Saturday, July 28, 2007

TV on DVD – July 24, 2007

Well better late than never on this. There have been a couple of breaks in the local hot weather – enough that I've been able to get ouside and do some much needed yard work – and I also confess to becoming obsessed with a new (to me) game. The downfall of my family I fear is that when we get obsessed with a new game it is to the exclusion of all else including concepts like time or at least day and night. Hopefully I can get things back on track soon.

Beer Nutz: Season 1
Okay, this might come as a surprise but I know absolutely nothing about this show. As in absolutely nothing – like who did it, what country it came from or what it's about. And apparently no one else does either. Wikipedia doesn't list it; doesn't; the IMDB lists only the host, while neither nor have anything beyond the price and the day it ships. I can't even find a homepage for the show – if indeed it is a show – online! So finally I went to the source of the data for these posts, and here's what they wrote (and apologies to them for pulling this quote in its entirety – I usually do my own homework): "If you've ever dreamed you'd hold the title of brew master, belly up to the bar as we travel across the country, one glass at a time. Discover America's beer capitals and learn the history and traditions behind the perfect pint to see if you can join the ranks of the most fanatical and wear the badge of Beer Nut.

Benson: The Complete First Season
Benson is one of my favourite series. Robert Guillaume's character Benson DuBois was quite clearly the sanest person in the series Soap and also one of the most popular characters, so it made sense to put him into a series of his own. The first season of the show had a lot the elements that we'd become familiar with – the genial Governor played by James Noble and Inge Svenson as the acerbic chief cook Kraus with whom he was always feuding – but it wasn't the show that it would become. It was almost as if they'd carried some of the basics of the Soap format over to the new show. Still worth a watch, even if you do miss Rene Auberjonois (he didn't start until the second season).

A Bit of Fry & Laurie: Season Three
A Bit of Fry & Laurie: Season Four
A Bit of Fry & Laurie: The Complete Collection... Every Bit

I first became familiar with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie from their work as the title characters in the 1990s Jeeves and Wooster TV series which was seen on Masterpiece Theater and which antedates their work on Blackadder (1986-89 for Laurie) and is contemporary with their work on A Bit Of Fry and Laurie. Which makes it odd – but only slightly – that I've never seen more than a few moments of this show. Actually I do know the reason; even though it was on the Canadian version of Bravo (which is totally different from the American version) I could never find it and when I did find it could never remember when it was on. The show is an almost entirely two-person sketch show even more than something like Little Britain. A gem.

TV Guide Presents: The Crow: Stairway to Heaven: The Complete Series
Our blogging buddy Bryce Zabel produced this follow-up to the two Crow movies. It was shot in Vancouver, and I remember it as one of the earliest original shows on Space: The Imagination Station – the Canadian equivalent of The Sci-Fi Channel (but better). While I generally enjoyed the show I sometimes found it difficult to follow and had hopes that a second season might have resolved some of my problems with it. Of course the show never had a second season. Unfortunately, even though the show did decently in the ratings it got caught up in the mess that was Polygram's sale to Seagrams and subsequent integration into Universal. What I wasn't aware of until I started writing this is that the star of the series, Mark Dacascos, is the Charirman on Iron Chef America. Julie Dreyfus, who appears on the show as the owner of the Blackout Club, was an occasional judge on the original Japanese version of Iron Chef.

Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, Vol. 3
It was with a certain amount of sadness that I read in TVSquad that Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law had aired its last episode. Oh, not because I'm a particularly huge fan, but it seemed to me that this mining of a character who in his "dramatic" incarnation lasted only one season was an ideal venue for satirizing just about any subject you could think of. Much of the show was done using Flash in part because the Korean animation studio that was originally contracted to produce episodes couldn't keep up with the pace that the show required. The result was a rather interesting variation on the sort of limited animation that Hanna-Barbera – which created most of the characters used in the show – was famous/infamous for.

The Secrets of Isis: The Complete Series
As far as I know this series, which with its companion Shazam! was part of Saturday morning's The Shazam!/Isis Hour, wasn't seen in my little part of Canada so unlike a lot of guys I never lusted after Joanna Cameron. The series was a departure for Filmation in that both parts were live action shows rather than extremely poorly animated shows. A generation later Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess would be cultural phenomena but as far as I can tell Isis never caught fire. A mere 22 episodes were produced over two seasons, in addition to three appearances by Isis on the Shazam part of the show. The Isis character was an original creation by Filmation that later spawned a fairly short lived comic book series from DC which in turn led to the character being reworked and revived in the 52 series. Presumably somewhere along the line ownership of the character ended up at DC Comics.

Land of the Giants: The Complete Series
Can I just say WOW!!! This set not only includes the complete series on nine double sided DVDs but there are a ton of special features on the disks and other stuff in the box including a reprint of a Land Of The Giants comic book, trading cards, a shoulder patch and what looks like a toy version of the ship in the series. Land Of The Giants is the only one of the 1960s Irwin Allen TV series that I haven't seen – I saw Lost In Space and Time Tunnel when it came out and caught bits and pieces of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea when it aired on Space – but I've never managed to catch Land Of The Giants in almost 40 years. If it weren't for the price tag on this set (as big as the box) I might be interested just to see what I've been missing.

The Real McCoys: Complete Season 1
Rhino Home Video released a DVD of The Real McCoys back in 2003 but for fans of the show that was more than a bit of a disappointment since it wasn't a full season set but rather had four episodes of the series. This set, from new producer Falcon Pictures Group is the complete first season. Another show that I never saw back in the days of one local station, and while it may have popped up in syndication when we had more than one station it was at a time when I wasn't able to see it.

Todd McFarlane's Spawn: 10th Anniversary Signature Edition
Spawn is one of those "hey you kids get off my lawn" things for me. I just don't get it; not as a comic book, not as a movie, and most assuredly not as an animated series. Still who am I to argue with success; Spawn, and the toy company and licensing arrangements that went along with it, made Todd McFarlane an extremely rich man. Despite what's written on the box, the series only had three seasons of six episodes each – the 10th anniversary refers to the fact that the show debuted 10 years ago. And I still don't get it!!

Spenser: A Savage Place
Spenser: Judas Goat

A pair of made for TV movies that Robert Urich and Avery Brooks did in 1995 along with Canadian actress Wendy Crewson (the films were done in Toronto rather than Boston, and it sometimes shows). A Savage Place was Robert Urich's last appearance as Spenser (they're also the reason why Captain Sisko suddenly shave his head and grew a badass beard on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Certainly not as good as the series – Toronto ain't Boston, and Urich's health still wasn't the best – but the movies are reportedly relatively close to the original material, which is always good.

Star Trek Captains Log
Captain's Log...Stardate ... some random numbers in ... the script...point 6. Iconic words indeed whether uttered by Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Janeway – Archer came before Stardates although he did do log entries. The good folks at Paramount Home Video (it should be mentioned here that most executives in the Home Video companies and branches of companies are slightly below "Network Weasels" in terms of being "good" for reasons that usually quite apparent), having released every episode of Star Trek ever made in overpriced boxed sets, are still determined to wring cash out of the fans. Unlike the people who do Farscape sets with their multiple versions, or Andromeda with their overpriced part of a season sets followed up by a complete season set that was a fraction of the price of the individual discs needed to make up the complete season, the Star Trek folks have been ingenious. What they've done is to package episodes from different series in the franchise along a common theme; Klingons, or The Borg for example. This set is an interesting one. There are ten episodes – two from each captain – chosen by fans of the series in an online poll, but in addition each of the five actors who played a captain chose one favourite episode of their own. And of course there are plenty of special features. As Spock would say, "Fascinating."

Stargate SG-1: Season 10
I was never a huge Stargate SG1 fan. Oh I'd watch it if I saw it and once I got into the story I'd enjoy it, but I never actively sought it out. This is the tenth and final season although, like Star Trek the franchise just keeps rolling along with Stargate Atlantis and a projected third series as well as some TV movies from the original franchise. The tenth season makes a quite conscious effort to wind things up, and there are apparently more than a few stand-alone stories as well as a number of resolved plot threads (for those movies). From a non-fan like me this gets a half-hearted recommendation though I'm sure every fan will be lining up to get it (if they didn't pre-order).

Suspense: The Lost Episodes Collection, Vol. 1
When commercial television revived after being halted by World War II it seemed only natural to transfer the popular radio shows of the day to the small screen. One of the most popular radio shows of the day was Suspense. On radio the series had high production values and attracted some of the leading lights of the day including comedians like Jack Benny and Jim and Marion Jordan, appearing in dramatic roles. The show ran a surprising six years on television, and attracted its share of famous talent. On the cover of this DVD I recognise Leslie Nielsen and George Reeves as well as Boris Karloff. There is a bit of a bait and switch going on here in a couple of ways. The legendary Boris Karloff is featured on the cover as if he were the star of the series when in fact he only appeared in six episodes during the show's entire run. Secondly the show is listed as being "filmed in Kinescope" as though that were some revolutionary process. In fact the "process" consisted of filming the show off the TV monitor as the show was being done live. The result was for the most less than satisfactory by even the standards of a few years later. Shows on this set start in 1949 and run the complete length of the series. Good stories with great casts and a glimpse into the early days of Television; what more could you ask for?

Tales from the Crypt: The Complete Sixth Season
I've been told that the sixth season of Tales From The Crypt is one of the weaker ones for the show. I couldn't honestly tell you – on those occasions when I've managed to see episodes of the show (or parts of episodes, usually) I haven't been able to tell whether an episode was from season one or season seven. The show is quite interesting; an ensemble series based on the sort of stories featured in the classic EC Comics that were scandalous in the 1950s (the comics were deemed so graphic by the Kefauver Commission that they spawned the Comics Code Authority – after trying to buck the system in couple of ways publisher William Gaines stuck with his one remaining title, a juvenile humour comic that became a magazine called Mad). The stories attracted a really impressive list of directors and actors. Regardless of the season this series is a good watch.

Three Sheets: Season 1
Zane Lamprey drinks his way around the world in HD. I can't see anything in the concept that would tempt me to part with 25 bucks, but your mileage may vary.

The Ultimate Underdog Collection, Vol. 1
The Ultimate Underdog Collection, Vol. 2
The Ultimate Underdog Collection, Vol. 3

We all know why this series is coming out now – it's a prelude to the new live action (with CGI) Disney movie Underdog, Here's an instant tip for those of you with kids. Take the money you would be spending to take your spouse and your two and a half kids (is that still the average?) to the multiplex, pay for parking and the overpriced food at the theatre, and buy these DVDs. You'll probably save money and you will undoubtedly have a lot better time and not just because you can put real butter on the popcorn. I find it vaguely disturbing just how much I remember from this series that I didn't see that many times; from "Not bird nor plane nor even frog, it's just little old me (CRASH!!) Underdog," to "without my super energy pill I get weaker and weaker and weaker still," to Sweet Polly Purebred's "Oh where oh where has my Underdog gone, Oh where oh where can he be?" At a time when Batman was pushing the "camp" humour angle to adults while being taken seriously by kids like me (who didn't see the "real" Batman until years after the show left the air), and Hanna-Barbera were doing shows like Space Ghost and Birdman that were played with deadly seriousness, Underdog is pure fun. And as an added bonus, these are complete episodes – like a lot of cartoons in this period there were two six minute episodes featuring the lead character and a single episode of a secondary character – which means episodes of Tennessee Tuxedo and my personal favourites the Go Go Gophers. And besides the movie doesn't have the voice of the sadly underappreciated Wally Cox.

Weeds, Season 2
Weeds: Season 2 [Blu-ray]

Another show that I really haven't caught even though it is now available on basic cable here. The series obviously has something worth paying attention to given the number of awards the show has been nominated for and won, including Emmy nominations for this season for Mary Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins. The subject of a fortyish suburban widow who also happens to be a pot dealer just doesn't seem to attract me I guess. Still the cast is superb and I confess that I'd probably like it if I ever gave it a chance. Worth noting that the series is available on standard DVD and the high definition Blu-ray format (but not HD-DVD). I'm no expert on the DVD format wars so I won't express an opinion on this. Either one format will win out or dual format players will become the norm until, in the long term one format wins.

The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Collection
This is the reason why I won't be buying Underdog or anything else for a while. I'm not sure what inspired Universal to release these cartoons but I'm glad they did. In fact if it weren't for the hot spell we've been having (and the need to do work around the house when the hot spell occasionally broke) I'd have this set already. Walter Lantz never had the biggest or the best studio in Hollywood; he was pretty much a second tier studio behind the Disneys, Warners and MGMs of the world, but he did have a knack for self promotion that led him to be as famous as Disney for a time while his TV show ran in the late 1950s. And truth be known he made some pretty good cartoons (he also made theatrical shorts longer than just about anyone else, though given the quality of some of the last shorts he did that's not really something to brag about). This set if full of great material that isn't just Woody Woodpecker. The last shorts that Tex Avery did are here as are some cartoons that Lantz was forbidden to show on TV (some of his Swing Symphony cartoons were deemed to be racially touchy by censors in the 1950s). One thing. My friend Jaime Weinman warned in his MacLean's blog that there is a problem with the Canadian sets of this – Disc 1 is labelled as Disc 2 and vice versa. It doesn't make much of a difference, since all the material is there, but it's worth mentioning.

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