Over the past few years, Shout! Factory has released some of the most interesting and valuable DVD collections of classic yet increasingly neglected TV shows, such as its Ernie Kovacs Collection and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis box sets, as well as DVD editions of cult favorites such as Mystery Science Theater 3000. Now there's Shout! Factory TV, a multi-platform streaming service introduced last week that offers a cannily culled selection of interesting, often groundbreaking TV (the service also offers a quirky selection of feature films — check out the 1980 Peter O'Toole movie The Stunt Man, for example).
Here are five TV shows to check out on www.shoutfactorytv.com, and I've added a Recommended Episode to each entry, to get you started:
1. The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: One of the best, most neglected of early-TV sitcoms, this 1959-63 series captured the tension between teens and their parents in shrewd comic terms, and mainstreamed the countercultural beatnik in the person of Maynard G. Krebbs, played by Bob Denver. Dwayne Hickman was Doby, a girl-crazy kid obsessed with Thalia Menninger, as who would not be, since she was played by Tuesday Weld. Watch for Warren Beatty in the recurring role of rich-kid Milton Armitage. Recommended Episode: "Love Is a Science," Season 1, Episode 3
2. It's Garry Shandling's Show: Self-referential, meta-TV shows have existed since the medium was launched (look up The Burns and Allen Show on YouTube some time, kids) but Shandling took it to a new extreme. This 1986-90 sitcom, which first aired on Showtime, featured Shandling playing himself, a vain stand-up comic, living in a condo that was modeled after Shandling's own Sherman Oaks, Calif. condo at the time. I thought this series would seem dated, but, while it's not the great show Shandling would go on to create with The Larry Sanders Show, Shandling's Show is consistently funny because it works on both levels, as a sustained inside-joke and as a perfectly well-crafted, punchline-filled sitcom.
Recommended Episode: "It's Gary's Problem, But It's JoJo's Show," Season 1, Episode 6
3. The Abbott and Costello Show: The fantastic comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had been big stars in vaudeville and in the movies before doing this 1952-54 TV series, at a time when moving from film to television was considered a come-down. Instead, The Abbott and Costello Show proved to be a wonderful adventure, folding many of the duo's classic stage bits inside paper-thin plots that permitted maximum foolishness and great supporting performances by actors such as Sid Fields as the pair's landlord and Joe Besser as Stinky, an overgrown child. Jerry Seinfeld has frequently cited this as the first "show about nothing" and an inspiration for Seinfeld.
Recommended Episode: "The Birthday Party" Season 1, Episode 5
4. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The cult for this jeering-at-bad-movies show is so large and enduring, I hardly need to introduce it. It's sufficient to say that Shout! Factory is programming some of MST3K's best horrible-cinema episodes.
Recommended Episode: "Cave Dwellers," Season 3, Episode 1
5. Route 66: A novel idea: an anthology series about two pals (Martin Milner and George Maharis) who tool around America in a Corvette and find a new drama in each town they stop in. This 1960-64 series is terrific to look at these days, since most of the filming was done on location, and you can see all sorts of American cities and towns in their period landscape. Co-created by film and TV writer Sterling Silliphant (In The Heat of the Night), this hour-long show made a sex symbol of Maharis; Milner would go on to co-star in the cop show Adam-12. The series is loaded with guest stars who'd go on to be famous, from Ed Asner to Gene Hackman, from Jessica Walter to Burt Reynolds.
Recommended Episode: "Sheba"Season 1, Episode 12, with Lee Marvin as the villain.