Monday, September 30, 2013

Fall TV Warning Part 6

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking at this rate, it will be SPRING before I finish my Fall TV Warning series. Well, I went ahead and WROTE it. So you might as well stop thinking it. Yes, the season is underway, but if just one person is waiting for my tale on "Back in the Game," this will all be worth it.

Back in the Game: Aw, jeez, I just put the pressure on myself. I don't have much to say about this ABC sitcom about a softball player who is trying to raise a family and put up with her dad. Jimmy Caan is Grandpa, and it's clear he's supposed to be providing the laughs in this by being outrageous, gruff but lovable, just plain old, etc. I'd rather see him going around breaking kneecaps. And, hey, I saw you in the preview, too, Ben Koldyke. Don't think I forgot that you were in "Work It." Folks, if you forgot, please don't look it up.

Sean Saves the World: Sean Hayes plays a divorcee trying to raise his daughter. Linda Lavin plays Jessica Walter. This series has a throwback feel reminiscent of the old Thursday night NBC lineup. Unfortunately, it's the lesser shows it feels like, stuff like Veronica's Closet and Suddenly Susan, subpar sitcoms built around personalities who couldn't really sustain an entire sitcom.

We Are Men: I swear every other year, there comes to network television a new series with the sole apparent purpose of giving Jerry O'Connell an excuse to wear a Speedo. He's in great shape now. We get it. Otherwise, little stands out in this comedy about a generic jilted guy who moves to a condo complex with a group of wacky swinging singles led by Tony Shalhoub. It looks like Shalhoub is having fun, but, yeah, I don't think so. And, hey, Kal Penn is here, too, helping the memory of his stint in the White House become ever dimmer.

Super Fun Night: The premise sounds OK--socially awkward friends decide to cut loose--but the preview was all about Rebel Wilson being humiliated and somehow managing to be stripped to her underwear. I'm sure her performance will be called "fearless," but who does she think she is, Jerry O'Connell?

Betrayal: Why did this preview annoy me so much? I don't know, it's supposed to be a twisty, sudsy (I guess) drama, but all I got out of it was that we were supposed to feel sorry for the two leads because, gosh darn it, why does it have to be so HARD to commit adultery? I got a kick out of seeing James Cromwell being all crotchety, though.

The Crazy Ones: Robin Williams, "I'm back!" at the beginning of the trailer, with that trademark impishness, says it all. I was surprised, though, that in the sneak peek, it was more about Sarah Michelle Gellar, who plays the daughter and colleague of Robin's ad man, making an ass of HERself. David E. Kelley is somehow involved, for better or worse, though it seemed like CBS wasn't going out of its way to promote that. Really, shouldn't this be a bigger deal? Robin Williams coming back to TV is news, or at least I thought it was, but this didn't seem to get a lot of hype.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Iron Man 3: What the hell is this? Some kind of anime thing? Eh, I'm not into anime, sorry.

Room 237: Oh happy day! This cool-sounding documentary delves into the various elaborate interpretations fans have of Kubrick's "The Shining," and I wanted to see it as soon as I heard about it. Oh happier day--see below.

I Spit on Your Grave 2: All right, but at least you know what you're getting, unlike that weird "Iron Man 3" art flick.

Redemption:  I was really worried when I saw the cover for this one. Jason Statham is kind of dressed up, and what;s that look on his face? He doesn't look like he's about to kick ass. No, the guy looks almost...pensive. What, is he thinking? Or even worse...reflecting? Fortunately, I saw the words "avenging angel" in a plot synopsis. So he's still kicking butt, right? Whew!

South Park Season 16: I have lost track of what happened in what season, but the only thing that matters to me here is that, hey, this must mean a new season is airing!

Modern Family Season 4: Every time I think the show is slipping, it comes back with a solid enough effort to make me keep it on my must-see list each week. Plus as long as it continues, there's always the chance of seeing Sofia Vergara in a hot dress at the Emmys.

The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Hey, Time Life comes through with another big megaset. There is a scaled-down version with some of the roasts, but Time Life has the massive complete collection. This means that if any of us have an, uh, "alternative" DVD set, we can retire that and upgrade to the official, high-quality version.Right on! And it's only...$250?

Hey, we can get by perfectly well with only one kidney, right?

The Big Combo: This awesome but underseen film noir from Anthony Mann with cinematography by the great John Alton is a real standout, and I hope Olive Films' DVD and Blu-Ray releases do it justice. Me, I'm pretty happy with the old Image DVD I have, but I'm willing to listen, and even if this isn't a big upgrade, I'm just glad that it's out there and available. See it.

In streaming....

Remember that Room 237 documentary I mentioned a while back? You know, a movie I've actually heard of and wanted to see, as opposed to that "Iron Man 3" curio? Well, not only is it on DVD, it's on Netflix Instant Watch! Whoo-hoo! We all like to complain about Netflix, but sometimes they come through for us.

On the other hand, where the heck is the eighth season of How I Met Your Mother? Not here! I thought it would be here in time for the new season. Netflix DID add a bunch of weird Discovery reality and "science" shows like My Dog Crapped What? and stuff like that. Yippee.

Last week I expressed disappointment with the initial offerings of Hulu-Plus' BBC deal. Well, this week the service added some more, and it's apparently staggering the titles as it rolls them out. Smart move. I still haven't seen anything really exciting, but there's more to it than it first appeared. And, hey, now that the fall season is here, we're getting a reminder of why we want Hulu in the first place, right?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dr. James Kildare is OUT OF CONTROL

Dr, Kildare is out of control in the season 1 episode "The Lonely Ones." Here he is lifting the wallet of an incapacitated patient:

Later, he roughs up a hotel manager whose only crime is minding his own business:

I'm still watching this series, if only to see if someone can stop this rampaging lunatic, but I know you never saw Lew Ayres pulling stuff like this.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fall TV Warning Part 5

I could run 4 links in a row, but do you really need me to tell you where parts 1 through 4 are at this point?

Ironside: I saw star Blair Underwood say that while his character is in a wheelchair, in no way, shape, or form does that define him. Uh, I understand what he's getting at here, but isn't the whole POINT of "Ironside" that he's in a wheelchair? This isn't "Delvecchio," for crying out loud.

Almost Human: Man teams with robot to stop crime, from what I gather. Two things prevent me from making fun of this: 1) It stars Karl ("Dredd," "Star Trek") Urban, whose work I quite enjoy; and 2) it doesn't actually premiere until November, so we'll have plenty of time to make fun of it later.

Trophy Wife: Well, I guess Malin Ackerman has gone from ingenue to "other woman" in romantic comedies to...this. Good for Bradley Whitford's character for nabbing her, I guess, but the show looks to be about Ackerman finding herself in awkward situations and looking like an ass. Maybe it'll be funny--though the preview doesn't give me confidence--but I just kind of feel bad for her.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland: Spinoff of "Once Upon a Time," only this time featuring Alice in Wonderland. Considering I don't watch the original show and considering I feel asleep 5 different times watching the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp "Alice," this one isn't high on my list.

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD: I guess I need to finally see "Avengers," huh? I hope this is good, but I kind of worry that the characters are more types than anything--the stock wise-ass already annoys me. Still, I'll give this a chance. I like how it's called "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD," by the way, so we don't confuse it with Archie Comic's The Shield.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

So many of you viewed last week's "This Week" post (was it the "Star Trek" reference?), the least I can do is get another one out on time. if there's one thing I promise to deliver to my readers, it's that I'll always strive to do the least I can do. This is a short one, though, while I wade through the new Fall TV shows and some things in that mystical realm known as "real life."

World War Z: While my first reaction to this is, "Great, zombies--we haven't seen THAT lately," part of me, for some odd reason, is just grateful that it's not yet another Tom Cruise movie.

The Bling Ring: If you can get past the ridiculous're a better person than I am, because I can't. I don't really want to see a movie about "fame-obsessed teenagers," even if it's directed by Orson Welles.

Disconnect: I have no idea what this is about, but I'm inclined to find out if it stars Jason Bateman and Hope Davis.

Behind the Candelabra: With this original movie about Liberace, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, HBO generated significant headlines and buzz...for about a week. Catch it on DVD now, or wait for a free preview weekend.

Nashville Season 1: I saw the first 10 episodes or so of this, and then I got busier and just fell off the tracks with this one.

WWE SummerSlam 2013: Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena, CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar...Me versus my readers who could not care less about professional wrestling. The readers win the last battle, and I won't spoil the other two.

In Instant Watching:

Hey, think I should finally sample Inspector Morse? Multiple seasons are now streaming. Speaking of British shows, Hulu Plus made a big deal out of its new content deal with BBC--it even sent me an e-mail about it, which you know means it's important--and when I checked out the new titles, I saw Doctor Who, Torchwood, Primeval, Robin other words, mostly the same stuff we've already seen and which has already been streaming elsewhere. In fact, at least SOME of it is STILL streaming elsewhere, like on Netflix. This deal could be worthwhile if more interesting titles are added, but for now, I'm more excited about all the new Fall TV adds (even though most of them look terrible) than I am about this.

Getting back to Netflix, new this past week are Nine, the failed musical which would be a bigger add if this were 3 years ago, and I Don't Know How She Does It, the failed Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle which would be a bigger add if it didn't suck.

I'm intrigued by Netflix exclusive (but not original production) Derek, a Ricky Gervais joint that seems to be pretty low under the radar, and Along Came Polly, the 2004 Ben Stiller/Jennifer Aniston comedy. Oh, it's not a particularly good film, but it's nice to know I can have instant access to the scene in which Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character explains "sharting."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fall TV Warning Part 4

Parts 1, 2, and 3 are--well, they're right underneath this post!

Hostages: Your tolerance for this may depend on how ready you are to embrace a show in which Dylan McDermott is a hotshot super-cool guy with all the answers. He is an FBI agent who holds a surgeon's (Toni Colette) family hostage and tries to force her to botch an operation on the POTUS (that's the Prez, for all you non-insider types). This looks like a movie premise, not a series premise, and here I must confess that while back in Part 1 I said I was forming these opinions based on the previews alone, without any outside influence, I DID learn this week that "Hostages" is designed as a 15-episode event (though of course they have plans to continue it if it does well." So I'm no longer thinking, "How are they gonna stretch this for a whole season?" No, now I'm thinking, "How are they gonna stretch this for 15 episodes?"

The Blacklist: Another show with a slick Uberdude with all the answers. In this case, though, the role is made for someone with charisma, and James Spader looks to be having a great time in this Usual Suspects meets Silence of the Lambs deal. He's a villain who turns himself in and offers to help catch the most sought-after criminals in the world...but he will only deal with a particular fresh-outta-the-academy-type female agent.

This could be an entertaining program, but unfortunately, after watching a good deal of the 49ers/Seahawks on "Sunday Night Football" on NBC, I'm already sick of it. Maybe on Netflix next year?

Tomorrow People: I hate to be so dismissive of the CW, but I lost interest halfway through the 6-minute trailer, and I really only remember half of what it was about. I don't see much point in refreshing my memory. This is evidence of the show's blandness, my prejudice...or both.

Welcome to the Family: Carlos from Desperate Housewives (OK, he has a name, and it's Ricardo Chivera) and Mike O'Malley meet not-so-cute, then discover they're gonna be in-laws. This generic-looking comedy might give me some more of those patented Carlos "incredulous" takes , but I think I'd enjoy them a lot more if they were reacting to Eva Longoria in a nightie than to Mike O'Malley in...anything.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fall TV Warning Part 3

Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here. Or you could just scroll down a bit.

Lucky 7: This look at the trials and tribulations of a group of co-workers who win the lottery is adapted from a British series. I don't know about you, but whenever I see "adapted from a British series," I really just want   to see the British series.

Reign: I give full credit to the CW for making a show that's about, like, old history and stuff (Mary, Queen of Scots), though judging from the preview, it's not exactly a bunch of classically trained middle-aged thespians speaking iambic pentameter. Something else weird about this--well, it's really me: These days it really doesn't seem like a period costume drama without gratuitous nudity and shocking violence.

The Originals: Spinoff of "Vampire Diaries." Either you're in or you're out, right?

The Michael J. Fox Show: This new NBC sitcom is pretty aggressive about poking fun at Fox's Parkinson's disease, and it sure looks like a brave effort from the veteran comic actor. I have mixed feelings about the preview in general and mixed feelings about that aggression in particular. I will still probably give this a shot, though, because after all it does feature one of America's most beloved performers:

Wendell Pierce, AKA The Bunk from "The Wire."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fall TV Warning Part 2

Part 1 appeared yesterday. Today I may be a little grumpier because I am going to mention a really horrible-looking new series.

But first, since it debuts tonight, let's consider Brooklyn Nine-Nine, FOX's new cop comedy starring Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher. I think the world is ready for--nay, the world needs--a good cop comedy. Samberg is a total wise-ass detective who butts heads with Braugher's no-nonsense chief. I like that Terry Crews (the breakout star of the Netflix version of Arrested Development, if you ask me) is in this, and I want this to be good.  But a little of Samberg goes a long way, and a little of Braugher is never enough, and the preview indicates Samberg's character goes a little too far into annoying territory to carry this each week.

The Millers: Where to begin discussing how bad this CBS "comedy" looks? First, why does Will Arnett keep getting lead TV roles? He seems like a decent guy, and I felt bad when his relationship with Amy Poehler deteriorated, but his persona just doesn't lend itself to more than an effective supporting presence. Even the episodes in "Arrested Development" that centered on him disappointed.

Arnett is toning down the smarm this time, from the looks of it, and I guess I can't say his talent is being "wasted." But his parents are played by Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale, and as far as their talents...well, I hope they are being paid well. When Arnett's character announces his divorce, Beau says, "Hey, I can do that, too," and bolts, leading Margo to move in with sonny boy. This creates a warm, delightful family comedy about the foibles of intergenerational conflicts and the bonds that ultimately unite us.

Oops, no, wait. It actually just creates a bunch of fart jokes. A LOT of 'em. And the fact that most of them come from Martindale should settle that issue of wasted talents.

I'm watching the trailer again right now to make sure I am not overexaggerating. This show is not funny at all. It's offensive right from the get-go, with a weak joke about a little kid cussing out Arnett's TV reporter character. It goes on for about 6 minutes, progressing from bland attempts at humor to old-people-talking-about-sex humor to those fart jokes. I am open to the concept of fart jokes, but I want them to make me laugh, not cringe.

"Hey, Mom, did you fart?"
[after pause and a take] "Yes!"

Then it has the nerve to try to go for "heart" at the end with Arnett and Martindale dancing together. Even with J.B. Smoove yelling, "Creepy!" to undercut it, there's no mistaking that the producers think this is going to make us like the characters. Yet they still interrupt the routine for this exchange between son and mother:

"Did you fart?"

Under normal circumstances, I would demand that you all sit through the preview yourself to see why I am calling this series "Fall TV Warning." Since this is National Preparedness Month, though, consider this a warning to avoid "The Millers." I'm so drained from getting the word out, I think I need to come back later this week and resume in Part 3. Is this how Paul Revere felt when he warned that Benny Hill was coming and bringing a ton of fart jokes?

Fall TV Warning: Part 1

That's right, I said "warning," not preview. I am not going to give you a comprehensive report on the new fall network TV shows. My goal is to warn you, because from the sneak peeks and trailers I've been watching, this looks like an atrocious lineup of new shows. September IS National Preparedness Month, so I think you need to be prepared.

I offer the disclaimer that I have read very little if anything about these shows, and I am basing my opinions on the clips I've seen via my cable provider's On Demand offerings. I won't go in any particular order, but I'll mention all that I see.

One general comment I will make is that, man, everybody on TV looks older this season. I don't want to be mean-spirited, so I will try not to make this observation about specific performers, but there are a lot of people on new series who pop out to me as looking flat-out older than I remember. I mean like to the point I'm surprised that the purportedly age-obsessed networks are building shows around them.

DADS: OK, I will make an age-related comment here, and it isn't about Howard Hesseman and Peter Riegert, who play the Dads. My observation is that seeing Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi (the sons) in this makes ME feel old. They don't look bad for their age or anything, but they just remind me of how long ago it was they were up-and-comers.

Fortunately I won't need to endure that nagging feeling of mortality anymore because the sitcom "from the mind of Seth MacFarlane" looks too awful to watch more than once. Two things about the preview clip tell me it isn't likely to surpass my expectations. It's the kind of show in which Ribisi quotes "The Untouchables" and then he and Green immediately have to cite the source of the quote, which ruins it. It's also the kind of show in which an attractive woman is asked to dress up as an Asian schoolgirl (fortunately, she IS Asian), and when she does so, we are treated to a jacked-up round of hooting and hollering from the audience. Yeah, I'll pass on this one.

DRACULA: I know Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is supposed to be all dark and Eurosexy, but I'm a dude, and I'm not interested, and the preview did nothing to interest me in the show itself. Besides, I'm still a Bela Lugosi guy.

SLEEPY HOLLOW: I have to admit the premise of this series amuses me, and the previews don't look terrible. Hey, look, I'm closing Part 1 on an up note!

There's a lot going on here. Ichabod Crane--who, this being modern network TV, isn't a gangly, awkward-looking gent--is a spy for the Colonial Army who finds himself in the present, where he joins forces with a  cop to combat the Headless Horsemen, who ALSO is in the present. There's apparently stuff about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and--uh-oh--an ongoing "mythology" that will either tantalize viewers as the season goes on or will be quickly explained in an episode or two if the ratings tank.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the guys who wrote the Star Trek reboot and at least one or two of the Transformers movies (how many of those are now?) may have something here, and I am oddly intrigued by the presence of a sence of a somber Orlando Jones. But the real reason I want to give this is a shot is the Headless Horseman. When he showed up in the preview, I laughed in a good way, a, "Hey, this is kind of cool" way.

So, yeah, "Hollow" may be half-decent. Come back tomorrow for more of the truly awful-looking new shows.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Your Dr. Kildare screencap of the week

I was still making my way through Disc 1 of Dr. Kildare Season 1 when look who I saw on my TV screen:

No, not the guy on the right, but the other guy, the one on the left.

That's right, it's Cultureshark Favorite Ken Berry!

I told you he was in every TV show!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

This Week (and Last Week) in DVD and Instant Watching

Last week, this feature took a week off to prepare for football season. Of course, after the events of Week 1, pro football is pretty much over considering the Steelers' miserable performance and plethora of injuries. More time to look for something to watch on DVD!

Star Trek Into Darkness: The first J.J. Abrams movie was a pleasant surprise for me, and I look forward to seeing this one, but I think we can all agree that the whole reboot is a failure if it doesn't somehow include naked green 3-breasted women. And Kirk scoring with them.

Now You See Me: A group of illusionists pull off some heists, and that sounds fun, but wouldn't you rather see an Expendables-like group of real magicians getting together to do this instead of a bunch of actors? Like David Blaine, David Copperfield, Penn & Teller...THAT would make a great movie.

The Iceman:  Deceased Contract killer Richard Kuklinski, famous for his HBO documentary appearances,  is the subject of this biopic. Winona Ryder, who plays his wife? She shoplifted, man. How can Hollywood glamorize her by giving her roles?

Sharknado: Finally we can relive that wave of good, clean fun we experienced...weeks ago when it aired on TV.

WWE Legends of Mid-South Wrestling: You can have your "Star Trek," but to me, this collection of 1980s action from the Bill Watts Mid-South territory is THE exciting DVD of the week. I mean, to get good footage of classics like when Ted DiBiase--wow, I just realized I probably sound worse than any "Star Trek" fanatic right now...

Top Cat: The Movie: Now, this is interesting: An Argentina/Mexico co-production, a new feature film reviving one of my all-time favorite cartoon characters. I guess he's a sensation in Latin America, and now we get an American-dubbed version on DVD. Well, this WAS interesting, right up until I read that Rob Schneider is one of the voices (though thank Barbera he's not doing Arnold Stang).

Homeland Season 2: LALALALALALALALALA! Still haven't seen this show yet so I'm not reading anything about it. LALALALALALALALALALALA....

The Best of Hullaballoo: This MPI series of 4 volumes may sound like a good idea, until you realize: 1) MPI put out superior, bigger sets years ago with complete episodes and 2) Look at the track listing on this. Trini Lopez? Jack Jones? Is this really the BEST?

And in Netflix Instant Watching the last few weeks...

The September 1 catalog dump was one of the most disappointing first-of-the-month group of titles in recent memory. Let's hope they do better in October.

A handful of Disney animated features were added, including two Emperor's New Groove movies and several Lilo and Stitch flicks. As a parent of small children, I am a lot happier about this than I am disappointed about the lack of other catalog adds. Hey, to THEM, they aren't "second-tier" Disney.

The latest attempt to adapt Richard Stark's novels, Parker, arrived on Netflix. I love the novels, and I remember seeing the ads when this came out and thinking it looked all wrong. Yet I still feel I need to see it.

Safe Haven is a high-profile recent theatrical. a Nicholas Sparks thing, so, fellas, if you make your lady sit through "Parker," you might want to do her a solid and offer to click this one.

A bunch of Godzilla flicks are back, and, hey, wouldn't it be great if the original "Get Smart" showed up on Netflix? Yeah, it would, but I doubt we'll ever see that streaming. The Nude Bomb is not an acceptable substitute.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Baseball plus TV plus self-promotion = this post

My latest TV Time column is now up at ClassicFlix together. Get revved up for the pennant drive by checking out my All-Star team of baseball players who appeared on classic TV shows:

TV Time: Baseball Players on PrimetimeTV Time: Baseball Players on Primetime
By Rick Brooks

One national pastime arrives around springtime each year, while another one never goes away. Yes, baseball’s return is a cherished annual ritual, but one might argue the real national pastime is watching television. Baseball and television together is a powerful combination.

Here, then, is my All-Star team, by position, of major league players based on their appearances in classic television. We’ll focus on the days before everything was changed by rampant commercialization and ridiculous salaries. Baseball was pretty different then, too.

Let's start in the outfield with a trio of Hall of Famers who were New York superstars and national icons. Instead of going with a strict left field, right field, center field arrangement, I couldn't resist choosing, as the Terry Cashman song puts it, Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.

OF: Willie (read more)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Budget DVD Theater: She Gods of Shark Reef

I was in the mood to dig into one of my "economy" multi-movie DVD packs the other day, and somehow I randomly selected "She Gods of Shark Reef" from the Sci-Fi Classics 100 pack. "It could be a lot of fun," I figured, "and even if it isn't, it's been a while since I've done a Budget DVD Theater, so maybe I can get a good post out of it."

Well, I think I'm gonna be batting 0 for 2 here, folks.

"She Gods" is not one of Roger Corman's better efforts, nor one of his more entertaining ones. It's never a good sign when, while watching a movie, you ponder why it hasn't been done as a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episode. I don't mean that as in, "Hey, this would have made a stellar MST3K." I mean I during this film, I was actually compiling an informal list of reasons why they didn't use this movie. Chief among them in my account is the interminable rowing. Over and over again, basic shots of people rowing. Not dynamic rowing, just rowing. Row, row your boat...On and on and on...Yeah, that would have been good for a few good lines from Joel/Mike and the gang, but after that, it probably would have just gotten old.

Instead of giving you a summary of the plot, how about a warning: This isn't so bad it's good. If you do watch it, do so with a friend so you can fill in the dull spots with a running wise-ass commentary. The source material may not be ripe enough for MST3K, but it might be enough for you to give yourself a few yuks sitting on the couch.

I tried, but I really don't have a lot more to say about this one. How about I just wrap it up here and strive to do better next time?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Finally finished Season 4 of "Arrested Development"

It feels weird to say "finally." I mean, it took, what, 4 months for me to get through 15 episodes? In olden times, 15 episodes would air weekly and you'd see the whole run in...about 4 months. But I feel like I'm way behind, so I'll keep my comments short.

It was a good season, not a great one. I hate to couch my praise like that because I feel like an ingrate. I have been a Netflix customer years and would have had the service this summer with or without a new season of "Arrested Development," so this is almost like "free" entertainment for me. Plus most episodes were a legit 30-minutes-plus. Given most network shows today run about 22 minutes, tops, that means this new batch of streaming episodes is the equivalent of, in broadcast terms, roughly....uh, I blew out all my math skills in the first paragraph. my point is they gave us a lot of comedy here, and I don't want to be the guy that gripes about it.

But I would rather see an "Arrested Development" like the old one. The writing and performances are fine in the Netflix season, but some of the essential appeal of the series is lost. Due to production schedules and logisitcal whatnots of different varieties, most episodes focus on a single character or two, and there is an extreme reliance on Ron Howard's narration. The original incarnation of "AD" whipped around to the whole Bluth family at an often dizzying pace, and the narration at least felt more like one of the show's tools instead of its driving engine. So this was a very good batch of funny episodes, but it wasn't the instant classic seasons 1 through 3 were.

So are 15 very good, funny episodes "enough?" Of course they are! I enjoyed the hell out of the season, and you know what? Ron Howard is excellent as the narrator. I just don't think I need to see another season unless they can do it more like they used to do it. And I still don't understand this talk about a movie. But, hey, I'm still thankful for these new episodes. I'm just sayin', is all.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Brooks on Books: "VJ" by Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn with Gavin Edwards

First of all, if you think you will enjoy an oral history by the original MTV video jockeys (4 of the 5 put together this book with Gavin Edwards; J.J. Jackson passed away years ago but his presence is still felt), let me tell you something: You will! This book is a fascinating journey through the early years of MTV and music videos in general, but it is told through the eyes of those individuals who were there. Make no mistake, this is their story. "I Want My MTV" is an outstanding oral history of MTV period, but if you are hungry for more of the early years and of these 5 individuals in particular, you must read this book.

In telling friends about "VJ," I find myself silencing myself lest I ruin all the great tidbits and hilarious quotes and anecdotes. I'm going to try to hold back here as well. If you take my advice, you're going to read it, anyway, so why spoil the good parts for you? In reality, though, there are so many good parts that it probably wouldn't be an issue.

The book hits the ground running with a brief chapter of David Lee Roth stories, a table setter that establishes the tone and gets us laughing from the get-go. Then we get into more or less a chronological account of how the 5 VJs got started in life, in the business, and then at MTV. The principals mostly tell their own stories, but there are occasional interjections by Edwards to provide context or to offer verbatim transcripts from archival footage of key events and on-air moments. Some chapters are built around a theme like fashion, the videos themselves, or a single happening like Live Aid.

I had to laugh at an early Amazon review of the book that complained about the constant references to drug use and gossip. The writer said something like, "I don't need to hear about your high school meth dealer or who you did coke with." That cracked me up because that's exactly the kind of stuff I wanted to read about. "VJ" delivers all kinds of tales of debauchery, and it is a riot reading Alan Hunter, discussing his own drug intake during the live New Year's Eve party specials, make a casual reference to how Mark and J.J. were such pros they could take just enough of a bump to get through a broadcast. But don't get me wrong. These VJs were more than just party animals, and the great triumph of the book is that they come off as compelling 3-dimensional human beings.

I think it's a mistake to reduce them to traits, especially after I just wrote about how they come alive as well-rounded individuals, but here's what stands out about each of them after reading "VJ":

Mark Goodman: Passionate. His lobbying for what he believed in and his faith in the music remind me of the infamous memos Robert Reed wrote to the show's producers during "The Brady Bunch."
Alan Hunter: Playful. His sense of humor and self-awareness are evident. He was never a hardcore music guy, but he brought personality, and that spirit is in here as well.
Martha Quinn: Pretty much as unaffected and unpretentious as her on-screen image and as I'm sure all her fans would wish that she were.
Nina Blackwood: Cast early on as "the rocker babe," Blackwood was and is in fact much more vulnerable and delicate than I would have ever imagined.
J.J. Jackson: He sounds like the unofficial mayor of New York City at times. Perhaps the least acclaimed of the 5 in the minds of the general public, he comes off as a fascinating, almost enigmatic character, a little vain but passionate in his own right and a mentor figure to the others. I really wish he were still around to tell his own story because it must be a great one.

Of the 5, Goodman in particular is the most surprising and perhaps dominant "character." For one thing, many of his most vivid memories are contradicted or unsupported by his colleagues. But he pours everything out here for better or worse, confessing to his own ego, his problems with relationships, and his getting wrapped up in the rock lifestyle. Yet he seems to be in a good place now, and you can't help but admire his willingness to criticize himself and his clear love of music. I enjoyed reading about his faith in the potential of the fledgling television format and his desire to better the product.

What stands out about the experience in general is how seat of the pants everything was. Especially from the VJ's perspective, it was a whirlwind, with rules created and discarded as situations occurred. Many times, the 5 relied on each other because management had little interest in creating potential stars and increasing their bargaining power. Sometimes the VJs found themselves in tough situations because of simple neglect, like being hung out to dry in a difficult interview or not being prepped for a live broadcast. The business history of MTV is an amazing one, and you can read about that elsewhere, but here is a vivid account of what it was like to actually work there as the thing got off the ground.

The only drawbacks of "VJ" are: J.J. Jackson couldn't participate--obviously a shame, but no one's fault here--and the appalling absence of an index. I blame Gavin Edwards or SOMEONE for that omission. Other than that, this book is a perfect blend of nostalgia, biography, and pop culture history, and I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in MTV history.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

FXX is another sign we have too many cable channels

So I complained last week about the unimaginative launch of Fox's new FXX channel, and now that it's here, I feel the same, but it made a good impression on me last night. I decided to roam the dial searching for it just to see what was on, and it was the recent movie "Easy A."

Now, this movie has been on various TV channels already, it's not any kind of special "get," and I've already seen it. Still, I can't help but give FXX some credit. Anytime I turn a channel on and the first thing I see is Emma Stone, I am going to cut that channel some slack.

I do find it amusing that since this channel takes over the real estate of what was Fox Soccer Plus, I have all these sports channels, some of them not even available without a different subscription package, and then finally, bam, there's FXX. Cable systems put some effort into crafting a reasonable lineup with some kind of flow and convenience for the consumer, and then it gets screwed up like this. If this experience is typical, it;s going to be very difficult for people to find "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" tonight.

While I'm talking about the ridiculousness of modern cable realities, let me talk about modern family. That is, Modern Family, as in the hit ABC sitcom. I've been reading and hearing for weeks about the show's pending rerun debut on USA Network. Seems more like a TBS thing, but fine. Well, last week I saw an ad on a local Fox broadcast affiliate touting the show's arrival on ITS lineup this fall.

So "Modern Family" is coming to USA but not exclusively. Well, what's the point? First of all, I don't need to see reruns of it already. It's only been on a few years! I'll watch the new episodes each week this season, and for me, yeah. that's enough.

But maybe some people are ready to watch these recent episodes again and again. Why do they need to see them on USA and their local Fox station? I get that not everyone has cable. OK, well, then they can ditch USA and watch it on their locals. This looks to me like another sign that there just isn't enough programming to fill these cable channels--even the really successful ones.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

4 out of 5 TV doctors agree...

...that the first thing a young medical intern should do to fortify himself at the beginning of a long shift is to buy a pack of cigarettes.

I just started watching Warner Archives DVD set of season 1 of "Dr. Kildare," and that IS what is going on here in the first epiosde, "Twenty-Four Hours," right? I mean, it's not like Jimmy Kildare is hitting Q5 on the jukebox to hear "Duke of Earl," right?

Can't blame the young doc for smiking, though, at Blair General. He may jus be doing it in self-defense. After all, in the same episode,look closely under mentor Dr. Gillespie's nose after he tells off his charge. He is literally breathing fire:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Hulu spares no expense in tapping into the world's television libraries

Hulu is notorious for its half-assed approach to catalog television programming. Ever since I signed up, it has offered only 3 seasons of "Kojak," for example, and pity the poor guy who is excited to see the MTM shows on there only to find out there is only one season of "St. Elsewhere" and Hulu apparently has no plans to add any more.

This latest add is exceptional even by Hulu standards. I checked the "Recently Added" tab this weekend and saw "Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse," the 1960 syndicated Trans-Artists cartoon program that consisted of 5-minute shorts featuring the titular characters created by Bob Kane (apparently this time without Bill Finger). I used to watch these Sunday mornings on good ol' WPIX 11 out of New York.

I saw "Seasons (1)" above the icon for the series. OK, maybe there only was one season. I tried to look at all the episodes for that one available season and found...there is only ONE episode available!

Yep, one measly episode. Gee, thanks, Hulu. Can you spare it? Did "The Awesomes" blow up the acquisitions budget so much you could only get ONE half-hour episode? It's not like this is a coveted property running on more prestigious outlets. I don't remember seeing this show anywhere since I saw it on WPIX.

Granted, the definition of "episode" could be a little loose with this series, and this technically consists of multiple cartoon segments. And granted, some might argue that once you get past the cool "Peter Gunn" knockoff theme song, you don't really need to see too many of those in one sitting. But all we get are 26 total minutes! One episode!

This is Hulu PLUS, mind you, not the basic version. I'm paying for this! Hey, maybe if I ration out this single episode, I'll get my money's worth this month. One minute a day will almost make this last for all of September.

Coming in October: Hulu adds one Heckle and Jeckle cartoon. Then watch in November as it offers a scene from "Underdog." And as a special holiday treat, in December Hulu will upload a cel from "Top Cat."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

First Impulse: Ben Affleck IS Batman

I avoided all the Affleck as Batman backlash so far because I really don't think I have much to gain from reading it. I mean, the outrage from the fanboys is predictable. Me, I'm surprised that Affleck would risk the credibility he has built up as a filmmaker in recent years and risk making a bigger punchline than "Gigli." I gue$$ it'$ all about the Ben(jamins) in this ca$e.

He had to know what the reaction was going to be. More importantly, Warner Brothers had to know what the reaction was going to be. This is why I say maybe this is a good thing. I wouldn't have cast Affleck if only for the fact that he had his shot with Daredevil and failed big-time. But this movie is probably going to be terrible, anyway--I didn't bother to see "Man of Steel" and have yet to see any evidence that indicates I'll like it--so I don't care who they cast as the Caped Crusader.

However, I realize to many people, this is a big deal. Those are the folks I demeaned with the dreaded "fanboys" level up there. Maybe the general public shouldn't be so upset. This move is a clear sign that Warner Brothers doesn't give a damn what serious comic book and/or Batman fans think. It's obvious that the studio is going to plow through and make a movie it thinks it can make "cool" to everyone else. Perhaps this is the right way to go. Instead of paying slavish attention to continuity and arcane comic book concepts, the filmmakers can go ahead and do whatever they want, ignoring the whims of the Comic Con crowd that's gonna crap on the result no matter what.

So to me, this is no big deal.

Now, those Justin Timberlake as The Riddler rumors? Yeah, THAT idea bugs the hell out of me.