Sunday, December 9, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #139: Special "Get that shopping done" edition

Get that holiday shopping done early so you can lounge around and enjoy streaming video more, I say. Or I suppose you can stream video WHILE shopping, but I don't want you to be one of those people I have to dodge while I am walking around with my typical laser-like focu--hey, I still can't get over the fact that Batman is on Roku Channel!

1) Amazon Prime Video: I know it's hip to hate Amazon, but the streaming service keeps adding cool stuff each week. This time, it's the first 5 seasons of one of the most rewatchable sitcoms around, Corner Gas. The welcome return of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is another highlight, but I didn't even get to it because I just started watching Corner Gas.

It still puzzles me how goofy Prime Video's user interface is. I don't know if people realize how much stuff is really available--like, just as an example, tons of old Shaw Brothers and Japanese monster movies. It's just so hard to browse and find things. There's a lot of great content here, though, even if the originals are a drop in the bucket compared to Netflix.

2) YouTube: Really, having Turner Classic Movies as part of the base package plus unlimited DVR storage makes YouTube TV a great value. Meanwhile, I didn't know until our Hill Street Blues episode that Orson Welles did a talk show pilot, and guess what? It's on YouTube!

3) Netflix: A real hodge-podge of originals this week, including a Jennifer Aniston movie, a crime drama series with Anthony LaPaglia (I never heard of it, and then I saw it was a Canadian import, which I guess explains why it comes out of nowhere), more of The Ranch, and the Nailed It holiday special I can't wait to see with my kids. There is a Mowgli movie that Warners successfully dumped on Netflix, but I think I have Jungle Book fatigue.

Yet again, though, the big story is what's leaving Netflix, as this week everyone experienced a collective panic at the thought of Friends leaving with 3 weeks' notice. Turned out, it was leaving but was renewed for a cool 100 mil for another year. It serves as a reminder to watch what you want now. I bet it's a lot easier to see on Netflix than it will be on whatever monstrosity AT&T cooks up in 2019.

The result of all this: I got back into watching Friends. I also finally watched Moana because--you guessed it--it's leaving Netflix in a few weeks.

4) STARZ: Premieres the second season of Counterpart this weekend, and it also is allowing me to enjoy more of the mystery show that will be the subject of a future podcast.

5) Boomerang: The holiday assortment is great, but it sure would be nice if Warner Brothers, which distributes the Rankin-Bass specials on DVD, could somehow get streaming rights. This week I enjoyed Flintstone Christmas (1977), not to be confused with A Flintstone Family Christmas, Flintstones Christmas Carol, or the original series episode titled Christmas Flintstone.

Christmas Flintstone. What a gloriously clunky episode title, and how great that they went with THAT one first instead of Flintstone Christmas.

6) Hulu: Feels like a slow week for Hulu to me, though if I paid for the commercial-free version, I'm sure I would watch a lot more of it. One of the main reasons it's not higher each week for me is because one of its main draws--next-day network TV shows--isn't such a big deal when there isn't anything on network TV worth watching.

7) CBS All Access: Yes, it's annoying that Happy Days is only up in one season, and only half of that season, but it least it has the heartwarming Christmas episode where Fonz spends Xmas Eve with the Cunninghams. I'm also continuing to enjoy Superior Donuts, which is maybe not the best thing for me but makes me feel good and goes down very easy--much like...much like...I don't know, some tasty but unhealthy comfort food. Can't think of one right now.

8) Shout! TV: It's been lost in the shuffle, but Shout! uploaded a ton of new content for December--the biggest drop I can remember.

9) Best Christmas Channel Ever 2018: Not the best channel title, but I enjoyed a relatively hassle-free viewing of an old Hollywood  Palace yuletide episode with Bing Crosby, Glen Campbell, and more.

10) Pub-D-Hub: It's become much less reliable with its update schedule, but it does have a lot of Christmas content up right now and could rise next week after I dig into some of it.

NOTE: Watch TCM premiered on Roku this week, and I have always said it would be one of my favorite channels if it ever happened, but right now it won't load on my version of the system. So for now, it remains outside the top 10.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #138: It's beginning to look a lot like...

Finally time to eliminate Filmstruck from the ratings (or IS it? See #10). Speaking of which, Warner Media announced its big monolith of an OTT service is coming the end of 2019, and it will feature 3 tiers. I'm sure the most interesting tier will be overpriced and understocked.

Or am I too cynical? Maybe I should get into the holiday spirit and be positive! Therefore the rankings this week will be filled with ho-ho-hoptimism.

1) The Roku Channel: The jaw-dropping catalog addition of the year puts Roku's in-house channel at the top. I don't know why the heck the 1960s Batman is here instead of the new DC Universe streaming service, but I will take all 3 seasons of the classic series, even if it is ad-supported.

I notice that the episodes have the FilmRise logo at the beginning. FilmRise is also responsible for bringing a lot of other Warner-controlled properties to Amazon Prime Video, so who knows, maybe we will see the Caped Crusader on Amazon soon.

For now, let's appreciate the fact that one of the last remaining never-streaming iconic classic TV series is available uncut and free.

2) Amazon Prime Video: The FilmRise/Warner deal with Amazon is one of the underreported streaming stories of 2018. Combine that with all the Sony product showing up, and you have a classic fi;m library that is really getting beefed up. I would advise anyone depressed over the loss of Filmstruck to dig into Prime, which this week alone added Born Yesterday, Bonnie and Clyde, and other notable films not starting with "B."

3) Hulu: After an all-too-brief run on Netflix, The Wonder Years arrives here. My kids enjoyed a mini-binge of The Amazing World of Gumball. I am not so cool with the idea of Disney taking full control of Hulu, as rumored, though. I'd much rather see the current co-ownership structure, which incentivizes Fox and Comcast/NBC to offer their product here. However, in the spirit of Christmas cheer, I am going to avoid worrying about it and enjoy the fact that Hulu is adding series like the acclaimed Killing Eve.

4) Netflix: There are some interesting new things this week, like a Dave Attell/Jeffrey Ross series, but once again all the stuff coming is overshadowed by stories about what's going--in this case, Daredevil, the latest high-profile cancellation. I don't know for sure if Netflix is ending it because of Disney+ or if Disney is the one pulling the strings, but it's funny that no one thinks it's an artistic decision. Netflix is going to really have to hustle to expand that Grace and Frankieverse if it wants to "replace" the Marvel shows.

5) YouTube/YouTube TV: I still love the YTTV service, but the news that Sling is adding the Discovery networks does remind you that those aren't available here. Fortunately for me, I don't watch those channels! Meanwhile, a ton of great old baseball footage and films were added to YouTube this week, giving me something to enjoy while I wait for the Pirates to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

6) Pluto TV: I finally watched an on-demand movie on Pluto, and I was impressed. The picture quality was good, and the commercial intrusion was much less obnoxious than on other platforms. There are some clunky aspects to the experience--for example, pausing the movie has a weird hiccup that makes the movie have to "catch up" from the previous pause point--but overall, it's pretty cool. Pluto can improve itself by making it easier to browse/search through its growing on-demand library.

BTW, the movie I watched was one I just missed on Turner Classic Movies a while ago, something I had been meaning to revisit since I started going back through the Toho-verse on Filmstruck:

7) Starz: I watched Starz a lot the last few weeks for podcast prep and have explored its catalog. One thing that really stands out is how new feature films just aren't a big deal on premium cable anymore. Yes, that overvation is about 5 years old, but I think Starz managed to stand out fairly recently. Now all the new movies are just so spread out that no one service can make a mark with any of them. That Disney/Netflix deal really hurt Starz by taking away a lot of its product, although I do notice that pre-Netflix deal movies like Frozen and Up are on Starz, and I don't think they ever made it to Netflix.

8) Best Christmas Channel 2018: Updated for the season, this free Roku channel has a nice selection of vintage toy ads, TV shows, movies, and best of all a nice grouping of old holiday-themed variety shows.

9) Boomerang: I signed up for another month to enjoy the nice array of holiday 'toons available. Maybe I'd be better off just buying Yogi's All-Star Christmas Comedy Caper, but this way I can also enjoy some Flintstones and Magilla Gorilla.

10) The Criterion Channel: I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that they come up with something good when they launch next year, but a reminder: before Filmstruck teamed up with TCM, the combo of it and the Criterion Channel was too arthouse-centric and too pricy for me. Hopefully the new CC goes a different direction.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #137: Special post-Thanksgiving edition

I hope everyone streamed themselves silly this Thanksgiving. Because things move so quickly in the worlds of streaming video and power rankings, we must start turning our attention to the Yuletide season.

1) Filmstruck: I keep telling myself I will stop ranking this, and it keeps adding material and rubbing our faces in it. This week, it was a collection of Nicholas Roeg (who just died this weekend) films, plus a batch of holiday movies. I perused the selection thinking, "I bet it has my favorite underrated Christmas movie." Sure enough, it does. Sigh.

2) Hulu: Coming December 1: The Wonder Years. Already here, a show almost on that level of cultural impact:

Plus I have been using Hulu a lot for prep for Battle of the Network Shows, and I give the service credit for a ridiculously good Black Friday deal--99 cents a month--even though I can't use it! I'm also interested in Sorry to Bother You, the 2018 feature that just arrived on Hulu.

3) Netflix: It's a slow week for new adds unless you are excited about Trevor Noah, the British comedy Sick Note with Rupert  Grint, that new Christmas movie with Kurt Russell as Santa, and the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000

Come to think of it, a lot of people are excited about those things. Me, I was happy to have access to Thanksgiving episodes of Friends and Cheers. Plus I have started watching The Keepers. Why I began a depressing, brutal true crime miniseries during then holiday season, I have no clue.

4) Amazon Prime Video: The Warner Brothers movie train seems to have slowed, but Prime keeps adding movies from the likes of Sony (The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, Talk of the Town (Cary Grant), and more). I'm looking forward to seeing Alexander Payne's Downsizing (also on Hulu), and this season I am thankful this season for those 1970s Honeymooners specials being here.

Also new for no apparent reason: Cagney and Lacey and Cold Feet, which I have been hoping would come somewhere without commercials.

5) YouTube: 'Tis the season for me to waste large chunks of time by watching blocks of vintage commercials and promos from New York area TV stations.

6) WWE Network: I'm gonna kiss this one good-bye for a while and wait for a deal due to the sparse catalog additions in recent weeks, but I did enjoy a nice holiday tradition by watching Starrcade 1986 this week.

7) Curiosity Stream: I took advantage of the Black Friday deal--free trial for the rest of the year. Now, will I have actually time to watch this acclaimed science/history/educational documentary programming? I dunno, but I hope it makes me look smart listing it here.

8) PIX11: The good news it added its large selection of archival holiday clips (see #5), but the bad news is I think it's the same assortment it offered last year.

9) DC Universe: More good news/bad news. Good news here is that news is trickling out about some of the original programming coming next year, plus I see increasing buzz about Titans. The bad news? A lot of that buzz is coming from DC itself.

10) Boomerang: It offered Garfield's Thanksgiving for free this week, and that is worth something, plus it had a nice playlist of Thanksgiving 'toons.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Brooks on Books: Twilight of the Gods by Steven Hyden

Twilight of the Gods is a funny exploration of classic rock and anyone who grew up listening to the music on the radio, as author Steven Hyden did, will enjoy it--whether or not you actually enjoy the music itself. Now, you might wonder, what exactly IS classic rock? Is it just "music that is played on stations that call themselves 'classic rock'?" Well, yeah, kind of. Hyden attempts to define the oft-nebulous world of this genre in a series of loosely connected essays, drawing heavily on his own personal experiences to create an enlightening and amusing book.

Now, I will admit that for a while Twilight wasn't exactly gripping me the way I hoped, but I believe that is on me, not on Hyden. I was anticipating something a bit more like Chuck Klosterman's work. Hyden doesn't exactly have a lot of the deep (or faux-deep) insights that pop up in Klosterman's work, and for a bit I was a little disappointed that Hyden wasn't really defining classic rock the way I was expecting. However, the more I got into the text, the more I enjoyed it. In the end, I think maybe it's more "just" a collection of interesting chapters about different aspects of classic rock rather than one "grand unified theory." But so what? It's a lot of fun.

Hyden puts all of himself into the book, building it around his own experiences attending shows, interviewing musicians (in addition to hosting the Celebration Rock) podcast, he writes for Uproxx and has been a writer and music critic for outlets like Grantland, The AV Club, and many more), and, yes, listening to the radio! As a devoted radio listener back in the day, including the local station that billed itself as "classic rock," I identify with many of Hyden's experiences. He shows how what we consider classic rock is in large part a function of what a group of programmers decided to play.

Younger music fans might not understand what the big deal is and why we would ponder why REP Speedwagon and Styx are lumped in the same category as Led Zeppelin, but I find the labels and sublabels (corporate rock, anyone?) fascinating. Along the way here, Hyden  explores the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,  the enduring fervent niche appeal of Phish, and the difference between supergroups and "shrunkgroups" (the latter includes the likes of Axl/DC and the Dead and Company--"aging bands break down and then melt into one another").

Maybe my favorite chapter is So Bad, in which Hyden explains how the "worst" parts of a band's discography actually come all the way around to being good. I think this is the quintessential section in Twilight, with Hyden's creative analysis laying out an entertaining case for appreciating things others label as garbage. He talks about the stages in which this happens--completism; in which he has to seek out everything a band does; grudging appreciation, in which some of the more unconventional aspects of the work become appealing; and what he calls "brainwashing." As he once summarized the notion of a good bad record for The AV  Club: "a record that you talk yourself into loving after you've grown tired of all the acknowledged masterpieces and respected second-tier releases in a legendary artist's discography." Hyden's chapter-length elaboration of this is hilarious, drawing on examples from the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Neil Young among others.

Ultimately, I am not sure that Hyden really determines why rock is on the downslope or whether it will last forever, but he ties it all together at the end by bringing it back to his personal experience and reflections. More importantly, Twilight of the Gods is packed with enough provocative insights and humor to make it a great read for any serious rock music fan.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #136

1) YouTube/YouTube TV: I can't decide if I want YouTube TV on Roku to integrate more with my YouTube subscriptions or if that would be an even more terrifying intrusion on my life. Or maybe both are true.

I do know that the favorite uploaders I have been touting lately are almost delivering more than I can keep up with each week. One thing I really enjoyed watching this week was an old Merv Griffin Show from New York's Channel 5, complete with commercials. Special guests: Nancy Reagan, Joe Raposo, Carl Eller. Merv, of course, in his typical overbearing, merciless style, ripped each guest a new one.

2) Amazon Prime Video: I'm not gonna sit down and watch Gotti. I'm not gonna sit down and watch Gotti. I'm not--oh, why fool myself? I can't resist...

I did see Jim Gaffigan's new comedy special. Noble Ape, which is outstanding. It was a great surprise seeing that pop up this week.

3) Netflix: It's a big week for Netflix originals, what with The Kominsky Method, Narcos: Mexico, and the new Coen Brothers joint. But what's all this hinting around about Netflix raising prices? I realize speculative articles suggesting it will happen don't constitute a "jinx," but still, cut it out.

4) Hulu: I'm not impressed with the new original series this weekend. What I am impressed with is King of the Hill. That really is a great show, I tell you whut.

5) WWE Network: It's funny: They spend so much time trying to get people interested in the "pay per view" events, but all I care about is the old stuff. I mean, it's great to watch an old episode of Prime Time Wrestling and run into this guy heckling the Iron Sheik:

6) Filmstruck: I know I said it was time to start easing this one out of the rankings...but is it? It continues to add movies, and in this, its last month on the planet, it is more popular than ever. I am wary of the new Criterion Channel--same high price, lower (I assume) selection--and skeptical of Warner's plans to integrate Filmstruck into its upcoming cash grab. For now, though, I guess some news is better than no news.

7) Pub-D-Hub: Kudos to the Hub for adding a Thanksgiving section again. I do think it's all been there before, but I am happy to know I have a place to get my new annual holiday tradition: Calvin and the Colonel.

8) Shout! Factory TV:  Geoff Edwards' work on Starcade is low key one of the funniest game show emcee performances ever. Shout! is becoming less relevant as Prime Video adds more of its programs (and without ads), like Route 66, but there is still plenty of gold on this free channel.

9) CBS All Access: All right, CBS All Access, I burned through the paltry selection of Happy Days episodes. Time to add more. I mean a lot more.

10) Starz: Funny how watching one episodes of The Jeffersons makes Starz suggest Bingo Long, Sanford and Son, Car Wash...Not that I don't want to watch all of that.

Monday, November 12, 2018

'Mooners Monday: Why I Love "The Bensonhurst Bomber"

As we close out our look at this classic episode, let me just list some of the ways:

1) The title is one of the best episode titles in the history of the series.

2) Any episode with an extended billiard sequence is A-OK in my book. Is it just me, though, or do they not always come off like the high-level players they are supposed to be? The story is that the show trusted Gleason and Carney to do what they needed on camera because they could handle a cue. I don't dispute that, especially in The Great One's case, but he even scratches in this one.

3) That said, Norton's explanation of his elaborate shot is one of my favorite Norton lines. I lose it when he gets to the "chain reaction" part of his call.

4) In fact, it's a standout episode for Art Carney all around. I love how he talks Ralph into the fight, then afterwards, clueless as ever, scolds him for being foolish enough to get into the mess. Ed blurting out the Kramdens' address to Harvey is another highlight.

4) Ralph has several great "WILL YOU GO ON, ALREADY!"  bits AND throws Ed out of the billiard parlor. I love anytime Ralph throws his buddy out of a public place.

5) I mentioned George and Harvey in previous weeks, but they create two of the most memorable one-off characters in series history. Even the "Hey, get a load of fatso" guy, Mike O'Dowd, makes a strong impression, all crude and rough-looking in the best way.

6) One of my favorite moments is when Ralph tries to just slip out of the apartment without drawing attention.  What did he think Alice would say to this? I just adore this sequence for some reason. He packs a suitcase and thinks he will go under the radar, but the best is his timid explanation to Alice:  "Well. so long. I'm gonna be gone for a couple of weeks." Check out his sheepish expression in the last screencap as Alice tries to figure out what is up: