Parks and Recreation: Season Two (Universal) – Amy Poehler is Leslie Knope, the passionately driven Deputy Director of the Pawnee, Indiana, Parks and Recreation Department, in this sitcom from the creators of the American The Office in the same reality series/mock-documentary style (now becoming a sitcom format in its own right beyond the reality-TV reference—just see how Modern Family has offered its own take on it). After establishing itself in an abbreviated six-episode first season it defines its own sense of personality and chemistry in a full second season, where the supporting cast comes into its own: Rashida Jones as her clear-thinking best friend Ann, Nick Offerman as her militantly libertarian yet unexpectedly supportive boss (he’d like nothing more than to privatize the local government), Aziz Ansari as the would-be office player, Aubrey Plaza as a glum office intern and Chris Pratt as the cheerful doofus trying to win Jones back with schemes that he hasn’t quite thought through.
Poehler’s Leslie is no Michael Scoot blowhard but a spunky government bureaucrat who genuinely loves her job and takes public service seriously, which is fine by her co-workers since it means they can goof off while she does all the work. Along with the office politics and petty turf wars of municipal government and small town bureaucracy there is the obligatory romantic travails as the man of Leslie’s dreams (Paul Schneider) starts dating Ann and Leslie steps into the dating pool with mixed results (from near successes with Louis CK as a nice-guy cop and Justin Theroux as a globetrotting attorney to a predictably disastrous blind date with Will Arnett, Poehler’s real-life husband). As in The Office, this talented ensemble warps sitcom conventions with superb improv byplay, and the season ends with new elements tossed into the chemistry: Rob Lowe and Adam Scott as bureaucrats sent to keep the city from bankruptcy by shutting the government down. It’ll take more than that to stop Leslie. The third season begins in January.
24 episodes on four discs, with commentary on six episodes by the actors and producers and more than 2 ½ hours of deleted scenes, with pieces cut from every episode available for view. The rest is a grab-bag of brief pieces: six “Pratt on Parks” webisodes (shot on the set with a flipcam), a blooper reel, footage of Pratt’s band Mouse Rat at the wrap party, a live acoustic performance of the theme song by composer Gabby Moreno and more.
Space Precinct 2040: The Complete Series (Image) – One of the last TV shows created by Gerry Anderson, Space Precinct 2040 presents the adventures of a veteran NYPD cop walking (or rather flying) a beat on the other side of the galaxy (“well, let’s just say I was transferred to another precinct,” he explains in the opening titles). For all flying cars, ray guns and rubber-mask aliens, it’s less a science fiction series than a cop show set in an alien city of vice and crime populated by the cast of the Star Wars Cantina scene. American actors Ted Shackelford and Rob Youngblood take the lead as human officers in the intergalactic force and most of the alien gangsters speak with affectations out of Damon Runyon pictures, which makes this British production even weirder. It feels more like an artifact from the seventies than a series produced in the era of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5, two far more intelligent and visually sophisticated shows: pure pulp with funky special effects (always a highlight of Anderson’s productions) and gimmicky stories, not particularly good but strangely fun for its crazy atmosphere. 24 episodes on five discs in a double-wide case with a hinged tray.
Batman Beyond: The Complete Series (Warner) – In this futuristic take on the iconic animated Batman series of the nineties, the aging Bruce Wayne (still voiced by Kevin Conroy) plays mentor to a new dark knight, a teenager (voiced by Will Friedle) who takes guidance from the old man who monitors all from the Batcave. 52 episodes on nine discs, including a new disc with three new featurettes on the series and the recently-released original documentary “Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics,” a feature-length documentary offering a comprehensive history of comic book publisher. The discs are in a double-wide case with hinged trays, dropped in a substantial 8″ x 12″ box featuring a 24-page collectible booklet.
Also new on DVD: Sid and Marty Krofft’s Saturday Morning Hits (Vivendi) and Have Gun-Will Travel: Season Five, Volume One (Paramount).
For more DVD releases, see my picks for the week at my blog.