The pick for the week is not anything new but the Blu-ray debut of a classic: The Twlight Zone: Season 1 Blu-ray, reviewed on my blog here. I also featured one of my favorite shows in another DVD/Blu-ray release: Sons of Anarchy: Season Two, reviewed here. But this a month dominated by new shows and network productions rolling out as the fall TV season begins. Here are a few of the highlights from this week.
Neither nighttime soap opera nor tabloid exploitation, The Good Wife: The First Season (Paramount) is a classic legal drama reframed with a ripped-from-the-headlines twist. Julianna Margulies’ Alicia Florrick is the publicly loyal but privately ambivalent wife of a disgraced Chicago politician (Chris Noth), who resigns in the face of a sex scandal. “Six months later,” Alicia goes back to work as the junior attorney at a firm run by an old friend and colleague (Josh Charles) while her husband (now in prison) fights his conviction for corruption. The cases are pretty conventional, what with a firm that (with exceptions) manages to represent only innocent clients and consistently Perry Mason-style last-minute saves with evidence that reveals the true culprits (and, more often than not, humiliates the man who took down Alicia’s husband). What makes them interesting is how the cases reflect back on her struggle with her marriage and her loyalty to a man who wants to rebuild his political career and needs her support. Noth makes the husband a wonderful set of contradictions and questions and Margulies grounds the courtroom tactics and law-office politics with a compelling personal journey as her husband tries to rebuild his political career even as his appeal is barely underway and she has to decide if she trusts him anymore.
Along with the 23 episodes of the debut season are commentary tracks on three episodes and deleted scenes with optional commentary, plus two substantial documentaries. The featurette “Aftermath: Real Life Events” reflects on the inspirations for the show, why these scandals fascinate us and why the producers chose to tell this story. “The Education of Alicia Florrick: Making Season One” is a detailed 75-minute multi-part documentary tracing the creation and evolution of the series, with a lot of information on locations and costuming as well as character, casting and storylines. The new season begins in late September.
Glee: The Complete First Season (Fox) – Gleeks will sing for joy that the complete first season of High School Nerds Musical: The Series is now on DVD, fresh from winning four Emmy Awards for comedy (including Ryan Murphy for directing the pilot, Jane Lynch as Supporting Actress and Neil Patrick Harris as guest actor). Matthew Morrison is Spanish teacher Will Schuester, who bucks convention by reviving the Glee club in a Midwest high school where football is king and the cheerleading squad is national champion, taking on the guerrilla war started by the drill sergeant of a cheer coach (and former special forces soldier) Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) who resorts to sabotage to protect her budget allocation. Along with the usual stereotypes the group includes a gay teen, a handicapped geek who plays a mean guitar, a pregnant teen and a football hero with anger management issues. The adults, meanwhile, have their own issues.
Self-aware and culturally savvy, this is as clever a show as there is on network television, and it bursts with energetic production number in every episode, set to a wide array of song choices from Broadway standards to classic rock songs and ballads to hip-hop, rap and contemporary hits (there are episodes devoted to the music of Madonna and Lady Gaga). The series was a surprise hit, enchanting critics and audiences alike, and is the rare show to find both a large general audience and a passionate following of obsessive fans, and not just among the theater geeks and music video fans. There’s romance, melodrama, teen pregnancy, dirty tricks and a couple of song and dance numbers in every episode. Who says the musical is dead?
The first thirteen episodes were previously released in a four-disc set. This release collects the complete run of 22 episodes, including the previously unavailable all Madonna episode and the Joss Whedon-directed episode with Neil Patrick Harris, plus plenty of featurettes on the choreography, costuming, the Madonna episode a and the Bohemian Rhapsody production number for the season finale, plus a video jukebox of the featured songs throughout the season and video karaoke of 15 select songs from. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is visual commentary on the pilot with the cast and crew. If you already bought the Vol. 1 – Road to the Sectionals and just want to complete the episodes, you can also get the final nine episodes on Glee: Season One, Vol. 2 – Road to the Regionals separately on DVD (but not Blu-ray).
Fringe: The Complete Second Season (Warner) – The second season of the trippiest series on network TV takes fringe science into another dimension, and that dimension is fighting back. I confess that I was resistant during the first season and almost gave but for the enthusiasm of a few respected friends. I caught with it for the second half and the story started to really come together in the last episodes. This season weaves its pattern from the season premiere and just gets better. Straight-laced FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) rediscovers her forgotten childhood as an experimental subject and the socially unstable super-genius Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble) faces the human cost of his past experiments, but the episode that shifts the ground under the show is the story of “Peter” (Joshua Jackson), the parallel universe and a transgression that is now unraveling emotionally and physically. There’s also a film noir sci-fi musical episode with cadavers who sit up to sing a song, backstory on Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) including the event that cost her an arm and an unexpected past with FBI Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick), and a more active role for Jasika Nicole’s Agent Astrid Farnsworth, still playing lab assistant and babysitter to Walter Bishop but getting out of the lab more often.
Features the 22 official episodes of the season plus “Unearthed,” an unaired first season production run in the middle of the second season, and the dense, information-packed 26-minute featurette “The Mythology of Fringe,” which explores the major narrative threads and concepts of the second season. Also features commentary on four episodes, brief featurettes on six key episodes, a lab tour and deleted scenes. As a side note, I did a set visit earlier in 2010 for MSN and my feature (including interviews with Blair Brown, Jasika Nicole, Lance Reddick and John Noble) is here.
Sherlock Holmes (1964-1965) (BBC) – Douglas Wilmer plays the world’s greatest detective in this BBC series, a B&W production which was performed live and preserved on primitive videotape. Given the technical limitations of the source material, it’s visually weak but he’s a worthy Holmes, crisply logical and not as rude as he is simply oblivious to social niceties, and genuinely appreciative of Watson, played by Nigel Stock as observant and intelligent (if not nearly so brilliant). Wilmer left the show after the first series and Peter Cushing stepped into the role for the next run of episodes, which were produced in color. The Cushing episodes were release on DVD in 2009 but this is the debut for Wilmer’s run. 11 episodes on two discs, including the pilot “The Speckled Band.”
The League: The Complete First Season (Fox) – This male-centric sitcom from FX revolves around the antics of five buddies whose fantasy football league dominates their lives. Mark Duplass is the three-time league champ whose obsession with winning a fourth make-believe football championship threatens his marriage, which he doesn’t appear to notice until too late, and Paul Scheer, Steven Rannazzisi and Nick Kroll are his very competitive league buddies. The sports obsession angle is really just a frame for a comedy of oblivious males and competitive posturing, and it’s far less raunchy than you might expect. The debut season runs a mere six episodes but the DVD and Blu-ray releases feature extended versions of each episode, plus deleted scenes, brief featurettes and the pilot episode to the animated spy spoof Archer. The second season is now underway on FX.
Late summer/early fall is an absurdly busy time for DVD releases, as everyone wants to get last season’s set out in advance of the new broadcast season. So along with the above releases are Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Sixth Season (Disney), Private Practice: The Complete Third Season (Disney) and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Complete Season (Fox), all serving as both recap and advertisement for the upcoming season. Also new this week are the documentary series America: The Story of Us (A&E) and the PBS documentary Rock Prophecies (PBS).