The last few years and its boom of HD-capable internet streaming has brought a ton of really really cheaply made “Web TV programs” from startup online “networks” like Revision3, Howcast, and countless other startups and podcasters. Most of it is unwatchably dull pop culture and nerd news and commentary, involving someone who really shouldn’t be a TV host trying to be a TV host on a set that is clearly somebody’s office or living room. It’s all very amateur, and most of it is not worth watching.
Of course, since all of this content is available through Boxee apps, nights of boredom often find me sifting through them, trying to find something special. And indeed, I did find something special.
Produced by startup On Networks from 2007 to 2008, Cocktails on the Fly is a series of short clips on how to make cocktails, hosted by “flighty hostess” Alberta Straub. Ms. Straub is a prominent San Francisco-area bartender with a goofy attitude and a closet full of vintage air travel stuff. Shooting in what is clearly somebody’s apartment kitchen, Straub takes on one drink (or common home-made ingredient) in each clip.
Ms. Straub is a riot. No television professional would ever try to put her on TV. She has the performance of a spastic high school girl giving a report on a book for which she’s already written fanfiction, often going off onto bizarre tangents or nervously putting on weird voices — or even singing. (In one clip, she goes on about her taste in TV men and fantasizes about dating Gilligan.) She also clearly suffers from estropia (cross-eyes). Between the set, Ms. Straub’s non-traditional oddball camera style, and the low-fi feel of the show, it all feels like you’re watching someone’s audition reel more than an actual show. (Most episodes are clearly shot in one take — she regularly spills a little or puts something in front of the drink she’s making so we can’t see.)
But so many amateur productions are boring. This most certainly is not. Ms. Straub is captivating (though not always in the way that’s intended), and her lessons on cocktail preparation are pretty educational. Her cocktails might be quite famous, but they often look terrible on camera — most of them are muddy piles of whole herbs and spices, and look like they barely have any actual liquid in them. The unappetizing look of the cocktails just adds to the surreal nature of it all. It’s like you’re trapped watching TV in some David Cronenberg film.
This is cheap educational web TV at its most nutty. It’s worth checking out. Since On Networks stopped producing the show Ms. Straub has posted the series at CocktailsOnTheFly.tv. She currently tends bar at The Parlor in San Francisco (I will definitely go at some point!), and she says she has something else cooking, web-TV wise. I can’t wait — she can count me amongst her fans!