Daria: The Complete Animated Series (Paramount) – Though she began life as a foil for Beavis and Butthead, Daria Morgendorffer soon spun-off into her own animated MTV series and staked out her own unique identity. Unlike the giggling morons that became short-lived pop culture icons, Daria is a smart and sardonic girl whose dry wit comes out in a running commentary on the stifling conformity of her culture. Think of her as a teenage Janeane Garofalo stuck in a Twilight Zone of vapid, stupid high school students, where her deadpan sarcasm falls on deaf ears, except for Jane, her bohemian best friend and partner in sarcasm. While it never reached the popularity of Beavis and Butthead, it’s a smarter, sharper show, an actual satire of high school culture with characters who actually evolve, even the disaffected Daria, who seriously damages her friendship with Jane when she “steals” Jane’s boyfriend. The strains of betrayal and broken trust can be felt long after they have supposedly put it behind them.
The series debuts on DVD in revised form. As the show’s creator Glenn Eichler confesses up front, most of the original music was replaced due to licensing costs (which is what kept it off DVD for so long). Fan may balk, but it’s the trade-off to that finally makes it available: all five seasons of the show. The 8 discs, collected in a double-wide case with hinged trays, include all 65 original episodes plus the two made-for-TV Daria movies: Is it Fall Yet? (2000), which finds them flailing through summer vacation, and Is It College Yet? (2002), which finally brought Daria and friends to graduation. Also features the pilot “Sealed With a Kick,” Daria Day intros, Top Ten Video Countdown hosted by Daria and Jane and cast and crew interview among the supplements.
The most savage legal series on TV, Damages launched on FX in 2007 with Glenn Close running the show as Patty Hewes, the alpha wolf of New York’s high-priced attorneys. Hewes walked away from that very eventful season with a huge win in her class action lawsuit against arrogant millionaire CEO Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) and a failed murder attempt against her newest hire, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), and Close walked away with an Emmy for Best Actress (one of the show’s three awards). Damages: The Complete Second Season (Sony) picks up in the wake of those events, with Ellen now working as an informant for the FBI’s efforts to put Patty away and Patty looking for the right case to follow up the win that made her the superstar of New York litigators. This season features what is arguably the most impressive cast on television, including William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Timothy Olyphant, Ted Danson, Mario Van Peebles, Darryl Hammond, and Clarke Peters and John Doman of The Wire. Hurt is old friend and professional colleague Daniel Purcell, who comes to Patty with hints of a corporate conspiracy and then becomes a client when he’s the prime suspect in the murder of his wife, Gay Harden is the corporate litigator who takes on Patty and Olyphant is a member of Ellen’s support group with his own secrets.
Close plays Patty with a cold cunning and unapologetic ego—she plays to win and she doesn’t seem to care who gets chewed up in the process—while Hurt keeps us guessing at Purcell’s motives and allegiances when he double-crosses Patty on the stand at a time he’s supposed to be a friendly witness against the corporation that seems to have corrupted him as well. Everyone is playing an angle here and you can’t trust anyone, not even the FBI or the EPA, which keeps the audience off balance through the thirteen-episode story. And as in the first season, they almost never step into a courtroom. Forget courtroom theatrics and dramatic summation speeches to the jury, this all about behind the scenes machinations and hardball tactics of legal gamesmanship.
Without a doubt, Criterion delivers the goods for the best of this week’s DVD releases, with the high art of Chantal Akerman’s masterpiece of modernist cinema Jeanne Dielman and the wildly energetic grindhouse art of Nikkatsu Noir Japanese crime cinema, both of which I review in greater detail elsewhere on my blog. But that’s not all the week has to offer. Television has always seemed a little behind the times, which is why the launch of thirtysomething (Shout! Factory) was embraced with such passion in 1987: it reflected the lives of young professionals starting families in their thirties. The credits roll suggests an ensemble show, but it’s really centered on young marrieds and new parents Michael and Hope Steadman (Ken Olin and Mel Harris), with friends, family and professional colleagues orbiting around their family (among them Timothy Busfield, Polly Draper, Peter Horton, Melanie Mayron and Patricia Wettig). [NOTE: I was admonished by a friend who insisted that the series was indeed an ensemble show, which I’m sure it did evolve into. I never saw it when it was on TV but based on the episodes I watched on the DVD, the first season pivoted on this couple and they dominate certainly the first half of the season at least.]
Created by director/writer/producer team of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, it was drawn in part from their own lives, balancing careers and parenthood, managing expectations with compromise, wondering why it isn’t as simple as it looks on all the rest of the sitcoms and family dramas on TV. Yes, it’s yuppies dealing with the same problems their parents faced, but it also avoided contrived melodrama and clichéd situations to confront the frustrations that real people faced in lives that were never as easy as they looked or as happy as they were supposed to be. It was a success because audiences recognized themselves in it, but it was a hit because they targeted the audiences that advertisers like best.
21 episodes on six discs in a box set of three thinpak cases plus a very nice collection of supplements. Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick chart the development of the show’s creation in an animated thirty-minute discussion. The cast and writers join in for the retrospective documentary From thirtysomething to Forever, interview featurettes and commentary tracks on nine episodes. And the ten-minute “Cultural Impact” is no self-congratulatory reflection but a look at the changing face of the TV audience and the show’s place in the social conversation. Also comes with a very nice episode guide packed with stills and short essays. In short, everything the show’s fans could want for a TV reunion. Continue reading “thirtysomething, Adventureland, Duplicity – DVDs for 8/25/09”