Monday, October 24, 2016

Hazel: The Early Years: Prelude to Hazel (Come Back, Little Sheba)

As I prepared to sit down with a cold beer, a plate of nachos, and the first season DVD set of Hazel--you know, a typical weekend night for a red-blooded American adult male--it struck me that while I had seen most episodes of Shirley Booth's sitcom, I had never seen her most notable pre-TV performance. So I ran right out and got a copy of the film for which she won an Academy Award (a real one, too--Best Actress!): 1952's Come Back Little Sheba.

The beer got warm and the nachos got cold, but it was worth it to finally check out the pre-Hazel Burke incarnation of Booth. Let's take a look at this movie before we dive into Hazel.

As Lola Delaney, Shirley is a little frumpier and a lot less sassy than Hazel Burke. She's about 10 years younger, but let's face it, a young Shirley Booth looks an awful  lot like any other Shirley Booth. And now I will stop making comparisons to the TV show.

Not the glamour queen/domestic goddess we'd see later in the Screen Gems sitcom

After all, this film is an A-list effort from Paramount.  In addition to Booth and Burt Lancaster as her husband, alcoholoic chiropractor "Doc" Delaney, look at all the talent behind the camera: Hal Wallis is Executive Producer, Franz Waxman does the score, James Wong Howe is cinematographer, William Inge wrote the play the movie was adapted from, and even Edith Head did the costumes! The film was nominated for a few other Oscars, as well, including for best editing. Director Daniel Mann made his cinematic debut here, but Wallis surrounded him with all kinds of talent.

The Delaneys are an aging married couple with zero sparks in their romantic life. There seems to be little intimacy in their relationship. He calls her "Baby," and she calls him "Mr. B"--OK, NOW I'm done with the Hazel references. She actually calls him "Doc," but their "pet names" seem more like barriers than signifiers of any true affection.

We soon learn that Doc is a recovering alcoholic, sober for one year, and we learn this because Lola can't stop flapping her gums about it. It's kind of pitiful, though; she has a strong degree of affection for him and genuinely cares about him despite the terrible things drinking does to him, but we also learn why they got married in the first place. Suffice to say it wasn't a storybook romance.

Lola talks up Doc big time and is proud of his progress in sobriety, as well as his professional standing, but Doc is more indulgent than anything. Lola pines away for her little dog that ran away, Sheba, but that longing is about more than the dog herself, but about the dreams and the life she thought was possible for her and Doc. Both are frustrated and accepting of their current roles in life but cognizant that things didn't quite work out the way they hoped. Doc dropped out of medical school to marry Lola and is now stuck as a chiropractor, which is---Ah, ah, I'm not gonna badmouth that profession. I had a great experience years ago when I screwed up my back!

Into this environment comes a young boarder Lola interviews, played by Terry Moore (who was herself nominated for Best supporting Actress). At first, Doc wants no part of anyone renting part of the house, but when he sees Moore's college student, Marie, he suddenly changes his mind. Funny how it works like that, eh, guys? If you're not familiar with Moore, three words come to mind: VA, VA, and VOOM.

"For the last time, under NO circumstances will I allow a boarder in my hou--Oh, hello, were you the one inquiring about the room?

What follows is a slowly unfurling tale of repression, remorse, and regret (I wasn't sure I'd come up with a third one there!) as Doc's vision of Marie as a symbol of purity is altered by the fact that she actually wants to spend time with boys. In fairness to Doc, who seems like a real fuddy duddy with major issues of his own (which we know is indeed the case), the first guy Marie dates is "Turk" (Richard Jaeckel). If some dude calling himself Turk showed up in my house in proximity to my daughter or even anyone reasonably close to me, I'd toss him off the premises faster than you could say "Al Bundy." In Doc's case, this whole scenario is a giant trigger warning.

Come Back, Little Sheba is an often uncomfortable but compelling exploration of broken dreams and the struggle of alcoholism. It's well acted and not too stagy despite its origins. I do find the ending unsatisfying after what precedes it, but, hey, it was 1952, and what we see is kind of par for the course.

Just another night at home, getting ready to listen to Amos 'N' Andy

We aren't just here to talk about the film, though. We are here to talk about Shirley Booth. It's hard for a modern-day fan of olden-day TV like me to separate this performance from Hazel--evident from my dumb jokes earlier--but she is likable and tender in this role. There are similarities with her later persona--her chattiness, for one--but Lola lacks the guile and gusto of Hazel Burke. We feel for her when she expresses doubts that she was ever good enough for Doc. It's hard to imagine the Baxters' no-nonsense maid being so reflective.

Booth's naïve, sad performance is a revelation. At the time, it would have been no surprise, as she had won several Tonys, including one for this very role! But it's a great reminder today to anyone who knows her as the confident, do-it-all meddling maid that Shirley Booth was capable of acting with great dimension and powerful honesty.

Kidding aside, it's an Oscar-worthy performance

Will we see anything like this in Hazel: The Early Years? Perhaps not, but we should have some fun nevertheless. Just keep in mind, as we laugh at her exploits with the likes of Mr. Griffin, that Shirley Booth was sooo much more than Hazel Burke. That said...human condition, schmuman condition! Let's gear up for season 1 of Hazel!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 30

Much of my viewing time is devoted to the ongoing MLB playoffs, but streaming video does not stop for sports leagues...unless it's the NFL filing copyright claims against YouTube uploaders. I'd love to rank Filmstruck, which was to debut October 19, but that one has been pushed back for vague reasons.

1) Netflix: Stocks jumped after higher than expected earnings were reported. That's even more exciting than new seasons of Black Mirror and The Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show, which is quietly on season 3.

2)  Pub-D-Hub: Last week's update doesn't really warrant this high a rating, but I just made my annual payment for the Gold service, so I feel I should rank it here to justify the $. (Really, it's well worth the low, low payment)

3) Hulu: November looks pretty good movie-wise. Plus the latest Triumph special was not as good as the other two, but he is still providing the most cogent political commentary out there. Pretty good buzz for Hugh Laurie's new original series, Chance. And the latest James Bond flick premieres this weekend. Not bad, Hulu.

4) YouTube: Anyone can upload a clip of the Eight Is Enough theme song, but it takes some effort to put each season's opening, plus the ones from the reunion movies, into one clip. My TV theme song rabbit hole journey the other night struck gold with that one.

5) Dumont Network: To anyone who wonders why I continue to rank this channel--and fairly high, no less--while ignoring the likes of HBO Now and Amazon Prime--I say that Dumont Network just added a 1949 roller derby telecast. 'Nuff said.

6) TubiTV: I should really be talking more about this one. I repeat: Heavy commercials, but lots of free content, ability to make a queue, and a resume watching feature. I watched  a few late 1980s King Features animated specials (Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible) on there this week.

7) Shout! Factory TV: Shout! could really use some kind of watchlist feature. Anyway, this week I saw a weird late 1970s Canadian Halloween special, Witch's Night Out, a cartoon with the voice of Gilda Radner.

8) TuneIn: I had some technical problems with the stream this week, but I also enjoyed some soothing lite 80s soft rock. I'm relaxed just writing about that.

9) PBS: I am enjoying the Contenders series on the Roku PBS channel, and it is good about adding things quickly, such as the American Experience on Tesla I want to see.

10) Pizza Flix: Another in the endless parade of Roku channels offering public domain (or plausibly so) content, but this one stands out by promising to add titles weekly (we'll see) and by making it easy to find TV shows by grouping them together in convenient categories. I don't know if there's a lot here that can't be found everywhere else, but I like the presentation and will continue to explore it.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Today on Battle of the Network Shows: I think Uncle Ned has a problem

The new episode is right here, and don't forget to check in later for show notes and more. Don't you dare miss it!

And by the way, stay tuned after the main part of the show for a special treat!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shameless Self-Promotion: TV Time is ready for Halloween!

If I told you this month's column was about The Munsters, would you start stomping your feet like Herman while singing "DAAAA DA-DA" to the tune of the theme song?

Well, maybe that's just what I would do. You are free to enjoy the column however you wish. I just ask that you stop by ClassicFlix and check it out! Don't you dare miss it! And tell 'em Cultureshark sent ya!

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First Impulse: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees announced

Hat tip to my BOTNS co-conspirator Mike for telling me about this earlier: Today the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced this year's list of nominees. I think a Hall of Fame should feature people who you can judge pretty quickly: a HOF'er or not.  With that said, here's the list and my initial take. Remember that you can vote here. Oh, but you're limited to casting one ballot a day. So you KNOW it's legit!

Bad Brains: No.
Chaka Khan: No.
Chic: I guess if they keep getting nominated, they are bound to get in eventually, but no.
Depressed Mode: Wait, that's Depeche Mode. Sorry. Anyway, no.
ELO: I like a lot of the music, but no.
The J. Geils Band: No offense to Mr. Geils, but I was stunned to see this act on the list.
Jane's Addiction: The Lollapalooza Hall of Fame, maybe, but otherwise, I don't think two albums and a bunch of reunion tours make you worthy.
Janet Jackson: No, but she is about the only commercial heavyweight (not a reference to her body issues) on this list.
Joan Baez: I had the idea that someone should ask Bob Dylan whether he thinks Joan Baez should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and see what happens.
Joe Tex: No.
Journey: The only question: Why is this band not in there already? AM I RIGHT?
Kraftwerk: No.
MC5: No, but they will get in eventually.
Pearl Jam: My favorite music act of the last 25 years, but they don't really feel like a first ballot Hall of Famer. Tremendous peak, but how much impact after the first few albums? My heart says yes, but my mind says...yes, leaning yes on the longevity and enduring success as a live headliner. After Green Day getting in, though, you have to think PJ is an absolute lock.
Steppenwolf: No Mountain or Iron Butterfly?
The Cars: I like how they come this far down on the list because they are listed with THE at the beginning. If they get in, do we get a New Cars performance with Todd Rundgren? I love The Cars, but I don't think they are necessarily HOF. I lean no.
The Zombies: Short career. Much love for the act, but no.
Tupac Shakur: No, but he will probably get in this year.
Yes: No. (Can't resist)

Here's who I think WILL get in: Janet, Tupac, Pearl Jam for marketing/political reasons. Beyond that, they need a few actual older acts, but I don't know who they will choose.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fall TV 2016: Lethal Weapon

I'm burned out on TV adaptations of feature films, and I haven't even watched any. Rush Hour, Frequency, Megaforce...Wait, there hasn't been a Megaforce TV show? Why not? I'd watch that.

(Fargo is great, but I don't count that because it just feels like a different entity than the movie. More importantly, it doesn't fit my narrative.)

Imagine my surprise when I watched Lethal Weapon and enjoyed it. I was kind of surprised I watched it, period. It's far from a classic, and when historians write epic tomes detailing The Golden Golden GOLDEN Age of Television, there will not be chapters devoted to autuerist analyses of the series. If that's not qualification enough for my praise, let me make another confession: I didn't notice who directed the first episode, but I saw esteemed helmsman McG credited with the second. If I saw that episode of Lethal Weapon in a theater and paid 15 bucks for it, I'd probably roll my eyes and think, "Another dumb McG action movie!" Then of course I'd investigate why the hell I paid 15 bucks for an hourlong presentation with 17 minutes of commercials.

On the telly, though, Lethal Weapon is that escapist fun entertainment that actually does what it sets out to do. Oh, there is a healthy dose of angst to go along with its car chases and buddy comedy, but stick around--it's never too long before something outright fun comes along to prevent you from dwelling on the heavy stuff.  Mind you, that is not at all a jab; I appreciate the effort to include some depth into the routine, but I also enjoy the execution of the formula.

As Riggs, Clayne Crawford (if that IS his real name)  brings an appropriate amount of swagger and likability to the unhinged (but with a good excuse) PTSD-suffering maverick. Likability is a big deal when you're trying to make people  forget Mel Gibson, and I mean that on several levels. As family man and perpetually exasperated partner Murtaugh, Damon Wayans reminds us how talented he is. He made me laugh out loud about a minute into his first scene.

This isn't the kind of show you need to watch closely nor watch every week, which is perhaps both a virtue and a detriment in this day and age. I also wonder if the spectacular effects and stunts in the pilot (and in the second episode to a lesser extent) will be sustained on a weekly basis. For now, though, consider this an appreciation of a simple buddy cop show that doesn't surprise at all except in the most important way: by being good at what it does.