Sunday, September 09, 2007

TV on DVD – September 4, 2007

I'm late in starting this again, and will probably be late in getting it done. I'm not really sure why I didn't start on this sooner but I didn't. As always, the list is from while the commentary is entirely mine.

My Pick of the Week
30 Rock: Season 1
30 Rock: Season 1, Vol. 1
30 Rock: Season 1, Vol. 2

Well, actually it's just the full set. I don't get the marketing logic behind offering a Volume 1 and a Volume 2 as well as a complete set but then that's why I'm not a DVD marketing hoodlum – sorry, executive. There were actually a couple of solid picks from this list but I'm going with 30 Rock for a couple of good reasons. First of course is that it has the great Alec Baldwin playing off of Tina Fey. The show is genuinely funny, even with the presence of Tracy Morgan (sorry can't get into him or his character).Then too there's the fact that the show hasn't had the best ratings despite the critical buzz that the series has had since it debuted. I want to believe that people have been holding back from watching this show because they were afraid that the show would be cancelled. With the change at the top of NBC Entertainment (when Kevin Reilly fell on his sword for Jeff Zucker's mistakes) I am worried that this show, like Friday Night Lights, might be on the chopping block if the ratings don't improve unless there's an indication that there's support – The Office survived because of iTunes downloads, and a successful DVD release for 30 Rock – particularly if it translates into improved ratings for the show.

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

The Black Donnellys: The Complete Series
It used to be that when a series tanked that was the end of it. These days unless the show dies after a couple of episodes it shows up on the shelves as a DVD release. And while I doubt that we'll ever see a DVD release of shows like Smith (with Ray Liotta) or 3 Lbs. (with Stanley Tucci) neither of which lasted more than two or three episodes, we are seeing shows that were cancelled quickly making an almost ghostly comeback as DVDs. The Black Donnellys probably only made it onto NBC because it was created by Oscar winning writer/director Paul Haggis. As I said at the time broadcast network television was probably the wrong place for this show about a family of largely incompetent Irish crooks. If it had been on a cable channel, free – or at least freer – of the restrictions on language violence and sex that come with being on broadcast TV it might well have prospered. As it was, the show developed a small cult following, however I wouldn't expect the series to set any DVD sales records. That's kind of unfortunate because, despite the fact that I found the episode that I watched to drag a bit, on the whole it was a well done show that deserved to find a bigger audience.

Bosom Buddies: Season 2
Whatever happened to Peter Scolari? Bosom Buddies was the show that made Tom Hanks a star but the equally talented Scolari never had the same sort of success. The central premise – two men dressing as women to live in a women's only hotel and having to maintain their secret to stay there – was to a degree discarded in the second season, with two major characters (Kip's girlfriend Sonny and new hotel manager Isabelle) learning of the secret. A fondly remembered series (but not by me – I never watched it).

The Best of Cheaters, Vol. 2: Too Hot for TV
I have so little to say about this that it's ridiculous. My biggest question is this: what kind of person signs a release to air his or her dirty laundry – the suspicion that their husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend is cheating on them – in public? Actually I have an even bigger question – what kind of person signs a release to allow their image to be used on this show if they're the ones who are actually cheating?

Desperate Housewives: The Complete Third Season
Okay, I've got to ask; what sets the "Dirty Laundry" edition of Desperate Housewives apart from what might be called the "ordinary" edition? I mean besides the fact that they aren't actually issuing a regular edition. It's pretty much accepted wisdom that the second season of Desperate Housewives was quite a come down from the first season, with the mystery surrounding the Applewhites not really living up to the first season's drama and intrigue. Season Three was a bit of an improvement but in my opinion the show didn't get back to the heights of the first season. Sure there were nice touches – I have to admit to laughing when Bree has her first ever orgasm, not to mention the way that Lynette got Kayla out of the ice cream parlour – but there were some dreary bits as well. I thought the whole Ian vs. Mike thing went on far too long and was reminiscent of another Terri Hatcher entanglement, the long engagement of Lois Lane and Clark Kent on Lois and Clark. As for Lynette she became the show's soap opera queen, dealing with her husband's ex-lover (who was shot) and illegitimate daugther, then a romantic entanglement of her own which wasn't consummated but which Tom thought might have been, and culminating with cancer. And for this Felicity Huffman was nominated for an Emmy for best actress in a Comedy?!

Dirty Jobs Collection, Vol. 1
I don't think I've ever seen this one, but reading the description on Wikipedia makes the whole concept seem fascinating. Host Mike Rowe goes out and does the jobs that most of us wouldn't try on a dare; things like septic tank cleaner, bat guano collector, baby chicken sexer, or tire recycler. The jobs are "dirty"in a variety of ways and Rowe apparently makes jokes about them, but almost never about the people who do the jobs. As Rowe puts it, "I explore the country looking for people who aren't afraid to get dirty—hard-working men and women who earn an honest living doing the kinds of jobs that make civilized life possible for the rest of us."

Falcon Beach: Complete First Season
One of the annoying things about getting attached to a TV show on Canadian TV – okay mostly a show on Global – is that their shows seem to be highly reliant on being an international co-production. Falcon Beach was a show like that. The show was a partnership between Global and the teen-oriented ABC Family cable channel. When ABC Family cancelled the show after the second season, Global offered the producers "a lot less money" to do a third season which was basically the kiss of death to the show, despite healthy international sales. The show was set at the summer resort of Falcon Beach, but where Falcon Beach was depended on whether you were watching Global (where it was on Manitoba's Lake Winnipeg – the actual town the producers used was Manitoba Beach) or ABC Family (where the town was somewhere in New England). In fact two versions were actually filmed, one with Canadian references and one with American. While it's not absolutely clear it seems likely that the DVD set, which is released by Fremantle Media, will feature the ABC Family version.

Garfield: Dreams and Schemes
Garfield: Dreams and Schemes (with toy)

A fairly standard Garfield release, and even though I loved the character when it started (way back when it was an original idea) and I'm a fan of Mark Evanier who was heavily involved in the creation of the TV series, I really can't muster up that much enthusiasm for the standard Garfield release. If you can, get the one with the little "Pooky" toy, Garfield's favourite. It's the same price as the DVD without the doll and let's face it, the thing is cute.

Gumby Essentials
One of the many shows I never saw as a kid living in a one TV station town was Gumby. Oh I had a vague understanding of the character; I'd see him and Pokey in the toy department of Woolworth's downtown, but as far as knowing what he was about, I was clueless. I think I may have thought that he was a British character or maybe something like those weird cartoons the CBC would sometimes show from Czechoslovakia. On this DVD are fifteen Gumby episodes, five each from the 1950s, '60s and '80s, as well as some bonus material. Are they really essentials? Well, sadly, I wouldn't know.

Hetty Wainthropp Investigates: The Complete Collection
Patricia Routledge will probably always be known for playing Hyaicnth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) in Keeping Up Appearances but she should at least be noticed for playing Hetty Wainthropp, housewife and private investigator in this series. When it comes to complete series sets, my usual rule is that if you haven't already bought sets from the series before and the contents are the same you should look to see which alternative is cheapest. This set is an absolute bargain coming in at about half of what it would cost to buy the four sets separately. Definitely worth the price.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Seasons 1&2
I have never seen this series, but every review and plot summary that I've read – invariably raves – convinces me that if I saw it I'd probably hate it. The characters all sound like they're on the unlikable side and even in a comedy I think I really need to have at least some sympathy for the lead characters. But given that I haven't seen it, who am I to judge?

Man vs. Wild
In the realm of TV shows that you think you can describe without resorting to Wikipedia – at least not immediately – comes Man vs. Wild. Now given the current abhorence of hunting, it's obviously not a show about going out and hunting, so my guess is that it's a show about surviving in the great outdoors, probably in a variety of loctions. And sure enough I'm right. Ah but there's more. Apparently this show, which originated on Britain's Channel 4 and is seen in the United States (and probably Canada) on the Discovery Channel, has been accused of various bits of staging for host "survival expert" Bear Grylls the least of which was sleeping in a motel when he claimed he was living in the wilderness. A complete listing of the controversies surrounding the show can be found in the show's Wikipedia article.

Nip/Tuck: The Complete Fourth Season
Nip/Tuck: Season 4 [Blu-ray]
Nip/Tuck: Season 4 [HD DVD]

One of the PTC's favourite targets for complaints about sex and violence – mostly sex. The show does have a high content of sex in some rather bizarre contexts. Season 4 featured one of the lead characters, Christian having several affairs including one with the wife of the new owner of his plastic surgery practice while her husband watches them. There's also organ theft and various other machinations. As I said, the show has been a frequent target of the PTC despite airing on a cable network – FX – carrying suitable warnings, and airing at a late hour. In Canada the show airs is broadcast over the air by CTV, apparently with few if any complaints. The show is one of the most popular shows on basic cable. In his Spetember 8, 2006 Programming Insider column for Mediaweek, Marc Berman wrote of the Season 4 debut, "Nip/Tuck's performance among adults 18-49 ranks as basic cable's top-rated season-premiere in the demo for 2006, as of September 8, 2006." No wonder the PTC hates it.

The Office: Season Three
If it weren't for the debut on DVD of 30 Rock, this would undoubtedly be my pick of the week. The Office is a show full of fascinating characters even roles which most series would designate as throwaways. Moreover most of the main characters have a sympathetic side. Michael (Steve Carrell) may be a complete and total ass who is oblivious to what people really think about him, but even he has moments when you sort of feel for him. The Season 3 DVD shows slow progress in the relationship between Jim and Pam even as complications are added – Jim left Scranton for Stamford Connecticut only to return when that branch closed down and brought an added complication in Karen the girl he had been starting a relationship with at that office. In a sitcom landscape all too often filled with "buddy shows" and husbands and wives who don't fit together, The Office – a show about people living what must be described as lives of quiet desperation – is different and deserving of its success.

Prison Break: Season 2
I bailed on Prison Break part way through Season 1, largely because it was on Monday night when I bowl and it just didn't seem worth the bother. After all, what could they do once they break out of the prison? As it turned out there was quite a lot they could do – I still wasn't watching the show but I did read the various episode recaps. Much of it was centered on uncovering the conspiracy that put Lincoln Burrows in prison but also the whole mechanics of being on the run. The show managed to maintain a dramatic tension despite spreading the cast far and wide. I'm not entirely convinced that the plot holds together in terms of logic, but this is drama and drama insists on the willing suspension of disbelief, something which viewers are perfectly willing to do for this show.

The Real Housewives of Orange County: Season One
I'm sure that this show is been available in Canada, but for the life of me I can't come up with a reason for wanting to watch it. The show is a reality show about five women living in a gated community in California's Orange County, their lives and relationships. The reference is to The O.C. but the show could probably just as easily be called "Real Desperate Housewives" but it also reminds me of that truly abominable CBS reality show Tuesday Night Book Club. I know why that show failed dismally after two episodes; what I can't figure out is why this show thrives for two seasons and is renewed for a third (but with a new cast) and gets a DVD box set.

Robot Chicken: Season Two
Robot Chicken is one of the little joys of life provided courtesy of the remote control. See I rarely see this show from the beginning but usually come upon it when I'm listlessly surfing channels to find a show to watch. The show is a morsel – usually ten to fifteen minutes of outrageous comedic goodness. It has the twin hooks of an amazing list of guest voice artists – the list in the show's Wikipedia entry features well over a hundred different actors – and stop motion animation done with action figures. The show is usually a series of blackout skits that rarely last more than a minute. And it is hilarious.

Rules of Engagement: The Complete First Season
In the list of last season's new sitcoms Rules Of Engagement wasn't the worst. The problem is that it just wasn't that great either. And in a week that includes the release of season two of Robot Chicken, season three of The Office, and the first season of 30 Rock I can't see this one flying off of store shelves except maybe as a result of being knocked off by people trying to get the good stuff.

She-Ra Princess of Power: Season 2
I tend to look at animated TV series with a bit of a jaundiced eye. I grew up watching Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, Woody Woodpecker as well as the early Hanna-Barbera and so I like to think that I've got an eye for quality animation. She-Ra: Princess of Power was produced by Filmation in association with Mattel which produced the He-Man and She-Ra line of toys, and I have a hard time seeing anything beyond the usually terrible limited animation that Filmation put out. I'm told that Filmation made an effort to make their stories strong, and I did see that in the Star Trek animated series they did, but it is still hard getting over the animation. It doesn't help, in my mind that the two series were essentially toy commercials and that She-Ra was essentially created to open the action figure market to girls – He-Man rode a tiger while She-Ra rode a horse, presumably because girls like horses. The series – and the toy line – died after two years, but a lot of people have strong and good memories of the character and the series. If you do, then you can overlook the crappy animation and are the market for this show; I'm not and I can't.

Spongebob Squarepants: Season 5, Vol. 1
Not my coup of tea, but SpongeBob seems to have developed a following beyond what I would expect it too. My recently acquired grumpy old fart nature probably keeps me from seeing its charms. But my four year-old nephew probably likes it and that, in and of itself, validates it for me.

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