Category: Television

Apr 24 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Murder on the Home Front’

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Murder on the Home Front (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD), a lively and witty murder mystery set in 1940 London, is ostensibly a stand-alone telefilm made for British TV but it plays just like a pilot for a new mystery series designed to combine the popularity of historical detective shows with the banter of a cute crime-solving solving with a flirtatious chemistry. Think Foyle’s War with a younger Foyle, a spunkier Sam, and a screwball sensibility stirred through with gallows humor.

Based on the memoirs of British writer Molly Lefebure, it stars Patrick Kennedy as Dr. Lennox Collins, a brainy civilian serving as police coroner during the war, and Tamzin Merchant as quick-witted newspaper reporter Molly Cooper, drafted by Lennox to be his secretary when she proves to be smart, gifted, and unfazed by dead bodies. They are a classic TV crime duo, the brilliant but socially maladroit coroner who clashes with the conservative detectives who don’t trust his science and the spirited, bubbly female partner who isn’t shy about sharing her ideas or going undercover, dropped into the social and physical upheaval of London during the Blitz. Kennedy underplays the part a little, which could use some development (assuming there are more mysteries to come) but Merchant fills in the personality vacuum with overflowing enthusiasm. (Trivia note: Merchant was the original Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones in the pilot but recast when the show went to series.) David Sturzaker and Iain McKee have rather thankless roles as the stubborn, plodding police detectives but they are finally given a little personality by the third act as take a little initiative of their own.

The mystery involves a serial killer who leaves swastikas carved in the tongues of his female victims, a Nazi Jack the Ripper so to speak, and is complicated by interference and obstruction from high command trying to shut down the investigation. But where other wartime mysteries take a serious, dour approach, this has the lightness of a romantic thriller in the darkness of the Blitz. When sudden death is a daily possibility, the population lives life even harder through a wild nightlife in a thriving club scene roaring between the air raids. The finale makes great use of the maze of tunnels off the London Underground.

Blu-ray and DVD with a six-minute “Interviews with Cast and Crew,” which is basically a colorful promo piece.

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Apr 10 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘Broadchurch’

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Broadchurch: The Complete First Season (eOne, Blu-ray, DVD) follows the investigation of a single case – the murder of an 11-year-old boy, whose body is found at foot of a beachside cliff in a small (fictional) vacation on the Dorset coast – through eight episodes. David Tennant is Detective Inspector Alec Hardy, the new boss of the small Broadchurch detective squad who arrives with the shadow of scandal over him, and Olivia Colman is DS Ellie Miller, the local officer who was promised the promotion and arrives at the crime scene with a chip on her shoulder. That’s just the first complication: the victim was a neighbor and her son’s best friend and the suspects are all longtime members of the community.

Alec is brusque and professional in a town where everybody knows everyone else and he calls out Ellie for trying to be everyone’s friend when she should be pressing them for facts. It’s a cozy little community and she can’t fathom that any of them would be under suspicion, but as Alec reminds her, everyone that they interview would be capable of it. Why is another matter.

Broadchurch is a murder mystery in a small town and like other exemplars of the genre, secrets and lies are uncovered in the investigation, like insects hiding under rotting boards suddenly lifted and exposed to the light of day. But this isn’t one of those British mystery cozies of colorful suspects in a picaresque setting. The show, created and written by Chris Chibnall, creates a community of fully-realized characters with long histories and complicated lives. This story is about how the death and the revelations of hidden lives reverberate through the community, complicated by the often mercenary media coverage by reporters who, through the course of the story, have to face the damage of their actions as well. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen in a town like Broadchurch, which just makes the ordeal harder to fathom, and easier for emotions to spiral out of control and suspicions to rush judgment.

The series was designed to be a stand-alone mini-series and the story does indeed come to a very satisfying end, which true to the show has plenty to work through after the arrest of the killer, but it was so popular when it ran in Britain that a second series was announced. (It played stateside on PBS over the summer.) Hard to imagine where it might go from here, as this eight-episode story is so beautifully self-contained. An American remake is also in the works.

Eight episodes on three discs, with the 27-minute featurette “Broadchurch: Behind the Scenes,” which doesn’t have much behind-the-scenes footage but lots of cast and creator interviews. It does reveal, however, that the actors weren’t told who the killer was when they began shooting.

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Mar 13 2014

Videophiled TVD: Thandie Newton goes ‘Rogue’

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Rogue: The Complete First Season (eOne, DVD) is satellite TV’s answer to the pay cable original series. Produced for DirecTV’s Audience Network, it stars Thandie Newton as Detective Grace Travis, an undercover cop in Oakland working for a gangster named Jimmy Laszlo (Marton Csokas) when her young son is killed in a drive-by shooting. For reasons that are never really explained, she has a feeling that something else is behind his death and goes rogue when the official investigation goes nowhere, ending up in this shadowy place between the cops (with her former contacts serving as conduits of information to and from the police) and the crooks. Jimmy finds out she’s a cop but keeps her alive as long as she supplies him intelligence, because the same shooter who killed Grace’s son is also after him and his gang.

So yes, there is some sort of conspiracy here, with at least one corrupt cop, a mole in the force leaking information to Jimmy’s organization (including Grace’s true identity), and a power struggle between Jimmy’s two sons, the loyal but impulsive Alec (Joshua Sasse) and the brilliant but manipulative Max (Matthew Beard). Meanwhile Grace tears her family apart on her obsessive quest, abandoning the living to lose herself on vengeance for the dead. That’s the part of the show that really convinces. The writers hit us over the head by repeatedly explaining this to us, mostly through her exasperated husband (Kavan Smith), but that doesn’t make Newton any less effective in her manic pursuit and self-destructive behavior. The danger and the violence is something of a drug to numb the guilt and the grief, and her reckless pursuit finally lands her on the wrong side of the cops. Ian Hart plays an Oakland Detective with tendencies that land him in a compromising position and Ian Tracey (a veteran to two great Canadian crime shows, Da Vinci’s Inquest and Intelligence) is a San Jose colleague who left the field for a desk job, and they are the only guys in her corner.

This is another show shot in Vancouver subbing for the U.S., but the night shooting, industrial locations, grimy, gritty sets and liberal second unit photography makes the conceit work well enough even when it isn’t’ completely convincing. Being a DirecTV exclusive, the show also features the kind of gratuitous nudity and bloody violence unique to the pay cable model, and some of the episodes pour it on so thick it gets downright distracting. Ten episodes on four discs, plus the featurette “Script to Screen” and ten webisodes of “Rogue Files: Reparation.” And for the record, a second season is in production.

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Feb 13 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘The Americans’ Revives the Cold War

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The Americans: The Complete First Season (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) may sound gimmicky—Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play deep-cover Soviet agents living as typical American suburban parents in Reagan’s America of the early 1980s—but like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and Mad Men before it, the FX original series uses the era and the tension between appearance and reality to create a character study and a cultural portrait, in this case a fascinating domestic drama inside an espionage thriller.

Essentially assigned to an arranged marriage in the name of Mother Russia, Elizabeth and Phillip have a long-term professional partnership under the guise of a loving relationship and all those years in America has given them ideas that perhaps they would like to pursue their own happiness. In contrast to their issues, their new neighbor is an FBI agent (Noah Emmerich) on the trail of a Russian spy network, an all-American guy so tangled up in his job that he’s losing touch with his wife and family. Sure, he has no idea that this suburban couple is his target, but that’s the least of the show’s ironies, and Emmerich is fascinatingly flawed as the dedicated patriot failing his own family.

Russell is both ruthless and vulnerable as Elizabeth, ferocious on the job and protective as a mother, and Rhys is warmer as the partner who likes living in the USA. If her commitment is to a Soviet ideal and a faraway home, his is to wife and family, which gets complicated when their job calls for seducing a target. Personal desires aside, their biggest conflict is their dream for their kids. While Elizabeth and Phillip may be dedicated to spying on America for their Russian homeland, they want to give their American-born children a future that only the United States can offer. The contradiction isn’t lost on them even as they steal secrets and blackmail American agents. The contradiction isn’t lost us that we actually root for the Russkies to prevail. The show’s attention to eighties spycraft technology and the details of espionage gives it the genre charge but the roiling emotional drama of love, resentment, suspicion, jealousy, trust, and conflicting commitment gives it the spark.

Margo Martindale earned an Emmy nomination for playing their handler, a ruthless piece of work behind a pose of homespun maternalism (another take on her backwoods mafia matriarch of Justified) and Richard Thomas is Emmerich’s boss.

13 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus commentary on the season finale “The Colonel” by creator Joseph Weisberg, writer / producer Joel Fields and actor Noah Emmerich, three featurettes (“Executive Order 2579: Exposing the Americans,” “Perfecting the Art of Espionage” and “Ingenuity Over Technology”) and deleted scenes among the supplements.

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Jan 30 2014

Videophiled TVD: Leaving the ‘Treme,’ Back to ‘Downton Abbey’

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Treme: The Complete Fourth Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
Treme: The Complete Series (HBO, Blu-ray)

HBO’s ensemble drama, created by David Simon (who previously gave HBO The Wire) and set in post-Katrina New Orleans, received accolades but was overlooked in the Emmys and struggled for viewers over its first three seasons. So the network gave Simon a short fourth season to wrap up the stories of his characters in a brief five episodes and he does so with the same focus on community and culture and the richness of New Orleans music that made the show one of cable’s finest dramas.

It opens in 2008, with the election of President Barack Obama and surge of hope for things to improve, and the season finds many of its characters taking the next step in their lives. Wendell Pierce’s Antoine Batiste discovers, much to his amazement, that he cares deeply about the lives and well-being of his music students beyond their musical talents. Chef Jeanette Desautel (Kim Dickens) parts ways with her former restaurant partner to open her own place and finds herself fighting to use her own name, due to a clause in her partnership contrast. Fiddler and singer Annie (Lucia Micarelli) takes a leap into the national music scene and struggles to hold on to her musical identity as her manager commercializes her sound. Melissa Leo’s bulldog of an attorney Toni Bernette continues to press her case against the NOPD and Detective Terry Colson defies the department to help her. And so many other stories play out in these final episodes—the most poignant revolving around Albert Lambreaux, (Clarke Peters), the stubborn Big Chief determined to preserve the Mardi Gras traditions of old, as he faces his own mortality when his cancer returns—without losing the pace of life and the rich culture that defines the show or the complexities and contradictions of the characters themselves. (What other show would make one of the out-of-state contractors who hustles his way into the big money pouring into reconstruction would cast Jon Seda and make him into such a likable guy?) It’s a show of politics and music and culture, but ultimately it’s about people trying to preserve what matters most to them.

Five episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on two episodes.

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HBO also releases the entire series in a box set on Blu-ray: 36 episodes on 14 discs in four cases. This is a series worth keeping and revisiting. It never found the critical cache or the intense devotion that made David Simon’s The Wire such a landmark, perhaps because these stories didn’t revolve around the volatile lives of cops and drug dealers and street kids trying to survive it all, but these stories are no less profound or moving and the culture that Simon and his collaborators (co-creator Eric Overmyer and writer David Mills, both veterans of Simon’s Homicide and The Wire, and novelist George Pelicanos and food writer Anthony Bourdain are part of the writing team) present on screen is richer and denser and more complex than anything I’ve seen on a fictional TV series. And when you pull it all together, you see a subtle but resonant closure that, as in The Wire, ties the series finale back to the first episode, both here directed by the great Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland: “Do You Know What it Means” and “… To Miss New Orleans.”

David Simon and various members of the cast and crew contribute commentary to over half of the episodes of the series and there is music commentary on each episode of the first three seasons, plus all the previously released featurettes and other supplements. This set also includes an exclusive bonus disc with 15 music videos.

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Downton Abbey: Season 4 (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD) opens six months after (*season 3 spoiler alert*) the death of Matthew Crawley, husband of Mary (Michelle Dockery) and heir to the Downton estate, with the house still in mourning and paternal patriarch Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), determined to take charge in the name of Mary’s infant son, heir to the Matthew’s share of the estate.

Creator / writer Julian Fellowes uses the turn of events to discuss such antiquated laws of inheritance in 20th century England, albeit with dignified restraint, just as it series gingerly addresses chauvinism, rape, and prejudice, the latter as the fun-loving young cousin Rose (Lily James) secretly dates a black American jazz singer. Mary blossoms in her new role as a manager of the estate (much to the frustration of her father) while courted by two suitors and, in proper Upstairs, Downstairs fashion, the servants deal with their own dramas and romantic tribulations, with lives spilling over the social division. Opera legend Kiri Te Kanawa guest stars in an early episode. The extended season finale “The London Season” brings the characters to London for Rose to be presented to the king and queen and features guest stars Shirley MacLaine (as Cora’s brash American mother) and Paul Giamatti (as her playboy brother Harold) who arrive in London for the occasion as well as an unexpected subplot that turns into a little heist drama with stalwart support from the loyal and reliable Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle).

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Jan 17 2014

Videophiled TVD: The Haunting ‘Top of the Lake’

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Top of the Lake (BBC, DVD) is another exhibit in the case that TV is the new cinema. It’s created and written by Oscar nominated filmmaker Jane Campion with Gerard Lee and Campion directs or co-directs almost every episode, including the opening episodes. A coproduction between BBC, Screen Australia, Screen NWW, ARTE and The Sundance Channel, it’s an international project set in rural New Zealand with performers from the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and it made its American debut at the Sundance Film Festival before going to the Sundance Channel and Netflix, (The six-hour production was presented over seven episodes on the Sundance Channel and Netflix and six episodes at the Sundance Film Festival; the disc features the six-episode version).

This is an original novel for television, a dark drama built around the mystery of a pregnant 12-year-old girl lake who goes missing and a young outsider detective specializing in adolescent victims (Elisabeth Moss with a variable accent) who is technically on vacation but actually there to look after her mother, who is dying of cancer. The mystery hangs over the entire six hours but the story revolves around the characters and the unsettling atmosphere of the community as she churns up the uneasy frontier existence with her investigation.

Peter Mullan is (no surprise) intimidating as the girl’s father, a feudal mountain patriarch who runs his mountain spread like a duchy outside of police jurisdiction and a feared landowner who uses unspoken threats and unrepentent violence to keep his power and manage his independence. Holly Hunter is odd and fascinating as an American self-help guru in a makeshift commune of damaged women, and David Wenham is unreliable as the closest thing this community has to an enlightened authority figure, and it’s not very close.

My only complaint is that there is no Blu-ray edition and no supplements. The setting, the atmosphere, the sense of isolation and haunting beauty is a defining element of the production. The disc looks fine but it deserves a superior presentation. And maybe an interview with Campion. I’d like to know more about where this came from. Six episodes on two discs, no supplements.

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Dec 12 2013

Videophiled TV on Disc: The Complete ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman’ and Doctor Who Turns 50

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It’s been two weeks since I’ve checked in on the TV releases so we’ve got some catching up to do.

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, DVD) – Norman Lear’s soap opera parody lasted only a year and a half in the mid-1970s and never received strong ratings, but it developed a loyal following and critical acclaim and 35 years later feels all the more contemporary and prescient.

Set in the fictional town of Fernwood, Ohio, it stars Louise Lasser as the unfulfilled housewife struggling with a sexually confused husband (Greg Mullavey), an oft-arrested father known as “The Fernwood Flasher,” a serial killer who wipes out a local family and takes Mary hostage, and the waxy yellow build-up on her kitchen linoleum. Debralee Scott co-stars as her sexually reckless sister, Mary Kay Place is her neighbor, a child bride and aspiring country singer, Dabney Coleman is the town’s scheming mayor, and Martin Mull plays identical twins, among the show’s notable co-stars. (Mull went on to star in the spin-off Fernwood 2 Night.)

The half-hour program was shot like a traditional soap opera and ran five days a week in syndication, mixing wild parodies of soap opera complications with sly cultural satire about changing sexual mores, consumerism, family dynamics, and media hysteria. But it also dug into more provocative issues, confronted sexual fulfillment and communication within families and relationships, and the episode where Mary suffers a nervous breakdown on TV, when she’s profiled as “America’s typical consumer housewife” by David Susskind and grilled by a panel of experts, is genuinely harrowing as the satire turns dark and her flailing defensiveness spirals into panic and disconnection.

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The series holds up surprisingly well, thanks to smart writing, a superb cast, and its perfect evocation of the soap opera style. There’s not even a laugh track, which might have confounded some viewers who didn’t pick up on the tongue-in-cheek treatment, but it fits right in with the modern trend of TV comedies. The video quality betrays the age of the show, with discoloration and some distortion at the edges of the image, but that’s to be expected for seventies video technology. Features 325 episodes plus bonus documentaries and 10 episodes of the spinoff Fernwood 2 Night, a talk show spoof with Martin Mull and Fred Willard, on 39 discs in a box set. Also includes a booklet with essays and an episode guide.

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Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) celebrates the 50th anniversary of the beloved British time travelling hero with an adventure in space and time the brings the last two Doctors, David Tennant and Matt Smith, together with the mysterious “War Doctor” (John Hurt) as they converge on the moment that destroyed the Time Lord home world and the Dalek race. The tragic past of the Doctor has been the dark shadow over his playful personality and frivolous front since Russell Davies first brought him back but this episode is the first to delve into the forge that orphaned the last of the Time Lords, and it gives him a second chance with the greatest Time Lord dream team ever.

Bringing multiple Doctors together was a popular gimmick for the original incarnation when it came to anniversaries or special shows but this is the first time for the reboot series and Steven Moffat, the cleverest of Doctor Who show-runners, approaches it with the same clockwork precision he lavishes on his season arcs, where every tossed-off curve or surprise twist is actually ingeniously woven into the big picture. Plus it’s great fun to see the personalities of Tennant and Smith bounce off one another. With two mini-episodes (previously available solely on the web) and two featurettes. The Blu-ray edition also features a Blu-ray 3D versions and a bonus DVD.

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Dec 01 2013

Videophiled TV on Disc: ‘Breaking Bad’ Once and for All

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Breaking Bad: The Final Season (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD) – You don’t need my review to know if you’re going to pick this up for yourself. Though this set is titled “The Final Season,” it is actually the second half of the fifth and final season, which AMC split into two parts, and if you’ve invested in the show this far, you will not want to miss its riveting last act.

This eight-episode run begins with Walt (Bryan Cranston), the one-time high school chemistry teacher who evolved from desperate cancer victim to superstar meth cook to ruthless Godfather of his domain, out of the meth business, or so he thinks. His DEA agent brother-in-law finally figures out that Walt was the mystery meth kingpin he’s been chasing all this time and the investigation stirs the violence back up with a vengeance. Of course, it all comes back home to family and friends. No one is untouched by Walt’s actions.

Cranston won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series three years running for his performance and the acclaim is well deserved, and not just for creating the most quietly intimidating character on TV. His evolution, and the rationalizations that accompany every step of his transformation, have been so nuanced over the five seasons that the change only looks jarring when put up against the first season. Yet that underlying arrogance and cruelty has been there from the first episode, buried under the self-pity and bitterness, and it drives his final resurrection for revenge.

The Sopranos set the bar for how to end this kind of epic cable drama of corrupted anti-heroes and Breaking Bad, in its way, meets the standard. Vince Gilligan expanded his final season in a compromise with AMC but he maintained his commitment to the arc of Walt’s story. There’s no redemption when you’ve crushed so many lives under the boot of your ambition, but that doesn’t mean Gilligan doesn’t give us one last moment to root for the bad guy when he goes after folks who are even worse.

Eight uncensored episodes with commentary on every episode by Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston joined by members of the cast and crew, plus four featurettes, an alternate ending, deleted and extended scenes, 16 episodes of “Inside Breaking Bad,” the “Mythbuster Breaking Bad” special, and more supplements.

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Of course, you may have been waiting all this time for Breaking Bad: The Complete Series (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD). Not only do you get all 62 episodes in one set, you get an exclusive documentary chronicling the production of the final season, a Pollos Hermanos apron and all the supplements from previous seasons (of course), and it comes in a collectible replica barrel just like the ones that Walter used. Only smaller. And filled with discs instead of meth.

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Nov 23 2013

Videophiled TV on Disc: Another Season in the ‘Treme’

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Treme: The Complete Third Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) continues the complicated and sophisticated mix of cultural exploration, social drama, and political commentary of the HBO series about life in New Orleans after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.

This season, which opens in the fall of 2007, takes on the rebuilding of the city and the influx of outside money and insider politics to shape the city in a different image against the interests of many of the citizens. It also continues the series-long investigation into the cover-up of police misconduct in the weeks following the hurricane with Melissa Leo’s attorney taking on the police department, which forms the most dramatic story of the season.

But as before, this is a grand quilt of a show embracing all aspects of New Orleans life and culture, and creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer continue to offer a complex, politically-relevant show that explores the city by engaging with the culture and the controversies of New Orleans through the experiences of characters at all levels of society. Music plays a defining role in the series, and along with the rich array of New Orleans music (old-style jazz, R&B, rock and roll, brass brand, traditional chanting, and more) and the stories of musicians trying to sustain careers in difficult times, there are guest appearances by Fats Domino and the Neville Brothers, among others. And New Orleans food and restaurant culture is explored through the story of a chef (played by Kim Dickens), who returns home from New York this season to open a new restaurant with a partner she doesn’t completely trust in a storyline that was developed with Anthony Bourdain, who joined the show as a contributing writer this season. The ensemble also includes Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, handi Alexander, Rob Brown, David Morse, Jon Seda, and Steve Zahn, among others. A short fourth and final season will run on HBO at the end of 2013.

Ten episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus commentary on five episodes, select music commentary, and three featurettes. The Blu-ray includes two additional interactive features about the music and culture of New Orleans.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 5 (Paramount, Blu-ray) opens with the conclusion of the Season Four cliffhanger that left the Klingon Empire hanging in the balance, brings back Denise Crosby as a cunning Romulan commander, guest stars Leonard Nimoy in the memorable two-part galaxy-threatening “Unification,” and concludes with another cliffhanger, this one involving Data’s decapitated head, Mark Twain, and a visit to 1890. Other highlights include the first appearance of the rebellious and angry loner “Ensign Ro”(Michelle Forbes), “The Game,” in which an addictive toy makes the Enterprise crew mind slaves but for Wesley and a guest starring Ashley Judd, and “I, Borg,” where the crew befriends an orphaned Borg soldier while plotting to infect the entire Borg colony with a virus. On the other hand, Worf’s son Alexander returns in this season (when will they learn: children and starships don’t mix!).

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Nov 15 2013

Videophiled TV on Disc: ‘Dexter’ Denouement and ‘Farscape’ at Fifteen

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Dexter: The Final Season (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD) – Showtime’s black-humored series about a serial killer with a code (he only kills killers) was never as nuanced as Breaking Bad, as flamboyant as True Blood, or developed as dark and elaborate a mythology as such network shows as Hannibal or The Following, but for eight seasons it did what it did just fine.

Michael C. Hall plays Dexter, blood spatter expert for Miami PD and TV’s favorite serial-killer hero, and Jennifer Carpenter is his adoptive sister Debra, a police detective who learned Dexter’s secret the previous season. Dexter couldn’t be in better shape but Deb spirals into a self-destructive binge when the contradictions become too much to handle. So this season is all about reconciling the past and present and coming to terms with family history, which comes back in the form of psychopathologist Dr. Evelyn Vogel (Charlotte Rampling), the woman who helped Dexter’s adoptive father Harry (James Remar) create Dexter’s code and now consults for Miami PD in the case of a serial killer nicknamed The Brain Surgeon (for reasons obvious after you see the first victim). There’s a family connection of sorts there, as well, and a potential apprentice for Dexter to mentor, and maybe even a chance at a real family life of his own. At least that’s his dream between the bodies.

The final seasons of Sopranos and Breaking Bad set the bar for ending dark dramas with a satisfying sense of completion. Clearly there can be no happy ending for a man who spent his life as a serial killer, even one who targeted only the guilty, because so many innocents have been killed along the way, the collateral damage of a life of secrets. So the end of Dexter plays with the idea of Dexter aspiring to a normal life, of overcoming his need to kill, and why such a dream is unattainable for a man who has both a past and a conscience, or at least a primal instinct to protect those he loves. If there is anything Dexter has learned, it’s that your actions and your enemies come back with a vengeance.

13 episodes plus six featurettes and the first two episodes of the Showtime series Ray Donovan. The DVD also features bonus episodes of the Showtime series House of Lies, The Borgias and Californication via E-Bridge technology (which requires an internet connection).

Also available this week is the box set Dexter: The Complete Series (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD), which collects all eight seasons in a paperboard box that looks suspiciously like Dexter’s slide box. Only instead of blood samples of victims, this one files discs (25 on Blu-ray, 33 on DVD).

Farscape

Farscape: The Complete Series – 15h Anniversary Edition (Flatiron, Blu-ray, DVD) is technically “complete” but practically speaking not quite: it features all four seasons of the wild made-for-cable science fiction series but not the mini-series finale, which was produced after the series was cancelled and belongs to Lionsgate. The show was the first real trademark hit for the SciFi channel, an original series filled with exotic aliens, marbled worlds, and spacescapes that look ripped from the cover of “Amazing Stories.” But it was more than just space opera and pulp adventure. Our heroes are essentially outlaws, escaped from an authoritarian regime and on the run from pretty much everybody out there. The totalitarian worlds and mercenary survivors of this hostile universe are a far cry from the Federation friendly universe of “Star Trek,” and the dark art direction and wild, often grotesque creatures (courtesy of Jim Henson studios) made this the most imaginative and unpredictable science fiction show on TV in its day. This series knew how to make an epic on a budget.

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Nov 09 2013

Videophiled TV on Disc: The complete ‘Naked City’ and a box of ‘Doctor Who’

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Naked City: The Complete Series (Image, DVD) – “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” The acclaimed cop show set and shot on the streets of New York City is ostensibly inspired by the influential 1948 film of the same name, a film noir with documentary immediacy, but it plays more like a Playhouse 90 anthology wrapped around a criminal investigation than a traditional crime drama, thanks in large part to meaty stories by Stirling Silliphant, who set the tone with his scripts and stayed on as executive story consultant. (Silliphant went on to create Route 66, another mix of continuing series and anthology storytelling.)

It debuted in 1958 as a 30-minute show, starring James Franciscus as the rookie detective and John McIntire as his veteran partner, and expanded to an hour in season two with Paul Burke in the lead. He debuts as idealistic young Detective Adam Flint in “A Death of Princes,” the premiere episode of the second season. Eli Wallach is the special guest star, playing Flint’s violent, corrupt partner who engages in such extra-curricular activities as blackmail and burglary, with George Maharis co-starring as a boxer coerced into a heist and Peter Falk in a bit as a sniper in the edgy pre-credits sequence, a shoot-out in a city street in the shadow of the Brooklyn bridge. That opening volley nicely sets the tone and atmosphere of the rest of the series, which is strongest in the hour-long format.

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This kind of anthology TV benefited from strong guest star casting, drawing from stage and screen, up-and-coming talents and veteran stars. Lois Nettleton is an innocent Greek bride who marries ne’er do well gambler Steve Cochran in “Debt of Honor,” scripted by the great W.R. Burnett. Keir Dullea discovers his model citizen father is actually a hit man for a NY gangster in “Murder is a Face I Know.” An unstable William Shatner wakes up to find his wife stabbed to death with his own palette knife in “Portrait of a Painter,” and he confesses to the crime even though he can’t remember anything. Walter Matthau is a married psychiatrist who has a fling with a Vegas showgirl who follows him back to New York in the inspired “Don’t Knock It Till You’ve Tried It,” a mid-life crisis black comedy with a wicked twist. A form of urban road rage explodes in the intense “Alive and Still a Second Lieutenant,” one of the most ambitious dramas of the series. Jack Klugman finds “The Tragic Success of Alfred Tiloff” as a two-time loser pressured into the kidnapping of a little girl. Robert Duvall is a gangster confronted by his past when he holes up in the house of his aunt, Sylvia Sidney, in “A Hole in the City.” Carroll O’Connor stars as a businessman on the other end of a blackmail scheme in “Spectre of the Rose Street Gang.” Martin Sheen and Peter Fonda are a pair of young street hoodlums in “The Night the Saints Lost Their Halos.” Other guest stars include Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Telly Savalas, James Caan, Christopher Walken, Jean Stapleton, and Dennis Hopper.

There are eight million stories in the Naked City. Here are 138 of them, collected on 29 discs in four cases in a paperboard box. There are episode listings in each case but no guide to guest stars or creators.

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Doctor Who: Series 1-7 Limited Edition Gift Set (BBC, Blu-ray) collects every episode of the 21st century Doctor Who reboot before the upcoming 50th Anniversary special and the new incarnation of The Doctor. Russell T. Davies remade the series after a 15-year hiatus with Christopher Eccleson as the rogue Time Lord, hopping through time and space in his souped-up Tardis (once again hidden inside a seemingly ancient Police Public Call Box), bringing a dynamic sense of energy, a fun-loving sense of humor and a childlike love of adventure to the role. Billie Piper is his spunky companion Rose, a live wire of a working class London girl who jumps in to the Tardis and across the universe with The Doctor, and she sticks around as Eccleson hands the mantle of the Doctor off to David Tennant, who made the part his own for three seasons and a collection of specials.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

Nov 20 2012

TV on Disc: ‘Game of Thrones’ – The first season gift set

HBO’s epic fantasy set in a medieval world of warring kingdoms, cutthroat royal families, barbarians, dragons, and some undefined evil kept at bay (at least up until now) behind a massive wall taller than a skyscraper, is the pay cable network’s most ambitious original series to date.

It has already concluded its second season on cable (due on disc in February 2013) with a third season to come in March, 2013, but it’s an expensive production and bills need to be paid. Thus “Game Of Thrones: The Complete First Season Collector’s Edition” (HBO), essentially a rerelease of the original Blu-ray edition with some bonus goodies.

Based on the ongoing fantasy series by George R. R. Martin and faithfully adapted for the small screen with big screen production values, the shows offers a vast canvas of characters, stories, and landscapes. Sean Bean is the ostensible hero of this first series as Eddard Stark, ruler of the northern kingdom and the Hand of the King (Mark Addy), a once fearsome warrior married to a ruthlessly ambitious queen (Lena Headey) who plots to put her clan on the throne and eliminate Stark.

But that’s just the broadest strokes of a very complicated story with where family dynasties plot their way to power through marriages, war, and political gamesmanship, and an exiled princess (Emilia Clarke) unites the barbarian hordes of a land across the water to take back her family legacy. And it doesn’t begin to trace the equally compelling story of Tyrion Lannister, the debauched “black sheep” of the ruling family played by Peter Dinklage (who won an Emmy for his performance). Like a medieval answer to “I, Claudius,” he’s a dwarf with a sharp mind and a fierce understanding of the ways of power that he hides under his court jester antics. It’s a form of protection as well as escape; he’s not perceived as a threat.

Continue reading at Videodrone

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