Wednesday, June 24, 2015

I hate to say this, but...

Ever since I read that the entire series of "Seinfeld" was coming to Hulu for streaming, I have been eagerly awaiting the show's arrival. I wanted to know when it would drop (sorry, I hate saying that, but it seems really apt here). When I read it was June, I wanted to know when in June. Much to my disappointment, it was June 24, not June 1 as I first assumed, so I had an extra 3 weeks to get pumped up for the event.

Meanwhile, Crackle went to pot with an ill-advised redesign that made the channel unplayable on my Roku and intolerable when it did load. I had been following the 10 episodes per month of "Seinfeld" on Crackle, but, boy, was I ready to dump that experience for getting THE WHOLE SHEBANG all at once. No more frustration over Crackle repeating the same episodes! No more pining for certain episodes that never showed up there!

Today Hulu finally rolled out "Seinfeld," and it did it the way it ought to be done--all at once, all episodes, uncut versions. And I hate to say it, but...but...I'm feeling a little underwhelmed.

Now that I see all the episodes laid out in one place, I realize, jeez, I have seen an awful lot of these on Crackle in the last couple years. My quick scan for hidden gems didn't reveal too many that I haven't already checked out recently.

The good news is Hulu launches with ease, unlike Crackle, but the bad news is that, like Crackle, the episodes come with frequent commercial interruption. Still, I feel like an ingrate griping about this. For years I wished for one of the most iconic sitcoms to show up on a streaming video service (Granted, I wished it would show up on Netflix), and now that it's here, I get a slight twinge of "Eh." I feel like a representative example of our spoiled, instant gratification society. I don't even know what that means, but I still feel it.

I'm going to fight this off, though. I watched an episode today, and it was hilarious. That's the important thing, right? I can watch any episode anytime I want, even if I have seen it a bunch of times already. Maybe I'll just go through the show from the beginning. Maybe I'll jump around. Maybe I'll keep focusing on the old shows that are apparently expiring from Netflix this summer (that's a post for another day). I just wish I felt more excited about it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

5Q Movie Review: "The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age Smackdown"

Q: Is this just for kids, or can grown-ups enjoy it, too?
A: Well, I'm a grown-up--more or less--and I enjoyed it! I haven't shared it with my kids yet, but I think the question may be more, "Will kids enjoy it as much as the grown-ups?" Sadly, the Flintstones may not be relevant to today's youth. I do realize it is partly my generation's responsibility to rectify that situation. With that in mind, if my kids don't like it, then I'll show them the classic episodes, and by cracky, they'll like those if they know what's good for them.

It's entirely appropriate for kids, at least, though there are some PG elements like some cartoony violence, Fred drooling over the animated equivalents of the Bella Twins, and Fred drooling over Wilma showing off a new bikini (Good Lord, I hope that last statement doesn't actually sell more copies of the DVD). Also, a few touches like a character meant as a Phil Silvers homage will make the adults smile and go over the kiddies' heads...unless their folks are doing the right thing and showing them Phil Silvers' work  as part of a healthy balanced television diet.

Q: Does it FEEL like the Flintstones?
A: It feels enough like the classic version of the show to me. I give the franchise a little slack here; after all, there was not only the original prime-time series, but there were the Fruity Pebbles ads, the Fred and Barney Comedy Hour, and all kinds of revivals. "Stone Age Smackdown" fits in nicely with all of these versions, and it does capture the spirit of the one that started it all. We get names like John Cenastone, animals performing mechanical tasks, and the modern streamlined animation manages to make Bedrock look fine. It's not like Hanna Barbera's television department was known for its lush visual masterpieces, anyway.

The voice work has varying success. I thought Wilma and Betty were fine, but Barney was off to me. Again, even Mel Blanc used several voices as Barney in the original run, so there's not necessarily one sound the character "should" have, but I didn't care for this portrayal, which seemed a little closer to Blanc's early higher version that the later one that I consider MY classic one. As Mr. Slate, John O'Hurley doesn't do anything wrong, but his voice and persona are too established, and it's distracting.

As Fred, though, Jeff Bergman is outstanding, summoning the original flavor of Alan Reed's portrayal. He doesn't just do an imitation, but does subtle things with the way he does the character. This more than any one thing makes this movie "feel" like the Flintstones.

Q: Does it FEEL like the WWE?
A: Let me put it this way: Fred actually uses the term "sports entertainment" at one point, and, yes, even in a cartoon it irritates me to see Vince McMahon's corporate buzzword replace the word "wrestling." The in-ring action itself is tame and nowhere near as exciting as you'll see on the average WWE pay per view, but it gets the job done.

Fred is an amateurish promoter, but he does have some good instincts. I was stunned to see "Vince McMagma," in this story, as a businessman who basically takes Fred's idea for "sports entertainment" and is inspired to run with it. This has to be the only time Vince McMahon has ever not taken credit for inventing modern wrestling, and it's stunning to see even in this format!

The weirdest thing here is that on the "heel" side of the WWE guest list, we only get Mark Henry and CM Punk. Punk is no longer with the country, and Henry was a bigger deal when this was produced but doesn't have much to do here. Punk is fun as the bullying villain of the story, but it would have been nice to see someone else on that side of things to balance John Cena, Undertaker (semi-retired), and Rey Mysterio (also no longer with WWE). The Bella Twins have heelish interactions with Wilma and Betty (I hope THAT doesn't sell a few DVDs), but they don't really wrestle.

The characterizations are fine, though, with the real-life wrestlers bringing exactly what you would want/expect them to bring. I really enjoyed Vince McMahon as Vince McMagma, and I thought he was underutilized.

Q: How in the world do they manage a WWE/Flintstones crossover? Time Travel?
A: I always welcome time travel in cartoons, but in this case, it's not really John Cena and CM Punk interacting with the Flintstones. It's John Cenastone and CM Punkrock. They and the other characters just happen to remind us of current WWE performers.

Fred and Barney are running a charity scam--uh, a charity event enabling people to box with Hoppy, and once CM Punkrock starts beating up the poor hopparoo, owner Barney comes to his rescue, things get physical in the ring, and things go from there. Betty isn't happy about Barney getting in the ring, but Fred sees dollar signs and promotes a wrestling event featuring friends like new co-worker Cenastone and people like The Undertaker. Yes, his character is so protected, he doesn't even get a stone-aged name makeover.

Q: So, bottom line, is it worth it?
A: I laughed out loud several times and enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would, but I'm in the target audience that would be open to this kind of stunt. I think fans of Flintstones AND modern-day WWE will love this, but they should look for a deal. The feature is only about 50 minutes long. I haven't seen the Scooby-Doo/WWE crossover movie (though after seeing how good this one is, I want to do so), but that one is long enough to be a legit animated feature.

The DVD is filled out with two classic TV episodes--one wrestling-themed, the other baseball-themed. I'm not sure why they include the latter. Perhaps an episode with Wilma's mother-in-law would be more appropriate; she's a bigger heel then even CM Punkrock at his nastiest. It's nice Warner Brothers added these, but the DVD still feels a tad slight.

Still, "Stone Age Smackdown" is a lot of fun, providing family-friendly entertainment in the vein of the original series and adding elements of modern-day WWE-style pro wrestling. If that sounds appealing, you ought to give it a shot.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Thanks for nothing, Wal-Mart

That's right, last week I spoke to Hulu, and now this week it's time to address Wal-Mart. Cultureshark: Taking on the world ONE CORPORATION AT A TIME, MAN!

I heard about a DVD bargain at Wally World and went to their site to check it out. I wasn't tempted to buy it because it was already sold out. No harm, no foul. I went back to my daily Internet regimen of studying lyrics to old Toto songs.

A few days later, I got an email from Wal-Mart touting that same item. Hmm, I thought, it's back in stock. Well, yeah, it was, and I suppose that was helpful info...except that the price was...


The price was about 250% higher than the bargain price, a sale price which was the only thing that made me look at the item in the first place.

No thanks, Wal-Mart. No thanks.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cultureshark Remembers Dusty Rhodes

R.I.P. Dusty Rhodes, "The American Dream," one of pro wrestling's true immortals who somehow died today at only 69 years old. As a rabid wrestling fan growing up, I thought the Dream embodied everything that I loved and everything that I hated about the sport (Yeah, of course, I knew, but I called it a "sport," not "sports entertainment." As an adult I appreciated him so much more as a character, and now I think he just embodied wrestling, period.

Let me get this out of the way: When I first got the Jim Crockett Promotions/NWA programming in my area, I always rooted against him. Always. I was entertained by his interviews, but I resented his big shot status in the promotion and thought it killed my suspension of disbelief to see him cleaning house on so many superior athletes.

I was a Ric Flair guy, a Four Horsemen guy, and I couldn't stand seeing Flair get whipped by him. One of the most ridiculous things ever was his "Bionic Elbow," a simple elbow smash that usually showed little impact...or even effort. Worst of all was seeing the Horsemen or pretty much any other heel in the company lining up to take that Bionic Elbow.

Now, of course, I watch Dusty Rhodes footage and think that move kicks ass.  And the fact that I wanted him to lose every match doesn't mean he didn't give me a lot of great memories. Dusty was an integral part of many of the fun angles I enjoyed on SuperStation TBS back in the 1980s--the spike in the eye from the Road Warriors, his "Superpowers" team with Nikita Koloff after Magnum T.A.'s car accident, the Midnight Rider...

Yeah, the whole "wrestler loses a match and has to leave town, then comes back under a mask" gimmick is an old one, but I ate up Dusty's "Midnight Rider" shtick. Something as ridiculous as a fat guy with a big blotch on his belly wearing a mask and claiming to be someone else IS wrestling. So is the ability to address the camera without a script, start yakking, and make everyone in the audience want to see  your match. So is showing up on all the magazines at the grocery store with blood running through your blonde hair and down your forehead. And so is--let's face  it--using your power backstage to push yourself as the top babyface in the company, even if it means glomming off some of the shine from the rising stars. Hey, that's wrestling, too.

Dusty was one of those larger-than-life characters you just couldn't resist trying to imitate. Legend had it his ridiculous--there's that word again--gimmick he got in WWF, the polka-dot-wearing "Common Man" was a joke at his expense. Well, guess what? He was so entertaining that he got over even when saddled with that costume and a middle-aged valet named Sapphire. His massive charisma was clear even on a minor show like "WCW Classics" on the old Turner South. He introduced matches and just generally seemed to be having a good time. I sure as hell had a good time watching him.

Dusty Rhodes was one of the most ridiculous wrestlers ever but also one of the most awesome, because sometimes pro wrestling is best when it's a certain kind of ridiculous. That was Dusty, and that was a big part of my youth. Time to go watch some Dusty moments., and don't be offended if I come up behind you tomorrow and hit you with a Bionic Elbow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Shameless Self-Promotion: New ClassicFlix piece is up

It's TV Time again at ClassicFlix!

Before serialized drama became the norm in prime time television, it was a big deal to come across a two-part episode. You'd enjoy the program right up until some gripping cliffhanger unfolded, and then those momentous words "TO BE CONTINUED..." would appear on screen.Of course, some classic program…

Friday, June 5, 2015

Now maybe Yahoo! gets its act together

"Community" just finished a sixth season of episodes that was artistically successful but not technologically successful. Yahoo! Screen has always been a frustrating experience. It was bad news when the company bought digital rights to the "Saturday Night Live" library because the website's confusing interface and disorganization was sure to make finding anything a frustrating task. Guess what? It was!

I thought when Yahoo! spent some money for an actual TV series and (sort of) promoted it, the website would try to put together a decent online "channel" to showcase it. In turn, the increased traffic from the high-profile acquisition would show off the new Yahoo! Screen, enabling the company to invest more in developing it. But NOOOOOOOO!!!

Instead, Yahoo! continued its half-assed approach to the channel. My naivete continued after the first couple of episodes when I saw scores of complaints about how difficult it was to stream "Community" and I assumed the issues would be fixed. Several months later, the technical issues are still there, the interface is still terrible, and I don't know if Yahoo! has done anything to improve the situation.

I watched the series on the Roku version, with ad-free viewing that came at a price: Anytime I tried to fast-forward or rewind an episode, the channel would crash. Re-launching the channel would not return me to where I was in the episode. In fact, if I watched anytime after the new installment "dropped" on Tuesday, I'd probably not even get the episode, since Yahoo! Screen on Roku auto-launches to whatever it deems most "popular" at a given moment. The sad thing is, this lousy way to view the show was still probably better and more reliable than what most people  got watching directly on the website.

Now Yahoo! has acquired exclusive digital rights to an NFL game--granted, an uninteresting one, but a real regular season game--and I expect this will finally improve things. Sony and Dan Harmon and everyone else involved with "Community" may not have cared enough to put heat on Yahoo! to get its act together, but the NFL doesn't want any part of Amateur Hour. It's possible that Yahoo! bypasses its Screen thing and streams this game on its front page somehow, but I believe the pressure of the National Football League, which controls everything down to the socks its players wear on the field, will make Yahoo! put some effort into making a watchable "tv-like" facsimile available.

I was excited about a possible seventh season of "Community," but not so much if it would be on Yahoo! Now I'm more optimistic, and I hope Yahoo! has a few bucks left over to retain at least some of the cast members and give us another batch of episodes with the Greendale crew.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Quit teasing me, Hulu!

Perhaps not everyone is as obsessive as me when it comes to checking Hulu Plus each day for new additions (note that I don't say not *anyone*, but not *everyone*), so maybe this won't irritate as many folks as it does me. But I have had it with Hulu teasing me with big pictures and screengrabs of "Seinfeld," images that make me think the show is there. Of course, it ain't available yet; it's "coming July 24," and in the meantime Hulu wants us to check out clips and promos.

I don't want clips and promos. I want full episodes! I have wanted them ever since I read that Hulu acquired streaming rights to the whole series. The initial publicity said the show was coming in June, and I assumed that meant June 1. Unfortunately I made an ass out of me and me, as I discovered weeks later when Hulu said, "Oh, yeah, 'Seinfield' will be here June 24." So I have that date imprinted in my brain, an organ which is already stunted by years of television, but I still get my hopes up each time I see this "Seinfeld" tease campaign on Hulu.

I admit it's refreshing to see such a build for a new show, but enough already! Just give us the episodes. Spend some time promoting something like "Here's Edie" or "Ernie Kovacs"? Granted, you probably spent about $999,950 less per episode, but there are probably people that don't know those shows are even on your service.