With ‘Freaks’ and ‘The Muppet Show’ finally streaming, here are some other great shows we want to see back in the rotation
If you couldn’t find your favorite classic show like Freaks And Geeks or The Muppet Show or a gazillion other series on cable or streamers, blame the penny pinching suits. Unless a series became a big hit, execs saw warehousing the footage of a “flop” as a waste of money. Now, thanks to the voracious demand of streaming services like Netflix and Peacock, that collection of flops and all-but-forgotten hits is suddenly a valuable library.
Car 54, Where Are You? Why, that goofy sitcom is streaming on five different streamers, including Vudu, Crackle, Shout TV, Tubi and Pluto. And thanks for asking!
Happily, great stuff is also getting a new lease on life. On February 19, The Muppet Show will air on Disney+ after being unseen for almost 20 years. And right now people can binge watch the TV series Freaks And Geeks on Hulu for the first time in ages. Unless you had deep pockets and splurged on a limited edition DVD boxed set like I did, for a long time the 18 episodes of this Judd Apatow classic might as well never have been made.
The series is set in the early 1980s and follows a bunch of kids attending high school in a Detroit suburb. It’s beautifully written, hilarious, nails life as a teenager and boasts one of the great casts of all time. Virtually every newcomer on it is now enjoying a substantial career, including Linda Cardellini, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Busy Philipps, Jason Segel (who co-wrote and starred in the delightful film The Muppets in 2011) and on and on.
And the music! The first episode climaxes at a school dance when one of the geeks lights up with joy while dancing to “Come Sail Away” by Styx. The poignant last episode sees one of the freaks (Cardellini) alone and free, swaying to the Grateful Dead. In a way, that journey from Styx to the Dead captures the story Apatow is telling all on its own.
You really need to check out Freaks and Geeks, one of the best shows of all time. I think it’s held up better than the angsty teen drama My So-Called Life, thanks to a bigger cast and a better sense of humor. Don’t take my word for it; that show is streaming too, on IMBD.TV.
Frankly, it’s amazing how much stuff you can stream right now, everything from the obscure Ernie Kovacs to dumb ass 70s game shows like Match Game. But not every tv show makes the leap. A good rule of thumb is that shows that made the leap to DVD are first in line to pop onto a streamer. If a show wasn’t put onto DVD or BluRay, a studio needs to start from scratch to restore it, music rights might be too expensive or no one simply cares enough to bother.
We’ll know streaming is really saving classic TV from obscurity if some of these lost favorites start popping up.
Okay, they only made six episodes. But if the brief runs of Fawlty Towers and the British version of The Office can be found, why not this hilarious comedy? It spun off three dumber movies, so it’s a franchise. It’s from the guys who did Airplane! And Top Secret! And it’s their masterpiece, a no laugh track, half hour show jam-packed with visual humor, running gags (like a special guest star always killed off during the opening credits) and humor drier than a martini. When CBS All Access relaunches on March 4 as Paramount+ surely this show will be available again. If not, creators Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker are gonna pull out some more exclamation points! I’m sure of it!
I’LL FLY AWAY
This 1990s classic aired for two seasons plus a series finale tv movie on PBS. Regina Taylor starred as the housekeeper for Sam Waterston in a small Southern town during the Civil Rights era. It’s an absolute gem, I love it and I’ve never even seen it in order from start to finish. I jumped in during the second season then circled back when reruns aired briefly on PBS, I think. It’s from the creators of Northern Exposure. That delight was a bigger hit but music rights made getting it onto DVD a Herculean effort. It’s not available either but that should happen soon.
THE DAYS AND NIGHTS OF MOLLY DODD
Blair Brown starred in this half hour “dramedy” about a single gal in New York City. Creator Jay Tarses knew enough to cast David Strathairn as a love interest. One big problem? Brown sang a song in almost every episode and that means music rights make it prohibitively expensive to rebroadcast. Someone talk to the musicians and songwriters unions and fix this problem. No one makes any money when a show can never be seen again. Tarses also created the amusingly acerbic Buffalo Bill with Dabney Coleman and Geena Davis. It also is missing in action.
AN AMERICAN FAMILY
You could blame this landmark PBS documentary series for creating reality TV…if reality TV weren’t embedded in the DNA of the boob tube thanks to Queen For A Day and countless other earlier examples. Still, An American Family raised it to high art, featured a young man coming out as gay, and its ripple effects continue to this day. When the matriarch Pat Loud died in January of 2021, it was national news. Middletown, a 1982 six-part series also on PBS, ranks alongside Eyes On The Prize and The Civil War in the pantheon of great TV documentaries, but that also has fallen off the radar.
Brittany Snow became a TV star thanks to this delightful drama about a teenage girl in Philly who gets to dance on American Bandstand. Unusually, this show gives full weight to the kids (Snow, her brother Will Estes of Blue Bloods) and the parents, played by Tom Verica of How To Get Away With Murder and Gail O’Grady of NYPD Blue. It’s family friendly, fun and rich in detail if a little rushed as the series came to an early end. And yes, it’s got wall-to-wall music. Season One made it onto DVD but seasons two and three are nowhere to be found.
The Emmy-winning blockbuster miniseries about the Shoah aired in 1977 to massive ratings. It contains one of Meryl Streep’s best performances and the all-star cast is right there with her, including Tovah Feldshuh, Timothy Bottoms and Michael Moriarty. It did make it to DVD, but that was a milder version for syndication and deleted almost half an hour. You really don’t want a softened version of the Holocaust, do you? It’s not on streamers and a lot of other miniseries are also weirdly absent. The Winds Of War? Masada? Shogun? Amerika? The Day After? What gives? Even Ted Danson’s Gulliver’s Travels is only available for purchase. British shows fare better. You can see Brideshead Revisited on five different streamers and can even find the little-remembered Danger UXB, about bomb disposal units, on Acorn.TV
Not on a streamer? Blame the damn music rights. Again. Who could ever imagine this rip-off of the Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night would prove such an enduring goof? Sure, Brill Building superstars wrote their first songs, so no wonder the singles clicked. But the show works too. The similarly off-the-wall kids series The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show is also unavailable. It’s rat-a-tat satire proves The Monkees didn’t come out of nowhere. Yet it’s nowhere to be found. If you’re looking for precursors to the vibe of the Prefab Four, you can go even earlier, to the fourth wall-breaking of Burns & Allen. You can stream George and Gracie on Flix Fling.
STAR WARS: CLONE WARS
I’m talking about the 2003 series of shorts created by Genndy Tartakovsky of Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Laboratory fame. It totals about two hours in all, as opposed to the similarly named series George Lucas oversaw at the Cartoon Network for 133 episodes, apparently coming to Disney+ along with a new season. Meanwhile, the far superior work by Tartakovsky remains as hard to find as the original cuts of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. Oh, George!
You know how everyone says we’re in a golden age for TV? Umm, 1980s people! Hill Street Blues. St. Elsewhere. Cheers. Thirtysomething. The Cosby Show. (I know.) And among many other examples, Moonlighting. It starred newcomer Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd as battling partners of a detective agency a la Tracy and Hepburn. Think screwball comedy. Think romance. Think smart and bold and innovative and so much fun. And to think we can’t watch it right now.
MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN
A bizarro spoof of soap operas that spun off bizarro spoofs of late nite television. It’s as if the folks from SCTV finally got their way. And no, SCTV isn’t available to stream either. Truly nothing before or since Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman has matched the deadpan nerve of this Louise Lasser show. It delivered 325 episodes in just two years and at the end people were still wondering what the hell was going on. Even stranger, it’s getting a reboot! Just two months after it ended in July of 1977, the softer and sillier spoof Soap debuted in primetime and made Billy Crystal a star. It too is unavailable though this one is just a matter of time.
Actor Ioan Gruffudd played the classic naval hero Horatio Hornblower in a series of eight TV movies. They aired from 1998 to 2003, scored big ratings, won Emmy awards and are smashing good fun. Want to stream them? Tough. Not only should they all be available, Gruffudd is long overdue to make more of them. Since Hornblower ages in the book series these are based upon, the timing is perfect. So Netflix or HBO Max or someone needs to snatch up the rights and make some more episodes right away.
Believe me, I’m only scratching the surface. Which of your favorite TV shows is missing in action when it comes to the streamers?