Category: Television

Dec 12 2014

Videophiled TV Sets: The Complete ‘Secret Agent’

SecretAgentCompleteSecret Agent (aka Danger Man): The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD) – Before Patrick McGoohan was The Prisoner, he was John Drake, the maverick agent of Britain’s top secret M9 security force, in the series Danger Man. The show began in 1960, before the first Bond feature was released, in a 30-minute format, with the cool, clever undercover operative Drake sneaking into Eastern bloc regimes and Latin American dictatorships to flush out traitors and assassins, recover stolen secrets, and dabble in a little espionage himself.

That incarnation lasted a single season and was cancelled after the American networks failed to renew it, but a few years later it was reworked as an hour-long show in the wake of the renewed interest in spy shows and Cold War conflicts and it was picked in the U.S. under the title Secret Agent and a new theme, “Secret Agent Man,” sung by Johnny Rivers. (This set features the original British version of the series, with the Danger Man title and a harpsichord theme song.) Where he was once the loyal agent who follows faithfully orders, even when he seems to be on the side of status quo in some very repressive countries, the realpolitik shenanigans are played out with less assuredness and a creeping sense of futility, as if anticipating the disillusionment of McGoohan’s later series The Prisoner, in the second edition. Episodes played with the ambivalence of cold war politics (“Whatever Happened To George Foster,” “That’s Two of Us Sorry”), and two of them even anticipate The Prisoner: in “Colony Three,” a spy school in a manufactured village that could be the inspiration for The Prisoner’s village, and “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” features a mind game worthy of the new Number 2. Both of the latter episodes were directed by Don Chaffey, who helmed his share of The Prisoner.

Still, it was, like the U.S. series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a cleverly-constructed show built of elaborate espionage shell games and diplomatic chicanery, with McGoohan as the ingenious con man behind the bluffs and feints. The series ends with the only two episodes made in color: “Koroshi” and “Shinda Shima,” both set in Japan and later combined and turned into the TV movie Koroshi. This set features the original episodic versions.

The series has been on DVD before but the original release is long out of print and had been going for high prices. This set features the original British broadcast versions of all 86 episodes with the same transfers as the A&E release but compacts it in a smaller box set of three cases, organized by season (as broadcast in the U.S.), and is quite reasonably priced. It features commentary on three episodes and bonus interview with Catherin McGoohan. All that’s missing is the alternate American version of the credits with the rocking theme song.

More TV box sets at Cinephiled

Patrick McGoohan is John Drake

Nov 06 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘The Sopranos: The Complete Series’ on Blu-ray

SopranosBDThe Sopranos: The Complete Series (HBO, Blu-ray+Digital HD) – It’s been on DVD already but until the arrival of this set, only seasons 1 and 6 have been released on Blu-ray. Now the entire run of cable series that became a cultural phenomenon (the first time from a pay cable channel) and broadened the possibilities of TV drama is available in the high definition home video format.

More than simply “The Godfather Sees a Shrink,” the brilliant made-for-cable drama The Sopranos gave “family crisis” a whole new meaning and television drama a new sophistication. Emmy winner James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, a blue collar guy in an upper-middle class neighborhood, battles panic attacks and assassination attempts as he juggles two families: his wife (Emmy winner Edie Falco), kids, and bitter, emasculating mother (a brilliant Nancy Marchand, who died after the filming the second season), and the New Jersey mob. Lorraine Bracco is the therapist who tries to helps Tony balance a middle class existence and a violent criminal lifestyle and ends up uneasy about her relationship to Tony as she finally understands the depth of his criminal activity.

The first season turned into a cultural phenomenon and the highest rated HBO original series ever. The second season introduced David Provall as Ritchie Apprio, the angry, unstable mobster who bristles under Tony’s leadership and clashes with the family in his rogue activities. After the melodramatic rollercoaster of the second season, season three simmers with troubled allegiances, complicated relationships, and the devastating effects of the family business on the conflicted emotions of the Soprano children and mob wife Carmella (Emmy winner Edie Falco), who struggles with her inherent complicity in Tony’s job. By the end of the six-season run, Tony and the New Jersey mob goes to war with Phil Leotardo and the New York mob in the wake of a leadership vacuum, wife Carmella comes to terms with the realities of being a mob wife, Tony’s nephew and heir-apparent Christopher (Michael Imperioli) makes a dramatic exit, and creator David Chase ends it all on a finale that evocatively proclaims that the mob life will never afford the Soprano family closure. The end thrilled, impressed, frustrated, and enraged viewers. American couldn’t stop talking about it and parodies sprouted across the media spectrum, not the least of which was a Hillary Clinton campaign spot!

Written with a marvelous ear for language and a sharp sense of character, The Sopranos made full use of the no holds barred opportunities of cable with shocking violence, casual sex, and epithet laced gangster-speak. But more importantly, it dropped the gangster drama into the modern world with intelligence and insight: these are mobsters whose lore is informed by the movies as much as by history. This series didn’t so much change the face of television as it showed what was possible. Shows as disparate as The Shield, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, and Breaking Bad owe their existence to the creative energy and cultural embrace of The Sopranos and for that alone the show earns its place in the pantheon of American television landmarks.

The last episode

The complete 86-episode series, from the panic attack that opens the show to the abrupt ending, is collected on 28 discs in seven cases (one for each season, with Season 6 split into two parts, as it was originally released on Blu-ray) plus an eighth slimcase with a disc of substantial interview features originally presented in the DVD edition of The Complete Series: “Defining a Television Landmark,” a roundtable discussion with creator David Chase, executive producer Brad Grey, producer Ilene Landress, filmmakers Steven Soderbergh and Andrew Dominick, actor/writer Michael Imperioli, critics Elvis Mitchell, Dorothy Rabinowitz and David Bianculli, and professor Paul Levinson; two sessions of “Supper with The Sopranos,” with Chase discussing the show over a meal with (in part one) producer / writer (and future Boardwalk Empire creator) Terence Winter, director Allen Coulter, and actors Dominic Chianese, Rober Iler, and Aida Turturro, and (in part two) executive producer / writer (and future Mad Men creator) Matthew Weiner, producer Ilene Landress, director Alan Taylor, actor / music advisor Steven Van Zandt, and star Edie Falco; and “An Interview with David Chase,” a one-on-one conversation with Alec Baldwin, who desperately wanted Chase to create a role for him on the show.

The supplements from previous Blu-ray and DVD releases of the seasons are also all intact, including Peter Bogdanovich’s interview with Chase, a discussion of the music with Chase, Steven Van Zandt, and Dominic Chianese, and commentary on 25 episodes by various members of the cast and crew.

More TV box set reviews at Cinefiled

Oct 12 2014

Videophiled Binge Watch: ‘Penny Dreadful’ and more horror TV

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Let’s catch up on a month of TV releases. And as Halloween is coming, let’s begin with some shows from the dark side.

Penny Dreadful: Season One (CBS, Blu-ray, DVD) takes a premise similar to the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentleman: the characters and supernatural beings of 19th century horror literature all exist in the real world.

Oscar-winning screenwriter John Logan created this series, which revolves around a trio of original characters who take on the supernatural underworld of London, and scripts all eight episodes of the debut season. Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is searching for his daughter Mina, who has been taken by a vampire (as in the novel Dracula), with the help of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), a medium with a troubled past and a possible curse upon her. Josh Hartnett is the American Ethan Chandler, who comes to London as part of a Wild West show and hires himself out as a gunman to the team. Assisting the team is Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), whose first experiment (Rory Kinnear) has returned to demand a mate, and weaving through their stories is the decadent Dorian Gray, who woos Vanessa. One episode reworks The Exorcist and the season finale suggests that Bride of Frankenstein and Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde will be part of the story next season.

The title captures the tone of the series and horror director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) sets the ominous, shadowy mood as he helms the first two episodes. It features impressive production values, strong writing, excellent actors, and a Gothic atmosphere that favors mood over spectacle, and Logan intelligently and creatively weaves the classic stories into this original drama. Dr. Frankenstein after all abandoned his first born, essentially setting the moral yardstick for his offspring, and the show offers a compromised human Frankenstein and an angry, outraged creature with both the sensitivity and the emotional instability of a child that can rip the heart out of another person. And while the vampire of this tale is never referred to as Dracula, the show offers an interesting take on the story. But it’s the original characters that are the most compelling and the rocky relationship between bereft father Malcolm and tormented Vanessa, a kind of foster daughter in the shadow of his absent daughter, both needed and rejected by Malcolm. If blood defines family in the first episodes of the show, loyalty and sacrifice defines it by end of the season, and it is the American cowboy who brings that lesson home. I have a fondness for dramas built around makeshift families and offbeat teams who earn the loyalty of one another, and through the course of the season, Penny Dreadful turns into that kind of series.

It’s one Showtime’s most popular and most acclaimed shows to date, and outside of a Showtime subscription or a la carte digital purchases of individual episodes, disc is the only way to see the show. If you’re a horror fan, it’s definitely worth it. Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with numerous featurettes and bonus episodes of other Showtime original shows.

More TV on disc and streaming at Cinephiled

Sep 16 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Arrow: Season Two’ misses its Netflix mark to push disc and digital sales

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The second season of Arrow, the first major TV superhero success story in the wake of the “Dark Knight” / Marvel Universe revolution, arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today, as well as full-season digital purchase.

It was also supposed to become available on Netflix streaming over the weekend. Originally scheduled for Sunday, September 14, the Netflix release was pushed to October 8 at the last minute. That’s the same date as the Season 3 premiere, which means no binge streaming to catch up before the new season beings. Disc and digital purchase is the only way to see the second season until then (you can watch five select episodes of the second season on Hulu, but that’s it).

It’s proven good business to make previous seasons available a couple of weeks in advance of the new season to build up excitement among fan and entice new viewers to tune in but Warner Bros. Television, which produces the show, has its eye on sales this time. The last minute delay is designed to boost sales on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.

Arrow is the type of show that generally does well in disc sales—genre-oriented with a passionate fan base that likes to own its favorite series—and the disc editions are packed with supplements and include Digital HD Ultraviolet episodes for streaming.

Fans were not happy and the fan-oriented sites have tripping over themselves to get the details ever since the series failed to appear on Netflix on Sunday.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Sep 14 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Person of Interest: Season Three’

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Person of Interest: The Complete Third Season (Warner, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) adds another partner to the team (Sarah Shahi as a coolly efficient former CIA assassin), turns renegade activist and maverick genius Root (Amy Acker) into a wary ally, and most dramatically kills off a trusted and beloved ally, a loss that sends the reliable John Reese (Jim Caviezel) into a dramatic tailspin. This season expands the surveillance conspiracy aspect of the series—the premise depends on a supercomputer hooked up to every camera and communications device on the grid—by introducing a second system controlled by an shadowy international organization and sold to the American government with an elaborate terrorist plot. As the show gets more complex and the cast gets bigger, Detective Fusco (Kevin Chapman), the one-time corrupt cop who saved his soul be helping out the team and eventually became a reliable and trusted member of the secret squad, wound up getting forgotten, swept to the fringes of most episodes, but he takes the lead in coaxing Reese back to the team in one of his finest hours.

It’s an increasingly complex series, which keeps its fans riveted to the show, while still delivering stand-alone mystery of the week episodes that sends the team out to save an innocent (and sometimes a not-so-innocent) victim from harm. It remains action packed and full of science fiction-level technology but the characters are still the most interesting dimension of the show and the loyalty they show one another defines the series and keeps me connected to the elaborate mythology. By the end of the season, it goes in directions most viewers would not predict, setting itself up for big changes in the fourth season which begins in September.

23 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD editions, along with three featurettes, commentary on the season finale by actor Michael Emerson, and the 2013 Comic Con panel presentation. The Blu-ray release also features bonus DVD and digital copies.

Five select episodes of the show – including the three final episodes of the season, can be streamed at CBS.com.

More TV on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Sep 14 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Supernatural: Season Nine’ – Angels at war

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Supernatural: The Complete Ninth Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD) – I confess that I don’t see the series in its broadcast run but I get caught up in binge-watching the show when the seasons come out on disc. It’s a matter of timing (screening copies arrive in that period between the end of the summer shows and the launch of the fall TV season) and affection: I like the mythology they’ve created around the premise and the characters in this universe. So do a lot of other folks: it launches its tenth season this fall.

Season Nine is a solid, meaty series with an epic storyline: the demon-hunting Winchester Brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), try to stop a war between the angels. In case you’re not up on supernatural lore, God left Heaven and Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), the former scribe of God, ejects the angels from paradise. The season begins with the heavenly bodies falling to Earth like flaming meteors and finds the grounded celestials less benevolent than ruthlessly pragmatic: they burn through human hosts like sacrificial lambs as they split into faction and go to war for control of Heaven. Essentially, who will be playing God? These aren’t the benevolent cherubs of valentine’s cards but warriors of Heaven and humans are collateral damage. In the immortal words of Dean: “I’ve always said angels are dicks.”

Castiel (Misha Collins), who was tricked by Metatron into unleashing the spell and then robbed of his grace, deals with his mortality as he joins forces with the Winchesters and the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard) becomes an unlikely ally as he defends himself from a power play in Hell and helps Dean find “the first blade,” which means tracking down Cain and taking on the cursed “mark of Cain,” an act that has devastating consequences. The brotherly trust between Sam and Dean is already fractured, thanks to a secret angelic possession of the dying Sam, but the mark pushes the already hot-headed Dean into violence that borders on demonic. Meanwhile, the Winchesters take up residence in their new “Batcave” headquarters, a bunker gifted to them by the “Men of Letters,” and fans of the show will appreciate return visits from recurring characters Sheriff Jodie Mills (Kim Rhodes), Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day), Garth Fitzgerald IV (DJ Qualls), and even Bobby (Jim Beaver) in a dream episode.

23 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on three episodes, a collection of “Men of Letters” featurettes on the bunker and its legacy, a tongue-in-cheek behind-the-scenes featurette created by Misha Collins and featuring the cast and crew, the Comic-Con panel, and deleted scenes, plus an UltraViolet digital copy of the entire season.

Netflix will add the ninth season to its library in October the day after the tenth season debuts, so if you want to catch up before the launch, disc is the only way to do it. Check your local neighborhood video store or call your library if you’re not ready to purchase.

More TV on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Sep 13 2014

Videophiled TVD: The troublesome debut of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

AgentsSHIELD

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete First Season (ABC, Blu-ray, DVD) is a problematic debut season. I think we can all agree on that. Critics have been less kind and fans more indulgent but the fact is, this series took most of the season to find its mojo. Perhaps it’s because creator Joss Whedon, who also directed the pilot, left the show in the hands of regular collaborators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen while he directed his focus on the second Avengers film.

The first TV series set within the fabric of the Marvel Universe of the movies takes place in the aftermath of The Avengers, where the superheroes and god and monsters exist and the world knows all about it, and it resurrects Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who died in that movie. The series teases out the secret of his resurrection throughout the season as he forges his own special operations team that includes bad-ass battle veteran Melinda May (Ming-na Wen), hunky field agent Ward (Brett Dalton), science squad Fitz and Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge), and rebel hacktivist Skye (Chloe Bennet), who has her own secrets teased through the season as the loner learns to become a team player. Their mission is to find and help “gifted” beings before the bad guys (namely Hydra) get to them. Which leads to colorful but routine types of episodes: capers, computer hacks, undercover operations, and the occasional mission to retrieve alien technology or supernatural artefact.

The series was never actually bad but it was often just a cut above mundane and it kept tripping over its squad of poorly-defined characters and lively but routine team dynamics. Gregg is great fun as Coulson, embracing his unconventional approach to the S.H.I.E.L.D. super-agent with a legendary past, and Wen brings confidence and focus to her role as the legendary agent who earned the nickname “The Cavalry” (the story behind the name is so mired in myth that no one actually knows where it came from) and has to be coaxed back into the field. But the young agents are not very interesting and the actors fail to give them any grit, the episodes rehash familiar stories and situations, and the show spins its wheels for most of the season without forging its own distinct sensibility or identity. It has great production values, impressive actions scenes, some memorable guest stars from the movies (including Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury), and of course the Whedon brand of pop culture riffing and humor, but no sense of a bigger picture beyond the basic idea of the maverick squad fighting the interference of organization commanders as well as taking on the threat of the week.

The season’s storyline pivots around the events of the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier and that’s where the show finally gets interesting: the maverick unit becomes the rogue team battling the S.H.I.E.L.D. takeover and the traitors who have sided with Hydra and the intrigue within the squad itself takes some unexpected turns. Bill Paxton added his brand of enthusiasm as a recurring character, Angel alumnus J. August Richards became an interesting (if not fully satisfying) tragic figure, and comedian and comic book fan Patton Oswalt gets to geek out by getting his own distinctive role in the Marvel superhero universe. The final episodes finally deliver an engaging series with a promise of a better second season. It rewarded fans who stuck with it, brought other fans back to the show, and gave the critics reason to take a second look. The second season launches this month with hope that the new direction, with Coulson faced with rebuilding the organization from the ground up, continues at the level established in the final episodes of the season.

22 episodes on DVD and Blu-ray, with commentary on multiple episodes, the TV special “Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe,” featurettes on five episodes, the 2013 Comic-Con panel presentation.

Five episodes are available to stream on Hulu, otherwise the only streaming solutions are Digital purchase, either a la carte or full season.

More TV on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Sep 04 2014

Channeling Movies: Sex and Sin on Pre-Code Fridays on Turner Classic Movies

Turner Classic Movies is turning all the Fridays in September over to films from that brief period in the early thirties when the studios thumbed their collective noses at the toothless Production Code and pushed the boundaries of sex, violence, and bad behavior without judgment or consequences in film after film. The iron boot of censorship came down in 1934 and stomped out all that deliciously salacious content, but for a few years Hollywood acknowledged and even flaunted sex between consenting adults (married or not). The films from this era were branded “Forbidden Hollywood” when they were rediscovered and revived for audiences in the 1990s, but today they are better known as Pre-Code. Turner Classic Movies has four full Fridays full of forbidden Pre-Code delights.

While there are gems aplenty throughout the month, I’ll spotlight a few of the most interesting and audacious rarities and lesser-known glories, including two from the coming Friday line-up.

Set those DVRs now!

Friday, September 5:

Dorothy Mackaill is hardly 'Safe in Hell'

Safe in Hell (1931) – Think of this as a kind of B-movie riff on Sadie Thompson (the original bad girl in the tropics melodrama) directed with a merciless brutality by William Wellman. It stars the largely forgotten Dorothy Mackaill as a scuffed-up, street-smart answer to Miriam Hopkins and she is amazing as the hooker who is whisked off to a Caribbean island to flee a murder charge. The film’s title is no exaggeration; imagine Casablanca as a lice-infested backwater run by mercenary opportunists and filled with the sleaziest criminals to escape a manhunt. They all take their shot at seducing Mackaill, the sole white woman in this island prison, and she shoots them all down with the brash directness of an experienced urban doll who has spent her life fending off passes. Yet somehow the film manages to give them all a shot at redemption when she is tried for murder (it’s a different murder, and yet the same one, in the crazy logic of the melodrama contrivances) and they line up in her defense. Wellman it snappy and sassy as he winds the story from the cynical to the sentimental to the spiritual with equal commitment.

More highlights at Cinephiled

Aug 28 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘The Good Wife: The Fifth Season’

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The Good Wife: The Fifth Season (Paramount, DVD) is the rare network drama that has found its voice and improved over its run, delivering both a clever and engaging legal show with cases and twists and offbeat characters that rival David E. Kelly’s show at their best, and an adult drama with real stakes and consequences for every choice, personal and professional. The professional complications come right away as Alicia (Julianna Margulies) plotting to leave Lockhart Gardner and start a new firm with fellow associate Cary (Matt Czerny), a secretive scheme that turns into a war with former colleagues Will (Josh Charles) and Diane (Christine Baranski). The split forces Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) to take sides and creates tension between the firm and Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), who is still Alicia’s husband if only in name and public appearance.

Margulies remains the center of the show but this is an ensemble with an expanding universe of characters—this season introduces mob-connected lawyer Damian Boyle, a new hire for the firm, and brings back Nathan Lane as a new colleague in the fledgling firm, Carrie Preston as an eccentric attorney, and Michael J. Fox as cunning rival Louis Canning who takes an interest in Lockhart/Gardner—but Charles dominates as Will, who goes on the offensive with a ferocity previously unseen in his character, while Baranski finds herself in a crisis of her own. For fans of the show, this is a significant season due to a dramatic death. A lot of dramas would play it for shock value but creators Michelle and Robert King work the event into the fabric of the series and the show spends a good part of the season exploring the way the characters deal with the loss personally and professionally.

22 episodes on six discs on DVD, with two featurettes (including an in-depth look at the key episode where a major character is killed), a music video, and deleted scenes. No streaming option yet beyond Digital VOD.

More TV on disc and digital platforms at Cinephiled

Aug 26 2014

Videophiled: Emmy-winner ‘The Normal Heart’ on Blu-ray and DVD

NormalHeart

The Normal Heart (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), the made-for-HBO feature based on Larry Kramer’s play and directed for cable by Ryan Murphy, arrives on disc the day after winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie. Kramer wrote the play in 1985, based in part on his own experiences as a gay activist in the early years of the AIDS crisis, and it captures an era when thousands of gay men were dying yet the mainstream media shied from reporting on the plague (as it was called then) and government officials would not even say the name AIDS in public. 30 years out of time, it seems more of a polemic than ever but it also captures the fear and fury of the men in the community facing a crisis that even the government won’t acknowledge.

Mark Ruffalo takes the lead as Ned Weeks, a writer and activist that Kramer based on himself. He’s the rabble rouser of the group that he founds in 1981, a guy so angry and confrontational that he’s finally pushed out. But the internal politics reflect the culture at large—many of the most active members of the group (played by Taylor Kitsch, as the photogenic face of the gay men’s health group, Jim Parsons and Joe Mantello, who played Ned in the original stage production) still haven’t come out in public—and the fears that many have of creating a panic that will turn the public against them. Matt Bomer co-stars as Weeks’ boyfriend, a New York Times reporter who also hasn’t come out, and Julia Roberts is apparently the only doctor in New York City who is concerned with the still-unidentified disease. Most of these characters were based on people Kramer knew, friends and family alike, and some of these characters are dead before the film ends in the year 1985. Just like in real life.

It came to HBO after a successful stage revival but 30 years out of time it plays more like a period piece, removed enough from the immediacy of the crisis to really pour on the sense of outrage and fear, something that the earliest films to confront AIDS could never allow themselves to do. That outrage, and the committed performances of the cast, surely helped this feature earn its Emmy last night.

On Blu-ray and DVD with a nine-minute featurette on author Larry Kramer and the autobiographical roots of the original play. It sheds some interesting perspective on the personal dramas explored here. Also available as a Digital purchase and free for subscribers to HBO via Cable On Demand and HBO Go.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Aug 14 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘The Marx Brothers TV Collection’

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Shout Factory has been the greatest home video archivist of classic TV treasures in recent years and The Marx Brothers TV Collection (Shout Factory, DVD) is quite the treasure chest, as long as you understand exactly what this set offers. This is a potpourri of unusual projects and unexpected appearances by Groucho, Chico, and Harpo Marx on TV from the early 1950s to the early 1970s, from full-length programs to variety show skits to TV commercials, with the aging comedy stars both solo and teamed up (though all three are never together apart from one delicious surprise). And while none of these projects rival their best work on the big screen, there are genuine treats to be had. “The Incredible Jewel Robbery,” for instance, a 1959 episode of the half-hour anthology show General Electric Theater with Chico and Harpo as a heist team in what is essentially a silent movie comedy short for TV with music and sound effects but no dialogue. Harpo guest stars on the premiere episode of “The Red Skelton Hour,” playing a whimsical guardian angel and performing a comic pantomime duet. And Groucho takes his only dramatic TV role in another General Electric Theater episode, “The Hold Out” from 1962, with guest stars Brooke Hayward and Dennis Hopper.

While Groucho tried out different characters and comic personae in his many TV appearances and Chico toned down his screen personality to varying degrees and even broke character to some extent (on the BBC talk show Showtime in 1959 and the specialty show Championship Bridge with Charles Goren in 1960, plus a delicious turn on I’ve Got a Secret), Harpo was always Harpo. He never spoke. He does, however, lost the wig and hat and tooting horn, for “A Silent Panic,” a 1960 episode of The DuPont Show with June Allyson starring Harpo as a mechanical man in a department story window. Among the many other goodies, let me highlight the outtake reel from the final season of You Bet Your Life and the 22-minute collection of family home movies from all three brothers, narrated by Harpo’s son Bill Marx (who is also the executive producer of the set).

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Harpo Marx in 'The Great Jewel Robbery'

It comes with a 40-page booklet with an essay, photos, and an annotated program guide. And if you order directly from Shout Factory, you can get a limited special edition with an additional bonus disc and a poster.

More TV on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Aug 14 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Low Winter Sun’

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Low Winter Sun: The Complete Series (Anchor Bay, DVD) – Some of the most interesting American TV shows are, curiously enough, adapted from European programs. This one is adapted and expanded from a British mini-series starring Mark Strong as a police detective who conspires to kill a corrupt colleague and is then assigned to investigate the murder.

Strong reprises his role in the American version, made for the commercial cable channel AMC, this time as Detective Frank Agnew, a Detroit officer who conspires with the frustrated partner of a brutal detective to kill the bad cop and make it look like suicide. Lennie James is the partner in murder, Detective Joe Geddes, and as the perfect crime unravels they discover that they have their own motives and secrets and they simply do not trust one another, a situation that gets worse when Internal Affairs starts its own investigation. Meanwhile an upstart gang leader (James Ransone) and his wife (Sprague Grayden), a bar-owner who was once married to a Detroit cop, are muscling in on gangster territory with big plans and a small fortune in stolen cocaine.

The contemporary Detroit setting gives the show a desperate environment of poverty and collapse and Ernest Dickerson, who directed episodes of The Wire and Treme, sets a gritty style and grim atmosphere in the first couple of episodes. The show did not get renewed for a second season but it ends with an appropriately cynical closure that satisfactorily wraps up the story. I found it more compelling than I expected, with excellent performances and interesting characters who are trying to hold on to their souls as they get mired deeper in their compromising situations. But there is so much dark drama on TV that it sometimes gets to be too much and this is dark stuff.

10 episodes on three discs on DVD, with promotional featurettes and deleted scenes.

It’s also streaming on Netflix.

More TV on disc and digital at Cinephiled

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