movie front, the app features a whole bunch of new and not-terrible releases, such as Biutiful , Bridesmades and Tree of Life . That’s not to say Shaw’s service doesn’t have its fair share of total garbage, including such cinematic failures as Ong Bak 3 , the second and largely entertainment-free sequel to the martial arts hit, and a made-for-TV “thriller” simply titled The Wife He Met Online .

Playback works pretty well on most decent wireless connections. The scroll forward and backward features aren’t as precise as those on Netflix, but if you exit the service halfway through a movie or show, it does remember where you left off the next time you start watching.

The user interface is mostly clean, although not without glitches. There’s something that looks an awful lot like a back button, but actually turns out to be a “share” button that broadcasts whatever you’re watching to the world via Facebook or Twitter (and this feature itself turns out to be little more than a way for Shaw to advertise its service through your social networks).

Also, for some reason, the app lumps any movie or show that starts with the word “The” into one section, meaning that, in the alphabetical content listing, the “T” heading contains by far the most content. This seems like a silly design choice.

Ultimately, if the Shaw app actually carried all the episodes of the shows it features, it’d be a better choice than Netflix for anyone who’s mostly interested in watching TV content on iPads, iPhones or an iPod Touch. Except for one thing: you can’t just up and buy this service à la carte. No, Shaw only gives you access to its Go Movie Central app as part of a cable subscription, thereby trying to jam the service into a larger, longer contract.

Therein lies the appeal of Netflix. It may contain bucketloads of miserable content, but it costs eight bucks a month and you can ditch it whenever you like. Our traditional cable providers would do well to give us similar options.

And now, onto this week’s Netflix picks.

After last week’s depressing choice of Requiem For A Dream , we’ve picked somewhat lighter fare. This week’s highlight is comedy, while this week’s lowlight is “comedy.”

WATCH IT The Office U.K. Version There’s a great little English sitcom called Black Books that came out a decade ago. It’s not available on Netflix or any other legal Canadian service, as far as I can tell, and I’m definitely not recommending you go look for it on BitTorrrent or anything like that, but it is a funny show.

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