“Castle: The Complete Fourth Season” (ABC) opens with Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) recovering from an assassin’s bullet and apparent amnesia and mystery author and freelance NYPD “consultant” Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) dancing around the declaration of love that she can’t remember (or can she?).
The lighthearted procedural has always scored stronger on character and banter and ensemble chemistry than on writing and this season is no different, even with the addition of a new Captain (Penny Johnson) who is a stickler for procedure. And it’s not just the boyish enthusiasm that Fillion brings to every case (as well as his unconventional flirtations with Stanic) that carries the show. He has his own just-us-guys style with Jon Huertas and Seamus Dever (who really click as Beckett’s team) and his family scenes (with Susan Sullivan as his theatrical mom and Molly C. Quinn as his smart and centered daughter) have only gotten better. Even the scripts improve this season. Either that or I’m simply giving in to the formula. They’re no less cute and just as gimmicky as ever, but somehow the self-awareness works. I just hope that the dark threads of conspiracy and shell shock (not to mention the danger of finally breaking the defining sexual tensions) don’t get in the way of the show’s fun with murder.
23 episodes on five discs, with commentary on three episodes, two episodes performed as radio shows by Nathan Fillion and friends, three featurettes, and the usual deleted scenes and blooper reel. DVD only.
Modern Family: The Complete First Season (Fox) – In yet another Emmy year dominated by cable, Modern Family was the big network winner with five awards (including “Outstanding Comedy Series”). TV vets Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd update the classic American family sitcom with an extended family that is nothing of not diverse and contemporary.
Patriarch Jay Pritchett (Ed O’Neill), by his own admission “not the world’s greatest father,” is on his second marriage, this time to a younger woman (Sofía Vergara) with an adolescent son and proud (and often comic) Colombian heritage. His daughter (Julie Bowen) is a suburban stay-at-home mom playing parent to her three kids and her husband Phil (Ty Burrell), his son (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), a self-conscious, anxiety-ridden gay man who has adopted a child with his far more flamboyant partner (Eric Stonestreet). It’s classic sitcom stuff, with episodes revolving around birthdays, anniversaries, the shooting of a family portrait and that old standby, a family vacation to Hawaii, and the stories even somewhat conventional, but they’re no Brady Bunch. Sure, the episodes end in a heartwarming reflection on family life, but their stresses are definitely that of the modern family.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – The Complete Second Season (Warner) – The TV spin-off of the Terminator films turned out to be both smart science fiction and gritty, spectacular action for the small screen, which already makes it more compelling and rewarding than the last two films in the series. It earned the show a loyal following and solid ratings, though unfortunately not quite solid enough. In the show’s second (and ultimately final) season, the fractured family unit – tough, battle-hardened mom Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), petite hellcat of a robot bodyguard Cameron (Summer Glau), brooding, suspicious uncle Derek from the future (Brian Austin Green, turning out to be quite the TV action hero in a real career revival role) and John Connor (Thomas Dekker), the teenage boy destined to be the savior of the human race – begins to unravel in divisive secrets and splintering suspicions. John’s troubled girlfriend (Leven Rambin) and Derek’s enigmatic lover from the future (Stephanie Jacobsen), who has inexplicably followed him back in time, complicate their lives with their own hidden agendas and the shadowy corporate conspiracy behind the machine apocalypse just gets more intriguing and ambiguous. But most riveting is the evolution of the growing cast of robots, making them both more “human” and less predictable.
Garret Dillahunt is back as the Terminator that hunted John through the first season, now playing the body inhabited by a supercomputer that creepy corporate schemer Catherine Weaver (pop star Shirley Manson, who brings a weird, unemotional disconnection to the role that is both unnerving and distracting) seems to be trying to turn into Skynet. And why not? She turns out to be a Terminator herself, the cool T-1000 liquid metal version from the second movie, and she hires Richard T. Jones, the FBI agent who dogs the Connors through the first season, to teach this new being what it is to be human (she picks up a few tips herself along the way). They are brawny episodes in a visceral action series, one of the most expensive on TV, and it shows in each dynamic scene. The gritty writing, vivid characters and dynamic visual style did not, however, attract a big enough audience to justify the show’s high budget and it was cancelled after the superb season.