Tag Archives: TV

You’re friends will be there when your back is to the wall. Well except for Johnny Depp. He hated this show…

I recently had the opportunity to take a look at the Mill Creek re-issue of 21 Jump Street on DVD and I have to say that I was both a little excited about the set and a little bit bummed out.  First off, I have to make it clear that Mill Creek provided a review copy of the DVD, so I didn’t purchase this set.  I am, however, a fan of the show, and I already own a few of the seasons that were previously released by Anchor Bay on DVD.  So for whatever it’s worth, I’d like to believe that my opinions on the set and series are unbiased.

Part of the reason that I wanted to take a look at this set is that I feel like we’re entering an unfortunate stage in the life of DVD as a medium, and Mill Creek is leading the pack into the future.  After living through the first home video boom during the 80s and 90s with VHS, I knew the life cycle of DVD would be relatively short in the grand scheme of things, lasting around 20 years.  Introduced to the public in 1997, I think it’s safe to say that we’re now entering into the last stage of life for the format, its twilight years.  The signs are all around us with discount $3-$5 DVDs available in stores like Big Lots and Wal-Mart, and with a slight improvement of the medium already on the market (Blu-Ray.)  Pretty soon we’re going to see a shift in the releases of films and TV shows as some will only be available on blu-ray or for download, and only the most popular and profitable releases will garner DVD distribution.

So why is Mill Creek important in this scenario?  Well, in the last few years super discounted DVDs have usually consisted of old, discontinued or overstock titles that companies are trying to liquidate to recoup production costs.  Mill Creek on the other hand is leading the charge on first run releases in the budget format, so instead of getting an affordable price on a nicely manufactured set, we’re getting lower quality sets at great prices.  After years of releasing budget public domain fare, Mill Creek is now licensing TV series that other companies have discontinued releases for, as well as picking up the rights to some shows that have never been released on DVD.  One of their first big coups was in acquiring the library of Stephen J. Cannell productions including such shows as Hunter, the Commish, the Greatest American Hero, and 21 Jump Street.  All of these series have been released before, but not at budget pricing.  In addition to these well-known series, Mill Creek is also releasing a lot of Cannell’s lesser known series such as Ten Speed and Brown Shoe, Booker, and Cobra which have never been on DVD in North America (except Cobra which was released in Canada.)  I think this is going to become a trend for the medium in the face of rising music rights costs, especially for TV on DVD, and I’m kind of sad to see it.  I think if it’s successful then it’s going to prove to DVD distributers that subpar sets are perfectly acceptable.

So what about this new 21 Jump Street Complete series DVD set?  Well, being a budget release, the set is attractively priced between $60-$70, which isn’t bad for five seasons of television.  The original five sets released by Anchor Bay in 2004 would have easily set you back $150, so right off the bat we’re talking a 50 to 60 percent drop in price.  But this price reduction also comes with a drop in quality, both in the packaging, features, and in the video quality as well.  First off, the quality of the transfer is pretty close to the original DVDs, at least displayed on a regular player on a non-HD television, but there is a higher compression as there are more episodes per disc on this new set.   The original source material was rough to begin with though, and there’s only so much you can do to pretty it up.

My biggest complaint though is with the packaging which is just medium to subpar.  Though the sets are packaged in clamshell-style cases, the DVDs themselves aren’t housed on individual pegs or spindles.  Instead they’re individually wrapped in plain black paper sleeves which stack together and sort of snap into a frame on one side of the case.  That means that when you want to pull out DVD #17, you have to pull them all out and sift through the sleeves, which can be a pain.  With a smaller set it’s not that big of a deal, but with these complete series sets it really gets to be a pain.

There are also no liner notes and no DVD booklet.  You want to know which episode guest stars Brad Pitt?  Go to IMDB and find it that way because you’ll be searching forever on the DVDs.  Again, with a smaller or season set this wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but with a complete series set it’s really a pain in the butt.  This is also a bare bones, no-special-features release (unless you count the single episode of Booker included in the set.)

Unfortunately, as with the original release of the series on DVD, most if not all of the original music was also stripped from the episodes because of high song licensing issues.  This is the biggest setback for TV on DVD, and in particular with a show like this because the music helped to define the tone, and it provided a boost to the overall quality of the show.  Without the music the series feels so much more cheesy than it was when it originally aired and honestly it’s just a shame.

Talking about the series itself, 21 Jump Street is an example of Stephen J. Cannell at his most playful.  Starring Peter and Michael Deluise, Holly Robinson (Peete), Dustin Nguyen, Steven Williams (the X-Files), Richard Grieco, and of course a young Johnny Depp in his break-out role as Officer Tom Hanson, the show was sort of like the older brother to Saturday Morning cartoons in the 80s.  Usually centered on some hot-button topic of the day, the series was a fun spin on detective shows that gave the actors a lot of range to play all sorts of characters in their undercover roles.

The series is a snapshot of what the Fox Network was like during its inception as well, and helped to define a slightly hipper alternative to the normal programming on the main three networks.  It works best as a time capsule of late 80s television and features a plethora of up and coming and established actors in guest spots like Brad Pitt, Pauley Shore, Mario Van Peebles, Kurtwood Smith, Jason Priestley, Mindy Cohn, Bridget Fonda, Sherilynn Fenn, Josh Brolin, Christina Applegate, Vince Vaughn, John Waters, Shannon Doherty, and Thomas Haden Church.


All in all, for the price, the set is probably worth picking up if you’re a fan and don’t already own the series, though I would wait for a sale.  Right now Best Buy actually has it for the astounding price of $38.

To me the series will always highlight the bittersweet experience of moving on from middle school to high school, and leaving the 80s behind.  It was the beginning of the end for the type of television that I grew up on, and it made the transition into the 90s a little less rocky.  You can pick up this set on July 27th, 2010.

These unofficial trilogies are Officially Awesome in my book!

About six months ago I was having a fun time on Twitter going back and forth with Paxton Holley (of the supremely cool Cavalcade of Awesome), trying to come up with a bunch of unofficial film trilogies.  We got to talking and we decided that it would be epic if we worked on an article together and we decided to flesh out the whole idea of these sort-of-film-trilogies.  So please head on over to the Cavalcade and get your awesome on!

If growing up in the 80s taught me anything it was that any film that was even moderately successful deserved a sequel, and the only thing better than a sequel was a full blown trilogy.  There’s something magical (in the unicorn and rainbow kind of way) about the movie trilogy format that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s there all the same.  Something satisfying.  Personally I can point to the experience of growing up with the three original Star Wars films as a point of reference.  In some form, every trilogy I watch is compared to these three films; in particular to their structure of a first film that works as a stand alone piece (incase of box office failure and no sequel money), a second film that enriches the characters and paints a much bigger picture for the world, and a third film which brings a sense of closure to the overarching plot while also giving the characters one more wild adventure.

There seemed to be an endless stream of trilogies that I cherished in and around the 80s.  The Back to the Future films, the Karate Kid flicks, the hillbilly/mutant Jason flicks (Friday the 13th parts 2-4), the Zombie Jason flicks (Friday the 13th parts 6-8), the Bad News Bears flicks, the Look Who’s Talking flicks, the Mad Max flicks, the Naked Gun flicks, the Poltergeist films, and the Meatballs films.  That’s not including other film series that broke into more sequels like the Superman or the Rocky films.  Heck, in doing some research for this crossover I discovered that there was even a trilogy that I was unaware of, Cannonball I, II, and Speed Zone!  I loved the first two and now I have to track down and see the third.

Recently though, I’ve been thinking a lot about conceptual trilogies, film series that aren’t directly connected by characters or story, but have other threads that tie them together.  There are a lot of series written by the same author or that were all filmed by the same director that get a lot of attention; for instance Sergio Leone’s Dollars/Man with No Name trilogy (Fist Full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), his epic America trilogy (Once Upon a Time in the West, Fist Full of Dynamite, and Once Upon a Time in America), or John Carpenter’s Apocalypse trilogy (The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness.)  But there are also a lot of films that just feel like they belong together because of interesting themes and overall concept.  Here are a few of my favorites…

The Ralph Macchio Fight Trilogy.  There are only a handful of films starring Mr. Macchio thoughout the 80s as he was quickly typecast as Daniel LaRusso (not a terrible fate), but of the films that he did make there seems to be a clear throughline of scrapping against all forms of bullies.

Starting in 1983 with Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of The Outsiders, Ralph Macchio stars as Johnny Cade, a 16 year-old greaser runt who’s had enough and is ready to pop.  In the film, Macchio’s Johnny comes to the aid of his friend Ponyboy (played by C. Thomas Howell) who is being attacked by a group of Socs (the rich, douchey, pre-suburbanites of the 50s) because he was hanging out with “their girls”.  Johnny stabs and kills one of the Socs in the scuffle and then he and Ponyboy go on the lam hiding from the law.  Things don’t end well for Johnny, but he does save a bunch of kids from a burning building, so I guess there’s that…

The second film in the Fight trilogy is by far Macchios most famous and probably my favorite film of the 80s, 1984’s The Karate Kid.  Starring as Daniel LaRusso, a kid who moves from Newark, NJ, to Reseda in California and then proceeds to get his butt kicked by bullies right and left.  One chance meeting with the apartment’s reclusive superintendant later and we’re on the awesome rollercoaster ride of banzai-tree-trimming, catching flies with chopsticks, waxing cars, painting decks, and beating the living shit out of a bunch of asshole bullies in skeleton costumes.  Not only did the film give us the ultimate douche in Billy Zabka’s Jonny Lawrence, but it also provided the best fight song in the history of all time, Joe Esposito’s You’re the Best.  It’s to fighting what Barry White is to love making.

The final film in the Fight trilogy is the under-seen 1986 Walter Hill flick Crossroads, starring Macchio as Eugene Martone, a young guitar prodigy searching for the legendary Robert Johnson’s (he of the musical deal with the devil fame) one lost song.  Though there are a couple of dustups in the flick, the fighting all takes place with guitars, in particular in the culmination of the film where Martone accepts a challenge from the devil to out guitar his pet project, rock star Jack Butler (playing with a crazed yet entertaining relish by Steve Vai.)  It seems that in battling the Devil, there is no greater weapon that soulful rock and roll (Just ask Charlie Daniels, the Kids in the Hall, or Tenacious D.)

Crossroads brings me to another themed series, The Walter Hill Musical Battle Trilogy.  Walter Hill is one of those directors that never broke as big as his resume deserves, though he has been a part of some pretty big projects including the first Alien film and the HBO Tales From the Crypt television series.  His eye for style and interesting characters is amazing and I can only hope more people pick up his films as time goes on.  For this trilogy I’ll go in reverse seeing as I’ve already mentioned the culminating flick, Crossroads

The middle film in the Musical Battle trilogy is the insane 1984 flick Streets of Fire.  Starring Michael Pare as Tom Cody, an ex-soldier turned hero for hire who is called back to his home town when his ex-girlfriend, rock star Ellen Aim (played by Diane Lane), is kidnapped by Raven Shaddock, leader of a local gang called the Bombers (played with wicked insanity by Willem Dafoe.)  Cody, along with another ex-soldier McCoy and Ellen’s manager/boyfriend Billy Fish (Rick Moranis in a typecast-breaking performance as a fast talking ass), take on the Bombers and rescue Ellen in a film noir inspired rock opera that culminates in one heck of a kick ass sledge hammer fight that needs to be seen to be believed.  This film drips style much in the same way that Tim Burton or Wes Anderson flicks do.  Hill is a master of creating unique alternate universes that exisit just on the edge of reality, and in Streets of Fire it can be the 50s and the 80s as the same time.

The first flick in this Musical Battle trilogy is probably Hill’s most famous film, 1979’s The Warriors, which is one of those movies that people love, hate, or love to hate.  Personally I love it.  The film is loosely based on the Anabasis an account of a battalion of Greek soldiers, lead by Xenophon, from Sardes to the Black Sea through hundreds of miles of enemy territory.  In the film, Cyrus, the leader of the most powerful gang in New York calls for a peaceful meeting between all the gangs in the city (60,000 strong), in an effort to rally together against the police and the system.  Luther (played by a psychotic David Patrick Kelly), uses this opportunity to assassinate Cyrus, and in the ensuing chaos blames the act on the Warriors, who then have to travel through all sorts of enemy territory in trying to get back to their home turf at Coney Island.  The film is punctuated by updates given by a faceless mouth on the radio informing the various gangs of the whereabouts of the Warriors as they try to evade battle.  Though it’s not an out and out rock opera, it has many of operatic qualities and a very similar visual panache.

Probably my favorite themed film series from the 80s has to be The Alternative/Extreme Sports Trilogy made up of Rad, Thrashin’, and North Shore.  Each film centers on one of the big sports crazes of the 80s including BMX, skateboarding, and surfing respectively.  All of them have similar plots, when a hometown boy (who is pretty damn good at what they do), is confronted with the idea of competing in a tournament that will pit them against the biggest assholes each past-time has to offer. Growing up in Florida in the 1980s I was smack dab in the middle of all three of these crazes, and even though I never tried my hand at surfing I was enamored with all three.

In 1986’s Rad (which I discussed at length before), Cru Jones has to battle against the insufferable Bart Taylor (played by real like Olympian Bart Conner) at Hell Track, along the way winning the hart of pro racer Christian (Full House’s Lori Loughlin.)  1986 also brought us the skateboarding classic Thrashin’.  Starring Josh Brolin as Cory Webster, the plot centers around a friend of a group of local skaters from the Valley who has come to Los Angles to complete in a crazy high speed downhill race.  Webster unfortunately bumps into a insane local gang of punkish skaters called the Daggers, who are led by Hook (played by Robert Russler.)  Of course Cory falls in love with Hook’s more normal sister Chrissy, and the two play Romeo and Juliet while mixing it up with the Daggers (which means plenty of skateboard jousting.)  Lastly we have 1987’s North Shore, which features Matt Adler as Rick Kane, a surfer from Arizona who has never really had a chance to hone his chops in a real ocean.  He wins a local competition and finds himself in Hawaii where noting is quite like it seems or he expected.  Battling against the Hui (locals) on the waves, he ends up simultaneously falling in love with Kiani (Nia Peeples) and being mentored by Chandler, a transplanted soul-surfing guru.  Rick decides that the only way he can prove himself is by winning a surfing competition called the Banzai Pipeline.

Last but certainly not least is the is The William Zabka Bully Trilogy.  I’ve already talked about the Karate Kid (where Zabka plays the leg-sweeping bully we all love to hate, Johnny Lawrence), but he also goes on to play douches in two other 80s flicks, 1985’s Just One of the Guys, and 1986’s Back to School.

Just One of the Guys is my favorite hidden gem movie of the 80s that I must have seen on cable two trillion times.  Starring Joyce Hyser as Terry Griffith, an aspiring teenaged journalist who can’t seem to get any respect because she’s a shapely woman.  Terry hatches a scheme to enroll in another high school (seeing as her journalism teacher has already dismissed her talent), only this time she decides to start cross dressing as a boy so that she can get the respect she deserves for her work.  In the flick Terry is basically playing the Daniel LaRusso role from the Karate Kid, but instead of getting beaten up by Billy Zabka’s Greg Tolan, she instead mentors a geeky guy who can’t seem to get a date, Rick (played by Clayton Rohner.)  Rick has a crush on Tolan’s girlfriend Deborah, and therein lies the Zabka douchery.  Though it’s a slight step down from Johnny Lawrence, Greg Tolan is still a pretty entertaining asshole and it’s fun to see him get his ass kicked by a girl, her little brother and eventually Rick as well.  Whereas in the Karate Kid Zabka was more likely to bust up your ghetto blaster and chase you down with a dirtbike, in Just one of the Guys his coup de grace comes in various forms of exercizing with nerds and geeks.  Between showing off his wedgie-weight-lifting, and his personal favorite lunch table lifting, Zabka had a lot of fun as teh ultimate P.E. bully.

Zabka’s weakest bully performance is in Back to School, the Rodney Dangerfield comedy where he plays Thorton Melon, the owner of a successful string of Big and Tall shops who decides that the only way he can get close to his son is by enrolling in college to be near him.  Zabka plays Chas Osborne, who is the alpha male on the college swim team, and the rival of Thorton’s son Jason (played by Christine’s Keith Gordon.)  Honestly, Zabka is barely in the film and even though he really is supposed to be a douche, he’s kind of justified in his asshole-ery.  He’s a great diver, and he doesn’t even really bully Jason all that much, so when his dive is sabotaged by a young Robert Downey Jr. (playing Jasons best friend), it’s kind of sad.  Though he’s still a douche, I feel sorry for his character and I think it goes a long way to redeeming his much worse bully past.

Anyway, this is only one half of the unofficial trilogies cross-blog special.  For the ultimate in awesomeology and more trilogy fun, head on over to Paxton Holley’s Cavalcade of Awesome, and tell him Branded in the 80s sent ya!

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VHS means forever…

The wife and I have recently been culling through our collections of various things, trying to free up some room and make our place look a little bit neater.   In the quest to let go I came across what’s left of my meager collection of VHS tapes, movies that haven’t been released on DVD (or at least hadn’t when I choose to keep them) and I just can’t seem to part with.  Throughout the 90s and in to the 2000s I had amassed a ton of VHS tapes while working at a local grocery store.  I was a night manager in the drug/gm department which was over our in-store video rental kiosk, and because I was a burgeoning movie freak I always got first dibs on previously-viewed sales stock.

When DVD came along I started the laborious and expensive process of replacing my collection, and to help bolster that project I sold off most of my tapes on eBay when you could still get a decent amount for them.  Even so, there were a few tapes that I decided to hang onto because I figured they’d never get released on DVD.   It’s been fun over time as some of these titles have become available and I’ve been able to throw away a tape here and there (like my two Tick cartoon videos, MTV’s the Maxx series, Buckaroo Banzai, Goonies, and my Thundercats and Transformers the Movie convention bootlegs.)  Well, the collection had shrunk to about ten tapes, a few of which were gifts (I have a hard time parting with gifts), and a couple more which I just hadn’t thrown away yet (I finally bought a copy of the Die Hard DVD last year.)  I thought it would be fun to share some of the straglers…

First up we have the 1988 anti-classic Hot to Trot starring Bobcat Goldthwait, Dabney Coleman, Virginia Madsen and the voice of John Candy as Don the talking horse.   I loved, loved, loved this flick as a kid (it probably didn’t hurt that Nick at Night was coming into it’s own at the time and I was getting introduced to a massive amount of Mr. Ed re-runs.)  First off you have Goldthwait who was becoming my favorite stand-up comedian with his coke-induced sweaty, garble-mouthed HBO specials and his role as the unpredictable and loving Stork brother Egg in One Crazy Summer, not to mention his really fun turn as Zed in the Police Academy movies and his suicidal turn as Eliot Loudermilk in Scrooged.   I think this is sort of the high point of his career as the goofy funny guy with one of his only starring roles.  In a few more years we get the sort of straightened out and much more seriously crazy Goldthwait with Shakes the Clown and his firebug antics.

At the same time I sort of felt that Coleman was reprising his 9 to 5 horrible boss character, which was a role that I loved him in.  He could also sort of do-no-wrong for me after playing dual roles in Clock and Dagger alongside Henry Thomas.  If there’s one thing this film is really notable for, it probably as the beginning of the end of John Candy’s career.  There were a few promising moments here and there (Uncle Buck, and I actually enjoyed the Delirious flick), but for all intents and purposes it was all downhill after Hot to Trot.   It’s kind of sad…

Debuting the next year (’89) was the insane comedy Big Man on Campus…

…which featured an early performance from the Office’s Melora Hardin, as well as Corey Parker (best friend and one-time step son of Patrick Dempsey), Cindy “Shirley” Williams, and Tom Skerritt.  The star of the flick was an unlikely Allan Katz playing the hunchback Bob Maloogaloogaloogaloogalooga (“One Malooga, four looga’s…”)   Katz was the writer/producer on shows like M*A*S*H, Rhoda, Roseanne and Blossom, and his one big film was Big Man on Campus which to this day I content is utter comedy genius.  The film is silly re-telling of the Hunchback of Notre Dame set in present day California on the UCLA campus with Bob living in a click tower and fawning over Hardin’s Cathy from afar.  When he sees Cathy in trouble while she’s defending her boyfriend (played with amazing comic-timing precision by Parker), Bob swoops down to protect her, outing himself in the process.  At first considered violent, the university decides to study Bob, appointing Parker as his keeper/roommate, and it’s from here that the film really takes a weird turn.

Though it could have stayed pretty much to the obvious stock story, Katz imbues the flick with some much comedic life in all of the zany little details.  There’s all sort of left-field one-liners in the film that I still find myself uttering to this day.   At one point in a mall Bob is asked what he wants from a fried chicken stand (legs, breasts, thighs, you know where the joke is going), but instead of making it overtly sexual and hum drum, he asks for “…two faces.”  On top of the well written script, Katz brings an amazing physicality to the character that’s half John Belushi, and half Harold Lloyd.  I’d plotz if the flick ever came out on DVD…

Next up we have an obscure Billy Dee Williams flick from 1995 called Secret Agent 00 Soul…

The flick is excruciatingly bad and it must have been a favor to a family member that got Billy Dee to star in this.  I haven’t even managed to make it all the way through the film, and honestly I don’t think I ever will.   My favorite character from the Star Wars flicks has always been Lando, and that’s more or less why I’ve been hanging on to this tape (it was a gag gift from a friend.)  My favorite aspect is the post-production design work on the promo materials.   Look at that cover!  Have you seen a worse photo-enhancement job in your life (that is Billy Dee’s head, but it ain’t his body.)  Oh wait, there is a worse job than the cover.  Take a gander at that back cover…

Yup, Billy Dee’s head pasted onto a white man’s body (doing a bad impression of Roger Moore from the flick For Your Eyes Only, though it might even be Moore’s body.)  Classic.  If you ever find a copy of the flick, look for an early guest star appearance by Tiny Lister Jr.

Last up is a film that has actually come out on DVD, but it’s a tape that’s been so loved over the years it’s impossible for me to get rid of it, the one and only Monster Squad!

This tape has been watched and rewound at least two hundred times (personally) not to mention all of the viewings it had at the video store where I picked it up.   I just can’t get rid of it.  I even have a swanky bootleg cover that matches this original cover for my official DVD release (since I hate the new cover artwork so much.)  I think I’d get buried with this VHS (if I were planning to be buried that is.)  By the by, does anyone know who the poster artist is for the Monster Squad?  The art on the cover is signed Craig, which looks like a familiar signature, but I’m not sure who it is…

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The Essential TV Guide Fall Preview Issues of the 80s, Part 8: 1984!

1984?  It was a crazy year.  We saw the first Apple Mac computer (with mouse driven graphical interface.)  Michael Jackson claimed the crown as the king of pop winning all sorts of Grammys for Thriller.  Crack was introduced into the US while over a million people died of famine in Ethiopia.  The world didn’t quite succumb to a secretive snooping big brother as foretold in Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, at least not at that time.  One thing is for sure, in the midst of all of this American television was having one of its best years ever with the debut of fourteen “classic” new series (though I’ll let you all decide on the following show’s classic status…)


Jane Curtin found her way back into the spotlight after her inaugural stint as one of the not-ready-for-prime-time players on Saturday Night Live.  Joined by Susan St. James, the duo launched Kate & Allie which would run for six seasons throughout the rest of the decade.  Night Court debuted, instantly making Richard Moll an unmistakable TV icon as well as making stars out of Harry Anderson and John Larroquette.   Airwolf took to the Skies blasting away a plethora of terrorist piloted bubble helicopters and making it cool to serenade eagles with a cello.  Soleil Moon Frye taught a generation of kids that it was cool to be weird and eclectic as Punky Brewster, a show that for all intents and purposes defines a lot of what we think of when remembering what it was like to be a kid in the 80s.  Scott Baio finally found his niche as a babysitter/heartthrob in Charles in Charge (brining along good friend Willie Ames for the ride.)


Angela Lansbury started solving crimes faster than she could make them up in Murder, She Wrote.  Michael Landon joined the must-have-been-blessed as one of a handful of actors to have three hugely successful television shows with the debut of Highway to Heaven (after the duo of long-running stints on Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie.)  Whereas Michael Jackson was the verified King of Pop, Bill Cosby took the crown as the king of television with the start of one of the most successful shows of all time in the titular Cosby Show.   Who’s the Boss showed that there was still life in Tony Danza and Katherine Helmond after Taxi and Soap respectively, as well as introducing the world to a cute and scrappy Alyssa Milano.  Stephen J. Cannell was also having a banner year with not one but two new hit shows, Hunter (starring Fred Dryer in a career defining role as Detective Sgt. Rick Hunter) as well as Riptide, which introduced us to an awesome orange robot (the Roboz), as well as filling in the awesome aquatic vehicle action void left in the wake of or vehicle oriented shows (like Streethawk & Airwolf which also debuted in ’84, as well as Knightrider and the Dukes of Hazzard which were already dominating the airwaves.)


And finally, the show that defined the look of the mid to late 80s, Miami Vice starring Don Johnson, Edward James Olmos, and Phillip Michael Thomas.  It vies with Hill Street Blues as the quintessential 80s cop drama and single-handedly ushered in the jacket over a T-shirt look for men in their 30s.  Mixed in with all of this scripted entertainment was another new series that would run off and on in one form or another for 20 years, TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes (hosted by Ed McMahon and produced/hosted by Dick Clark.)  TVsB&PJ, most likely inspired by Candid Camera, would keep the practical joke game going and eventually inspire more insipid programming like Punk’d.  Ashton Kutcher is no Dick Clark, though, not even an Ed McMahon.   Also, debuting in the same year, though months later was ABC’s answer to TVsB&PJ, Foul-Ups, Bleeps & Blunders hosted by perennial agitator Don Rickles and co-host Steve Lawrence.  The show was short-lived, never gaining the ratings of its predecessor.


Even though some of the other series wouldn’t necessarily fall into the “classics” category, it doesn’t mean that there weren’t some interesting offerings.   Stacy Keach tried breathing new life into Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (after Darren McGavin’s run decades prior.)  One of my favorites from this season, Street Hawk also made its initial bow (and short 12 episode run to the cancelation finish line.)  Spinning-off from the Jeffersons was the zany emergency room sitcom E/R, which starred Elliot Gould and oddly enough George Clooney 10 years before he rocketed to stardom in another show also titled ER.   I remember catching this in reruns on the USA network when I was home sick from school.  Speaking of Spin-Offs, John Ritter exited Three’s Company to star in Three’s a Crowd as a more responsible Jack Tripper looking to get married to his girlfriend Vicky.  Even though he’s free of the Farleys and Ropers of the world, he still has an overbearing landlord, Soap’s Robert Mandan who plays James Bradford who also happens to be Vicky’s father.  Before he became a household name on Valerie (later the Hogan Family) Jason Bateman was looking to parlay his experience starring on Silver Spoons with a new series, It’s Your Move (also starring David Garrison of Married With Children Fame.)   I only remember catching a couple episode of the show, but I liked what I saw.  Bateman was the essence of conniving and smarmy as a kid which is what made his performance as Michael Bluth on Arrested Development all that much more surprising to me when it first aired…


Rounding out the failed but notable series in ’84 was the first and only, full-on season of V, a continuation of the two highly successful mini series that preceded it.  As a kid I had two huge crushes, one on Jane Badler (who played the villainess alien lizard woman Diana) and Faye Grant who played doctor and revolutionary Julie Parrish.   I don’t think I caught that many episodes of the regular series but I was obsessed with the two mini series and honestly I think I enjoyed it even more than Star Wars at the time.   I was always bummed that we only ever got one real toy from the franchise, the nazi-esque Visitor figure, though there was a planned 3.75″ line that unfortunately never materialized


1984 also saw the 1st annual MTV Music Awards.  I wonder if the music awards show will stop now that MTV has dropped the Music Television byline from their logo?

There were a couple more Saturday morning cartoon specials as well.  On NBC we had the Laugh Busters co-hosted by Alfonso Ribeiro, Thom Bray (of the new show Riptide), and Danny Cooksey the newest addition to Diff’rent Strokes who would go on to star in the Nickelodeon live action show Salute Your Shorts as Bobby Budnick (as well as voicing Montana Max on Tiny Tune Adventures.)  In addition to the Smurfs and Alvin and the Chipmunks the special also featured the Mr. T cartoon, the Snorks, Pink Panther and Sons and my favorite Kidd Video.  On CBS later in the week we got a chance to see Saturday’s the Place hosted by Joyce De Witt and Ted Knight of all people.   This special featured the Richard Pryor series, the various shows on the Saturday Supercade, the Get-Along-Gang, the Muppet Babies, and Dungeons and Dragons.  I really wish these specials would find their way to DVD someday.   Speaking of kid’s shows, 1984 also saw the introduction of the cable-only series KIDS Incorporated which always reminded me of a musical version of Saved By the Bell.  Though he wouldn’t appear as a regular until the following 1985 season, the show introduced me to Ryan Lambert who played the badass Rudy in the Monster Squad.

There seemed to be a ton of candy ads in this issue, but the one that really caught my eye was a mail-in offer for a Skittles or Starburst belt.   I wonder if any of these are still circulating around on the secondary market? 

Anyway, next time, 1985…

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The Essential TV Guide Fall Preview Issues of the 80s, Part 7: 1983!

When looking through the TV Guide Fall Preview issues that came out between 1977-1990, I find all sorts of little nostalgic gems, not to mention a parade of stars that I know and love.  Even when a lot of the new shows don’t last, the stars do, eventually going on to successful series and some even making the jump to film.  But for some reason 1983 just doesn’t seem to be a big year for television, at least not in terms of classic shows starting up or getting any before-they-were-stars insights.   It’s not totally devoid, but it’s a little sparse on excitement.


The first thing that really jumped out at me was the introduction of the A-Team, which is by far the most notable new show that year (at least in my skewed perception.)  Sure there are a few other notable shows making their debuts, namely Webster, Hardcastle & McCormick, and Scarecrow and Mrs. King, but the A-Team is really where it’s at, at least in the iconic television department.  Honestly, I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that 1982 had twice as many lasting and memorable debuts (Cagney & Lacey, Knightrider, T.J. Hooker, Remington Steele, Cheers, Silver Spoons, Family Ties, St. Elsewhere, and Newhart)?  Maybe with all of those shows still on the air, as well as shows that had been going from years prior (Simon & Simon, the Fall Guy, Gimmie a Break, Hill Street Blues, Too Close For Comfort, and Magnum P.I. just to name some of the shows from the previous two years) there wasn’t a real big push for new programming in 1983.   Of course, 1984, when we get to it, will introduce like thirteen long-lasting and memorable series, so I guess ’83 was just a dud.


That isn’t to say there aren’t a few interesting faces popping up in some of these short lived new shows.  In Goodnight, Beantown we get to see Bill Bixby looking for his third hit show (after the Incredible Hulk and the Courtship of Eddie’s Father.)  Alec Baldwin pops up in his first adult performance as Dr. Hal Wexler, part of a trio a doctors in Cutter to Houston (which sounds like the core plot of Northern Exposure six years before it would premier on television.)  Jim Varney, in a rare pre-Ernst role, rounded out the cast of The Rousters about a family of carnies (sounds like he still plays for the same kind of Ernst laughs though.)  Cybill Shepherd, David Soul, and Sam Elliot star in The Yellow Rose, a failed attempt (looking back 27 years later) at taking on Dallas.  Richard Dean Anderson makes a pre-MacGyver appearance in Emerald Point N.A.S., a naval romance set somewhere on the coast of the Southern U.S.  Madeline Kahn got her own titular show Oh Madeline.   We also get to see a pre-NYPD Blue Dennis Franz in the Bay City Blues.   The star-studded Hotel makes its debut featuring a young Connie Sellecca alongside James Brolin and Bette Davis.   Bill Bixby wasn’t the only Incredible Hulk star looking for work after the show ended, Lou Ferrigno stars as paramedic John Six in the emergency room drama Medstar.   All in all 1983 feels like the eye of a hurricane (the hurricane of 80s television history that is.)


Joining the ranks of the almost forgotten, yet interesting shows of TVs past is slightly odd entry called Manimal, a Glen A. Larsen production (who also brought us Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, BJ and the Bear, and Magnum P.I.)  The series centered on animal behavior professor Jonathon Chase who had the unique ability to shape-shift into animal (including mammal, reptile, or fish), which he uses to fight crime, secretly helping out plainclothes cop Brooke McKenzie.   Even though the series was cancelled after eight episodes, it has developed a pretty strong cult following over the years.  From what I can gather the special effects were pretty good, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as they were crafted by master artist Stan Winston.  I’d be willing to bet that had the show managed to hang on a little longer, and given a slightly larger production budget, Manimal could have easily become the next Knight Rider.

There were some other fun tidbits in the issue though including an interesting ad for the Atari Service Centers.  At first blush it makes total sense, I mean 1983 was pretty much the peak of their domination and it was just before the crash of the home video game market.  It seems strange though that they were so successful that they could afford to run and staff 1,600 locations across the country.  I’m assuming it was in conjunction with another established company and maybe Warner/Atari either certified/trained some existing staff or maybe just had one employee placed at an existing electronics repair shops.  Seriously though, didn’t it make more sense to have customers mail in their systems for repair, even 27 years ago?


Also, I’ve talked about this before, but I miss all of the spot illustrations that used to pepper magazines, not to mention the paintings for movie posters and advertisements.   There’s an awesome watercolor portrait ad for the flick Between Friends, an HBO film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Carol Burnett in this issue.  In the 70s, TV Guide used to have a ton of Jack Davis style illustrations (drawn by Dave Arke) done for movies and specials premiering on the local affiliates that were just awesome, but some time in the early to mid 80s there was a switch to cut & pasted photo collages that were just sort of fugly.  Ever since there’s been a steady progression of perfecting the superimposed photo and integrating CG artwork that’s just made most magazine ads and movie posters boring and homogenous.  In addition to the Between Friends art, there’s alao a couple of pieces of Arke work, one for the season premiere of Real People and a second for the debut of the show We Got It Made.  Just look at that insanity!


Even though 1983 wasn’t all that big for live action television debuts, it was freaking huge for the world of animation, in particular syndicated weekday after-school fare.  Not only did He-Man and the Masters of the Universe start running all over the country (though it’s strangely absent from my TV Guide copy so I guess the Canoga Park, California local affiliates didn’t carry it), but ’83 also saw the debut of the original G.I. Joe sunbow miniseries.  This was the beginning of a boom that would rock the world of animation and usher in hundreds of shows throughout the rest of the 80s and on to today.  If you’re curious about that first G.I. Joe mini series you can listen to me wax nostalgic about it with my co-hosts Jerzy Drozd and Kevin Cross in a two-part special of the Saturday Supercast.


One of the things that I completely missed out on in the 80s were a series of prime time specials that gave a sneak preview of the Saturday morning cartoons starting that season.  1983 featured a couple (though one of them is billed as an awards show), one on CBS hosted by Scott Baio fresh off the set of Joni Loves Chachi while the other aired on NBC and was called the Yummy Awards (which was hosted by both Dwight “Howling Mad Murdock” Schultz and Ricky Schroder.)  The CBS special also featured Sorrell Booke and James Best (I’m sure as their Dukes of Hazzard characters Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane), as well as previews of shows like the Saturday Supercade line-up (Donkey Kong, Q*Bert, and Frogger), Dungeons and Dragons, and the Biskitts.  The NBC special was a bit more star-studded featuring appearances by Mr. T, Kim “Tootie” Fields & Mindy “Natalie” Cohn from the Facts of Life, Justine Bateman, Bozo, and Gumby.


Also, repeated from the 1982 issue, there’s another ad for Beefeater’s Delight.  To keep from misquoting myself I’ll just provide an excerpt from that previous post:

“Probably the weirdest ad I’ve seen so far in any of these TV Guides was the small one above called Beefeaters Delight!   From what I can gather the ad is for entire sides of hanging beef at amazing prices, but what I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around is the idea that it’s being presented to the general public instead of in another more industry-centric fashion.   I mean, I realize there are a ton of hunters out there that kill, keep and eat entire deer carcasses, but seriously, who invests in an entire half cow?  That’s why we have supermarkets right?  I do have to say that the insert advertising 5lbs of hotdogs or Bacon for $.99 a pound is mighty tempting.   I wonder what that would work out to in 2008 dollars?”


Lastly, I found it kind of interesting that the real life husband and wife duo of Alex Karras and Susan Clark not only had the debut of their new sitcom Webster, but also a made-for-TV movie called Maid in America that they also produced.   I guess it was a big year for the couple.

Next time I’ll take a look at the 1984 issue which is jam packed with classic TV debuts…

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The Essential TV Guide Fall Preview Issues of the 80s, Part 6: 1979!

I think winter is finally passing in my area and the theme for Spring here at Branded in the 80s is certainly spring cleaning.  Along with diving into my mostly un-read collection of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style books, I’m also going to try and dive back into some of the other projects I started on Branded awhile ago, namely looking at my collection of TV Guide Fall Preview issues from 1977-1990.  I’ve already covered the 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, & 1982 issues, so this week I thought I’d fill in the gap by taking a look at the 1979 issue…


As you can read in the short segment labeled Changes in the pages above, 1979 was all about change, not only as the decade came to a close, but in the TV landscape as well.  A number of beloved and new hit shows were experiencing drastic cast changes, from the majority of the cast of All in the Family taking a proverbial hike, to Kate Jackson and Radar (Gary Burghoff) leaving Charlie’s Angels and M*A*S*H respectively.  Mork & Mindy also saw the dismissal of the matronly but fun Elizabeth Kerr, as well as a diminishing role for Conrad Janis who played Mindy’s father in lieu of new cast members including Jay Thomas and Jim Staahl.  Heck even the Ropers left Three’s Company making way for Don Knott’s return to prime time as Mr. Farley.


On a side note, and I think I’ve mentioned this sort of advertising in the TV Guides before, but I am still surprised to see the Coke brand so prominently displayed in the above Bacardi rum ad.  I know rum & Cokes are pretty damn common, but it just goes to show how much more loose companies used to be with their image and branding. Also, it’s kind of awesome to see dueling tampon ads.  I guess feminine hygiene companies think alike with the same ideas when it comes to promoting just how well their products work.  Honestly, I have to agree that if it works for a gymnast, it’ll work for anyone… As for the slate of new shows in the ’79-’80 season, though there were only a few stand-outs that would go on to become TV classics, we were introduced to a ton of emerging actors and actresses that would graces our screens for years to come.   Right off the bat we have the show Working Stiffs which features the first big roles for both Jim Belushi and Michael Keaton.  Keaton had done some walk-on and guest star roles before, but this was his first starring role (as Mike O’Rourke, brother to Belushi’s Ernie.)   Belushi, though he hadn’t done a whole lot of broadcast TV yet was certainly an up-and-comer having done a stint at Second City and of course as the heir-apparent to his real-life brother’s insane comic styling.


Some other stars getting their initial breaks were a young Rob Lowe in what looks like a dra-medy (in the vein of 8 is Enough) called A New Kind of Family, Martin Short and Joe Regalbuto (of future Murphy Brown fame, though I’ll always know him for his role on Street Hawk) in the Associates (also starring Tim Thomerson who graduated to a ton of great B-movie work in the 80s), Mark Harmon (hot off his appearance in the ginormous mini-series Centennial) in the show 240-Robert, a young Lorenzo Lamas in California Fever, Kim Basinger & Don Johnson in early roles in the adaptation of From Here to Eternity, as well as Rosanna Arquette and Tracey “Growing Pains” Gold in Shirley (yet another widowed mother with a bunch of kids vehicle for Shirley Jones.)  Though none of these shows lasted more than 1 season, all of these actors and actresses would go on to become pretty big stars in either television or on the silver screen in the subsequent decade.   Just goes to show that everyone starts out at the bottom…


There were also a lot of other shows that featured some more established actors and actresses, though none of these lasted all that long either.  Brian Dennehy played single father and hotel detective Arnie Sutter in Big shamus, Little Shamus, James Earl Jones took on the titular role of detective captain Woody Paris as a part time criminology professor, part time sleuth in the show Paris, Robert Conrad put on his best James Bon impression for the spy thriller A Man Called Sloane, Claude Akins headed up the semi-successful Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo, and Louis Gossett Jr. took on the Lazarus Syndrome.


There are a couple of shows that I never got a chance to watch and am really interested in.   One is the Mork & Mindy spin-off Out of the Blue starring James Brogan as an honest to goodness guardian angel to a family of five orphaned kids in Chicago.   I find it fascinating that the writers and producers decided to take an wacky science-fiction comedy and pair it with a wacky theological comedy.  The other sounds like it was scripted just for me, Struck By Lightning, which is a sitcom about the further adventures of the Frankenstein monster (played by the perfectly odd Jack Elam who I know mostly from the Cannonball Run film as the doctor you don’t want sticking you with anything, but he was also in Once Upon a Time in the West, at least for the opening credits) and the descendant of Dr. Frankenstein, science teacher Ted Stein.  Basically Stein inherits an Inn, and while inspecting the property he meets the caretaker Frank who claims to be the 229 year-old monster from Shelly’s novel.  Hilarity ensues, at least I assume as I couldn’t find any video on youtube to back this assumption up. I’m also glad to see an ad for an ancient 26″ Sony Trinitron television set.  It’s like seeing the grandfather of my current 27″ Trinitrin that I’ve had since I first moved out on my own 14 years ago. The Proud-As-a-Peacock NBC T-shirts are pretty neat as well, though honestly, who was rushing out to pick up an NBC T-shirt?  Granted, they’re only five bucks, but c’mon, these should have been free considering all the free promotion and all…


Similar to the insane plastic jogging suits of the 70s and 80s, we also have and ad for Slim-Sleepers, pajamas made out of the waterproof Tyvek material that basically makes you sweat while you sleep.  Now I’ve used Tyvek for years, not to lose weight mind you, but to ship out packages.  Pretty much most Fed-Ex and USPS “paks” are made of the material which is great for keeping paperwork safe and dry in transit, but seems just this side of insane to consider as sleepwear.  Besides, even if it does work, who wants to wake up in a pool of your own sweat! Not every new show was a bomb in ’79 as we got to see the start of a handful of successful series including Hart to Hart, Trapper John, M.D., Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and the much more down-to-Earth spin-off of Soap, Benson.

Next time I dip into the collection I’ll have some highlights from the 1983 Fall Preview issue.

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Obscure 80s TV on DVD…

Though there’s a distinct drought of upcoming 80s cartoons being released on DVD, there are plenty of interesting live action 80s television titles that are about to start popping up on shelves.   If I had to make a guess as to three 80s shows that I figured would never see the light of day on DVD it would have been Small Wonder, Street Hawk, and Max Headroom.  Amazingly enough these three titles are actually becoming a reality thanks to the folks at Shout! Factory (which is quickly becoming my favorite outlet for DVD production and distribution.)

Small Wonder was one of those shows that filled the gap between afterschool cartoon watching and primetime when my parents took control over the TV.   I’m pretty sure I remember watching it on the USA network in first run syndication, and for some reason I seem to remember catching it alongside episodes of Out of this World as sort of a double whammy of crazy girl power insanity (OotW was a show that revolved around a girl named Evie that has some nifty alien powers, in particular the power to stop time around her by putting her fingers together, because her father was an alien.)  For those not familiar, Small Wonder was a sitcom that ran from 1985 to 1989 and revolved around a nuclear family that consisted of genius engineer father Ted Lawson, his wife Joan, their biological daughter Jamie and their adopted robot daughter Vicki (a project Ted brought home from his robotics firm dayjob.)  The series has the same basic premise as ALF, with the Lawson family getting used to their exceptional new family member while also trying to keep her robotic secret from neighbors, friends and family.  Honestly, I figured this was one of those shows that would fester in the mire of obscurity, in particular because were no big stars attached that have gone on to create any buzz for an archival release of the show.  But it’s becoming clear that this is where Shout! Factory really excels when it comes to picking DVD projects.  Small Wonder season 1 is already available on DVD…

If that series wasn’t obscure enough, coming on July 13th (just in time for my birthday) we’re also going to see the release of Street Hawk the complete series

Before the internet, Street Hawk was one of those shows that I only managed to catch a couple episodes of before it fell off of network TV and since then also seemed to fall off the face of the earth.  I could never convince my friends that the show even existed.  Street Hawk featured an awesome futuristic urban combat motorcycle and helped round out the collection of vehicle-based action shows of the 80s alongside stuff like Airwolf, Knightrider, the Dukes of Hazzard, and to an extent, the A-Team.  Starring Rex Smith as Jesse Mach, an ex-motorcycle cop recruited by a secret government agency to fight urban crime at speeds up to 300 miles per hour, Street Hawk featured my second favorite vehicle (right behind the chopper in Airwolf).  In fact, it’s probably because of these two shows that I fell so in love with Brad Turner and his motorcycle/helicopter Condor from the cartoon M.A.S.K. as it joined two of my favorite designs into one badass mode of transportation.  The Street Hawk series was more of a hit in the UK, receiving a series of picture books and novelizations, though there was at least one lunch box released in the US.  There was also an unofficial G.I. Joe figure released abroad that came with a similar black motorcycle.

Rounding out the obscure TV DVD releases in August is the complete Max Headroom.  Starring Matt Frewer and Jeffrey Tambor, Max Headroom was one heck of a crazy sci-fi show whose virtual titular character spilled over into the mainstream in the 80s becoming a cult product spokesman, most notably for New Coke and MTV.   The series used speculative fiction to respond to the insane climate of crass commercialism and greed in the mid 80s, in particular on television, and honestly seemed like a very unlikely candidate for release on DVD.

Between these upcoming titles and Shout! Factory’s recent re-release of classic 80s cartoons the Transformers and G.I. Joe, not to mention releases of shows like Freaks and Geeks, My Two Dads, Mr. Belvedere, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, and Punky Brewster, the company is really winning me over as a loyal fan.  Shout! Has even snagged the rights to continue releasing the Facts of Life on DVD.  I’m hoping they get similar distribution rights to stalled DVD releases like Silver Spoons and Perfect Strangers

Getting some more 80s cartoons on DVD…

So aside from some odds and ends here and there, new releases of out of print 80s cartoons on DVD have really been slowing down lately (though we did finally get Scooby Doo’s All Star Laff-a-Lympics on DVD.)  I think a big part of this is a mixture of the switch from DVD to Blu-Ray and the general decline in DVD sales.  Just like with VHS when DVDs became cheap there was a too-quick boom where people bought tons of them and then a year or two later were scratching their heads trying to remember why they accumulated a collection of 300 plus movies and television shows.  DVD collecting is one of my main hobbies, in particular building specific libraries (e.g. 60s, 70s, & 80s cartoons and all of the flicks from the 80s that I loved as a kid), so even though I have what seems like six million DVDs I’m not phased in the least. Back to the 80s cartoons though, it’s kind of a shame since there are still a handful of shows that I think really deserve to be available on DVD (like Kidd Video, the Dinosaucers, the Visionaries, Teen Wolf, TigerSharks, and Jem just to name a few.) 

There are a couple of promising movements in the realm of DVD releasing though, namely print-on-demand technology and anthology sets.  Amazon has been playing around with a p.o.d. model by partnering with MTV/Nickelodeon on a series of 90s releases like Doug, the Rugrats, the Maxx, the Head, and Rocko’s Modern Life.  I’m not sure how well these titles are selling, but I can say that I’ve been more than happy with the quality of both the Maxx and Rocko DVDs, and I’d love to see some future releases of Ahh! Real Monsters, Pete & Pete season 3, Hey Dude, Salute Your Shorts, and maybe some 80s titles as well like You Can’t Do That on Television or a best-of Pinwheel.  Similarly, Warner Bros has also been playing around with p.o.d. with their Warner Archives releases, but so far I’ve found the selection to be wanting and the prices are way too high (but you can finally get Lilly Tomlin’s Incredible Shrinking Woman and the Rankin/Bass Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which is awesome.)  The one company that’s really got me excited though is Shout! Factory which has decided to start their own p.o.d. service that’s specializing in continuing releases of shows that have received initial sets that didn’t sell well and have since stalled like C.O.P.S. and Mr. Belvedere.  I’m crossing my fingers that there is a volume 2 release of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors in the cards…

I’m not quite as interested in the anthology releases that have been coming out, mainly from Warner Brothers, but there is one that has peaked my interest called Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s, Vol. 1

Warner has previously released two volumes each of 1960s and 1970s sets that are interesting, but unfortunately they were a little off-the-mark in my opinion because they contained episodes of shows already available on DVD.  If there’s one practice I hate with DVDs it’s double dipping, and these are the worst because in order to get episodes of shows like the Herculoids or Shazzan you have to also buy episodes of the Flintstones and Hong Kong Phooey.  Nothing against those two latter shows, but they’re already available on DVD and if you happen to own them than these episodes are just taking up valuable real estate on the anthology releases. I think Warner has finally gotten the message though, and with the 1st 1980s release they concentrating on putting out a collection of shows that have never been on DVD before.  The set consists of single episodes of the following eleven shows:

Mr. T

Thundarr the Barbarian

Dragon’s Lair

The Flintstone Kids

Galtar and the Golden Lance

The Biskitts

The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley

The Monchichis

Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos

Tex Avery’s the Kwicky Koloa Show

Goldie Gold & Action Jack

Though I’d love full season sets of Thundarr and Mr. T, I’m glad at least that these shows are going to see the light of day on DVD.  When I first started collecting cartoons on DVD my mission was to get 1 episode of every show I watched as a kid on DVD, and this set will fill in a good chunk of those gaps.  I can only hope that they continue this trend with at least a second volume.  I’m not sure what shows Warner holds the rights to (even though I realize they own a good chunk of Ruby Spears and Hanna Barbera), but I’d love to see some episodes of Turbo Teen, Pac-Man, Teen Force, Astro and the Space Mutts, Fangface, Captain Caveman, the Frankenstones, The Shirttales, Rubik the Amazing Cube, the Snorks and Kidd Video.

Oh and while I’m on the subject of 80s cartoon releasing, I have to say that there is another “innovation” that’s begun to take a foothold lately that I’m not a big fan of, iTunes only digital downloads.  Whereas I’m all for the idea of more streaming and downloadable content, I hate it when releases are subject to only one medium.  It was recently announced that both the Dinosaucers and the Karate Kid cartoons are going to be available on iTunes.   I’d love to have the Dinosaucers on DVD, but maybe I’ll have to settle for watching them on the computer (or eventually on an iPad maybe?)

What can you really say about a film that involves a nerd deflowering a bowling ball that I didn’t already say with this title?

I’ve been thinking a lot about 70s/80s teen sex comedies lately in the wake of Severin Films’ announcement they’ll be releasing the seminal (in every sense of the word) comedy flick Screwballs on DVD.  By the way, the disc comes out today and you can order your copy by clicking on the cover below…

Anyway, back to pondering teen sex comedies.   It’s really surprising to me how often films don’t deliver on what they promise in terms of content, in particular genre flicks.  I can’t count how many times I’ve rented a horror flick that wasn’t scary, gory, or disturbing, or a comedy that just didn’t try that hard for laughs.  This past year a friend and I sat down and watched a ton of 80s comedies both in the hopes of reliving some nostalgia and to finally expose my friend to the original R-rated bits and pieces that he never got a chance to see growing up as a kid.   My experience to most of the films we watched came through either renting them on video or catching them in the wee hours of the morning on HBO or Cinemax.  My friend on the other hand grew up a bit more sheltered and wasn’t allowed to watch most of them, and the stuff that he did catch was on basic cable over the years so he has felt like he’s really missed out on the raunchy adult humor.

Turns out he didn’t miss all that much.  Even flicks like Porky’s really don’t have all that much in the way of nudity or language so bad that it’d make his grandma blush.  Granted Porky’s was the brainchild of Bob Clark, the same guy who brought us the beloved classic A Christmas Story, but he was also the guy that brought us Black Christmas, so we weren’t sure what to expect.  Overall, after watching flicks like Fast Times at Ridgemount High, Meatballs, Sixteen Candles, Revenge of the Nerds, and Risky Business my friend was starting to feel like he hadn’t missed that much at all.  Personally, I seem to have memories of more raunch in my 80s comedies, though there are a lot of flicks that I watched back in the 80s that we didn’t revisit and were more on the periphery in terms of tasteful content like Hot Dog, Kentucky Fried Movie, Class (which seemed really dirty at the time), and the various academy (Police or Screwball) and school movies (Rock ‘n Roll High, or Ski), all the stuff that I’d catch for years on USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear or Gilbert Godfried.

Sure, most of these films have some rude language and a jiggling pair of boobs here and there, but none of them feel like they’re delivering on their potential, not at least in the way that a lot of exploitation flicks did in 60s and 70s.  When you sit down and watch a Herschel Gordon Lewis film like Blood Feast or Two Thousand Maniacs, you get what you pay for.  When you watch a Jack Hill flick like the Big Bird Cage, Foxy Brown or Switchblade Sisters, you get plenty of violence, language and T&A.  So with the 80s teen sex comedies, it sad that for the most part you really don’t get more raunch.  That isn’t to say that I don’t like John Hughes (the Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink) and Savage Steve Holland (Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer) flicks, just that there was a relatively untapped market for making flicks that were a bit more visceral.

Well, getting back to the reason for this post, I have to say that I never saw Screwballs back in the 80s and it was one heck of an oversight.   Screwballs is to teen sex comedies what Last House on the Left is to horror.  There are more naked girls, goofy horny guys, and inappropriate jokes than in most other 80s films combined.   In fact the raunch reaches a level of slapstick that is more on par with the feel of a crazy 30s era gag-a-second Fleischer cartoon than an 80s comedy.  The flick was also produced under Roger Corman, which might have something to do with its level of debauchery (but in the best sense of the word.)

If you haven’t seen it, the basic gist of the film revolves around a pact made by five senior guys who all have a beef with one girl, the ultimately virginal Purity Busch.  She’s either gotten them in trouble or lead them on and the guys decide that by the end of the school year they’ll either get to see her "goods" and score, or die trying.  Though the film should be qualified as terrible, where plot is really secondary to the mass amount of gags in the film, the set dressing keeps bouncing between the 50, 60s, 70s, and the 80s, and with acting that for the most part is insanely bad, it’s still pretty great.  It’s almost like watching a live action adaptation of a much dirtier version of MAD magazine that still manages to be funny.  Between sessions of strip bowling, insane make-out sessions a the drive-in, freshman breast exams, trips to the strip club (with a guest appearance by Russ Meyer star Raven DeLaCroix), ornate brainwashing attempts involving an giant fake hot dog, insanely inappropriate cheerleading practice in bikinis, and a milf mom who is playing the cougar to the point of being overdubbed with animal growls, you’ll never be bored.

I can honestly say that I was blown away by this long-overdue-on-DVD gem, for however contrived and cliché a statement like that can be.  I have to give a hand to Severin Films for taking the time and effort to restore this film (as well as stuff like the original Inglorious Bastards.)  The DVD looks pretty good for a lowbudget early 80s film like this, and has a nice set of special features including a commentary track as well as surprisingly insightful interviews with the director Rafal Zielinski and cast (there are clips with the director and some of the actors online.)  I don’t know what more I can say except that, again, the DVD is available to purchase as of today. If you’re a fan of goofy 80s comedies and boobs, than this is highly recommended…

Review of the Mill Creek Dungeons and Dragons the Complete Series on DVD…

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Mill Creek Entertainment has picked up the license to the 1983 Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, one of my favorite mainstays from Saturday Mornings as a kid.  The series was originally released by BCI Eclipse back in January of 2007, but has since gone out of print due to Navarre shuttering the BCI Ink & Paint imprint.   I was a huge fan of that original set as it was one of the first bright examples of an 80s cartoon property handled with love and care, and one that wouldn’t make a permanent dent in your pocketbook.   As much as I hate seeing all the BCI titles starting to drop off into OOP obscurity, I was really glad to hear that Mill Creek was picking up some of the pieces.

That being said, I was a little skeptical of what this would mean for the series being kept alive on DVD.  Mill Creek is most known for distributing public domain material in via large box sets like those 50 movie packs (featuring horror and westerns to name a couple) as well as the 150 packs of old public domain cartoons.  The quality of these public domain titles ranges from medium to poor for the most part and the sets are geared more towards introducing one to obscure nostalgic fare than being a source for nice copies of these movies and cartoons.   From time to time Mill Creek will also take on a licensed property like their releases of the Teddy Ruxpin series.  I picked up one of the TR sets in a dump bin for about $5 and that’s pretty much all it was worth.  The video and audio quality of the show left a lot to be desired, but the price was right and honestly that’s what Mill Creek is all about.  So how would the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon fare?

Well, I just received an advance copy of the Complete series set, which will hit store shelves on August 25th, and should be retailing for between $13 to $24 depending on where you find it.   They’re also releasing an entry level disc which features only the first nine episodes of the cartoon in tandem which should retail for around $10.  After cracking open the set I was both pleasantly surprised and a little bit let down with some quality issues that should have been expected…

First off, the bad. The main issue I have with this set is the packaging.  It’s cheap, really cheap and it’s sort of a shame.  I guess I was spoiled by the nice embossed sturdy box that the BCI release came in, the beautiful fold out digi-pak that housed the discs, and the included episode guide.  Compared to that the Mill Creek release is about as bare bones as you can get…

This set features all 27 episodes spread over 3 single sided discs which are housed in black paper sleeves that sort of snap into the plastic case.  Granted it keeps the DVDs sturdy enough, but I can imagine over time these paper sleeves are going to get worn and torn up.  Besides this, it’s just an annoying to have to pull out the sleeves like this and fish out the disc.  DVD packaging companies are doing wondrous things with minimal packaging these days, and a case like the ones used for the Family Ties releases (that has spindles on either side of the inner case and a flap with a DVD spindle in the middle) would have been a vast improvement at very little increase in cost…

As for the DVDs themselves, they’re not bad.   First off, all of the special features from the BCI edition have been stripped.  There is nothing extra on this set, it’s just the episodes.  Like I mentioned above, there are a total of 27 episodes, 9 to a disc, and the DVDs default into the episode selection screen for each disc…

The most surprising aspect of this set is how well the quality of the actual video and audio held up.  The BCI discs had up to 7 episodes per disc, so there wasn’t a ton of added compression to fit a couple more on, especially considering that all the fancy frills were discarded.  To my eyes, the quality is almost a direct transfer.  As far as the audio goes, it’s a little bit quieter on the Mill Creek DVDs, with the background music suffering the most, but it’s certainly not to a level that it’s ever distracting.  With the video, the Mill Creek version isn’t quite as rich, but the difference is really subtle.  Here are some screen to screen comparisons.  The Mill Creek version is on the left, and the BCI on the right…

Mill Creek                                              BCI
Mill Creek                                              BCI

All in all, if you’re more interested in just getting a decente copy of all the episodes, I’d highly suggest picking up a copy of the new Mill Creek set.   It’s a little shoddy on the packaging side, but for $13 on Amazon right now it’s one hell of a deal.  If you’re more concerned with a nicer presentation and a great set of special features, than I suggest picking up one of the remaining BCI sets before they fall into seriously over-priced out of print obscurity.  Amazon still has copies available for around $40.

As far as the cartoon itself, I still love it as much as ever and I’m glad to see it staying in print for a new generation.   If you’re interested, you can find my original review of the BCI set, as well as my expanded look at the first 13 episodes from my Cartoon Commentary! column by following these links:

Dungeons and Dragons Overview
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Episode 8
Episode 9
Episode 10
Episode 11
Episode 12
Episode 13