Culture

‘Jeopardy!’ is the only thing on Netflix worth watching

The cozy, quirky quiz show is the perfect program for the streaming era.

Culture

YOUR MOVE, TREBEK

Culture

‘Jeopardy!’ is the only thing on Netflix worth watching

The cozy, quirky quiz show is the perfect program for the streaming era.

As a company, Netflix is terrifying. They account for an alarmingly large amount of all traffic on the internet and foster a dystopian corporate culture that sounds like an IRL version of 1984. Meanwhile, between its crappy algorithm and surplus of crappy original content that clogs up your Netflix homepage, finding something on the service that you actually enjoy can be kind of a nightmare. And yet as a millennial I am generationally obligated to not have a cable subscription, so I subscribe to Netflix anyway. It’s usually not worth it, but sometimes, such as when a week ago I fired up Netflix and discovered that the service had made 45 episodes of Jeopardy! available for streaming, it almost is.

As any current or former nerd will tell you, Jeopardy! is a wonderful anomaly in the era of modern prestige TV. Despite airing on a major network, the show has a low-budget feel and throwback vibe that, no matter how often the producers freshen up its set, feels charmingly out of time. Unlike basically every other TV show these days, Jeopardy! does not care whether you are conventionally attractive or powerful or even remotely socially adept; instead, all the show cares about is whether you can press a buzzer and spit out the name of Lyndon B. Johnson’s pet dog before someone else can.

On Jeopardy!, everyone — from host Alex Trebek to the studio audience to the show’s fans — understands that a lifetime of vacuuming up arcana into your head has a tendency to create an arch strangeness in a person, and so the show never judges or mocks its contestants for their eccentricities, instead offering them the opportunity to show the world why they’re worth celebrating. In fact, the only contestant I can ever recall not rooting for is Brad Rutter, the smarmily handsome Jeopardy! champion who, after winning over a million dollars on the show, moved to Los Angeles to become an actor in what feels like a complete betrayal of the show’s ideals.

It turns out that Jeopardy! tournaments, like the ones that were recently uploaded to Netflix, lend themselves to the streaming format. You can fall asleep to it, allowing yourself to be lulled into a pleasant stupor by the rhythms of questions and answers (or, rather, clues and questions). Alex Trebek’s voice, with its dulcet tones and unwavering cadence, has a sort of hypnotic nostalgia to it, peacefully transporting you to a simpler time, when your greatest concern was keeping up with the adults answering questions on the TV. Contestants never get too worked up over victory or defeat, and while there are indeed surprising moments in each episode, there’s no plot to actively engage your brain, allowing you to safely fall asleep knowing that there will always be more Jeopardy! in your future.

If you prefer, you can follow along closely, gleefully shouting out answers without fear of Trebek docking you $1200 for incorrectly guessing that the hooved animal whose soft underfur is called qiviut is the yak (it’s actually the muskox). If you choose the participatory route, Jeopardy! turns out to be a weirdly bingeable show — the twenty-minute episodes are snackable and offer enough mental nutrition that watching even an hour’s worth of them doesn’t feel like a complete waste of time. The contestants are subtly quirky and fun in a way that makes you want to skip back a few seconds just to catch the full scope of their personalities, taking a moment to appreciate how Colby Burnett jauntily bobs his head as he’s selecting a clue, or how Roger Craig maintains a two-handed vice grip on his buzzer that makes him seem both zenned-out and completely terrified. Every few episodes, meanwhile, there’s a clue or category that zooms in out of left field with enough force and mischief that you have to rewind just to make sure that it actually happened, such as when Ken Jennings earned $1200 for correctly identifying Shock G’s “The Humpty Dance.”

The fact that Jeopardy! is on the internet at all feels ironic — after all, it is a show that rewards humans for holding facts in their brains, an increasing rarity as tech companies dream up more and more ways to outsource our mental tasks to our phones for profit. Knowing facts “feels obsolete now,” Ken Jennings told me a few months back in an interview. “Everyone’s like, ‘Why do I need to know that? I’ll just google it.’” He added that even still, “When you make a complicated decision [...] it's a synthesis of thousands of different facts.” If we don’t hang onto the art of knowing random things for the sake of knowing them, we run the risk of losing a fundamental part of who we are.

And so, if you subscribe to Netflix and are not entirely comfortable with the idea of Netflix, watch Jeopardy!. Your brain will thank you later.