Thursday, December 8, 2016

Tis the season

I don't know about you guys, but to me it just doesn't feel like Christmas until I see a sketch with Andy Griffith as a bartender consoling Paul Lynde, who is doing his "despondent Santa" shtick.

This week on Battle of the Network Shows

I got two words for you: ROLLER DISCO.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Brooks on Books: The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris

This is an outstanding book, one suitable for "pick up and read a bit at a time" enjoyment but one so entertaining you  might just want to tear right through it. Author Jon Morris runs a blog, Gone and Forgotten, that also covers weird comic book stuff, and I have added it to my bookmarks. The League is a pleasure from start to finish.

The format is simple: Morris divides comic book history into several eras, then assembles a list of "D-listers and also-rans" from each period and devotes a few pages (most entries are a page of text and a page of illustration, though some feature additional scans from the original comics) to explaining each one. Some of the characters either look goofy enough or have strange enough backgrounds and skills to be inherently amusing, so Morris' deft writing strikes just the right tone: bemused and appreciative of how crazy some of this material is, but not overwhelming it with forced humor.

Some of the wittiest comments come in the sidebars on each entry. For each regrettable hero, Morris provides a "Created by" credit and a "Debuted in" note with the first appearance of the character. Then he adds a miscellaneous vategory that provides an opportunity for a wise-ass remark. Example: In the chapter for Pat Parker, War Nurse, the sidebar has "Not to be confused with: Bob barker, game show host; Ma Barker, gangster."

This is a book you need to see to appreciate, so I won't waste time trying to verbalize the appeal, but there is a wide variety represented here. There are a few from the mind of cult Golden Age creator Fletcher Hanks as well as Marvel and DC products like Brother Voodoo and the Legion of Super Pets.

Here are some of my favorites: I'd love to read more exploits of DC's The New Guardians. Morris closes their entry with: The team's adversaries were equally ill-conceived. The roster included the Hemoglobin (a vampire with AIDS) and Snowflame (a super villain powered by cocaine).

1939's Bozo the Iron Man looks like a riot. Dr. Hormone and The Eye (who is an actual floating eye) are intriguing. How about Kangaroo Man, who is actually the sidekick to a scuffling kangaroo? My favorite entries are the obscure Golden Age heroes just because I have never heard of many of them, but it's a lot of fun reading about later efforts. I got a nice rush of nostalgia learning the story behind the AAU Shuperstar I saw in so many full-page ads back in the day.

It's a compact hardcover that feels substantial enough. It does leave you wanting more, but that's in the sense that it encourages you to seek out these goofy superheroes. Fortunately, much of this material is public domain and/or unclaimed and therefore findable online.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 36 (special post-Thanksgiving edition)

What's so special about this post-Thankgiving edition? Well, it was Thanksgiving, and now it isn't. That's pretty special, isn't it?

1) Netflix: Another big week for the industry leader, which seems to get credit even when it's being a follower. Example: the rapturous response to the announcement subscribers could download material for offline viewing. Would Netflix have done this if Amazon hadn't offered the option? Well, either way, it's value added for customers.

Me, I'm more concerned with what there IS to see, not how to see it (as long as it's on my Roku), and the December 1 content drop wasn't impressive, but there was a new Leonard Nimoy documentary, a movie called Ghost Team that appears semi-newish, some new cartoon called Pacific Heat (Archer ripoff?), The Angry Birds Movie, and The Jungle Book, which Netflix can point to and say, "See? We DO get big movies!"

I'm still not watching Gilmore Girls, but that is a huge hit for Netflix. I think the only reason less people are talking about it right now is because everyone burned through it the first weekend.

2) PIX11: Remember last week when I said it might be the first and last week this channel from New York's channel 11 was on the chart? Once again I must quote the Fonz and say I was wr...I was wr....I was wr...

Much to my surprise, this new Roku  channel IS adding archive content. In the past few days, it debuted clips of the Yule Log tradition, old promos, some Yankee baseball clips, and best of all, a documentary about the classic Henry Tilllman promo campaign. If you know who Henry Tillman is, you need to add and watch this channel right now. As for me, yeah, #2 might sound high, but just wait and see how high I rank this after I get a chance to watch all these clips.

3) Pub-D-Hub: Debuted its annual Christmas section this past week, chock  full of old cartoons, TV shows, movies, and even Old-Time Radio shows suitable for the season. I think all of it is was on last year, but even if nothing new appears, it's great to see it in one place like this.

4) Hulu: Every few months, Hulu adds a whole mess of original Dark Shadows episodes out of nowhere. Hulu also gives us a bunch of James Bond movies (they weren't all already on there? They rotate all over the place, it seems like), some British shows, and The Shield  (wait, THAT wasn't already on there?), so it was a welcome up week for the service ahead of its premiere of new original series Shuteye  next week. All the Friday the 13th films aren't quite enough to make up for all those Criterions that left last month, though.

5) Days of Dumont: My favorite obscure Roku channel brought more Dumont Network goodness just after the holiday. The School House episode alone merits a high ranking. What's not to like about a variety show set in a classroom setting and starring Wally Cox and Arnold Stang with Kenny Delmar as the teacher?

6) YouTube: Got my music fix off YT this week. Why is it so many of the official videos have garbage sound quality while the unofficial ones are the ones with the great sound quality? You'd think the record companies don't want us to enjoy free music on You--oh.

7) Shout! Factory TV: Added MDA telethon compilations dedicated to magicians and ventriloquists, plus a pair of Xmas specials of the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.   Only problem, is, not all of  this has reached the Roku yet. watch for a big leap for Shout! when it does.

8) The CW: So Legends of Tomorrow did a Civil War/Zombies episode? That show is just letting it all hang out this season.

9) TubiTV: Don't ask me why I decided to watch the pilot of Love & War this week, but I did, and the commercial load wasn't totally obnoxious, and the streaming was as smooth as the earthy charm of Jay Thomas was rough. Tubi added a bunch of movies this month, including many holiday titles, so it's worth a look.

10) Warner Archive Instant: I severed my ties with this SVOD after my free trial expired, but there is potential here. If you  look around, they are offering a discounted month, too, so that gives them one more week in the top 10 even without adding anything.



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Thursday, December 1, 2016

This week on Battle of the Network Shows: You take the good, you take the bad...

You'll avoid a lot of damage and enjoy the fun of managing the facts of life...

'For the last time, girls, you can listen to Battle of the Network Shows AFTER you clean up the kitchen."


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

More from Warner Archive Instant: Stanwyck, Ewell, and a big elephant (Warner Week)

*Illicit (1931): Another prime example of why we all need to settle down when we see the term "pre-code." It's not always that exciting. I thought this Archie Mayo pic with Babs Stanwyck, Ricardo Cortez, and the "I can never decide if I enjoy his work or if he annoys the hell out of me" Charles Butterworth would provide some thrills. Instead, it epitomized many of the stereotypes of early talkies, all right--only not in terms of crackling banter nor risqué subject matter, but in terms of long, drawn-out  monologues and a general staginess.

Stanwyck is "in a relationship" with James Rennie and wants to just live together despite his constant pushing for marriage. That alone is an interesting gender stereotype reversal, and Babs' independent-minded, assertive (most of the time) female is a compelling character. When she buckles down and agrees to marriage, the relationship starts to fizzle.

This could be the setup for a promising romantic comedy, but the movie fizzles along with the couple's passion, and the movie is just a lot of talk, much of it not particularly interesting. You know how when you were little and watched an R-rated movie hoping to see something cool, only to find out the rating was for "frank language" or something like that? That's kind of the feeling Illicit gives. Even Ricardo Cortez seems generic in this one.

*The Great American Pastime (1956): It's a pleasant enough look at suburban life through the milieu of little league baseball, but it comes off as a lifeless attempt to sort of clone Tom Ewell's Seven Year Itch persona. The most curious aspect of this movie is the casting of the female leads: Anne Francis is wasted in a bland role as Ewell's bland wife, while Ann Miller gets to play the more vixenous (if that's not a word, I'm making it one) role as a widow/mother of one of Ewell's players who makes Francis jealous. There's even a scene of Francis is a bathtub that may be designed to make the audience why in blazes Ewell never seems to notices her. This movie should be better than it is, though I realize I may have just sold it to you by mentioning Anne Francis in a bathtub.

*Maya (1967 TV series): The pilot episode was enough for me. Adapted by Stirling Silliphant from a feature film, this adventure series featured two teenagers exploring India with the titular elephant. I'd give this another shot someday for the location shooting, and the elephant is pretty cook, but I found the first episode uninspiring. My big impression was saying over and over again, "THAT'S Jay North?"

*James Fitzpatrick's Traveltalks: Washington, D.C.: At least, I tried to watch this one, but selecting it giave me the Yellowstone episode. I thought I could outsmart Warner Instant, though, with my brilliant follow-up of selecting the Yellowstone episode. You know what I got then? The Yellowstone episode. I include this item as evidence that Warner Instant still has a lot of bugs in the system.