TV on DVD 9/1/09 – Modern Heroes, Victorian Detectives and British Journalists

After Heroes (Universal) slipped in a creatively disappointing second season,Tim Kring and his collaborators worked hard to get the mojo back for Season Three of their live action graphic novel of ordinary humans with superhuman abilities. They succeeded, at least in part, by breaking the season into two separate multi-episode story arcs and getting back to the primacy of the characters and their conflicts. Villains revives The Company, with psychopath Sylar (Zachary Quinto) as its star agent, and pits it against a rival organization, and Fugitives, where Senator Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) leads a campaign to round up his fellow powers and send them to secret prisons and his former allies (including his brother and daughter) lead the resistance.

The Heroes strike a pose
The Heroes strike a pose

It’s as much of a comic book as ever, with characters ping-ponging from one side to the other and players double crossing each other (for power, conviction or simply because they can), but Sylar gets a dynamic storyline that flirts with redemption before plunging into pure supervillainy and the end of the season brings a measure of gravity with the revelation of a eugenics concentration camp from decades before. It’s all delivered with dynamic style, striking images and inventive special effects. If it still hasn’t recaptured the zeitgeist of that dynamic first season, this superpowered conspiracy adventure is still the most visually impressive show on TV and will be back for a fourth season in September. 25 episodes on six discs in a fold-out digipak (five discs on Blu-ray) with cast and crew commentary of varying quality on every episode, two “Alternate Stories” (brief webisode tales of side characters done on the cheap), and featurettes on the effects, the stunts, the art, the props. The Blu-ray edition has even more bonus supplements.

“In late Victorian London, lived many detectives who were the rivals of Sherlock Holmes.” The thirteen episodes in The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Set 1 (Acorn), which collects the first half of the early seventies British series, are all based on stories of the Arthur Conan Doyle era by his contemporaries, fellow writers who contributed to the genre with their own detectives. Watching all these characters with their particular personality quirks, it’s easy to see that they were all working in an idiom that was quite firmly defined by Doyle they were following his example with their own particulars and flair. Criminologist Dr. Thorndyke (John Neville) has the arrogance and disdain for the bumbling of police, blind aristocrat Max Carrados (Robert Stephens) does it for fun, and the Arthur Morrison-created private detective Horace Dorrington (Peter Vaughn) is purely in it for his own gain, which makes him the most fun (luckily he’s in two episodes). Other episodes feature Roy Dotrice is Simon Carne (aka Klimo) and Donald Pleasence as ghost hunter Carnacki, among others. Four discs in a box set of four thinpak cases, plus notes on the characters and authors.

With the feature film version of State of Play out on DVD this week, it’s a great time to remember the original 2003 British mini-series State of Play (BBC), which played stateside on BBC America a few years ago. John Simm stars as a dedicated investigative journalist at a London newspaper who stumbles into a story that could drag an ambitious politician (David Morrissey) – who just happens to be an old friend of the reporter – into a career-scarring scandal. But the struggle between personal and professional ethics takes a dramatic turn as the investigation finds more than just sex and sensationalism under the scandals. The great Bill Nighy underplays the role of the sarcastic newspaper editor with comic aplomb without losing his character’s integrity or command (Helen Mirren takes the role in the American version), and Kelly Macdonald, James McAvoy, Polly Walker, and Michael Feast co-star. Writer Paul Abbot previously created the superb, dark mystery series Touching Evil and director David Yates went on to helm the Harry Potter films, bringing to it the same focus on character that made this series stand out.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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