IIf you log into Netflix soon, you will likely see the words “play something” hanging below the profile icons on the menu screen. Click on these words and you will be taken directly to the platform’s latest experiment in home entertainment: force feeding.
Everyone, at some point or another, has suffered the tyranny of Netflix’s choice; Unsure of what to look at, you find yourself scrolling endlessly through submenus hoping to find something, anything, that will satisfy all your needs.
The “play something” button exists to end that. Press it and you will automatically be offered a show that the Netflix algorithm has determined will suit your tastes. And this makes sense. After all, Netflix has a mountain of data on your viewing habits. It knows what you’ve seen, when you’ve seen it, how long you’ve watched it, and the precise moment you got bored. You already tailor your menus to your liking, even down to the appearance of a program’s thumbnail icons, so it seems like the next logical step is to simply give it what you think you want.
But it’s good? I recently spent a day playing with something, hoping it would bring me my new favorite show. This is how the experiment came out.
First choose: Parks and Recreation. A good effort. Netflix knows I’ve seen almost every other Parks and Rec-Style US sitcom available on the service, so it was a no-brainer to think I’d like to see this. However, the problem is that I have already seen Parks and Recreation, cover to cover, twice. I just hadn’t seen it on Netflix, which, as far as Netflix is concerned, is the same as never having seen it. Since most of the Netflix catalog still consists of buy-ins from other networks, this problem could come up a lot.
Second choose: Development stopped. Again, great choice. It is true that I had seen the first three seasons on television, and then I bought them on DVD and watched them so often that I never had to watch them again, but at least Netflix understood my taste. However, Netflix didn’t offer me the (good) first episode of Arrested Development from its (good) first season. He offered me a (terrible) episode from his (terrible) fifth season. Nor was it a random episode. In truth, I left the fifth season on the day of its release, heartbroken that a series I used to love had turned into such a lumpen mess. Netflix was offering me the episode after the episode I dropped out, hoping to give it a second chance. A little needy, Netflix.
Third choose: Schitt cove. Once again, Netflix knows me. But apparently not enough to know that I had already seen all of Schitt’s Creek on my wife’s profile. Next!
Four choose: Community. Great! I love the community! I know this because, like Parks and Recreation, I had already seen it before it hit Netflix. Maybe the fifth time it will be a charm.
Fifth choose: The office. Not seen. I saw it on ITV2 when it debuted in the UK. At this point, I was beginning to wish that the Netflix algorithm could gain full awareness, enter my brain, and steal a complete list of all the TV series that I had seen on any platform in the course of my life, so that I could do it. . teach me something new. Which is probably not a very healthy thing to wish for from a great tech company, in all honesty.
Sixth choose: Stowaway. This was desperate Netflix. He had abandoned the tried-and-true method of showing me popular American sitcoms from the last 15 years and was now giving me a new top ten movie. The good news is, I haven’t seen Stowaway before. The bad news was, after 20 minutes, I realized that I was definitely not in the mood to see Anna Kendrick gesture in space and I ducked down.
Seventh choose: Superstore. Finally, a success. I’ve never seen Superstore before, never heard of it, but it had all the makings of something I’d like. It is a modern American sitcom. It’s broad, goofy, and cuddly, and it has an astonishingly talented cast. I was laughing within minutes of seeing it. I googled it and found a Vox article titled “How Superstore Got So Good”. At the time I was inside and gobbled up six episodes in a row. It may not be my favorite show of all time, but it is exceptional comfort food for television. I’m going to see the whole Superstore and I’m going to love it. Guys, Superstore is really good. Why did not anyone tell me? Thanks, Netflix.
Eighth choose: Love and monsters. This felt like another example of Netflix simply offering something simply because it was popular. Love and Monsters may be great, but it wasn’t great for me at that specific time. Experience finished.
By my calculations, playing something has a failure rate of 87.5%. In eight attempts, only once did he offer something that a) he hadn’t seen before and b) really wanted to see. It seems to be the streaming equivalent of buying someone a book for their birthday. Netflix and I have been together long enough to assume I know what I like. But my tastes are complicated and frivolous, and I carry a lot of luggage. The chances of me reaching my sweet spot at any given time are extremely small. And besides, only a monstrous egotist would buy someone a book for their birthday.
Play Something is fun, but I guess it will be a first. People will try once or twice out of curiosity and then abandon it in favor of things they know they will like. It’s a nice try, but it’s basically a channel jump. Wasn’t Netflix supposed to end all of that?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism