Second Sight: The Complete Series (BFS) didn’t launch the career of Clive Owen but it certainly helped establish his credentials as an actor and spread his fame as a rising star. The original two-part 1999 telefilm mystery, written by Paula Milne for British TV, establishes DCI Ross Tanner (Owen), leader of the Special Murder Unit, as intense and driven and brilliant. Unknown to his team, he’s also going blind and desperately trying to conceal it from the world and his coworkers. Claire Skinner is DI Catherine Tully, his new second and a sharp investigator who figures out Tanner’s secret, and forms an uneasy alliance with the boss: she’ll be his eyes, and he’ll see that she gets recognized in the department. Tanner sees his impending blindness as a blow to his abilities and Owen makes him burn with conviction and pride.
His story plays out in three subsequent TV mysteries through 2000, as Tanner becomes increasingly defensive and abrasive while helming high-profile cases and Tully, now his lover as well as his assistant, tiring of being his eyes. Mark Bazeley co-stars as the new man on the squad whose frustrations at being left out of the loop build with each slight. Owen is fearless in the part, a loving but unreliable dad, a brilliant investigator whose increasing isolation alienates his entire unit, and a tormented loner torn up over the inevitable of his career as he can’t even see the faces of his suspects, even as he develops a kind of second sight (which at times hits him like a beanball). Owen isn’t afraid to allow the less attractive features show as he lashes out against his incurable sight and catches others in the crossfire. It came out in what seems like a modern golden age of British mystery TV and it was one of the productions that showed Americans just what we were missing on out network shows: finely honed characters, dark stories and prickly relationships that don’t necessarily get easier with time. The show was released previously in separate volumes. All four telefilms, which showed in the U.S. on the PBS series Mystery!, are now collected in this five-disc set.
Gary Unmarried: The Complete First Season (Disney) is a contemporary sitcom of life after divorce that comes from the same universe of divorced life as Reba and The New Adventures of Old Christine, but this time from a largely male perspective. Jay Mohr is the unmarried Gary of the title, a recently divorced dad jumping back into the dating pool, and Paula Marshall is his ex, who is now dating their old marriage counselor (Ed Begley, Jr.). They spar and spat and trade insults with a mix of intimacy and aggravation that we expect from a screwball sitcom couple of exes who keep tripping back into one another’s lives, thanks to shared custody of adolescent kids, , the long process of dividing up the household and years of routine, while establishing personal boundaries, dealing with parenting issues and, of course, confronting sex and relationships in the newly single world. It’s familiar territory but delivered with a little more snap, thanks to Mohr’s cheeky personality, the fizzy chemistry between Mohr and Marshall, and the momentum provided by sitcom legend James Burrows in the director’s seat. Jaime King co-stars this season as Gary’s first girlfriend since the divorce and their awkward dance of intimacy as single parents (she has her own son) is a nice part of the show, as is the impermanence of the romance. Jumping back into commitment isn’t going to be easy for either of them, especially when the old passions flare up at the end of the season. The set features 20 episodes from the 2008-2009 season and a couple of colorful featurettes. The 15-minute “The Chemistry of Comedy” provides the usual overview with cast and crew interviews and production footage, but it’s Brooks who anchors the piece and, according to the cast, the show itself. Also includes “Tuesday on the Set With Jay” (a tour of the sets with Mohr as our guide) and “Planet Begley” (an introduction to Ed Begley’s campaign of energy conservation and a tour of his “eco-friendly home”) plus the obligatory collection of bloopers. Three discs in a standard case with a hinged tray.
Romola Garai takes on the role of Jane Austen’s presumptuous matchmaker in Emma (2009) (BBC), the latest British miniseries version of the evergreen romantic classic. Garai plays class-conscious arrogance with a dash of modern girl and a lot of confident flirtatiousness, but doesn’t have the spunk or the snappy spark of intelligence of many previous Emmas (including Alicia Silverstone in Clueless). Garai’s incarnation comes off as a silly, supercilious girl rather than an intelligent young woman stuck in her social stereotypes and shallow fantasies of romantic success through an advantageous marriage. But she is a cutie in those period outfits and her girlish smile. A low-key Jonny Lee Miller is charming without cutting a very distinctive figure as her Mr. Knightly and Michael Gambon is priceless as her oblivious father. It’s a handsome production—with all those manor houses and lush, rolling estates, not to mention costumes and carriages and ballrooms of social graces, it’s as gorgeous as a feature film—but a little sluggish at four hours. Arrives on DVD on the heels of its American debut on Masterpiece Classic. The two-disc comes in a clamshell case and includes featurettes on the locations, costumes and music and an interview with Michael Gambon.
J.A.G.: The Final Season (Paramount) – The military legal show created by Donald P. Belisario was considered staid and old-fashioned until it flew under the radar to become a stealth TV hit of its day and spun off the current ratings giant NCIS. The show came to and end in 2005 after ten successful seasons. David James Elliott is Lieutenant Commander Harmon ‘Harm’ Rabb Jr., a former Navy flyer grounded after an accident and reassigned to the elite legal wing of military lawyers and Catherine Bell is his by-the-book Marine partner, Col. Sarah ‘Mac’ MacKenzie. It made for a military twist on the legal drama: J.A.G. is investigator and attorney for internal military cases, trading off between prosecutor and defender on the various cases to which they are assigned. As our heroes were often adversaries, the show was less about winning cases than seeking the truth and negotiating justice. The series ends with Harm and Mac both promoted—and assigned to different bases thousands of miles away, which prompts a series of flashbacks revisiting their complicated history in the series finale. Scott Lawrence, Patrick Labyorteaux, David Andrews, Zoe McLellan and Chris Beetem co-star. 22 episodes on five discs in a box set of three thinpak cases.
The impending release of Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland has created a frenzy of releases of old TV versions (many of them musicals) on DVD, hoping to ride the name to a few sales. Alice Through the Looking Glass (Infinity), a 1966 made-for-TV musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” is one of the less interesting productions, one that drops the familiar Carroll characters in a reworked story that is more Oz than Wonderland. Alice (Judi Rolin, a young woman with a big voice and an impressive delivery) steps through the mirror and follows the blue road on a quest to defeat the Jabberwock (Jack Palance), who is little more than a wicked witch in a black devil bat costume. Alice is greeted by the king and queens who tremble in terror at the thought of the Jabberwock and meets all sorts of colorful characters along the road, including a trio of fairy tale witches, Humpty Dumpty (Jimmy Durante) and Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-dum (Tom and Dick Smothers), who sing her “The Backwards Alphabet.” Shot on video on theatrical-looking studio sets with a celebrity cast, forgettable songs and a canned laugh-track, it’s like a summer stock show with show-biz veterans shamelessly hamming it up to energize an otherwise stagey, blandly silly production. Nanette Fabray, Ricardo Montalban, Agnes Moorehead and Robert Coote play the royal families and Roy Castle is Lester the Jester, a character I don’t remember from any of Lewis Carroll’s works. Apart from the star power, there’s nothing to recommend this version. The video quality is slightly fuzzy with periodic streaks of video instability and interference, but the color is fine and the picture quality quite watchable.
Also new this week: the animated HBO series The Life & Times of Tim: The Complete First Season (HBO), the Lifetime mini-series Maneater (Sony), the 1988 British mini-series The Four Minute Mile (BFS), plus Army Wives: The Complete Third Season (Disney), The Sarah Silverman Program: Season 2 Volume 2 (Paramount) and The Patty Duke Show: The Complete Second Season (Shout! Factory). Because they’re cousins! Identical cousins!
For more DVD releases, see my picks for the week at my blog and my DVD column at MSN.