Thursday, September 29, 2016

Today on Battle of the Network Shows:

Head on over to battleofthenetworkshows for episode 2 as Mike and I talk about a very special episode of The White Shadow!

Don't you dare miss it!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Instant Gratification Theater: Documentaries Return

It's been a while, but let me return to some quick takes on documentaries I watched on various streaming video platforms:

Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years: The Beatles are the best everything everywhere in all of history, so if you put a movie about them up on Hulu, I'm going to watch it. Add the pedigree of acclaimed director Ron Howard and a promise to focus on the live concert experience of the band, and, actually I didn't expect all that much. I expected to enjoy it, but I kind of feared a safe, middle-of-the-road approach that would be designed for a more general audience as opposed to the hardcores.

That's what the movie is. Despite the subtitle  and the announced emphasis on the Beatles as a touring act--I remember the early calls for fans to share any footage they had--Eight Days a Week veers off a bit into more general territory and becomes almost a watered-down version of the epic Beatles Anthology. Personally I would have rather seen more vintage footage. What is in here looks and sounds great, and really if you want to provide a sense of the group as live performers, here's a novel concept: Show us more of the group as live performers. No disrespect to the likes of Elvis Costello, but the real thing is much more effective than talking heads telling us about it.

That said, the documentary is professionally put together, though I could have done without pointless "modern" touches like colorization of archival footage (I was marveling at how good one of the clips looked, and then I thought, hey, wait a minute...) and bizarre cigarette smoke effects added to old stills. It's nice to hear from Paul and Ringo in new interviews. most importantly, it's the Beatles.

I imagine this would be a great experience in a theater surrounded by Beatlemaniacs. At home on Hulu, it's worth seeing but not at all revelatory. I still think I would be more excited by an official release of the Let It Be film, but I will (and did) gladly take something like this and enjoy it.

Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy: A low-budget documentary focusing on JFK assassination theories from the point of view of famed conspiracy theorist Jim Marrs. Back in the heady days of Oliver Stone-induced conspiracy fever, I devoured Marrs' book of the same name. I caught this documentary version during a trial of Amazon Prime many moons ago, but it's still available.

The movie isn't sophisticated, and it throws a lot of stuff at you without being as absorbing as the book, but it is entertaining. Marrs is a real character, and his guided tour of sorts through conspiracy facets of the assassination is a fun watch.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My favorite Vin Scully moment

Writing about an old episode of Alcoa Theatre called "Flashing Spikes" a few years ago, I described long-long-longtime L.A. Dodgers broadcaster as America's unofficial most beloved broadcaster. Well, it's Vin's final season, and I think it's now official. As Scully goes out in his usual classy fashion (you just don't hear stories that begin with, "Remember the time Vin had to apologize for..." or "Did you hear him in the eighth? More like GIN Scully..."), players, fans, and fellow media members are sharing their favorite memories of the legendary announcer.

I'm pretty sure I fall into the middle category--I try not to brag about my "B" League pitching/third base experience back in the day--so let me join the chorus. My favorite Vin Scully moment is a simple one. It's not an elaborate turn of phrase, and it's notable as much for his restraint as anything, but it's a moment that gives me chills each time I see it.

Game 1 of the 1988 World Series is one of the all-time classic baseball moments. The Dodgers rallied in the ninth inning against the heavily favored Oakland A's, and injured star Kirk Gibson hobbled off the bench to deliver a pinch-hit home run off closer Dennis Eckersley. It was a storybook ending as long as you weren't rooting for the A's, and you still see the home run over and over again, accompanied by Scully's perfect narration, a combination of awe and respect for the moment.

I like to back it up before the actual home run, though, to when Gibson starts walking out of the dugout. I can't say why, exactly, I love this so much, but the way Scully says, "And look who's coming up," as he sees Gibson gets me every time. The crowd is buzzing, and everyone at home and in the booth knows what a big deal it is. Yet Scully doesn't belabor the point. With one simple phrase--"And look who's coming up"--he manages to set up the moment in a perfect manner, conveying a certain sense of, "Oh, wow," without yelling or otherwise ruining the drama. Then he and partner Joe Garagiola let the drama build for a minute while the Dodger fans go nuts.

If you haven't seen this, especially in context, it might seem ridiculous to identify "And look who's coming up," as the single best moment in a career that spanned over 60 years and countless events.  It's one of my all-time favorites, though, and it's something I like to watch every year or so. It's hard to describe just why I love it so much, but to me it blends my favorite sport, a great announcer, and history in a moment that never fails to rekindle my love of baseball.

Monday, September 26, 2016

TV Time Bonus: More from Dragnet: the movie (1954)

I know, I know: I'm getting so much mileage out of that ClassicFlix article about movie adaptations of classic TV shows, I should take the blog in for an oil change. I can't let it go, though, without sharing some of my favorite moments from Dragnet, a fun flick that expands on the concept of the classic radio/TV drama and makes a credible feature-length extension of the world Jack Webb created.

Don't see a lot of shots like this one on the TV show!

This is the beginning of the movie, folks! Hard-hitting!

Webb's interrogation of Stacy Harris' character is one of the highlights of the film.

I kind of want to hang out at the Red Spot.

Time for a good old-fashioned brawl! This fight scene is one of the best action sequences Dragnet ever delivered.

Took its toll on the boys, though.

That crumpled up paper? That's what Friday thinks of namby-pamby concepts like the Fifth Amendment (some suspects used the papers to declare their intention to invoke it).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 26

Here we go!

1) Hulu: Not a huge week for Hulu in terms of buzz/news, but content is king in these power rankings, and this is the time of year we remember that, hey, all the new TV (except CBS shows, and that may be a plus) is gonna be here. I also give Hulu credit for the Ron Howard Beatles doc and this weekend's debut of Sicario.

2) Netflix: Another week full of announcements, but I am hoping that the guy who said Netflix plans to have 50% of its content originals was misinterpreted. I'd hate to see them achieve that by continuing to shed catalog stuff.

Still, Netflix scored a few key Emmy wins and debuted new series Easy plus Zootopia (as in, "Hey, see, we get new movies, too!")

3) HBO Now: Emmys for outstanding comedy (Veep) and drama (Game of Thrones) give everyone a reminder that, hey, HBO Now has all episodes of two big favorites.

4) Amazon Prime: In the wake of some Emmy love, flagship series Transparent returns for its third season. More importantly, Prime video apparently added a bunch of old NBC Real People episodes. What a wonderful random add that is! Almost makes me want to sign up for a month.

5)  TuneIn: Hey, did you know you can find the new, exciting Battle of the Network Shows podcast here? Play it on demand! That and Deep Oldies Radio is enough to merit a ranking. I love Deep Oldies. Not every song is an obscure one, but when was the last time you heard The Idle  Race (with a young Jeff Lynne) and Days of the Broken Arrows on any radio station?

6) YouTube: Boy, did I go down the rabbit hole watching old videos of The Motels this week...and I loved it!

7) MLB.TV: Still plenty of drama this last month even though most division races are all but settled. Pirates had a good week, but it's too little too late.

8) Pub-D-Hub: Added a Richard Diamond episode this week. That's always welcome.

9) Shout! Factory TV: Hey, Shout!, howzabout adding The Norm Show next month?

10) PRO Classics: I finally got a chance to watch something on the revamped version of this one, and I was pleasantly surprised that the episode of The Comedy Shop was not riddled with commercials. Unfortunately, programs aren't loading as I write this, so I probably shouldn't rank this, but here's hoping it's just a blip. Free plus ad-free (or at least low-ad) is a great combo.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Shameless Self-Promotion (again): New review at ClassicFlix!

Hey, folks! Sorry to run plugs for myself two days in a row, but ClassicFlix  posted my review of the frst season of the long-running but oft-forgotten Western anthology Death Valley Days.

Here's a little preview: Hit the link to see the rest, and tell 'em Cultureshark sent you! Don't ya dare miss it! (Also, come back this weekend for the SVOD Power Rankings, and I will have more actual content here on the blog next week)

Death Valley Days - Season 1
It's All in a Day's Work: Death Valley Days, Season 1
09/21/2016 | by Rick Brooks
With eighteen seasons and well over 500 episodes, Death Valley Days is one of the longest-running television programs never to receive a legitimate season set on DVD...until now! Through its Timeless label, Shout Factory has brought the first season of this half-hour Western anthology in a 3-disc set containing all eighteen half-hour episodes.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Battle of the Network Shows is here!

If you enjoy what I do here, I'd urge you to give my new podcast a shot. My friend Michael Cowgill and I revisit television of the 1970s and 1980s with spontaneous discussions about hand-picked episodes.

You can get Battle of the Network Shows, which is totally free, on iTunes, via RSS, Stitcher, on TuneIn radio...anywhere  you get podcasts, but hit for direct downloads plus show notes and other content from us!

We published episode 0, the "Primetime Preview Special," last week, but this week is the official debut of the show, with a look at a great episode of The Incredible Hulk.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fall Movie Preview

Note that my selective "preview" is basically a list of movies I might want to see at some point. Also note that I rarely see movies in the thea-TAH anymore, so it may be a long time before I DO see any of these.

*Sully (now playing): Eastwood. Hanks. Other surnames. Should be a stirring flick. I predict that in about two years, there will be about 10 copies at any given time at my liberry, but I won't really feel like seeing it by that point. Respect, though, because Eastwood and Hanks are AMERICAN ICONS. (Cue "Battle Hymn of the Republic," please.)

*Storks (9/23): Animated Warner Brothers film looks charming enough, but I include it because, hey, I went to the same school as the co-director!

*Tower (10/12): It's hard to believe that this is the first documentary about the infamous 1966 shootings on the University of Texas campus, if only because it feels like tons of movies have been inspired by the event. "Tower" looks to take an interesting approach.

*Dr. Strange (11/4): I don't know about this one, but I like to see all the Marvel movies, so might as well be honest and put it on the list. It certainly seems like this will be an unconventional superhero movie. One might even say odd...weird...bizarre...unusual...It feels like I'm missing a word here that would be perfect.

*Nocturnal Animals (11/23): I know what you're thinking. Romantic thriller. Amy Adams. Huh? Huh?

Well, wash your mind out with soap! Amy Adams is a talented actress, not a sex object. Jeez. I totally didn't think anything along those lines at all!

This looks like an interesting one, though, as Adams reads her ex-husband's novel and thinks, "Hmm, the characters in this violent revenge fantasy remind me of someone--namely, me and my ex-husband." So you get a story within a movie as other talented people play the characters in the novel somehow. Could be a real mind twister. And Isla Fisher as the character in the novel Adams thinks is based on her is awesome casting.

*Allied (11/23): Well, this one just got a whole lot of pub from the Brangelina divorce news. My eyebrow raises when I see a movie compared, even in passing, to "Casablanca." Someone in "Entertainment Weekly" referenced the costumes and/or the setting, and, well, that do get my attention. I like the idea of a WWII-era movie of intrigue and romance, and while Robert Zemeckis doesn't necessarily mean credibility these days, I'll give this a shot.

*Moana (11/23): While I'm being honest, I might as well admit that I'm gonna see the big Disney movie eventually, one way or the other. I can only hope that this one is decent. Sad thing is, I'm not excited about the guy from "Hamilton" doing the songs because I don't know much about "Hamilton," but I do know The Rock's work. As a bonus, it looks like the regular Disney/racism/cultural appropriation controversy is playing out early this time.

*The Founder (12/16): Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, who kicked out his brothers to take over development of McDonald's. Yeah, yeah, but will this movie cover his stewardship of the San Diego Padres and their cool taco uniforms?

*Passengers (12/21): Here's the summary from a quick Google search:
Awakened from suspended animation 90 years too soon, two space travelers (Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt) must find a way to save the other 5,000 passengers aboard their endangered ship
I suppose a lot of people will go gaga over Lawrence and Pratt, but I just think the premise is compelling. Maybe they just say, "Eh, what are you gonna do?" and hog the whole ship themselves.

*Sing (12/21): I've had it with singing competitions--actually never had it--but this is a cartoon! Should at least be something different. Matthew McConaughey and John C. Reilly as a koala/sheep buddy team is worth a watch.

*Gold (12/25): If McConaughey as a koala doesn't do it for you, well, how about as a prospector searching the jungles of Borneo for gold? Stephen Gaghan said some promising things about this one. He should considering HE wrote and directed it, but still, I'm on board.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Brooks on Books: "Sit, Ubu, Sit" by Gary David Goldberg

The late Gary David Goldberg's memoir, "Sit, Ubu, Sit," is a warm and engaging read,. It takes its title from the famous title card that appears at the end of his television shows, a tribute to his former Labrador. The story of Ubu alone makes this worth a look.  In Goldberg's tales of his early adulthood, Ubu is elevated to a co-star of the story, almost taking on mythical qualities. What ultimately happens to Ubu is surprising and epitomizes the tone of the book: Goldberg lays it out with honesty and emotion/

Since Goldberg is best known for creating and showrunning "Family Ties," I should tell you there isn't nearly as much about that series as you would expect.  Oh, there are some good stories, both familiar (like how he talked NBC exec Brandon Tartikoff into accepting Michael J. Fox as Alex Keaton) and unfamiliar, but it's kind of a shallow exploration of what was in its day a very successful program.

You get a funny account of the ill-fated (creatively, that is; it scored in the ratings) "trip to England" TV movie and the scoop on why the series called it quits when it did, but you get barely anything about Meredith Baxter-Birney, Michael Gross, Justine Bateman, or Tina others. Not only that, there is but a brief section on Goldberg's critically lauded CBS dramedy "Brooklyn Bridge."

What you DO get is a detailed look at his life with his longtime girlfriend and eventual wife, Diana Meehan, and an emphasis on how he got into the business. You read more about his work on "The Bob Newhart Show" and "The Tony Randall Show" than on just about any of his non-"Ties" work, including the feature films he directed and/or produced. The narrative jumps back and forth, starting with his early adventures with Diana, heading to the heady success of the 1980s, jumping back again to his childhood, and then moving more or less for a while on two tracks until we get to the 1990s and two major stories: His reuniting with Michael J. Fox to create "Spin City" and Diana's harrowing near-fatal battle with debilitating illness.

Aha, remember "Spin City"? That series was a lot more tumultuous behind the scenes than I knew. Tensions between Fox and Goldberg destroyed their long friendship, tough fortunately they reconciled well before this memoir's 2008 publication. Goldberg provides a frank and wrenching story of the emotional toll that took on him, and his telling of his wife's mysterious malady is chilling but ultimately inspirational.

It's clear how much Goldberg loved Meehan, but it's arguable that the real co-star of the book is Fox. "Sit, Ubu, Sit" is really two love stories, and one is Goldberg and the beloved star. As fascinating as the 'Spin City" section is, it's all about the deteriorating creative and personal situation with those two. I don't think anyone else in the cast, except maybe Barry Bostwick, is even named. There's not a lot of detail, either, as the root of the issue seems to be Fox's desire to play his character darker against Goldberg's instincts. But you just aren't going to get a lot of trivia and minutiae about specific episodes or creative decisions on "Ties" nor on "Spin City."

That's not a dealbreaker, though, because Goldberg tells what he does tell with a lot of humor and self-deprecation. He realizes how amazing his journey from hippie to multimillionaire producer is, and his saga is a lot of fun. I enjoyed the stories of his naïve first days working with MTM Productions as a writer, then becoming a young producer dealing with a quite seasoned Tony Randall.  His early hippie stories are entertaining, and his parallel love stories are endearing.  It's a relief to read how fully he and Fox repaired their friendship. It's admirable that Goldberg is willing to give Fox much of the benefit of the doubt, speculating that maybe he wasn't ready to completely embrace his one-time protégé as the creative and business equal he yearned to be on "Spin City."

Hardcore "Family Ties" and "Spin City" fans may be disappointed, but Michael J. Fox fans will find it a must read, and since I can't imagine any fans of either sitcom NOT being a fan of Fox, I recommend they take a look. "Sit, Ubu, Sit" is a quick read but a moving one with a pleasant combination of show business and real life.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 25

25 is a nice milestone number. To commemorate it, I am considering starting a weekly power ranking of weekly power rankings. Until then, let's take a look at the latest top 10:

1) Hulu: A mere one week after I say Netflix is pretty much default number one, Hulu gets the top spot/ What happened? The Beatles happened, that's what. Much respect to Hulu for debuting the brand-new Ron Howard documentary "Eight Days a Week" this weekend.  I haven't seen it yet, but just the fact that it IS excites me.

I have made no secret of  the lackluster state of Hulu in recent weeks, but I made an effort this week to check out some of the older shows I hadn't watched for a while.  Plus new fall TV is starting to show up, and it's just nice to be able to catch the new "South Park" the next day. This is a good time for Hulu Appreciation Week.

2) Netflix: And yet Netflix has another big week news-wise, what with announcing original series, acquiring movies, getting sued by 20th Century Fox...OK, so it wasn't all good, but I did check out a movie on Netflix this week. The bad news is, I watched it because it was set to expire this weekend--another reminder of the aggravation of constant catalog churn.

3) YouTube: I would gladly make this deal with YT, and you can tell me if you're with me: Anything post-2000 could be removed and never allowed on there. In exchange, YT and various rights holders agree not to remove anything PRE-2000 once it us uploaded.

4) WWE Network: Indulge me one more week, non-fans: Current WWE is a lot of crap, but it just finished an acclaimed run of the network-exclusive "Cruiserweight Classic" tournament, and people who watched raved about it, so let's give it a good ranking for one more week. It continues to tempt me to re-up.

5) Pub-D-Hub: Two reminders:1) I rate the Gold version, which costs a few bucks a year, so while I think of it as "free," it really isn't.  2) It does not have ad breaks. The other day, I was checking out one of the myriad Roku channels that offers public domain content and found an interesting movie. Then I remembered, hey, that might be on Pub-D-Hub. So the choice is to watch it on this other channel with frequent interruption or watch it on Pub-D-Hub without.

6) Watch TCM: Some of what you could have watched here last week: Casablanca, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,Wheeler and Woolsey, and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. It's why I keep violating my informal "don't rank things that require authentication and aren't on Roku" rule with this one.

7) MLB.TV: I'm not taking out the Pirates' losses on MLB TV, as I said last week. Hey, this week I got to see a near no-hitter end in spectacular fashion as well as action from a couple Yankees/Red Sox games.  You know, 'cause you NEVER see the Yankees/Red Sox on regular TV.

8) Shout! Factory TV: As I did with Hulu, I stopped worrying about new adds and went aback and enjoyed something that's been on for a while: "Dobie Gillis."

9) MyRetroFlix: Added a few new titles, but, man, I watched an old episode of "This Is Your Life" (a young--no, really young at the time--Dick Clark), and the commercial load was almost soul-crushing: Several minutes before the program began, then multiple ad breaks throughout.

10) Crackle: I half-heartedly give Crackle credit for debuting a new series with Martin Freeman  ("Start Up"), but it's been a slow month, and today the website isn't even loading for me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Brooks on Books: Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strips Volume 2, 1979-1981

Talk about a pleasant surprise at the liberry! It was a thrill to even see "Amazing Spider-Man Newspaper Strips" on the shelf, and reading it was even more pleasurable than I expected. The comic strip is better than I remembered, and IDW does a tremendous job of packaging it.

Stan Lee writes and John Romita Sr. draws these Spidey adventures, though towards the end of the volume, Lee's brother Larry Lieber assumes art duties. An excellent preface by IDW/Library of American Comics editor Bruce Canwell explains that Romita left the strip due to frustrations with of the limitations of the format, especially the small panels. Lieber does a creditable job in the small sample here, but Romita's stuff is incredible. The main characters look great, and you wouldn't sense Romita's disappointment with a limited canvas from looking at his work. You have to enjoy little touches he provides such as seemingly throwing a gorgeous woman into the panel whenever possible. If Peter is riding the subway, you can be sure some babe will be sitting nearby...just because.

Stan Lee deserves equal credit for making this such an entertaining book. His dialogue is filled with the repartee and punchlines you'd expect and only occasionally feels awkward (In one scene, Aunt May thinks to herself after an exchange with a deceptively chirpy Mary Jane, "Despite her banter..." May casually thinking the word "banter" seems a bit much in that context).  Best of all, though, Lee's plotting excels. Devouring entire storylines in a single setting thanks to this collected format may give a skewed impression, but the pacing of the strip is outstanding. The stories themselves are compelling, with a mixture of familiar villains and interesting situations.

In this run, Spidey tangles with a vengeful Kingpin, opposes a charismatic cult leader, and faces off with the Prowler. He also considers marriage (not to Mary Jane) and experiences a webful of angst over revealing his secret identity to his girlfriend. he has money troubles, Aunt May troubles, and, yep, relationship troubles, just like you would expect your favorite wall crawler to endure.

I think my favorite storyline is the one in which Kraven makes public accusations that Spider-Man is a space alien and challenges him to appear on television to prove otherwise.  On the flip side, at one point Lee has Peter give up being Spidey--didn't that happen like every year? The real head scratcher is the last storyline in this collection, which has Peter resorting to crime to raise money. Lee tries to justify that one, but it does not ring true in any way, shape, or form and is the one real misstep in this volume.

One of the joys of the strip is the frequency of celebrity cameos--usually not named, but identifiable thanks to Romita's fine renderings. Sometimes you only see a notable for a panel or maybe a strip or two, as with Richard Nixon's appearance. However, the likes of Mike Wallace and Tom Snyder have key roles in the storylines.

Sometimes the references crack me up, like when Peter calls his girlfriend Carole and suggests they listen to the new Bee Gees album he just acquired. Mary Jane Watson, who is all sass in this volume, is assisting Kraven in his showbiz act and tells him she wants to get home in time to watch "Laverne and Shirley."

IDW reproduces the strips in glorious black and white and color (the Sundays), and rather than pick arbitrary dates, it bases the assortment included on storylines so we're not jumping in the middle or left hanging. Volume 2 takes us from January 1979 into 1981.

I haven't had more fun reading Spider-Man nor comic strips in general in a long time. Here's hoping IDW continues this series, and here's hoping cheapo Rick can get copies of the books from the library. I know I'm anxious to check out Volume 1 and Volume 3 now.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Summer of Angst: The Epic Conclusion

Time for one final look at The Lost Television Legacy of James Dean, an outstanding but unheralded DVD release featuring the early small screen work of Buddy Hackett. No, it's James Dean, of course.

You KNOW it's quality entertainment when it carries the Bob Montgomery Seal of Approval

If anyone can pull this look off, it's Dean

Ol' Dutch Reagan is in the house as well

Paul Lukas reportedly hated working with the mumbly Dean, who saved himself for broadcast and half-assed the rehearsals.
Overall, there is a wide variety of television, a wide variety of Dean, and, yes, a wide variety of angst. I highly recommend this collection and wish I could give it more attention than a series of screencaps.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 24

We all know that NCAA football polls are rife with agendas, ignorance, and apathy. You can always count on the Streaming Video Power Rankings, though, because what is more credible than the whimsical weekly ponderings of one biased individual?

1) Netflix: As is abundantly clear by now, if Netflix doesn't irritate me in a given week (and deleting more Disney cartoons this month is a step in that direction), it's tough to unseat it. One thing I will point out: ABC show "Galavant" debuted on Netflix this week--both seasons. I was always kind of interested in it, but I was disappointed when I was unable to stream it before season 2. Now, in typical ABC fashion, the whole series comes to Netflix after it's canceled. Way to build an audience! I'm sure "Agent Carter"will arrive any day now after ABC has ensured there will be no use in growing the series' base.

2) WWE Network: I am still not a subscriber, but this week's "Hidden Gems" drop, featuring a piece of footage considered a Holy Grail (actually, considered lost forever) and other cool rarities, is an impressive glimpse into what this COULD have been doing all along.

3) Shout! Factory TV: Deserves a high spot if only for the great episode of "The Dick Cavett Show" I saw this week: Little Richard being Little Richard, Rita Moreno, and Erich Sagal being a good sport when confronted by haughty critic John Simon.

4) YouTube: I am not at all bothered by the fact that I complain about commercials on all these channels, then put on YouTube and watch tons of old commercials.

5) Pub-D-Hub: Some weeks, you just want to watch some 1960s TV news footage, a "Cowboy G-Men," and a "My Little Margie." this was one of those weeks.

6) MLB TV: Yeah, the Pirates stink lately, but I'm not taking it out on MLB TV.

7) Hulu: Don't get me wrong, there is still tons to watch on Hulu--tons--but new adds have been blah for weeks. I feel like Hulu needs something big.

8) My Retro Flix: Props to this channel again now that I actually have watched something on it. It has some legit advertisers (I think it was a big car company  that I saw--Honda, maybe), but not too many, based on the fact it repeats the same ads over and over. Still, that's a good sign and indicates to me that they may actually be licensing some of the non-PD content. I plan to write more about this channel soon. (By the way, what did I watch? Why, 'Devil Girl from mars," of course)

9) Tune In: You know, Pandora (like many other big streaming music Roku channels)  is just fine if you want to hear songs you like, but the Deep Oldies Radio station on here plays some things from the 60s I never heard before.

10) PRO Classics: Peter Rodgers Organization, that is, a company which has streaming rights for various titles and is sharing some of its library in this free (ad-supported, of course) channel. This is version 2.0; there was a PRO Roku channel years ago that eventually vanished. Some of this content is available elsewhere ("I Spy" and "Rifleman" are on Hulu, and more of them), but I don't think "Movin' On" is easy to find, let alone in a FREE service. Let's keep an eye on this one.

Friday, September 9, 2016

We need more TV icon statues

I hope everyone's happy with the replacement Lucille Ball statue that was unveiled in her hometown in New York. Folks derided the "scary Lucy" as if it were a bad thing. Sure, it was a horrible likeness, but it's still better than colorizing the old episodes. In fact, I think the original version had a certain unique charm. Mind you, I wouldn't show it to my children, but not all public sculpture is made for the public.

I think the hardcore TV lovers deserve more statues, and I'd enjoy a museum filled with twisted versions of beloved small screen characters. The reaction to "Scary Lucy" tells me that isn't going to happen anytime soon and that we will have to settle for the humdrum "realistic" artwork that "looks like the subjects."

Yet I doubt the average Tussaud's Wax Museum is filled with the kind of statues I'd like to see. Oh, every one has an Elvis and a Marilyn, and maybe the Scary Lucy will in time find its way somewhere other than the nightmares of appalled Desilu fans. Here are the statues I would like to see scattered around the nation if not in a Classic TV Museum (I'll contribute a crisp fiver if anyone can get that off the ground):

1) Mel Sharples (in white work outfit with spatula in hand)

2) Bailey Quarters (Who says Loni Anderson was the only "statuesque" one on "WKRP"?)

3) Speed from "The Odd Couple"

4) Frank Cannon

5) James Evans

6) Uncle Arthur

7) Hazel Burke

8) Mrs. Manicotti (one of my favorite unsung "Honeymooners" characters)

9) Tennessee Tuxedo

10) The Gorn that Kirk duels in "Star Trek"

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Half-Assed Gourmet: What the heck is a Whopperito?

I would write more about the happenin' fast food trends in America, but usually by the time I get around to trying a new menu item, it's gone, so forget about me actually getting one AND putting up a post. Last I checked, though, Burger King's Whopperito was still around, so let me share my experience with it.

It began, as I believe all Burger King experiences do, with a discussion about McDonald's, followed by an attempt to go to McDonald's. I actually enjoy BK's burgers more, but let's face it. McD's is number one with just about everyone, my kids included, all things being equal.

Rarely in this world are all things equal, so when my children surprised me with a request to go to Burger King instead, that's where we ended up. Don't get too cocky, though, BK; my daughter suggested the audible because she figured it would be less crowded. She was right, of course.

Earlier that day, my friend and I lamented McDonald's axing of the Southern Style Chicken Sandwich a while back; sure, it was a Chik-Fil-A ripoff, but some of us have to eat on Sundays. Anyway, she mentioned the Whopperito, which I thought was a hoax by the restaurant chain, if not her. "Whopperito!" I scoffed. "That sounds ridiculous!"

Yet as I stood at the counter at Burger King with my kids and looked at the big picture of the Whopperito, I couldn't help but wonder--Actually, I wondered, where the hell did my kids go, as they ran to get a table and left me to get all the food. Then I wondered if maybe I should try this attractively priced, exotically named menu item. I OWED it to my friend to report back, I concluded.

First there was the little matter of investigating what kind of bizarre condiment was ruining the Whopperito. Every new burger has some kind of mayo or special sauce lurking under the bun, just waiting to spoil every bite. I asked the gentleman at the register, "Uh...there isn't any kid of sour cream or weird sauce on that, is there?"

"Let me check," he replied. "No, there's no sour cream."

"You're sure?"

"No, that white stuff is just the queso sauce."

I don't like hearing phrases like "the white stuff" from someone who's about to give me food, and I was tempted to ask him to verify that "queso" wasn't BK corporate speak for "sour cream," but I ordered it anyway. You only live once, and probably barely even that long if you order stuff like Whopperitos.

Longtime readers will expect me to report that there was indeed sour cream on the Whopperito and that it ruined my meal, but I am happy to report the guy didn't do me wrong. No sour cream, special sauce, or anything like that. So right away, Whopperito > Whopper.

This combination of burrito and Whopper includes some beef--ah, wait, ~FLAME-BROILED~ beef--wrapped up in a tortilla. It's lightly seasoned but distinctive enough to let you know it's not a regular burger. Also included: lettuce, tomatoes, sliced onions (Incidentally, the guy at the register wasn't totally on the ball, as the "white stuff" in the pic was the onions), queso sauce, and the only real surprise I found: pickles.

It was bizarre enough that even the kids asked me if I was sure I wanted to eat it, but it surprised me. The Whopperito is rather tasty. The seasoning of the beef is not overpowering, the vegetables added some nice texture and crunch, and the wrap wasn't too wrappy. It felt substantial. Best of all, unlike a Chipotle burrito, it didn't give me E coli.

My complaints: The queso sauce was skimpy. The whole thing was a tad drier, and I think some extra queso would do the trick. The pickles didn't bother me, but I can see a lot of people disliking them in this kind of burrito thingy. Overall, though, the combination of decent taste and low relative price made me feel I got good value from it.

I'm not one of those people who pretends to dislike all fast food or at least feels the need to tell everyone how bad it is. I will admit that if I looked too closely at the Whopperito or saw it being prepared, I probably wouldn't want it. But on this unexpected Burger King visit (again, aren't they all?) it got the job done.

Introducing my new fast food rating system: 1 to 5 stars, with:

5 ***** - Excellent. I'd make a special trip to get the item.
4 **** - Very good. I might get it again next time I'm there.
3 *** - OK, but I probably wouldn't get it again without a deal or some kind of coupon.
2 ** - Did not like, would not get it again.
1* - The thought of it makes me want to go somewhere else.

On this scale, I give the Whopperito ****. Well done, Burger King. I'd still rather have a Southern Style Chicken Sandwich, though.

My complaints:

Monday, September 5, 2016

Farewell, Summer of Angst! James Dean lives on...

Today marks the end of Emotional Summer and the beginning of Emotional Fall (TM Michael Cowgill), and so it is time to retire this recurring feature. I apologize for not covering everything on the 3-disc as I originally intended, but I wasn't able to see all of it due to circumstances beyond my control, and I wasn't able to write about all I did see due to me not getting around to it.

Once again, I highly recommend "The Lost Television Legacy: James Dean," an excellent package compiling the icon's small screen work, and I hope my modest efforts shed a little light on an underappreciated but welcome collection.

On this Labor Day holiday, let's enjoy some more of ol' J.D. in other episodes on the DVDs:

One segment in the collection is a partial reconstruction of existing footage from a lost "Lux Video Theatre" broadcast. Very little survives, but I appreciate its inclusion:

"Aw, shucks!"

You want ANGST? Here's an episode of "Studio One" teaming Dean with special guest star (Oh, OK, he's actually the star while James has a small but pivotal role) Abe Lincoln!

You're tearing me apart!

A better look at Honest Abe

Southern gentleman Dean and a young Cloris Leachman in another period drama from "Hallmark of Hall Fame":
Unfortunately, he doesn't really go with a Southern accent

With John Carradine in an amusing sketch on "The Kate Smith Hour":

You don't just waltz onto "The Kate Smith Hour" without being prepared to do some ACTING

And finally, a little something from one of the few programs on this DVD set I had already seen, "Campbell Soundstage's" "Something for an Empty Briefcase."


Look how cool he is in that shot, man. I think that's a good way to close our Summer of Angst...

Except that I have more screencaps from Disc 3! Tell you what, I'm in no hurry to say good-bye to Summer. Let's extend the Summer of Angst one more week and look at some more James Dean next Monday.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 23

As Earth Wind and Fire sang, "September..." Uh, I don't actually remember any of the other words to that song. It is a new month, though, and that means new content for many streaming sites.

1) Netflix: Even though the big monthly catalog drop is a thing of the past, you usually get a few interesting nuggets--the "Jaws" movies and "Saving Private Ryan" are examples this month--but this is still the kind of week that reminds you why Netflix is top dog: It's spending a ton of money and has no problem getting people to hype it.

This week brings season 2 of "Narcos," more teaser footage for "Luke Cage," and an official announcement "Stranger Things" is coming. Plus a new Christopher Guest film is scheduled for next month. It is kind of weird that "Everybody Loves Raymond" leaves (was this another short licensing deal like "MASH"?) and that a mere weeks after trumpeting the presence of all Albert Brooks' films, "Defending Your Life" is already gone, but Netflix generates so much buzz with all its news that I think most people forget (or get over) that sort of thing.

Really, though, I just wasted a lot of words because as soon as I read that Alison Brie was attached to the upcoming GLOW series, I knew Netflix was gonna be number 1. God help the other streaming services' chances when this show actually debuts.

2) YouTube: I had about 3 moments this week of, "Hey, I wonder if that's on YouT--Cool! It is!"

3) MLB TV: On one hand, I saw a lot of exciting, close baseball. OTOH, the Pirates lost 4 games in a row.

4) Shout! Factory TV: My first thought was to chide Shout! for adding nothing this year apart from Dick Cavett and "Mystery Science Theater." Then I thought, hey, those are good things to add, and besides, Shout! is not removing other content (that I have noticed).  Sometimes you have to give the free services a little slack.

5) Hulu: Very little of interest in the September 1 movie drop--mostly the same modern MGM movies being rotated through all the streaming services.

6) Pub-D-Hub: Don't sleep on a channel that uploads a "Richard Diamond" and a "I Led Three Lives" in the same update.

7) Dumont Days: I said I'd watch more of this channel this week, and by Philo, I did. "Rocky King, Detective" is no Martin Kane, but I'm glad to give this a spot for another week.

8) SeeSo: Still under the radar, this second-tier service quietly keeps adding original content like standup exclusives and a series called "Take My Wife" that has generated some positive attention.

9) WWE Network: After a big SummerSlam, an even better-received NXT Takeover, and increasing buzz for its weekly Cruiserweight series, one might think WWE Network has some momentum, but what really makes me think about re-upping is all the 1988 and 1989 NWA/WCW it's adding.

(EDIT: After I posted this, WWE circulated a list of "Hidden Gems" coming to the Network Tuesday, one of which is a Holy Grail match long thought never taped. Gonna be a huge deal if it's legit)

10) Crackle: The more you use Crackle, the more its flaws become apparent. It takes longer to load than anything else on my Roku, the ads are aggravating, and it's unpredictable (The list of shows leaving Crackle in September that has circulated includes several shows that aren't even on Crackle right now, like "Hart to Hart" and "My Two Dads").

The main reason this is sliding out of the top 10, though, is one I hate to admit: After the first couple episodes, "Grady" ain't that great, and "Fantasy Island" is dull without better guest stars. Give me a Bert Convy guest shot in October, Crackle.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Appalling slight to a great performer

A recent "Entertainment Weekly" featured a profile of Chris Pine, a fluffy and short piece designed to put over the idea that he is not just a franchise player, but a SERIOUS ACTOR. Indeed, his latest film is well received, and he's getting praise for it. Good for him.

What gets me is the casual reference Pine makes to his father, legendary Robert Pine, man of many roles but perhaps best known as Sgt. Getraer on "CHiPs." He says something like, "My father was an actor."

Your father was an actor? Your father was an actor? Your father is freaking Robert Pine! He was Getraer, he was in one of the best damn commercials of all time (more on that in a different project this Fall), and he was on "The Match Game," for crying out loud!

I am sure Chris Pine meant no disrespect, and I prefer to believe he gushed about his padre for several minutes. No, I blame "Entertainment Weekly," which probably doesn't recognize anything from the late 1970s/early 1980s not done by Spielberg or Lucas. Shame on you, "EW," for not providing Pine's full quote or at least some context.

Bobby Pine is not some scrub journeyman who merits only a passing mention. Would the magazine publish a story with Rumer Willis saying, "Yeah, my dad was an actor"?

Just to remind us all of the greatness of Robert Pine, here's another screencap from "Munster, Go Home!" in which Pine played a suave Englishman:

"Darling, would a mere actor emote like this?"

And just because, here's a more seasoned Pine running on the beach as Getraer:

"I'm not just an actor. I'm a real American."