Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (Mill Creek) – Ben Vereen is E.L. “Tenspeed” Turner, a con man on parole who has no intention of reforming his ways. Jeff Goldblum is Lionel “Brown Shoe” Whitney, a wide-eyed, ridiculously earnest stockbroker who leaves Wall Street for a fledgling private eye practice, drawing his inspiration and education from hard-boiled crime novels he reads through every episode. Created by Stephen J. Cannell (who cameos in each episode through the dust jacket of the detective novels), this comic detective series is part old-school private-eye spoof and part colorful crime series with witty writing and lightfingered style. Hip-to-be-square Lionel falls for every dame who hires him (whether they are actually damsels in distress or femme fatales—he idealizes them all) while the more skeptical and practical Tenspeed scams and schemes his way through every case under a series of disguises and improvised identities, usually saving Lionel from his own gullibility and naïve honesty.
The cult series ran for a mere thirteen episodes in 1980. This three-disc set feature the twelve hour-long shows but is missing the terrific feature-length telefilm pilot that introduced the characters and their volatile partnership. The masters are a little soft but quite watchable and there are no supplements. The case eschews traditional trays for a curious but effectively designed keep case that holds the discs in separate paper sleeves stacked in a snug holder. It’s not so efficient for a collection this small but it does the job fine.
Judge John Deed: Season One & Pilot Episode (BBC) – John Deed (Martin Shaw), a former defense barrister turned judge, is a far cry from the judicial referee we expect from High Court Judge. Justice trumps the letter of the law for Deed, which puts him in the cross hairs of the police, the Crown Prosecutors and even the government. Shaw plays the maverick character as a driven and dedicated official with questionable romantic decisions, including a running affair with a dedicated female attorney (Jenny Seagrove) and a dicey affair with the wife of a government official trying to end his career, and a running battle with a legal system that always seems to break down on his watch. He’s an engaging character to be sure, but even if you appreciate his dedication and his compassion, he’s the very definition of an “activist judge,” bending tradition and law and stepping far outside the bounds of his responsibilities to see that victims get their justice. The three-disc set features five feature-length episodes from 2001 in a standard case with a hinged tray.
Jackie, Jermaine, Tito and Marlon Jackson—essentially all the Jackson siblings who aren’t Michael and Janet—reunited for a new album and 40th anniversary concert in 2009, and they built a reality show around it. The six-part The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty (A&E) wound up with more, unplanned drama when Michael Jackson died early in the filming. Otherwise, Michael and Janet are conspicuously absent (apart from archival clips and soundtrack music) from this series.
Oxford professor Marcus du Sautoy manages to make the origin and evolution of mathematics, from ancient Egypt to the 21st Century, not just relevant but interesting in the British documentary series The Story of Math (Athena), which carries the original British title on the actual episodes (“The Story of Maths,” and I still can’t get used that distinctively English pluralization). The 1991 British documentary miniseries Legacy: The Origins of Civilization (Acorn) also arrives in a box set.
Also new this week is The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Set One (Acorn), the first two mysteries from the 1970s series, The Real Housewives of New Jersey: Season 1 (A&E), Steven Seagal: Lawman: The Complete Season One (A&E) and The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Set 2 (A&E).
For more DVD releases, see my picks for the week at my blog and my DVD column at MSN.