TV on DVD: Dark Skies Declassified and the End of JR and Dallas

Dark Skies: The Declassified Complete Series (Shout! Factory) – “My name is John Loengard and I’m recording this because we may not live through the night. They’re here, they’re hostile and powerful people don’t want you to know. History as we know it is a lie.”

Megan Ward and Eric Close

NBC’s 1996 response to The X-Files rewrites American history as a vast conspiracy to cover up the alien invasion of Earth. The enemy: “The Hive,” a web of aliens in human guise who have infiltrated government and business to manipulate events and concoct experiments to pave the way for conquering humankind. The defense: a covert government program called Majestic that is almost as dangerous as the enemy.

Our narrator/hero, idealistic congressional aide John Loengard (Eric Close), is initially recruited by Majestic leader Capt. Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh) but rejects the secrecy and the tactics and decides to reveal all to President Kennedy. By the end of the two-part pilot episode, Majestic has assassinated the President and framed a patsy, John’s fiancée, Kimberly (Megan Ward), has been abducted (and subsequently released) by aliens and this cute, spunky couple go on the run to investigate the conspiracy on their own. Jeri Ryan (billed as Jeri Lynn Ryan) joins the cast halfway through the season as a particularly zealous Majestic agent who turns out to be a wild card more sympathetic to John and Kimberly’s odyssey than Majestic’s agenda.

Every major historical flashpoint of the sixties—from the Warren Commission and the murder of the Civil Rights workers in Mississippi in 1964 to the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the Watts Riots—are tangled up in UFOlogy in this show. Even the landmark appearance by The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show is worked into the conspiracy and such figures as Howard Hughes, Carl Sagan and Timothy Leary become players in the drama. Which gives the show more texture than dramatic credibility as it weaves its conspiracy through American History 101. This instant cult artifact is intriguing and entertaining but not as unsettling, paranoid or clever as The X-Files, which managed to balance the creepily serious with the darkly comic in a way this show never manages, or really even attempts to. The creators sketched out a five-season arc that would take the series from the sixties to the present but the show was cancelled after the first season. Given that, the producers were able to provide at least a modicum of dramatic closure by season’s end.

19 episodes (including the feature-length pilot) on six discs in a box set of three thinpak cases, with cast and creator commentary on the series pilot and finale and the 54-minute retrospective documentary “Signal to Noise: Uncovering Dark Skies,” with creators Bryce Zabel and Brent V. Friedman and stars Eric Close and Megan Ward discussing the creation and development of the series. Also includes the international cut of the pilot episode, a series glossary, the original sales promo and a proposal for the second season among the supplements.

Dallas: Season 14 – The Complete Final Season (Warner) – After 14 seasons of schemes, double crosses, blackmail, murder, madness and other late night soap opera machinations, the terrorizing ways of Larry Hagman’s iconic ten-gallon villain J.R. Ewing finally came to an end, not with a bang but a replay of It’s a Wonderful Life with a wily Joel Grey showing J.R. a world where he never existed. Stars from season past return to help send the show off in style. 22 episodes (including the feature-length finale) on five discs in a standard case with hinged trays. No supplements.

“For the past few years, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington have been meeting regularly for a series of pointless conversations. This is one of them.” The Ricky Gervais Show: The Complete First Season (HBO) actually came out earlier this month but my copy arrived late and then got shuffled around my stacks of arrivals and assignments. Originally recorded as a series of XFM shows and podcasts, these comic conversations were turned into animated episodes of a half-hour series for HBO, done up in a cartoonish style that recalls sixties TV animation with a quirky sensibility inspired by Pilkington’s deadpan flights of insanity and the wicked goading of Gervais and Merchant. 13 episodes on two discs in standard case, plus a promotional spot and production storyboards from the third episode.

My review of Justified: The Complete First Season (Sony) is on my blog here.

Also new this week: ER: The Complete Fourteenth Season (Warner), Merlin: The Complete Second Season (BBC), Rules of Engagement: The Complete Fourth Season (Sony), Nite Tales: The Series (Entertainment One) with Flava Flav, Waking the Dead: The Complete Season Five (BBC) and Chris Angel’s Mindfreak: Season 6 (A&E).

For more DVD releases, see my picks for the week at my blog and my DVD column at MSN.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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