Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hazel: The Early Years #4: A Matter of Principle

There are 3 big takeaways from this episode, and 2 of them are evident in the show's cold open (Is it just me, or does "cold open" feel like too modern a term to use with a 1960s sitcom?). First is whatever is going on with Don Defore's right hand. It's heavily bandaged the entire episode, and we are told that George Baxter injured it catching a line drive from Hazel.

Takeaway #2: Hazel continues to be the Babe Didrikson of her era. The series has already established her prowess at football and bowling, and now we  learn she is a whiz at baseball, too. That's not all, though! One of George's endless parade of pompous clients struggles with his golf swing in this episode until Hazel, eyeballing him for about 2 seconds, diagnoses his problem and gives him a tip that improves his game. She's an expert golfer as well!

Let's go back to George's hand, though. There are several references to the injury throughout the episode, and it seems an odd thing to just write into the story, so I believe Defore hurt himself in real life. The romantic in me likes to think he broke some dude's jaw in a bar fight.

The third big takeaway is that, while Hazel is an expert in matters of medicine, the culinary arts, and of course athletics, Mr. B really is a talented attorney. Even though the scenario that reinforces it in this episode is rather ridiculous, it's gratifying to see that Hazel does respect and appreciate Mr. Baxter's abilities. Plus he is the one who solves the big "mystery" at the heart of the story. Sometimes the show leans so far in the other direction that I love seeing some signs that George is capable of some things and Hazel does need him sometimes.

Hazel gets a parking ticket while shopping despite putting change in ("better safe than sorry") as soon as she and Harold get out of the car. She insists she is innocent, and when George sees how disturbed she is, he offers to take care of it. Only he means he'll pay for it, but she wants him to defend her in court.

So we go to court over a minor parking violation, and not only that, corporate attorney George defends Hazel before a judge against a district attorney who calls witnesses and everything. Amazingly, the judge even permits a field trip in the middle of the trial so that everyone can assemble at the scene of the "violation" for George to make his triumphant conclusions.

Why not? It's not like they have anything more important to do, I'm sure.

This is a fine episode packed with veteran actors like Vinton Hayworth as Mr. Sunderland, who would return several times in Hazel and go on to play General Schaeffer on I Dream of Jeannie;  and Lewis Martin as Judge Rosencrantz.

And, hey, is this a young Victor French telling the judge he can't do anything about the loud jackhammering outside the courtroom?

Larry Haddon (who also returned to the show in a different role years later) has a prominent role as the prosecutor determined to preserve the credibility of the local constabulary by proving Hazel deserves her citation.

Hazel's golf tips, Mr. B's acumen, and the mysterious hand injury make this a highlight of season 1!

Monday, March 27, 2017

'Mooners Monday #5: Honeymooners Books Part 1

I'm going to step back today from the episode-by-episode impressions and start a periodic review of Honeymooners books. (Classic TV fans, take note: Hazel: The Early Years returns Wednesday with a big look at another season 1 installment!)

In this series of posts, I refer often to The Official Honeymooners Treasury, a book published in 1985 and written by the co-founders of RALPH (Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of the Honeymooners). As far as I know, this remains the definitive book on the show, and it is 1000% recommended to any fan of the show. The guys received cooperation and blessings from the Great One himself and other writers, cast, and crew of the series, and the result is indeed a treasure trove.

The format is a general overview of the show, followed by chapters devoted to each of the 'Classic 38" episodes that lived on in syndication for decades. Each of those chapters contains a long list of trivia questions and excerpts from original scripts--many of which were drastically reworked or outright scrapped before air. As authors Peter Crescenti and Bob Columbe write in their introduction, reading all this material is the equivalent of finding a 40th episode (Of course, 1985 was just before the Lost Episodes resurfaced and gave fans scores of "new" episodes to devour).

Things that were commonly deleted from the scripts include Norton threatening to hit Trixie (obviously some of those survived), plus other recurring jokes the writers kept trying to include but Gleason kept crossing out.  The authors also note that Ralph is even more devious in the scripts than in the finished episodes.

I am not a big fan of trivia books, but in this case, the answers (presented in the back of the book) often come with little tidbits, so it is worth reading them even if you don't care to play along. Better yet are the stills, ephemera (like original TV Guide close-ups), and other info in each chapter. For example, last week I talked about Herb Norris, host of the fictional $99,000 Answer. That episode's chapter contains quotes from Jay Jackson, who played Norris and shared his thoughts on the experience. One of the highlights of the Treasury is the wealth of info on supporting players like Jackson or, say, recently deceased Freda Rosen, AKA Rita Wedermeyer in Alice and the Blonde.

The authors pack all sorts of cool stuff into this format--pictures, illustrations, merchandising----it's all here. I just wish there were an updated edition, maybe something incorporating the Lost Episodes (though there IS a separate book for those--stay tuned for more on that). Until then, you'll have an easier time prying Jim McKeever's ring off Ralph's finger than getting this book from my hands. Plenty of copies are available on secondary markets and on Amazon.

If you don't believe me, take it from the two blurbs on the back of the book:

"It's an amazing book! It knows more than I do!"--Jackie Gleason
"As far as I'm concerned, the Honeymoon will never be over! I loved The Official Honeymooners Treasury!--Art Carney

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings Week 52 (Special, hey, that's a whole year! edition)

One year of power rankings, and this remains THE single most popular weekly feature on the Internet...on this blog. Thanks for your support, and may your streaming be fruitful in the year ahead.

1) Netflix: Not much competition, and nor should there be when Netflix is offering a new season of GRACE AND FRANKIE.

Kidding aside, I finally picked a telenovela to start watching, and I'm into it. One thing about Netflix: You usually get quality subtitles that are easy to read.

And, hey, an original movie with Melissa Leo as atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, The Most Hated Woman in America, sounds interesting.

It's almost enough to make you forget that Netflix just extended its Adam Sandler deal.

2) Hulu: I already feel like I'm way behind on the shows I was watching on here again! Not Hulu's fault, though. It added a bunch of anime, if that's your bag, and "Doomed," a documentary about the infamous Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie. How funny is it that they have tried to revive the franchise twice since the Corman flick, and they still haven't gotten it right?

It's interesting that Fear the Walking Dead landed here this week, considering the mothership is on Netflix.  Also, Hulu announced another season for Shut Eye, indicating that, contrary to my unofficial metrics, there are people watching that series.

3) YouTube: Danny Dark tribute posts like the one I posted a few days ago wouldn't be possible with YouTube, folks!

4) Days of Dumont: The Dumont tribute channel did it again, adding a bunch of new shows this week! Expect this one to stay in the top 10 for a few weeks.

5) Shout! Factory TV: Come to The Goodtime Hour for Glen Campbell, stay for John Byner working Dean Martin and John Wayne impressions in whenever possible.

6) The CW: It might be a notch or two higher if I weren't so annoyed by seeing the same ad for Forever (now on CW Seed--yippee!) a dozen times during one episode of Legends of Tomorrow.

7) Warner Archive Instant: I need to dive back in here, but I did enjoy a Dr. Kildare with James Shibata, and, hey, more seasons of The FBI are available. This is still too expensive, but it has made some strides since last year at this time.

8) Pizza Flix: Still quietly adding new content each week, still free.

9) WWE Network: As we hit the peak of WrestleMania season, the subscription numbers should be going up, up, up! Of course, after the event and after people's months expire, they will go down, down, down, but that's later.

10) BritBox: A very quiet debut on Roku last week, but this BBC/ITV joint venture merits attention. $6.99/month for access to a decent catalog of back titles and an interesting assortment of shows that are airing in Britain right now. It might be worth a tryout soon, but make it count--these cheapskates offer a skimpy 7-day trial.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

TV Promo Theatre #2: Danny Dark at NBC

We kicked off this feature with a look at the great Ernie Anderson. Today I want to give respect to his counterpart at NBC (CBS before that), Danny Dark, with two promos that show off his versatility as the network's #1 hype man.

(Thanks to the great uploader "Sean Mc" for these and so many more great promos)

Notice that this one starts with a bumper as Dark says we'll return to V after the following messages. Even this is not just a throwaway. There's real tension in his voice--not because we're afraid of the promos revealing the weakness of NBC's prime-time schedule, but because aliens are invading.

Then the Real People promo has Dark teasing Byron Allen's aerial adventures, complete with an "Up, up, and away!" serving as a playful nod to a character Dark had voiced: Howard the Duck. (I'm kidding; it's Superman, of course).


Yes, the single word then offers a smooth transition to a Very Special Episode. Listen to how Dark downshifts effortlessly to tell us about this "emotion-filled" Facts of Life with hushed tones.

Next up, it's Remington Steele, and Dark calls him "the sexiest, smoooothest private eye around" as he goes into "I'm talking about looooove" mode.

He follows that line with, "Who but Remington Steele would dare to follow The A-Team?" and his jovial line reading is a perfect complement to a wacky stunt.

I love hearing Casey Kasem's voice on the NBC promos of the era, but Dark was the man. He was the smoooooothest voice-over guy around.

Monday, March 20, 2017

'Mooners Monday #4: One of the best game show hosts ever: Herb Norris

Last week, we looked at The $99,000 Answer without covering one of the episode's best assets: Herb Norris, host of the titular game show, who was played by real-life emcee Jay Jackson. If what we see in this episode is indicative, Norris is one of the medium's all-time great hosts. He's witty, smooth, and quick on his feet, and he is great at keeping the show going.

At the beginning of this episode, we see the end of the show within a show. The guest is a bit dry. Here Norris is smooth and brings enough energy to balance the lackluster contestant.

Then Ralph comes out and is all "hamina hamina hamina" and nerves. He can barely stay upright, he's shaking so much. Norris instinctively sees this (OK, it doesn't take an empathy to pick up signals like bug-eyed panic and profuse sweating) and takes over, guiding Ralph through an entertaining bit of banter before the game begins. He even gets a big laugh by telling his story about the bus experience he had ("That was you?") and is a good sport about the resolution.

He even gets a big laugh by telling his story about the bus experience he had ("That was you?") and is a good sport about the resolution. I love his take:

Of course, the show runs out of time, and Ralph does his cramming so he can return next week, and now he is cocky. Norris adapts accordingly, indulging Ralph's boasts with good nature and steering the conversation appropriately. When Ralph bombs out and has to be dragged offstage, Norris maintains composure and never loses control of his stage.

Herb Norris is, simply put, an outstanding game show host.

Jackson told the authors of The Official Honeymooners Treasury that the experience was terrifying but also one he wouldn't trade for the world. He provides an amusing account of learning the series' rehearsal process, which consisted of a rudimentary session without Gleason to set up camera blocking, followed later by several minutes with the star in which he wouldn't even recite the actual dialogue!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 51 (Special, hey, some of us had to work and didn't get to take advantage of the crummy weather edition)

1) PIX11: The 40th Anniversary Special was real, and it was spectacular. Tony Randall hosted a warm look back, focusing on the original programming of the New York station. Oh, yeah, and he did an embarrassing rap song near the end. Plus PIX posted an original newscast from the blizzard of 1993 (that was the good old days when they didn't name snowstorms). I'd love to see more of the big legacy stations from around the country make interesting Roku channels and use their archives like this.

2) Netflix: Just misses the top spot with an impressive list of things that interest me (and really, isn't that the bottom line): Lucha Underground, Mystery Science Theater, The BFG, Pete's Dragon, and Iron Fist. Plus, friends, I may have become a little misty-eyed when watching an episode of Friends this week. Even the disastrous reviews of the new Amy Schumer special (seriously, I think 5 sites ran articles just to point out how bad user reviews were) kind of make me curious about watching it.

But why is Netflix screwing around with its rating system? I don't recall anyone clamoring for this.

3) Hulu: It's been OJ and the Golden Girls this week for me. Hey, you don't suppose there could be a crossov--no, no. Forget I said anything. Also, Hulu got Everybody Wants Some, one of my most-wanted-to-see movies of last year. Now it becomes one of my most-want-to-see-but-keep-watching-old-sitcoms-instead movies of this year!

4) YouTube: True story: A spontaneous conversation about Conway Twitty breaks out (really, why shouldn't it?), I remember an old commercial of a duets album (with Loretta Lynn) I used to see all the time, BAM, it's on YouTube!

5) Warner Archive Instant: I didn't watch as much WAI as I intended this week, but the service added several seasons of The FBI this weekend.

6) Shout! Factory TV: I really enjoyed an awkward interview Dick Cavett conducted in the 90s with Ben "Hey Now" Kingsley. Cavett asks about a comment Kingsley had made about Gandhi years earlier when he was promoting the film, and Kingsley shuts him down, saying he ain't gonna talk about it now and the junket was years ago.

7) TuneIn: You know a good way to appreciate the stations on here? Try others. I just got DirectTV (formerly FIOS) and sampled some of the audio stations. For one thing, it's  irritating that many of them are part of some add-on package. More to the point, there just isn't the variety and depth you can find by looking around on Roku.

8) The CW: I'm tempted to include NBC, too, even though I didn't watch anything on it, just to spite CBS All Access for being such a ripoff (I may have also become a little misty-eyed when watching The Flash this week).

9) Pluto TV: This free, ad-supported aggregator, ad-supported "channels" is making strides and adding new content, so it deserves a thumbs up this week. Sure, a lot of the content is ehhh, but it's a fun option if you're looking to just channel surf.

10) MLB.TV: Almost there! In the meantime, have you caught World Baseball Classic fever? Well, even if not, MLB.TV has the WBC, so that's some extra value this year.

Monday, March 13, 2017

'Mooners Monday #3: Make way for the supporting players!

The $99,000 Answer is one of the show's most famous episodes, and it's a true classic. If you don't know the twist of this one, please go see it now. In fact, "go see it now" is good advice for any of these episodes at any time.

Some of my favorite Mighty Gleason Players turn up in The $99,000 Answer. First up is the oft-heard but seldom seen Garrity, the bellicose upstairs neighbor who likes to shout snide comments at Ralph...or sometimes just holler at him to shut up.

Check out Garrity barging into the Kramdens' premises like a bat out of hell as Ralph and Ed try to practice for Ralph's appearance on the game show:

The disheveled Garrity always cracks me up, but the best part is when he leaves, Alice enters the room, And Ralph yells out the doorway, "You woke up my wife!" and calls him a loudmouth!

Garrity: Always a playa hater. What right does he have to come down and break Ralph's concentration? It's quite possible that his butting in is what creates the mental block that leads to Ralph's downfall.

(Spoiler alert: As hilarious as it is when Ralph goes on the show and can't identify the composer of Swannee River despite hearing it a thousand times in his own apartment as Ed's "warmup song," it strains credibility. Kramden knows every other damn song in creation but can't handle this "gimme"? I always chose to believe he put a mental block on the tune because he was so irritated at Norton recycling that same bit time and time again.)

After Garrity it's the inimitable Mrs. Manicotti, one of my other all-time favorites in the Gleasonverse. She tries to test Ralph with old Italian opera songs but winds up waving her arms in frustration, unable to stump the master.

Mrs. Manicotti cooks, she mambos, AND she sings? What a woman! If anything ever happens to MR. Manicotti...

Let's stop and think about that name for a minute. Mrs. Manicotti. Real creative, Honeymooners writers.  I'm surprised Garrity isn't Mr. Potato (He kind of looks like a "Mr. Potato,: doesn't he). It may be the single best/worst name in Honeymooners history.

Finally, because I love the way Ralph rattles off song facts, here's a picture of him doing his thing:

"...for a little picture called 42nd Street..."


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 50 (Special "It really IS 50 this time" edition)

Last week, I was so excited about the upcoming 50th edition of this feature that I mislabeled #49 as #50. Well, this time, it really IS #50, and I thought it would be cool to make a TOP 50 instead of a top 10.

Then I thought, whoa, that would be a lot more work than I am prepared to do right now. So here's the top 10.

1) PIX11: Yes, after some lackluster weeks, PIX11 not only shoots back onto the chart, but it rockets all the way to number one by posting a 1988 40th anniversary special hosted by Tony Randall. Am I overrating them a bit? Perhaps. But don't be surprised if PIX stays near the top next week after I actually watch the special.

2) Hulu: In addition to Golden Girls, I've finally started watching this season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. So thanks to Hulu, you can say I'm getting my LAFF on (I hated that as soon as I typed it, but I am leaving it in, anyway)!

3) Netflix: Another solid if unspectacular week. Is it wrong that I kind of want to watch Buddy Thunderstruck? According to Wikipedia, "Buddy Thunderstruck will be an action-comedy, stop-motion extravaganza that follows the adventures of a semi-truck racing dog named Buddy and his albino ferret mechanic. It all goes down in race-obsessed Greasepit, a place chock full of larger-than-life characters and nitro-burning, gear-slamming, tire-squealing, fish-tailing good times."

4) YouTube: I really didn't need to watch the old syndicated Portrait of a Legend: Kenny Rogers from 1981, and I still don't know why I did, but I did. It was also a great week for vintage commercials and promos.

5) The CW: I am doing a major bunch-of-shows-at-a-time watch (Note to new readers: We don't use the term "binge" here because it annoys us) and am almost caught up. Now if they could only just stop showing new episodes, I could catch up on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

6) Warner Archive: A+ for content in the form of the Dr. Kildare I watched, but still about a D for presentation because the Roku channel isn't updating like the web version. Get with it, WAI.

7) Acorn TV: I'm impressed that Acorn is adding some older sitcoms again, including Fresh Fields and, more intriguing to me, Men Behaving Badly, which Hulu had for a while but only the first several seasons.

8) Pub-D-Hub: Now with Smilin' Jack in the serials section! That's one of my all-time favorite comic strip character names: Not Happy Jack, not even Smiling Jack, but SMILIN' Jack.

9) TuneIn: Hearing the song "5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love") on Deep Oldies was enough to justify a top 10 spot this week.

10) Shout! Factory TV: Squeaks in on the strength of a delightfully awkward Cavett interview with Maximillian Schell (followed by Sally Field, Duke Ellington, and some egghead talking about earthquakes).

Friday, March 10, 2017

Brooks on Books: Fast Food Maniac by Jon Heim

Some books are meant to be fun, and I don't mean that as a negative. Jon Hein's Fast Food Maniac is a fast read, filled with bite-size chapters loaded with tidbits and trivia. It's not a scholarly nor a comprehensive look at our country's fast food restaurants, but it satisfies. It's entertaining and packed with interesting information, and if you enjoy fast food--or you just do but pretend not to, like so many--this is a great read.

Hein lists a large number of national fast food chains, plus some regional favorites, and offers their origins, their secret menu items and specialties, and ranks them in a variety of categories. Along the way he shares his own takes on each one, often peppered with anecdotes from years of unhealthy eating.

(Seriously, I wondered how Hein wasn't 500 pounds after I read this, and then I found out that he's diabetic, which makes it even more interesting)

There's a nice assortment of pictures, many showing logos and storefronts, some showing Heim and his family members indulging at various locales. Hein doesn't claim to be all-inclusive in his look at fast food joints, but given the criteria he uses, I can't think of any obvious exclusions.

I never caught Hein's show Fast Food Mania, which was on Destination America (Ah, I think I just realized why I never caught it), but I'll bet it was an entertaining watch. This book might raise some eyebrows with its rankings and with the author's guide to how to order at fast food places, which seems full of self-contradiction, but even though the whole thing is fairly weightless (unlike the subject matter), I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

TV Promo Theatre #1: The Town Bully

Time for yet another recurring feature on the blog, one in which I spotlight great TV promos that I see on YouTube. They can be about TV shows, networks in generals, TV movies, or whatever...and they may often involve Ernie Anderson.

The legendary voice-over man and former horror host is on this one, a 1988 promo (actually aired here as the intro on the night of broadcast) for The Town Bully with David Graf (Sledge Hammer). Let's enjoy and then discuss:

Where to begin? David Graf is clearly having a blast. He yells, he laughs, he BARKS. What a part.  This is all made so much better, though, by Anderson being so serious despite what looks like borderline parody playing out on the screen.

What I don't like is the phrase "Bruce Boxleitner stars in The Town Bully." Excuse me, Mr. Anderson. Anything sounds credible when you say it, but I humbly remind you that David Graf IS the town bully.  Or should I say that he IS The Town Bully. How can he not be the star? Granted he does appear to suffer an ignominious defeat towards the end of this clip, but come on!

This movie looks like a lot of fun. There are allegations of felony behavior (rape is no joke!) but it's not the town criminal. It's the town BULLY, which makes it sound like he's just really an a-hole  to everyone. How do things escalate to the point they seem to in this clip? I do not know, but I would like to find out!

Unfortunately, rudimentary research indicates this may not be the laugh riot the promo indicates, which to me shows how brilliant (if deceptive) the clip is. According to the IMDB description, Box is a special prosecutor brought in to bring the Town Bully's murderer to justice. So I suspect the bully is dispatched early on and the majority of the movie is about the town clamming up while Box uncovers the truth.

Now, that may be a decent enough story, but it sure doesn't sound as fun as 90 minutes of Sledge Hammer being an ass and barking at Isabella Hoffman. I want to think that Ernie Anderson recognized this and sold the hell out of the movie because he knew it was their only shot.

Monday, March 6, 2017

'Mooners Monday #2: Ralph's telephone etiquette

Let's stick with The Babysitter for another week. I've always wanted to answer the phone the way Ralph does in this episode. First, he endures the indignity of being called out by Alice after claiming the new phone would be for "you, you, you!"

"It's for you, you, you!"

Then Ralph picks up the phone, says, "Hello?" then after a brief pause, spits out, "Shut up!" and hangs up!

I love the elegance of that. "Hello? Shut up!" I wish I could do that someday. And by the way, aren't we missing something without these "old" conventional telephones? Pushing a little button isn't as satisfying as slamming a receiver into the cradle.

When Alice asks Ralph why he hung up on Norton, the answer is he's a nut--calling him up to congratulate him on getting a telephone. It's actually a pretty sweet gesture by Ed, but I still love how contemptuous Ralph is when he dismisses him. It's one of my favorite simple 'Mooners moments.

A final bit of info before we move on from The Babysitter: Donna McCrohan's The Honeymooners' Companion claims this episode was pushed back 3 times--from mid October to December to later in December to late January--before finally airing. Whether it's because of the redubbing they had to do when they had to change the Kramden's number is not said, but that seems a likely factor.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 49 (Special, hey, next week is #50! edition)

1) Hulu: I am seeing good reviews, if relatively low buzz, for new original series National Treasure with the great Robbie Coltrane. Plus I am still enjoying commercial-free Golden Girls. My favorite Hulu thing this week, though, was being able to see The Oscars after the fact with a hand poised on the fast-forward button! By the way, you can see the Oscar-winning O.J. documentary here, too.

2) Amazon Prime: Slow going for new material, but let's give them credit for the awards won by Manchester in the Sea. That's a pretty big deal. Unfortunately, I think people are gonna be disappointed when they find out it isn't actually on Amazon until  May 5.

3) Netflix: The March 1 adds weren't so great, though props are in order for popular movies like Blazing Saddles and This is Spinal Tap. This week, Netflix seemingly dropped about a hundred teases and trailers, though--a clever way to keep people excited.

I did enjoy some sitcom watching on Netflix, though, and it DID win an Oscar, too, so it was a solid week even if it was upstaged a but by Amazon. You have to give them credit for cranking out all this hype, though. I'm really looking forward to Five Came Back, a docuseries based on Mark harris' book about Hollywood and World War II, and I'm stunned by the news that Netflix plans to stream the vintage documentaries referenced in the series. Actual old movies coming to Netflix! Amazing! (So where is the original One Day at a Time?)

4) YouTube: The new YouTube TV service looks fairly impressive. More importantly, when I read that Judge Wapner had died, it took about a minute to find this great clip with Wapner, Johnny, and Dave.

5) Warner Archive Instant: That's right, they got me back! WAI still has many issues, but I said I would consider re-upping if they added more Dr. Kildare, and whaddya know, seasons 3, 4, and 5 are finally available, and there are lots of deals if you look around. I look forward to a month of Kildare.

6) Shout! Factory TV: The March add list disappointed me, but I enjoyed Bob Newhart and Johnny Cash on Glen Campbell and Paul Newman on Dick Cavett. Dadgummit, it's pretty tough for Newman to NOT be charming.

7) TubiTV: Some interesting new titles arrive in March, and I am intrigued by Pop Quest with Mark Hamill, in which the star interviews people about their collecting passions. Oh, and his co-host is a puppet. Hamill is an engaging and accessible host, and the first episode has glimpses of all sorts of cool stuff at DC Comics' corporate offices. I believe this 2016 series aired originally on Comic Con's paid streaming service. My only complaint is that there are only 4 short episodes.

8) The CW: The "continue watching" feature started working again for me, which makes it easier to catch up on Legends of Tomorrow.

9) Pizza Flix: I was skeptical that this service would add new movies and TV every week like it promised, but lo and behold, the free channel is indeed doing so--well, not so much on the TV, but movies, yeah. The likes of Caltiki the Immortal Monster are new right now.

10) Highspots TV: This pro wrestling on demand service is often overshadowed by WWE Network and now even FloSlam, but it did a classy thing by offering an Ivan Koloff documentary for free after the all-time great's death last week.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Instant Gratification Theater: What TV can learn from old episodes of "Vinny & Bobby"

One of my new favorite YouTube uploaders gave the world a treasure trove--OK, I'm using the term somewhat liberally--last week in the form of a series of off-air recordings of 1992 Fox sitcom Vinny & Bobby. The show is a failed spinoff of another failed spinoff, Top of the Heap, which was spawned from Married with Children. I was an Al Bundy fan back in the day, but I didn't care for the first spinoff, and I certainly don't have fond memories of the second one. I assumed it was terrible, and I hadn't thought of it in years despite seeing star Matt LeBlanc in other projects recently.

So naturally, I had to watch some episodes.

LeBlanc and co-star Robert Torti, tow young and single guys working in construction and sharing a Chicago apartment,  make a surprisingly amusing team, though in retrospect, it's understandable that LeBlanc was the one to finally make it big. His character is the more likable, regular guy type, while Torti's preening airhead is usually the one causing trouble.

Other familiar faces who show up include Joey Lauren Adams (one of the best things about this--where did she go, anyway?) and the late John Pinette, who plays--wait for it--a fat guy. You get to hear jokes right from his standup act! Fred Stoller is a regular after the first episode or two.

Is this a great show? No, and it certainly is of its time. It was an amusing way to kill some time on a weekend afternoon, though. Here's a few things that today's television might take from this long-forgotten gem--uh, long-forgotten...what's a better about just "show"?

*Hooting and hollering: A huge staple of the Bundyverse is raucous audience reaction. By the end of Married, the crowd went nuts every time Kelly walked out wearing something skimpy, every time Al entered the room, every time Peggy said something risqué...I'm pretty sure even Ted McGinley's first appearance each episode elicited gleeful howls and whistles. Vinny & Bobby continues that proud tradition with heavy doses of both hooting AND hollering.

*Speaking of innuendo, apparently jailbait is funny: I missed the first episode and never quite understood the setup, but LeBlanc's character is a grown man--a young one, but over 18--taking community college courses. Joey Lauren Adams' Mona lives in the same apartment building--I think she's the landlord's daughter--and frequently comes on to him. Adams was 24, but I think her character is supposed to be 16 or 17. It's a weird situation, but LeBlanc's Vinnie is clear about the boundaries, even though Mona's general attitude garners plenty of hoots and hollers.

*Fat and thin=comedy. Pinette and Stoller make an amusing twosome in some scenes.

*Fat and Fat=more comedy. Pinette is paired with  Ron Taylor in the early episodes to give the leads some good old-fashioned fat guy comic background players. Taylor is even bigger than Pinette, which means they really aren't "background" at all.

*Topical pop culture references are the way to go: I saw several jokes about other contemporary TV shows. I laughed out loud when the rest of the gang is watching something and Bobby laments, "I can't believe we missed Jake and the Fatman for this."

Perhaps I really need to go back and watch Top of the Heap to really "get" this show, but I think for now I'm satisfied with my exploration of this little corner of that Bundyverse. I can only hope that the inevitable Married reunion brings back Vinnie Verducci and Mona, at least.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Instant Gratification Theater: Greatest Sports Legends on Amazon Prime

One of the biggest joys I had during my latest brief stint on Amazon Prime (I'd get the annual option, but I'm not a JOINER, man...Uh, and I'm cheap) was the assortment of Greatest Sports Legends episodes available on Prime Video. It's billed as a "season" because, well, because Amazon's video section is confusing as ever, but it's really just a batch of old shows.

But what a batch! GSL was a syndicated half-hour program that aired from 1972 to 1993 (according to IMDB, though I think it was available even longer in reruns) with a variety of hosts interviewing a variety of legends, with a smattering of highlights supplementing the chats. Amazon's selection is all over the place, but you get to see George Plimpton, Reggie Jackson, Tom Seaver, and more.

The interviews were often taped at country clubs and resorts, helping create a relaxed, amiable episode. You don't expect to see Willie Stargell interrogate Terry Bradshaw like Mike Wallace, anyway, and nor do you really want to see that. It's mostly a way to see a different side of an athlete (the footage of Joe Frazier singing "Proud Mary" on stage in his episode justified an entire month's Prime fee) and an excuse to look at some vintage footage.

One of the more unique episodes is the Bob Uecker profile, which is a mockumentary of sorts before the term was even a thing. The tongue-in-cheek presentation of Ueck as an actual legend is a riot and a must-see installment. It's funny in its own right and also a nice change of pace.

Some other episodes break format as well, like the profiles of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, which are more like mini-documentaries. Considering the subjects had died many years before, the lack of interview is understandable.

Any sports history nut will love these, but the collection is buried among all the other odd stuff on Prime, so I want to highlight it here. The fashions and the ambience alone make this a great time capsule. My only complaint: There should be more! They did hundreds of things, and I want to see the others.