Saturday, June 29, 2013

Don't Trust the H

I have another bone to pick with Hulu. Just when I had sort of almost come to terms with the fact that the Roku version crashes every other time I launch it--not an ideal attribute for a pay channel--comes its latest stunt. I don't know if Hulu itself is to blame, or ABC, or the Trilateral Commission, but let's direct our anger at Hulu for now.

When ABC dumped it's funny but not so popular sitcom "Don't Trust the B in Apt. 23" earlier this year, an announcement soon followed that the unaired episodes would be available on Hulu. I am not sure if that is better or worse than the traditional move of burning off unaired material on Saturday nights--my money leans toward "worse"--but given that I am a Hulu Plus sucker--uh, customer, I figured, well, no big deal. I had been watching the show exclusively on Hulu, anyway.

Well, life intervened--real life, not the Damian Lewis quirky hourlong USA Network-type show that failed on NBC a few years back and would likely be burned off on Hulu today--and I was without TV for a while, even with the Roku, so I didn't get to those "extra" "Don't Trust the B" episodes when I wanted to. In fact, it wasn't until this past week that I sat down and prepared to run a mini-marathon (note I didn't use the word "binge") of the the antics of Krysten Ritter, Dreama Walker, James Van Der Beek...and the rest.

Well, I ran into one of those funny little realities of streaming TV: Odds are pretty good when you expect to see something, it ain't there! Apparently Hulu Plus--this is the paid version, mind you--quietly dropped the episodes 3 weeks earlier. So those unaired ones were available for...weeks. Whoopee.

OK, I had my shot and missed it, but still, what is the benefit in pulling back that material? Is someone trying to stoke interest for a DVD set? Go to the Hulu page for the show, and not surprisingly you will see a bunch of complaints from cranks like me bemoaning the absence of those touted episodes.

This whole affair has really soured me on the whole streaming thing in general. I'd elaborate, but I just remembered it's the time each week I sit down and watch an "I Spy" on Hulu.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

My weekly stats show time and again that this column is the most viewed post, so I'm bringing it back.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: I actually heard someone say they went to see this figuring how can a movie with Steve Carell and Jim Carrey suck? Exhibits A-F: Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, Dinner for Schmucks, Bewitched.

The Call: The poster for this Halle Berry thriller says something like: 'There are 1.5 million 911 calls each year. This one made it personal." Yeah, Halle Berry HATES IT when you butt-dial her dispatch center.

Phantom: They ain't what they used to be, but it's still kind of amazing that a movie with Ed Harris and David Duchovny can be so obscure. You might say it...vanished from theaters. YOU might say that. I'm too sophisticated to make a comment like that.

As Luck Would Have It: Well, it has Salma Hayek. Do you need to know anything else?

Shark! My complete ignorance of the movies on this list is the theme of the week, but any shame I feel in acknowledging I never heard of Shark! is alleviated by the joy I feel in learning that in 1969, Samuel Fuller made a movie starring Burt Reynolds and Barry Sullivan. And it was called Shark!

CSI: NY: Season 9: Season 9. Wow. Just wow.

Best of Looney Tunes: I used to buy that line about how Warners had a family video division that was entirely separate from the catalog DVD division and how it wanted to release things aimed not at the collectors market, but at some kind of nebulous general audience. Now I am convinced that Warners actually just runs a rogue division dedicated to pissing off animation devotees by cranking out endless repackages of its cartoons while refusing to continue comprehensive archival releases of the Looney Tunes.

Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: This must be the fifth or sixth time someone has tried to put out a complete set of this show. Hey, hey, hey, maybe they get it right today.

Peter Gunn Season 2: My dad raised an eyebrow the other day when I claimed Johnny Staccato was a similar but better show. Uh, now that I read that I realize it's not that interesting to you guys, but it was kind of a conversation starter for us.

Wagon Train: Final Season: Tune in to see if they finally got off the wagon train.

WWE: Best of War Games: Every now and then, when WWE sees a chance to make money, it acknowledges that one of its competitors did something cool. Kudos to the company for recognizing the innovative idea Jim Crockett Promotions had of taking a bunch of guys, putting them in a set of double steel cages, and having them beat the crap out of each other. Trust me, it was more original than I'm making it sound.

And in Instant Watching...

The Avengers: As I believe I wrote when Hunger Games arrived, every couple months Netflix gets a blockbuster movie that allows the company to say, "SEE? We DO get big movies."

Katy Perry: Part of Me: Yeah, I'll admit, I might check some of it out. And I assure you, I am interested in all parts of Katy Perry, not just the ones she--aw, who am I kidding. I might just go look for screencaps instead.

John Hodgman: Ragnarok: This is interesting: An exclusive standup comedy special. It's kind of like how HBO built up its brand by running comedians in concert, only you can run it into the ground yourself instead of watching HBO do it.

Soldiers of Fortune: It's like Netflix started a "Movies for Guys Who Like Movies" category. Talk about a manly film, with a manly title and a manly cast: Christian Slater, Ving Rhames, Sean Bean, Dominic Monaghan...Well, 3 out of 4 ain't bad.

More Disney movies: Mulan I and II, Hunchback of Notre Dame I and II, Who Framed Roger Rabbit...Slowly the Disney deal pays dividends as Netflix builds up a decent assortment of the Mouse's library. And so far, none of it has suddenly disappeared.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Vault of Coolness: The Wondrous Wizard of Id

You gotta love those old pocket-size paperbacks. Remember when comic strip reprints came not in deluxe hardback archival editions, but little softcovers like this?

And here's the back:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Brooks on Books: Archie: The Complete Daily Newspaper Comics 1946-1948

From what I understand, the reason this isn't necessarily a "Volume 1" in a definitive chronological series is source material issues; IDW hasn't been able to track decent copies of the entire run. If so, that's a shame, because this collection of the strip's first 3 years is amazing, and I would gladly buy any and all subsequent volumes.

These early strips, and especially the beginning of the book, may be a real shock to those unfamiliar with the early days of the Archieverse, but I am fascinated with the way the characters look. It only makes this MORE appealing to me, actually. You see the crude-looking bucktoothed Archie Andrews, Jughead is vaguely menacing, and Montana makes Betty and Veronica so glamorous you don't even want to think about how they are supposed to be high schoolers. Miss Grundy is even less glamorous than she is in the modern era.

Montana loves wordplay and quick puns, but he often uses them within the early panels and not as the punchline of a given strip. This run is a great mix of daily gag type situations and continuing storyline. Some stories go on for a few weeks, and a summer camp plotline takes up all of July and August of 1946. That one is notable for introducing millionaire H.O. Pittney, who shows up later as a convenient device to fund vacations for the gang and get them out of Riverdale...which is funny when you think about it. Why didn't Mr. Lodge just fill that role?

Archie joins the football team, Archie promises to get entertainment for the Junior Prom (there are a lot of dances in the strip),  Archie goes bird hunting...There are all sorts of amusing plots in here. The stories are absorbing, and the characters are compelling. But let me make an important point: It's funny. The jokes are funny, the drawings are funny, and the gang is just funny. I half-expected this book to be mainly interesting in an archival way, like, "Hey, it's great reading these old comics!" The early days of "Blondie" are like that. I love that collection, but it's more amusing than flat-out hilarious to us today, and the beginning of the book doesn't lend itself so well to plowing through. This Archie collection is different, though, and I had no trouble buzzing through pages at a time even though of course it was originally meant to be enjoyed once a day.

Oh, and, yes, this contains the infamous strip of April 2, 1947, in which Archie says--Well, look it up if you must, because it has inspired many a blog post, but if there is ANY chance someone reading this will get the book and stumble upon it and be surprised, well, I don't want to give it away.

This book is an excellent part of the always reliable IDW Library of American Comics series, and I can only hope more daily Archie is on the way.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Let's retire the phrase "Binge Watching"

Normally when "Entertainment Weekly" gets his hands on something, it's a definitive sign that its moment in the zeitgeist has already passed. Yet I fear its recent "guide to binge watching" was not the start of the decline of that odious phase, but rather a signal of mainstream acceptance. The term had bothered me for a while, but seeing "EW" devote so much space to telling us which kinds of shows we should "binge-watch" in which situations drove me over the edge.

I mean, for one thing, why don't we just, you know, watch a really good show we like when we're in the mood to watch it? It seems that consulting charts, graphs, and mood rings to determine a program to sit down and block-view complicates an activity that shouldn't be so complicated. And this is coming from a guy anal enough to organize rotations of his DVDs and Netflix picks (I never stick to the rotations, but I set them up).

More important is my fundamental dislike of the term itself. "Binge watching" doesn't sound pleasant at all. I have no problem with the "watching" part, but "binge" has negative connotations. It makes me think of gluttony, of overindulgence, of excess. If I'm sitting down and watching a handful of episodes of "Quincy" at once, chances are part of me is guilty enough about spending my time on the planet that way without being labeled a binger.

I can remember the term we used to use when we sat down and watched a bunch of episodes of something in a short period of time (NOTE: "watching a bunch of episodes of something in a short period of time" is also an acceptable phrase). We called it a marathon. Networks had marathons. Sometimes they had mini-marathons. When I myself dove into a DVD set, I might tell someone I had a little marathon of the show.

Marathon is a good word. Apart from Laurence Olivier and dental tools, it brings to mind positive images. It summons feelings of achievement, of endurance, or the triumph of the human spirit. No, rushing through a half-dozen installments of "The Secrets of Isis" to see the whole run before it expires from Netflix is not the most courageous of feats. But why not keep the facade that it is has some value, rather than saddling it with the term "binge-watching"?

I am going to avoid that term on this blog, and I would ask that you do the same. "Entertainment Weekly" is on its own.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I'm back...back in a (undisclosed location of Cultureshark Tower) groove...I'm back...

The new and improved Cultureshark Tower is up and running, I am monitoring the world of pop culture as promised, and of course the Federales are surely monitoring me. Look for an actual post on Monday, and before too long I hope to resume my standard post rate of 10 or so per day. Er, well, it was more like daily.

OK, at least I did a few posts a week, and I'll try to stick to that. Fair warning, though, that I still have a lot of things going on. Fortunately, though, I am now finding some time to actually consume the pop culture we all love and occasionally mock, and, hey, I might as well try to write about it, right?

In the meantime, I leave you this Father's Day weekend with this: I went to a new place for a haircut today, asked for something akin to a crew cut, and, well, when I used the phrase almost like the military, I didn't expect to get the Private Pyle from "Full Metal Jacket." It's never a good sign when the woman who cuts your hair tells you as you're paying--and I swear I am not fabricating this for effect--"It'll grow back."

I suddenly have the urge to watch some "Kojak" episodes...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

We thank you for your patience...

I realize this blog has been a desolate place recently; even the crickets and tumbleweeds got tired of waiting around. I promise actual content will resume shortly, though.

As for where I've been, hey, why are you getting into my business? When I'm ready to tell you--oh, wait, nobody asked me where I've been. Sorry about that.

I am in the process of finalizing a divorce (and I don't mean divorcing myself from ME-TV and Antenna for merely swapping shows and not adding anything cool) and, more importantly in terms of the blog, moving Cultureshark Tower.

That's right, there is a brand-new Cultureshark Tower, and I am proud to say it was constructed with not ONE CENT of taxpayer money. I'm still getting the place established and installing the massive communications network that allows me to monitor vintage and current pop culture (there's a fancy way of putting that, eh?), and I'm still trying to calibrate the sun angle to get the optimal location for the death ray, but after I get squared away, the ones and ones of you who follow this site will tolerate--or, enjoy--more posts.