This is the time when everyone publishes their year-end review or their best of the year or whatever column. This year, a great many of them seem to be along the lines of, “Jesus, what a garbage fire 2016 was,” or sometimes “I guess 2016 didn’t entirely suck.” And of course there’s always the entertainment round-up, best new this, best new that.
Truthfully I’m a bad blogger when it comes to this sort of thing, because rarely, if ever, do we get to anything when it’s NEW. Julie and I are low-income; we live on a very tight budget and the entertainment allowance is next to nothing so we are always buying discount or used. Even our television tends to be time-delayed, mostly shows that we stream or watch on DVD long after all the cool kids have already seen them. This used to be especially graveling at the old stand when I’d get asked to contribute to the best-of-the-year overview and I’d have to sheepishly admit that I never saw anything current.
So when we started up here, one of my contributions to the mission statement was that we would never feel pressured to talk about stuff that was new. This is the Junk Shop, after all.
And as it turned out, 2016 was kind of a cool year for us turning up oddball bits of this and that on the cheap. These are just a few of the not-current-but-still-awesome things I came across this last year that I thought were great fun, and not very expensive at all. Some of it’s even free. Not all that much of it has what you might call artistic merit in the traditional sense, but we sure enjoyed the hell out of it. Anyway, here’s a sampling.
Tom Selleck TV Westerns. Back in the day, Tom Selleck made a number of straight-to-television Western movies and mini-series, most of them adapting one or another of the works of Louis L’Amour. They are all pretty good but the best of them is actually not a L’Amour; it’s an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, Last Stand At Saber River.
Selleck was absolutely born to do Westerns anyway, and this one came at a point in his career where he looked just exactly weary and weatherbeaten enough to perfectly inhabit the character of Cable, a Confederate war veteran who comes home to find that his kids hardly know him and his wife deeply resents him, a couple of diehard Union men have taken over his ranch, and everything he thought about his life was wrong. It’s amazingly layered for a TV western, but still has plenty of action for those of us who like to see some ridin’ and shootin’. It’s got a great supporting cast, too, particularly David and Keith Carradine as the Kidston brothers, and Suzy Amis as Cable’s wife Martha. This should be known as one of the great modern Westerns and somehow it never seems to get mentioned anywhere by anyone, despite its ubiquitous presence in grocery store DVD racks and discount bins everywhere. It instantly tied with Quigley Down Under as my favorite Tom Selleck anything ever. And it cost less than five dollars.
The Invaders. This was something I picked up on a whim when I realized Julie had never seen it; in fact, had never heard of it at all.
They are marketing it as a complete series set now, I guess, so the individual season sets are pretty cheap… Cheap enough that we ended up getting the second season as well, after Julie fell swooningly in love with the first one. It was fun for me too, because as often happened with the cool TV shows and movies from my childhood, when it was actually airing I only got to experience this show at second-hand. I was all over the licensed stuff like the books and comics, of which there were quite a number…
…there was even a Big Little Book.
The Big Little Book cover never fails to make me laugh. Seriously, David Vincent was always running around in the desert or somewhere trying to find flying saucers, he would NEVER be rocking the ascot. (Though Roy Thinnes today is a rather dapper fellow.)
Anyway. My point is, I almost never got to see episodes of the actual show, because it only ran for two seasons and that generally is not enough for syndication. So most of these were new to me too, though the introduction was so indelibly imprinted on my consciousness back in 1967 that I was able to say it verbatim along with the narrator…
(One of these days, I’m going to get around to the column about great TV openings. It’s a damn shame that commercials have eaten into the time that used to be allotted for a television show’s opening credits; the best of them served as a sort of grand overture for the show itself.)
We found that the episodes themselves held up remarkably well, even the effects. It really was one of the smartest SF shows done for TV back then, and I’d rank it up there with the original Star Trek at its best, though its paranoiac view of aliens is the polar opposite of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian outlook.
And we picked up both seasons on DVD for less than half of what the ‘Complete Series’ is going for, even used.
A lot of complete episodes are up on YouTube, as well, but you miss the DVD’s episode introductions from dapper Roy Thinnes, who is obviously still very proud of the show, fifty years later. Julie was annoyed that there was no actual conclusion to the story; although there was a mini-series/reboot in the 1990s featuring Scott Bakula that also had Thinnes returning as David Vincent. So we know that Vincent’s secret war was still going on well into the 1990s. That’s on YouTube as well, though we didn’t much care for it. Stick to the originals.
Star Trek Animated. Speaking of Star Trek, we also finally acquired the animated series from 1974. This show is kind of the overlooked middle child of the Trek franchise. Trekkies tend to completely ignore it, even though it added a great deal to the lore of the show and marked a lot of firsts for the Star Trek property.
I hadn’t seen most of these for some thirty years at least, and it was great fun to revisit them. In particular, I’d forgotten the connection to Larry Niven and the Kzinti, which back then could only have been done in animation.
Granted, it’s very LIMITED animation– these were never meant to be binge-watched, for certain, and the number of recycled bits gets a little annoying. But as always with Filmation, the strength of the show is in the scripting. And the stories really hold up. The whole set plus shipping ran us about eight bucks on DVD.
Hardcover Western pulp collections. Now, technically, this is not a new thing for me because I’ve had a soft spot for these for years.
Every so often, if we’re feeling a little flush (which is not terribly often, but it happens) I do a search on Amazon that goes something like Hardcover Western Collection, and arrange it from Price Low To High. As a result, I’ve acquired a fairly tall stack of these books, generally priced under a buck, in like-new hardcover still in the jacket. You’d think there would be a lot of overlap in the story selection but really there’s hardly any. Pulp magazine westerns were a going concern for almost three decades so there is a vast pool of short stories to draw on.
Most of the best of these anthologies are assembled by Jon Tuska, who does for Western pulp collections what Martin H. Greenberg did for themed mystery and SF anthologies.
These books are like potato chips for me. I’ve been kind of wallowing in Westerns lately anyway, as the current “new pulp” freelance project is a Western of sorts and reading these gets me in the right frame of mind to work on it. I’m enjoying all of them but if you have to pick, start with one of the Tuskas.
Black Dog. This movie is one of those artistically-lacking projects I warned you about that we just loved anyway.
I stumbled across the listing for Black Dog while I was looking up something for last week’s Road House piece, and this movie seemed like it would be exactly the same kind of cornpone macho AWESOME as Road House, so I figured we’d risk a dollar on the DVD. Here’s the trailer: you tell me. Wouldn’t you risk a dollar on that?
Well, anyway, we did, and we got at least DOUBLE our money’s worth of fun out of it just for the bug-eyed psycho Meat Loaf scenes alone. It was a great throwback to the old car-crash B-movies of my youth like Eat My Dust or Grand Theft Auto, but with giant semis instead of muscle cars. You definitely have to be in the right mood for it, but I am glad to have it in the library.
So that was a taste of our year in cost-conscious scrounging. Feel free to add your own re-discoveries down below. And remember, if you should happen to be in the mood to do a little Amazon shopping yourself now, if you go through the links posted here at the Junk Shop we get a referral fee. This keeps us from having to stack the place with annoying ads. Every little bit helps.
Back next week with something cool.