Mad Men: Season Three (Lionsgate) – Sterling-Cooper is sold to a British firm, the marriage of the suave, successful and philandering Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his steely suburban princess of a wife (January Jones) unravels under his cheating and her frustration, Roger Sterling (John Slattery, the show’s most underrated asset) marries a woman as old as his daughter and Joan (Christina Hendricks) quits her job for married life, which bad news for Joan and for the show.
It’s not to say the season is disappointing, but the characters all seem to get mired in frustration (much of at the hands of the cost-cutting British overlords whittling down Sterling-Cooper for a sale) and it tends to put a damper on the drama as well, at least until the final episodes, when Don steels himself to make a change and brings along a small crew of conspirators (who just happen to be the most interesting characters from the firm). The energy that buzzes through the final episode isn’t just the daring of their plan and the momentum of the episode, it’s the feeling of these characters rousing themselves to a challenge and being inspired by new possibilities. Which will have to wait until nest season to play. No spoilers except maybe one: welcome back, Joan! We really, really missed you. Each of the 13 episodes on DVD and Blu-ray feature commentary tracks by Matthew Weiner with members of the cast and crew, and there are featurettes on key historic moments referenced in the series and on the artist who creates the ad art for the pitch meetings on the show (and all this time you thought it was Salvatore). No high-concept case this time, which is just fine by me. A simple case is a lot easier to use.
Patrick McGoohan’s brilliant sixties series, the most cerebral, surreal and existential spy show ever made, is not so much remade as “reinterpreted” (and drastically condensed) for the 21st Century in The Prisoner (2009) (Warner), a six-part mini-series made for AMC. James Caviezel is 6 in this take, not a government agent but an information analyst who quits a shady multinational corporation and ends up in The Village, which in this incarnation appears to be some kind of experiment in mind control and social engineering, and may in fact be something far more cerebral.
The producers approach the concept with all due seriousness and, for all the enigmatic details, a literalness that loses the dark humor, satirical wit and the allegorical resonance of the original. Characters all have backstories from the real world, 2 (a dapper Ian McKellen with an insincere smile) is a cheery despot as manipulative puppetmaster who is never replaced with a new Number 2, and the Village more like Dark City than a forced retirement home for spies to valuable too let loose. The original was a brilliant satire of political gamesmanship and power under the guise of democracy and freedom. This gets enigma right, but it doesn’t manage to turn it into a compelling mystery or an involving journey. Between the brilliant mix of political satire and conceptual surrealism of the original show and the dense conspiratorial creations of modern shows like The X-Files and Lost, this feels both too much and too little, frustratingly literal and too explained. Hayley Atwell, Ruth Wilson and Lennie James are other victims of the mindgames, all with their own arcs. I just wish it was more interesting. The three-disc set features commentary on the first and final episodes (not particularly enlightening, for all the motivations they reveal), two behind-the-scenes featurettes (about 15 minutes apiece), a brief, light interview with Ian McKellan and clips from the panel discussion at “The Prisoner Comic-Con Panel” that also doesn’t shed much light on anything.
In case the title doesn’t clue you in, Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire (Paramount) is spoof of sword and sorcery fantasy adventure: a little bit of Lord of the Rings, a bit of 300, a little bit of Conan and a lot of juvenile humor, bathroom jokes and innuendo-laden dialogue. Sean Maguire is the well meaning but not-too-bright warrior leader of a band of resistance fighters against a power-mad chancellor (Little Britain star Matt Lucas) who, luckily for them, isn’t much smarter. His crew isn’t exactly the A-team: female pagan warrior Aneka (India de Beaufort), for whom “Sex is just another weapon in my arsenal” and underwear is optional, self-proclaimed wizard Zezelryck (Kevin Hart), who lacks any discernible magic but talks a good story, loyal brute Loquasto (Steve Speirs), a half-pig servant and a menace with a crossbow (to his own crew, that is), and Bruce (Marques Ray), the flamboyantly gay lover of the former leader of the resistance. Michael Gambon (Professor Dumbledor himself) gives it a touch of mocking class as the narrator and Lord of the Rings co-star John Rhys-Davies has a small role as a wizard. Running only six episodes (the first two episodes are combined into a single presentation for disc), this unlikely co-production between Comedy Central and the BBC has better production values than you might expect for a half-hour comedy (it was shot in Hungary, where you can really stretch a production dollar) but not much of a story. And though it ends with the possibility of further adventures, this dysfunctional band of brothers (and one hot sister) is unlikely to ride again. Features deleted and extended scenes, an alternative opening sequence with an alternate narrator, outtakes, ten minutes of cast interviews and a behind-the-scenes tour. But I do love the title.
Also new this week: 7th Heaven: The Tenth Season (Paramount), Father Knows Best: Season Four (Shout! Factory), and Sabrina, The Teenage Witch: The Sixth Season (Paramount).