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LOAD 'EM UP AND GRIT IT OUT
By Joe Brancatelli
January 16, 2014 -- If we learn nothing else from the past months of lousy weather and record-shattering flight delays, we must learn this: Load up our laptops, tablets and smartphones with diversions to help pass the time at the airport.

Regardless of how you load up--Netflix or another streaming service or, like me, via old-fashioned discs purchased from Amazon or the $5 bin at Walmart--there's simply no excuse to be bored while waiting out a flight delay. We've got the technology now. Might as well use it.

Not everything ever created has made its way to digital distribution --Where, oh, where is Robert Loggia's uber-cool T.H.E. Cat TV series from the mid-1960s or Disney's racist, but historically important, Song of the South?--but there's almost anything you've ever wanted.

Me, I loves me some big boxes. Big boxes of music. Big boxes of movies and TV shows and just about anything that's "collected." It appeals to my obsessive nature. If I like something, I love it and want to listen to it all and see it all.

Now you do not need me to recommend full seasons of The Big Bang Theory or the collected songbooks of Ella Fitzgerald. How could you not have Monty Python or The Doors on demand? (Really, I could listen to the Cheese Shop sketch or Riders on the Storm on a loop.) One day I will have every version of the Waters of March ever recorded on my laptop. You surely have your favorites, too.

But what's below is my best effort to offer up some off-the-beaten-track suggestions for what to have at your fingertips during your next delay. I think they'll entertain and divert you the next time a storm guarantees you're sleepless in Seattle--or anywhere else.

BEFORE EVERYTHING, THERE WERE THE FORSYTES
Before there was Downton Abbey, there was The Forsyte Saga, the BBC's 1967 adaptation of John Galsworthy's sprawling novels that detail the lives, loves and scandals of an upper middle class English family from the late Victorian era to the mid-1920s. In fact, The Forsyte Saga was before everything. Its 1969 U.S. airing predates Masterpiece Theater on PBS and convinced the then-fledgling network to import more British fare. Think Breaking Bad was the first TV drama to have its own "after show" analysis program? Nope. The BBC did an after-Forsytes show that pitted supporters of the serial's antagonistic protagonists against each other. Think "appointment television" was invented by latter-day American TV executives? Uh-uh. British pubs shut down early on Sunday nights in 1968 so patrons could go home and watch The Forsyte Saga when it was rebroadcast. I could go on, but you get the point. The original, 26-episode, black-and-white TV serial overflows with talent (Eric Porter, Susan Hampshire, Michael York, Kenneth More and many more) and is so engrossing that you might miss a flight. One warning: Make sure you get the original 1967 show, reproduced on seven discs, and not the appalling 1949 Hollywood movie featuring Walter Pidgeon or the horrid 2002 BBC remake starring Damian Lewis.

HER NAME IS BARBRA. SHE USED TO SING.
Barbra Streisand stands alone--and that's the problem. She became a diva--aloof and encased in amber--at the instant her talent and creative chops would have led her to collaborate with other great musicians and experiment with her miraculous voice and her meticulous phrasing. Think hard: What was the last mainstream Streisand album you really enjoyed and listened to just for pleasure? If you said 1973's Barbara Streisand ... and Other Musical Instruments, then you will be thrilled that her five groundbreaking television specials have been released in a box set. The one-hour shows, beginning with 1965's My Name is Barbra and 1966's Color Me Barbra and culminating with Musical Instruments, won Emmys and energized the format of TV specials. Mostly, though, they reveal Streisand the entertainer. The fourth DVD, a 1968 edited-for-TV version of 1967's landmark concert, Barbra Streisand: A Happening in Central Park, may have been her last live date that was more about the music than Streisand herself. The five hours are occasionally dated--My Name is Barbra is filmed in black-and-white and 1967's Belle of 14th Street is downright creaky--but they showcase a formidable young talent. Streisand today is a force of nature: actor, director, diva, filmmaker, activist, icon and probably anything else she wants to be. But the boxed set reminds you when Streisand was simply great.

WAR WITHOUT END THANKS TO THE WAR TO END ALL WARS
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, the war to end all wars that actually unleashed an endless series of conflicts around the globe. The war was never finished and we're living--and dying--with its bloody consequences today. Unrest in the Balkans was the immediate cause of and is still the European loose end of the so-called Great War. And all of the chaos in the Middle East is a direct result of the criminally inept political carve-up of the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. If you crave a better understanding of the troubles of today's world, gobble up The First World War, a four-disc primer on the watershed event of the 20th century. Based on the exhaustive scholarship of Hew Strachan, who has emerged as the definitive authority on World War I, the 10-part, 8.5-hour series is absorbing, endlessly revelatory and, dare I say it, cracking good entertainment. The strength of this British-made 2003 TV documentary is neither its reams of archival footage nor its extensive use of primary source material. It is Strachan's approach, which eschews a blinkered concentration on the Western Front and focuses instead on the global geopolitical machinations. The First World War may be the best $41 you will ever spend on your own enlightenment.

ARE YOU A NUMBER? A FREE MAN? A PRISONER OF THE TSA?
Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner is now, shockingly, 47 years old and its name was hijacked several years ago for a spectacularly dull "reimagining" produced for AMC. So why focus on McGoohan's original? Because his 17-episode series was startlingly original and demanded that you pay attention to a long list of political, social and cultural concerns. The Prisoner was witty and clever and justifiably paranoid in its view of then-contemporary society. And know what? Virtually every moment is relevant today--and if you want to draw comparisons to the airlines or the TSA, too, well, I wouldn't argue. A 5-disc set now out includes a useful alternate version of The Chimes of Big Ben, McGoohan's pilot, as well as several fan-wanking documentaries. (A Blu-Ray version offers a far superior transfer from the original, by the way.) Want my opinion on the show's key plot points? It doesn't matter if No. 6 is John Drake, the operative McGoohan played on Danger Man, his earlier series that ran in America as Secret Agent. No. 1 is the evil person lurking inside each of us. And McGoohan didn't have set answers that you were meant to divine. He was just asking questions and hoping to provoke a debate. The Prisoner still does that brilliantly and reminds us to oppose "the new No. 2," those petty but essentially powerless functionaries we encounter far too frequently on the road.

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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.