Sunday, December 28, 2014

Journey Into Amazon Prime: Christmas Specials

So a while back I mentioned that I signed up for a free month of Amazon Prime, which includes its Instant Video streaming service. With my trial, I am not going for the high-profile originals like "Transparent" or...or...OK, Amazon doesn't have a lot of high-profile originals yet. I haven't really been checking them out, though, nor some of the exclusive reruns like "Justified" and "Orphan Black."

I'm checking out some of the oddball stuff. Finding anything that's not 'Transparent' is a major pain, but after digging, I found some cool things that aren't on Netflix, Hulu, or your cable provider's On Demand section. They may be on YouTube, but here you get them without commercials and you can resume watching where you left off. The quality should be better, too, though that's not always the case. Some of the offerings have company watermarks indicating they're lifted straight from the DVD.

Personally I like the idea  of a streaming service going through an old box of someone's VHS dubs and putting them online. Today let's look at some of the more interesting holiday-related shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video:

Christmas with the King Family: I would argue that the King Family is way off the collective radar at this point, but this wholesome bunch was all over the airwaves in the 1960s and 1970s, starring in a variety show on ABC and a slew of syndicated specials, many tied into the holidays.

This hourlong special is from 1967 and was released on DVD as an extra feature accompanying a King Family documentary. You see the Kings--and there appear to be about 50 of them, though I think many of these performers are just invited guests, but one of them is actual relative "My Three Sons" star Tina Cole--singing, doing a little dancing, doing a little (very little) comedy, and singing some more.

If you're looking for the 1967 of Vietnam, Buffalo Springfield, and social unrest, look elsewhere! This thing makes an Andy Williams special look like "Bad Santa." You will get an apparent surprise reunion involving the military, though, and if it's genuine, it's one heck of a moment. The singing is old-fashioned, and even the colors and the film look suggest looking at your parents' or grandparents' old home movies. This isn't a bad thing, though, and it's nice to see this kind of cultural artifact.

Christmas with Danny Kaye: A couple years ago, Inception Media Group released a DVD consisting of two holiday episodes of "The Danny Kaye Show," and Prime streams each one separately. The first is a black-and-white edition with Mary Tyler Moore; Peggy Lee guests in the later color episode.

The DVD is a worthwhile purchase if you're into old-time variety and/or Christmas specials, so it's really a treat to get these for "free" on Amazon. There are some entertaining comedy sketches to go with all the music, and Kaye often breaks character in amusing fashion. Harvey Korman and Jamie Farr are on hand in the color episode. Moore is charming as ever--she's maybe even more adorable than Tina Cole--and Nat King Cole, 100% class, is also in that show. One thing that amuses me: Each episode features Kaye dueting on "Jingle Bells" with the main musical guest, each time using the same "hip" arrangement with lyrics like, "in the customary one-horse open sleigh."

Also look for an impossibly young Wayne Newton on the Peggy Lee episode. I remember seeing Newton on an old Jack Benny show and being stunned. Here, he somehow looks even younger even though this is several years after that guest shot.

The All-Star Christmas Show (1958): I saw this on Hulu last year when it was labeled with a different name and different year. In short, I loved it. It's worth it if only for the bit at the beginning with all the stars introducing themselves.

The Bob Hope Chevy Show (1950): A holiday-themed installment of Hope's program includes Bob Cummings and Eleanor Roosevelt! Hope seems off, which makes his monologue even less effective than it would be 75 years later, but it's still a fun special. I have no idea why this is streaming, but I am not complaining.

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