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The Summer of Glee (Or... how we watched 44 Episodes in 3 months on 5 Services)

Posted on Sep 15, 2011

Spoiler Alert: If, like me, you plan to catch up on Glee, there are a few items you won’t want to read below.  I’m not going to stop to point them out.  So stop reading, go get on Netflix and start watching…  Then when you’re done with Season 2, come back here and finish reading.

For the rest of us…

About two years ago, Glee was first  being promoted on Fox.  For those who don’t remember before it was aGlee on Hulu Plus phenomenon, it was a late season add – almost a summer show.  From the promos, I didn’t really know what the show was about, but there was something that spoke to me.  I mentioned trying it a few times to my wife and received a semi-enthustiac “Sure, I guess.”

So I recorded the first season of Glee on our DirecTV DVR.  It sat on the DVR all summer unwatched.  When the new fall season started (September 2009), we had so many other shows to record that I said to my wife “Are we ever going to watch Glee?”  A shrug of the shoulders and I hit delete. Glee-gone.

We went along our un-gleeful way, watching our favorite shows and watching as one by one they got cancelled or their series run was ending (Medium, 24, etc.).  Along the way, Glee became a sensation.  One of those rare pop-culture movements that seems to permeate society on all levels.

And there we were, left out of the show that was celebrating being left out.

So when another full year passed and the fall season started (September 2010) and our show count was down, I said to my wife, “Let’s record the entire second season of Glee so we can go back and rent the first season, catch up and join the musical party.”  This time, we built up a backlog of about 17 episodes of Glee Season 2 on our DirecTV DVR.  When the next Spring arrived (2011) and our DVR  started running out of space again and we had all those season finales to make sure we didn’t miss, I turned to my wife, once more, got the shrug of the shoulders and I pressed delete.  Glee-gone for good.

Then a funny thing happened.  Usually we get to the end of TV season and our DVR is still full with unwatched episodes to carry us through the summer.  This year we had less time to watch TV than ever, but also less shows than ever to watch.  We found ourselves in early June 2011 in uncharted territory with a suddenly and most unexpectadly empty DVR.  So I took one more shot and suggested we start watching Glee from the beginning.  This time I got the nod.

But now what?  All those episodes of Glee were deleted. Gone.  It was late on a Tuesday night and I had no intention of running out to the video store (if it hadn’t been shut down since last checking) or heaven forbid wait a few days for Netflix to deliver a physical disc.  So I grabbed my remote, fired up Apple TV and searched Netflix’s streaming offering.  There it was, Season 1 of Glee – all 22 Episodes available under our existing, all-you-can-stream plan.

We watched the first episode.

As this blog is not meant as a critical review of Glee, I have no intention of commenting on the show’s merits or entertainment value.  You could argue I”m about 25 years too old to be watching it.  But I’m still a goofy, outcast, highschool kid at heart and the music is fun (most of the time) and the over the top social agenda is occasionally poignant.  Suffice it to say, we enjoyed the first couple of episodes enough to understand the phenomenon and be entertained.

A week or so later,  on a Sunday night, the end of a long day, the kids were finally asleep and we queued up episode 5 to watch.  Not three minutes in, it froze.  Unwatchable.  In fact, it locked up my Apple TV completely.  When I got it rebooted (for Apple TV that requires a yank of the old power cord), Netflix still wouldn’t stream.  Some kind of service outage, I presumed.

But never fear… we had Apple TV.  And all 22 episodes of Glee Season 1 were available for rental at just .99 cents per episode from iTunes.   No problem.  The Netflix outage was sure to be temproary.  I broke open my son’s Spiderman piggy bank, absconded with .99 cents to put toward the iTunes bill and we were able to rent episode 5 in HD.  We fast forwarded to where we left off and finished watching.

The next night, Netflix was back in action and stayed that way.  Over the course of the next month or so, we were able to complete the entire first season interrupted only by the occiasional feature film in our Home Theater and our summer family trip to Europe (but that was for another Blog).

When we reached the end of season 1 and embarked upon Season 2, we hit another stumbling block.  Season 2 of Glee was not yet out on DVD/Blu-Ray and therefore not yet available to stream from Netflix.  But because Apple TV had Fox as one of it’s 99 cent per episode rental partners, Glee Season 2 was available to rent from Apple TV.    Renting for .99 per episode wasn’t free, but with some careful home budgeting, we’d survive.  So we started on Season 2, Episode 1.

Glee on Apple TVThe very next day, out of nowhere, Apple changed it’s iTunes policy.  The short of it is that the .99 cent rentals were yanked.  Now suddenly to see Glee Season 2 in HD would cost $2.99 per episode or $62.79 for the remaining 21 we had not yet watched.  That prompted my wife to say, “Let’s just wait until it comes out on Netflix.”

But I knew better.  I knew how the studios work and Season 2 would not be released on DVD/Blu-Ray until Season 3 was about to air.  It wouldn’t be available to stream on Netflix for a few months after that.  For those of you who know me, you know I’m pretty driven and once I’ve started something, I need to finish.

So we purchased a few of the episodes at $2.99 each and watched them.

In the meantime, I went searching for less expensive alternatives.  I explored just about all of them. Amazon had .99 cent per episode rentals, but we don’t have a Roku and none of our other devices could easily and conviently stream to the big screen.  We watched one episode on the computer via Amazon.  While our Media Center PC is connected to our Distributed Video system and can be viewed on any TV in the house, the Amazon interface required using the mouse and keyboard which was just not a comfortable, fun way to watch.  With Netflix and Apple TV/iTunes out and Amazon a second tier option, I turned to Hulu.  There were a couple of episodes available for free, but they were the last 5 episodes of the season.  There would be no watching out of order. Not on my TV watching watch.

That’s when I remembered that Hulu Plus offered a 7 day free trial.  Hmm… at this point we were down to about 17 episodes left.  Could we watch 17 episodes in 7 nights?  Unlikely.  But… worse case scenario… Hulu Plus is only $7.99 per month and we would definitely finish up in a month.  So we signed up, turned on the Samsung Blu-ray player, installed the Hulu Plus app and off we went.

The experience was interesting.  Looking for and selecting a show was easy if not a bit disjointed.  The quality of the streaming show itself was remarkably good.  There were only a few small annoynances.  The first was the inability to skip commercials. I have mixed feelings about this as the service is a pay service and like HBO should be commercial free.  But I understand that without the commercials $7.99 would likely be half of what we would pay.  We all have to make a living and most of the commercials were for good causes/charities.

The more disconcerting ‘feature’ was the  extremely low quality of the commercials.  But of particular annoyance was the fact that the commercials were broadcast in standard definition and the episodes were in HD (or pseudo HD).  The result was that each time the stream changed from a commercial back to the episode, there would be a 5-7 second delay before hearing audio as the surround sound reciever had to adjust to the changed audio format.  And this is a brand new, state-of-the-art, Integra Surround Sound Receiver  (DTR 50.3).  We would often miss the first few seconds of dialogue and have to back up to catch what we missed.  The backing up was a slow process that required re-watching the last 10 seconds of the episode before the commercial break followed by some more gaps with nothing on the screen.  Oy!

But we got through it and watched relatively unhindered through Episode 19.  It was at that time that the ven diagram of streaming Glee possiblities intersected.  I had set Glee to record on our DirecTV DVR about a month before, figuring at some point we would have all the reruns we needed to unplug from the IP based broadcast alternatives.  But we were never quite in sync with the repeats being broadcast and the Episode we were ready to watch.  Until that moment…

We finished Episode 19 on Hulu Plus and there were episodes 20-22 sitting on our DirecTV DVR.   So we abandoned the choppy Hulu Plus experience (even though our membership had a few days left) and we went back to old reliable.  It was both strange and familiar – the no-commercial joy of Netflix and/or Apple TV was gone, but we at least had our triple fast forward to briskly skip through commercials again.

And when we got to the end of Season 2 just a few minutes ago on the very eve that the new fall television season has begun and our DVR is already starting to fill with episodes of shows that will likely be canceled before we ever get a chance to watch them,  I thought to myself, “Gee”.  (That’s gee, not Glee).  If this little Glee mission of ours had been just 3 years ago, we would have given up and never watched.

Instead, thanks to Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Hulu+ and DirecTV (with honorable mention going to the devices we used including a Samsung Blu-Ray Player, Apple TV, our Runco LS10i ProjectorAcoustic Innovations Theater and Windows Media Center) we got to join in the pop culture revolution.

And so for us, the Summer of 2011 will forever be remembered as the Summer of Glee.

Gleek Out!

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