Heroes: Season Four (Universal) – The hit show of the 2007 TV season, a live action graphic novel of ordinary humans with superhuman abilities, never regained the energy, creativity or popularity of its debut. The fourth season couldn’t stop the hemorrhaging viewership, even with the addition of the dark carnival and its vengeful ringmaster Samuel (Robert Knepper) trying to seduce our heroes in his fold and sacrificing others for his own ends. He’s a smooth, seductive sociopath who feeds off the powers of others, and charms them into remaining loyal even as his temper tantrums lay waste to entire towns.
Other storylines send Claire (Hayden Panettiere) to college (where she finds a girlfriend!), Hiro (Masi Oka) bouncing through time trying fix mistakes at the cost of his own health, and Sylar (Zachary Quinto) into a whole new identity with the help of a lot of mental surgery, a bunch of twists without any solid story to hold it together. The season finale ends with the promise of “Volume Six: Brave New World,” and a “To Be Continued…,” but it was cancelled long before the episode ever aired. A special introduction the finale by creator Tim Kring promises that the storyline will continue in some form. Maybe a comic series, a la Buffy and Angel?
18 episodes on five discs (four discs on Blu-ray) in a fold-out digipak, with cast and crew commentary on four episodes and a collection of interview featurettes—”Deconstructing Sylar” with Tim Kring and Zachary Quinto, “Milo Speaks” with Milo Ventimiglia and “Heroes Revolution” with Tim Kring and friends discussing the web series. The most interesting supplements the 42-minute “Genetics of a Scene” collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes on key scenes from the season, with an emphasis on creating the effects. Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition is the “Behind the Big Top Tour,” a “U-Control” picture-in-picture track and access to character bios. Also exclusive to the Blu-ray: Universal tries out a new tray design with small plastic clamps to hold the rim of the disc in place of traditional center spindles. Not that Universal asked me, but my vote on the new design is “no.” The discs all had slipped out in shipping, were difficult to put back into place and even harder to dig out of the overlapping design. I eventually got the hang of it, but not before the discs slipped and slid all over, at one point clattering to the floor. Not the best way to protect an investment. The DVD set uses the more traditional overlapping jewel-case-style tray in a fold-out digipak case.
Mercy: The Complete Series (Universal) – “Mike, I am all messed up.” No shit, Veronica. In the TV world of tough-as-nails nurses with screwed-up private lives, Hawthorne has nothing on Veronica Callahan (Taylor Schilling), a short-fuse veteran back from Iraq with a lot of unresolved issues, including PTSD, potential alcoholism (which is already ruling her parents’ lives), a marriage on the rocks and a battlefield affair that follows her home when the doctor (James Tupper) takes a job at her New Jersey municipal hospital. Her solution is to simply ignore the problems and bulldoze her way through the day-to-day emergencies with an attitude that would get her bounced from any real-life hospital, even before she tosses a cinderblock through the windshield of the car owned by a particularly obnoxious doctor.
The show, which was cancelled after its one and only season, plays like a dysfunctional ER from the perspective of the nursing staff (including Jaime Lee Kirchner as a commitment-phobic best friend and Michelle Trachtenberg as the bubbly young trainee with a gift for medicine), full of dire cases, dramatic emergencies (Veronica gets buried in a collapsed building!) and lots of melodrama, romantic and otherwise. James LeGros is an unpleasant doc with a stick up his ass who becomes more human through the course of the show (though still maintains his caustic attitude) and James van Der Beek co-stars as yet another arrogant, headstrong doc with a ferocious drive and a troubled past. For what it’s worth, I find this portrait of screw-up medical professionals more interesting than Hawthorne but far more conventional and clichéd than Nurse Jackie. 22 episodes on five discs in a digipak, with commentary on two episodes, an extended “Director’s Cut” of the finale (which is loaded with cliffhangers never to be resolved) and interview featurettes on the cast and guest stars.
Stargate Universe: SGU 1.5 (MGM) – The SyFy channel takes its most successful franchise into the gritty, volatile territory of Battlestar Galactica with Stargate Universe SGU, which follows a group of officers, soldiers, scientists and civilians trapped on an ancient space ship seven billion light years from home. The change in style and tone (this is dark, desperate and filled with internal conflict) has polarized fans of the franchise but it also attracted a whole new audience to the show, who responded to the dramatic tension of the volatile personality mix and to the emphasis on the unknown and the practical challenges of the mission: getting home is the goal, but food, water, oxygen and medicine (developed from finds on alien planets) are the first priorities. I’m one of the new fans; I never responded to the previous Stargate shows, but I find this quite fascinating.
In the final 10 episodes of first season collected on this three-disc set, they deal with the struggle between civilian and military rule, attacks from an alien race and an invasion from a very hostile force, in addition to a potentially destructive conflict between the military commander (Louis Ferreira) and the scientific genius (Robert Carlyle) whose expertise comes at a price. Features commentary for each episode (by various actors and members of the production), 15 behind-the-scenes featurettes and extended versions of the “Kino Video Diaries” seen in the series, among the supplements. The cliffhanger ending won’t be resolved until the second season begins in September 2010.
Henson’s Place (Lionsgate) – Extensive Jim Henson interviews and behind-the-scenes peaks at the Henson workshop highlight this 1984 TV documentary, which focuses on his post-Sesame Street work, from The Muppet Show to his feature films. It’s not the best documentary made on Henson and his creations but it does show plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, filming the shows or just trying out creations in the famed Creature Shop. The British /American production (with emphasis on the British; the approach is right out of the Omnibus style of journalistic arts documentary) was made as production was just beginning on what would become the film Labyrinth. The disc includes “The Amphibian 1985 / 86,” a 28-minute featurette featuring stills and art from the Jim Henson Company Yearbook and narration by Henson company creative director Michael Frith.
Presented by historian David Starkey, Monarchy: The Complete Series (Athena) details the history of the British monarchy and its evolution from the nation state created by the Anglo-Saxons in the 12th century through to the present incarnation. This British documentary series was originally produced and shown in 2003 in the UK and the U.S., but this edition presents the longer, uncut UK version previously unseen in the U.S. 16 hour-long episodes on five discs in a box set of five thinpak cases, plus a 16-page booklet.
Also new this week: British mystery mini-series High Tide (VCI) with Ian McShane, Lytton’s Diary: Complete Collection (Acorn), The Agatha Christie Hour: Set 1 (Acorn), Hawaii Five-0: The Ninth Season (Paramount)
For more DVD releases, see my picks for the week at my blog and my DVD column at MSN.