Sunday, November 25, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #137: Special post-Thanksgiving edition

I hope everyone streamed themselves silly this Thanksgiving. Because things move so quickly in the worlds of streaming video and power rankings, we must start turning our attention to the Yuletide season.

1) Filmstruck: I keep telling myself I will stop ranking this, and it keeps adding material and rubbing our faces in it. This week, it was a collection of Nicholas Roeg (who just died this weekend) films, plus a batch of holiday movies. I perused the selection thinking, "I bet it has my favorite underrated Christmas movie." Sure enough, it does. Sigh.

2) Hulu: Coming December 1: The Wonder Years. Already here, a show almost on that level of cultural impact:

Plus I have been using Hulu a lot for prep for Battle of the Network Shows, and I give the service credit for a ridiculously good Black Friday deal--99 cents a month--even though I can't use it! I'm also interested in Sorry to Bother You, the 2018 feature that just arrived on Hulu.

3) Netflix: It's a slow week for new adds unless you are excited about Trevor Noah, the British comedy Sick Note with Rupert  Grint, that new Christmas movie with Kurt Russell as Santa, and the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000

Come to think of it, a lot of people are excited about those things. Me, I was happy to have access to Thanksgiving episodes of Friends and Cheers. Plus I have started watching The Keepers. Why I began a depressing, brutal true crime miniseries during then holiday season, I have no clue.

4) Amazon Prime Video: The Warner Brothers movie train seems to have slowed, but Prime keeps adding movies from the likes of Sony (The Three Stooges Meet Hercules, Talk of the Town (Cary Grant), and more). I'm looking forward to seeing Alexander Payne's Downsizing (also on Hulu), and this season I am thankful this season for those 1970s Honeymooners specials being here.

Also new for no apparent reason: Cagney and Lacey and Cold Feet, which I have been hoping would come somewhere without commercials.

5) YouTube: 'Tis the season for me to waste large chunks of time by watching blocks of vintage commercials and promos from New York area TV stations.

6) WWE Network: I'm gonna kiss this one good-bye for a while and wait for a deal due to the sparse catalog additions in recent weeks, but I did enjoy a nice holiday tradition by watching Starrcade 1986 this week.

7) Curiosity Stream: I took advantage of the Black Friday deal--free trial for the rest of the year. Now, will I have actually time to watch this acclaimed science/history/educational documentary programming? I dunno, but I hope it makes me look smart listing it here.

8) PIX11: The good news it added its large selection of archival holiday clips (see #5), but the bad news is I think it's the same assortment it offered last year.

9) DC Universe: More good news/bad news. Good news here is that news is trickling out about some of the original programming coming next year, plus I see increasing buzz about Titans. The bad news? A lot of that buzz is coming from DC itself.

10) Boomerang: It offered Garfield's Thanksgiving for free this week, and that is worth something, plus it had a nice playlist of Thanksgiving 'toons.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Brooks on Books: Twilight of the Gods by Steven Hyden

Twilight of the Gods is a funny exploration of classic rock and anyone who grew up listening to the music on the radio, as author Steven Hyden did, will enjoy it--whether or not you actually enjoy the music itself. Now, you might wonder, what exactly IS classic rock? Is it just "music that is played on stations that call themselves 'classic rock'?" Well, yeah, kind of. Hyden attempts to define the oft-nebulous world of this genre in a series of loosely connected essays, drawing heavily on his own personal experiences to create an enlightening and amusing book.

Now, I will admit that for a while Twilight wasn't exactly gripping me the way I hoped, but I believe that is on me, not on Hyden. I was anticipating something a bit more like Chuck Klosterman's work. Hyden doesn't exactly have a lot of the deep (or faux-deep) insights that pop up in Klosterman's work, and for a bit I was a little disappointed that Hyden wasn't really defining classic rock the way I was expecting. However, the more I got into the text, the more I enjoyed it. In the end, I think maybe it's more "just" a collection of interesting chapters about different aspects of classic rock rather than one "grand unified theory." But so what? It's a lot of fun.

Hyden puts all of himself into the book, building it around his own experiences attending shows, interviewing musicians (in addition to hosting the Celebration Rock) podcast, he writes for Uproxx and has been a writer and music critic for outlets like Grantland, The AV Club, and many more), and, yes, listening to the radio! As a devoted radio listener back in the day, including the local station that billed itself as "classic rock," I identify with many of Hyden's experiences. He shows how what we consider classic rock is in large part a function of what a group of programmers decided to play.

Younger music fans might not understand what the big deal is and why we would ponder why REP Speedwagon and Styx are lumped in the same category as Led Zeppelin, but I find the labels and sublabels (corporate rock, anyone?) fascinating. Along the way here, Hyden  explores the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,  the enduring fervent niche appeal of Phish, and the difference between supergroups and "shrunkgroups" (the latter includes the likes of Axl/DC and the Dead and Company--"aging bands break down and then melt into one another").

Maybe my favorite chapter is So Bad, in which Hyden explains how the "worst" parts of a band's discography actually come all the way around to being good. I think this is the quintessential section in Twilight, with Hyden's creative analysis laying out an entertaining case for appreciating things others label as garbage. He talks about the stages in which this happens--completism; in which he has to seek out everything a band does; grudging appreciation, in which some of the more unconventional aspects of the work become appealing; and what he calls "brainwashing." As he once summarized the notion of a good bad record for The AV  Club: "a record that you talk yourself into loving after you've grown tired of all the acknowledged masterpieces and respected second-tier releases in a legendary artist's discography." Hyden's chapter-length elaboration of this is hilarious, drawing on examples from the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Neil Young among others.

Ultimately, I am not sure that Hyden really determines why rock is on the downslope or whether it will last forever, but he ties it all together at the end by bringing it back to his personal experience and reflections. More importantly, Twilight of the Gods is packed with enough provocative insights and humor to make it a great read for any serious rock music fan.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #136

1) YouTube/YouTube TV: I can't decide if I want YouTube TV on Roku to integrate more with my YouTube subscriptions or if that would be an even more terrifying intrusion on my life. Or maybe both are true.

I do know that the favorite uploaders I have been touting lately are almost delivering more than I can keep up with each week. One thing I really enjoyed watching this week was an old Merv Griffin Show from New York's Channel 5, complete with commercials. Special guests: Nancy Reagan, Joe Raposo, Carl Eller. Merv, of course, in his typical overbearing, merciless style, ripped each guest a new one.

2) Amazon Prime Video: I'm not gonna sit down and watch Gotti. I'm not gonna sit down and watch Gotti. I'm not--oh, why fool myself? I can't resist...

I did see Jim Gaffigan's new comedy special. Noble Ape, which is outstanding. It was a great surprise seeing that pop up this week.

3) Netflix: It's a big week for Netflix originals, what with The Kominsky Method, Narcos: Mexico, and the new Coen Brothers joint. But what's all this hinting around about Netflix raising prices? I realize speculative articles suggesting it will happen don't constitute a "jinx," but still, cut it out.

4) Hulu: I'm not impressed with the new original series this weekend. What I am impressed with is King of the Hill. That really is a great show, I tell you whut.

5) WWE Network: It's funny: They spend so much time trying to get people interested in the "pay per view" events, but all I care about is the old stuff. I mean, it's great to watch an old episode of Prime Time Wrestling and run into this guy heckling the Iron Sheik:

6) Filmstruck: I know I said it was time to start easing this one out of the rankings...but is it? It continues to add movies, and in this, its last month on the planet, it is more popular than ever. I am wary of the new Criterion Channel--same high price, lower (I assume) selection--and skeptical of Warner's plans to integrate Filmstruck into its upcoming cash grab. For now, though, I guess some news is better than no news.

7) Pub-D-Hub: Kudos to the Hub for adding a Thanksgiving section again. I do think it's all been there before, but I am happy to know I have a place to get my new annual holiday tradition: Calvin and the Colonel.

8) Shout! Factory TV:  Geoff Edwards' work on Starcade is low key one of the funniest game show emcee performances ever. Shout! is becoming less relevant as Prime Video adds more of its programs (and without ads), like Route 66, but there is still plenty of gold on this free channel.

9) CBS All Access: All right, CBS All Access, I burned through the paltry selection of Happy Days episodes. Time to add more. I mean a lot more.

10) Starz: Funny how watching one episodes of The Jeffersons makes Starz suggest Bingo Long, Sanford and Son, Car Wash...Not that I don't want to watch all of that.

Monday, November 12, 2018

'Mooners Monday: Why I Love "The Bensonhurst Bomber"

As we close out our look at this classic episode, let me just list some of the ways:

1) The title is one of the best episode titles in the history of the series.

2) Any episode with an extended billiard sequence is A-OK in my book. Is it just me, though, or do they not always come off like the high-level players they are supposed to be? The story is that the show trusted Gleason and Carney to do what they needed on camera because they could handle a cue. I don't dispute that, especially in The Great One's case, but he even scratches in this one.

3) That said, Norton's explanation of his elaborate shot is one of my favorite Norton lines. I lose it when he gets to the "chain reaction" part of his call.

4) In fact, it's a standout episode for Art Carney all around. I love how he talks Ralph into the fight, then afterwards, clueless as ever, scolds him for being foolish enough to get into the mess. Ed blurting out the Kramdens' address to Harvey is another highlight.

4) Ralph has several great "WILL YOU GO ON, ALREADY!"  bits AND throws Ed out of the billiard parlor. I love anytime Ralph throws his buddy out of a public place.

5) I mentioned George and Harvey in previous weeks, but they create two of the most memorable one-off characters in series history. Even the "Hey, get a load of fatso" guy, Mike O'Dowd, makes a strong impression, all crude and rough-looking in the best way.

6) One of my favorite moments is when Ralph tries to just slip out of the apartment without drawing attention.  What did he think Alice would say to this? I just adore this sequence for some reason. He packs a suitcase and thinks he will go under the radar, but the best is his timid explanation to Alice:  "Well. so long. I'm gonna be gone for a couple of weeks." Check out his sheepish expression in the last screencap as Alice tries to figure out what is up:


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #135

My sincere wishes for happiness and health to all our veterans on this holiday, and  to anyone who served, especially in combat, feel free to stream whatever the heck you want today and ignore these ratings.

Well, actually, I'd appreciate it if you read the ratings first, but you know what I mean.

1) YouTube/YouTube TV: The more I use YouTube TV, the more I am convinced it is the best cable alternative out there for live TV, though I have not yet tried Philo nor Hulu's service. Its basic channel lineup is great, it's streaming reliable for live shows, and so far I have had no problems with the DVR.

Plus some of my favorite uploaders have been killing it with the new vids lately. Sure, Google is developing a ton of personal info on me and likely using it for nefarious purposes, but I am numbing myself with that sweet, sweet idiot box.

2) Amazon Prime Video: "Hmm, should I finally dive into [insert title of high-profile original series]? Nah, I think I'll just put on one of these Leon Errol shorts Prime has."

My experience aside, one of the bigger untold stories in streaming video this fall is the quiet but substantial influx of movies from the Warner library. I mean, Deliverance, Network, Diner, Dog Day Afternoon, A Clockwork Orange, and more are all recent additions. Plus Prime is already well positioned for Christmas with It's a Wonderful Life and the 1951 Alistair Sim Scrooge. The latter appeared this week and, if I am not mistaken, is not usually available for streaming.

3) Netflix: A news story on Indiewire discussed Parrot Analytics' report of the top 10 most popular shows on streaming right now, and Stranger Things topped it despite being on hiatus. In fact, Netflix had 8 of the top 10 (Hulu's Handmaid's Tale and Castle Rock were the exceptions), proving its dominance. I don't know if Parrot knows what it's doing, but this list doesn't surprise me.

4) Hulu: It added yet another long-running popular series to its library this week: Married with Children. I am enjoying Hulu quite a bit lately. However, I am worried that Disney's Bob  Iger is already dropping hints about raising the prices and talking about increasing original programming. Personally, I'd rather Disney let Netflix spend all its $ on original content and Hulu continue buying all the old shows Netflix has abandoned. Normally the idea of a mega corporation like Disney committing to "improving" Hulu would be great, but I don't have any faith that it will continue the way I want it to...and, hey, these are my rankings (Thank you for your service, though).

5) Filmstruck: Time to start phasing it out of the rankings even though it is getting more attention now than it ever did, AND it is still adding movies and reminding us how much it sucks that is is being terminated. Will the petition circulating have any effect? I doubt it. Even if someone had the wherewithal to start something, even using those Criterion titles as a starting point, will Warners let them license those movies?

6) CBS All Access: I'm catching up on season 2 of Superior Donuts and becoming even fonder of its brand of light but well-meaning social relevance. Diane Guerrero doesn't hurt, either.

7) NBC:  I am gonna hate myself for even putting this out there, but...[deep breath] NBC's streaming outlet is getting to the point where, with a little more library content, I could see myself springing for a $5/month ad-free version of it.

8) WWE Network: It remains infuriating with its recent approach (or lack thereof) to adding classic content, and the less said about Crown Jewel the better, but, boy, oh, boy, did I like seeing this week's Hidden Gem: the "failed pilot" for the AWA's Team Challenge Series, complete with horrible green screen, empty studio matches, and foxy boxing for no apparent reason.

9) Starz: Time to start checking in with Starz again for Outlander--I mean, uh, for other old shows. Seriously, Outlander  is a really big deal, right?

10 The CW: I am personally watching my superhero "stories" on YouTube TV right now, but I have to give CW some love for making them available for free on its app.

Monday, November 5, 2018

'Mooners Monday: Amazon Prime news plus what is the "deal" with George and Harvey?

Great news for 'Mooners fans who don't already own the DVDs from MPI: Amazon Prime Video now has available two 1970s Honeymooners specials for streaming with membership: 1976's Second Honeymoon and 1978's The Valentine Special.  It's reasonable to hope the 1978 Christmas special appears by the end of the year (knowing how streaming often works, it'll probably be on December 29). The 1977 Christmas special has never been released on video and, as far as I know, remains lost.

For now, these two hourlong TV presentations join the Lost Episodes on Prime, and it makes me wonder, where are the Classic 39? As I pointed out before, CBS/Paramount already milked all it could from DVD sales and Blu-Ray sales. The complete series is available at a great price in each format. It may not be a big deal since so many surely have the discs, but I'd like to see the 39 available in nice, crisp HD somewhere in the streaming world, even if on CBS All Access.

Now back to The Bensonhurst Bomber. Let me ask this without being indelicate: What is "the deal" with George and Harvey? Does anyone else think there's a suggestion that the big guy and the little guy are more than just billiard buddies?


No? OK, well, in that case, let's talk about the actors.

Leslie Barrett (George) was a stage actor from New York known for Shakespeare work but became best known for this episode. He's in many other era TV episodes, including I Shot an Arrow into the Air, the season 1 Twilight Zone in which Edward Binns and a few other astronauts crash-land a rocket. He told The Official Honeymooners Treasury, "Of course, I didn't get a job after that for two years, because everybody thought I talked like that."

George Mathews (Harvey) was also in all kinds of era TV shows, including The Phil Silvers Show and The Rifleman. The Treasury reports that Mathews never saw this 'Mooners episode until a live screening at a RALPH (Royal Association for the Longevity and Preservation of the Honeymooners) convention, decades after its premiere.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings #134

Hope everyone had a happy, safe, and stream-friendly Halloween. Is it time to get away from Scaretober and Boostreamflix and all that (I am just making all that up)? Perhaps, but I still give credit where it's due to the streamers who came through with seasonal content. Let's start gearing up for Streamsgiving in a few weeks.

1) Hulu: It gets the top spot purely because of the glorious news (verified by me and my own personal Roku) that it now offers all 250+ episodes of King of the Hill, which I consider one of the most underrated comedies of all time. All I have to say to that is..."Yep."

2) Filmstruck: Everyone loves this more than they did when it wasn't on death row, but bless the curators for adding more programming, like a ton of Kate Hepburn films.

3) Prime Video: New series Homecoming debuts this weekend, but, eh, Julia Roberts isn't the big deal she used to be, and I don't have time to watch the series I am already watching, and...

[Rick learns each episode is only 30 minutes]


Perhaps more importantly, Amazon continues adding content from MPI Home Video--in this case, two rare 1970s honeymooners specials. It's not peak 'Mooners, but it's still 'Mooners, and it saves me plunking down $ for the DVDs as I have thought about doing for years.

All this, and Amazon is quietly adding a whole lot of classic Warner Brothers movies like Deliverance and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

4) Netflix: Competitive week keeps Netflix at #4 as horror stories about "the terrible corporate culture" continue to dominate even as the service offers the final season of House of Cards (remember when that was a thing), a new Orson Welles movie (! but I am more interested in the accompanying documentary) and a doc about Johnny Cash and Richard Nixon.

5) YouTube/YouTube TV: YTTV is threatening to get me back into watching non-baseball sports. On YouTube proper, my kids are still fascinated by the ongoing Project Zorgo storyline involving many prominent "YouTubers." The main thing that stands out to me is that YT must have really changed how it distributes ad revenue, because I see a lot of shilling for "merch."

I realize many of you will have no idea what that last paragraph was all about. Let's just move on to number 6.

6) Pub-D-Hub: I believe celebrating Halloween by watching themed 1950s episodes of Red Skelton's and Lawrence Welk's TV shows, as I did, should be as traditional as trick-or-treating with totally dark costumes, handing out unsealed candy, and Necco wafers. Hmm, wait a minute.

7) Starz: Outlander is back, and though I am not in the target demo, its return is such a big deal that Hulu is intruding on my normal home screens to suggest I add Starz to get it.

Hey, wait a minute, that's actually really annoying. I am gonna move on before I dock Hulu and Starz for that.

8) Pluto TV: Adding Buzzr, the OTA classic game show network, to its motley assortment of free ad-supported channels. I just wish it could be more customizable. It's adding a lot of stuff, which is good, but it would be nice to be able to filter out things I am never going to watch.

9) Kanopy: This free library-supported service hosts tons of movies, many of which are classics, and many tout it as a great option for those who will miss Filmstruck. Well, sure it is, if you have it. My two local liberry systems do not participate, and I don't live in the sticks.

10) Boomerang: It's sad that with all this talk about the injustice of At&T killing Filmstruck, I see virtually no one worrying about the fate of Boomerang. That's a testament to how weakly the company has built it. Yet it's still around, I think it is still adding content, and I would be sorry to see it go...though unlike Filmstruck, it has a long way to go to justify its sub price.