TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 1 – Spotlight on Todd McFarlane (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 1 Episodes, 50 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t have all of these VHS tapes when I was a kid but I did have a lot of them. Luckily for me, and all of you, these are on YouTube. I’ve wanted to revisit these for ages but I haven’t had a working VCR since the Bush II administration.

I was going to review the series as a whole. However, after watching the first episode, which featured Stan Lee interviewing Todd McFarlane, I felt that each episode probably deserves its own review.

This was great to see, twenty-seven years later, as I’m no longer twelve and I had a much greater appreciation of this now than I did back then.

First of all, it was fantastic seeing Stan Lee, still with some youthful vigor, interviewing Todd McFarlane and discussing art techniques and the history of the business, as well as Todd’s career.

It’s pretty clear that Todd would have been a great teacher, as he shows the how and why he employs the techniques he does. For those wanting to get into drawing comics, this is a pretty valuable tool and I’m assuming the other episodes in this series are too. That’s actually why I bought a half dozen of these back in the early ’90s.

All in all, I liked hearing Todd and Stan share stories of the comic industry. Watching them shoot the shit for an hour was a lot of fun.

McFarlane is one of the all-time greats and what makes this even more interesting, is that it came out when he was transitioning away from Marvel and Spider-Man and just gearing up to establish Image Comics and his greatest creation, Spawn.

I really enjoyed this episode and I hope the others live up to the precedent set with this first one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

TV Review: StarTalk (2015- )

Original Run: April 20th, 2015 – current
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: StarTalk podcast by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Music by: various
Cast: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, various

Curved Light Productions, National Geographic Studios, 60 Episodes (so far), 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Last night I watched the series debut of StarTalk, a TV version of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s popular podcast of the same name.

For those who know me, you know I am a big fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson and have read all his books, watched just about all of his television specials and listen to his StarTalk podcast regularly. I have to admit, I still haven’t watched his version of Cosmos because I still find Carl Sagan’s original version to be perfection – even if it is now outdated.

Nat Geo decided to take Tyson’s podcast and make it into what they describe as a “late night talk show”. Having now watched it, I don’t really think it fits that category and it is bad marketing on their part. Sure, Tyson does interviews with celebrity guests but based off of the first episode, the interviews are prerecorded and shown in clips throughout the show as he and a few panelists discuss the interview. It’s not really a late night talk show format and is more of an interview recap show. Going forward, StarTalk would benefit from having guests actually appear on the set for a sit down interview à la The Tonight Show.

The content of the first episode was a bit weak. George Takei of Star Trek was the first celebrity guest for this inaugural episode and while it was a good interview, the show itself expanded into talking about the science of Star Trek and what is plausible and what isn’t with the knowledge we have today. While an interesting topic to some degree, it has already been done to death on multiple science shows across multiple networks. Additionally, there are countless books on the subject. I feel that for this show’s first outing, the subject matter should have wowed the audience. Give us your best foot forward and not a rehash of something that has already been debated more times than I care to count.

On the positive side, Tyson is a charismatic individual and the perfect successor to Carl Sagan’s throne of being the face and voice of astrophysics. He can explain complex things simply and has a knack for solid communication and a great sense of humor.

Neil deGrasse Tyson truly is the “star” in StarTalk. Without him however, the show would just be an average science show that would probably fail to engage audiences in the long run. Hopefully it is going to improve with time.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Other Neil deGrasse Tyson shows and TV specials.

Ranking the Top Gear Specials

*Written in 2014.

Top Gear is one of the greatest shows on television. Hell, it is so successful that they’re currently filming the 22nd series, right now.

The dynamic between Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May is uncanny. They play off of each other extremely well, each has their own contrasting personality and they each bring something different but great to the show.

Nothing is better though, than seeing these guys go at it in some crazy race or competition. Well, maybe one thing is better. And that thing is when these guys are stuck together in some strange corner of the world and have to fight the elements and challenges ahead.

These are what the Top Gear specials are all about. Taking these three men, making them really uncomfortable and leaving them to sort it all out and reach whatever finish line is at the end of the ordeal.

Here, I have ranked all of the Top Gear specials from my favorite to least favorite. Granted, they are all pretty damned good.

1. The Polar Special (2007)
2. The India Special (2011)
3. The Vietnam Special (2008)
4. The Bolivia Special (2009)
5. The Middle East Special (2010)
6. The Botswana Special (2007)
7. The Africa Special (2013)
8. The Burma Special (2014)
9. The United States Special (2007)
10. The USA Road Trip (2010)
11. The Winter Olympics Special (2006)

TV Review: Brew Masters (2010)

Original Run: November 21st, 2010 – December 16th, 2010
Directed by: Bengt Anderson
Music by: Sarah Schachner
Cast: Sam Calagione

Zero Point Zero Production Inc., String and Can, Discovery Channel, 6 Episodes, 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

Brew Masters is a Discovery Channel reality show that follows Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, as he and his staff search the world high and low for new inspirations to craft new beers.

The show is entertaining and it is interesting for anyone who wants to know more about the beer making process. With each episode focusing on a new project, there is a lot of variety and styles covered over just the few episodes that were made.

And I guess that’s the somewhat crappy part about the show, is that there are only five episodes that aired before it was cancelled. It would’ve been really interesting to see what they could have come up with in future episodes as some of the projects in its only season would be hard to top.

One thing I like about the show, is that it isn’t drama filled reality television bullshit. Everyone seemingly works well together, everyone is positive and people genuinely enjoy their jobs. Dogfish Head seems like an awesome company to work for and truthfully, I hope at some point I find something that exciting, rewarding and fun in my professional career.

Speaking of which, I come from the marketing and product development side of the cigar industry and have always wanted to venture into beer. I guess that is why I found this to be such an enjoyable show because it gave more transparency to the behind the scenes operations of a badass brewery. While the cigar industry is very similar, especially with creating new blends, the beer industry, at this level, is even more complex and there is just so much more they can do with ingredients. You can’t not respect the craft and Dogfish Head is one of the best, which is what made this show a pretty enriching experience.

You can currently watch it streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Brew DogsChug, Dark Horse Nation and Booze Traveler.

TV Review: WWE Breaking Ground (2015- )

Original Run: October 25th, 2015 – current
Created by: WWE
Directed by: Christopher Bavelles, Ronn Head
Narrated by: William Shatner
Cast: Matt Bloom, William Regal, Sara Amato, Triple H, Bayley, Mojo Rawley, Carmella, Robbie Brookside, Dana Brooke, Tyler Breeze, Nia Jax, Baron Corbin, Tino Sabbatelli, Apollo Crews, Jason Jordan, Chad Gable, Big Cass, Sami Zayn

3 Ball Entertainment, WWE, 30-43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Breaking Ground is a documentary reality show produced by WWE for their exclusive streaming service, the WWE Network. It showcases a lot of their talent in NXT, which is the WWE’s training ground and minor leagues, where wrestlers hone their skills in an effort to eventually make it up to the main roster.

The feel of this show is much more real and serious than their other attempts at reality television. It is also more fine tuned and comes off as completely authentic other than the manufactured drama of shows like Total DivasTotal BellasLegends’ House and even Tough Enough.

Narrated by William Shatner, the show has a sense of legitimacy and plays out much more professionally. He adds a certain level of gravitas and credence to the production that is missing in WWE’s other shows.

The story follows several NXT Superstars, as they work out daily in the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, FL. It also follows them as they perform for WWE’s NXT brand on television and on the road. It shows the trials and tribulations of each person featured and really covers all areas and aspects of the WWE training process, by incorporating talent at varying levels of development.

While this isn’t an amazing show and is pretty dry, most of the time, it should be interesting to those who are fans of the sports entertainment business at a deeper level than just watching Monday Night Raw or Smackdown on a weekly basis.

TV Review: WWE Total Divas (2013- )

Original Run: July 28th, 2013 – current
Created by: WWE, E!, Bunim-Murray Productions
Directed by: various
Cast: Brie Bella, Nikki Bella, Natalya, Naomi, Cameron, Eva Marie, JoJo, Summer Rae, Rosa Mendes, Alicia Fox, Paige, Mandy Rose, Renee Young, Lana, Maryse, Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, Carmella, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Tyson Kidd, Jimmy Uso, Dean Ambrose, Rusev, The Miz, Big Cass

Bunim-Murray Productions, WWE, NBC Universal, E!, 88 Episodes so far, 39-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2014.

I didn’t watch the first season of Total Divas when it started on E!. I just recently picked it up, as episodes have now been streaming on the WWE Network. And since I pay for the WWE Network, I should most certainly use it.

The show at first glance looked like just your typical drama filled reality show more geared for the female populace. Well, it is – no surprise there. However, it is still pretty entertaining but that also may only be because I am a fan of wrestling. I really don’t know how interesting this would be to someone who has no knowledge or understanding of that unique business.

I like the show for the fact that it shows the hidden side of the business and you get to see how these people interact with one another when the cameras aren’t on (well the WWE cameras not the E! cameras, obviously). Seeing these girls for who they are is pretty cool and they are much more entertaining than their thinly-written characters, which for most of them, really don’t see enough screen time in the male dominated business.

The thing I like the most, is that Daniel Bryan and John Cena are a big part of the show, as both are dating two of the stars of Total Divas. I like the parts where we get to see some of the males and also how they are in real life, how they act and who they hang out with. The show does give you that vibe that the WWE, for the most part, is a close knit family.

This isn’t a great show by any means. However, it is still entertaining enough to watch in spurts. I don’t know how much longevity it will have as the novelty will probably run its course fairly quickly, especially with the non-wrestling audience.

Lastly, I really would’ve liked AJ Lee, Paige and Emma on this show. Missed opportunity by E! and WWE.

Update:

Paige at least showed up for awhile, until she sort of committed career suicide with the company.

Also, the regular shakeups of cast members is pretty well done. The upcoming seventh season is supposed to feature several new additions, as the talent pool at WWE is vastly different from when this show started.

TV Review: WWE Legends’ House (2014)

Original Run: April 17th, 2014 – June 19th, 2014
Created by: WWE, Bunim-Murray Productions
Directed by: Kevin Dunn
Cast: Roddy Piper, Tony Atlas, Gene Okerlund, Pat Patterson, Hillbilly Jim Morris, Howard Finkel, Jim Duggan, Jimmy Hart, Ashley Roberts

Bunim-Murray Productions, Knucklehead Television, WWE, 10 Episodes, 60 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve had the WWE Network since the day it debuted. For $9.99 a month, a price tag that includes live streaming pay-per-views, which are normally priced at over $40 per month, for a fan, the price tag is well worth it.

Additionally, as an old school wrestling fan that grew up in that comic book 80s era of larger-than-life gimmicks and matches that felt bigger than the Superbowl, the 24/7 streaming access to the WWE’s back catalog of pay-per-views and events was a huge bonus. One thing that I was anticipating from day one however, was the debut of WWE Network’s initial flagship show, Legends’ House.

Waiting over a month from the Network’s launch, I grew antsy. All I knew was there was going to be a show that had “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Tony Atlas, Hillbilly Jim, Pat Patterson, Howard Finkel and “Mean” Gene Okerlund living together under one roof. As an old school fan, I thought this was awesome for a multitude of reasons.

The first being, my love and respect for the business and to see these guys, as themselves, brought back into a situation with their familiar peers three decades after their heyday. Secondly, I wanted to hear the stories and experiences they might share from those old glory days. Lastly, I just wanted to see these guys again and not just used sparingly on a Monday Night Raw here and there.

Now I’m not a reality television fan and find the medium to be boring as hell and horribly acted – yes, acted. Being that I’ve been involved in a reality show pilot, I’ve experienced the background side of it and understand how it’s done and how stories can be manufactured or blown up out of nothing. That being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed Legends’ House.

This show, for all it’s reality TV forced scenarios and drama, still does a pretty good job of peering into these guys’ lives and true personalities enough to make it interesting despite the extra emphasis on tension.

In regards to overblown reality show drama, I didn’t need to see Duggan and Atlas resort to fisticuffs out of their apparent beef on the show. In fact, I’d rather them be bigger men and work it out. Fights just to have fights to draw reality television ratings just aren’t my thing – I hate that shit. As far as I’m concerned, save that crap for The Surreal Life and let these Legends maintain their dignity.

However, for the most part, I think the show handles showcasing its stars fairly well. The Legends mostly seem to be respected by the producers regardless of their Chippendales challenges and having to play with plastic flamingos on the lawn. It’s all in good fun and it isn’t presented in a way that undermines who these guys are. In the end, they aren’t compromising their very being for a quick 15 minute injection of rebound fame.

I think that WWE did a pretty good job with this show and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes and which Legends they attract after Season 1 concludes. Hopefully they follow the same course and they don’t find themselves in the business of creating predictable ten cent faux drama schlock. But then again, it’s been three years and there still isn’t a second season.