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Switched on


TV gets weird.

Rod Lott April 2nd, 2014

Not everything on television has to appeal to mass audiences. In fact, with the further fractioning of viewership thanks to alternatives like Netflix and VOD, more series can afford to become more niche. Here are five examples of shows both past and present — and new to DVD and/or Blu-ray — that encompass some of the more outrageous ideas ever to go beyond boardroom discussion.

monsters

Tom Holland's Twisted Tales

Made not for the cathode rays but for the World Wide Web — FEARnet, to be exact — Tom Holland's Twisted Tales gives the director of such '80s horror classics as Child's Play and Fright Night his own anthology series and, thus, a chance to play Cryptkeeper … or Rod Serling, given that Holland is no animatronic puppet. The man writes, directs and introduces all 10 episodes, a curious number of which center around a relationship gone sour. With genre faves like Danielle Harris (Hatchet III) and Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) guesting, the show explores vampires, other dimensions and even the end of the world as we know it. I felt fine most with episode three, "Boom," in which a cuckolded man builds a pinball-type contraption of revenge that would make Jigsaw green with envy. The majority of these Tales, however, just aren't that Twisted enough to work to a consistently satisfying degree, and Holland deserves a bigger budget to work with so that viewers don't laugh at some of the penny-ante effects.

 

Monsters: The Complete Series

Critics talk about today's TV-horror craze (The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Bates Motel, etc.) as if it's a first, forgetting about the one that occurred on syndicated channels in the late 1980s — a charge led by George A. Romero's Tales from the Darkside. When that anthology show folded after four seasons in 1988, the same producers unleashed Monsters almost immediately. Finally, it comes to DVD via a terrific nine-disc set that collects all 72 episodes. Charming in its cheapness, like Darkside, Monsters often can be superior because it focuses on, yep, monsters — and of any and all kinds. The memorable opening puts viewers in the correct frame of mind for the goofy, PG-level "terrors" to come. The most interesting tales tend to be adaptations of short stories — including those of Stephen King, Manly Wade Wellman, Frank Belknap Long and the Psycho-tic Robert Bloch — but the bulk is original material, many a 22-minute a build to an obvious payoff. In other words, like campfire stories without having to suffer through the smoke. Entertainment One's box set has no extras, but excels in presentation, as always.

 

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIX

If I achieve nothing else in this life, at least I now have achieved this: I have introduced my 9-year-old son to the joy that is The Pumaman. As ripped a new one by Mike Nelson and his robot friends aboard the Satellite of Love, the 1980 Italian superhero oddity is so incompetent, it makes for arguably one of the 10 best Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIX episodes in history. Also featured on Shout! Factory's Volume XXIX (translation: 29) set are 1961's sword-and-sandal-and-shit adventure Hercules and the Captive Women, also from that boot-shaped country of Italy; 1957's teensploitation rocker Untamed Youth, starring Mamie Van Doren; and 1958's disembodied-head spooker The Thing That Couldn't Die. Scattered about these four side-splitters are interviews with MST creator Joel Hodgson, discussing his new one-man show; Van Doren, sharing the details of sexism she faced in her career; and Walter G. Alton Jr., aka The Pumaman himself! As a bonus among these bonuses, the original, unriffed Pumaman is included; proceed with caution, kids! 


Holliston: The Complete Second Season

In real life, Adam Green and Joe Lynch are directors of horror and comedy, like Hatchet, Knights of Badassdom and segments of the Chillerama anthology. In Holliston, a FEARnet sitcom which Green created, they combine both carnage and camp to play barely employed versions of themselves. The two are not really actors, yet Holliston is partly an anti-sitcom (but hardly "groundbreaking" as the packaging insists), so you learn not to care about the two being so rough around the edges. Besides, as their better halves, Corri English and Laura Ortiz are much more natural. All four tackle the material with such earnestness, Holliston gets by on an odd charm. With all of its splatter-film references — heightened given the season-long arc of trying to get their short film made — the 11 episodes (one of which is animated) are geared straight toward that audience; I can't imagine any other viewer segment getting it. This is, after all, a show where blood and guts are played for laughs, in which Adam's imaginary friend is played by a GWAR band member (the late Dave Brockie) in full costume, and in which Adam's cat is mentally handicapped.

 

Search: The Complete Series

When is a leading man not a leading man? When he has to share the show with two others! Such is the case with Search, a short-lived sci-fi/action series concerning the high-tech World Securities investigations firm. Depending on the episode, agents played by Hugh O'Brian (who starred in the 1972 pilot film, Probe), Tony Franciosa and Doug McClure do all the field work, while Burgess Meredith (playing VCR) barks orders from his high-tech, big-ass, bleepity-bloop-bleep computer command center, while B-movie queen Angel Tompkins provides welcome eye candy as a technician. The agents' gadgetry is a large part of the show's appeal. While said technology may have been cutting-edge back then, the main set is outlandishly garish even for 1973, yet I wouldn’t change a thing. What was “cool” then is “cool” in an ironic way now. The cast seems to have a blast, and their enthusiasm is infectious throughout all 23 impossible missions on Warner Archive's set.    —Rod Lott

 
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