Thursday, February 02, 2006

TV ON DVD - January 31, 2006

A nice long list this week with one legitimate classic making its debut and several good series continuing to be released. Of course there's some stuff that as far as I'm concerned is a waste of plastic. There always is something that someone considers a waste of plastic but still, is there really a desperate need for Gastineau Girls to be available on DVD.

All-American Girl: The Complete Series
- I'm not a big fan of comedian Margaret Cho and I didn't like this series. In that at least I am in good company, since Cho herself was quite vocal at the time and ever since about just how crappy (well not exactly her word) she thought the show was. She was first described as "not Asian enough" when the cast consisted of several Asian American actors (including Clyde Kusatsu and B.D. Wong as her father and brother) and then "too Asian" when the format was switched to a group of "multi-cultural friends". The pressures of the show included getting her to lose weight which led to severe kidney failure. It also led to drug and alcohol addiction problems. If she didn't like it it has to have been bad.

Archie Bunker's Place: The Complete First Season
- The biggest problem with Archie Bunker's Place is that it wasn't All In The Family. The series switched focus away from the family home to a mix of the home and the bar that Archie had somehow managed to buy. This shift in focus gave the show a wider range of guest stars and semi-regulars to work with In addition to Archie, Edith, and their niece Stephanie. Initially they seem to have wanted to recreate the old dynamic of All In The Family by adding the great Martin Balsam as Archie's liberal Jewish partner Murray Klein. The first season featured limited participation by Jean Stapleton as Edith, but also had the great Anne Meara as the cook in the bar and sparring partner for Archie.

The A-Team: Season Three
- The A-Team was of course a phenomenon of the 1980s. Not necessarily a good phenomenon in the view of the anti-violence types - violence was the solution to all problems but the violence was never "deadly" - not to mention feminists, given the way the two attempts at creating female regulars ended up. As a matter of fact George Peppard, apparently speaking for the rest of the cast, stated that the show had no place for women as regular characters. Personally I liked Melinda Cullea as Amy Allen, was less happy with Marla Heasley as Tawnia Baker who was briefly added in this season. The plots didn't change much in the first four seasons - person being menaced gets in touch with the Team, Team goes to help and makes progress against bad guys, bad guys get upper hand but Team beats them, usually with some gadget developed by B.A., Team escapes seconds ahead of MPs.

Benny Hill: Set 4 - The Hill's Angels Years - Complete & Unadulterated
- Benny Hill was one of the great comedy phenomenons ever on TV. His programs weren't particularly sophisticated and the British intelligentsia rarely thought highly of him, but you can't argue with success and if it was nothing else, The Benny Hill Show was eminently successful and was seen in over 100 countries. The "Hill's Angels" period is defined by this set as running from 1978-81, and featured a rather buxom group of dancers. The mainstay of this group was Louise English who met Hill through her mother and became a close personal friend of his. The shows seen in the United States tended to be censored for content. In Canada I think we saw the British version which included more risque material including (if I remember correctly) some occasional nudity.

Dark Shadows: DVD Collection 22
- I'm pretty sure that Dark Shadows is the only daily soap opera available on DVD. The run of the series was short enough and the fan base of the show is large enough that this can work. They must be getting near the end of this ... mustn't they?

Diff'rent Strokes: The Complete Second Season
- "It takes Diff'rent Strokes to move the world yes it does." Who knew just how "diff'rent" the fates of the young people on this show would be. The second season was Charlotte Rae's last before her character of Edna Garrett was spun off to Facts of Life, the show for which she is better known. The second season also featured crossover episodes with MacLean Stevenson's series Hello Larry in a desperate (but ultimately futile) attempt to boost the ratings of the latter show (which I vaguely remember liking). If I don't sound terribly enthusiastic about this release, I guess it's because there's so many better shows than this (or All-American Girl) that aren't out on DVD.

Gastineau Girls: Season One
- Another waste of DVD production time. An E! cable reality show featuring the ex-wife and daughter of former NY Jet football player (and concensus All-American jackass) Mark Gastineau. Produced by Endemol productions, the cast also appears to include former Ukrainian figure skater Oksana Baiul. For the love of all that is holy, spend your money on something else - even porn - and don't encourage these people to make any more of these.

Here Comes the Grump
- I've never heard of this one. According to the IMDB it was produced by Friz Freleng's DePatie-Freleng Studios it features a number of well known voice actors including Rip Taylor, June Foray, Mel Blanc and Jay North. Reportedly very surrealistic the final episode is supposedly the rarest animation show ever - it was only aired once.

Hetty Wainthropp Investigates: The Complete Third Series
- I've never seen this British mystery series but it does feature Patricia Routledge in a totally different role from her most famous part, Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances, and Dominc Monaghan (now seen on Lost of course) in his first acting role. The DVD set is rather thin on extras.

Hill Street Blues: Season 1
- Probably the greatest series of the 1980s and arguably one of the greatest TV series of all times. The mix of characters and their qualities is incredible. Every one of them has something that draws you in. I can vividly remember some aspects of the first episode from Sergeant Esterhaus's first roll call (and his engagement to a high school senior) to the revelation - as Joyce Davenport prepares for bed ranting about the "fascist occupation force" that is the police presence at Hill Street Station - of the affair between the public defender and the station commander Captain Frank Furillo. Even the gang members - one of whom was a very young David Caruso - were memorable. Absolutely seminal TV. Skip the crap and buy this.

Inked: The Best of Season 1
- I remember when A&E made quality programs, original dramas and an assortment of British shows with a mix of classic movies. Now it seems to be a refuge for recent series in syndication and reality shows, of which the best is Airline. I've never seen Inked for two reasons: I hate what A&E has become and I neither understand nor particularly like the current fashion for tattoos. Call me an old fart but that's how it is.

Knight Rider: Season Three
- It is a fact of life of course that for every Hill Street Blues there has to be a Knight Rider. Let's just accept that the concept for the show was brilliantly dumb: hire a good looking actor to star in the show but have most of the important lines be delivered by the car who could be voiced by a better - and not so attractive - actor. While this concept was never carried to it's fullest (David Hasselhoff has at least a slight bit of ability as an actor - he covers a range from A to C, which is better than A to B) it is a fact that William Daniels was the better actor and that the car usually got the best lines.

Magnum P.I.: The Complete Third Season
- While it doesn't quite reach the levels for me that Hill Street Blues did, this is another series that I urge you to buy instead of crap like Gastineau Girls. The series was absolutely perfect in terms of casting, with Larry Manetti as Orville "Rick" Wright playing off Roger E. Mosley as "T.C." Magnum's confrontation with Higgins are classics as well. Even the recurring characters are special - a favourite of mine was always Gillian Dobb as Higgin's friend Agatha. There was a sweetness to her relationship with "Mr. Magnum". (To go off topic for a moment, one of the worst things about the recent revision of the Internet Movie Database is that it has made it extremely difficult to find the names of actors who had frequent recurring roles on series. There's no list of recurring guest stars available and if you don't know if a person was in an episode it is nearly impossible to find a name that way.) Season 3 features one of the visits from a mostly unseen but heard Orson Welles as Robin Masters.

MI-5: Volume 3
- MI-5 is of course the American name for the British series Spooks - reportedly the name change occurred because of the racial connotation of the word "Spook" in the United States - which has been seen on A&E. In this case it is entirely right and proper for American viewers to wait for the DVD release since A&E edits approximately 15 minutes of content from the show in order to insert commercials, this apparently being more appealing to them than running the show at 90 minutes and supplementing the number of ads they can sell with other material. Season 3 of the series is noteworthy in that during the course of the season all of three main members of the original cast leaves the show and there were a lot of complaints that the replacements were far inferior to the originals. Definitely worth the price.

The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection
- For a character who started exclusively as part of the trailer for a movie, Friz Freleng's Pink Panther did pretty well for himself. Included on this set are the 124 Pink Panther cartoons produced by DePatie-Freleng Studios between 1964 and 1980, in which the Panther displays the comedic timing of a Chaplin or a Keaton - silently, acompanied by music and a narrator as opposed to the 1993 TV cartoons where the Panther talked (and worse sounded like Matt Frewer). The set also includes the animated title sequences for The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Revenge of the Pink Panther, and Trail of the Pink Panther. What I don't know is whether the set includes anything from the companion series featuring The Inspector. Probably not.

Rat Patrol: The Complete First Season
- The Rat Patrol was based on the exploits of the various British "private armies" serving in North Africa during the campaign against Rommel, including the original Special Air Service and the Long Range Desert Group, which used the fluidity of desert warfare to operate far behind the German lines primarily for reconnaissance and attacks against German supply lines. By the time the Americans landed in North Africa the Germans were in retreat after the battle of El Alamein and the need for the private armies was waning. That didn't stop ABC from taking the story of the LRDG, making it about a four man American unit (well three Americans and a token Brit) racing around the desert in two machine gun armed jeeps and causing tremendous problems for the Germans in the person of Hauptmann Dietrich, played to perfection by Hans Gudegast (aka Eric Braden). The acting is generally adequate for what it is - a half hour show with a greater emphasis on action than character development (although Dietrich is one of the most sympathetic regular antagonists you're likely to find in a war series). There's plenty of action and the decision to shoot the series in colour was a definite asset. Just don't buy this expecting the strength and depth of a series like Combat!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Series 3, Vol. 6 - Turtles Against H.A.T.E.
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really started as a joke, but it was a joke that sold ... and sold and sold. The first animated series - which the creators of the original comic books dislike because it was such a departure from their original concept - was the one of longest running animated TV series ever. The episodes on this DVD are from the 2003 Fox Kids series which is considered by many fans to be far closer to the comic book roots of the characters. I can't judge since I've spent a long time and a lot of energy avoiding any version of the Turtles.

Two's Company: Complete Series 4
- The final season of the classic British comedy featuring the clash of cultures and personalities between a spirited American writer, played by Elaine Stritch and a stuffy uppercrust English butler, played by Donald Sinden. These two actors alone makes this series worth watching As I recall, by the fourth season the two characters had achieved a sort of affectionate mutual entente. It's not a typical British comedy, or more accurately it's not what people think of as a typical British comedy, but it is highly enjoyable.

The X-Files Season 1 (New)
The X-Files Season 2 (New)
The X-Files Season 3 (New)

- Okay, we all know that The X-Files has been released on DVD before so why release it again? Well apparently there are a couple of reasons and they depend on where you happen to be, believe it or not. The site lists this as the "Bilingual Edition" and apparently is only in French, while the site refers to it as a "Collector's Edition" (as a result I'm not linking these to the site - there's too much confusion as to what you'd be getting from them). So what makes it a "Collector's Edition" beyond new cover art? Apparently the answer is a significantly lower price made possible by selling them in thin packs and not offering the bonus material from the seventh disk of the original season releases. The usual warning applies in this situation - if you already have these shows on DVD stay away, but if you don't (and particularly if price was a major reason why you didn't buy them originally) this might be something for you to get. Just don't buy it because it says "Collector's Edition".

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