Friday, August 03, 2007

TV On DVD – July 31, 2007

Here we are again (and late again) with the new TV-related DVD releases for July 31, 2007. The list is courtesy of of course.

I want to try an idea here though I'm not entirely sure how I'll finally implement it. What I want to do is list one DVD as my personal pick of the week. The trouble is that I'm not entirely sure how to make this "pop" since I'm using product links. For now I think I'll probably make my Pick of the Week the first DVD on the list (in the belief that you may not read all the way to the bottom so I can't put it last) and give an explanation. So without further ado (except to remind you that this is the last day to vote in the current poll) let's get started.

My Pick Of The Week:
Popeye the Sailor: 1933-1938, Vol. 1
I know why this is included in the whole TV on DVD listing – the Popeye cartoons were a standby for local TV kid's shows throughout the world – but in all honesty the cartoons in this set were probably rarely seen on TV because most were in Black & White. These were the Fleischer Brothers cartoons and date from a time when they were one of the two big, innovative, animation studios that everyone else tried to catch, and that includes Warner Brothers and MGM. Popeye with his spinach – which was never a big factor in the Segar comic strip – were almost as big as Mickey Mouse. Part of the charm is Jack Mercer's under-the-breath adlibs as Popeye something that would never happen in Disney cartoons – or indeed work from any other animation studio. As with last week's Woody Woodpecker set, a must have for the animation fan.

So why is this my pick of the week? Well I'm an unabashed animation nut, and as I mentioned the Fleischer Brothers were, at this stage of their careers were at the top of their game. The Fleischer cartoons had an urban grittiness and the studio was doing a considerable amount of innovation – their turntable system was an attempt to give depth to the image was a fascinating, if in the end impractical process – and usually on a smaller budget than Disney was spending. At times, Popeye cartoons were more popular than Mickey Mouse. As for the DVDs people more knowledgeable than I who were involved with the production of the sets absolutely rave about the quality – the set is from Warner Home Video so no real surprise there. According to Amazon site there are something like five hours of extras on the four disk set including commentaries from Jerry Beck and Mark Evanier. I'd be very happy if someone would buy this for me (Greg).

The Archie Show: The Complete Original Series
It must have seen natural to bring the character of Archie from the comic strips to animated cartoons. And it worked, introducing the musical group "The Archies" which had a real life hit in 1969 with Sugar Sugar. For the most part the show was a conventional cartoon effort of the period, with two stories separated by bumpers per episode. The series actually only lasted for on 39 episode series. It just seemed longer, given the efforts that were made to repackage the original elements.

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales
Say what you want about Babylon 5 fans and series creator J. Michael Straczynski, they won't let the series die. Babylon 5: The Lost Tales is an effort to carry the series on in a direct to DVD format. It is questionable whether the experiment is a success. The DVD features two separate stories, each about 35 minutes long. One features Tracy Scoggins's character Captain Lockley in a story of demonic possession and exorcism. The other features Bruce Boxleitner facing a dilemma when a technomage (Peter Woodward, who introduced the character in the ill-fated B-5 continuation Crusade) gives him a glimpse of the destruction of Earth in thirty years and a course of action to prevent it which is based on killing a seemingly innocent Centauri nobleman now. I don't know that this is what fans want from the Babylon 5 franchise but following the deaths of Andreas Katsulas and Richard Biggs it is apparently what Straczynski seems comfortable in giving us.

Dallas: The Complete Seventh Season
The thing about a good soap opera is that events reach conclusions even as other plots are evolving and new storylines are developing and it all blends together seamlessly. Dallas was a great soap opera. The stories were always different from season to season but they all focussed on Bobby being the good brother and JR being a thoroughgoing scoundrel on every possible level. The season starts with the aftermath of a fire at Southfork and Pam filing for divorce from Bobby, and it ends with Miss Elly being rescued from the clutches of Clayton Farlow's mentally unbalanced sister and Bobby being shot. Along the way, JR plots to ruin Cliff Barnes (as usual) and opposing with all his might Miss Elly's relationship with Clayton Farlow as well as the usual sex swearing, violence and excess drinking of the sort that would have the PTC screaming "Will no one think of the children!" if the show were on today. And all things considered it was still great entertainment.

Hawaii Five-O: Season 2
What can you say about the second season of a show like Hawaii Five-O? Coming – as the show did – from an era where writers and producers left continuity to soap operas – there's not much in the way of character development, nor did people expect it. Most episodes were self-contained so that it was a major event when any show from this period aired a two parter and no one even considered something as absurd as a cliff-hanger finale for a season. What you get in any season of Hawaii Five-0 is taut, well written action in an exotic locale. The second season features two episodes with the show's greatest recurring villain Wo Fat (Kigh Diegh). Jack Lord might even stretch his emotional range from A to B on rare occassions (C of course was too big of a step for him, at least in this series). Still, for all of its shortcomings, a truly legendary show.

The Kids of Degrassi Street: The Complete Series
If you're familiar with Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High School (not to mention Degrassi: The Next Generation), you might find The Kids of Degrassi Street a bit surprising. For one thing, while a few of the actors appeared in the later shows, none of the characters are the same. The show is more of a classic "juvenile" aimed at older pre-teens and teenagers but with appeal to their parents as well. They have the "after school special" feel about them – not surprisingly really since they aired on the CBC at 4:30 on Wednesdays – but with strong writing. There were only 26 episodes – surprising to me since it seemed to be talked about so much when it was on – spread over a period of about five years. It led the way for Kit Hood and Linda Schuyler to develop Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High School as prime time series with longer seasons.

The Rhinemann Exchange
Back in the 1976-77 TV season NBC had a concept called The Big Event, which followed the Sunday Mystery Movie. The Big Event was sort of an umbrella for movies and variety specials but a major component of this show was Bestsellers. What they really were of course were miniseries – usually two 2-hour episodes – based on popular novels. For me at least they represented a degeneration of the concept of the mini-series that had debuted so promisingly with Roots. One of the novels adapted in the first season was Robert Ludlum's The Rhinemann Exchange. I think it can safely be described as less than memorable since I saw it (or at least part of it) at the time and only have very vague memories of it. The casting could probably be described as the usual suspects – including Stephen Colins (in the lead role), Lauren Hutton, Claude Akins, Vince Edwards, Roddy McDowell and Larry Hagman – with a couple of major figures added on for prestige; in this case Jose Ferrer and John Huston. Not really recommended, but then I don't think I could recommend most of the mini-series that appeared under the umbrella of The Big Event.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Season 2
I have to say, I was never a fan of Sabrina the Teenage Witch when it debuted, you know what with being a guy and an adult. I became something of a fan thanks to the newsgroup where some people I really respected expressed a big interest in it, and because there wasn't anything on at the time that I really wanted to see. It was better than I had expected. Season Two featured the usual trials and tribulations of high school (well except the smoking, the sex, and the drugs) played with a comedic twist. The witch side of the show features Sabrina having to earn her "witch license" under the tutelage of "the Quizmaster" (played by Alimi Barrett, who is now playing deadly serious in Numb3rs). There's some pretty funny stuff here and Melissa Joan Hart has a winning personality (personally I also liked to ogle Beth Broderick).

Sons of Hollywood S1
Remember Princes of Malibu? That show where the spoiled sons of Bruce Jenner and Linda Thompson were forced by their wicked stepfather David Foster to stop sponging off him and find their way in the world but their attempts at working (or entrepreneurship) only served to tick him off even worse? Well this is kind of the same thing, featuring Randy Spelling – son and heir (thanks to his mother) of Aaron Spelling – and Sean Stewart – son of Rod and Alana Stewart – plus agent David Weintraub. The producers prefer to describe this as the "real" Entourage but I like the comparison to Princes of Malibu better. It's the story of two Hollywood 20-somethings sharing a house and trying to make a life for themselves outside the shadows of their famous fathers...but not too far outside. Of interest, I suppose, is that the show was shot around the time of Aaron Spelling's death and his illness and death are part of the storyline for several episodes. This is sort of undercut by the fact that the show aired some episodes where Aaron Spelling was still alive after the episodes where he died.

The Complete Space 1999 Megaset: 30th Anniversary
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson are among my least favourite producers. Of adult TV shows that is. And that's an important caveat. I loved their kids shows and this would have been a slightly different review if the Thunderbirds 40th Anniversary Edition had been released this week. Space 1999 was a show that I anticipated because of its cast, which included Martin Landau, Barbara Bain and in the first season Barry Morse. They were all favourites of mine. I liked the ships, I liked Moonbase Alpha, and to a certain extent I liked the characters. The problem was that I could never really manage the willing suspension of disbelief that was required to believe that the moon, having left its orbit was travelling to other stars and doing so in a matter weeks or months. It's one thing to accept a family run rescue operation complete with privately built stealth space station, and its own rocket ship when you're a kid but in a show aimed at an adult I was sort of hoping for more in the way of explanation. And of course the mass cast changes – most notably the departure of Barry Morse over a salary dispute (and his desire to "play with the adults") – in the second season made the show even harder to accept. This DVD set contains all 48 episodes produced plus a fan produced finale and a lot of special features including some commentaries, interviews with cast and crew, trailers and photo galleries, on 17(!) disks.

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