New Feature - Ask Your Pop Culture Concierge

Dear PCC, 

Please explain Amazon Prime Video to me.  All the movies I want to watch have rental fees. Couldn’t I rent them without paying for Amazon Prime? Shouldn’t there be more free content?


GREAT question Dear Reader!!!!

With so many streaming options you would think we should always be able to find whatever we’re looking for included in something we’re already paying for.  Not so fast,  say the streaming giants!!!  Each streamer has its own quirks, so for this column I’ll talk about some general strategies for getting the most out of your services, plus some specific advice for Amazon Prime.


1.     If you have your heart set on a particular movie, you'll be able to stream it somewhere - just be ready to pay.

Start by checking your various subscriptions, and you might be pleasantly surprised to find exactly what you’re looking for.  But if not, at least you were already mentally prepared for the rental fee.


2.     Indeterminate browsing on any streaming service should be avoided

The “I don’t know what I’m in the mood for, but I’ll know it when I see it” approach almost never works for me when I’m scrolling through my streaming apps.  There’s just too much content now and can make you feel like there’s nothing you want to watch - ever.


3.     Let someone else do the browsing and curating for you.

I like Vulture, the culture and entertainment site from New York magazine.  They have a paywall, so you get only five free articles a month, but for sure you can make those count!  They have “The 100 Best Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now” list that they update pretty regularly as new stuff is added to Prime.  They also have lists like “The 25 Best Heist Movies of All Time” (this is relevant to my interests!) and “Your Guide to TV’s British Period Dramas, Sorted Chronologically”. It's like your PCC on steroids!!!

The AV Club, another entertainment page that is part of a family of sites including The Onion, also has a list of movies on Amazon Prime.  There’s some overlap with the Vulture list, but also a few different entries and no paywall.

Tips for Amazon Prime

If you’re just going to browse on Prime, it’s best to filter for shows/movies that are “Free to Me”.  In the Prime App, toggle a switch in the upper right corner.  If you’re searching via web browser, there’s a filter in the left-hand navigation menu called “Included With Prime”. 


Movies on Prime

Amazon is usually my last stop when I’m looking for a specific movie.  They actually have a good collection, just with slightly more obscure titles that don’t necessarily have great name recognition.

Skimming through the list that Vulture has posted, I’ve already gotten a ton of good ideas for ways to wile away more of this pandemic. They fit loosely into a few different categories:


1.     Movies I’ve Never Heard Of


The Aeronauts - An adventure story of the first people to break through the clouds in a hot air balloon!

The Band’s Visit - The story of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra in Egypt who travel to perform in Israel.  This movie was turned into a Tony award-winning musical.


2.     Movies I’ve Heard Of But Haven’t Gotten Around to Watching Yet


The Farewell - The story of a Chinese-American family that decides not to tell their grandmother she only has a short while left to live.

The Report - A thriller about a US government cover up.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco - A drama about the efforts of a young Black man to reclaim his childhood home, in a neighborhood that has since been gentrified


3.     Classic Movies I Haven’t Seen in Ages But Would Love to Revisit

His Girl Friday - One of the best comedies from the golden age of movies, starring Rosalind Russell as a reporter trying to get the scoop on an impending execution.  Also, any movie is better with Cary Grant, he's like the bacon of classic films.

Sunset Boulevard - The story of a forgotten movie star dreaming of a comeback.  This film noir is one of my mom’s favorites - Hi Mom! (The 39 Steps is also available!!!!)


4.     Movie I Loved But Can’t Explain Because It’s Kind of Unclassifiable

A Simple Favor - On the surface it's the story of an unhappy wife and mother who goes missing, but this darkly funny, weirdly uncomfortable, satirically sharp movie is much much more.  Best to go in mostly blind on this one, but know that Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively both deliver complicated and surprising performances.  Also, this is definitely not a family movie.

Television on Prime

I think that the television offerings on Prime are more robust than the choices for movies.  Here are a few examples of good stuff you can check out:


1.     Comedies

Parks and Recreation - I agree with the litany of criticism that say the first season is a heavy lift.  If you’re a completist, you can burn through S1 quickly (it’s only six episodes).  The show improves exponentially in S2, and becomes one of the silliest, most optimistic sitcoms that’s been on the air in decades.

Cougar Town - This show got a bad rap because of its name, and the first few episodes are a little rough.  But the ensemble comedy led by Courtney Cox develops a very specific, zany sense of humor and becomes a really delightful hang out show.


2.     Dramas

House - Whether you caught this on broadcast television the first time around or not, this is a great show to watch either with your full concentration or as background company as you’re puttering around doing other things. Hugh Laurie is a super-cranky doctor savant who works with a team to diagnose mystery illnesses. It’s meant to be a modern retelling of Sherlock Holmes with a twist.

Burn Notice – Jeffrey Donovan stars as Michael Westen, a former spy who has been “burned” and takes on nickel and dime cases in Miami while trying to figure out who ruined his career.  The first few seasons in particular are a lot of fun - the show is crisply witty and has a gold-plated sidekick in the form of Bruce Campbell.  Also, it’s Grade A Competence Porn - if you were in trouble, you would definitely want Michael and his crew on your side.


3.     Originals

Amazon’s originals don’t get as much hype as those on Netflix, but they’ve got some fun series. My favorites are:

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel- This is from the creators of The Gilmore Girls, following a 1950s housewife who pursues a career in stand-up comedy when her personal life gets turned upside down.  The show is best when it’s focused on how Midge Maisel (played by Rachel Brosnahan, who completely disappears into the role) builds her act.  It also shines when Midge works with her manager, Susie Myerson (played by Alex Borstein).  They are women taking on unconventional roles in a conservative era and that leads to some fascinating complications you just don’t see on a lot of shows.  I’m less interested when the show turns to Midge’s family and/or romantic life, and there is some quirkiness and repetitive banter which will probably not be everyone’s cup of tea.  But the set decoration and costuming are totally immersive, and overall this is a fresh take on the dramedy plus a story we haven’t seen told a million times before.

Bosch - Of course, the story of the cop who just can’t follow the rules is a story we HAVE seen a million times before.  But Bosch is a really well-constructed version, based on a verrrrrry long running series of books by Michael Connelly.  Harry Bosch is the protagonist, an LAPD detective with a tortured personal history.  The books are dependably entertaining, starting with the first installment, The Black Echo*. The show has a great cast with Titus Welliver as Bosch.  I particularly like Jamie Hector (Marlo from The Wire) as Bosch’s partner and Amy Aquino (who has been in eleventy billion things that I won’t list here but you’d recognize her if you saw her) as Bosch’s boss.  

Thanks a million to Maisie for the idea to do this feature but, more importantly, for being one of my favorite people with whom to consume and discuss pop culture!!!

If you have a question for your Pop Culture Concierge, email me at winpopcultureconcierge at gmail dot com (spelled out here so the bots can’t spam me!)

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