Monday, May 30, 2016

Martin Kane, Private Eye: "Altered Will"

Thanks to my favorite Roku-friendly purveyor of low-budget vintage entertainment, I watched an episode of "Martin Kane" starring William Gargan. In fairness, let's give some credit to a certain purveyor of low-budget vintage entertainment on disc, whose watermark appears on screen a few times and from whom the video may have been "borrowed."

Pub-D-Hub identifies it as episode 1, but it's apparently the first installment of the second season after starting as a syndicated TV program (there was also a concurrent radio version, also with Gargan). "Altered Will"  is not a sophisticated plot.  A rich guy is murdered, and everyone assumes that the only possible reason for this is financial, and everyone further assumes that the only suspects are the beneficiaries in the deceased's will. Kane is hired by the victim's secretary because she is being questioned and she wants to prove her innocence.

You don't have time for a lot of twists and machinations in a half-hour, so a lot of the dialogue is expository, and the clues are a little clunky. The story turns on Kane's ability to check out a law book from the library and find a key point in estate law that everyone else misses. Still, the action moves along nicely, and it's an entertaining crime show.

What stands out to me is the ambition of this early example of live television. The first several minutes are a point-of-view narrative of the murderer's actions. Several dissolves utilize clever visual parallels to transition from one scene to another. There are more close-ups and camera angles than one might expect from a cheap-and-fast 1951 TV production. It's clunky, but it works.

According to a great sidebar on the Thrilling Detective site, Gargan ripped the series in his 1969 autobiography, criticizing "feeble character development" and "limited camera work" but admitting the show had a certain charm before deteriorating. Gargan played the role tongue in cheek, and he says the writers in turn got sillier, leading to a rapid "slide downhill."

Yet  "Altered Will" is pretty entertaining, a diverting enough half-hour to make me want to see more. I have to say, though, I think I'd rather see Mark Stevens or Lloyd Nolan, who played Kane in later incarnations. The jury's out for me on Gargan in this role, but I'd like to check out Stevens' supposedly more serious (I believe that) interpretation or that of Nolan, who brings such verve to Michael Shane in those comic private eye movies. Interesting that Gargan returned to the role years later in a European-based revival of the series.

We just don't know much about Martin Kane from this particular episode except that he loves him some tobacco. Talk about integrated advertising! The American Tobacco Company is the sponsor and overlord of the program, reminding us throughout the show of the 4 different brands available for discerning pipe smokers. I don't just mean off camera, either; Kane is a dedicate pipe smoker who  hangs out at his favorite tobacconist's to trade quips, reveal where he is in the case, and most importantly to stock up on Old Briar (ask for it by name, Martin!)

Plus he's thoughtful enough to load up his pipe on camera and do it slowly enough that we can see his favored brand.

Martin Kane looking for clues...or is he?

Nope, he's looking for tobaccy

Ya think?

"Martin Kane" isn't a classic, but for what it is, it's kind of great. It blends the jauntiness of Kane and his jovial banter with the police with the occasional bit of effective dark cinematography (no doubt for economic reasons) to create a pretty cool early private eye show. I have some Nolan episodes buried in the Cultureshark archives, but I also want to check out some more of the Gargan version of the show. And you can put THAT in your pipe and smoke it!

This is actually a pretty cool shot

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ball Bloopers

Last night, through the magic of Roku, I was wandering through local TV news from around the country (No need for an intervention--this is the only time I've done it, and I can quit whenever I want), and I somehow ended up watching an LA TV station's "Extra Innings" baseball highlights show. There was a segment on an Angels player and a ticker of MLB scores running at the bottom of the screen. Looked semi-interesting.

Turned out I was just in time for "Baseball Bloopers." Well, who isn't down for some amusing diamond mishaps? "Yakety Sax" started playing to get viewers in the mood.

First up was Cleveland Indian Mike Napoli's terrible slide into third base on a triple last week. He came up short and sort of sputtered his way to the bag. It looked awful and made for a classic blooper, especially with the wacky music and the shots of teammates cracking up in the dugout. Good stuff if you're into "The Lighter Side of Baseball."

But the next two Baseball Bloopers were home plate umpires getting nailed in the family jewels with baseball. Ouch! Now, we have a proud tradition in this country of laughing at men getting hit in the balls with balls, but often a funny fail video will give us a shot of the victim laughing, giving a thumbs up, or otherwise providing some indication that he's OK.

Not so "Baseball Bloopers"on "Extra Innings." After each shot of a poor fella being smacked in the nether region, the producers showed a catcher and/or team trainer attending to the hunched-over ump. The effect was to make the impact seem WORSE. It was like they wanted to reinforce that each blow wasn't something they could just shake off, but a painful, devastating injury.

And by the way, "Yakety Sax" played the whole damn time! You know, just so we remembered that these were funny bloopers, not just chilling snapshots of the last moments two adult males were able to conceive children.

I guess if they had played "Shake It Off," it would have been worse.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Summer of Angst: The (previous) Pepsi Generation Part 1

Welcome to Cultureshark's Summer of Angst, in which we examine last year's DVD collection "The Lost Television Legacy of James Dean." Since we have a short selection this week, now would be a good time to note that we don't only get ol' J.D. on this set. No, we also get a heavy dose of...Marcus Winslow, who introduces each segment on the DVD.

Yeah, that's right, Marcus Winslow. You may remember him from--Well, you won't remember him, because he's not an actor (which will come as no surprise when you see the poor guy read the cue cards), but he is James Dean's cousin. At least, that's what the DVD says, and the DVD has the TCM name on it, and TCM wouldn't lie.

Winslow doesn't add a whole lot on this first disc. I keep waiting for him to offer something a little more personal than, "He had a bit part in this one," but still, his presence is a nice little link to the Dean legacy.

I had no idea the Dean legacy involved Pepsi Cola, but a pair of adverts kick off the proceedings. I have to say there is no way I would have spotted Our Man Dean had not the producers of this set slowed down the footage and highlighted him. I'm still not 100% convinced, but, again, you know, TCM, no lying, etc.

This portion of the set provides something we don't necessarily expect: James Dean having FUN. In fact, everyone in this first ad, shot December 1950, is having fun.

There's not a lot to this ad, but it has a peppy jingle, and there is something appealing about seeing all these happy youths having so much fun on a merry go round.

By the way, I really hope that Dean got so into his character that he yelled, "A merry go round! WHOOPEE!" before jumping on his horse. Not a "carousel," either--a merry go round.

If there's a theme to this spot apart from fun, it's bouncing. Note these lyrics:

"Bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce
Go get Pepsi for the Pepsi bounce"

I'm not sure how much you want to be bouncing around while drinking all that soda, but, hey, these kids are young and carefree.

Pepsi--It's SWELL!

Winslow tells us that the very next day, Dean shot the second ad on this disc, and that this gig got him his SAG card. What he doesn't mention, but which I heard elsewhere, is that someone was so impressed by Dean on the first day, they asked him back for that second spot. You'll see next time that the actor got a lot more to do on that occasion, but I wonder what the heck they saw in his merry go round riding to make them ask him to return. He must have made some kind of an impression on that horsey!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 9

1) Hulu: Season finales everywhere, and I'm really getting into 11/22/63, which I am watching the old-fashioned way: one episode a week. About time I got started on all those Criterions, though.

2) Seeso: Technically, it's been much better lately, and now that I've discovered "Count Arthur Strong," I'm getting good value. Granted, it helps that this month and next month are free for me.

3) Netflix: Is there a ton of great stuff here? Yes, there is. But the sizzle reel of upcoming movies they released just isn't that exciting. The "Back to the Future" trilogy? Great, but that's already been on Netflix and left. A new Adam Sandler comedy? No comment. "The Sandlot"? OK, but that's hardly a game changer.

And it's starting to tout the Disney deal kicking in, but what about all the Disney catalog titles? Where are they? And why are toons like "Hercules" and "Mulan" leaving in June if this Disney deal is so great? Plus Starz confirmed that "The Force Awakens" will be on its channels in the fall, not on Netflix.

Other than that, hey, go, Netflix!

4) Pub-D-Hub: Solid but unspectacular update this weekend.

5) Warner Archive Instant: They suckered me out of a month just so I could watch some of the old TV shows before they yank them.  The number of movies has never been lower, and frankly it's an embarrassment.

6) Shout Factory TV: Oddly, a  bunch of Dick Cavett episodes (the Black History Month collection) disappeared the other day, but hopefully that's just a blip.

7) Watch TCM: This would be the best channel on Roku if it were on Roku. In addition to the rarities, right now the likes of "Bringing Up Baby," "Hoop Dreams," "Shane," and "Double Indemnity" are available.

8) Amazon Prime: Added more second-tier HBO content--a good reminder that the partnership pays off pretty regularly. Hey, "Mr. Show" is now available!

9) WWE Network: Had a reasonably well reviewed "pay per view" event Sunday and is touting new original content this summer. Who cares about reality shows, though--I want to see more old 80s footage.

10) YouTube: They changed their Roku interface yet again, making fast-forwarding and rewinding even more difficult. Grr.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Wonderful World of TCM: Double feature of watchable oldies

Oh, it's been a long time since we visited The Wonderful World of Turner Classic Movies! Longtime readers (and of course the various organizations that have me under surveillance) know that I currently have no DVR, and with my work/superheroics/foosball schedule being what it is, I rarely get the opportunity to sample The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind.

The good news is that Watch TCM (unfortunately, it requires authentication) offers a wide variety of golden oldies every week, a rotating assortment of classics, B-movies, shorts, and everything else you'll see on the muthaship. The bad news is that you sometimes have to act quickly because the movies have short windows of availability.

The good news (see, I have even more of it), is that you get closed captions and even intros if they are available. The bad news (fair and balanced, I is) is that Bobby Osbo does not shoot an intro for all the pre-codes and obscurities they run during the day.

You know what, though? I always thought the real gold on TCM was the weird stuff it ran in those morning hours. Prime time gives you the themes and the stars of the month and the classics you have already seen a bunch of times, but earlier, all kinds of stuff pops up.

I don't know when TCM ran these two movies, but I was glad to see them: Her Majesty, Love (1931); and Stranger in Town (1932). These are not great films--one of them isn't even that good--but they are refreshing in their own way.

"Her Majesty, Love" is a flat romance between two people from different social strata. Leonard Maltin's guide gives it a lowly *.5 and calls it "unbearable," but I think that's a bit harsh. Maltin and I clashed recently (he doesn't know about it, but I disagreed with his book's take on "The Kid from Cleveland," which I reviewed for ClassicFlix. Someday, I hope we settle this beef). After all, the father of the gal is played by W.C. Fields, and Leon Errol is also on board to do some of his typical drunk business. Fields doesn't have nearly enough to do, but where I come from, if you have a chance to see a movie with he and Leon Errol, you see that movie (Our class reunions are pretty wild where I come from).

"Stranger in Town" is a better overall picture. It's an unpretentious story of a town elder (Chic Sale doing his "old-timer" gimmick) fighting to save his grocery business when a young man comes to town on behalf of a discount grocery chain and sets up operations across the street. Complications ensue when Sale's daughter (Ann Dvorak) falls for the young man.

Again, not a classic, but it's a watchable little light comedy, and I don't mean that as faint praise. This one isn't even in Maltin's book, and while I lament the lack of so many films of the classic studio era in that otherwise awesome guide, these are the kind of oddball flicks I love to check out on TCM.

Watch TCM is a  hidden gem, but it also frustrates, and not just because it isn't available for Roku or another TV-based platform. I know that there are big walls separating, say, Turner Classic from Warner Archive Instant, but this selection of films is *exactly* what WAI should be offering each month. Instead, it's almost a ghost service right now instead of the "TCM on demand" so many of us hoped it would be. Folks, if you haven't cut the cord yet and you're looking for a streaming classic film service, there is no need to wait for Filmstruck. Such a service is already here...sort of.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week 8

1) Hulu Plus: Let me tell you something. As much as we all hate paying for streaming video with ads, Hulu is at least out there adding new content every week, and I don't think classic TV fans realize how much is actually available. Just this week, it added the 1958 "Invisible Man" and a bunch of  "Hopalong Cassidy: episodes. When was the last time Netflix added any TV series before 2012?

2) Watch TCM: Quietly offers dozens of vintage movies uncut and uninterrupted on your computer. I'll write more about this tomorrow.

3) Pub-D-Hub: Saw some cool stuff on here last week, including an old unsold TV pilot, and I look forward to checking out some of this week's new material. I like that they are updating the "Yesterday's News" category.

4) YouTube: I finished watching that series I didn't want to mention last week. I still don't think I want to mention it yet--might be fodder for a separate project--but I'm glad it's up there!

5) Seeso: Boy, did I enjoy "Garth Merenghi's Darkplace." There is some good stuff on here, and the stream is more consistent lately.  However, it sent me a survey this week, and when I tried to click through, I got an error message.

6) Shout Factory TV: Catching up on superhero TV shows meant I did not get to "Streetwalkin'" this week, but soon...

7) Netflix: Remember when the 15th of each month was a big day for new Netflix content? Well, I do. I guess I'd be more excited if I were a Chelsea Handler fan.

8) HBO Now: I don't get HBO, but I hear they're tearing it up these days with GOT/Veep/Sillicon Valley, and I believe it.

9) MLB.TV: Pirates in the free game of the day this Friday, baby!

10) Amazon Prime: This may not be Amazon's fault, directly, but the site I love to use to check new additions to Netflix and Amazon, Instantwatcher, suddenly lists Young Turks clips, toy reviews, and basically a bunch of stuff that looks like YouTube content.  It's all well and good that Amazon Prime has this material, but the fact that it's in the Instantwatcher feed makes it even more difficult to follow Prime content. It's even harder to see any "real" content now.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Coming soon to Cultureshark: Summer of Angst!

One of the most underappreciated DVD releases of 2015 is "The Lost Television Legacy of James Dean," a TCM-branded collection with 3 discs' worth of pre-Hollywood years Dean on the small screen. There's an incredible variety of early television in this set, with Dean's presence the one common denominator.

Is this the classic James Dean we all know, love, and exploit as an icon for branding purposes? I don't know, but I plan to dig into this collection and find out. Does Dean show the charisma he would later bring to his (tragically small) Hollywood oeuvre? More importantly, does he bring the angst we associate with that tortured rebel persona?

Join me here on the blog each week until I find the answers, until I get through the set, or until I get tired of the idea and quietly let it drop. Assuming I don't, though, this is shaping up to be an amazing summer of angst as we journey through vintage TV with one of the most famous icons of classic Hollywood as our guide.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Can I "demand" some changes?

Probably not. TV providers don't respond well to demands...or requests...or suggestions...or pleas.

Verizon FIOS has a decent selection of On Demand programming that, to a less demanding soul, might be a great added-value proposition. To me, it's often a big pain in the booty.

NFL Network only offers its shows in standard definition right now. I hate to be an HD snob, but why the heck is this the case? It's bad enough NFL is so stingy with its original programming, but when it puts up a few things I'd like to see, it would be nice to see it in high-def. The NFL is number one in many things--fan support, TV revenue, dangerous concussions--but it looks pretty backwards sometimes.

Meanwhile, Turner Classic Movies On Demand gets smaller and smaller each month. Looking at the TCM message boards, this issue is not isolated to FIOS. There are currently two movies available, when in the past there was almost always at least a dozen.

Is this a deliberate strategy to push people to Watch TCM (which remains active with a bunch of cool films for viewing; oh, how I'd love a Roku version)? Is it foreshadowing of what will happen when Filmstruck launches? Or, as we can agree is most likely, is it simply just another thing designed to irritate ME?

You can do better, On Demand! Much better.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Gold Dust Gertie (1931): Whoa, Mama!

Note: The following post contains subject matter that may not be suitable for younger audiences. Parental discretion is advised.

You know how there's a mystique about PRE-CODE cinema, as if everything made in the early 1930s was kind of sexy? Well, that is a gross generalization, just as me implying that everyone thinks that is a gross generalization.

There are plenty of movies like "Gold Dust Gertie" which do involve adult themes like divorce and implied sex, but, hey, it's all in fun. That is, it is until you see a shocking image like the one below, when a woman models a scandalous bathing suit at the company which employs the comedy team of Olsen and Johnson:

Hey, now! Just look at the faces of everyone in this shot (That's right, the FACES, fellas, even though I know how tempting it is to ogle the pulchritude on display in the frame). They know how scandalous these duds are. I mean, really, a two-toned swimsuit? I NEVER!

"Gold Dust Gertie" is pretty edgy for 1931, even with the rampant sex and violence paraded on movie screens (Pre-Code, remember?), and even today, while I am poking fun at it, it is interesting to see how sex is handled. It has some romps, some wooing, and some fearsome battle axe broads.

It's also interesting that, if the original poster art adorning the menu of the Warner Archive DVD is indicative, the real star was top-billed Winnie Lightner, a major attraction in the early days of Warners who somehow faded quickly, married director Roy Del Ruth, and left the biz.

I don't know much about Lightner, but she makes an impression in this picture and makes me want to see more of her starring roles. Her conniving alimony seeker brings more energy than the rest of the cast combined (well, with the possible exception of that spicy swimsuit model), including Olsen and Johnson. The duo is rather low key in this one, with Johnson's high-pitched giggle the main bit of personality they get to display.

The story is a little thin, but it does get away with some things that would be verboten just a few years later, and Lightner is nothing if not distinctive. If you're looking for a little bit of 1930s-style comedy, there's enough here to make a watch worthwhile, but it's not as zany as I expected from the Olsen/Johnson duo.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 7

1) Hulu Plus: You knew it would take a big week for Hulu to get the top spot in a week in which GRACE AND FRANKIE returned, but the announcement that Hulu will get the Ron Howard Beatles documentary did it. The Hulu Documentaries line seems to be a nice step towards bolstering Plus after the Criterion Collection leaves in the fall. Plus Hulu is putting together some kind of cord-cutter-friendly live TV package. Overall, a positive week, indeed.

2) Netflix: After much dismay over "Scrubs" leaving in early May..."Scrubs" returned. Hey, that's good when a long-running series like that is renewed. Now how about "MASH," "Leave It to Beaver," "Magnum PI," "Quincy"....

Oh, but "Grace and Frankie" is back. How we can stay mad at you, Netflix?

3) Amazon Prime: Well, Amazon has been making a lot of noise lately, but as far as its main Prime Video service, not much going on apart from a bunch of martial arts movies (which may be great, but I have no idea), a lot of short-ish clips that look like they belong on free YouTube channels, and "Hot Pursuit," which is also on Hulu (and which, God forbid, I may watch at some point just because of Sofia Vergara). None of these new adds are "Grace and Frankie."

4) Shout Factory TV: Usually Shout adds new content the first day of the month, but it surprised me by sprinkling in some movies in its VHS Vault line, including "Streetwalkin'" with a young Melissa Leo--not even "Streetwalking," mind you, but "Stretwalkin'." After a good binge of "Grace and Frankie," enjoy some 80s/90s shlock on this service.

4) YouTube: Do you know anyone who subscribes to YouTube Red? Neither do I. Until it gets that big "Grace and Frankie" kind of hit, it will struggle for buzz. In the meantime, I am rather enjoying my journey through a short-lived series I won't mention yet because it's uploaded by an individual and not the rights holder and I am paranoid it will be removed.

5) Seeso: The technical issues are getting much better, and I expect to explore this one much more in coming weeks.

6) MLB.TV: Sent me a pretty great offer for being a "free game of the day" watcher. I'll  probably remain a cheapskate for now, but I appreciated the deal.

7) Pub-D-Hub: It added about 3 or 4 things I want to see this week, including a cheesy British sci-fi movie with Rod Cameron. Hey, that's how they roll at Pub-D-Hub.

8) My Retro Flix: A free Roku channel that somehow adds some interesting major titles to a mix of public domain movies. Check this out because the number of classic movies way exceeds, say, Netflix. Not sure if this is on the up and up, actually.

9) Pluto TV: I just discovered this oddball assortment of live stream "channels" with ads. There are some great options, like the Shout channels (one shows Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes all day), and another one shows a ton of "Route 66." The thing about this is the website offers tons more channels, and a lot of the good ones aren't available on the Roku version.

10) CON TV: This outfit sent me an intriguing offer to "go VIP" at a discount, but there isn't really that much on there I want to pay to see. They need to give more than a reality series about a former Power Ranger (that seems to be the flagship series).

Friday, May 6, 2016

TV Time Extra: Cynthia Harding, one of the great one-time-only characters

In my latest TV Time article for ClassicFlix,  I talk about "Somebody Has to Play Cleopatra," a 1962 episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in which Rob Petrie is shanghaied into organizing an entertainment show for a local fundraiser. In one sense, it's an unambitious episode apart from the opening and closing segments that frame the central flashback story; most of the action takes place right in the Petrie living room. In another sense...who cares when you get scenes like this?

The next time you're tempted to roll your eyes even a smidge when a person of a certain age gushes about how seeing Laura Petrie on "TDVDS" made him want to become a TV writer, just remember the almost impossibly cute Mary Tyler Moore doing this calypso number.

This episode would be a winner on that basis alone, but wait, there's more! Yes, that's Bob Crane on percussion, and "Hang-lip Harry," AKA Harry Rogers, gets the privilege of playing Marc Antony opposite a succession of Cleopatras in the skit the gang rehearses.

(Side note: Why did the writers name him Harry Rogers when one of the main characters of the show, albeit unseen in this episode, is SALLY Rogers? Nobody had access to a phone book?)

Jealous hubbies being jealous, though, the Cleos are yanked from the scene until one quiet member of the group is recruited:

How about Cynthia Harding, the single kindergarten teacher? Nobody will be threatened by her smooching Harry, right? In fact, Harry is kind of let down by this casting change, going so far as to argue against it ("She's not the right type") until he turns around and sees how the "mousy" schoolmarm has transformed herself:

Ah--TV and Movies...where a mere flip of the hair, and a slight primping transforms one into  A GODDESS!

Harry sure is committed to  his craft now. Just look at him grinning like he just won World War II:

Harry's wife is having none of this, though, and after finding out this new Cleo is MISS Harding, she drags her husband just outside and berates him loud enough for everyone to hear. There's a lot to look at in this episode, but Rob's subtle reaction shot as we hear Harry getting reamed out is maybe the best thing of all:

You have to see the scene play out to appreciate it, but it's the perfect combination of shot selection, pacing, and acting seeing Rob's expression as everyone hears what's going on just outside that doorway. Crane gets a great line at the end of the scene, too.

But the real star is Miss Harding, played by Valerie Yerke. Granted, this is kind of a one-joke character in this episode, but I would have loved to have seen more of Miss Harding because--well, come on, do I need to post more screencaps?

Oddly, Yerke is in several other episodes, in different parts, but otherwise has no credits on IMDB. What happened to her? Was this small but memorable appearance a big hit? Vince Waldron's excellent "The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book" has no info, but it does place a nice publicity photo of Yerke and Van Dyke next to the episode summary for "Cleopatra."

I guess it'll have to remain a mystery, and Miss Harding will remain one of the great single-scene characters in television history. At least we have this episode, though. And we have this:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Shameless Self-Promotion: TV Time at ClassicFlix again!

TV Time comes but once a month, but it's always a good time to celebrate Mother's Day!

Wow, that was kind of cheesy. Anyway, my latest column honors some of the most iconic TV moms that raised us through reruns. It's the Mommy Awards:

TV TIME: Mother's Day "Mommy Awards"
     by Rick Brooks
We thank our mothers for all they have done for us, but we should also thank the women who "raised" us: those mothers we watched on TV all day. Join ClassicFlix as we honor these fine females with our premiere awards celebration for distinguished achievement in vintage television motherhood in the first annual Mommies.

(click here to continue)

Don't you dare miss it! And tell 'em Cultureshark sent ya!

Also, check back later this week for TV Time Extra with a closer look at one of the episodes I talk about in the article.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 6

1) Hulu: On one hand, it's losing all those Criterion movies in the fall when Filmstruck launches. On the other hand, a ton of subscribers just realized, "Oh, yeah, the Criterion Collection is on Hulu!"

2) Netflix: The May 1 content drop was really uneventful, and guess what? Another huge series ("Scrubs") leaves today. On the other hand, a new Ricky Gervais movie and a "Foxcatcher" documentary just premiered, and my kids will enjoy "Hotel Transylvania 2."

3) MLB TV: Hey, they DID put a Pirates game on as Free Game of the Day!

4)  Amazon Prime: If you take out the Amazon Originals, there really isn't a lot going on over there. Yet I have to give it credit for adding a 1983 Buddy Hackett standup concert for no apparent particular reason.

5) Shout TV: Not a lot is new this month, but I'm happy to see a bunch of "new" episodes of "Fridays." I'll say it again: As long as they don't take content away and keep it free, I'm OK with the approach.

6) Acorn TV: The first Monday of the month means new shows. I still wish they'd go pre-1990 more often. Hulu just added a bunch of new/recent BBC shows; why doesn't Acorn try to emphasize some of the more vintage stuff? Just get back 'Drop the Dead Donkey," Acorn, and you might get me back!

7) Weather Underground: I owe this channel an apology. Last week I gave Weather Nation the credit for the no-BS approach of the Weather Underground channel. Weather Nation is useful, too, though.That said, it's kind of embarrassing that I'm ranking weather channels at all.

8) Pub-D-Hub: Kind of a slow week for new content, actually.

9) Seeso: Should move up the list once I have time to explore it more, but so far, it's awful from a functionality standpoint.

10) WWE Network: Farewell, guys. I'll consider another month when you start consistently adding pre-1996 content again (Yesterday's War Games Collection is a nice sign).

Monday, May 2, 2016

Brooks on Books: "Only What's Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and The Art of Peanuts

This is a really heavy, solid art book. I mean, you know those brick walls Charlie Brown and Linus often lean on when pontificating? You could build a thicker barrier out of these things. It's not a casual reading book, but a coffee table book--not tall, but kind of short and wide. It's a great thing for Peanuts fans, and as you would expect, it is sharply designed by award winner Chip Kidd.

I find the content a little bit lacking for the $40 MSRP, but I'm kind of a cheap son of a gun. It's quite possible that Peanuts fanatics will be glad to shell out for what I borrowed from the local liberry. Kidd, given access to Charles M. Schulz's archives from his official Library, gathered lots of original artwork and ephemera (I'm still not sure exactly what that is, but I know that's what in here) and stuffed the book with it.

So what's the issue? Well, there was a little too much original art for my taste. I have seen plenty of the old strips, and there is a great series of reprint volumes from Fantagraphics. I know plenty of buffs love seeing the original art, but to me it didn't do as much as the ephe--the ephe--uh, the cool stuff.

There is promo material used to sell the strip when it was beginning. There are photos of vintage merchandise like colored pencil sets. There are collages of the original paperback reprints. I enjoy the heck out of seeing all of this. I just wish there were more of it. The sketches and drawings scattered throughout are cool, but this book, as solid as it is, isn't all that long. I'd rather a book twice as long, with more ephemera, in a nice and sturdy paperback for maybe 75% of the price.

That's just me, though! It's a fine achievement and something that should delight Peanuts fans.