Netflix’s most recent release is a movie titled Always Be My Maybe, which is anchored in the oldest romantic film trope in the book — childhood friends, who had drifted apart, find each other as adults (who are now at different socio-economic levels) and somehow fall in love. And yet, defying conventional wisdom, Always Be My Maybe has received nothing but rave reviews and feels at once familiar, refreshing and quietly revolutionary. The movie is headlined by Randall Park of Fresh Off the Boat fame and the white-hot and hilarious Ali Wong. Together, they tell a time-tested tale of modern will-they-or-won’t-they that is somehow universal yet effortlessly Asian-American.
In many ways, only a company like Netflix could have taken on the risk of such a film — corny, predictable and with a cast that is almost entirely represented by a minority. Always Be My Maybe shares a few important similarities with the rest of Netflix’s original content, which has traditionally been well received. These unique stories artold with a strong voice, and through incredibly good filmmaking.
After Life is another example of a gamble that few other entertainment companies could have pulled off. Written by and starring Ricky Gervais, it is about a suicidal newspaper reporter who attempts to find meaning to life after his wife dies. Just renewed for a second season, the British comedy-drama series is remarkably life-affirming, despite its premise, and establishes a clear identity for Netflix’s brand of honest, compelling storytelling. Content aside, the company’s original programming also combines an art-house feel and commercial appeal with consummate ease, a flair for the dramatic (Formula 1: Drive to Survive left me with no more fingernails to chew on) and an innate understanding of what people want to see on TV.
And yet, creating content was never the objective of Netflix when it first started out. Founder, CEO and chairman Reed Hastings did not want to tell his wife about the US$40 charge Blockbuster slapped him with for misplacing a VHS cassette of Apollo 13, which inspired him to rethink the whole in-home movie experience. In 1997, Hastings and Marc Randolph (who left the company in 2004) co-founded Netflix, offering flat rate movie rental-by-mail service to customers in the US by combining two emerging technologies — DVDs, which were much easier to send by mail than VHS cassettes, and an online website to order them from, instead of a paper catalogue.
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