Hearkening back to the golden age of channel surfing
I’m part of the last generation to experience a time when television was only 13 channels and UHF, which means I’m a total target audience for Pluto TV.
We were one of the of the initial families on our block to install cable. It was a faux wood paneled contraption with 37 or so clickable buttons that would take you through the early days of Cablevision. We moved from HBO, to Bravo when they used to show foreign films, to early ESPN, to the frustrating ritual of clicking on that last button in a futile attempt to spy some skin on The Playboy Channel amidst the scrambled screen.
Then you had those amazing affiliate stations like WPIX and WTBS where you’d catch your afterschool cartoons, pro wrestling, Saturday monster movie marathons, reruns of Barney Miller at dinnertime, and the public access stations where–if you lived in the NYC area–you were privy to such local programming as Midnight Blue and The Robin Byrd Show. Channel surfing in those days was an adventure, one that would grow and grow as the channel availability reached over 1000 different stations at the height of the cable era.
Last year, we pulled the plug on cable for good and are now permanent residents of the streaming age. But as someone who experienced the cable box era since the very beginning, it’s certainly taken some adjusting. So when a prompt to download Pluto TV popped up on the Roku, I grabbed it because of its simple slugline: “It’s free TV.”
When I entered the app, I didn’t realize the extent of the volume of its available content. It’s a data dump for various networks, interlaced with commercials that keeps things free. And it’s a blessing
There’s no shortage of episodes of Dog The Bounty Hunter, Teen Mom, and Antiques Roadshow to binge at any given moment. But a further dive into Pluto TV–which you could view both a la carte style like Netflix or by rolling the dice with an old school channel viewing guide–will yield a cornucopia of classic cartoons, game shows, sitcoms, music content, sports, news companies like Cheddar and Newsy, cooking shows, you name it.
But the formidable amount of movies available, both on demand and as scheduled programming throughout the day, is my favorite thing about Pluto TV. Here are five flicks I’ve particularly enjoyed catching on the site since downloading it onto the family television. But there are a ton of movies on there. This is only the tip.
The Conversation (1974)
Shot between the two Godfather films, The Conversation continues to grow in prescience with each passing year. There’s no better Francis Ford Coppola flick. And the quiet intensity that exists in the friendship between Gene Hackman and John Cazale’s dynamic duo of wiretapping is a master’s class in acting. Not to mention the performances of American Graffiti alumni Cindy Williams and Harrison Ford, both in mysterious and magnetic roles that define the plot. But the real star of this movie is the saxophone, which Hackman’s Harry Caul wails on amidst the wreckage of his own paranoia. So happy this is available on Pluto.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
My Criterion Collection edition of Peter Yates’s 1973 crime drama classic sits with all the other ones I collected in my days working in the media room at the Hackensack Barnes & Noble. But why disturb the dust when I can view this gritty film adaptation of the George V. Higgins novel on demand on Pluto TV? Robert Mitchum was never better on screen than he was as gun runner Eddie “Fingers” Coyle ,caught between street loyalty and the law. The insanely funky Dave Grusin soundtrack is pure icing. Every Quentin Tarantino fan should consider this required watching.
The Elephant Man (1980)
This haunting, poetic masterpiece of cinema is the greatest film directed by David Lynch. I was way too young to see The Elephant Man 1981 upon its broadcast premiere on HBO. But seeing it again on Pluto TV reconfirms what I’ve always felt about this movie. John Hurt’s dignified and empowering performance as English nobleman John Merrick, is the embodiment of the idea that we must measure the greatness of a man is measured by his heart and mind, not his exterior. After living with him in the wizarding world of Harry Potter for the last 20-plus years, there’s a beauty to revisiting Hurt’s most accomplished role 40 years later, especially for those of us with a personal connection to the film.
Throw Momma From The Train (1987)
Not since Psycho had matricide made such a conceptual splash in Hollywoodland than with this dark 1988 comic gem starring Danny Devito and Billy Crystal in a storyline that screams out for an Off Broadway reboot. I don’t understand why pop culture doesn’t celebrate this movie more.
Fear of a Black Hat (1993)
As the absurdism of gangsta rap hit critical mass by early 1993, future Chapelle’s Show director Rusty Cundieff clowned the genre hard with his feature debut that scathingly lampoons the Chronic era with a sly cocktail of Spinal Tap lunacy and Putney Swope-echoing political satire. This is the movie Chris Rock was trying to make with CB4. And it’s on Pluto TV.