Dollhouse: The Complete Season 2 (Fox) – The second and final season of Joss Whedon’s high-concept action conspiracy series was less a renewal than a brief reprieve. The low rated show about identity, control and people used as empty vessels for corporate power only got an additional 13 episodes before it was cancelled for good, but they are inventive episodes filled with hidden agendas, double-edged writing and characters the ping-pong between personalities. Eliza Dushku stars as Echo, the star player in the lineup of human “dolls” uploaded with entire personalities and skill sets, and it becomes clear this season that she is holding on to pieces of her imprints as she goes through her assignments. Harry Lennix, her handler in the first season, is promoted to head of security, Tahmoh Penikett the former FBI agent who joins the company as Echo’s new handler and partner in taking it down and Olivia Williams the head of the Los Angeles branch. Meanwhile the supporting cast of doll operatives (Enver Gjokaj, Dichen Lachman, Miracle Laurie and Amy Acker) all evolve and even the resident tech boy nerd genius Topher (Fran Kranz) gets a romantic interest—in guest star Summer Glau (from Whedon’s Firefly).
Sorting through the motivations and the prime personas working their way through the imprinted personalities gives multiple levels to the drama while the moral implications take on epic proportions when the technology that wipes and imprints personalities is honed to operate at a distance, on civilians as well as dolls. And just wait until you get to finally explore “the attic.” Whedon didn’t have time to create a neat conclusion but he makes the edgy implications of the final episodes zing and caps the show with “Epitaph 2: The Return,” a sequel to the “Dollhouse” apocalypse episode from the first series. The series finale jumps ahead decades and is remarkably satisfying. Though not quite self-contained, the show has a remarkable integrity for being so brief (a mere 26 episodes over two short seasons) and invites repeat viewings.
13 episodes on four discs. Features commentary by Josss Whedon on the second season premier episode and writers Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen on one episode, and two featurettes. “Defining Moments” is not a highlights reel but a remembrance of the second season by the cast and creators (among other things, they recall the moment they were told it was cancelled) and “Looking Back” is a 16-minute discussion with Whedon, Dushku and the cast over a reunion dinner. Also features seven deleted scenes, a five-minute outtake reel and a mini “Dollhouse” comic book.
The Tudors: The Final Season (Paramount) – The final ten episodes of Showtime’s lusty take on the historical drama winds down to wives five and six of the not-so-young King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), and the once entertaining web of court intrigue and political calculation winds down with it. Most interesting is watching the once-banished daughter Mary (Sarah Bolger) learn the ways of court power and survival from Henry, but the rest of the royal shenanigans become plodding and, historical expectations aside, fairly predictable as Rhys Meyers slows down under the age make-up. This season features Tamzin Merchant as 17-year-old fifth wife Catherine Howard (an unsophisticated and far too naïve girl to survive this court), Joely Richardson as the mature sixth wife Catherine Parr and Lothaire Bluteau as French Ambassador Charles de Marillac, while Joss Stone returns as Anne of Cleves (much closer to Henry now that they are divorced) and dead wives return as unsettled spirits to visit the dying king. 10 episodes on three discs, plus bonus episodes of other Showtime original series.
The Mentalist: The Complete Second Season (Warner) – Former stage psychic turned investigative consultant Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) continues his search for Red John, the serial killer who murdered his wife and daughter, in the second season of the crime procedural. Think of him as Monk with an inability to stop himself from grandstanding at the scene of every investigation. He’s still a showman whose flamboyance and chaotic methods often try the patience of his boss (Robin Tunney) and the show relies too much in his gifts and insights to find the truths that the veteran investigators miss. He’s basically a bored genius who gets his kicks by tweaking authority and playing games with suspects and it becomes tiresome over the course of a season, I confess. But the show gets more interesting when he falls for a psychic (Leslie Hope) who isn’t a fake (or at least she believes so) and Red John gets directly involved in his investigations, first when the case is given to another unit (led by Terry Kinney) and then in the finale, when copycats start mimicking his motus operandi. You don’t incur the wrath of Red John and live. 23 episodes on five discs in a standard case with hinged trays, plus the featurette “Art of a Mentalist,” 11 short pieces with real-life mentalist Luke Jermay and the cast, and ten deleted scenes.
Family Guy: Partial Terms of Endearment (Fox) – What does it take for Family Guy to be too offensive for TV? Apparently Seth MacFarlane met the challenge with this episode that Fox refused to air (though it did air in other countries). Apart from the usual level of sexual references and inappropriate behavior, this episode mines gags from artificial insemination, attempted miscarriage (played out like a Road Runner cartoon) and abortion. It’s not particularly funny, but it does push the offensiveness quotient beyond anything the series has done in the past. Which for some fans will be exactly what they’re looking for. The single-episode disc includes the uncensored episode with commentary by MacFarlane, writer Danny Smith, director Joseph Lee and actress Alex Borstein, a table read, “The Seth and Alex Almost Live Comedy Show” and songs from the show (only accessible by computer via DVD-ROM drive).
Scrubs: The Complete Collection (ABC/Disney) – The high-spirited med-school sitcom followed boyish and goofy nice guy J.D. (Zach Braff), best friend surgical resident Turk (Donald Faison) and highly strung Elliot (Sarah Chalke) from internship to medical career for nine seasons (well, eight and a half anyway, with an abbreviated final season with a largely new cast). All 182 episodes of the Looney Toons take on “ER” are collected in this 26-discs set in a binder-like volume in a box that vaguely resembles a doctor’s clipboard. Along with the commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes and other supplements from the original releases, this set includes an exclusive bonus disc with more supplements and quizzes, plus a mock hospital ID and a photo strip with cast snapshots.
And there are more complete collections, rolling out for the holiday gift season: Benny Hill: The Thames Years 1969-1989 – The Complete Megaset (A&E), and 18-disc set featuring all 58 hour-long episodes of Hill’s music hall slapstick silliness and saucy humor, and Rumpole of the Bailey: The Complete Series (A&E) with Leo McKern in 42 episodes on 14 discs. Both are boxed up in thinpak cases, with two discs per case making it the most efficient packaging to date.
Also new this week: Inspector Lewis 3 (PBS), All In The Family: The Complete Seventh Season (Shout! Factory), Two and a Half Men: The Complete Seventh Season (Warner), Criminal Justice 2 (BFS), Wolverine And The X-Men: The Complete Series (Lionsgate) and the holiday specials ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: Deluxe Edition (Warner) and It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (Universal).