Sunday, December 22, 2013

Instant Gratification Theater: Christmas options on streaming video

You might have your stack of Christmas DVDs next to the tube already, all arranged for holiday week viewing, but if you're looking for some lesser-known streaming video options this year, I recommend the following:

Hulu Plus: This service irritated me by yanking season 1 of "Kojak," but thankfully it retained season 3, which features the Christmas episode "How Cruel the Frost, How Bright the Stars." Is that title poetic or pretentious or both? YOU make the call, but make sure you go ahead and click on the episode because it's a doozy.

I will avoid spoiling all the surprises in this one, but let me tell you to look for no fewer than 3 cameos by future 1980s TV icons. Look for Theo Kojak's wistful memories of the New York City in which he grew up, contrasted to what it had become (remember, this is 1975), and a classic exclamation he shouts to no one in particular at the end of the episode that alone justifies a month's fee of Hulu Plus.

Along the way, Kojak helps some hookers with a heart of gold, does a good deal of crimestopping (and a lot--I mean, this is no deskbound cop, to be sure, but as I told my pal when touting this episode, they don't call the show "Crocker") and spreads some holiday cheer at the office party by graciously accepting, even embracing, a gag gift. Kojak is the man, and this episode deserves place in anyone's classic TV Christmas festival.

Also on Hulu is something billed as "Bing Crosby: White Christmas Show." This is a USO production from 1956 aimed at servicemen and packed--just packed, I tells ya--with stars. Best of all, it wins me over immediately by having all the celebs introduce themselves at the beginning like they're All-Americans coming out on a Bob Hope special. Some of them play it straight, but some do a little bit of business, with even Der Bingle doing a little "cough take" with his pipe as he says his name.

The rest of the 90-some minutes features comedy bits, songs, and awkward interstitial segments with the likes of Dick Powell , Gregory Peck, and Kim Novak introducing acts in a kind of quasi-rap as a jazzy beat plays. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is great, and some of it is quite dated--I'm always wary of "comic monologues" from long ago, but you have to see Dick Shawn's rock and roller parody--but all of it is entertaining. Although most of the content is not explicitly connected to Christmas, it is a great piece of holiday cheer for the whole family or even for just the enthusiast of classic Hollywood and TV. You'll see Jack Benny, Jimmy Stewart, Danny Kaye, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, a monologue from Hope himself, and much, much more.

YouTube: I'm not going to link to it because I have a paranoid fear that linking to anything on YouTube makes it more likely someone will force it down, but most if not all Dr. Katz episodes are available, including Season 1, episode 10, "Office Management." This one has routines by Ray Romano and Carol Leifer and, more germane to this post, the good doctor attempting to throw an "office party" and engage receptionist Laura in the fun. The results, of course, are hilarious.

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