Saturday, January 28, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week 44 (Special How long before pitchers and catchers report Edition

1) YouTube: When TV icon Mary Tyler Moore died this week, people who wanted to watch her most famous work would have been puzzled to find Hulu only had 3 seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Fans of The Dick Van Dyke Show might have fared better, but it's goofy that you have to go to YouTube to find this stuff. And if you want to see her not-so-famous (or even infamous) work, well, you have to rely on YouTube for that because the major streaming services don't bother with things like short-lived sitcom flops and short-lived variety/sitcom hybrid...uh, flops.

2) Amazon: Let's not pat Amazon on the back TOO much for being "the first streaming service to get a Best Picture nomination." After all, Manchester by the Sea isn't even on Amazon Prime yet!

3) Netflix: Congrats for the nomination for 13th and for a couple nominated documentary shorts. Also, it's impressive that CW's No Tomorrow shows up on Netflix so soon after its season finale, proving that the CW deal is indeed legit.

4) Hulu: It does get credit for The Dick Van Dyke Show, but how lame is it that it has only had the same 3 seasons of MTM Show ever since the service launched? I'll tell you--too lame to be overcome by the premiere of season 2 of The Path.

Also, Hulu did something really annoying. It posted a photo of Golden Girls in its recently added shows section even though the show isn't coming for several weeks. Of course you can't tell that until you click through and experience the irritation. Hulu does this kind of thing all the time, and it's a big knock against it.

5) TuneIn: I'm STILL tired of hearing "Father Figure" on the 80s channels, though.

6) Pub-D-Hub: Last week's update included Plymouth Theater's presentation of "A Tale of Two Cities," which is notable because of the cool animation in the sponsor opening and because it gives me the opportunity to say it was the best of updates, it was the worst of updates. OK, sorry about that. Actually it was far from the worst because it also included a batch of clips from previous presidential inaugurations, a nicely timed feature for subscribers.

7) The CW: Well, I wasn't thrilled with Riverdale, but it was nice to see it for free the morning after it premiered.

8) HBO  Now: The new Beware the Slenderman might get more attention this weekend, but I want to mention Becoming Warren Buffet in the vain hope that somehow the mere association gets me some money.

9) PIX11: Good to see PIX throw a few more nuggets from the archives, but, jeez--Challenger tragedy coverage, an item about the death of Andre the Giant...Give me Phil Rizzuto or a promo for an Abbott and Costello movie.

10) Warner Archive Instant: Still lacking in streaming content, but it is showing some signs of life by offering regular blogg-ish content promoting its website. That and the fact they put together a "Debbie Reynolds Collection" enough to sneak into the top 10 in a slow week.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Battle of the Network Shows returns today with a special wrap-up of season one!

We have one more show to wrap up our first season before we kick off season two shortly! This is a special awards extravaganza, as Mike and I give out the Battys, celebrating outstanding achievements among the episodes we watched for the podcast.

Click right here to see if your favorites take home any virtual trophies! And thanks to all of you who have listened to and supported the podcast.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Half-assed Gormet: Chik-Fil-A's Berry Protein Blast

You  know, I'd write more about Chik-Fil-A except I have one big problem with it: No, it's nothing political. It's  just that I loathe having to type "Chik-Fil-A" and remember how to spell it each time.

The chain has revamped its menu a bit recently, not necessarily for the better. It got rid of my favorite breakfast item and seemingly raised the prices on everything else. The place has tasty chow and outstanding service, but it's not perfect and it's hardly a "value" compared to other fast food joints, which helps me from going there every week despite it opening a location very close to Cultureshark Tower.

I had a gift card, though, and a desire to reward myself after a trip to the auto mechanic (Every time I walk out of there with any money left in my account at all, I consider it cause for celebration), so I hit the place for breakfast last week. I was thwarted in my attempt to order lunch because  it was too early, but I didn't go all Michael Douglas; the cashier informed me in a polite and friendly manner (there's never any other way at Chik-Fil-A) that I could get lunch in about 10-15 minutes. I settled for breakfast despite the appalling continued absence of the thing I used to get.

After breakfast I decided to try their touted Berry Protein Blast item.  Let me tell you, there is no way I would have bought this had I not been using a gift card. It looked good, but it was something like 4 1/2 bucks. 4 1/2 bucks for a beverage??? OK, a smoothie.  This ain't Starbucks. I know the coffee drinkers of the nation have voted to pay outrageous prices for "premium blends" and fancy caffeinated beverages, but I don't recall smoothie fans ever getting any say in making their preferred treats so damn expensive.

I don't even think it's an issue that ingredients are so expensive. Let's see, berries, some kind of dairy (milk/ice cream), a little granola on top? In a modest plastic cup? Hardly worth $4.50. It's not just Chik-Fil-A, either, although the prices are high across the board there. Go anywhere and look at the beverages: soda, tea, etc. is one price, but introduce the concept of "healthy" or even just "bare minimum of nutritional value," and then you're gonna see a much higher price.

I was tempted to get a milkshake because, even though it was all empty calories, it was about half as expensive and probably twice as big. However, I wanted to try the Berry Protein Blast, so I surrendered my $10 gift card again and ordered one...and I wound up having to surrender a penny out of my pocket.  A basic breakfast meal with no add-ons nor upsizing plus a small smoothie should not cost more than a single Alexander Hamilton. I'd like to think Harriet Tubman, were her visage on the $10 bill, would be appalled that she would not be sufficient for that haul.

Bottom line: Was it good. Yeah! It was quite tasty, and I suppose it gave me a PROTEIN BOOST to kickstart my day.  It's just not worth the cost.  I think smoothie lovers of the world should unite and demand lower prices .In the meantime, I think I'm gonna take very good care of my Magic Bullet.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 43 (Special #HereWeGo edition)

1) Netflix: One event this week made it obvious that Netflix is number one this week and, for all practical purposes, is still the clear #1 in streaming video and will be for the foreseeable future.

It wasn't the debut of Jason Momoa's Frontier nor the arrival of more Voltron nor the announcement of a premiere date for the next set of House of Cards episodes. It wasn't the addition of vintage He-Man and She-Ra, nor was it the Neal Brennan standup special, nor the original film Take the 10.

I'm talking about a news item regarding a project that won't even be ON Netflix until  "late 2017." Jerry Seinfeld is taking Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee--the whole library and upcoming episodes--to the service (in addition to two standup specials and possibly other projects). The telling thing to me is the reaction. Look at the comments wherever the story is posted, and you will see people saying things like, "Good, finally it's on Netflix," or, "Now there's no reason to watch Crackle." I know I'm glad I don't have to struggle with Crackle's crummy interface to see the show. Netflix is perceived as the industry leader and rightfully so.

2) Amazon Prime: Not a huge week for Amazon, but I have to be selfish here (because I am so detached and objective every other week) and say that Prime Video offers fodder for a podcast episode we're taping this weekend, so I have to give it props.

3) YouTube: What a joy it is to hear a song, mock it, then be able to go to YouTube and rediscover the music video, which is even funnier.  I hate to leave you hanging, but the song/video deserves its own post.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I have another post planned touching on some content one of my new favorite uploaders presented this week, but since I feel I should name at least one specific thing, I'll mention the promo clips for A.K.A. Pablo, Norman Lear's sitcom flop showcasing Paul Rodriguez and a Latino family. It's funny seeing the attempt to link this new family to the Bunkers and the Jeffersons; it's even funnier to see Hector Elizondo's toupee.

4) Hulu: Broadcast TV is coming back after the holiday break, so it's time to remember Hulu is there for us.

5) TuneIn: See #3. I enjoyed various 1980s stations quite a bit this week.

6) Pub-D-Hub: Any week that brings an episode of Richard Diamond is a success, even if the quality is ecch. I also give credit for the addition of 99 River Street (1953), though I really recommend the recent Kino Blu-Ray release with the Eddie Muller commentary!

7) PIX11: back on the charts on the strength of a new Magic Garden section offering Carole and Paula introducing vintage clips from the show. But while I enjoy seeing old news stories about, say, John Wayne's terminal cancer, I'd like to see some more non-bummer material from the PIX news vaults.

8) SeeSo: I had no idea the writer of Blackadder had a new sitcom about William Shakespeare on BBC2 last year, but it's now on SeeSo...and so is Blackadder. This is an intriguing development.

9) HBO: The Young Pope debuted this week, Bill Maher returned, and Sarah Jessica Parker and The Rock won People's Choice Awards for their respective HBO series. No, that last one is not meaningful, but I felt I needed a third item.

10) The CW: I'm all caught up now on my CW "stories," and this spot is mainly in anticipation for the "hatewatching" event of the year: the premiere of Riverdale this week and the (I hope) debut the next day on this Roku channel.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Brooks on Books: Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

Since standup comic Jim Gaffigan credits his wife Jeannie as co-author and co-creative director for his whole act as well as this book, I want to credit her, too, so let me put it this way: The Gaffigans are geniuses. "Food," a collection of insights about all things edible, is hilarious. We throw the term LOL out a lot today (at least I do; have the kids moved on to something else?), but it's rare for me to literally laugh out loud while reading a book. Yet I did just that just about every few pages in 'Food." The rest was "merely" really, really funny.

If you've ever seen Jim's standup, some of this will indeed be familiar. The book is not just a regurgitation of his stage material, but it does reference, draw on, and expand on much of it. "Food" is organized as a series of very short chapters with subsections devoted to types of food, local food specialties, shopping for food, ways to consume food...You get the idea. Sprinkled throughout are pictures of members of the Gaffigan family (including their 5 children) eating. They add a pleasant charm to the text, and the captions are often witty.

I could go into a breakdown of everything discussed here, but why bother? It's all funny. Yes, he talks about Hot Pockets. Of course he gives you his take on pizza (he's in favor of it). He explains how he divides the United States into different regions based on their food, like "Mexican Foodland" and "Super Bowl Sunday Foodland" (and even has a nifty map).

His style is extrememly joke heavy but always readable. Even though it seems like every other sentence has a line about his lack of control, it's never repetitive nor forced, and the whole thing sounds like, yep, this is Jim Gaffigan talking to  you. Sometimes there are clever callbacks to previous chapters, an indication that the book is not just a collection of jokes as well as proof that the writing is much more skilled than one might anticipate from such an easily digestible (sorry) humor volume.

In short, if you like Jim Gaffigan, read this. It's a riot.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Instant Gratification Theater: Recommended pop culture documentaries!

Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector: I saw this amusing documentary at VHS collectors on Shout! Factory TV. It's a compelling look at the subculture. Because the avid VHS fans seem to be horror fans, you get a lot about that genre and not much about others, but the film focuses on the individuals. Check out the dude who built his own mock video store in his basement.

I don't think this movie paints the most flattering picture of these collectors, but I don't think it judges them, either. These folks are really into VHS! I recommend this entertaining documentary, and it is especially watchable if you grew up in the era.

Electric Boogalo: The  Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films: Speaking of growing up in the 1980s! This is a fast-paced look at the outfit that brought us the American Ninja films and other epics and aspired for something like world domination. It's often too fast paced for its own good, but it is loaded with great stories, and I guarantee you will not be bored. One funny thing is that the actual brothers behind Cannon made their own documentary and rushed it out to beat this one to the market. I haven't seen that one, but I do recommend Electric Boogalo. It's available on Netflix.

I saw the following movies on Showtime, which has a weak library of feature films but a strong selection of pop culture documentaries:

All Things Must Pass: Colin Hanks' affectionate look at the rise and fall of Tower Records is not as..I don't know, transcendent as I hoped, but it's very well done. There are strong comments from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, and (of course) Dave Grohl, but it's best hearing from some of the people who actually ran the franchise. Who would have thought we'd all be so nostalgic for stores that sold CDs for 18 bucks a pop?

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon: Excellent at detailing the origins of the magazine and the impact it had on the culture, but it seemed to run out of steam when chronicling the publication's decline. Maybe the participants just didn't have the heart to delve into some of that as much. I still recommend this one, too.

Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall: It's directed by Spike Lee, but don't hold that against it. This is a solid look at the pre-Wacko Jacko years, a reminder of the power the man had as a performer and talent before the tabloid stuff overwhelmed the creative stuff.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 42 (Special Best Weekend of NFL football edition)

Note that you will not find the NFL's Roku channel on this list anytime soon. If the football turns bad or you just aren't that into "Spot the Concussion," you might want to check out some of these streaming video outlets. #HereWeGo

1) Netflix: Back on top after a strong week filled with adds like Alice Through the Looking Glass and--OK, let's pause here. I love to use to keep up on Netflix additions, and I notice each time any high-profile movie appears, it shows up on the site's list of most popular titles. Are people genuinely excited to learn that a movie they know is probably crap is available? Is it just like, "Eh, it's new, might as well watch it"? It goes to show you why people really watch Netflix--not for Cheers reruns like I do.

However, I also saw Cinco, the new Jim Gaffigan standup, and it alone earns Netflix the #1 ranking. The new Lemony Snicket series premieres this weekend, too.

2) Amazon Prime: Amazon Prime: Yep, I'm into season 2 of The Man in the High Castle. Yet I still find time to watch goofy crap like compilations of random 1950s/1960s game show footage. I haven't seen it yet, but Bryan Cranston's Sneaky Pete deserves some attention, too.

3) Hulu: Mere hours after last week's power rankings were released, news broke that Hulu was adding The Golden Girls. Hey, at least someone is still out there adding "vintage" material. I'd like to see more a little older than that, but Hulu just seems to be trying harder these days when it comes to remembering TV existed before 2007.

4) Shout! TV: I penalized Shout! last week for major buffering problems I suffered, and the January update was the usual batch of MST3K, Cavett, and Jerry Lewis, but again: it's all free. I think people are sleeping on this one.

5) NBC: I could be watching Miami Vice on Hulu, but for some odd reason I think I'm watching it here just to spite Hulu for "losing it" for a few days.

6) Pub-D-Hub: Another solid if unspectacular update last week. It's odd that a random Naked City episode was added to the movies section, but, hey, it's still a Naked City episode. And I enjoyed seeing Bing Crosby and Jerry Colonna (but oddly, not Bob Hope) pitching Pepsodent in a vintage commercial.

7) YouTube: Some of my favorite old-school commercial uploaders came through again last week, and I enjoyed some more vintage AWA wrestling as well. I just saw a news story about a mom who built a house for her family using YouTube tutorials as her guide. A HOUSE. I tried to use a YouTube video to change a fuse, and it took me half a day to figure it out.

8) TuneIn: Would be higher, but I hit one of those stretches where somehow I kept hearing songs I hated. Nothing against the late George Michael--well, this pretty much IS against him because it's his song--but I would like to hear songs other than Father Figure when I put on an 80s station. It was cool hearing the Beatles' Ain't She Sweet on an oldies channel, though.
9) Days of Dumont: I didn't watch anything here, and nothing new  happened, but I am not gonna drop this one just yet. I meant to watch it. I'll do better this week.

10) Warner Archive Instant: I give it a bit of a pity ranking because it DID add 40 new titles this weekend. At least, it says it did. For some reason, there is still no Newly Added category, making it hard to tell what is there. Oh, and the titles they highlighted in their news announcement? Many of those were on WAI but have just returned. Why am I ranking them in the top 10 again? If I keep writing, I will probably change my mind. So let's wrap it up. Have a great weekend, and see you on Monday!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Shameless self-promotion: My review of Panic in the Year Zero!

Friends, my latest review is up at ClassicFlix, and it's a great package from the folks at Kino:

Released mere months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Panic in Year Zero! is a compelling Cold War drama with a fascinating blend of elements, combining disturbing adult-oriented themes with some of the more juvenile-focused hallmarks of its studio, American International Pictures (AIP). Kino Lorber's video release is an excellent presentation of a fine film that takes us through some grim moments in a post-atomic landscape but ultimately ends on a note of optimism...or does it?

(click here to read the rest, and tell 'em Cultureshark sent ya!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Batman 66 retro action figures--here's who I want to see

The explosion of merchandising of the 1966 Batman TV series is leading to some of the ancillary characters getting their due. I just discovered the ongoing line of Mego-style figures made by Figures Toy Company now includes the likes of:

There are also King Tut, Barbara Gordon, and more! I had no idea these existed (or perhaps I heard about them, saw the decidedly-unretro price, and forgot about them), and I think it's great the secondary villains are getting some merch. Maybe someday we can get a Chad and Jeremy set, a Sammy Davis Jr. peeking through the window figure, and maybe even a line of villain molls (R.I.P. Francine York, the Bookworm's Lydia).

In the meantime, I hope to see these guys in the next set:

I would strongly consider buying those, even at 25 bucks a pop. I would take a long, hard look at these were they to be manufactured:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

We're going backwards in the TV on DVD thing

Thanks to TV Shows on DVD for the news info I will regurgitate here, and props to those folks for their ability to accentuate the positive.

At this point in the DVD era, I expect reissues to be cheaper--much cheaper--than the original releases. Years of price drops, sales, and, hey, just the stuff being out already for so long, makes me think that when it comes out again, it should be, well, cheap. Isn't that the way this is supposed to work?

Not so, according to at least two companies. Universal is reissuing the first season of Kojak in February for 30 bucks (MSRP). OK, so now they are single-sided discs instead of flippers. Big deal! When Mill Creek is taking material like that and giving (admittedly cheapo) complete series sets for the same price, why should we settle for one measly season?

Are we spoiled to some extent? Perhaps, but look at it this way: It isn't a new product. Season 1 first debuted on disc in 2005. 12 years ago, 30 bucks would have been a fair price. 12 years later, not only does the price seem a little high, but it's a product that has been out 12 years. It's been on DVD, it's been on several digital subchannels, it's been on Hulu. Now it's back for the non-bargain price of 30 bucks (To be fair, you can save a fiver by pre-ordering from Amazon).

Many collectors and fans are thankful when Warner Archive takes a property abandoned by Warner Home Video and resurrects it. It usually does top-notch work and presents the product in good condition and in its original form, or as close to it as possible. On the other hand, it usually presents it in burned rather than pressed discs, and it charges a hell of a lot more for the equivalent product.

Here's another example: WHV's complete series release of Top Cat has been out of print. This 2004 box set is an excellent package, offering the whole run plus extras like featurettes and audio commentaries (Remember those?). It's great that it's available again, but because it's coming from Warner Archive, this reissue is a whopping 48 bucks! T.C. is one of my favorites, and it's an awesome box set, but this should be no more than half that price.

Warner Home Video has its own shenanigans, though. It's fond of taking classic animation properties and divvying them out in small but overpriced collections rather than complete sets. Look at how it has handled the Super Friends franchise. Actually, just look at how it is repackaging Justice League episodes.

Last week, WHV announced 4 single-disc releases, each based on a different superhero, each containing 3 or 4 episodes of Justice League.  I personally think the $5 dollar bin at Wal-Mart or the discount rack at Target might be an appropriate destination for these releases, though even at that price point, I would probably put them back after finding out how few episodes they contained.

Yet WHV set an MSRP of $14.97 on these. This means that even with Amazon's 33% discount, they are still 10 bucks apiece, which by my reckoning is twice as much as a "fair" price for this half-assed collection.

Say what you will about Mill Creek, but at least it recognizes that the DVD market has changed dramatically and that people aren't in the mood to overpay for reissues anymore. I can't believe I'm saying this, but if this is the what the big studios are going to give us, I might have to root for more of these sublicensors to acquire this material and make it affordable.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Journey Into DVD: It's a Universal Picture!

One thing about Universal Vault Series MOD (Manufactured on Demand) DVDs: They get a lot of films that would otherwise not be seen out to the viewing public. Well, they are hard to find and more expensive than conventional releases, but until we get a Universal Movie Classics channel (say....), this is one of the best avenues we have to catch some of these old Uni and Paramount pictures.

Another thing about these DVDs is they have zero extras--no trailers, not even a decent menu. So if you put the disc in your player and go get a sandwich, by the time you get back, it may be 15 minutes into the movie.

Frontier Gal (1945) is the kind of Western I imagine contemporary reviewers described as "rollicking." It has a saucy Yvonne DeCarlo, Sheldon Leonard as the villain, and Rod Cameron giving an entertaining performance as an unrepentant chauvinist who storms into a town looking for revenge.

Cameron floats the idea of marriage to DeCarlo  to get her to, uh, welcome him his first night in town, and whaddyaknow, the next day he's all like, "Eh, I don't think so." He really is kind of a jerk, and it's hard to feel too sorry for him when he is forced at gunpoint into a wedding.

Years later, after a stint in jail, when a little girl is involved and when his former fiancée enters the picture, he doesn't straighten out and do the right thing by all mature adults concerned. At least, I don't think he does. I can't be sure because with 5 minutes to go, right in the middle of a climactic action sequence, the DVD started skipping/freezing, and I had to go online to READ how the movie ended!

It's a shame because I was enjoying the heck out of what I saw up to that point.  It's the kind of movie in which a bar fight breaks out and Andy Devine comes in and starts throwing clubbing, plodding forearm blows that totally clean house. Then Devine goes over to the bar and gets what looks like a 256-ounce beer. I recommend Frontier Gal, but make sure you get a disc without a big discolored spot near the edge.

Supernatural (1933) is like a bunch of different movies in one. It's a horror movie, a crime movie, a thriller, a bit of a love story...Carole Lombard and Randolph Scott are the top names in the cast, but Vivienne Osborne is vivid as convicted man-strangler (3 times!) Ruth Rogen.

There is a sort-of mad doctor AND a phony spiritualist in this one, and Rogen manages to transfer her spirit into the innocent body of Lombard's Roma Courtney so she can try to kill the spiritualist! There is a good amount of stuff going on in just over an hour, and it's a unique and compelling little movie I haven't seen discussed.

Actually, it's a Paramount picture!

I was disappointed by Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) with Burt Lancaster and Joan Fontaine after wanting to see it for years. I just never got into it. I don't have a lot to say about it, but it just wasn't for me. I'm still glad it made it to DVD, though! Just don't see it before checking out Frontier Gal and Supernatural.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 41 (Special Is It Too Late to Still Say Happy New Year? Edition)

I'm just getting back into the groove of watching streaming video instead of party-heartying, being festive, and traveling, but don't worry. I always have plenty to complain about with regards to TV even when I am not watching a lot of TV.

1) Hulu: Good week for Hulu, which added the Indiana Jones movies (a nice surprise since no one had expected that) and got back in my good graces by re-adding Miami Vice after a few days. Of course, Hulu being Hulu, the fifth season is inexplicably missing--what does Hulu have against complete series?--but let's look at the positives.

Also, Hulu announced its pending "we don't suck as much as your cable company--honest" live TV package will include CBS, which is a fairly big deal. I still don't know of anyone who is actually watching Hulu originals Chance or Shut Eye, but network TV is coming back and that's still the bread and butter of this service, so it deserves the top spot again.

2) Netflix: Many would rate Netflix numero uno in a week in which it premieres a ton of kids programming and gets some buzz for its One Day at a Time reboot. But I am still stinging over the loss of hundreds of hours of classic TV in January. Also, where is the original One Day at a Time? The fact that Netflix (I assume) didn't bother to add the original to debut alongside the new version is another indication of how little it cares about catalog programming as its library shrinks each month.

However, the Chris Reeve Superman movies and some token but legit classics (The Day the Earth Stood Still) showed up as part of the January 1 drop, so it's not all bad!

3) YouTube: My favorite thing I watched on here this week? During a 1987 episode of AWA Championship Wrestling, a list of birthday wishes appeared on screen after the instant replay of a match finish. At the bottom of the list of otherwise nondescript names was "Oliver North" and "Jack O. Lantern"

4) Amazon Prime: Prime got some of the same movies Hulu did, including the Indiana Jones flicks. As for the rest, well, I'm not gonna blame Prime for me deciding it would be a good idea to watch an old TV pilot of Hacksaw Jim Duggan presiding over Bikers' Court.

5) Days of Dumont: I dislike the new category that looks like a new category but is actually a prompt to sign up for another Roku channel. However, the proprietors added a bunch of new episodes of the likes of Front Page Detective, Ellery Queen, and more. With its regular updates, this channel was the biggest and most pleasant surprise of 2016.

6) PIX11: New this week: vintage news clips of Menudo, 1979 raw footage of buses in the streets of New York City (?), and a January 1, 1980 newscast. In the latter, I particularly enjoyed the musical montage looking back at the 1970s, but I think they could have muted the disco soundtrack during the footage of natural disasters, fires, and airplane crashes.

7) NBC: I just discovered that this free (requiring authentication, though) Roku channel has a "Throwback" section featuring Miami Vice (including that fifth season!) and Battlestar Galactica among others. No muss, no fuss, no $4.99 a month (cough CBS cough). Well done.

8) Acorn TV: I wonder about the future of Acorn given the upcoming BBC/itv "BritBox" project, but it looks like a strong month ahead, with several exclusives, an original adaptation of Witness for the Prosecution, and a 1980s sketch comedy series.

9) SeeSo: The comedy SVOD is unveiling new standup specials (of course) and also introducing some old series this month. I have to give props for adding Rik Mayall and Viv Edmonson in Bottom.

10) Pub-D-Hub: An unspectacular update last weekend, but it's good Pub-D-Hub has returned from its holiday break. I'm hoping for a nice, fat content drop tomorrow.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Brooks on Books: Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby

Well, long ago and far away on this blog, I discussed 3 books with connections to one of my favorite authors, Nick Hornby, including a  collection of columns he wrote for Beleiver magazine about books and reading. I mentioned he had discontinued the feature, but, hey, hey, hey, it came back! Even better, a massive collection compiled all the previous collections plus another collection that came out after that collection, and, well, here it is.

Ten Years in the Tub is a fantastic bit of entertainment, an addictive volume that is easy to plow through because of the gimmick and because of Hornsby's considerable writing ability.  I won't say much more about the latter; the man is witty, honest, and insightful on every page. As for the gimmick: Each issue (more or less, and I don't think the mag is even doing a print edition anymore), Hornby writes "Stuff I've Been Reading," a brief column about his book habits. The brilliance of this simple concept is that Hornby lists not just what he has read in the last month, but what he bought.

The contradictions/crossovers in the two lists are an essential part of Hornby's ongoing dialogue about books and should resonate with any book lover. In fact, I guarantee this collection will make its readers go buy (or at least want to go buy) a bunch of things they surely intend to devour someday but will never in fact read. That's part of the book lover's conundrum, and Hornby is great at describing the motivations that make one want to buy reading material and the ones that make them actually start reading.

By the end of the collection, Hornby is starting to enter the digital realm and contemplating the future of publishing and of books. What I love about these columns is that even though he is an accomplished author and does reference that inescapable fact quite often, the voice is always that of the reader. Many themes crop up throughout the pieces: His disdain for self-conscious literary overwriting and pretension, his acknowledgements of his own biases/gaps and how he sometimes attempts to overcome them (his joyful discovery of YA fiction is a delight), and his apologies for not always reading a whole lot. Sometimes he's embarrassed to report he hasn't actually read that much because he's been preoccupied by World Cup or Arsenal soccer.

Along the way, Hornby discusses classic fiction (Dickens pops up a lot) both familiar and obscure, modern literary fiction, history, YA books, graphic novels, nonfiction, and all kinds of topics related to his book list. He also covers many works about reading, about writing, about authors, and about culture and art. Everything is talked about in an accessible, friendly manner, and it frequently is hilarious.

Hornby's constant jokes about "The Polysyllabic Spree," the collective who serve as his bosses and who forbid him to write negatively about contemporary authors (one of the credos of Believer is to provide snark-free coverage of writers) never get old because of his willingness to puncture his own pretensions. If he picks up a novel but can't finish it, he alludes to it but doesn't trash it and doesn't name it. It's not a conventional review column, but an idiosyncratic reading chronicle, so it never feels compromised.

I love Hornby's fiction, and he has carved out a successful career as a screenwriter too, but as Fever Pitch proved, he's a skilled non-fiction writer as well. Ten Years in the Tub is a great body of work that is tough to put down and will stimulate plenty of thought about your own reading lifestyle as well as the desire to seek out a lot of the books he mentions.