Human Target: The Complete First Season (Warner) – Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) is the kind of hero for hire that you can only find in comic books, movies and TV shows, a professional bodyguard who signs on to high-risk clients and puts himself directly into the line of fire. Chance is not, of course, his real name, and you might say his identity is shrouded in mystery, except that such language doesn’t fit the playful, energetic personality that Valley brings to Chance: the benevolence of boy scout, the skills of a special forces veteran, the focus of a martial arts master and the fun-loving charm of a Stan Lee superhero.
The TV incarnation, based on a series of comic books and graphic novels created by Len Wein and Carmine Infantino, is highlighted by some impressive action scenes in inventive locales; the first episode sets the chase and showdown on a runaway bullet train, the second battles it out on a pilotless airliner that turns upside down in a storm, and so on. Chance treats every situation as a challenge to be conquered but he’s also fiercely protective of his clients, who are chosen by virtue of innocence and need by Chance’s manager and special ops point man Winston (Chi McBride), the straight man to Chance’s pulp banter. Jackie Earl Haley fills out the team as Guerrero, the eccentric computer genius and electronics expert who provides back-up and attitude. In the first episode he’s basically a freelance stringer called in as needed but soon enough he moves into the funky warehouse headquarters, which looks like the millionaire bachelor loft of an overgrown adolescent.
The episodes, largely self-contained with a thread of conspiratorial danger as an enemy from Chance’s less heroic past starts catching up with him, play out with a snappy energy and easy-going humor, thanks to the chemistry of these three and the dynamic action direction by such big screen veterans as Simon West (who helms the pilot) and Kevin Hooks. And that past finally catches up with them in the season finale, which is framed by a flashback to Chance’s mercenary past and the birth of his partnership with Winston and Guerrero. It’s a cliffhanger, of course, that concludes in opening of the second season (already under way), but it does feature one great revelation: Winston’s first name (and why he refuses to tell it to anyone).
12 episodes on three discs in a standard case with a hinged tray, plus commentary on the pilot episode by executive producers Jonathan Steinberg and Peter Johnson and stars Mark Valley and Chi McBride, deleted scenes and featurettes. The 15-minute “Human Target: Confidential Informant” traces the show from the original comic book through the changes made for the TV incarnation and “Full Contact Television” examines the stunts and action scenes and the symphonic score that helps provide the show its larger-than-life quality.
Caprica: Season 1.0 (Universal) – The planetbound prequel to Battlestar Galactica winds back 58 years before the fall of Caprica to give offer an almost dynastic drama of two families—the Graystones and the Adamas—in a world where technology is creeping into dangerous territory and religious terrorists are (like the Cylons of the future) willing to kill in the name of the one true religion of a single, all-knowing God. Esai Morales is Joseph Adama (the future grandfather of Battlestar‘s Commander William Adama), a lawyer with connections to the mob, and Eric Stoltz is Daniel Graystone, a technology entrepreneur working on military robotics that will evolve into the Cylons. They have only one thing in common: both lost daughters to a terrorist attack, and both girls are brought back as living entities trapped in the digital world.
The visual identity of the show in more interesting than the drama so far, with the creators accentuating the cityscape of Vancouver, Canada (where the series is shot) with CGI enhancements and additions to create this faraway urban culture from a parallel technological world. The cyber underground is equally intriguing, a dystopia of excess and lawlessness created by its young users as a dark fantasy escape from society, and as one ghost in the machine discovers that the laws that govern the human avatar existence don’t apply to her we get close to the idea of not just an artificial intelligence but a kind of digital life-force independent of the programming and the human users. The rest is as much soap opera as science fiction drama and it struggles to find its identity across a spectrum of storylines that don’t seem to connect up in the same reality: experiments in artificial intelligence in combat robots, a gangster culture with obvious echoes of the Sicilian mafia in New York, a terrorist subculture of religious extremists and the ghosts of the dead trapped in the machine of cyberspace. Only in the final episodes does it seem to pull these together into something at least potentially interesting, and SyFy is giving the series another shot to pull these ideas into a coherent drama with new episodes that have already started..
Nine episodes on four discs, with an extended, unrated version of the pilot (previously released individually on DVD and featuring nudity not seen on TV) and commentary on three episodes (including the extended pilot) by executive producer/writer Ronald D. Moore, executive producers Jane Espenson and David Eick and director Jeffrey Reiner. There are featurettes on the origins of the story, the design and retro-stylings of the world and the special effects of the show, along with video blogs, podcasts and dozens of deleted scenes. A well-produced package, to be sure, but this show just doesn’t have the dramatic strength or mythic resonance of the superior Battlestar Galactica. At least not yet. The next round of episodes will decide its fate.
Bones: The Complete Fifth Season (Fox) – The fifth season of the high-concept forensic mystery series starring Emily Deschanel as forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan and David Boreanaz as F.B.I agent Seeley Booth is all about character. Sure, there are all those high-concept mysteries involving the remains of human victims that only the crack team of scientists at the Jeffersonian Institute, a cultural entity that is ostensibly tasked with investigating archeological finds, is equipped to identify and understand, and all the science jargon geek-speak from the civilian scientists that shows like CSI has made a familiar convention on forensic procedural TV. But the chemistry of the characters, notably the all-American soldier turned tough but sensitive FBI investigator Booth and his socially oblivious but scientifically brilliant partner Bones, is what makes the show such good company. While a palpable romantic tension is present throughout the show—and especially in an inventive 100th episode, a flashback to their “first meeting” that plays out the creation of the original Jeffersonian team—the friendship and affection they have for one another is the heart of the show. The season ends with the team breaking up, but fear not: it’s just an excuse to bring them back in dramatic fashion in the sixth season. 22 episodes on six discs in a standard case with hinged trays, plus commentary an two episodes, extended versions of two episodes, featurettes and deleted scenes.
Subtitled “The Obsessively Complete Collection,” neatly-packed box set Monk: The Complete Series (Universal) collects all eight seasons of mysteries solved by Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub), America’s OCD Sherlock Holmes with a fear of heights, of the dark, of germs, and pretty much everything else. Bitty Schram is his nurse and Dr. Watson, Sharona, in the initial episodes, until she leaves in season three, replaced by Traylor Howard as his new assistant Natalie Teeger, a single mother who becomes his straight-talking Girl Friday and carves a place for herself in the series from her first appearance. The gimmick gets tiring, I confess, but Shalhoub is funny as the jittery, phobic genius who can’t cope with a simple handshake and Ted Levine is marvelous as his true (and still sometimes exasperated) friend. And the show ends with Monk finally solving the murder that has haunted him throughout the series: the finds the man who killed his wife. 125 episodes on 32 discs in eight standard cases with hinged trays (very efficient and it’s even color coordinated), with all the supplements of the earlier releases: commentary on numerous episodes, featurettes, interviews, character profiles, webisodes and other goodies. Exclusive to the set is an episode guide and a collectible booklet (with detective tips from Monk!).
In the alternate reality of the Comedy Central original series Ugly Americans: Volume One (Paramount), the Department of Integration reaches out to a decidedly colorful array of immigrants with their own unique cultural challenges and coping issues. We’re talking aliens, zombies, robots, yetis, giant apes and other magical creatures, and hapless human social worker Mark Lilly, the bleeding heart do-gooder in a department filled with slacker wizards, demons plotting the end of days and trigger-happy bigots out to deport all non-humans, is just the man to ease their transition to living in New York City. It’s another Comedy Central show with non-sequitur gags, absurdist humor and all the sexual innuendo and inappropriate subject you could hope for, but it’s funnier than most, and I love the Charles Burns-influence artwork. New episodes are already running. Seven episodes on a single disc, plus commentary, webisodes and art galleries.
Dangerous Knowledge: The Complete ITV Series (VCI) – This odd but interesting British mini-series from 1976 stars John Gregson as a freelance intelligence agent (under the guise of an insurance salesman) on the trail of something big and Prunella Ransome as a seemingly innocent bystander who helps him escape shady pursuers and ends up more involved that either of them expected. More John Le Carre than MI-5, it plays out in a series of six half-hour episodes, shot in the distinctive mix of film and video common to British TV of the era. It works pretty well in this smartly-tuned piece, but for some reason it’s presented in non-anamorphic widescreen with the top and bottom of the TV image cut off, and this incorrect framing makes many scenes visibly awkward. Another British limited series from the seventies, Scarf Jack: Complete Series (VCI), also hit DVD recently.
Also new on DVD: Baseball: The Tenth Inning (Paramount), The Queen (Acorn), Spike TV’s Blue Mountain State: Season One (Lionsgate), Being Human: Season Two (BBC) (which hit DVD and Blu-ray in September but mine arrived only this week), Medium: The Sixth Season (Paramount), Gunsmoke: The Fourth Season, Volume 1 (Paramount), and Two and a Half Men: The Complete Seventh Season (Warner).