Big Love: The Complete Third Season (HBO) – You’ve got to have big love when you’re juggling three wives in suburbia. True Blood may be HBO’s reigning cult series, but this complicated drama of big love, bigger family and a skewed yet impassioned perspective on family values remains the most interesting and involving show on the premium cable channel. Bill Pullman is Mormon businessman Bill Henrickson, a practicing polygamist with three dedicated wives (elder wife Jeanne Tripplehorn, problem middle wife Chloe Sevigny, and youngest Ginnifer Goodwin) and seven surprisingly well-adjusted children in adjoining houses in a suburban Salt Lake City neighborhood.
In past seasons they’ve been careful to hide the true nature of their arrangement from their more traditional neighbors but secrets have a tendency to leak out. That’s one of the reasons that Bill decides to branch out the family business into gambling and gaming: while a polygamy scandal could tarnish the family-friendly reputation of their appliance and building supplies stores, it’s no big deal in the casino business. But there are always complications and this season they involve the government’s case against self-proclaimed prophet and former compound leader Roman (Harry Dean Stanton), Bill’s nemesis and the dark face of Mormon fundamentalism, and the way he manipulates his daughter (and Bill’s second wife) to infiltrate the prosecution office and sabotage the case. What I’ve always appreciated about the show is the balance between individuals searching for their own identities while unequivocally devoted to family and protective of all of its members, no matter what their conflicted emotions or conflicted loyalties. The final episode of the third season reminds us once again that family is about inclusiveness, forgiveness and acceptance, and it does so with touching conviction. Ten episodes on four discs, plus a trio of three-minute webisodes, which make nice but inconsequential grace notes to the show proper, and four promotional featurettes promoted as bonus “Their Stories So Far” monologues. The new season begins this Sunday and I can’t wait.
Chuck: The Complete Second Season (Warner) – “Chuck, it’s time for you to become a spy.” The fan favorite and but ratings embattled action comedy has been on the bubble of renewal ever since it ended is second season last spring. Well, it’s back for at least another season of secret agent conspiracy melodrama in nerdland and this is the set to catch you up with our story so far. Zachary Levi just keeps getting more fun as the computer geek and electronics-store wage slave whose brain has been turned into a veritable hard drive filled with classified secrets. And sure, the season opens with the mission that should set Chuck free from the burden of being a government asset and part-time spy, but it’s not like that’s really going to happen now, is it? Jordana Brewster (of The Fast and the Furious) appears as Chuck’s college girlfriend turned enemy agent and professional celebrity Nicole Ritchie handles her self admirably as both a comic actress and a spy-movie villainous in her guest appearance, but otherwise the season is about Chuck’s still simmering passion for his CIA handler (Yvonne Strahovski) and his legacy, past and present, as America’s reluctant secret weapon.
22 episodes on six discs in a double-wide case with hinged trays, with the usual collection of featurettes and bonus supplements. “Truth, Spies and Regular Guys” is a basic overview of the characters and the direction they take this season and “Dude in Distress” revisits the best stunts and action scenes, and there’s a series of “Captain Awesome’s Tips for Being Awesome” and “John Casey Presents: So You Want to Be a Deadly Spy” (featuring these priceless pearls of wisdom: “Use discretion. Remember, you can’t un-kill someone.”). The much promoted 3D episode is included, though you wouldn’t know it from the program guide. You have to dig deep through the supplements on disc six to find it and, yes, it’s that eye strain-inducing version with red and green tinted glasses (two pair included), so a sampling may be all you need before returning to the perfectly serviceable 2D version on the set proper. It is a limited offer, however, so act now if you want to own the 3D episode for posterity.
James Purefoy stars as Teddy Rist, jet-setting playboy billionaire partner in a multinational corporation, in The Philanthropist: The Complete Series (Paramount), a short-lived cable show originally made for the USA network. Haunted by the death of his only son, he becomes addicted to philanthropy heroism: he does charitable good, but he likes to do the dirty work himself, whether it’s hauling medical supplies through the jungles of an African country in a drug war or tangling with the Russian mob in Paris to stop sex trafficking. The series, inspired by the hands-on philanthropy of Bobby Sager, mixes current events and political activism in a colorful adventure show, but the narrative structure – each episode is narrated by Teddy to some audience or other, just another story in his whirlwind life – got old fast. It only ran eight episodes before it was canceled, all of them collected in this two-disc set.
Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures – The Complete Series (Paramount) is the 1987 resurrection of the super mouse parody of “Superman” created by Terrytoons in a series of animated theatrical shorts in the forties. Ralph Bakshi is the primary creative mind behind this revival, which plays the premise more as farce, a wacky parody and slapstick satire full of energy and absurdity. The first episode features a reworking of the “Superman” myth for a tongue-in-cheek origin episode (Limburger is his kryptonite) but my favorite addition to the show is the deadpan “Batman” parody Bat-Bat and the Bug Wonder. It’s a pretty weird and kooky show with an anything-goes approach that surely inspired many of the artists whose careers began here, from the exaggerated style and wild humor of John Kricfalusi’s Ren and Stimpy to the bold, slashing artwork and minimalist aesthetic of Bruce Timm’s Batman. Future Pixar director Andrew Stanton (WALL·E and Finding Nemo) and The Simpsons episode director Jim Reardon also get their starts here. The three-disc set features all 19 episodes (with two cartoons per episode), plus three archival Terrytoon “Mighty Mouse” cartoons and new interviews with Bakshi and members of his crew.
Also new this week: Midsomer Murders: Barnaby’s Casebook (Acorn), which collects 17 episodes between the end of season four through the end of season seven (in order), and Super Friends! Season 1 Volume 1 (Warner), the cheesy animated superhero show of the seventies.