How WHAS Explains Netflix’s Dominance (But The Stock Is Still Overpriced)

It was the year 2010 and I had just moved to Atlanta. After shopping for furniture at IKEA, I checked the mail to find a red Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) envelope. It was a movie that I had put on my Netflix queue, but was not in the mood for that evening. I decided to check out the Netflix website to see what I could watch on streaming. Unfortunately, the selection was very limited.

Video Length: 00:07:41

I decided on Arrested Development. I was a "cord-cutter" and I had never seen the show before. For the prior 8 years, I watched virtually no television. This was partly because I wasn't willing to pay for cable and partly because I never liked the idea of "scheduling a time" to watch a TV show.

In 2010, the vast majority of people subscribed to Netflix for the DVD plans. I was one of the few who subscribed almost solely for streaming. I saw the DVDs as an added benefit, but really just wanted to be able to watch something instantly when I felt like it. If only the selection would grow, I thought, this would be perfect.

That day was 5 years ago, but it feels like an eternity in Netflix time. The DVD rental company with a small streaming side business is now a major television and movie studio that successfully competes with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. It has produced several hits including House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. It has revived older franchises such as Arrested Development and Trailer Park Boys. It has gone from 15 million subscribers in Q2 2010 to over 65 million subscribers today.

I continue to be a loyal Netflix customer. The content library has grown over the years. Most impressively, however, has been Netflix's original programming. I've been a particularly big fan some of its recent comedic exclusives such as Bojack Horseman and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. If there's one show that exemplifies Netflix's sudden dominance, however, it's Wet Hot American Summer.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

To describe Wet Hot American Summer (we'll call it WHAS from now on) to someone unfamiliar with it is a difficult task. On the surface, the show is a comedy about a youth summer camp in 1981 that takes place in rural Maine. It is both a parody of summer camp movies, as well as a parody of other 80's films that follow a particular formula where a scrappy group of protagonists overcome adversity and succeed against all odds.

It's a relatively obscure film that was released in 2001 and was considered a box office bomb. It generated less than $300,000 in revenues in spite of sporting a few well known stars such as Frasier's David Hyde Pierce, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rudd, and Molly Shannon. It's also now known as being a launching vehicle for several actors more well known in 2015 than 2001, such as Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper, and even voice actor, H. Jon Benjamin (who you may know as Archer, Bob from Bob's Burgers, and / or the guy from those Coke Zero commercials.)

WHAS is a film that drew rather polarizing reactions. It has a 32% score on Rotten Tomatoes, including a 1-star review by Roger Ebert. Most people will either love it or hate it. It's possible that you may find yourself confused by it at first, only to find it growing on you over time. In which case, you'll eventually join the group that loves it. By its very nature, however, it was a movie designed to appeal to a small niche audience.

How do you describe the humor of WHAS to someone who doesn't get it? I'm not sure there is an easy way. If you've ever had a group of close friends and you've spent considerable time around each other, you eventually develop your own group culture. This culture may include things like inside jokes that make sense to the group, but not to anyone else.

The nature of many "inside jokes" is that they start from an off-hand comment that is moderately amusing at first. Through the power of repetition, the joke becomes funnier over time. It's almost the opposite of what we think of as "conventional comedy," which typically includes jokes that immediately smack us right in the face, but the impact wears off over time. WHAS feels a bit like an inside joke.

WHAS is also an absurdist comedy. It features comically improbable events that are then explained by even more comically improbable events. In fact, part of what makes WHAS so interesting is that it's not like anything else out there. It's a strange brand of comedy that also gets better with repeated viewings.

1 2 3 4
View single page >> |
How did you like this article? Let us know so we can better customize your reading experience.


Leave a comment to automatically be entered into our contest to win a free Echo Show.
Rebecca Duncan 5 years ago Member's comment

Great article - I'm glad I persevered through the movie review portion! I do worry about Netflix along the lines of Blockbuster having once been a hot item - who knows what new technology could arise that would bump it to the curb.