TV on DVD for 1/12/09 – Make It or Break It, Tara

I’m something of a closet junkie for ABC Family Channel shows and Make It or Break It: Volume One (Disney), a series focused on four female teenage gymnasts competing to land a spot on the American Olympic team, is a perfect illustration of why. On the surface it looks like a spin-off of the (criminally underrated) film Stick It, right down to the working-class girl, Emily (Chelsea Hobbs), who is brought in from Fresno (where she trained at the YMCA) to the nationally-rated Rocky Mountain Gymnastics Training Center (aka The Rock) in Boulder and becomes the odd girl out among the daughters of the ambitious and affluent. But it’s not about rebellion so much as issues facing all teenagers, in particular teenage girls, exacerbated by the stress of training and struggle and the pressures of expectations in a rarified culture of national competition, and each of the four girls at the core of the team embodies the conflicts and challenges: Emily, the tough girl with a single mom with the best intentions and epic bad decisions; Payson (Ayla Kell), the team superstar who has sacrificed everything to gymnastics (even as her supportive parents wish she would sometimes just have some fun); Lauren (Cassie Scerbo), the bitchy rich girl who sees Emily as a threat and backstabs even her best friends to secure her spot on the team; and Kaylie (Josie Loren), the daughter of a pro athlete who pushes her to succeed when she would be happy just to be like other girls.

Chelsea Hobbs, Josie Loren and Cassie Scerbo

There’s a whole soap opera of emotional crises spread across the girls and the families of their orbits but true to the channel’s focus, it’s all about being a teenage girl. The ten episodes of this two-disc set, which take them through the collapse and rebuilding of the team under a new coach and the march to the Junior Nationals in Boston, make up the first half of the debut season (which resumes this week on cable). The set also includes the featurette “Making It” (the young stars discuss balancing the physical demand of the role with the performance) and deleted scenes. The new season has just begun on ABC Family Channel.

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TV on DVD for 12/29/09 – Galactica Actual, plus Tara, Glee and Family Guy in space

Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series (Universal) – Yes, I’m aware that this oddly designed box set is not new this season. It was actually released in the summer but I only received it while working on the MSN “Best of 2009” DVD and Blu-ray list. And while it didn’t make the list, it’s one of the best TV shows of the decade and, for all the issues with the packaging, still the best way to get the entire show in one cost-effective swoop.

Battlestar Galactica

Forget the original clunky, kitschy 1980s sci-fi series. This series is more than a revival, it’s a creative, clever, and compelling rethinking of the show. The drama about the human survivors of an intergalactic massacre on a deep space wagon train search for the mythical plant Earth is reborn with a new generation of Cylons (a robot race originally created by humans who declare war on their creators) and a fascinating new command dynamic. In place of the paternal guidance of Lorne Greene is Edward James Olmos as Commander Adama, an old-school Battlestar commander in an archaic ship, and this time he’s sharing power and responsibility with a civilian President (Mary McDonnell), much to his crusty frustration. And there are other inspired reinventions: Baltar (James Callis), an absurdly evil and short sighted villain in the original, is a tormented scientist tricked into becoming a traitor and haunted by a phantom Cylon sexpot (Tricia Helfer), and the swaggering hotshot pilot Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) is a cigar-chomping, rule-breaking girl who looks like she could kick Dirk Benedict’s ass around the galaxy and back.

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