Sunday, September 02, 2007

TV on DVD – August 28, 2007

Here we go again with another week's worth of new DVDs – just about in time for next week's DVDs. A lot of time spent goofing off but also doing things that I really rather that I wouldn't be doing – but mostly goofing off. Still I did want to get this one done. As always the list come from – only the commentary is mine.

My Pick Of The Week
Friday Night Lights: The First Season

We're starting to see the first wave last season's shows coming to DVD, a wave that will roll on through September and into October. This week includes the first season DVDs for two of NBC's shows that have been renewed for next season. One was a huge, mega-hit. The other barely hung on because Kevin Reilly loved it. So naturally the one I'm going to tell you to buy is the one that Kevin Reilly loved but which barely hung on otherwise. The show is Friday Night Lights and what I forgot to mention is that most professional critics, including a lot that I have tremendous respect for also loved the show. And by the way, I love the show to the point where I tell everyone I can to watch it. This, by the way, is why it is my pick of the week; the sincere hope that by getting people to watch the DVD of the show will lead in turn to them watching the show on Friday nights this coming season, and not coincidentally the hope that having lots of people buying the DVDs will tell NBC that there is an audience for this show so that they don't make any snap decisions.

Oh, make no mistake, this is a worthy series to be supporting. While on the surface it may seem to be about football, with a hearty dose of teen angst for good measure, that's not what it's about. Those elements are there of course, but the show is really multi-layered, like the sort of small city that it portrays and with just as many surprises. A lesser show might focus on the teen angst aspects like the cheerleader who goes to bed with her paralyzed boyfriend's best friend, and would almost certainly make the kids magazine cover perfect in appearance. Or they might focus on football and the pressures that football puts on the coach and the players, with a player choosing to do steroids while another is a not particularly well concealed alcoholic. They might focus on the coach and his family as they deal with the pressure that he's under both as a coach and a father. And so on. The point is though, that all of those elements and more are melded into an almost entirely seamless whole. The quality of the acting and of the writing are superior to much of what is seen on TV today.

Now for the rest of this week's new TV related DVDs.

Beyond Belief: Season 1
I confess, I shudder more than a little bit when I see a title like Beyond Belief because I know, deep down in the very pit of my stomach that they're going to make me waste my time watching them "comvince" me that something that any sane logical person would never believe is in fact the whole unvarnished truth. Oddly enough, reading the synopsis in Wikipedia I find that this series takes a somewhat unique approach. The show, which ran from off and on between 1997-2002, mingled true which defy logic with equally illogical fictions and asked the viewer to figure out which was which. Oh to be sure, they were still trying to make the unbeliever believe the unbelievable but at least it's an approach. The first season was hosted by James Brolin and narrated by the one and only voice of the movie trailers, Don LaFontaine.

Dangermouse: The Complete Series
For those fans who haven't bought any of the previous four DVD sets which cover the series ten seasons and 89 episodes, there's this complete set priced at roughly the same amount that you'd pay if you bought the episodes individually – assuming of course you could find them. There's no "added value" in this new set in terms of material that wasn't available previously so if you've already got the previous sets there's no reason to get this unless you're a collector who is also a "completeist."

Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Episodes 1-35
I never have understood the Dark Shadows phenomenon – one of the disadvantages of living in a one TV station town, particularly one that prided itself on local programming is that I never got to see the series when it came out, at the prime age to be a fan apparently. It seems that, having released all the episodes featuring Barnabbas Collins (which I gather was the principal draw for the series), they have now decided to release the first 250 or so episodes that didn't feature Barnabas. Dark Shadows is one of the few "daytime dramas" (aka Soap Operas) where it is feasible to release the complete series on DVD. I'd like to see them try that with The Edge of Night (I really would actually).

Flight 29 Down, Vol. 2
I had no idea that this show even existed. Ten teenagers are on a plane that crashes on a remote island in the Pacific, although the focus of the show is really only on seven of them. Yeah, I know what it sounds like, but there are a lot of differences from Lost. For one thing, there are no hatches, black smoke or polar bears. It's not all sunshine and lollipops for these castaways though. There's conflict between the kids (of course) but the big thing is actually figuring out how to survive – finding food and drinkable water, exploring the island and trying to contact the outside world. There are a number of "soapy" moments on the show with various crushes and relationship conflicts. This is a single disk, and maddeningly Amazon doesn't list the episodes that are on the disk.

Heroes: Season 1
Heroes: Season 1 [HD DVD]

Obviously, if it weren't for Friday Night Lights this would have been my pick of the week...maybe (I do have a fondness for The Odd Couple though). While others drew valid links between Heroes and the Marvel Comics series The X-Men, I always linked it closer to DC's Legion of Super-Heroes but that's probably because I was always a DC disciple rather than a Marvel Maniac. The first season of the series is structured in an interesting manner as the characters individually discover their abilities and begin to develop relationships. Threats and menaces are revealed or seem to be revealed as there are characters who seem to be villains, those whose villainy is eminently obvious and those whose schemes are carefully plotted and only emerges over the course of time (and is eventually hijacked but that would blow the finale). The reaction of the characters, ranging from confusion to an unwillingness to accept what is happening to the pure exuberance that Hiro Nakamura has in his discovery that he can emulate the comic book heroes that he's always loved is almost magical. The series looked great on regular TV so it must be spectacular in a High Definition format.

I Shouldn't Be Alive
With a title like I Shouldn't Be Alive this basically sounds like the worst sort of tabloid TV, but it comes from the Discovery Channel. The series recreates true stories of survival narrated by the people who lived them (who are portrayed by actors, usually for reasons like missing appendages). The series ran for three seasons and a total of 19 hour long episodes.

Legion of the Superheroes, Vol. 1
I mentioned above that Heroes reminded me of the Legion of Superheroes. No surprise there, they were my second favourite super team (I've always had a real soft spot for the Justice Society, which beats out the Legion, but then I saw the Legion a lot more because they came out every month or so and the Society showed up once a year). Like the cast of Heroes the Legion just kept growing and growing and included some pretty odd characters (like Bouncing Boy who, well he inflated his body and bounced, and Matter Eater Lad, whose super power was that he could eat anything). While there are a lot of Legion members available for the producers to use, they seem to have wisely focussed on a core group consisting of Superboy, the fiery and somewhat egotistical Lightning Lad, the level headed telepath Saturn Girl, the brilliant Brainiac 5, Phantom Girl who is a bit of a spoiled princess, Triplicate Girl who can split into three copies of herself, Timber Wolf who has an appearance like a werewolf and is described as "a loner but longs to be closer to people," and Bouncing Boy. The presentation of the characters is more stylized than the recent Justice League series, owing a lot more to the style of the Teen Titans TV series. This set includes four half hour episodes.

Masters of Horror: Season 1
In a previous listing of DVDs I talked about a couple of releases from the second season of Masters of Horror and at the time I mentioned that in terms of cost you'd be better off buying a complete set. This is the Season One complete set brought all together (the episodes had previously been released individually, and then on two "regular" boxed sets). I like the idea of releasing the episodes of this anthology series on individual discs for fans who only want episodes from specific writers or directors, particularly given that each disk has plenty of space for extras (and the time to make them) but buying individually doesn't make sense to me if you want the whole thing. Buying a set like this does make sense to me. I'd like to see other anthology shows try this approach if they can deliver quality material, but in the end the costs just might not be right.

Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: Field Trips, Permission Slips, And Weasels
A Nickelodeon series, so I don't know if this one ever aired in Canada. The fact that it is unavailable for may indicate...something (I just don't know what). It took some work to find out what is on this particular disk. I eventually discovered that this is the series finale, a double length episode. I suppose if you're a fan of the series it's probably worth it.

The Odd Couple: The Complete Second Season
When I think of The Odd Couple I always think of Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, never of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Always. Apparently the show never got really strong ratings during its first run but it really nailed them during the summer and was renewed on the strength of those summer ratings. I suppose this should serve as a lesson to network programmers who pull the plug on series after one or two episodes air, but we know it won't. The second season was notable for the switch to a three camera system in front of a studio audience rather than a one camera shoot with a laugh track and this seems to have made a difference for Randall and Klugman as they both hated the canned laughter. Both men were nominated for Emmys in each year that the show ran. One of the classic series of the early 1970s, it just gets better with age. Unfortunately this release has two things going against it: some music from the original episodes was replaced for music clearance problems – but they tell you this up front and by all reports it isn't egregious (unlike the release of WKRP In Cincinnati) – and the other is a total lack of extras, which in my book is more serious.

The Outer Limits, Vol. 2: Original Series
The Outer Limits was one of the greatest anthology shows of the early 1960s even though it's greatness really wasn't recognised at the time. After all it only ran two years and the second season was a "mere" 17 episodes long. Some series today would beg for a run as long as 17 episodes, but the first season of The Outer Limits ran for 32 episodes. This DVD set represents the second half of the first season. The star in this series is the writing, since most of the actors are either character actors or young players who hadn't made a mark yet and in many cases never would. At the same time there were faces who would become well known – the episodes on this set include performances by Richard Jaeckel, Marion Ross, Dabney Coleman, Robert Duvall, Warren Oates and Leonard Nimoy. In addition some episodes had an influence on the work of Gene Rodenberry, notably the episode Fun And Games.

Rick and Steve: Season 1
Never even heard of this one before. The full title isRick & Steve the Happiest Gay Couple in All the World. Apparently it's a computer animiated series featuring the titular Rick and Steve and their circle of friends and done for the LOGO network in the US which is aimed at the Gay, Lebsian, Bisexual and Transgendered community. From the picture in Wikipedia the characters bear something of a resemblance to some toys you can buy for little kids in that they seem kind of blocky. There's not much more I can say about it having only seen the Wikipedia article and the image they included with it.

Samurai Jack: Season 4
I've never seen an episode of Samurai Jack which, based on what I've read, is my loss. I can't judge really but the stills I've seen look stunning and the series seems to be highly regarded.

Tutenstein, Vol. 3
An animated series on Discovery Kids, this is a series that I kind of have a hard time picturing. The mummy of a ten year-old Egyptian boy is restored to life after 3,000 years. Tutankhensetamun, aka Tutenstein but usually known as Tut, is rude egotistical and careless which is not unlike the way he was when he was alive. Another one that I haven't seen and like Samurai Jack, an Emmy winner, not that that necessarily means much.

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