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We're watching a lot of Netflix Instant these days, but it seems like we spend most of our time endlessly flipping through one awful-sounding choice after another. Here's three sure-fire faves for those nights when you just can't bring yourself to look at another example of crummy digital cover art.
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: SEASON 1
If you have a rotten sweet tooth for the bizarre and missed the first season of this cult-fave from FX — which, along with AMC, seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to drama — you should take a night and have a marathon, after having double-locked all the doors and thoroughly checked under the couch for monsters. Television doesn't do horror that well in general, but "American Horror Story" managed to push all the right buttons, hitting the sweet spot between eerie and gory with the story of a psychiatrist (Dylan McDermott) and his wife (Connie Britton), who are trying to overcome an infidelity and a series of miscarriages by moving into a vast old mansion in L.A. The problem is, the house already has occupants of the ghostly kind — not to mention thoroughly-creepy neighbor (and possible key to the house's horrors) Constance, played with campy abandon by the always excellent Jessica Lange. If you don't mind being completely weirded out (there's a running gag featuring a shiny rubber gimp suit that periodically comes to life and gets nasty with female occupants of the house that still gives us the shivers), this is the series for you.
SESAME STREET CLASSICS
Travel with me back in time now, friends — to a simpler time, when you still believed in 10-foot canaries, cookie-sniping monsters and giant brown mastodons that only 10-foot canaries could see. Yes, I'm talking about the golden, pre-cable age of "Sesame Street," the show that pretty much singlehandedly taught Yours Truly to spell, read, write and count in both English and Spanish by the time I went to kindergarten (there's a family story of me getting in trouble in said kindergarten for exclaiming, "If these dummies would just go home and watch 'Sesame Street,' we could learn something!"). The bad news for kids these days is that in an age when 57 channels is considered "basic cable," they never have to watch a single minute of programming that will teach them anything other than when the next sale is on at Toys "R" Us. That's where Netflix Instant comes in, with this collection of colorful, classic skits from the show that taught a generation how to be responsible. What two plus two equals hasn't changed since you were a kid, and if you're going to plunk your kid in front of the TV for awhile, at least make it something that'll impart a little knowledge.
Though my personal distaste for films with child leads kept me from seeing Martin Scorsese's ode to Paris and early film when it was released (not to mention that it was in 3D, which I have a one-man boycott on), I eventually caught "Hugo" on Netflix and was absolutely blown away by the film: the spectacle, the story, the beauty of it all. Based on Brian Selznick's novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," it's the tale of a 12-year-old boy who lives in a bustling Paris train station in 1931. We won't spoil the wondrous story line for you, but eventually it comes to incorporate the later years of Parisian magician, automaton builder and very early silent filmmaker George Melies, the guy who literally invented special effects in films, not to mention a host of film genres we still watch today, including science fiction (films like his iconic "A Trip to the Moon"), horror ("The Devil's Mansion") and even early erotic films like the racy "After the Ball." If you've got a little time, do yourself a favor: Before you watch "Hugo," go to YouTube and watch as many of Melies' films as you can find. Seeing why Scorsese cared enough about the long-dead filmmaker to make him the hero of his film lends a whole new and wonderful facet to this jewel.