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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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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TV on DVD 05/04/10 – David Tennant is Hamlet, Robert Young is Marcus Welby and Invader ZIM the conquering hero

Hamlet (2009) (BBC) – David Tennant followed up his successful run as Doctor Who by taking on the melancholy Dane in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s modern-dress 2008 production of Hamlet. The acclaimed and hugely popular production was subsequently adapted to the small screen for this three-hour BBC presentation with stage director Gregory Doran behind the camera, premiering on the BBC in late 2009 and on PBS at the end of April 2010, less than a week before the DVD and Blu-ray release.

David Tennant catches the conscience of a king on super 8

Tennant is amazing. Not simply brooding in the opening scenes, he’s downright insolent in the face of his mother’s over-hasty marriage to Claudius (Patrick Stewart), the brother of Hamlet’s dead father. When the ghost appears (Patrick Stewart again), it’s just enough to tip him from indignation to vengeance, which he follows with a ruthlessness that cares not who is caught in the crossfire. His Hamlet is intense, angry, caustic, mad in both senses of the word. His humor has an aggressive edge to it, played up to keep the court off-guard but delivered by Tennant with a viciousness I haven’t seen before. It’s not a game, nor just a feint, but a cruel joke that the vulnerable Ophelia (a rather bloodless Mariah Gale) is too often the victim of. In most productions I’ve seen, Hamlet shows little if any remorse at the killing of Polonious hiding in the queen’s closet (he’s just sorry it wasn’t the king). Here his callousness is out of control, and while gripped in his fire for revenge, it also reveals just how far he’s tipped over the edge, not caring who is hurt in the collateral damage. Patrick Stewart, who played Claudius thirty years earlier opposite Derek Jacobi’s Hamlet for another BBC production, comes on all concern for his nephew and stepson, exuding a warmth that is slowly replaced by a cold resolution when Hamlet’s play in fact catches the conscience of a king, or at least cuts to the truth of the matter in a way Claudius can no longer ignore.

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TV on DVD for 2/2/10 – Farewell Doctor Who, Hello She-Wolf

Doctor Who: The Complete Specials (BBC) – There was a noticeable grumble among Doctor Who fans when Christopher Eccleston left the role after a single season and the Doctor was reborn in the fun-loving, hyper-animated persona of David Tennant. There’s no question that Tennant made the part his own in his four years with the character, just as producer Russell T. Davies brought a whole new energy and sensibility to the iconic series with his 21st century reboot. And with both Tennant and Davies leaving the series, they decided to give the fans something very special by way of farewell and followed the fourth season with five hour-long “specials” (well, four actually, but one of them was broken into two separate parts and comes that way on disc). These shows take what was inherent in this incarnation of the Doctor and finally, fatefully transform the last of the Time Lords from happy-go-lucky time- and space-traveler into a tragic hero on a collision course with destiny and a death foretold.

David Tennant faces The End of Time
David Tennant faces The End of Time

The adventuresome Planet of the Dead (with Michelle Ryan) and the melancholy The Next Doctor (with David Morrissey) have already appeared separately on DVD and Blu-ray. The rest debut this week, separately or in DVD and Blu-ray box sets. The Waters of Mars, starring Lindsay Duncan as the leader of an Earth colony on Mars, is an invasion thriller that puts the Doctor in the heartbreaking position of putting compassion up against the laws of time and space that he considers immutable. Under the spring-loaded energy and snappy repartee that gives The Doctor his goofy amiability and lighthearted lift, Tennant layers in a note of anguish that is fully brought forth in the two-part The End of Time (titles don’t come more epic than that). And they outdo themselves on The End of Time, which delves into the mystery of the Time Lords (check out Timothy Dalton as narrator and rogue Time Lord), spins an apocalyptic showdown like you’ve never seen (John Simm as the Time Master, a madman with seemingly unlimited power to transform himself into… well, something epic) and ends with a touching farewell tour of the lives the Doctor has touched in his current incarnation before his inevitable transformation. It’s a touching and deserved farewell to one of the finest incarnations of The Doctor. Each of the specials runs just under an hour except for The End of Time, Part Two, which runs over to give the Doctor time to say farewell to everyone.

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