My War With DirecTV

My relationship with DirecTV is easily the most complicated relationship I have with any person, place or thing in my life.

There’s the normal love-hate feelings that everyone probably has with their satellite or cable provider. I love that I have access to every TV channel ever invented, and I especially love the option to watch every Boston sporting event on TV when I’m 3,000 miles away (thanks to NFL Sunday Ticket, NHL Center Ice, MLB whatever it’s called).

But I fucking hate when I accidentally do the math on how much money I’ve paid them over the nearly seven years I’ve been a customer (modest estimates put the total at around $11,000).

But the more complex part of my ongoing fling with DirecTV is the yearly dance we do when I call and threaten to leave them if they don’t give me crazy discounts to show their appreciation for my blind loyalty.

[Editor’s Note: If you are in good enough shape financially and hate the thought of dealing with customer service calls, trying to negotiate with large companies, and trying to “pull a fast one” on someone in general, the rest of this article may be useless as you’d never waste your time going through this process. And that’s perfectly fine. Good for you. But an extra $60 a month for me is the difference between getting to use the electricity in my apartment or making due with the leftover stubs of old candles to light the place.]

Just a few years ago I didn’t actually know these conversations even existed. I always assumed that the price of a service was the price of a service, end of story. But then people started telling me that if you call and pretend like you’re going to switch to cable, DirecTV might throw in some free programming or give you a loyalty discount. I even have friends who claim they call their credit card companies every six months and chastise them for their awful rates or rewards programs, and in return they walk away with some extra perks.

Brilliant, right? And if you don’t have the balls to scream at these faceless customer service reps in order to get these bonuses, then you’re an even bigger wuss than I am.

So about 15 months ago I finally put this theory to the test when I called DirecTV to complain about my monthly bill being way too expensive (I was probably paying $125ish a month for their “Choice Xtra Package” and HBO/Cinemax access). Well wouldn’t you know it? After initially resisting my advances, the customer service rep spoke with a manager who “found” a customer loyalty discount of $10 off per month for the next 10 months. And then they “found” a promo that would give me HBO/Cinemax for free over those same 10 months. And then, by the grace of god they “realized” they could offer me the NFL Sunday Ticket package (typically like $300 a year) at no cost, but just for this one time.

Based on one simple phone call, my 2012 DirecTV bill was reduced by about $650 (with the savings funneled directly into my sports gambling account).

So fast forward 10 months and now it’s the spring of 2013. I get my monthly bill and sure enough the promos have ended. I’m paying full price again for everything. Not cool.

But fine, let’s go through this whole charade again.

Except this time when I call, they don’t fall all over themselves trying to keep me as a customer. They tell me that my previous discounts were one-timers and not available to be renewed. They tell me the only promo available is three months free of Starz. I don’t want fucking Starz, I want a monthly bill under $100.

They call my bluff, and I’m stuck with nothing (wasn’t even smart enough to say yes to the free Starz offer).

[Quick note for the uninformed: DirecTV is the only satellite or cable package that has the full NFL Sunday Ticket. This is how they’re holding me hostage. The moment the NFL decides to end its deal with the devil I’ll be jumping ship to a different service.] 

And now we get to the present with this overly-detailed story. Football season is rapidly approaching. As I mentioned, the NFL package was free for me last year. Prior to that I lived with other guys who would split the cost with me, so I was never paying more than $100 for access to all the games. Now I’m faced for the first time with having to shell out $300 on my own for football. FUUUUUUCK.

I’m basically screwed, but then the epiphany happens…

I’m constantly getting these taunting offers in the mail from DirecTV:

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But of course it’s for new customers only. Apparently new customers can get access to all of DirecTV’s products and some stuff that hasn’t even been invented yet for like $7 a month. Don’t give the guy who’s paid you $11K a deal, but give all the new people the “super duper package with a free blow job” deal.

Anyway, that’s when it hits me. Why wouldn’t I cancel my DirecTV account entirely and have my girlfriend, who has never been a customer, set up a brand new account in our apartment? It’s the simplest, yet most brilliant idea I’ve ever had.

For the next 12 months, our bill goes from $112 to $60, we get all the channels we’re used to getting plus more (Showtime, HBO and Max for free), and they’re giving us the NFL Sunday Ticket add-on at no cost.

Sure, we have to pay about $75 for a one-time installation fee since someone needs to come to our apartment to make the switch, but we’re saving $745 over the next year (over $1,000 in savings if you include the free NFL package).

All-time no-brainer, right?

So why wouldn’t DirecTV just hook me up when I called them one last time and carefully explained exactly what I was plotting? I don’t know, and I no longer care. They called my bluff again, but this time I was holding the better hand. I win, they lose. They fucking suck, I fucking rock.

And I just created the blueprint for everyone who shares an apartment to screw over DirecTV.

Now I understand what “laughing all the way to the bank” means.

DirectTV fuck you

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Adventures in Relocating: Losing My Mind over Home Entertainment Choices

I worry that I’ll come home one day to find Julie trapped inside my wire jungle

I have already lost two full days trying to solve this riddle, and there’s no end in sight.

In my current apartment, we have DirecTV, a DVR for recording shows, and a Blu-Ray player.  Our DirecTV package has most of the regular cable channels as well as HBO & Cinemax.  We have typically bought the NFL Ticket and MLB Extra Innings packages to watch football and baseball when they’re in season.  Our Blu-Ray player can stream Netflix Instant content.  Those are all of the options we have available at this time. While Netflix Instant is affordable at $8 per month, DirecTV rapes us to the tune of $124 per month.

With the move to the new place in LA only two weeks away, I thought this would be the right time to do a reset of my home entertainment packages to see if I can A) leverage different services and devices to have a broader choice in TV shows and movies, and B) cut out some significant costs from my current situation.

As I started researching this topic via the web and chatting with friends, I came across an endless amount of options: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, HBO GO, Roku, AppleTV, iTunes, DirecTV, Comcast, On Demand, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, illegal downloading…

Don’t worry, this can go even one layer deeper in complexity when you start to consider the following: Netflix has its instant service and its regular/ship you dvd’s service; HBO GO only works if you have an active HBO subscription through a participating cable or dish provider, Hulu has free and plus services, Roku has four different devices with options on picture quality as well as having ports for your USB cable.  Not a single service seems to have “everything.”  For instance, Netflix Instant has almost every well-known TV show, but lags in making the newest seasons of shows available to you.  Hulu Plus’s claim to fame is that the newest episodes of currently airing TV shows are available the day after they air.  But their problem is they don’t have deals with all the major network and cable channels so some shows are missing.  Amazon looks awful for current TV shows but awesome for movies.

It also seems like if you were to create a spreadsheet that matched up all content providers (i.e. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon) with all the physical devices that the content can be streamed through (i.e. PS3, Xbox, Roku), your computer would probably explode.  Just like my head was about to do when I started to consider all these options.

Maybe the first thing I should figure out is what I really want access to. Ideally I want to be able to watch any new/currently airing TV shows close to the date that the new episodes actually air.  I also want to catch up on old seasons of still-airing shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and 30 Rock.  I need the ability to watch the playoffs of all major sports.  But I also need access to every Red Sox and Patriots game. Movies don’t matter as much: I just want the option to see most new movies that are coming out on DVD.

I know some people who have gotten rid of cable/satellite service all together and get their content exclusively from the Netflix and Hulu’s of the world.  This is the dream scenario, and I eventually want to get there. But here are three reasons why I’m reluctant to get rid of DirecTV/cable: playoff sports still have a lot of games on channels like ESPN, TBS, TNT; without cable I feel like I might miss out on something (there’s no logic to this feeling, it’s just an emotional reaction); and Julie will go ApeShit on me because all of the ridiculous shows she watches are on Food Network, MTV, E!, and TLC, and I don’t think she could get access to all of that content from another service.

I guess I’m leaning towards keeping DirecTV (but going back to the most basic package possible), and then buying a Roku to stream Netflix Instant and the MLB.tv package on my TV.  This will probably satisfy me for three months, at which time I will buy AppleTV, subscribe to Hulu Plus, buy a PlayStation 3, add HBO to my DirecTV package again so I can access HBO GO, and of course activate the NFL Ticket just in time for football season.

I’m exhausted from this talk we just had…any better suggestions for me?

Reviewing Three New TV Shows: The Bitch in Apt 23, Girls, Veep

Apparently female-led TV shows are all the rage these days.  When the new TV schedule launched last fall, people were praising all the shows that suddenly focused on women.  There are three shows in particular that women seem to have gravitated towards, but the only problem is that they are all differing levels of horrible.  There’s Whitney (Colossal Disaster), 2 Broke Girls (Regular-sized Disaster), and New Girl (Whatever one step below a disaster is).

I know what you’re thinking…how do I know so much about these “TV shows for women,” right?  Well, on my most unlucky nights, I’m sometimes forced to watch TV with women.  Unfortunately they don’t pick to watch the same NHL Network highlights over and over.  They pick the three shows mentioned above.  Whitney is so horrible that on one episode, you could actually hear boo’s coming from the automated laugh track.  2 Broke Girls is possibly the least funny sitcom anyone’s ever created.  And the only redeeming quality of New Girl is the hotness of its lead actress, Zooey Deschanel.  But even that isn’t enough to give the show any staying power in my mind.

I take most of my cues on what new shows to watch from Entertainment Weekly.  The magazine reminds you of every new show coming out on a weekly basis, and they make solid recommendations most of the time.  But I was naturally a little skeptical when I saw three more female-led shows hitting the TV within a couple weeks of each other.  EW gave all three solid reviews so I thought I’d try them all out and report back on my experience.

Here are my reviews and rankings of the three new shows in question:

3. Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 (Three episodes aired, Wednesdays at 9:30pm on ABC)

Terrible name.  Terrible show.

This sitcom is about June, a 26-year-old woman whose job as a mortgage broker transfers her from Indiana to New York.  The opening episode jams the theme of “naive midwesterner in a big, scary city” down our throats.  June’s life plan is to be married with a steady job by 26, have two kids by 30, blah blah blah…  All of that goes to shit when her office and apartment are seized by the feds because her boss is accused of embezzling money.  From there her life spirals out of control when she catches her fiance cheating on her with her new roommate, Chloe.

Chloe is the “bitch” from the title.  She’s apparently a con artist that does whatever necessary to drive her roommates crazy (walk around naked, have loud parties on a Tuesday night, go to the bathroom while her roommate is in the bath tub).  These roommates inevitably get fed up and leave, and Chloe gets to keep their rent money and security deposit.

This premise seems halfway decent if the show was centered around Chloe and a revolving door of roommates, but instead it seems like June is the center of this show.  That’s unfortunate because it means we’re in for 10 more episodes of her bouncing back and forth between, “I’m 26 and my life plan isn’t on track anymore, poor me,” and, “You’re right, why do I care about my life plan so much?  Let’s be spontaneous.”

After watching all three episodes, I can confidently tell you not to bother with it.  The plots are horrible and all over the place; the characters haven’t been developed very well; the funny parts that are supposed to be centered around the outrageous Chloe and her antics fall more than flat (as an example, in episode 2, the “humor” was centered around Chloe calling her dad “Scott” and treating him like a friend instead of a dad).  And somehow, these two women who were ready to rip each other’s throats out in episode one are suddenly chummy and happy to coexist in episodes two and three.  It’s also beyond unbelievable that June would stay in this apartment with the stuff Chloe puts her through.

Best minor character: James Van Der Beek…played by James Van Der Beek.  I’d watch a show based purely on this guy looking for acting jobs, but unfortunately Don’t Trust the B only gives us three minutes of him per episode.

Status on my DVR: Cancelled effective immediately

2. Girls (Three episodes aired, Sundays at 10:30pm on HBO)

Go ahead.  Laugh at me for thinking I might enjoy a show titled “Girls.”  But I like HBO original programming, and I usually give most of their new shows a try.  I understood the premise to be, “young adult trying to find her niche in life struggles to get by in a recession-era New York City.”  I thought it would be a show that all young adults could relate to as they try to find their place in the world.  I was hoping for universal themes and plots.  Unfortunately, after three episodes, it seems like this is a show for women only.  Here are some of the main topics and issues the characters have dealt with so far:

-Unwanted pregnancy and the subsequent abortion

-Getting your period when you think you’re pregnant

-Getting tested for STD’s because the guy who you have sex with regularly may or may not always use a condom, and may or may not be sleeping with other women

-Being a virgin at the age of 20-something

And for the most part, these things weren’t dealt with in a humorous way.  I could maybe get on board with that.  It’s a particularly heavy show, and while it’s extremely well done, I just don’t think it’s for me (call me immature, but I really do need some laughs with my daily dose of abortion, periods, and STDs).  The reason I haven’t ditched the show entirely is because I’m amazed by Lena Dunham (not in a “she’s hot” kind of way like Zooey).  She plays the lead character, Hannah, but also is the creator/executive producer of the show, and she writes and directs the episodes too.  That’s pretty friggen amazing for a 25-year-old.

Best line so far: “There is seriously nothing flakier in this world than not showing up to your own abortion.”  See, now that’s abortion with a humorous twist!  If only more of the show could be that funny.

Status on my DVR: Not cancelled yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

1). Veep (Two episodes aired, Sundays at 10pm on HBO)

Brilliant.  The idea to create a show focused on the Vice President of the United States isn’t brilliant itself.  But the combination of the genre (comedy), the tone (hapless satire with just the right amount of subtlety) and the lead actress (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) make it extremely promising.

You could almost describe Veep as “Parks and Recreation in the White House.”  It has the politician who means well but tends to put her foot in her mouth far too often. And it has her surrounding staff of misfits who can simultaneously get her out of a jam while creating a whole new problem.  If you like Parks and Rec, The Office or Arrested Development, give this show a chance and I promise you won’t regret it.

Best Minor Character: Speaking of Arrested Development, Tony Hale, who plays Buster on that show, is cast as Gary, the VP’s body man.  I have no idea what a body man really does, but it apparently includes taking a “sneeze bullet” for the VP.  And while we’re talking about the minor characters, I have a feeling that if you watch Veep, you’ll enjoy the VP’s staff more than the VP herself.  They are all amazing in their own way.

Best line so far: “Did the President call? No?”  It’s a running question from the VP to her receptionist, and you have to watch to appreciate it.

Status on my DVR: Taping all episodes, on the rise as one of my favorite comedies.