Thursday, October 30, 2014

On the Air: Lucha Underground (2014)

Vince McMahon thinks WWE has no competition. Hollywood producers Mark Burnett (Survivor, "Son of God") and Robert Rodriguez ("Sin City: A Dame to Kill For", From Dusk 'Til Dawn) intend to prove him wrong once and for all.

Rodriguez's El Rey Network, launched late last year, is home to a new wrestling promotion, a collaboration with Mexico's AAA promotion. Lucha Underground bowed Wednesday night, 3 weeks later than originally planned, for reasons known only to Rodriguez and his partners at El Rey. Suffice to say, the opener offers some promise of things to come.

It's been described as a cross between pro wrestling, as we know it, and the movie, "Fight Club", especially with the way the show is filmed, rather than videotaped, in some segments. Yes, there is a master villain, in figurehead owner Dario Cueto, who showed his true colors in the climax to the opener. The roster is filled mostly with AAA wrestlers from Mexico, including Blue Demon, Jr., and some names familiar to American audiences, including Chavo Guerrero, Jr., whose resume includes stops at WCW, WWE, & TNA, as well as Puerto Rico, carrying on the family tradition. Johnny Mundo is the former John Morrison (real name: John Hennegan), who spent nearly a decade with WWE before being released in 2011. While it's claimed that he hadn't wrestled in 3 years, that isn't true. He'd worked some indies in his native California, including Family Wrestling Entertainment, which also boasts play-by-play announcer and former wrestler Matt Striker (another WWE alum) on their roster as well. Striker is paired with Vampiro, unrecognizable with a shaved head and no makeup from his days with WCW and the ill-fated Wrestling Society X.

Following is a brief trailer, narrated by former WCW & TNA star Konnan, with some comments from Mundo.

Episodes were taped weeks in advance, much like TNA & Ring of Honor currently do, and others before them. That's not always a winning proposition, especially in this era, when fans can hunt for "spoilers" online before the show airs.

Fortunately, El Rey has seen fit to air the series twice on Wednesdays, at 8 & 11 (ET), the better for folks to catch the show later in the evening if they've got other plans and can't DVR.

Rating: A-.

What defines a dynasty?

Baseball season is officially over.

The San Francisco Giants won their 3rd World Series in 5 years Wednesday, besting the Kansas City Royals, 3-2, to take the Series, 4 games to 3. There's no need to reiterate what's already been written and said about the game itself. Rather, we'd like to ask a simple question.

Is it fair to refer to the Giants, under manager Bruce Bochy, as a dynasty, after 3 titles in 5 seasons? Team of the Decade? Too early for that, obviously, since the decade isn't even half over, but a dynasty? Let's consider.

It wasn't that long ago that the last baseball dynasty was, of course, the Yankees, who won 4 titles in 5 years, 3 of them in a row, and reached the Series 6 times in an 8 year span (1996-2003) under eventual Hall of Famer Joe Torre. Under current pilot Joe Girardi, like Bochy a catcher in his playing days, the Yankees have only reached the Series once, winning it all in 2009. Right before the Giants began their run.

In the NBA, you've had Miami reach the Finals 4 straight years, winning 2 titles. Of course, they ended up losing the centerpiece of that run, LeBron James, when he decided to return home to Cleveland after the Heat were dusted by San Antonio in June. No one's anointing the Spurs as a dynasty, despite 5 titles during the Tim Duncan era. The 90's had Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The 00's started with Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and the Los Angeles Lakers, whose history dates back to the golden era of the NBA, along with ancient rival Boston. However, today's NBA isn't the same as it was back in the day. Not when it seems to be the same teams making the playoffs every year over and over again. The league markets individual stars, not teams. That, sadly, is the league's biggest problem. One they're in no hurry to cure.

The closest the NHL has to a dynasty right now are two teams. The Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks aren't exactly like the Montreal Canadiens of legend, or even the NY Islanders and Edmonton Oilers of the 80's. However, they have split the last 4 Stanley Cups. It's just a question of which one will prove more durable over the course of the next, say, 3 years.

In the NFL, the last dynasty is the league's Evil Empire, the New England Patriots, although the lustre has been tarnished of late. Crybaby Tom Brady and the Pats have lost their last two trips to the Super Bowl, but the only real reason that they're a perennial playoff team isn't how good they are, but rather, well, political in nature. In that regard, the NFL is no different than the NBA, giving certain teams and/or star players preferential treatment to ensure that the teams that the league feels their audience needs to see in the playoffs get there. It's almost as if those leagues are begging for Vince McMahon to buy into them. But do we really need him? Nope. The business model needs to change.

In Major League Baseball, you could make a case for the following:

Boston Red Sox: 3 titles in a 10 year span (2004-13) are counter-balanced by a lean period which has seen them in the "second division" 3 of the last 4 years, interrupted only by winning the title last year.

St. Louis Cardinals: 2 titles, and nearly a 3rd, between 2006-13. They lost to Boston last year, after beating Detroit in 2006 and Texas in 2011.

Detroit Tigers: Perennial AL Central champs, but have only reached the Series twice (2006, 2012), losing both times (Cardinals, Giants).

There is some fluidity, in that there are teams on the verge (i.e. Baltimore, both LA teams) of breaking through. What keeps teams like the Mets and Yankees away for now are a combination of age (especially the Yankees), injuries (especially the Mets), and excessive media scrutiny, just because they play in the biggest media center in the country, and in a city so spoiled by winning over the years that some citizens think it's a birthright. That creates undue pressure, especially on the Mets, who, despite 2 titles (1969, 1986) and nearly a 3rd (1973), are always perceived as being the #2 team in town.

The oddsmakers will waste everyone's time with "morning lines" for 2015 well before spring training begins, but fans' attention can be turned fully to football, hockey, and, as of this week, basketball. So we'll close and give our congratulations to the Giants. The next, most difficult task, of course, is repeating. We'll see if they can finally do that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

On The Air: Saturday Night Live (1975)

Hard to believe, isn't it?

Saturday Night Live is in its 40th season this year, and while the cast isn't exactly brimming with household names yet, save maybe for former Nickelodeon kid Kenan Thompson (ex-All That), there have been plenty of classic moments.

The series was originally known as NBC's Saturday Night when it launched in 1975 with the "Not Ready For Prime-Time Players" (Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman, John Belushi, & Gilda Radner---Bill Murray would join a short time after the launch), all of whom would go on to some greater successes, be it in primetime (Curtin, Chase, Morris), or movies (Chase, Belushi, Aykroyd, Murray, and to a lesser extent, Newman & Radner). Somewhere along the way, the title was amended to its present form. I should note that in my market, the series didn't start airing right away. The then-NBC affiliate, now a CBS affiliate, eventually added the show after word of mouth led to some viewer requests.

The alumni list reads like a Hall of Fame all by itself. The 80's brought the likes of Eddie Murphy and already established veterans like Billy Crystal (ex-Soap), who springboarded into a lucrative movie career, Martin Short (ex-The Associates, SCTV), Michael McKean (ex-LaVerne & Shirley), and McKean's Spinal Tap partners, Harry Shearer (now on The Simpsons) and Christopher Guest. Toward the end of the decade, we saw the development of another group that included Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, and Phil Hartman.

From time to time, we'll serve up some choice skits from the show's 40 year history, so you might see some great guest hosts, such as Steve Martin and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, too. Here, for example, is Phil Hartman, as Frank Sinatra, leading a satire of PBS' McLaughlin Group. The Sinatra Group sees Ol' Blue Eyes surrounded by old pals Steve Lawrence (Myers) and Eydie Gorme (Victoria Jackson), plus then current music stars Sinead O'Connor (Jan Hooks), Luther Campbell (Chris Rock), and Billy Idol (Sting). I first saw this skit during VH1's I Love the 90's miniseries, and couldn't stop laughing.

So when will NBC schedule a 40th anniversary primetime special? Your guess is as good as mine, 'cause I haven't seen it booked yet.

Rating: B.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Three more depart for Heaven

More passings to pass on......

The most tragic case is that of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Tavares, 22, who was killed in an auto accident in his native Dominican Republic over the weekend, less than 2 weeks after the Cardinals were defeated in the NLCS. Tavares had just finished his rookie campaign, and while the Rookie of the Year award hasn't been announced yet (not for another week), his passing won't make the baseball writers rethink their final vote, regardless of what some people might think.

We also lost musician Jack Bruce, who played bass and shared vocal chores with Eric Clapton in Cream back in the 60's, and actress Marcia Strassman (ex-Welcome Back, Kotter), who lost a battle with breast cancer at 66. Strassman's passing makes it 4 Kotter cast members to have passed on (following John Sylvester White, Robert Hegyes, & Ron Palillo).

In tribute to Jack Bruce, we present a clip of Cream performing "Sunshine of Your Love":

Rest in peace.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Celebrity Rock: Salty Dog (1963)

From The Andy Griffith Show:

The Darling family (Denver Pyle, Maggie Peterson, and the bluegrass group, the Dillards) are in jail, but Sheriff Andy Taylor (Griffith) joins them for an impromptu jam. Charlene (Peterson) sings lead on "Salty Dog", with the family band aided by Andy on guitar.

16 years later, Pyle would play another backwoods father figure in Jesse Duke on Dukes of Hazzard, but never sat in with any of the musical guests on the show. Then again, co-stars John Schneider & Tom Wopat never used the show to further their budding musical careers, either.

Dynasty Pro Wrestling @ Troy Boys & Girls Club, 10/25/14

After an absence of nearly 18 months, pro wrestling returned to the Troy Boys & Girls Club on Saturday night, as Ultimate Wrestling welcomed a new promotion into town.

Dynasty Pro Wrestling is the brainchild of local wrestler and reality TV star Chris Envy (ex-Wife Swap), who didn't wrestle on this card, but the stage is set for him to return to action on a future show. The crowd was small and enthusiastic, there were lights and a ramp at the entrance area, and the show was being recorded for a future DVD release, for which they were taking pre-sale orders.

You'll have to bear with me on the results. The sound was jacked up, making it impossible for me, sitting in the bleachers, to make out most of the names.

1. Loco de Vitta def. Marcus Statts. Loco pulled the ol' switcheroo near the end. The first Loco was a small guy, cruiserweight level, but at a key point in the match, he went under the ring, essentially luring Marcus, billed as weighing "15 Webster's Dictionaries" into a trap. Marcus made it all the way across, but when Loco reappeared, he had a sudden, well, growth spurt, if you will. Loco II chokeslammed Marcus and won the match, while the original Loco would later reappear during intermission.

2. The Party Patrol def. South Philly's Finest. SPF stormed the ring and cut a promo on NY sports fans. Unfortunately, all the heat died there. Kyle Brad, last seen with Ultimate Wrestling East as its Interstate champion last June, makes up 1/2 of the Party Patrol.

3. Non-title: Cam Zigotti def. Anthony Bagnole via DQ when Bagnole, this promotion's US champ, refused to break the crossface while Zignotti was in the ropes on the ref's 5 count. Envy came back out, so I'm assuming his issue is with Bagnole.

4. Diamond Dijak (w/Fierro Fortune) def. Viper (Adam Badger) and Blue Rocker (?) in a handicap match. Fortune was doing color commentary for the DVD, then left the desk to bring out Dijak. El squashola. Badger gave himself away with the "Spectacle" on the back of his tights. He hasn't won a match in this building yet, and this didn't help.

5. Captain Wayne-o (?) def. Tyrec in a quick squash. Nothing more.

6. Next up was an open challenge issued by a female wrestler, whose name was lost to the sound system. Kenny Roberts answered the challenge, and it looked like this would be another squash. However, after twice slamming his opponent's knee into the post, Roberts---andd everyone else, for that matter---was stunned to see Mike Mitchell come out to make the save. The ref never rang the bell. Think Umaga vs. Maria Kanellis in WWE several years ago. Mitchell ain't exactly John Cena, but you get the idea. Envy made his final appearance of the evening and made the next match.....

7. Mitchell def. Roberts. I kept thinking there was a swerve of some kind, but that thankfully wasn't the case.

8. Foxx Vinyer, working as a babyface this time, def. Dennis Burnett (or Burdick, couldn't tell due to the sound), managed by Mister Mann. Mann was last here 3 years ago with the Ohio-based Conquest Pro Wrestling when they had a joint promotion with the short-lived Skull Wrestling Federation. Mann got involved frequently, and paid for it after the match. Vinyer, who had a title belt with him during intermission, didn't bring it out for the match, so that might've been for another promotion to show off to the homies. Billed as being from Troy, though the last I knew, Vinyer was based out of Watervliet. Meh. Very even bout, despite Mann's persistent interference, and Vinyer won with a Falcon Arrow.

Speaking with a rep from a video company working on the show before bell time, I was told the next show is set for December 6. All in all, a decent show. The online ticket agent working with the promotion, however, got the site confused with another Boys & Girls Club in North Troy, listing that location on their website, and not the downtown club. That confusion may have resulted in some online ticket holders missing out on all the fun. Hopefully, that will not happen this time. The only other quibble was that posters didn't go up in downtown until 8 days before the show, which I'm told does make some sense, though this was a bit risky.

Before we go, we'll pay tribute to Southern wrestling legend Douglas "Ox" Baker, who passed away earlier this week. Perhaps the only other man aside from Stan Stasiak to have popularized the heart punch back in the day, Baker gained national attention on a different forum 33 years ago, when he was a contestant on The Price Is Right, back when Bob Barker was still hosting the show........

Rest in peace, Ox.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Creepy TV: Dracula (2013)

2013 was not a good year for NBC when it came to certain of their freshman class.

Take the revival of Ironside. Not only was the iconic detective rebooted as an African-American (Blair Underwood), but the star was also a producer. The series didn't even make it to Thanksgiving.

Then, there is Dracula. It was billed as a reimagining of Bram Stoker's classic novel, which has been adapted into a movie time and again over the last several decades, mostly at Universal, which co-produced this version as well. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (ex-The Tudors) not only had the title role, but, like Underwood, was also a producer. As it turned out, that was again, not a good thing.

This version has Dracula posing as an American businessman, Alexander Grayson, offering new ideas for the British people, but in secret, he's seeking revenge on the Order of the Dragon, a secret society, which, in turn, is stalking him. The series lasted 10 episodes, and was not renewed.

Following is a trailer:

I tried to watch the first episode On Demand one night, and couldn't get through it without a series of facepalms and head-shaking. Why would Dracula have some secret society chasing him? Why is he being presented as an anti-hero? The answer lies in the simple fact that NBC was looking to get a piece of the youth demographic that CW has tapped into with The Vampire Diaries and its spin-off, The Originals, both of which represent the Twilight generation of vampire fans. Coupling Dracula with Grimm was meant to be a stroke of genius, but viewers weren't buying into a gentleman vampire with a secret identity and an enemy foreign to the source material.

Rating: D.