Time's Richard Corliss Thinks Netflix Stinks, But Maybe He Is Wrong

Richard Corliss, movie critic for Time, has an infuriating editorial about why he thinks Netflix stinks. Let's see if I can prove him wrong, point by point:

Let me get started by comparing my personal experiences to Corliss's: I have used Netflix for more than six years, both in major cities (Brooklyn, San Francisco, Chicago) and small suburbs (the Pennsylvania Main Line). I've also used two of Netflix's competitors, Blockbuster and Canadian Netflix rip-off Zip.ca, not to mention scores of independent and corporate brick-and-mortar video stores. Netflix is the absolute best of the bunch, no question, and Corliss seems to be missing the forest for a bunch of trees that, on close examination, don't even exist.

Corliss complains that his shipping times are interminably long. Rent a movie on Friday, he claims, and it'll be there Tuesday at the earliest! I think he means "latest" rather than "earliest," because in my experience, even out in the 'burbs, shipping takes exactly one day each way. And I'm sorry that the USPS doesn't deliver on Sunday so Corliss could get Moulin Rouge (which, flying in the face of all other respected critics, he loved, because it may be a turd of a movie but it sure is shiny!) a day earlier, but that's really not Netflix's fault. Blockbuster was consistently a day or two longer on each end, and Zip.ca had to fight with Canadapost just to get me a DVD within a month (I exaggerate this last point, technically, but it really was slow as molasses).

His other factually questionable complaint, in which he implies that some large percentage of Netflix's films are only available after a "long" or "very long wait," doesn't square with my experiences either. Those messages are quite rare for me—in my current queue of over 50 very diverse films (old, new, studio, independent, domestic, foreign, television), exactly none are unavailable right now. Corliss also totally ignores the growing catalog of films and shows available for instant streaming, calling it "imminent" instead of, well, available, right now. "You'll be what the online corporate culture wants you to be: a passive, inert receptacle for its products," lectures Corliss, as he writes for a massive online corporate publication. How, exactly, does watching a movie you rented online make you less "passive" or "inert" than if you walked two blocks to your local poorly-stocked Blockbuster? That four-second exchange of money you share with a surly teenage clerk?

But Corliss's most sneering and difficult-to-swallow complaint is that Netflix is emblematic of a move toward a world where we become like Larry David's agent in Wall-E: Fat, lazy, and fed a stream of data on our computer screens, losing touch with our fellow humans. And why wouldn't we want to spend time with our fellow film-loving humans, like those jerks at the "alternative" movie store who look with contempt at us when we rent Caddyshack for the fourth time this year? It's a variation on the complaint we see from those so out of touch with reality they actually believe anybody uses Facebook as a replacement for friendship, or that Twitter is one of the biblical plagues: The world is going to hell, and it's technology's fault.

Really, this article smacks of the same pointless, cheap contention as Slate's insane attack on fireworks this July 4th: Let's take something everybody either likes or is indifferent to, and bash it. Netflix is, in my experience, the best film distribution service ever made. They've got the largest catalog I've ever seen, and that sure as hell includes any brick-and-mortar store; they fund and distribute amazing low-budget fare like the Comedians of Comedy series; their prices are rock-bottom low; and they're quick to adapt to or push new technologies, from Blu-Ray to streaming. They're also still independent; they invented the mail-order setup and they'll almost certainly be major players when streamed video fully takes over from physical media. To announce that Netflix, a homegrown company with fresh and innovative ideas that achieved remarkable success, "stinks" because there's no know-it-all clerk to talk to, is ridiculous.