Netflix's offerings in Singapore: Smaller than in the US, but still substantial

Chairman, president and CEO of Netflix, Mr Reed Hastings, delivering a keynote address at CES 2016.
Chairman, president and CEO of Netflix, Mr Reed Hastings, delivering a keynote address at CES 2016. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

On Thursday (Jan 7), about 20 hours after it was announced that it was available in Singapore, I Netflixed. For me, the name of the on-demand video service became a verb.

It was a word Singaporeans couldn't really use until the doors were flung open early on Thursday morning, giving access to people here and in 130 other countries.

Actually, many here have already been using the service, using workarounds. But that evening, I went home and, with some excitement, installed, booted and logged into the Netflix app on every gadget I had, without relying on a dodge or cheat.

A free month's trial is available to everyone, so you might get the same rush, followed by slight disappointment, as I did.

Be aware: The library is not deep. There is a wealth of titles from Warner Bros studios. Its Dark Knight, The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit franchise movies are here. Titles from other makers are much scarcer.

The choices seem arbitrary as well. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) and the J.J. Abrams-helmed Star Trek (2009) are here, but other films from that franchise are absent. The Emmy-winning, made-for-Netflix drama series Orange Is The New Black makes the cut, but another Netflix original series, the much-lauded political thriller House Of Cards does not, until licensing issues are sorted (House Of Cards is shown here on RTL CBS channel).  

But lack of depth in the Netflix range of older works surprised me.

 

A Netflix spokesman says the movie and TV library for Singapore residents is smaller than the one in the United States, but this is expected to improve as licensing is worked out. Behind the scenes, software will also see what Singaporeans like to watch. The choices we make will determine how the local library is stocked.

But already there is material enough for weeks, if not months, of happy binge-watching, despite the reduced range.

For example, Netflix original content that people talk about is here, such as Marvel's Jessica Jones and Marvel's Daredevil (whose Season 2 starts on March 18). But there's more.

For starters, try the Netflix exclusive feature film Beasts Of No Nation (2015), the harrowing story of a child soldier in an unnamed African country. Idris Elba (Thor, 2011; Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, 2013) was with good reason given a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe nod for playing a charismatic but creepy warlord.

The sitcom Master Of None is ground-breaking and hilarious. Created by comedian Aziz Ansari (who plays struggling actor Dev) and Alan Yang, the show integrates the Asian-American experience seamlessly into its plots. Another sitcom worth a look is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, co-created by Tina Fey. Netflix describes this as "goofy" and "witty" - which sum it up.

 

The provider calls W/ Bob & David "quirky", which is putting it mildly. Comedians Bob Odenkirk and David Cross blend satire with Monty Python-style absurdity to make this one of the funniest and self-aware sketch shows anywhere.

Another comedy duo, Michael Showalter and David Wain, made the series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp, a spin-off from their cult 2001 movie. The much-older Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd and others return to Camp Firewood as if no time had passed, and it is just as funny as the first time.

 

The documentary Making A Murderer has won a strong following since it went online in December last year. Filmed over a decade, it follows the case of Steven Avery, a man jailed then cleared of a sexual assault, only to be re-arrested for murder.

Another non-fiction work, Tig (2015), follows the life and tour of comedian Tig Notaro. Over a few months, she endured death in the family, life-threatening illness and romantic devastation - all events which fed into her comedy.

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015), which looks at the life of R&B singer Nina Simone, is one of many acclaimed biographies on the site.

Shows not made by Netflix, but which ought to be on one's watchlist, include British works such as Black Mirror (a dark drama series about how technology is turning life upside down), Peaky Blinders (a drama about gangs operating in post World War I Birmingham) and workplace sitcom The IT Crowd.

The Singapore selection might be smaller than the American one, but what's there now should keep your eyes glued to your tablet, phone, computer monitor or TV for at least a month.

johnlui@sph.com.sg