Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 23, 2008

Internet TV, or What That Writer’s Strike Fuss Was All About

Yesterday we took a moment to review the internet’s support role for readers of classic books, and for distributing important political information. Now let’s move on to some non-politcal, non-bookish, totally lightweight links… to some entertainment options you’re less likely to hear about unless you’re really looking.

First up, a semi-indie fave: Clark Duke, star of the current teen sex comedy “Sex Drive” (getting average to poor reviews), previously did Clark and Michael, a pretty funny CBS-funded web video series . It started in 2006, with current Geek of the Week Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist ) rising to eventual stardom. All ten episodes (10-15 min. each) are available online. The main idea of the series is a mockumentary, a Seinfeld-like pitch of their own “show about nothing”, and the problems they encounter. Micheal Cera of Ontario: one more reason to love Canada!

CBS –like ABC, NBC, and to a lesser extent some of the other networks like Fox and USA Network [their Burn Notice is cool] –also has a good variety of their current prime-time shows available for streaming online. It’s a nice backup option if you miss an episode, don’t have Tivo, and/or do not have the show offered through a video-on-demand option (through your cable television service).

But besides the stalwarts like CSI (the original’s still the best) and my current CBS fave Worst Week (finally, decent physical comedy in a sitcom again!), the other great thing about this new movement toward multi-platform offerings is that they’re resurrecting some great old shows from the past.

At CBS, while I have not watched any of these yet, they’re offering many episodes of the original Star Trek  series (nerds like me know to call it ST:TOS), plus The Twilight Zone, The Love Boat, and cult-favorite Twin Peaks (which I missed when it came around the first time). There are others, like MacGyver and the early prime time soaps, but you can go see that list for yourself… I refuse to promote crap like Dynasty any more than necessary (not that The Love Boat wasn’t crap, but at least it’s kitschy crap, with lots of great cameos by stars of bygone days, such as Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie of the Dick Van Dyke Show). Cue music: “Love, exciting and new…” Good God, nostalgia can be such fun sometimes!

But CBS isn’t the only mega-media monstrosity doing interesting new (or old!) things on the internet. I took time out recently to watch some television “oldies” being offered — entire episodes worth — by both ABC and NBC.

At ABC, the nice discovery I made this week was the mid-90s series My So-Called Life (yes, it’s ridiculous how late I’m discovering this Claire Danes vehicle, which also launched Jared Leto’s career). There’s only four episodes up, so maybe it’s just a big tease to get us to buy the 6-DVD set. But for anyone looking to fill fifty spare minutes with some smart, sensitive, slightly “chick flick” fare that set the table for Generation Y teen angst and romanticism, MSCL would be the show. Plus it seems to be the only “oldie” ABC’s currently offering, unlike CBS and NBC.

The ABC online versions, like most other major network internet tv offerings (and unlike Clark & Michael, and the indie stuff discussed below), are presented with commercials interrupting the proceedings, though fewer than those commercials shown on the original broadcasts. Best of all: the oldest stuff typically has a commercial at the front end, then nothing but show for the next 25 or 50 minutes.

[Note: laptop and other mobile users should beware the high power usage and memory-hogging tendencies of streaming video.]

NBC also offers several unique opportunities to go slumming in past decades. For you sci-fi fans, you can watch six different episodes of the original Battlestar Galactica series, featuring Lorne “Pa Cartwright” Greene. Among other silly factoids: the pilot for this series had the biggest budget of any show up that point (1978), and the basic plot was loosely based on some Mormon ideas about the origin of Earth’s human life having been on other planets. Also, the pilot’s supervising producer, Donald Bellasario, later went on to create Quantum Leap, Jag and other big series. Dig that feathered hair on those BSG actors, too!

For older folks, or true “vintage” tv buffs, NBC even has eighteen episodes of a gem from the 50s and early 1960s, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. This mystery and melodrama anthology series, named one of the 100 best shows ever in a Time magazine poll, ran from 1955 to 1965. There are lots of careers that got their start on this show, much like Twilight Zone, My So-Called Life and other older shows mentioned above). On the random Hitchcock epi that I watched, for example (“Ten Minutes From Now”), there’s a short appearance by future Kung Fu and Kill Bill  star David Carradine, looking very young, and much more conventional than he ever looked onscreen in the 70s and beyond.

NBC, for the record, also offers a number of episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, The A-Team, Buck Rogers, Emergency!, and Miami Vice.

FOX countered by apparently offering at least the last few episodes of everything they do. But aside from House, The Simpsons and Family Guy, there’s not very much I pay attention to on their network. And they don’t seem to have any old faves, like X-Files or that one where Jessica Alba got her start.

Finally, but not least important, let me put you onto the most daring comedy currently running on broadcast television (which also happens to be available on the internet). And the winner is: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Thursdays on the FX network. Like The Burg (see below), this one feels grungy and home-made, it’s well-written and produced by a small but dedicated group, and it’s funny as all get out. Plus each episode reaches new lows in tasteless or risque content (for example, here’s a line from the current episode: “Hey, …you got turd?” ). It makes perfect sense, therefore, that the only “star-power” they have on Always Sunny is provided by the inimitable Danny DeVito. If you thought his Louie the cab dispatcher on Taxi was grotesque, then you gotta meet Frank.

(BTW: FX’s new show Testees, and their much acclaimed Rescue Me, are tied for second as daring comedies go, and Testees –being from Canada– may soon eclipse Always Sunny as the new champ for tasteless humor.)

And just so it won’t seem like I’m only promoting the big boys, I’m aware of two smaller, internet-only projects that amuse me greatly as well. They’re definitely a cut above much of the original stuff seen on YouTube, in both production value and comedic content.

The first, which I may have mentioned on this blog previously, is called The Burg . It’s an internet-only series produced by some young hipsters (or anti-hipsters) in Williamsburg, a neighborhood of Brooklyn. Episodes are nicely crafted, they feel improvised, and the actors are pros. They’re trying to get some big sponsors so they can do it bigger, or do more. But for now, what’s there is very funny and original. Check it out.

The other site I just found this week. It’s fufu.com. This one is small and easily digestible, not as technically excellent, more like a calling-card site for some hopeful filmmaker out in L.A. But when I watched their humorous short “Oh, Sammy!” , I laughed out loud several times, despite the somewhat “politically incorrect” humor. Their now slightly dated Hillary Clinton film is funny, too.

Golly, that’s a lot of tv, even if it IS all on the internet. I HAVE TO GET A LIFE!!!


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