Friday, June 10, 2011

Review of HBO GO

Once upon a time, Elden, Dug, and I shared a blog in which we reviewed every single thing that was important. Unfortunately, I don't think that site is still up and running, which has left a review vacancy of sorts on the World Wide Web of the Internet.

Before wiffleball season consumes my attention, I have a few reviews to post.

Review of HBO GO

I downloaded the HBO GO app on my iPad. At first glance, it's spectacular. All you need is a subscription to HBO, a computer or iPad, and a good internet connection. When you sign in, you have access to every single episode of every single series that HBO has ever created. At no extra cost.

Let me say that again -- you can view every single episode of every HBO series ever created.

Deadwood? Check. The Wire? Check. The Sopranos? Check. Band of Brothers? Check. (By the way, I listed those series in order according to their combined Greatness and Rewatchability scores.)

You can also watch every episode of Six Feet Under, Oz, Eastbound and Down, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Pacific, and EVERY OTHER HBO SERIES EVER CREATED. Free.

And you can watch the current run of movies, documentaries, sports events (mostly boxing), and comedy specials. Oh, and there's even a Late Night category. How did that get past the Apple censors?

If it's that spectacular, why did I qualify it by saying -- and I quote -- "at first glance"? I have a nit to pick.

Looking at all the great HBO series in one place reminds me of the experience I had when I added my entire CD collection to my iPod. At first, it seemed great to be able to zip through the catalog and play any of 19 Bob Dylan albums, 6 Radiohead albums, or my "Motown" or "Guilt Rock"1 playlists. Still, there was a jarring flattening effect because Bruce Springsteen and Billie Holliday appeared on the same level. Music I used to listen to got lost, especially music by artists whose names start towards the end of the alphabet.

1 My "Guilt Rock" playlist includes songs by Boston, Kansas, REO Speedwagon, Badfinger, Head East, and The Left Banke. But no Styx. I have standards.

My browsing method changed. Back in the day, thumbing through the album collection, deciding on an artist, and carefully placing the record on the turntable was a satisfying ritual, even if the record happened to be The Steve Miller Band's Greatest Hits. Same with CDs. On an emotional level, which experience is better: pulling a record out of the White album sleeve and hearing the speakers crackle when the needle touched down, or scrolling to the B section on the iPod and clicking The Beatles > White Album > Back in the USSR?

Sacrificing ritual for luxury has its drawbacks.

Back to the HBO GO experience, on some level, I'm overwhelmed by choice. I'm also put off by the fact that it's too easy to watch Rome or ANYTHING ELSE. With free, ready access to so many great shows, The Sopranos doesn't feel as magical as the set of DVDs on my shelf, where I could keep it next to Five Easy Pieces and The Wire, and away from Toy Story and Pride & Prejudice. In HBO GO, I don't want to see Deadwood on the same level as Carnivale.

This may seem odd, but I want a way to filter HBO's selections. I want to be able to watch, say, four series seasons, three movies, and eight Late Night specials. Before I can add another item, I have to remove something else.

Still, that's a nit I'm picking. Once I start playing an episode, I forget about the context and enjoy Stringer Bell and Sheriff Bullock and Major Winters and, most of all, Little Carmine.