Thursday, November 23, 2017

TV Time Revisited (firom Classic Flix): Cartoons Go to the Circus

If you are looking for something longer to read on this holiday, here's a piece from the not-too-distant past that originally ran on ClassicFlix. In April, I commemorated the decline of Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey by looking at classic TV cartoon excursions to the circus:

The announcement that Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey is shutting down inspired a lot of discussion about the demise of the circus. While it's true that Ringling was, for years, the most iconic big top operation, the American institution will continue.

Of course, it also survives in classic television. In a previous column, I recommended Woody Allen boxing a kangaroo. Besides that memorable variety program, many sitcom and dramatic episodes centered on traveling circus troupes passing through town, while some entire series were devoted to the spectacle. Super Circus with Mary Hartline was a popular kids show spotlighting genuine performances, while programs like Circus Boy (starring a young Mickey Dolenz), The Greatest Show on Earth (with a young -- well, youngish -- Jack Palance) and oater Frontier Circus were fictionalized depictions of the lifestyle and its inhabitants.

Given the news about Ringling Brothers, though, I wasn't in the mood for stories about sad clowns struggling with the bottle or acrobats chasing ringmasters in jealous rages. I looked to the television cartoon to celebrate the circus. Much to my surprise, I found that the world of animation often sees the big top as a sinister place filled with danger and despair.

Casper the Friendly Ghost,"Keep Your Grin Up:" I am going to start by cheating a bit. That's right, folks, step right up and enjoy one of the timeless circus traditions: the bait and switch! In my defense, while the original Casper cartoons were not made for television, they were shown countless times on the small screen, so it's a legitimate starting point for our journey.

Unfortunately, it's not a joyous beginning despite an amusing premise: Casper tries to make a sad hyena laugh. The thing is this hyena is a caged animal being whipped and beaten by his handler for not guffawing on command. It's a little off-putting seen through a modern lens, but, man, even in 1955, this must have been a downer. Even before Casper enters the circus grounds, he gets bummed out when his appearance (or, being invisible, lack thereof) frightens the ticket seller and the rubber man.

The hyena is more pitiful than the lonely Casper, though we never quite know if he's depressed because he's being whipped or if he is being whipped because he's depressed. Our favorite friendly ghost decides to try to make the hyena laugh, and while his intentions are good, you can't help but think if he really wanted to help, he'd, you know, open the cage.

Casper tries everything to get a laugh, including juggling, imitating a seal, and borrowing the props of an act named "Burpo the Fire Eater." Does Ringling Brothers have a Burpo the Fire Eater? If so, I need to get tickets while I can. The young ghost does all but squirt seltzer down his pants, but nothing gets a smile from the downcast hyena. (I imagine Milton Berle is somewhere in the wings furiously scribbling notes for something he can use on the Buick Hour.)

There's a happy ending when the abusive trainer, startled to see a ghost, shrieks, runs out of his pants and off the screen into the audience who are apparently watching this very cartoon. The hyena starts laughing harder than I do at a Honeymooners episode, and only slightly less obnoxiously. There's a lot more pathos in this brief cartoon than I expected, but its limited view of the circus isn't a pleasant one.

The Perils of Penelope Pitstop "Big Top Trap": At the risk of trivializing mistreatment of animals, there are times while watching Pitstop that I feel like that hyena. There are only so many times I can hear Penelope yell, "HAILP! HAILP!" before I feel like dressing up as a peanut and squatting down in front of Jumbo. Yet "Big Top Trap" offers a compelling glimpse of the circus.

At the beginning, we see Penelope perform in the show. The horse she is standing on throws her into a cannon, which shoots her toward a cage containing a wild "Tasmanian cruncha beast." Fortunately for her, she is able to grab the pole a tightrope walker is using and balance herself to avoid dropping all the way into the cage. We can only assume the poor tightrope walker plummets to his death off camera.

When I was in college, I took a class on live performing arts in which the professor, on the day he discussed the circus, told us the single most dangerous routine was the horse act because of the unpredictable nature of the equines. Somehow he left out the part about combination horse/human cannonball/tightrope/cruncha beast numbers. I tell you, between the disappearance of this kind of thing and the inability to replace Burpo the Fire Eater, it's no wonder the circus ain't what it used to be.

Penelope is snatched by her nemesis, the Hooded Claw, and taken to a swamp to attempt to feed her to a carnivorous plant. Her miniature sidekicks in the Ant Hill Mob eventually help her make it back to the tent to complete her performance and save the day, which makes me think that audience must really be getting its money worth considering how long the show must be.

Sorry, Pitstop fans, but even Paul Lynde can't elevate this. The main character is just too dim. In this episode, the Claw, who has been acting as her attorney in his civilian guise while donning a mask and trying to bump her off to get her fortune for the entire series, gets tired of the routine and basically says, "Hey, by the way, I'm your arch-rival who's been trying to kill you," and Penelope refuses to believe him! She's not the brightest heroine out there, folks...but I will admit she is one heck of a circus performer, and she gets shot out of a cannon like nobody's business.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? "Bedlam in the Big Top": "Bedlam" is a word that doesn't surprise you at all when you encounter it in Scooby-Doo, much like "hi-jinks." Both elements are in abundance in this encounter, which features the gang investigating a reported haunting of a circus by a ghost clown. The owner tells the team that his performers are leaving en masse because they are superstitious and think the whole operation is destined for trouble. I love the fact that a ghost clown itself isn't what makes everyone leave, but rather the fact that they see its presence as a bad omen.

You don't need a Scooby snack to figure out it's not an actual supernatural entity, but an embittered baddie with a grudge scaring everyone away. Don't underestimate this erstwhile spookster, though; his potent hypnosis overwhelms Scooby and Daphne, making them believe they are performers capable of doing dangerous stunts like tightrope walking and unicycle riding.

Lucky for Scoob, Penelope Pitstop is nowhere around, so he emerges unscathed, but it's interesting to note the callous nature of the show's laugh track. Is Scooby's precarious footing on a high wire really reason for enthusiastic chortles? The lovable canine earns some real laughs at the end after solving the mystery; he and Shaggy surprise the others by making a surprise cameo in the strongman's act and mugging for the crowd in attendance.

The real takeaway is not the exposure of the ghost clown, but the anti-circus performer stance of Scooby-Doo. The show takes pains to establish that any civilian, albeit under a deep hypnotic spell, can do the same alleged skilled feats as a pro. Then Scooby and Shaggy undercut one of the veteran acts by going for cheap laughs at the climax of his routine. Wasn't there a union of some kind to bring heat on Hanna-Barbera for this disrespect?

The Flintstones, Dial S for Suspicion and Circus Business: Several years earlier, Hanna-Barbera had our favorite stone-age family appear in a sixth-season episode called "Circus Business." Fred expresses his interest in buying an ailing circus and is overheard by the anxious-to-sell owner, who apparently believes an idle statement made in public is a binding verbal contract and accepts Flinstone's income tax refund as payment for the whole business.

Much to Fred's chagrin, things are worse than he thought, as all the performers are walking out after not being paid. Pressured by the sheriff to deliver the entertainment as advertised, the Flintstones and the Rubbles do what anyone would do in such a predicament: attempt to put on a show themselves. Their efforts impress the real performers so much that they decide to come back and work for free, proving that circus folk are great people after all...or suckers. I'm not exactly sure what the message is here.

Several seasons earlier, we get another glimpse into the world of the big top in "Dial S for Suspicion" when one of Wilma's former boyfriends, a knife thrower, spots her at a circus parade and gives her passes to the show so he can check out Fred. The parade is another great lost tradition, right up there with Burpo the fire eater and Tasmanian cruncha beasts -- an unparalleled event in which the cast of the show marches down main street and agrees not to let the elephants rampage through everyone's property as long as they buy tickets. Well, that wasn't explicit, but it was kind of implied, no?

Fred happens to be paranoid about Wilma trying to kill him for the life insurance. One reason I love The Flintstones: You just didn't hear a lot of other cartoons utilizing the phrase "double indemnity" in those days. Fred thinks the sudden arrival of a knife throwing beau is part of Wilma's plan, and it's hard to blame him when she "volunteers" him to be the "target" in his act, and then suggests it be done blindfolded!

Considering Fred goes on to star in numerous spin-off shows and cereal ads, you can rest assured Wilma isn't really trying to off her hubby, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong for a while. I'm intrigued by the knife thrower, whose suspicious behavior and shady snicker make me wonder if, regardless of Wilma's intent, he really does mean to give Fred a "close shave."

The Yogi Bear Show, Acrobatty Yogi and Jangled Jungle: Let's close our look at the circus with one more double feature from Hanna-Barbera. Oddly, these Yogi and Snagglepuss shorts come back to back on the DVD. If they really aired like that, they must have caused some confusion among young viewers.

"Acrobatty Yogi" sees the bear run away from Jellystone and join the circus in order to woo his would-be love, Cindy Bear. Hey, we've all done something like that at one time or another. (I'll never have to wonder "what might have been" with Bertha the Bearded Lady.) He's offered a job as lion tamer, and I get a good laugh when he's told the first thing he needs to do is learn what to do with a chair, which he triumphantly folds out and sits in.

I don't quite understand why the impresario sees a talking bear and decides, "Hey, I'll put him in with the lion," but he knows how to run his business. Poor Yogi has to jump off a high wire -- it really does seem like anyone can walk those things -- to flee the crazed cat, and when Cindy tries to compliment him, he mocks her and says, "I might have been seriously killed," before taking off and returning to the relative security of Jellystone.

Next up, Snagglepuss is bored with his own routine at the circus. He's asked to step up, down, up, down, and so on, which makes him "feel like an elevator -- a yo-yo, even." The prospect of getting shot out of a cannon is what makes him quit (in the middle of a show, just like Yogi -- how unprofessional these guys are) and head for the jungle.

He thinks he's the king of beasts, but unpleasant encounters with a Tarzan type and a gorilla make Snagglepuss exclaim, "Arrivederci, jungle! Good-bye, even!" He rushes back to the relative safety of...the circus! So, Yogi finds the circus a terrifying, dangerous place, while Snagglepuss finds it a refuge from the horrors of the outside world? Is this juxtaposition a deliberate statement by Hanna-Barbera? An attempt to provide equal time to those who are pro- and anti-circus? Is it a reflection of the fact that the circus means different things to different people?

Either way, I believe our sojourn through television animation's depiction of the circus teaches us several lessons: It's not all fun and funnel cakes, the animals may be treated both better and worse than we suspect, and above all else, next time you attend a show, keep your eyes on the high wire at all times. There's always something going on up there.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Half-Assed Gourmet: Love that chicken from Popeye's, but the atmosphere...

This year, before a lot of you go bird wild on turkey, let me talk about MY kind of dining experience: a trip to a local fast food joint.

A few months back, I mentioned a visit to Popeye's  and how I was disappointed by the location's stingy ways. The new TV ad campaign for Smokehouse Boneless Wings amused and tantalized me,  so I figured I'd give the chain another shot at a different location.

One thing that stands out at Popeye's is the prices. Is it just that chicken is more expensive? Is fried coating/grease so expeensive? Is it the DOWN-HOME/YEE-HAW/RAGIN' CAJUN quality? The fact is if you don't get one of their specials, the regular chicken meals look kind of steep for fast food.

In fact, an ominous sign by the counter gave me a grim feeling as I read that sauces were for chicken tenders only and were 25 cents extra otherwise. Already, my suspicion of the chain's tightwad philosophy was confirmed...or was it?

I did indeed get the Smokehouse Wings, which comes as a 6-piece with a biscuit and a side for 5 bucks. Notice what's missing there? A beverage. We're off to a bad start. I actually anticipated this and considered takeout, but I spotted a self-service drink area. That's about the only thing you can get yourself at Popeye's, so I vowed to take full advantage. Uh, I did that under my breath, not out loud like some kind of super villain.

The food was fine. The Cajun rice was a little bland but a nice alternative to fries. The biscuit was OK. The wings were not really what I'd call wings--more like crispy chicken pieces--but they were tasty.

The accoutrements were the problem. I didn't care for the standard ranch sauce that came with the meal, and worse, there was no butter or jam or anything for the biscuit. So I went to the counter, clutching a handful of change and expecting to shell out for an alternative sauce. To my surprise, the cashier gave me not just one but TWO buffalo sauces at no charge. Maybe she liked the cut of my gib. More likely, that sign is there to deter people who are a pain in the ass about sauces but most workers roll their eyes at the fact that they make everyone beg for all the condiments.

She gave me a handful of stuff for that biscuit, too--two butter squares, one strawberry jam, one grape jam. Well, it was better than nothing, but the paltry butter was useless because it was semi-frozen and I didn't have a knife. The flimsy spork they gave me for the rice wasn't getting it done. I could squeeze the jam out, but it didn't cover much of the biscuit. I split it in half and decorated each side with a different jam, trying to pretend it was a delightful opportunity to sample several different flavors.

In the meantime, the buffalo sauce made me thirsty--I suppose the massive amount of sodium in everything contributed as well--so I made numerous trips to the beverage area while trying to ration the 4 thin napkins on my tray. 4 napkins for a wing meal? Of course there were no napkins anywhere on the "humanoid" side of the restaurant, and I didn't want to go back and ask for more napkins. Naturally I let my nose run all over the table and used my coat and pants as extra napkins.

I'm kidding about that last part--mostly--but let's add up the things I did NOT get with my order:

*Preferred sauces
*Condiment of any kind for the biscuit
*Knife to apply anything to the biscuit
*Adequate napkins
And remember, I had to buy the drink as an add-on.

The good news is that they threw a bunch of chicken-ish pieces in with the box of wings, so it felt like more than 6 pieces. Remember when Long John Silver's would throw in those "crumblies"  with the seafood boxes? Kind of like that except bigger and somehow more respectable because it's not Long John Silver's.

Overall, I enjoy Popeye's food, but this is clearly not an isolated deal at this chain. Maybe it's a better takeout experience than a dine-in. I just don't like having to go back up and ask for things that should be standard with the meal. if you don't want to load up my tray at the counter, just make it available in the dining area.

Monday, November 20, 2017

'Mooners Monday #34: Finally back to "Head of the House"

It's been a while since we started looking at "Head of the House," one of the better episodes of the series. When we left off last time, Norton had revealed to Alice how Ralph had boasted to a roving reporter about being the king of his castle. Alice ain't too thrilled about it, either:

I have to credit him in a strange way for not totally backing off. He stands firm and argues some more, even reiterating his stance when Trixie asks about it. I love when Ralph, as in this episode, gets all buddy-buddy with Ed after throwing him out because he wants to join forces with him against the women. It's all out in the open now, Ralph says, and he's glad.

This leads to one of the most famous scenes in the show's history: Ralph and Ed, determined to prove their supremacy over the womenfolk, getting "drunk" on the grape juice that they believe is wine. It's a silly situation, to be sure, but how can you go wrong with Gleason and Carney (who knew from experience, let's face it) playing smashed?

I don't know about you, but grape juice or not, these two seem like pretty cool guys to get drunk with. Ralph in particular is a lot chummier. They aren't the best singers in the world, but they bring a certain brio to their impromptu revelry.

Next week, we'll conclude our look at the episode with a glimpse of an outstanding minor character.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings #88

1) Philo: What the deuce is Philo? It's a "cordcutter" bundle service that offers a bunch of non-sports channels for 16 bucks. It's not overwhelming by itself--the Turner channels are conspicuous by their absence--but it's a step in the right direction. In conjunction with another package and/or antenna, a lot of people who don't want ESPN and the like might save some money with this.

2) Acorn TV: I am loving Acorn so far. Enough to get it every month? Well, I don't know, but I definitely plan to keep watching 800 Words and Men Behaving Badly.

3) Hulu: My young son was blown away by the fact that I made a profile for him on Hulu and he could watch Teen Titans Go. Thank goodness I didn't have to make him a treehouse or something.

Also, the other night, I just sat down and watched a couple of old sitcoms because why not? It's nice to enjoy the ever-expanding back catalog every now and then.

I look forward to seeing Paul Resier's backstage-at-Tonight Show show There's Johnny, and I don't want to say I'm glad SeeSo is gone, but...I can actually see it now that it's on Hulu.

4) Netflix: I will not use this space to make a remark about Netflix's ever-decreasing back catalogue. This week, I'm interested in the new Jim Carrey/Andy Kaufman documentary. Mudbound is supposed to be very good. Longmire has a new season. The Punisher is up. It's a big week for Netflix.

5) YouTube: First, my man SeanMc uploaded a ton of videos this week after an absence of a few weeks.  Then I have a movie lined up to watch but get wrapped up in an upload of the complete Andy Kaufman on David Letterman collection. Brilliant, YT.

6) Warner Archive Instant: I can't keep them out of the top 10 after seeing the awesome Eight Is Enough I did this week, but...the official Twitter account is still silent since October 22.

7) Amazon Prime: Won some kind of bidding war to do a Lord of the Rings series. I give Amazon a lot of credit...because I don't subscribe and I don't want my $ to go to a big, expensive Lord of the Rings series.

8) Nosey: I appreciate the new Sally episodes, but still no Sgt. Julu appearances? What's up with that?

Also, a new batch of Jerry Springer is here, including this episode titled "Boxing Blowout: Viewers vs. Guests": Let's get ready to rumble! Time after time viewers sitting at home watching the show have told themselves, 'I could take that guest.'" They have? I can't help it. I think I'm gonna watch it this week.

9) The CW: Legends of Tomorrow is quietly entertaining its following (it has one, right?) each week.

10) Shout! Factory TV: I didn't actually watch anything on here, but I appreciated customer service's response when I asked about the lack of updates on the Roku version. She basically blamed Roku, so not a huge help, but at least she didn't say, "Hey, it's free, asswipe!"

Friday, November 17, 2017

Screengrab Theatre #6: Ringo on Laugh-In

Let's go back to when Ringo Starr went on Laugh-In to promote his upcoming appearance in The Magic Christian. The legendary Beatle was a big presence in the episode, appearing in many segments and alongside most of the regular cast (though, sadly, not with the other awesome guest stars).

Get a haircut, hippie

They just happened to pick Alan Sues to do an "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" joke

Guest stars get the honor of being bashed by Ruth Buzzi

Moments after this scene, NBC affiliates in 7 states "experienced technical difficulties"

Pity Ringo didn't share any scenes with Sheldon Leonard...

...but Ruth Buzzi did!

We missed a chance to see Ringo interact with the great Art Metrano?

I don't want to say that wallpaper is garish, but I almost didn't notice Pam Rogers in a bikini

Have I mentioned how EDGY the show was?

Finally, viewers were delighted to learn the program was brought to them in living color...until they saw Dan Rowan's jacket

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Brooks on Books: Film and TV Locations: A Spotter's Guide by Lonely Planet

This is a slim little softcover of a book, but the photography is beautiful, and I think it makes a nice gift or read for movie lovers who dream of visiting some of the famous locales they have seen all screen. I'm not sure how  useful it is, or if these Lonely Planet "Spotter's Guides" are even supposed to be more than just pretty to look at and enjoy, but, yeah, this is pretty much just pretty to look at and enjoy.

The 128-page volume contains shots of real-life settings of notable films (some TV series, but the vast majority are from the cinema). Each one is accompanied by the longitude and latitude, which I guess gives a veneer of something or other, and also some often-irreverent brief text descriptions by Laurence Phelan. Each entry also has a little illustration placing the locale on a portion of a global map.

Even if you linger on the photos, it won't take much more than a half-hour to go through the book, but it does look nice. There is a good variety of places, too--both in terms of diverse geography and in terms of the types of movies selected. The guide takes you from The Man with the Golden Gun (Thailand) to Moonrise Kingdom (Rhode Island) to When Harry Met Sally (Katz's deli in NYC). TV shows like Seinfeld, Game of Thrones, and even long-running Australian soap Neighbours (the company still has a big office there, after all) have entries.

There are mostly picturesque scenes here, but the occasional urban landscape adds some variety to the gorgeous array of lighthouses, beaches, and mountains. It's not a weighty book, but it sure is purdy.

Monday, November 13, 2017

5 channels/services that SHOULD be in my Streaming Video rankings--and why they're not

Please note I UPDATED this post with info from Shout! TV:

(Note: 'Mooners Monday will return next week!)

With so many streaming options out there nowadays, it's no surprise that many prominent ones will be left out each week if you make a list that only goes to 10 (If you'd like to go to 11 with This Is Spinal Tap, this week's #8, Filmstruck, has it till March). But there are some frequent underachievers whose absence may make newer readers wonder. So this week I am presenting a look at 5 streaming video outlets and why they don't make the cut this week:

Amazon Prime: Its most interesting add, like much of the new movies it gets, is Allied, and that's on Hulu. I don't subscribe to Prime, though with the holidays arriving, I may get a month of it soon. What really irks me about Amazon is its decision to yank Twitch from the Roku store, as reported by Cordcutters News. It just seems like a bratty move.

Shout! Factory TV: Some of the best free content in the streaming world, hands down, but it hasn't updated its Roku version, at least not my incarnation, since the beginning of September.

UPDATE: A friendly Shout! rep responded to my inquiry and basically said Roku is having issues. Shout! seems to have little control over the technical issues causing upload problems. I hope I'm not the only one who noticed. Roku, get it together!

Crackle: I really think that after a few efforts to make a splash with original content, Sony has more or less given up on Crackle. Most of the interesting content that was on there before is no longer there, and after Comedians in Cars joins Netflix, there will be little reason to suffer the irritating user interface on here. It's a shame because this had potential.

Watch ESPN: The tyranny of  "provider authentication required" means I go without ESPN for a while.

Showtime: I don't have anything Showtime, really--not like the other ones on this list. It tries really hard and does a better job of marketing itself and its new shows than many others do. I think I saw an ad for Shameless a dozen times watching Hulu the other day. But it just seems like it's lacking that big thing that makes me go, yeah, I wish I had Showtime, and that's why it rarely cracks the top 10.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings #86

1) Hulu: Hulu debuts another pop culture documentary this weekend, a profile of artist Shepherd Fairly, and the occasion prompted me to watch the recent original doc Too Funny to Fail, which tells the story of the short-lived The Dana Carvey Show.

OK, that's not entirely true. I have been meaning to watch it for weeks, but I was motivated more by a nagging fear that Hulu would pull it because of the prominent role (though only in archival footage and the accounts of others) of then-castmember/writer Louis CK. Don't get me wrong, this is in no way an endorsement of his behavior, but I DID want to see the story of The Dana Carvey Show. It's an excellent piece of work. Plus the original series itself is on Hulu, and while that sounds like a no-brainer, we've seen it's not always the case that a streaming service secures rights to the source material when it produces such a documentary.

Also premiering this week is Allied, which flopped but which was sort of described as being sort of like Casablanca. So I sort of feel compelled to give it a watch.

2) Acorn TV: I am enjoying the heck out of the free week I got without meaning to--I signed up a different way for it this time--and am sure to enjoy at least a month. Yes, I am disappointed at the lack of several series I enjoyed on Acorn in the past, but I have already seen several episodes of the new series of Doc Martin and found several other entertaining new-to-me shows.

The site is easy enough to navigate, though I wish there were more control over the watchlist. Acorn does get basic things right, though, like resume playing functionality and transparency about when shows are coming and going. I feel that there is enough here to deserve 5 bucks for at least a month. Expect to see Acorn very high on this list for a while.

3) Netflix: New season of Lady Dynamite and a few other things, but I dove back into Cheers. The shrinking catalog is an obvious turnoff, but as long as the CBS stuff is there (Trek, Cheers, Frasier, Twilight Zone...) there is still good catalog value.

What interests me is that my kids started to watch Project MC2, which debuted its sixth season this week, then got distracted and eventually stopped in favor of watching YouTube videos. Are they going through a phase (as happens), or is this part of the trend of the youth of America shunning anything over 10 minutes long? Stay tuned.

4) The CW:  Earns a high slot on the basis of me seeing the season's best episodes yet of Flash and Supergirl. I'm a little behind on each show, but I thought the winning appearance of Hilary Swank's Husband on the latter show helped it regain some gravity, and Ralph Dibny is a welcome addition to the former. The characterization of the hero once known in the comics as Elongated Man isn't the way I remember it, but it is a refreshing change of pace, and the poor man's Will Forte in the role is putting a compelling spin on it.

5) Disney Now: My kids flocked to it despite my not having cable authorization anymore to watch all the stuff. It's irritating to me, but they shrugged it off and found one of the free/no log-in episodes.

Disney head honcho Bob Iger revealed some details about the upcoming Disney SVOD. good news: No ads. Bad news: Not coming until late 2019. Nowhere near the entire Disney catalog will be available, which is not surprising but is disappointing. At least they confirm they will price it cheaper than Netflix.

Who knows what they will be saying come 2019, though? No matter, though, because I suspect even an adequate level of content at a semi-decent price will be a big smash for Disney when it launches this thing.

6) YouTube: I think I'm finally ready to take the plunge and start digging into old Memphis wrestling on a regular basis.

7) Filmstruck: I have never subscribed, but I thought it was time to check in again with the boutique, rather pricy art film streaming service from Criterion and Turner. You know what? It looks pretty cool. The main screens are striking, and there is a heavy emphasis on "curation," with many groups of small movies. I thought the "Directed by Phil Karlson" section was cool, a nice reminder that Filmstruck did offer material from the classic Hollywood studio era (including a few Charlie Chan flicks in that case).

Maybe someday soon I will give it a shot. Yet I looked at the recently added section and saw a group of Werner Herzog films. That's all well and good, but shouldn't those have already been on such a service? Honestly, I thought they were.

8) Warner Archive Instant: I enjoyed a couple of Dr. Kildare episodes this week, but I STILL think it's weird that the official Twitter account has been quiet since October 22--nearly 3 weeks!

9) CBS All Access: I notice this service is slowly gaining some momentum, and this week's announcement of a forthcoming Twilight Zone reboot is an interesting one, though personally I wish they'd just let that one die. I still think it's overpriced. At the very least, at that pricepoint, they should really open up the vaults to increase the amount of content.

10) HBO Now: I must tip my hat to Home Box Office for running a documentary I'd like to see about Rolling Stone magazine and for premiering what I think is the best movie of 2017: The Lego Batman Movie. Granted, it's the only 2017 movie I've seen so far, but it is excellent!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week #85

1) PlayStation Vue: Not really a channel, but I salute it as I let my 30-day subscription expire. I am both intrigued and irritated by the fact that literal minutes after I canceled my sub, I discovered the Roku version of the service had added a much better user interface, including a program guide. I hope to put together a post about Vue in the near future, but this week it gets the #1 spot because most of my non-baseball watching consisted of me trying to see as much of my cloud DVR recordings as I could before the end of the week.

2) YouTube: Advertising the heck out itself during the World Series is notable, but YouTube TV really should grow up and get itself on Roku. In other YT action this week, I was able to expose a friend to the wonder of "No Way Out" by Robert Tepper thanld to the magic of Vevo on YouTube. I am a little ashamed of myself for not being able to describe the entire video from memory, but some good was achieved.

3) Hulu: Hulu gets way more movies and TV shows each month, no doubt about it (Seriously, don't doubt it, and especially don't get any actual numbers on this that might prove otherwise). But how is it Hulu somehow premieres 15 James Bond movies every month? Are there, like, 200 of them?

4) Pub-D-Hub: Nothing new this week, but that original Batman serial is a 100% certified howl. Each time Batman opens his mouth, I laugh. Let's just say it's clear Christian Bale did not base his own interpretation of the Dark Knight on this version.

5) Netflix: On the one hand, Netflix took swift action (yeah, it took a few days, but considering it's arguably the flagship show, that's pretty swift) to boot that slimeball Kevin Spacey from House of Cards. On the other hand, it's still the flagship series being tainted by at best a scandal and at worst a pattern of criminal behavior from its star.

It seems trivial to talk about how skimpy the November catalog dump was, but I'm mentioning it anyway. This is where Netflix is heading. It wants you to focus on the new miniseries adapting Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace and maybe be pleasantly surprised that a few notable films like Men in Black and Field of Dreams show  up.

6) Tune In: I heard In the Midnight Hour by Wilson Pickett on here the other day and thought (as I do with many other songs), it ain't a deep oldie, but what kind of fool would complain about hearing this song anywhere ever?

7) TubiTV: I watched Youngblood, a 1978 "urban" coming-of-age movie starring Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs and released by the great American International Pictures. For some reason, I was crushed that the character "Youngblood" wasn't played by Hilton-Jacobs, even though he did have a prominent role. I don't think I ever really recovered from the disappointment caused by that revelation.

8) Days of Dumont: I like giving this channel a shout-out whenever it does something, and it spotlighted a Flash Gordon episode called "Witch of Neptune" for Halloween.

9) Nosey: I haven't seen it yet, but they added a troubled teens episode of Sally, so that is worth another week in the top 10.

10) Acorn TV: Guess which SVOD service is gonna get me for another month? Yep, SHOWTIME so I can binge on Ray Donovan, baby!

No, it's Acorn so I can watch Doc Martin. So get ready for Acorn being in the rankings for several weeks, plus frequent laments that it still hasn't brought back Drop the Dead Donkey.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Brooks on Books: In Such Good Company by Carol Burnett

I remember The Carol Burnett Show as a fixture in syndication...for a few years. Then, when I got older, the show disappeared from my area. I was never a big fan, and I think my dislike of the Mama character and the subsequent Mama's Family spinoff soured me on the whole program.

It's still difficult to see the program in its original form; the syndication package trimmed the hourlong program to a half-hour, deleting most of the musical segments and focusing on the sketches. Time Life helped initiate a mini-revival of the series in recent years by issuing some DVD releases. Unfortunately, it created dozens of different packages, making collecting the show on disc a confusing task and maybe making a  lot of people just throw their hands up and forget about it. You can still see the show on Me-TV, though, and many, many sketches are available online. Maybe that's the best way to enjoy it, cherry-picking individual segments, but it's a shame the original version is mostly gone.

In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Fun, and Mayhem in the Sandbox, a warm and enjoyable account of the show's production, rekindled my interest in the long-running classic and inspired me to seek out some of its memorable moments. The book is a must for folks who do love and remember the show. You may know a lot of the stories behind its creation, but Burnett adds a lot of details, and her love of the experience and affection for her coworkers--not just the cast, but everyone involved--is palpable. It began almost as an afterthought as her contract required CBS to give her a series if she requested it, but it lasted 11 seasons and is the obvious centerpiece of the legendary comedienne's legacy.

After a brief look at her early days in showbiz, Burnett takes us through the origins of her show and then discusses individual co-stars, guests, and specific segments. We get a strong sense of what it was actually like to put the variety show together, with rundowns of the rehearsal and shooting schedule and glimpses into facets such as costuming (Bob Mackie plays a big role in the book, just as he did in creating famous outfits like the curtain rod ensemble in "Went with the Wind"). Burnett takes us inside her head as she and her team developed segments like the audience Q&As. Along the way, there are many humorous anecdotes and quality insights about the routine of working in television.

A nice touch is the appendix listing show and guest details. In fact, I am impressed by the work Burnett put into this. She went back and watched the episodes, which means she provides many details (maybe too many for some) in recounting some of the sketches. The entire book sounds like her. It's very conversational and anecdotal, but it feels genuine. If Carol Burnett didn't actually do the writing, someone did a heck of a job talking with her and shaping this book.

In Such Good Company is a fun read and very, very positive. Don't expect dirt, as Burnett takes the high road, and besides, she doesn't seem to have too many negative memories, anyway. It's disappointing but understandable that she relates one involving a guest as a "blind item." She talks about an issue with Harvey Korman, but the way she sets it up and explains it makes clear she is taking pains not to denigrate him in any way. In short, the book may leave hardcore fans hoping for a third-party effort with a more critical view, but what Burnett herself has written is as classy as we presume she is.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Screengrab Theatre #5: Shut your north and south, mate

Not sure how comfortable I am with this bloke joking about our involvement in Vietnam:

On the other hand, wow, did Mike Myers know what he was doing or what when he casted him in Austin Powers?

Monday, October 30, 2017

'Mooners Monday #33: Happy belated birthday, Joyce Randolph

I want to wish a belated happy birthday to Joyce Randolph, who turned 93 last week. It's just not the same without her in those color Honeymooners segments, even though the way Gleason belts the name "JANE KEAN!" in those curtain calls amuses me. Here's wishing good health and happiness to the original (I am not counting Elaine Stritch) Trixie Norton.
Trixie doesn't always have a lot to do, but her interactions with Ralph give us some good eye rolls and HARRUMPH-type moments. This is a quiet yet funny exchange in "Young Man with a Horn," after Ralph has launched his self-improvement program and started making extra efforts to be nice to everyone.
He flatters Trixie, who primps with noticeable delight:
"Hey, you look pretty sharp tonight, Trixie."
"Oh! I was at the beauty parlor this afternoon."

"Yeah, I can tell. They did a good dying job on your hair."
That's a classic look of indignation on Trixie's face.
"Looks real natural," he adds. Trixie says, "Yeah. I'll see you later, Alice. Then she gives Ralph the stink-eye on the way out."
Then a puzzled Ralph wonders what's wrong.
Happy birthday, Ms. Randolph!

'Mooners Monday #32: A final word (for now) on the Gleason DVD set

I'm disappointed at the lack of chatter online about the new Time Life Jackie Gleason Show DVD set, and I still haven't seen the 30-minute infomercial.

I give Time Life Video credit for running this review and response on its site:

Not complete shows!!
from Chicago, IL
About Me Movie Buff
Verified Reviewer
Comments about The Jackie Gleason Show IN COLOR HOST:
Was looking forward to seeing these classic Gleason variety shows in their entirety. Instead we get shows with music numbers cut and in fact in some instances 1/4 to 1/3 of the show is missing. I was especially looking forward to seeing the episode with Bing Crosby as he sang solos of some of his greatest hits of the 1940's "Dear Hearts & Gentle People", "San Fernando Valley" and "Don't Fence Me In". All that remains is Don't Fence Me In! Plus the lengthy (nearly 10 minute) medley of "girls" songs Bing sang with Jackie Gleason is also cut! Time Life owes me...and owes you...the complete shows!!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Screengrab Theatre #4: Liberace Meets the Easter Bunny

You know you're in trouble when Liberace is maybe the third most bizarre thing on the screen:

Screengrab Theatre #3: A main event in any arena in the country

Thanks to the CWF Archives YouTube channel for posting all kinds of great Florida wrestling content, including a 1984 episode with this barnburner:

I have to tell you, the breakdancing before the match was laughable, but the team itself is pretty cool in the ring. One is Brickhouse Brown, and the other is known as "Slick." I was actually disappointed this match was so short.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings #84

A brief reminder since this remains the most popular feature on the blog and I haven't mentioned this in a while: Rankings incorporate a variety of factors, including what I watch, content additions and deletions, and coin tosses. I give extra credit for vintage content, and I judge mostly on the Roku versions.

1) Hulu: The interface still hasn't been fixed, and by that I mean hasn't reverted to what ir was before--the way I liked it, by cracky. My biggest beef now is the difficulty of finding what's new on the Roku channel. The website is still superior.

I have to give Hulu props, though, for partnering with Me-TV to offer free streaming of some of its classic library (H/T to Cord Cutters News for reporting this today). I'm enjoying this season of Gotham. "Huluween" is a nice section for users and an example of when "curation" aids the consumer. Hey, curation is fine, folks, but don't make your whole site dependent on it.

2) Netflix: Would be #1 based on the return of Stranger Things, but I just realized that for the first time in recent memory, I didn't actually watch anything on Netflix this week. Still Stranger Things is huge if the entertainment media complex hype is any indication.

Speaking of the show, is it really as big as it seems to be? It's hard to be sure without reliable numbers, but I have been in several different pop-up Halloween shops this season, and I think the single biggest licensed property in each one (if you consider, say,  Batman, Wonder Woman, etc. distinct properties and not lump them together as "DC Comics") is Stranger Things. Does this mean it's Netflix's biggest show? Well, I don't know--after all, it's a lot harder to merch House of Cards--but anecdotally I think maybe it is. Or at least it's the one most people think is.

Netflix also added an acclaimed Joan Didion documentary, The Hateful Eight, and it premiered an aftershow deal for Stranger Things (and stunned me by not hiring Chris Hardwick to host it). So things are looking good right now. That November lineup looks weak, though.

3) Disney Now: Disney changed its Roku channel to something more episode-centric and less clip-heavy. In other words, it feels more like a useful viewing option and not as much of a promotional tool. Granted, you must authenticate to get the good stuff, but when I told my kids about this, they were all over it. They seemingly forgot that Disney content was on Netflix. I have a feeling when Disney launches its own OTT channel, it is going to make a boatload of money.

4) PIX 11: The Roku app has renamed itself from PIX 11 Archives, yet it finally got off its duff and started uploading some archival material again lately. The highlight this week: A 1978 half-hour retrospective of the Yankees' World Series season, hosted by sports anchor Jerry Girard. Keep it coming, PIX.

Did I mention the end of the Yankees special features a montage of highlights to the sounds of Paul Jabara's disco version of Yankee Doodle Dandy?

5) Pub-D-Hub: Each year, the Hub comes through with a Halloween section loaded up with many of its items of seasonal interest. I recently paid my annual paltry fee, and I am happy to support this consistent and free Roku standout. My screening of the old Batman serial continues with thrills and chills galore.

6) The CW: Supergirl continues its impressive string of featuring at least one embarrassing scene each episode this season. I am glad to watch it for free, though. I wish all networks made it so easy to see their shows without a cable subscription.

7) Shout! Factory TV: Would be much higher, but I think it no-sold my Facebook question asking why the Roku channel hasn't updated in October. I enjoyed another episode of Soul! and a great Starcade installment, but I was crushed by the latter when the winner didn't choose to do the bonus round with the Journey video game.

A highlight of that episode: Before the final round of the game, host Geoff Edwards sets the stage and says something like, "Sean, of course you just have to hope you keep going like you're going. Steve, you have to hope a light falls down and destroys him."

8) Warner Archive Instant: You know content is king in these rankings when WAI earns a spot each week despite not updating its Roku site in months. I did finish season two of Eight Is Enough, though, and to paraphrase Bill Belichik, we're on to season 3. Do you think the coach streams Eight Is Enough in season as background for going over game plans, or does he feel it's too much of a distraction?

9) Brown Sugar: I'd rate this one a lot more often if I knew a way to browse its content without being a member. It sends me emails each week, and while many of what it implies are "new" titles have already been on there, it does appear to be adding things on the regular. Right now I think it has most of the Blaxploitation flicks you would want it to have for Halloween.

9) Nosey: I ventured back into the world of Sally reruns, and though "Mom, You Look Like a Tramp," disappointed me in a sense, I did laugh at the SASSY theme music they played when the moms came back out after their makeover.

(I have a feeling I'm gonna wake up tomorrow and delete this entry from the list.)

10) Amazon Prime: I remember thinking Arrival sounded like an intriguing movie, and the reaction to it didn't diminish my enthusiasm. Yet I confess if I had Prime Video, I'd probably be more wrapped up in checking out the selection of classic game show episodes provided by Buzzr.

Friday, October 27, 2017

My Takeaways from Entertainment Weekly's Family Matters reunion

Allegedly to celebrate Hulu's premiere of the complete run of Family Matters but probably just as an excuse to meet Reginald Vel Johnson, Entertainment Weekly brought the cast together for a photo shoot and interview session. Here are my takeaways, and bear in mind I hated the show and have little interest in watching it on Hulu except maybe to make fun of it:

1) Reginald Vel Johnson at 65 is even rounder and still looks cool.

2) The magazine has no interest in explaining what happened to Jaimee Foxworth (Google it), who was not part of the event.

3) Jo Marie-Payton and Reginald Vel Johnson talk about how they instantly hit it off when the show was casting--"The chemistry was so strong," she says--and I envision a torrid off-camera affair between the Winslow parents.

4) Somehow they manage to go a whole article without bringing up or even hinting at the rumor that the cast was irritated when it became the Urkel Show instead of the gentle family sitcom it was conceived as. How do you not get that in here?

5) EW asks if the cast would be up for a revival of the series, and 4 say yes...but Jaleel White's response is not included! What's the use of a revival without him? Were they afraid to ask him? Did he say no and they just didn't want to bum everybody out by printing it?

6) Family Matters  and ER shot on stages across from each other, and there was a basketball court that White considered his. The hoop was moved, and Goerge Clooney took over the court, and White tells a story of him figuring, "Well, I just have to kick his ass and remind him who this hoop belongs to." I don't know if I believe any of it.

7) White talks about playing Steve Urkel's cousin Myrtle and then crying and his dad telling the show he wouldn't do it again. Several years later, White reports, he walked into the writers' room and said, "If you guys want to do Myrtle again, I'll do it." He adds, "They just cheered."

I'm not sure I buy this, either, but I hope it's true because I love the image of Family Matters scribes puzzling over plotlines, then breaking into euphoric celebrations when told they could do another Myrtle story.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Screengrab Theatre #2: O Solo Margie

One of the best things about My Little Margie is the fact that Gale Storm gets into some kind of goofy costume every other episode. In this one, she impersonates an opera singer because...well, do you really want to know?

Question: Is Margie still cute as a button, or is this just really, really disturbing?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Let's check in on Rolling Stone

Say what you will about Rolling Stone. Say what you will about puns. To me it is undeniable that "What a Foo Believes" is a superlative headline, and I am amazed the mag never used it before.

As for the magazine itself, the story isn't quite as epic as the title suggests, but it's a pleasant look at Dave Grohl (the band, too, but, face it, mostly Dave Grohl), who still comes off as the coolest guy in rock. I just wish he wouldn't smoke as much as he does while hanging out with author Josh Eells.

The highlights are Grohl's trip to Amoeba Records to get an album for his daughter, the account of Paul McCartney recording with the band, and a sincere, spontaneous reflection on Chris Cornell that happens in a quiet moment.

Rolling Stone, like so many other print magazines, is shrinking and shrinking (and, Jann Wenner concedes, is shopping for a buyer). Unfortunately, most of the "long-form" pieces in a given issue deal with politics or global warming. The curmudgeon in me thinks this is because today's music is so terrible that there just isn't enough fodder for significant coverage.

The typical formula is profile of a musician featured on the cover--alternating between hot young artist (usually hip hop or poppy female) and dinosaur rocker (I prefer the latter) and an increasingly tiny review section consisting of several pages of capsule album evaluations and maybe a page each for movies, TV, and books. The mag uses smaller features, like the back page Q&A and various sidebars and tidbits, to work in other old-school artists.

For example, Ozzy Osbourne is the subject of this issue's "The Last Word" interview. Brandon Flowers has a "Q&A." We see Randy Newman discuss "My Life in 12 Songs." All of this is pretty quick and breezy.

I hate to say this, but when an artist dies, we still get remarkable pieces. I can't wait to see the Tom Petty article. Usually a devoted dinosaur rock fan can find at least one solid profile in an issue. Overall, though, I wish that as the magazine's page count got smaller, it didn't also devote so many of its pages to non-music and cultural issues. I know that sort of thing has always been part of the mission and so on and so forth, but for me personally, I would rather read more pieces about musicians, even if it's the same old folks cropping up every few years.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Screengrab Theatre #1: Laugh-in (Well, one of them is laughing)

These two kids look thrilled to be together. I predict a long and happy relationship (And now I know the inspiration for Rosa Diaz on Brooklyn Nine-Nine)

Monday, October 23, 2017

'Mooners Monday #31: Follow-up to last week's post

Maybe I should call this #30.5. Apologies for the short installment, but there is a lot going on here at the new Cultureshark Tower. I do want to follow up on last week's post, in which I reported on the brand-new Time Life release of the 1960s The Jackie Gleason Show. The DVD set has made its way to some of my sources--OK, posters on message boards--and we can confirm several things.

1) Many episodes are edited, with musical numbers and June Taylor Dancers segments apparently getting the ax. Not a shocker, but a disappointment considering it's Time Life and they have a rep for coming through on stuff like this.

2) The Incredible World of Ed Norton backdoor pilot that aired as part of the Gleason show is not included and remains one of the tantalizing still-"lost" pieces of 'Mooners material out there.

3) There are several uncut, complete episodes in the collection.

Many thanks to the posters at the Sitcoms Online Honeymooners message board. Some of these folks really know their stuff, and their reports are invaluable for anyone looking into this box set. The early consensus seems to be that while it's far from peak 'Mooners and much of the content is monologue- and guest-star-centric, it's worthwhile for Gleason fans, though it does leave one wanting more.

Personally, I think it's a shame the June Taylor Dancers, such a key part of the overall Gleason Show experience, are absent. Also, one poster reports there is a color Joe the Bartender sketch with Crazy Guggenheim, but the song is edited out!

Still, Gleason is the Great One, and any DVD release is welcome. The idea of Jackie alongside the likes of Phil Silvers automatically makes this a candidate for my collection.

This might be the best we get of the full Jackie Gleason Show, but I hold out hope that this sells well and encourages Time Life--or anyone--to do some work and release more uncut episodes or even better, as I mentioned last week, black-and-white 1950s installments or even American Scene.

Meanwhile, I'm still on the lookout for the 30-minute infomercial. The one time I want to see one of these things...

Friday, October 20, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week #83

1) Hulu: This one just seems to be trying more lately. It started a Huluween category, it continued the new Sarah Silverman show, and it continued to buy reruns, with Futurama the latest big add. I've been watching Gotham here, and I am looking forward to Too Funny to Fail, a new documentary about The Dana Carvey Show.

2) Pluto TV: Yes, in a huge upset, Pluto comes outta nowhere like an RKO and shoots up to the number two spot, not because of its live programming (which is slowly improving--and it's free!) but because it received a reported $8 million + in new funding this week. Let's hope they use it to get some more licensed content. Pluto is slowly becoming a player.

3) Shudder: I have never subscribed to this horror-on-demand SVOD, but I always try to give credit to outlets that acquire the old stuff, and Shudder is delivering in October, streaming a handful of the most iconic Universal pictures--Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, and The Bride of Frankenstein.

4) Netflix: I am wary of Netflix's plan to debut 80 movies next year and to mak 50% of its catalog be Originals. Most of the movies will probably stink, and they will get to 50% by continuing to let existing library deals expire.

However, the new movie The Day I Met El Chapo has pissed off Sean Penn, so Netflix must be doing something right. There's also a new Smurfs movie, a new Stephen King flick (1922), and a movie called Wheelman (I really want to like a movie called "Wheelman"), but mainly pissing off Sean Penn is how Netflix earns its stripes this week.

5) Pub-D-Hub: The Batman serial is, as I remembered, a riot, and ain interesting little addition this past week as an episode of quasi-religious anthology show Crossroads with Brian Donlevy as a pastor turned judge.

6) The CW: I have to admit, now that the superheroes are back, I am spending a lot of my streaming time watching CW, but so far, I'm not inspired by the way they're going. Supergirl, you need to get over Mon-El. He wasn't that interesting.

7) YouTube: My kids just want to watch mindless YouTube videos when they are watching "TV." I kind of miss the days when they just wanted to watch mindless cartoon shows.

As for me, I was in the mood to watch the original 1940s Superman cartoons, and they are easy to find, being public domain, but YouTube is the place to find 10 different versions of them at once!

8) Amazon Prime: Red Oak is back, and I;m adding to my list of shows I want to bunch-a-shows-watch (remember, we try to avoid "binge" at this site) when I next get a month of Prime Video.

9) Warner Archive Instant: This week I enjoyed Pillow to Post, one of about 900 movies Hollywood made about WWII-era housing shortages. Ida Lupino was a lot of fun in a role that let her be funny and just generally less...intense.

10) TuneIn: One notable thing about Deep Oldies Radio is the high number of novelty songs it spins. Those are certainly forgotten oldies these days. I don't really need to hear The Detergents' "Leader of the Laundromat" again anytime this soon, but it was amusing the other day.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

BOTNS returns!

Season 3 of Battle of the Network Shows premieres today! Head on over and download this episode, in which Mike and I discuss the season two finale of Eight Is Enough!

You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll see yet another failed attempt at replicating the "Who's on First?" routine!

And you can see what THIS is all about: is the place, and stick around each Thursday for new episodes of chat about TV of the 1970s and 1980s!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

This Sunday night in 1982 brings us intrigue, mystery...and Rick Dees!

Yes, the megastar DJ and composer/performer of Disco Duck used to do a lot of the voice-over work for CBS. That;s him telling us what's ahead on the Eye. I gotta tell you, I want to see more, so I think this promo has done its job:

The questions I have:

1) Who is Stephanie's would-be suitor? Who could be so vile as to make Archie tear a bag. Or is it just that no suitor is good enough for Stephanie?

2) Why the hell is Alex starting a fire on One Day at a Time?

3) Just what in the name of Mel's chili did Henry do to make Vera shove his face into that bowl?

4) Is Tom giving new meaning to the word "cuck" by offering to pay for a hotel room for Helen and her paramour?

5) Can Gonzo and Trapper keep his reunion from turning into tragedy? (I know that Rick Dees asks the exact same question, but that one is pretty straightforward, so I have nothing to add)

(Special thanks to Chuck D's All-New Classic TV Clubhouse for posting the clip)

Monday, October 16, 2017

'Mooners Monday #30: Breaking news of more 'Mooners on DVD

Friends, let's take a break from looking at Head of the House to consider the news. As first reported by buddy Ivan of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear (well, first reported to me, and isn't that what matters?), Time Life has released a giant DVD collection of The Jackie Gleason Show culled from the 1966-1970 CBS run.

Follow the link for details and for some clips, and maybe look out for an infomercial. This is the first time I can remember scanning the TV listings hoping to find a half-hour ad, but I would like to see how the company is marketing this and to check out some footage while I'm at it. Here are the basics: 10 discs, 27 episodes, 20 hours, 7 "new" Honeymooners sketches. This set will bring the remaining number of surviving never-before-released 'Mooners segments to--well, to something very, very low. I'm no expert, but it appears that most everything except for some odds and ends and a 1970 Ed Norton sketch/pilot w/o Gleason (but WITH Al Lewis and Phil Leeds!) is now out there. MPI previously released multiple The Color Honeymooners volumes compiling the show-length installments of the 1960s; this set contains shorter sketches that had not been seen in years, let alone released.

Here's what we don't know yet: Are these unedited, full-length Jackie Gleason Show episodes? The website doesn't say so, and the running time indicates some if not many are edited. Time Life is known for several things: excellent quality, staggering prices, and impressive musical clearances. I am going to go ahead and say we can expect the first. We know the second is true, as this 10-disc set is 100 bucks. Did some of that money go to clearing the music on this variety show? We'll have to wait and see.

I realize the color years aren't for everyone. However, some people turn their noses at the Lost Episodes, and I think those are great. You have to be a pretty well-heeled Honeymooners completist to get this whole set for the new 'Mooners stuff, but Gleason is Gleason. He was more than just Ralph Kramden, and the variety show also featured characters like Reginald Van Gleason III. In addition to The Great One, Time Life touts a number of high-profile guest stars appearing in the collection.

So that's what we know this set IS. Here's what it ISN'T: A collection of the original black-and-white 1950s Jackie Gleason Show. While Time Life trumpets the fact that this material is IN COLOR, I personally have dreamed of uncut full-length episodes of the original home of the Lost Episodes, back when Gleason was in his prime. Don't get me wrong, Miami Beach audiences are the greatest in the world, as the Great One tells us, but I'm more interested in the original New York stuff.

Second on my wish list is American Scene Magazine, the 1962-1966 incarnation of Gleason's variety show before he went to Miami in full living color. I remember WOR in New York showed a half-hour syndicated version of that series, and as a little kid I was fascinated by this alternate view of the man who was Ralph Kramden. There was scuttlebutt years ago that this series was being shopped for potential DVD release. If anyone could do it, it would be Time Life. I bet the company figured the color years with the big guest stars were more marketable.

MPI had the license to this material for years and did increasingly little with it. A deluxe version of this set has the old Lost Episodes, the same material MPI put out a few years ago in a complete set. Does this mean MPI is done with the world of Jackie Gleason? If so, I hope Time Life someday decides to take a shot at the older stuff. For me, the black and white years, even the American Scene episodes, would be a must buy. As it is, I'd loooove to have this set, but it might take a while for me to come up with 100 bucks for it.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week #82

I thought by becoming a cordcutter, I would have a lot more time to watch these streaming video services. Then I decided I wanted to watch the MLB playoffs, and I got PlayStation Vue. So far, I am impressed, but the DVR is funky, and anything I "save" has to be watched in 28 days, even if I keep the service for another month. So now I feel I have to watch a ton of PlayStation Vue.

All of this is a long way of saying--oh, let me just get to this week's chart so I can get back to the My Little Margie I recorded.

1) YouTube: YT does a lot of annoying things, but my kids put on a kid-friendly (and kid-centric) fail video that actually cracked me up. See, a kid was goofing around trying to be a frontman/rock star, he fell, and the kid playing drums did a rimshot with perfect timing. You had to see it.

Plus there is still lots of great 80s wrestling and old TV promos on there. That alone is well worth the $0 a month I pay for the Roku version, and YT gets the #1 spot in a week when the other big ones are still on double-not-secret probation.

2) Hulu: The more I use the new interface on Roku...the more I resent it. It makes it too hard to find new content, and it's another example of the odious trend of telling viewers what they want to watch instead of just letting them access what they really want to watch (see #5 on this list).

That said, the new Sarah Silverman show wasn't really my thing, but it was something different. Plus Hulu keeps adding content, and, best of all, it lowered its base price for new subscribers. Everything is going in the right direction with two caveats: 1) The redesign sucks 2) Where the hell is all that classic Fox TV like MASH  and St. Elsewhere that was announced months ago?

3) TubiTV: Big ups to this one for having the complete run of a series that just might be featured on a podcast that returns with new episodes this coming week...

4) Pub-D-Hub:  The thumbnail for the Batman serial, showing the Caped Crusader in a hilarious mundane pose, makes me want to watch it again, and the Hub is adding several chapters each week. I would also have ranked it high for the Roger Maris Post Cereal baseball cards commercial it added last week, but it also added a Chesterfield Sound Off Time hosted by Fred Allen.

5) Netflix: Still on punishment for the price hike, though the new David Fincher series Mindhunter is getting strong reviews. The latest Noah Baumback film has an outstanding cast and is said to have "the best performance of Adam Sandler's career." Yes, I chuckled when I read that AND when I just wrote it.

6) NBC: I was worried when the Throwback section of the site had September 2017 expiration dates for many of its series, but they now show as September 2018, indicating they are essentially meaningless. You can still enjoy shows like the original Galactica, Knight Rider, and Miami Vice free and with fairly unobnoxious commercial intrusion.

7) Watch ESPN: It's great the PlayStation Vue service lets you authenticate with many individual network apps. In some ways it's a better experience watching ESPN on here than it is on cable. There is a lot on Watch ESPN that is not otherwise available. It's a great resource for catching up on some of those 30 for 30 episodes that have not surfaced anywhere else after leaving Netflix earlier this year.

8) Tune In: You could be having a bad week, a tough day, a hectic moment, or all of those, and then you hear Deep Oldies play Eddie Holman's This Can't Be True, and all is right with the world.

9) Dailymotion: I just discovered all the [REDACTED] cartoons are on here, so I have to watch 'em before the leave. I will say again that DM is a poor, poor, poor man's YouTube, and the Roku version is an afterthought, but it's often a great plan B when something is not on the "mothership."

10) Amazon Prime: I try to add Prime each time it debuts a series which makes me think, "you know, I wish I could see that series," and the new Lore (a reenactment show based on the paranormal/folklore podcast of the same name) intrigues me. What a terrible week it was for Amazon, though, with the current scandals bleeding into the Prime Video world and making people question if the creep running it made big picture decisions based on the creepy things he was doing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Half-Assed Gourmet: Red Lobster Endless Shrimp

Watch a football game on the weekend, and there's a good chance you'll see an ad for Endless Shrimp, the annual event designed by Red Lobster to honor and celebrate gluttony all across this great nation of ours. After an unfortunate miss last year, I made my triumphant return to the festivities this year, indulging at a local RL which I hadn't patronized in years.

The shrimp was not great this year, but it was very good. More importantly, it was endless--or at least, ending it was my call, not theirs. One disappointing thing this year was the lack of "off-menu" selections. In years past, I could request coconut shrimp, for example--basically just fried shrimp with a different sauce, but hey, it felt like another option.

This year's roster:

Shrimp alfredo: I passed; I didn't need NOODLES filling me up while I was trying to consume a Costanza-esque amount of seafood.

Shrimp scampi: Assuming "scampi" means "drowned in garlic butter," this is always a great option, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I was tempted to order some side dishes off the menu so I could dip them in the scampi dish. Heck, before I left, I almost "accidentally" dropped a napkin in there so I could see what it tasted like scampi-style.

Hand-breaded shrimp: Oh, did I say FRIED a minute ago? Please excuse me. The preferred term on the menu is hand-breaded, which I guess sounds classier and...less heart-attacky. Mind you, when I asked my server for hand-breaded shrimp, she said, "Oh, the fried shrimp? Sure."

Nashville shrimp: YEE-HAW! Basically fried shrimp with some kind of spicy powder all over it, which sounds awful but tastes pretty good.

Mediterranean shrimp: Ah, go from the earthy charms of Nashville to the exotic glamour of the Mediterranean with this selection of shrimp seasoned with, uh, stuff. I think lemon? The distinctive thing about this item is the bed of long-grain rice and the skewers. It was delicious. Not the skewers--I didn't eat those, and I even resisted dipping them in the scampi--but the rice.

So that's 5 choices, which feels paltry, especially when one of them doesn't even interest me. I got my money's worth, though, and I enjoyed the shrimp enough to make me think, "Lord, I regret eating like that...but I will do it again next year."

This Red Lobster let me down in some other ways, though. I sat in a weird quasi-lounge section in the bar with a cushy chair that may or may not have been designed to make me forget how much I was punishing my body. The setting was fine, but the service was not. I think I might have received better service in the main dining area.

My side dish was wrong (I know, I know, but if they are gonna offer a side dish with the Endless Shrimp, I'm gonna take it), my drink refills were sparse, I had to ask for more napkins, etc. Perhaps the biggest flaw was the failure to remove dishes from my table.

Look, I am making it abundantly clear in this post that I know what overkill this whole experience is. Yet I don't need to be reminded of such during my meal by having to stare at my used plates the whole time. It's not like I need a tally to keep score of a competition--it's been years since I did that--so, please, folks, out with the old and in with the new. I mean, you can let the scampi dish linger a bit, but other than that, get that stuff out of there!

Overall, Endless Shrimp remains a winner for one reason: It gives me the opportunity to stuff myself silly. The price has remained constant the last few years. However, I hope to see better service next year and maybe a few additional choices.

Monday, October 9, 2017

'Mooners Monday #29: Head of the House

You gotta love episodes that revolve around Ralph's biiiiiig mouth. Sure, the temptation is to say that means "all of them," but "Head of the House" is a classic example of Ralph shooting his mouth off and getting himself in trouble. In an odd way, though, Ralph deserves some credit in this episode. He says some dumb things, but he doesn't back down.

First let's took a look at old Gleason Players reliable Frank Marth, who is hanging around on the street harassing--uh, inquiring to various passersby for a feature in his newspaper.

Marth played both sinners and saints on The Honeymooners; it's a good bet that if you have a story involving cops, he's gonna be one of the bad guys if not one of the men in blue. His solid everyman kind of look and demeanor suits this inquiring reporter role well. See, in the 1950s, people didn't yet think THE MEDIA was the root cause of all the world's evils.

Still, everyone is just blowing right by him like they owe him money. I guess it is annoying to be accosted on the street when you're hustling off to work. Several citizens speed right past Marth until Ralph and Ed stop for a few minutes to answer the question, who is the head of the household in your family?

Ed doesn't want to make any waves, and Ralph scolds him, launching a diatribe on how HE is the boss and the master of his household. Well, Marth is gonna put all this in the paper. Check out Ralph's reaction:

Ralph's not thrilled, but he becomes defiant and decides to go through with it. Go ahead and print it. What does he care? This is the first time Ralph doubles down on his attitudes.

Of course, talking big around Ed is one thing, but being a blowhard around Alice is another. So when he goes home, he tries to prevent Alice from seeing the paper. I'm surprised that a cheapskate like Ralph wouldn't make Alice fish for day-old editions, anyway.

Norton brings the paper home, though:

How helpful of Ed, ensuring that Alice doesn't miss her hubby's big spotlight in the newspaper. Of course Alice is irritated by Ralph's comments, pointing out that of the handful of men who answered the question, he was the only one who insisted HE was the head of the household.

Would newspapers be in better shape today if they posted correspondents all over the place asking goofy questions? No? You're right. Yet another thing we can blame on Facebook. Who cares about seeing their name and mug shot in the paper of record when they can post pictures of their dinners all over the Internet?

Coming up in future installments: Ralph doubles down again, one of the most famous scenes in series history, and one of the all-time great "minor" 'Moonersverse characters.