Videophiled TV on Disc for October

For a format that has been all but pronounced dead or dying by the folks who like to pronounce such things, disc releases continue pouring out in numbers that seem to contradict the assumption. And not just for movies. It’s been a month since I’ve tackled TV on disc and trying to catch up on what I missed is, to say the least, daunting.

American Horror Story: Asylum (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) confirms that series creator Ryan Murphy has come up with a new twist on anthology horror TV, making each season a self-contained story, essentially a collection original mini-series with a brand sensibility and a stock company of players who grab a new character with each incarnation (along with newcomers). Where the first series was a ghost story set in contemporary Los Angeles, Asylum rewinds back decades and lands in a loony bin run by the church and filled with some very nasty spirits and secrets, plus another memorable performance by Jessica Lange. It arrived on disc as the new season launched on FX. 13 episodes plus featurettes and deleted scenes.

Keeping with the horror TV theme, the British limited series In The Flesh (BBC, DVD) chronicles the aftermath of the zombie uprising as the undead are, essentially, calmed with medication and sent home to resume their lives. Well, their continued existence, anyway (it’s called “partially dead syndrome”), which is not what Kieren (Luke Newberry) expected when he took his own life a couple of years before. Not that his little village is ready for him, either, as hatred of the zombies has never abated. The zombie has become a handy metaphor for almost anything a filmmaker could hope for in the past decade or so. Here it tackles intolerance, hatred, forgiveness, acceptance, guilt, trauma, and hypocrisy, and finds that emotion is a far more powerful instinct than reason or knowledge. As a metaphor for prejudice it’s not exactly subtle but creator Dominic Mitchell invests deeply in the emotional crises of his characters, undead and alive alike, and the ways in which people justify their emotional impulses and ignore contradictions as it suits their needs. It makes a very human drama of inhuman circumstances. Three hours over three parts on DVD.

Jack Irish: Series 1 (Acorn, Blu-ray+DVD Combo), an Australian series of telefilms based on the novels of Peter Temple, stars Guy Pearce as a former lawyer trying to pick up the pieces after his own client, in a fit of rage, murders Jack’s wife. That’s all established in the first few minutes of “Bad Debts,” the first of two “Jack Irish” films which debuted on Australian TV in 2012 and in the U.S. via the online service Acorn TV. Pearce is suitably shabby and seedy as Jack, who turns his back on his profession and seems content getting by as low-rent debt collector, itinerate race-track gambler, drinker, and apprentice to a cabinet maker. But he plays it with the low-key style of a man slipping back into old haunts (he’s a regular at a local working-class pub) and easy rhythms. These are traditional but well-written mysteries anchored by an interesting character and strong performance by Pearce, the same caliber as most British TV mysteries but with an Australian setting and sensibility. Two feature-length episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus a featurette.

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