Category Archives: tv

There’s No Dopes Running Marvel

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had its triumphant television premiere tonight. It’s going to be an interesting ride, judging by the pilot episode. While on the surface it appears to be a well-produced science-fiction series with lots of action and special effects, underneath it is a winking deconstruction of genre TV, with a cracking sense of humour and a solid anchor in Clark Gregg as the enigmatic Agent Coulson.

It is also quite obvious that there are no dopes running the Marvel empire. It’s pretty amazing to be witness to what the comics giant has pulled off over the last five years. Comic book hero movies had been through a rough patch leading up to Marvel Studio’s experiment called the Marvel Cinematic Universe; a string of mega-budget movies based around individual major characters from Marvel Comic’s Avengers series, issue #1 of which hit the stands in 1963. Starting with Iron Man in 2008, these would culminate in 2012’s The Avengers movie, featuring the group assembled together to ward off an invasion of creatures from another plane of existence. The experiment has been a grand success; it cost over a billion dollars to pull off the first six movies, but has raked in billions more in revenue and continues to spin off more films.

Now Marvel has set its sights on the small screen with AoS, and from what we’ve seen so far, they very well might have the biggest hit of this season on their hands. Of course, to further prove their brilliance, an ad featuring the next entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: The Dark World, aired during the show. What’s the deal with all this perfect comic, movie and television synergy? It’s simply Marvelous.

Conan O’Brien Takes On Retro Games

These days, mountainous-haired carrot-top Conan O’Brien seems to be taking a lead from Jimmy Fallon, who replaced O’Brien on NBC’s Late Night back in 2009. Conan went on to host the vaunted late night talk show The Tonight Show, a run that only lasted months. Fallon himself has since been tasked to take over The Tonight Show when current host Jay Leno steps down, perhaps even permanently this time.

Anyway, this post isn’t meant to dwell on the revolving-door morass that is late night television in America.  It is meant to point out that O’Brien himself has started to mine video games for comedic value, much like Fallon has pretty much from day one.  Fallon played Wii games on his show when Nintendo’s revolutionary console came out, and has featured other popular games in front of the camera.

This focus on video game playing by late night hosts seems on the whole to be tapping the popularity of “Let’s Play” videos of game play that litter YouTube and these days. Germain to this site, O’Brien featured a “Throwback Edition” of his Clueless Gamer segment last week, playing games from the Atari 2600 library. Among the savaged product was the big kahuna of awful classic games, the impenetrable E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, a game so dense and confusing, and with such high-hopes pinned upon it at release in 1982, that its abject failure was one of the reasons the entire video game industry cratered in 1983-84.

Gaze upon the spectacle of Conan O’Brien sampling the best (and worst) games from one of the most popular video game systems of all time:

The Ad Game: Vanguard for Atari VCS/2600

Vanguard was an arcade game developed by “shadow” developer TOSE, and released in Japan by SNK in late 1981 and licensed for North America by Centuri.  It was an important intermediate step towards modern side-scrolling shoot-em-ups such as Gradius and R-Type, improving on a genre first formed by William’s seminal Defender.

Today in the Ad Game we feature a TV commercial for the Atari 2600 port of Vanguard:

Vanguard was definitely a great arcade game, and the 2600 version a spectacular port that demonstrates the amazing things Atari programmers were able to pull off with the platform as it matured.  This ad, however, doesn’t do any of that justice. For instance, who trades off the joystick to their buddies in the middle of a game?  Hard to keep your concentration and momentum going with some jerk begging for the joystick.  Just wait until he crashes, it won’t be long.  Try shouting “The wall, the wall!” into his ear, that oughta speed up his destruction. One of the big innovations touted in Vanguard was the ability to shoot in four directions, but in the ad the shooting looks pretty spastic.  The key to any successful shooter is the precision of your shots, and here it looks like the gunner is having a seizure. Then, of course, we have the hulking Luthor, who’s sole responsibility is to defeat the Gond, the boss at the end of the round.  A man of few words, it is rumoured that Luthor once, when a kid refused to give up the joystick to him, stuffed the poor bastard’s hand completely into the cartridge slot.  We can only know his moods by his demented chuckling. Perhaps Luthor is related to Beavis?

Comedian Phil Hartman advertising for Activision

Celebrity Video Game Ads has a compilation page featuring a plethora of links to video game ads featuring celebrity spokespersons.  Everything from Carol Channel shilling Atari to William Shatner hawking the VIC-20 computer.  There’s quite a few “before they were famous” moments, with Christian Bale dancing to Pac-Man cereal, and Jack Black espousing the daring tales of Pitfall Harry.

You can check them out here:


Starcade Archive

Let me shine a light on a collection of videos at the Internet Archive, episodes of the classic arcade game series Starcade.

The show ran on Ted Turner’s WTBS cable channel from 1982 – 1983, and in syndication the following year.  Billed as the first video arcade game show, Starcade featured players facing off against each other on the popular arcade games of the time.  Watching the episodes is like glimpsing coin-op Valhalla, with shiny Tron, Super Zaxxon and Stargate cabinets filling the backstage.  It prefectly captures the 80’s in video amber.

We might not have arcades in our neighbourhoods anymore, but we still have Starcade.

Mr. Dressup Honoured by Google Doodle.

Early ad for Mr. Dressup

Ernie Coombs was a mainstay of children’s programming on the CBC, as the title character of Mr. Dressup, running on the network from 1967 to 1996.  Along with his puppet friends Casey and Finnegan,  he was a gentle and friendly accompaniment to my formative gaming years of PONG and Atari.  He passed away in 2001.

That Google has chosen to celebrate what would have been his 85th birthday really… wait for it…

Tickles me.

BAM! The Wizard of Wor is hit! POW!

The following is a TV commercial for CBS Video Games.  Dating from 1982, it purports to show clips from what is called “Challenge of Champions“, a head-to-head competition hosted by longtime football commentator John Madden.  It featured one of the company’s latest wares, “Wizard of Wor”, a home adaptation of the popular arcade game from Midway, released in 1980.

In fact, the clips are a dramatization of the competition.  It’s not even clear if the match had an audience, although I like the American Idol set and Madden’s fevered pitch.  Madden, of course, would go on to put his name on something a bit longer lasting than CBS VIdeo Games: EA’s preennial Madden Football series.  The first, John Madden Football, was released in 1988.

Clip courtesy of The Museum of Classic Chicago Television.