Thursday, August 23, 2007

TV on DVD – August 21, 2007

I made it down to the Dakota Dunes Casino on Monday and enjoyed myself even though it wasn't quite what I was expecting. It wasn't as large as I thought it would be somehow. The lunch I had (for free thanks to a coupon) was delicious but lacking a little – chicken balls without any obvious sauce? There were four poker tables but none in operation, though I suspect that would have changed in the evening. There seemed to be fewer table games than at the old Emerald Casino which was closed so that this place could open. There were a lot – and I mean a lot - of slot machines, which after all are the big money makers for any casino. And in an odd sort of way this reminded me of a lot of DVD releases including, but not limited to, the releases of TV shows on DVD. They frequently aren't exactly what you were expecting, the Extras are satisfying, but sometimes seem to be lacking, and the stuff you want sometimes either isn't there or not available in the abundance that you were hoping for. But it's still enjoyable.

Anyway down to business. As always while the comments are mine the list originates with the good folks at

My Pick Of The Week

I confess I'm really in a quandary over this one. The show I would pick is presented in a very no-frills package, is a show that is at best a niche interest and while it may be the show that I'd want to watch I honestly don't think it is the best package of the week. On the other hand it really is a lacklustre week compared even with next week's list of releases. Still I feel obliged to do one and it comes down to one of two first season shows. And the winner is:

Dexter: Season 1
There's really just one reason why this wins my favour over the first season of Ugly Betty and that is accessibility. Dexter is only available on the Showtime premium cable channel in the United States and on either of the two movie networks in Canada. Chances are, therefore, that most people probably haven't seen the series. People are more likely to have seen Ugly Betty since it airs on ABC. Not, mind you, that Dexter is without its charms. Chief amongst these of course is Michael C. Hall as the title character, a sociopath whose homicidal urges have been channelled by his adoptive father into killing other serial killers and heinous criminals who have escaped justice. Remembering Hall from his work on Six Feet Under (which I have seen) he would seem to be a perfect fit for the part. On his earlier show he played a character who – for the most part – seemed to be holding himself under tight self-control. This of course is exactly the quality that a serial killer working for the police force as part of a double life would possess. It is because Dexter is a new show and one which is on premium cable channels that it gets to be my relatively unenthusiastic pick of the week.

And now for the rest of the week's DVDs.

Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan: Cesar's Toughest Cases
Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan: Power of the Pack
Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan: The Complete Second Season

I gotta tell you that despite being a dog lover I don't get the whole notion of The Dog Whisperer phenomenon. Obviously the title refers to the Robert Redford movie The Horse Whisperer, but the basic principles that Cesar Millan is trying to show – that it is usually the owners who are the root of the problem rather than the animals themselves, and that the owner needs to establish himself or herself as the leader of the animal's "pack" is something that goes back to British dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse, but without all of the psychological mumbo-jumbo that Millan seems to pile on. In addition there are more than a few concerns from veterinarians and others about Millan's methods, as stated in part of the Wikipedia article on the show.

House: Season Three
I love House and Season 3 was one of the show's better outings. You had the character seemingly restored to good health, only to plunge back into his addiction in a manner that seems to prove that House is an addict with pain rather than one because of pain. He is provided with a nemesis to rage against in the form of Detective Tritter (David Morse in an Emmy nominated performance) while those surrounding him are revealed to be enabling him. After the matter of House's addiction is "solved" we find ourselves dealing with the relationship between House and his team in terms of the Chase-Cameron relationship, and Foreman's increasing fear that working so closely with House will strip away his humanity and leave him increasingly like his mentor. The season has some great episodes, although none of them really has the personal impact on House that episodes like "No Reason" (Season 2) or "Three Stories" (Season 1) did.

I Pity the Fool: Season 1
Let's face it, Mr. T has always been about the over the top personality, so what could be better than a reality show that shows off his personality. In I Pity The Fool, Mr. T (I don't know him so I don't feel comfortable calling him just T, particularly since he could still probably whup my skinny white ass if he wanted) goes from town to town helping people in typical Mr. T fashion. I've never seen it but the very notion of Mr. T helping students with a dance recital has comedy written all over it, and whether Mr. T realises it or is entirely serious about what he's doing doesn't diminish it.

JAG: Season 4
It's interesting that in reading the reviews of this week's DVD releases at Blogcritics the reviewer states that it is "a series whose popularity I never could fathom." I don't really think that it's all that hard. People like shows about lawyers and have done since Perry mason was winning every case and making Hamilton Burger look like his name (I wonder if Erle Stanley Gardner was aware that at some point in his life his prosecutor character would be ridiculed by someone calling him "Ham Burger" – probably). Add to that the fact that the setting is not just the military – which is a part of society that many people have ties to but which is still a world that most don't have an intimate knowledge of – but the Navy, which is a branch of service with its own customs and traditions and even its own legal peculiarities (for example an officer can be prosecuted for an accident that happens to the ship when he is officer of the deck even if he isn't actually in command; the punishment is usually a reprimand and can affect future promotion). Oh yeah, and having insanely attractive leads (David James Elliott and Catherine Bell) doesn't hurt either. And jets, let's not forget the jets. Plus the show, which tended to skew to an older audience, worked well on CBS at a time (before CSI) when the network needed shows that attracted viewers.

Life Begins: Series 1
I've never seen the British series Life Begins but the plot summary provided by Wikipedia somehow makes it sound like a dramatic version of The New Adventures Of Old Christine. In the first season Maggie Mee (Caroline Quentin) suddenly finds her marriage (which she thought was fine) broken up by a younger woman and is forced to cope with finding a job and raising her two kids on her own, even though her ex-husband in scarcely out of the picture. The difference of course is that while ...Old Christine plays this entirely for laughs, whether it's the continued presence of her ex-husband in her life, raising her child or her sex life, Life Begins apparently deals with the same sort of issues with a serious approach; Caroline has to get a job for the first time in a long time, she has to consider whether to take her philandering husband back or try to develop a relationship with another man, and then there's her father who is in the early stages or Alzheimers. Everything about this show makes it seem like the sort of show that the British do so well and which would never be seen on an American broadcast network...mores the pity.

Man About the House: Complete Series 1 and 2
I so wanted to make this DVD set my pick of the week, but I just couldn't do it. There was a time, back in the 1970s when Canadians saw a lot of British comedies because of a loophole in Canadian Content regulations that counted British and French series as Canadian – or maybe it was just "not American." Either meant that they were a cheap way to increase the percentage of Canadian shows to American programming on your station or network. We saw shows like Doctor In The House, On The Buses, Please Sir, and Yes Minister well before most of them found their way onto American channels. One of those shows was Man About The House. Most people know Man About The House as the model for Three's Company but in my opinion the original was the superior show. While Suzanne Summers character Chrissy Snow always came across as sexy but really dumb, Sally Thomsett's Jo was more naive than dumb. Richard Sullivan's portrayal of Robin Tripp was a much less physical form of comedy than John Ritter's Jack Tripper became. The relationship between Robin and Chrissy Plummer had far more of a sense of unresolved sexual tension than the Jack and Janet relationship did (and I'm was a Jack and Janet 'shipper) and the characters realised it – Robin and Chrissy come close to having sex in a later season and when Chrissy eventually marries Robin's brother, you get the sense that she thinks she might have married the wrong Tripp. (Forget the cover of the DVD set – Paula Wilcox who played Chrissy was hot.) Best of all though were Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce as George and Mildred Roper. Much as I love and respect Norman Fell nothing can compare with Murphy and his ginger hair and truly absurd comb-over. So why isn't it my pick of the week? The big ones are that there are only 13 episodes, despite the fact we're talking two seasons here, that it isn't from a major company (BCI-Eclipse – my prejudice of course), and worst of all that there are no extras, despite the fact that there are only 13 half-hours on two discs. And the sad truth is that we probably will never get a release of this series that contains interviews or other features. And I'm such a fan of this show that I really want extras.

South Park: Season 10
I've never been able to stand South Park and I don't feel comfortable saying anything about this series.

'Til Death: The Complete First Season
'Til Death isn't the best comedy on TV, but it is the best (non-animated) comedy on FOX – not that that's saying much. The show's biggest asset is Brad Garrett (in all sorts of ways) even though his character in this – history teacher Eddie Stark – lacks the put-upon quality that made Robert such a great comic creation in Everybody Loves Raymond. The combination of Garrett with Joely Fisher creates a married couple which, unlike many sitcom couples, seems real. The look like they could have been married for twenty-four years, and if nothing else have become comfortable with each other. There's just no truly pressing reason to buy this set though.

Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season
I have two confessions to make. First, I have never seen an episode of Ugly Betty. Watching it would interfere with my Survivor and Big Brother addictions. That I am addicted to those two shows is my second confession by the way. Even though I haven't seen Ugly Betty it seems to be the sort of show that I could embrace (if it weren't for those pesky reality shows). The show is based on the Colombian telenovella Yo soy Betty, la fea it is billed by the network as a "dramedy." And I suppose that if played "straight" it would have qualities similar to something like Melrose Placer some of the other night time soaps. What sets Ugly Betty apart is that it isn't played completely straight, it satirizes the culture of beauty that devalues someone who isn't "perfect" by the prevailing standards of beauty. Betty has a better education than just about anyone else in the office (though she's not as well educated as her Colombian counterpart who has a Masters in Finance) but is scorned because her fashion sense is less than ideal, she wears horned rimmed glasses and has braces on her teeth. Even so she becomes the real power behind the throne at work. There is so much that is over the top in this show, like the boss's transsexual brother/sister Alex/Alexis (played by Rebecca Romijn) who is out for revenge on her family, a dizzying number of affairs and assorted machinations. Definitely a show worth watching from the start, something that the DVD set makes possible – even for me (if I could ever find the time).

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