The Shield: The Complete Series Collection (Sony) – The Shield debuted on the FX cable channel early in 2002 and almost immediately shook up television by pushing the boundaries of violence and sexual content on commercial cable and blurring the line between good cop and bad cop with the most morally spellbinding character on TV. Michael Chiklis took home a well deserved Emmy Award for his fearless performance as maverick officer Vic Mackey, head of the controversial strike team and a man at once corrupt and dedicated, violent and protective, and utterly passionate in his job even while he’s skimming the evidence. But he’s just one compromised character in squad room swirling with conflict and contradiction: the politically ambitious Captain Aceveda (Benito Martinez), who uses command as a stepping stone for political advancement; Dutch (Jay Karnes), an intellectual social geek in a blue collar station whose abilities are ridiculed until he proves his chops in a painful interrogation; officer Lowe (Michael Jace), a church-going cop tortured by denial and self-repression; Vic’s best friend and loyal (if not too smart) second Shane (Walt Goggins), a hillbilly badass who can’t quite pull off Mackey’s balancing act of good cop/bad cop and allows his bad behavior to sink him in real trouble; and Detective Wyms (CCH Pounder), the rock of the station who wants nothing more than to take the reigns of leadership herself and shut down Mackey and his crew for good.
The show ended its seven-season run in 2008 with a brilliant final season and one of the greatest series finales ever broadcast: every evil act and dirty deed that Mackey and his Strike Force ever perpetrated comes back on him as Shane goes on the run and his wife is confronted with the truth of his legacy. In between, creator Shawn Ryan and his crew kept the audience off balance with dramatic turns, dynamic characters and a portrait of the eco-system of urban crime and local cops, all without compromising the integrity of the show, the characters or the world they live in. There are some thrilling storylines, notably the “money train” heist and the Russian mob’s revenge, but the most interesting stories came out of the complications created by Mackey and his crew as they walked both sides of the street. And as the show gained respect, it attracted some high-powered talent that signed on for arcs lasting an entire season—Anthony Anderson as a firebrand gangleader, Glenn Close as a new boss in the barn, Forest Whitaker as an obsessive Internal Affairs officer—to add to the drama stoked in the regular cast. There are no saints in this squad, even among the most well-meaning. This is a show revels in the contradictions and compromises of the characters, but it understands exactly where everyone draws their moral lines. They just happen to draw them in different places.
This is one of the shows that established commercial cable as a home for the kind of risky, provocative programming that HBO was famous for and remains a TV landmark and it gets a well-deserved “Complete Series” release. This collection features all 88 episodes of the seven seasons on 28 discs in a hefty scrapbook album-style case with slipsleeve pages. It’s sturdy and solid and the sleeves can be a little too tight (you sometimes have to wrestle the disc out of the page) but it’s also easy to access the seasons (unlike some of the more high concept designs that look great until you actually want to find a disc) and find the episodes. It’s essentially a repacking of the previously released sets, with all the lively commentary tracks, featurettes (some of the best I’ve seen created for TV releases, such as the 80-minute “Breaking Episode 315,” which takes the viewer through the creation of the third season finale with tremendous detail on the nuts and bolts of making a show like this on a cable budget), deleted scenes, interviews and other supplements of the previous releases of the show, plus two exclusive new featurettes: a documentary about the Los Angeles Rampart division police scandal that served as the inspiration for the series and a behind-the-scenes set tour of the “The Barn,” the location where the series was shot. If you’ve got the earlier releases, it’s not worth trading up, but it’s the most efficient way to get the complete collection from scratch.
Zorro: The Complete First and Second Seasons (Walt Disney Treasures) – Zorro, the pulp hero created by Johnson McCulley in print and transformed into a screen hero in the silent adventure The Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks and numerous sequels and remakes (the most famous the 1940 swashbuckler with Tyrone Power), was brought to the small in 1957 by Walt Disney in his first attempt at a traditional weekly series (Walt Disney Presents was more of a showcase featuring a mix original dramas and documentaries and broadcasts of Disney features and cartoons). This incarnation found its hero in Guy Williams, a B-movie actor with matinee idol looks who leapt into the saddle with all the flair of a born action hero. The half-hour show follows the swashbuckling adventures of the masked swordsman Zorro, the Robin Hood of Old California, and his fight against the tyranny of the local military commander. With the help of his loyal servant (Gene Sheldon), a mute who pretends to be deaf and plays the clown in front of company, he hides his identity under the pose of spoiled cavalier Don Diego to fool his local nemesis Capitán Monastario (Britt Lomond). The series mixes frontier action (lots of horseback chases and western-style action with a dash of swordsmanship) with broad comedy (thanks largely to the indolent Sgt. Garcia, played by Henry Calvin as a thick-headed caricature) and superhero secrecy (Zorro has a secret cave hideaway with a hidden passage from the Diego villa, just like Batman) and the chemistry is still enjoyable after all these years. The series ran for two full seasons and was revived in a series of hour-long episodes on the anthology series “Walt Disney Presents.” Leonard Maltin introduces and hosts the set, which features all 39 half-hour episodes on six discs, plus two bonus Zorro episodes from Walt Disney Presents (with guest stars Gilbert Roland and Rita Moreno) and the twelve-minute featurette “The Life and Legend of Zorro.”
Michael Pollan hosts The Botany of Desire (PBS Home Video), a public television documentary based on his nonfiction book about the way nature caters to human desires to survive, and the way human behavior affects the equation. “As much as it’s a story about plants,” he explains, “it’s a story about human desire,” takes four case studies to make his point: the botanical evolution of and human interaction with apples, tulips, cannibis and potatoes. The observations are enlightening. Arrives on DVD and Blu-ray a week after its debut on public television and features 15 minutes of deleted scenes and half an hour of bonus interviews with Pollan among the supplements.
Star Wars – The Clone Wars: The Complete Season One (Warner) continues the Star Wars saga with an animated series set between the movies Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. It follows the animated feature by the same name, centered on young Anakin Skywalker (aka the boy who will be Darth Vadar) and his young padawan (Jedi-speak for apprentice), Jedi warriors who are literally in the middle of a war. Yoda also makes an appearance to pass on a little sage advice in his usual inside-out speak. It’s surely the best looking animated show on TV and the widescreen frame gives it even more majesty, but there’s just something that rubs me wrong about a kids show where war is glorified and moral lessons are learned in battle. 22 episodes (in seven extended “director’s cut” versions) on four discs in a booklet case, a 64-page scrapbook with sketches, artwork and character designs from the series, and there’s a behind-the-scenes featurette for each episode.