Unstreamable is a column that recommends movies and TV shows you can’t watch on major streaming services in the United States. We publish every Wednesday.
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USA, 1978-1982, half-hour sitcom, Created by Garry Marshall, Dale McRaven, and Joe Glauberg
What if we jumped a shark so hard we landed in an entirely different body of water? Mork & Mindy is one of those weird TV artifacts that shouldn’t even exist – a bizarre one-off joke from an episode of Happy Days that somehow became even more popular than the show that spawned it. Happy Days was chugging through its fifth season when a writer (inspired by an alien-abduction dream episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show) pitched an episode in which a character dreams they meet an alien, played by then-unknown comic Robin Williams. Everyone could see that they’d found something incredible in Williams, and so they gave him his own TV show—loosely scripted and frequently improvised, and some actors who recalled scenes noted simply, “Robin will do something here.” (Writers claim that was not the case.) The result was a bizarre roller-coaster, a show that often feels like a tug-of-war between network and producer intentions and the careening imagination of a star who could not possibly be predicted or controlled. It was a massive success in its first season, to the point that ABC moved it around the schedule to snipe other networks’ shows out of the ratings. But creative interference doomed the show after that; rather than giving Williams free reign to get progressively weirder, executives started insisting on boring cheap-trick gimmicks that drained the show of its weirdness – sort of like shaving down the shark-jump ski jump a little at a time. The lesson: When pulling a stunt, make it so big the audience can’t help but stare. MATT BAUME
Find it in the Comedy section, under Comedy Television.
USA, 1974, 106 min, Dir. Mel Brooks
This particular Unstreamable entry comes as a bit of a shocker. Young Frankenstein? Not streaming? What is this, the Dark Ages? The classic Mel Brooks comedy horror film stars theeee Gene Wilder as Frederick Frankenstein, a young arrogant doctor who inherits a massive estate in Transylvania after the death of his great-grandfather, Beaufort von Frankenstein. This fortress comes with a buggy-looking servant named Igor (the inimitable Marty Feldman) and a stern housekeeper Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman). From there, Brookian hijinks ensue in this black and white homage to monster pictures from the 1930s with silly, cheeky performances from Teri Garr, Madeleine Kahn, and Peter Boyle. I first saw the film recently, but I felt like I could practically quote it from memory. My fourth grade teacher would always spit “PUT! THE CANDLE! BACK!!!!” whenever one of my classmates started acting up. It’s a wonder why Young Frankenstein isn’t more accessible. The film pings on and off certain platforms (I rented it from Apple late last year), but perhaps the merger between Disney and the movie’s distributor, 20th Century Studios, has something to do with its unstreamability. I have a hunch it’ll pop up again real soon.. JAS KEIMIG
Find it in the Director section, under Brooks, Mel.
USA, 2007, 79 min, Dir. Mike Ruiz
Big gay celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz is currently getting buffer and photographing leather men and being a cover model, so I understand he’s busy, but I’m still waiting on him to find the time to manifest a Starrbooty retrospective. Ruiz directed this sorta loved and mostly hated blaxploitation movie from 2007. It stars a pre-RuPaul’s Drag Race RuPaul as the titular Starrbooty, a secret agent/supermodel who must become an undercover hooker to find out who kidnapped her niece Cornisha.
Calling Starrbooty a B movie would be flattering. I’ve forced many people to watch this with me, and most hate it. Which I guess is fair. The plot is nonsense. RuPaul makes fart jokes in it. She has a whole scene where she ballbusts a dude with her heel. But it’s undeniably got style. (Candis Cayne stars in it and serves a bop.) The fact is I’m in the tank for Starrbooty. I’m positive it’ll reemerge once it’s 20 years old and technically vintage around 2027. The DVD—which I paid too much money for on eBay—has a complimentary quote on the back from Kyle Buchanan, who compared its spirit to John Waters’. Michael Musto called Starrbooty “kickass.”
This is actually the fourth Starrbooty in a series (lol). RuPaul made the earlier three on a $100 budget in the mid-80s, so goes the lore, and sold the early Starrbooty tapes out of shopping carts in Atlanta. Finding those tapes is my purpose in life. CHASE BURNS
Find it in the Drama section, under LGBT.
Every week, we feature one formerly unstreamable title that’s now available to watch online. This week it’s….
USA, 1982, 86 min, Dir. Kathleen Collins
Losing Ground was one of the first feature-length dramas since the 1920s to be directed by a Black American woman. It screened at film festivals, but it didn’t get a full theatrical run until nearly thirty years after Collins’ death at the age of 46.
In this semi-autobiographic tale, Sara Rogers (Seret Scott) is an extremely serious but well-loved professor who struggles to find a passionate release in her life. She understands logic, but not how to let loose. This is in marked contrast to her husband, Victor (Bill Gunn), a charming, abstract painter who begins to move into more figurative work. After he sells a painting to a museum, Victor rents a summer house upstate to sink more fully into this new phase of his career, though Sara longs to be close to the city so that she can study “the ecstatic” for a paper she’s working on.
The film’s tension comes from this dichotomy between Sara’s reason and Victor’s passion. She’s order, he’s chaos; she’s rational, he’s irrational, etc. And when potential lovers enter both of their lives, Sara and Victor are forced to confront the insecurities in their relationship, and their perceived failings as people. Also, Sara says one of my favorite lines: “The actual sex doesn’t bother me. Victor has sex all the time, with a color, a room, the way the light falls across a building. All that private ecstasy.” All that private ecstasy. Could be yours, too. JAS KEIMIG
Scarecrow doesn’t have this DVD! Check it out from Seattle Public Library. Now available to stream on Criterion Channel.
Looking for more? Browse our big list of 350+ hard-to-find movies over on The Stranger.
The fine print: Unstreamable means we couldn’t find it on Netflix, Hulu, Shudder, Disney+, or any of the other hundreds of streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn’t find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. Yes, we know you can find many things online illegally, but we don’t consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.