When I bought my first DVD player, in 2000, it was accompanied by a glossy flier for a company called Netflix that allowed you to rent DVDs by mail. Intrigued by the convenience and lured by the promise of no late fees, I signed up. Nearly a decade later, I am still a happy and loyal customer.

Richard Corliss, film critic for Time magazine and a venerable elder statesman in the world of cinema, takes a more jaundiced view, which he explains in a piece bluntly entitled "Why Netflix Stinks." Many of his criticisms are the sort you would expect from a man his age (65): Netflix keeps people from leaving their houses and interacting with humans; it makes independent video stores go out of business; it encourages kids to congregate on his lawn and listen to their rock 'n' roll music; it makes Sizzler run out of shrimp too soon after the 4:00 p.m. dinner rush; etc.

All of that is more a matter of philosophy, I suppose. But then Corliss sullies the good name of Netflix with this criticism:

"With Netflix, you surrender those basic American rights: impulse choice and instant gratification. You must cool your jets for two to four days, dependent as you are on both the skill of Netflix employees to put the correct movie in your envelope (sometimes they don't) and the speed of the U.S. Postal Service. By the time a video arrives, you may have forgotten why you rented it."

Yes, "sometimes they don't" put the right movie in the envelope, in the same way that "sometimes" airplanes crash and "sometimes" African Americans are elected president. In other words, rarely. In fact, I have never received the wrong movie from Netflix. Ever. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, only that it's never happened to me. The few delivery problems I've had (a torn envelope, a disappearing movie) have been the Postal Service's fault -- and even then, the USPS is maligned more than it should be, given the startling volume of material it handles compared to the minuscule percentage of things it screws up.

As for how long it takes to get your movie, once again my experience has been different from Corliss'. I mail a movie back on Monday; Netflix gets it Tuesday and sends the next one out immediately; I get it on Wednesday. Exceptions to this pattern have been rare. Recently, a movie had to be shipped from a warehouse that was farther away than my normal one; to compensate, Netflix sent me the next movie in my queue, too, even though it meant I would have more DVDs out than I was technically allowed. There's also a selection of movies and TV shows -- small, but growing -- that you can watch instantly online, or with the Roku (which I love), Xbox 360, and several other Netflix-compatible devices.

Corliss also complains about movies being designated "Short Wait" or "Very Long Wait," writing, "That often applies to old films that have a sudden surge in popularity and of which Netflix has only a few copies." He cites the example of wanting to watch the 1974 Taking of Pelham One Two Three just prior to the remake coming out. Since lots of other people had the same idea, you couldn't get it from Netflix. But hey, guess where else you couldn't have gotten it? Your local video store. Their one copy of the 1974 movie would have been rented out -- if they carried it at all.

Corliss criticizes Netflix's recommendation system, which often yields baffling results. He has a point -- which is why Netflix is currently offering a $1 million prize to whoever can devise a system that will produce better recommendations. They know the system needs work, and they're willing to pay a million bucks to make it better. That's just one of several reasons why, as Corliss acknowledges, Netflix has the No. 1 customer satisfaction rating among online retailers.

Basically, most of Corliss' complaints are flawed, anecdotal, or have more to do with the online world in general than Netflix specifically. I don't have stock in Netflix (although maybe I should -- it keeps going up), and I'm not a shill. But this is a company that has truly impressed me with its customer service and efficiency for nearly 10 years. They're not perfect, but they're sure trying. We will not besmirch the good name of Netflix in my house! GOOD DAY, SIR!
categories Features, Cinematical