TV DVD QuickTakes Archive
The Addams Family: Volume Two
It’s still a little mystifying as to why MGM decided to release this series in volumes rather than full-season sets, but, ultimately, you have to just accept it and say, “Eh, at least they’re here.” And, more importantly, the studio’s had the class to add a lot of special features. In addition to 21 episodes of the creepiest, kookiest, most mysterious and spookiest family of the ‘60s (sorry, Munsters, you’re just not even in the same league), there’s a very interesting featurette entitled, “Mad About The Addams,” where experts discuss the history of the show, as well as its cultural impact. In addition, a slightly less impressive interactive featurette is “Guest Star Séance,” which “conjures up” clips of the series’ more notable guest stars, along with a spooky voiceover, offering a few tidbits of trivia about each person. One episode has a Tombstone Trivia track (think “Pop-Up Video”), and there are a few commentaries as well, but the one from author Stephen Cox is decidedly more illuminating than those from Thing and Cousin Itt. (And, yes, we’re serious, there really is commentary from Thing and Cousin Itt.) You’ll find that “The Addams Family” remains one of the most immaculate transitions from cartoon to live-action series in television history.
Alex Borstein: Drop Dead Gorgeous
Alex Borstein is indeed a very funny lady. Most folks know her as the voice of Lois Griffin on “Family Guy,” or through her work on “MADtv”; unfortunately, this DVD is a mixed affair. Some moments are worthwhile – her impressions of Renee Zellweger and Natalie Merchant are particularly funny – while other bits, like a closing segment that gets a little too close to cornball territory, miss the mark. Especially painful is opening act Teddy Towne, played by Ted Hardwick; this guy is anything but funny, and you’re best left just not watching his segment at all. As an added bonus, Borstein takes the viewer through the “Family Guy” headquarters for a little tour. All in all, it’s a pleasant, though by no means essential, purchase for the Borstein fan.
Alias: The Complete Fourth Season
What happens when you’ve done everything you possibly can? You do it again, of course. The fourth season of the hit drama starts all over with Sydney, Vaughn, Dixon, Marshall and Jack working together again, this time for a CIA-controlled black ops unit run by, you guessed it, Arvin Sloan. The one new face in the group is Sydney’s half-sister Nadia, but it all feels the same. Sydney and Vaughn butt heads over their relationship; Jack and Arvin are emotionally cold; and Marshall plays the comedic relief. Oh, and did I mention the Russian zombies? Yeah, there's some of those here too.
Alias: The Final Season
It’s shocking enough to wake up and discover that you’re the victim of a horrendous car accident (not to mention that the love of your life – who’s just told you that he’s not the person he said he was – might be dead), but when you have a bunch of baddies posing as EMTs shooting at you with machine guns, well, you can go ahead and file that under “Bad Day.” Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) has been having a lot of those lately after joining the CIA back in year one of “Alias,” and though the series has arguably gotten out of hand since its premiere, this fifth and final season looks to tie up any loose ends by finally resolving just who the good guys and bad guys really are. The flip-flopping loyalties have been one of my biggest concerns, and it’s nice to know that, yes, both Arvin Sloan (Ron Rifkin) and Mama Bristow (Lena Olin) are indeed pure evil. Of course, since it’s the last season, the writers have also taken it upon themselves to clean house, killing just about every character they can without causing fan uproar. It also marks the dismissal of Greg Grunberg from the series, who, luckily, gets away unscathed, while Michael Vartan isn’t quite so lucky… or is he? Balthazar Getty (the new Vaughn) and Rachel Nichols (the new Sydney) are also introduced as new recruits for APO, but while they struggle to integrate into an already tight cast, the series ends well before they’re given the chance. Forget about Rimbaldi, it’s Garner who holds the true power in this story.
All-American Girl: The Complete Series
Margaret Cho’s grand debut to mainstream audiences probably looked a lot better on paper, but almost none of the comedian’s trademark routine was actually used in this short-lived sitcom about a Korean family living in America. Whether the creators were attempting to produce an Asian “Cosby Show” is unclear, but the series received a lot of heat from the Asian-American community for its portrayal of the main characters. In fact, the only redeeming quality of the series is that it gave Cho plenty of ammo for her groundbreaking one-woman show “I’m the One That I Want.” And while the series doesn’t offer much in terms of comedy, the included sitdown with Cho and co-star Amy Hill is definitely worth checking out.
The Amazing Race: The Seventh Season
Far and wide the best season of the series for one reason, and one reason alone: Rob & Amber. The addictively fascinating reality TV king and queen also finished runner-up in the competition, with only a few minutes difference standing in the way of taking home their second game show prize of the year. Now, fans of the show will probably say that they finally received their comeuppance for being such jerks, especially since they’ve been on a combined total of five reality shows (three “Survivor”s, one “Amazing Race,” and then their ABC wedding special), but there’s a good reason for this: they’re fun to watch, and if making good television is a sin… well… too bad.
The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete Seventh Season
Like its sixth and eighth seasons, the seventh season of “The Andy Griffith Show” starts with two strikes against it: it’s not in black and white, and Don Knotts isn’t a part of the cast anymore. (Knotts’ departure coincidentally occurred right about the same time the series started filming in color.) As such, it’s no surprise that the two best episodes of this season turn out to be the back-to-back pair when Barney Fife appears; in the first, Andy visits Barney at the Raleigh police department and helps save his old friend’s job, while in the second, Barney returns to Mayberry for a visit and ends up going on a date with an old girlfriend who’s now a big movie star. The latter has an oddly depressing ending, with Andy admitting to Aunt Bea after Barney’s departure that he really misses his friend and that “there’s only one Barney Fife.” (True, that.) Arguably more depressing, however, is “Floyd’s Barber Shop,” which was effectively actor Howard McNear’s swan song as Floyd the Barber; he appeared at least once more – in the last episode of the season – but he’d had a stroke earlier in the year and was clearly still dealing with its effects. (Indeed, he passed away less than two years later.) The small-town feel of earlier episodes isn’t as prevalent in this season, but Griffith and his cadre of regulars – George Lindsey (Goober), Frances Bavier (Aunt Bea), and Ron Howard (Opie) – still keep things enjoyable and worth watching…and viewers at the time certainly agreed; the show still remained solidly lodged in the top 10.
The Animation Show
“The Animation Show,” a semi-annual festival displaying the very best in animated shorts, premiered in 2003 under the tutelage of world-renowned cartoonists Don Hertzfeldt and Mike Judge. Available for the first time on DVD, the two-disc box set features just about every film from the first two festivals (some were replaced due to copyright issues) in an attempt to promote the release of the latest festival scheduled to being touring in early 2007. The first volume of the set is a mixed bag of traditional animation and CGI, but only a few of the titles actually belong in this best-of compilation including Tomek Baginksi’s “Cathedral,” Alex Budovsky’s “Bathtime in Clerkenwell,” Pjtor Sapegin’s “Aria,” and Don Hertzfeldt’s own “Billy’s Balloon.” The second volume offers a much better balance between quality and crap, but there are still only a couple standouts, like Bill Plympton’s Oscar-nominated “Guard Dog,” Tim Millers’ sci-fi- inspired “Rockfish,” Tomek Baginski’s darkly comical “Fallen Art” and Peter Cornwell’s brilliantly choreographed stop-motion short, “Ward 13.” The latter is the gem of the set, and should be seen by anyone who considers themselves a fan of Sam Raimi. All in all, “The Animation Show” isn’t a bad investment if you’re an enthusiast of the medium, but for everyone else, you’d be better off watching it for free on YouTube.
Aquarion: Season One, Part One
While the team-up of director Shoji Kawamori (“Escaflowne”) and composer Yoko Kanno (“Cowboy Bebop”) should have been an anime match made in heaven, there’s something overtly ham-fisted about “Aquarion.” It’s your basic giant flying mech anime, in which three cadets form the components of the overall machine, trying to battle evil “shadow angels” who are kidnapping humans to steal their prana (or souls, if you will). The CGI animation is breathtaking, but the stories are just too corny at times. The core of the series deals with a reincarnated spirit coming to help save the day (or planet, or universe) once again. The spirit decides to take root in a young kid named Apollo, who is more or less your modern day street urchin. Naturally, Apollo’s hidden powers come to the fore and he is soon joining the DEAVA special forces to be part of the Aquarion project. What could have been a really good series, though, is mired by cheeseball drama and the typical out of place erotic sequences. (Does Princess really need to almost have an orgasm every time she merges into Aquarion?) Once again, my three-year-old loves it, even if the majority of the story is over is head. Hey, kids love giant robots.
Back in the Day: Season One
If you’re a NASCAR fan, it’s a given that you’re familiar with Dale Earnhardt Jr., but unless you’re a subscriber to the SPEED Channel, you might not be familiar with “Back in the Day,” the show Earnhardt hosts for the cable network. It’s an interesting look into the early era of the sport, and probably a pretty cheap one, too. It basically just takes segments from Bud Lindemann’s “Car and Track” series – which aired in syndication during much of the 60s and 70s – and gives them what’s popularly referred to as the “Pop-Up Video” treatment. Factoid-filled bubbles appear at the bottom of the screen, providing historical context with various events that were going on at the time of the race being discussed. So where does Earnhardt come in? He provides new bumper segments between the old footage. Watching drivers like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Junior Johnson in their prime is pretty damned cool, far cooler than the often-lame factoids. (When you’re watching these dudes burn rubber, do you really care that the most popular TV series at the time were “Gunsmoke” and “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”?) Special features include a bonus interview with Earnhardt and the video for 3 Doors Down’s “The Road I’m On,” which prominently features Dale Jr.
Baki the Grappler: Season Two
For fans of martial arts anime only. Or maybe not. But there’s something decidedly “off” about the animation in general in regards to this series. It’s not that the voice acting doesn’t sync up with the characters or anything of that sort, it’s just that “Baki the Grappler” has a rather ugly look all around to it. It’s certainly not a visual treat like other animes that have arrived recently, an aspect that will undoubtedly appeal to some viewers out there. Story-wise, this is the tale of the title character, in his quest to battle and defeat his father Yujiro. Along the way, Baki fights a ton of different characters, each with their own tales to tell and their reasons why they are battling in the big tournament. Yeah, it’s a bit heavy-handed at times (no pun intended), and will appeal to those folks who enjoy not only martial arts but UFC fighting. This is tough, violent stuff. If only it didn’t look so ugly.
Banacek: Season Two
George Peppard is back as private investigator Thomas Banacek, a man known far and wide for his work with insurance companies. If you were around for our review of the show’s first season, you’ll recall that Banacek hunts down supposedly lost or destroyed property that’s been insured for outrageously large sums, taking 10 percent of the sum as a “finder’s fee” for his trouble. The concept continues to work just as well this time around, as does Peppard’s suave and intelligent portrayal of the character, which borrows a great deal from Cary Grant. Ralph Manza and Murray Matheson return as Banacek’s chauffeur and confidant, respectively, but added to the mix is Christine Belford as a rival investigator who’s also an occasional paramour of Banacek’s. (Things get a little tense as the season progresses when she gets engaged to a stuffed shirt named Henry Dewitt, played by Linden Chiles.) Viewers who are ‘70s superstar spotters will want to take particular notice of “The Vanishing Chalice,” which guest-stars both Cesar Romero and John Saxon, and “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t,” featuring Pat Harrington Jr., and Peter Marshall. The special features are just as dodgy this time as last (the phrase “virtually nonexistent” leaps to mind) but, again, just rescuing this gem from obscurity is worthy of praise.
The Batman: The Complete Second Season
It’s not what you’d call a coincidence that this animated series showed up on the heels of “Batman Begins,” nor is it happenstance that, like that film, it proceeds to focus on the first few years of the Batman’s career. Unfortunately, what could’ve been a great concept is dragged down dramatically by the decision to “revamp” the look of the classic Batman rogues gallery. While Catwoman and the Penguin manage to make it out relatively intact, maintaining their classic costumes, something’s gone horribly, horribly wrong with the Joker and the Riddler; the latter comes out looking like Marilyn Manson, and the former…I dunno, he’s wearing a weird paisley straitjacket and combat boots. I guess it’s supposed to be hip, but it looks more like a desperate attempt to be hip. (It’s a miserable failure.) On the up side, the theme song by the Edge is appropriately spooky, and the voice talent includes Ming-Na (“E.R.”), Mitch Pileggi (“The X-Files”), Tom Kenny (“SpongeBob Squarepants”), Gina Gershon as Catwoman (meow, indeed), and no less than Adam West himself as the Mayor of Gotham City. Unfortunately, though, the attempt at upping the “extreme” look of the well-established cast of characters leaves this as an alright show but ultimately a pale imitation of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s “Batman: The Animated Series.” By the way, the lone special feature on this set – “Catching Up With…The Batman” – spends a minute and a half summarizing the first season, then spends the rest of its time (only another minute and a half) showing highlights from the set you’re currently watching. What the hell’s the point?
Beauty and the Beast: The First Season
Ah, yes, the show that made Ron Perlman a star and kept Linda Hamilton working between the first two “Terminator” movies. “Beauty and the Beast” was mocked mercilessly by all the manly men whose wives and girlfriends were smitten by Vincent (Perlman), the half-man/half-cat who stalked through the sewers of New York City quoting Shakespeare. To be fair, there’s some validity to their mockery. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but the two worlds of Vincent and attorney Catherine Chandler (Hamilton) were so incredibly disparate that it was hard to easily bounce back and forth between them. Well, hard for guys, anyway. Chicks were all over this show, due to the sexual tension between Vincent and Catherine which could never be resolved without teetering dangerously toward bestiality. Damn these stringent network standards of ours! What’s hardest to believe about this set is that a show voted one of the greatest cult TV series of all time has arrived in such a shoddy box (CBS’s standard method these days, with six discs placed in one plastic case) and without any special features. This thing is screaming to be packaged in a limited-edition velvet-lined boxed set with commentary on every episode. You know damn well that this show’s fans would buy it in a heartbeat, no matter what price tag you’d place on it.
Beavis & Butt-head: Volume Two
The humor of Mike Judge’s “Beavis and Butt-head” on MTV was more than just humor that a teenager can relate to. It was and is humor that anyone who’s ever been a teenager can relate to. It also serves to scare the crap out of any parent that has teenage kids, because they no doubt don’t want their kids to turn out this lazy or stupid. But either way, the new Mike Judge Collection of “Beavis” episodes is very good for two reasons – first of all, some of the funniest episodes are on the first two DVDs; and secondly, the bonus DVD features the dumbass duo busting on videos (which really made the show funny in the first place) and includes a feature called “Taint of Greatness” which has interviews with Judge and with folks like Snoop Dogg and Trey Parker. Some of the standout episodes are when Beavis and Butt-head get their hair done by a hot chick with large knockers (Butt-head: “Beavis, I’ve seen the top of the mountain, and it is good”), Beavis as Cornholio, and when they make crank phone calls to a guy in the phone book named “Harry Sachz.” Anyone who has ever so much as snickered at an episode of this show should pick up this collection -- the bonus disc alone is worth the price tag.
Ben 10: The Complete Season Two
As the name suggests, this is indeed the complete second season of the famous kid’s cartoon “Ben 10” as seen on Cartoon Network. For those who don’t know, the series revolves around Ben Tennyson, a 10-year-old who finds an alien watch called the Omnitrix in a crashed meteorite. The watch grafts on to Ben’s wrist and the next thing you know, he can turn into any one of 10 creatures. So he, his sister Gwen and their Grandpa Max travel around in a Winnebago, and defeat bad guys. Hey didn’t the old “Shazam!” show of the ‘70s follow a similar plot scheme? I thought so. At any rate, this is definitely a series for the kids. Despite a super-catchy and cool theme song, there isn’t a whole lot here for the older viewers. And, like a lot of other cartoons that are just quick fixes for the kids, “Ben 10” suffers from feeling the same from story to story without much development. But let’s not get too deep here. The younger viewers love this stuff and in that respect, it’s not a bad show at all. Hell, my kid even made sure we went to the toy store to buy an Omnitrix of his own after watching a couple episodes, so there ya go.
Ben 10: The Complete Season Three
Much better than season two of this famous kids’ show, season three of “Ben 10” features all 13 episodes across two DVDs, totaling up to 300 minutes of action-packed goodness. For some reason, it just seems that the writing was a bit tighter this time around, with episodes like “Midnight Madness” and “Ben 10,000” bringing exciting storylines and characters into the mix. “Super Alien Hero Buddy Adventures” features a good dose of laughs when Ben finds that his super powers have been ripped off and are suddenly being featured in a cartoon, and the two-parter comprised of “The Return” and “Be Afraid of the Dark” features a tight story arc that includes the formation of Team Tennyson. All in all, it’s pretty damn good stuff, and of course any of the kids who are into this series will instantly love it, so it’s a no-brainer purchase for them. Bonus features include a few deleted scenes, some promos, and an alien character gallery.
The Best of Bizarre, Vols. 3 & 4
If you had Showtime in the ‘80s (or if you’re Canadian), you probably remember “Bizarre,” the sketch comedy show starring John Byner; the show was produced in the Great White North, but while the Canucks got the lite version of the series, the episodes on Showtime were most notable because, in a nutshell, there were boobies. There was also cursing, but, first and foremost, there were boobies. Some of the material is seriously dated, as you might expect when the big guest stars are folks like Mr. T and Pat “Mr. Miyagi” Morita, but Byner is one of those guys who you’ll find is much funnier than you remember…if, in fact, you remember him at all. (It’s been quite a few years since he’s had steady work.) The best reason to check out these collections, however, isn’t Byner; it’s Super Dave Osborne, the daredevil played by Bob Einstein, a.k.a. a man who can keep a straight face for longer than just about anyone in comedy. Invariably, the Super Dave segments are the highlight of every episode. Someday, they’ll probably put together a Super Dave best-of, but, ‘til then, fans can at least snap these up.
The Best of the Colbert Report
At this point, there’s pretty much no denying that fake conservapundit Stephen Colbert is a veritable god among men — who else could start fights with Willie Nelson and Barry Manilow, and later join them both in song? Who else could market his “manseed,” “Stephen Colbert’s Formula 401” to a grateful nation? And who else could cause “Paper Bear” Bill O’Reilly to make an even bigger fool of himself than he regularly does on his own show? Released just in time for the 2007 Writer’s Guild strike — the only force on Earth able to stop Colbert’s manly progress — this is a solid greatest hits collection. Among other classics, the DVD includes: the first, and still the most famous of Colbert’s “The Word” segments: “Truthiness” (famously named Word of the Year by both the American Dialect Society and Miriam Webster); “Cooking with Feminists,” which had Stephen getting cozy in the kitchen with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda (and later, Jane and Stephen got even cozier…did Mrs. Colbert see that episode?); the mighty “Green Screen Challenge,” in which Stephen learned to let the Force flow through him, with George Lucas acting as his personal Obi-wan; and the earthshaking “Meta-Free-Phor-All,” in which Stephen pitted his metaphor-slinging abilities against his ultimate nemesis, Sean Penn, leaving the world sweating in its collectively soiled and blood-soaked underwear. A must for all good Americans -- you know, the ones who “get it.” Get it.
The Best of Comedy Central Presents
Love stand up comedy but don’t have the attention span for a full show? Then perhaps you’ll enjoy this DVD filled with bite-sized chunks of comedy routines from various episodes of the “Comedy Central Presents” series. As would be expected, this is a hit-and-miss affair. You’ll either laugh out loud or cringe at watching Dane Cook before he became larger than life. Lewis Black and Jim Gaffigan’s bits are obviously bankable and funny. The sorely missed Mitch Hedberg’s routine is actually funnier if viewed in both its aired and unaired versions included as a bonus disc with his second album. Brian Reagan gets some hilarious moments in, and Demetri Martin is the esoteric oddball of the bunch. However, Carlos Mencia hasn’t been funny ever (and even less so in light of Joe Rogan singling him out for stealing jokes from many other comics), and Jeff Dunham and that stupid stick puppet Jose Jalapeno is one of the lamest comedic acts of all time. This dude’s been running on fumes for far too long now. But overall, this disc is a solid collection filled with enough moments to keep you laughing. Plus, it’ll feed your comedy budget nicely as well.
The Best of Crank Yankers: Uncensored
No, this isn’t a review of a blank disc, but if you thought it might be, fair enough. The juvenile “Crank” humor is by no means broad enough to appeal to everyone; likewise, there’s probably a little something somewhere on this DVD to offend most anyone. Celebs like Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman and Wanda Sykes make genuine prank phone calls, then the recordings are taken and puppets are used to act them out. Hey, you gotta give ‘em credit for taking a low brow idea and putting a creative spin on it. Where the true perversity of the concept takes hold is in the look of the puppets -- they appear to have just marched down “Sesame Street” and into this foul-mouthed program. Some of the characters work (Hadassah, Niles Standish and Gladys), and others just don’t (Special Ed is a particularly unfunny and repetitive caricature). Regardless, it’s a novel idea, and far more work is put into the puppetry, sets and staging than is ever put into the phone calls. I’ve no idea if this is actually the “best” of the series, but it’s more hit than miss, and if you want to own a little sampling of this nonsense for parties and such, it’s an easy way to go. (It’s hard to imagine there’s anyone out there who’d actually want to own every season of this show.) The running time is 180 minutes and each phone call is chaptered for easy access. My favorite? The one where were a villain calls directory assistance and asks for help in locating Batman. “Do you have a street address?” she asks. He replies, “Try Wayne Manor.”
The Best Moments of the Amazing Kreskin
The ‘70s were a decade where just about anyone could get their own variety show, and here’s proof. The Amazing Kreskin – real name George Kresge – is, it must be said, one of the nerdier-looking guys you’re likely to see…and, yet, his purported psychic powers have resulted in the guy earning a very strong following; even now, he continues to make live appearances. (He also used to do some really hilarious guest spots on “Late Night with David Letterman,” and you can imagine how the ever-skeptical Dave treated Kreskin’s predictions.) These shows, which sometimes have celebrity guests (Loretta Swit, Nipsey Russell, and the Penthouse Pets are some of the folks who stop by), involve Kreskin performing tricks and discussing faith, magic, and whatnot; he also likes to go through the audience and guess how many kids a person has, even what their names are. Fans of David Copperfield, David Blaine, and even Penn and Teller will enjoy watching the tricks, but they don’t hold up for repeat viewings. On the special features front, Kreskin reminisces about the show, but the big bonus is that, if you buy one of the original pressings of this set, it comes with a reproduction of Kreskin’s ESP Game, which sold a million copies in its original release. In fact, I’m getting a prediction now: that these “Best Moments” won’t sell nearly that many copies.
The Bill: The Complete First Season
Contrary to what American moviegoers saw in Edgar Wright’s action-comedy “Hot Fuzz,” the world of British law enforcement is nothing like a big-budget Michael Bay movie. The crimes aren’t especially exciting, and police officers don’t shoot their guns while jumping through the air. In fact, they don’t even have guns, as is evident in the first season of “The Bill,” the longest-running cop drama on the other side of the pond. With cases revolving around such trivial crimes as fake bomb threats and schoolyard bullies, it’s hard to imagine how “The Bill” garnered so much critical claim during its 20-plus years on the air. Nonetheless, while the stories themselves appear ripped straight from an after-school special, the show’s colorful cast of characters makes “The Bill” a show worth checking out. And though the series has fast become notorious for serving as a stepping stool for up-and-coming British actors (if you haven’t been on “The Bill,” you haven’t officially “made it”), it’s the presence of the trademark Aaron Sorkin “walk and talk” (a whole 15 years before its supposed inception on the set of “The West Wing”) that gives it the respectability it so greatly deserves.
Billy and Mandy's Big Boogie Adventure
If you love “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy” as seen on Cartoon Network, then you’ll undoubtedly love this feature-length animated movie as well. This time around, the Grim Reaper has been fired from his job for allowing his performance to slip due to Billy and Mandy’s shenanigans. So the three, along with Billy’s friend Irwin, go on a journey to seek out Horror’s Hand so Grim can regain his powers and prove once and for all that he is indeed the man for the job. However, he’ll have to beat his old enemy The Boogey Man (voiced by Fred Willard) in a race to the Hand if he wants to succeed. As expected, there are tons of juvenile and silly humor packed in tight, and any kid and adult fan of the show will dig it. Included as a bonus is the “Bully Boogie” short which features the debut of The Boogey Man on “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy,” as well as a look behind the voice talents of the show itself (Greg Eagles, Richard Horvitz and Grey Delisle) and its creator (Maxwell Atoms). Groovy fun for all those normally inclined to watch the show.
Black Blood Brothers: Chapter Two
Though zombies have overtaken vampires as the head Hollywood monster for the time being, Japan has continued to embrace the superhuman bloodsucker as one of anime’s most popular leading characters. Nevertheless, while vampires would seem like the perfect subjects for an art style with very few rules, there’s not a whole lot of reinvention taking place within the genre. Take Showgate’s “Black Blood Brothers,” for instance. The main character looks like Dracula and fights like Blade, and the show blatantly steals mythology from both. The second chapter of the series – which finds Jiro and Kotaro finally arriving in the Special Zone, much to the disgust of the warring human and vampire factions – doesn’t feature a single original idea throughout the four-episode story arc. Infected super-vampires known as Kowloon Children have been ripped directly from Guillermo del Toro’s “Blade II,” while the various villains look like animated versions of former “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” heavies. The entire subgenre deserves much better than this, and though “Black Blood Brothers” looks great, it’s all style and no substance.
Black Blood Brothers: Chapter Three
When we last left Jiro and Kotaro, the two vampire brothers had been separated just as an all-out war between the Kowloon and the Company was hitting a fever pitch. Now, as the infected Kowloon spread across the Special Zone, the Company must join forces with the original black bloods in a battle against the new threat. Doing more to further the story than the first eight episodes combined, the third volume of “Black Blood Brothers” is a satisfying conclusion to a show that didn’t really deserve one. Those that watched the anime from the very beginning are aware that it was neither original nor particularly engaging, and though “Chapter Three” really picks up the pace with some great battle sequences, it’s a case of too little too late. The only reason this batch of episodes even turned out so well is conceivably because the series was performing poorly, and were the creators not forced to end things so quickly, it might have been just as dull. Still, thanks to a well-crafted, open-ended finale, “Black Blood Brothers” could very well live on should it experience a renewed interest on DVD.
Black Cat: The Series
Fans of “Fullmetal Alchemist” jonesing for another action-packed anime series needn’t look any further than Gonzo’s “Black Cat.” Based on the Shonen Jump manga of the same name, the series follows a veteran bounty hunter named Sven Vollfied as he takes two stray pupils – flawless assassin Train Heartnet and bioweapon-in-disguise Eve – under his wing. On the run from a secret organization of erasers known as Chronos (whom Train was once a member of, and Eve a target), the trio encounter additional opposition from a Taoist revolutionary group (the Apostles of the Star) determined to take down Chronos and anyone standing in their way. Though the series is dominated by highly stylized battles featuring everything from guns and swords to much cooler abilities, it does resort to brief moments of comedy at times – often to no effect. The long chunks of dialogue also severely bog down the pacing of the show, and while each episode lasts only 20-odd minutes, they sometimes feel twice as long. Nevertheless, “Black Cat” keeps things interesting by moving the story along with little distractions, and though it isn’t exactly breaking new ground in the action genre, it’s still a welcome addition to any fan’s collection.
The Black Donnellys: The Complete Series
NBC’s midseason replacement for “Studio 60” was a simple case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Whether or not it was better than the Aaron Sorkin drama is kind of a moot point, since America didn’t seem to show much interest in either. But it was an attractive premise nonetheless that, given the proper time to mature, certainly had the potential to become a flagship program for the network. Cleverly told from the point of view of the Donnelly’s fifth wheel (Joey Ice Cream) while awaiting trial in jail, the series follows the four Donnelly brothers (Tommy, Jimmy, Kevin and Sean) as they gradually become entangled in a citywide mob war between the Irish and the Italians. Created several years ago but deemed too mature for network television, the series was finally given the green light after co-creator Paul Haggis pocketed a few Oscars and the similarly themed “The Departed” entered award season riding high on buzz. Starting with a bang but ending with a whimper, the season finale wasn’t quite as world-turning as it was gearing up to be, but it did leave things wide open for a second season. Unfortunately, the series was promptly cancelled after only six episodes (the rest were available online after much whining from the fans), and though it wasn’t the greatest freshman effort of the year, it surely deserved better than this. NBC doesn’t agree, as they’ve outfitted the DVD release with absolutely no special features (oh wait, there’s one deleted scene), more or less cementing the fact that they’ve washed their hands of the show once and for all.
Blackstar: The Complete Series
I had fond memories of this show from my childhood because the concept was so cool. Astronaut John Blackstar’s space shuttle is pulled through a black hole and crashes on the planet Sagar, where he meets a shape-shifter named Klone and a sorceress named Mara. Blackstar teams up with them to fight a dark magician named the Overlord, going into battle riding a dragon and wielding a weapon called the Starsword. Thing is, though, that the Starsword is only half of an even more powerful weapon; the Overlord has the other half – the Powersword – and wants Blackstar’s half so that he can become even more powerful. Seriously, how epic does that sound? So why does it only get two stars? Easy: the Trobbits. That’s the name of the inhabitants of the planet Sagar. They’re like a cross between the Smurfs and Snow White’s seven dwarves…and they’re responsible for instilling the show with the kind of awful slapstick that’s dragged down many a children’s show. I had totally forgotten them; I can only presume I intentionally blocked them out in favor of the cool image of Blackstar riding his dragon while swinging the Starsword. (It’s such a cool image, in fact, that it’s on the cover of the set.) Given how awesome everything else related to the show is, you wouldn’t think a single ingredient like the Trobbits would be able to drag a show down as much as they do, but the proof is in the pudding: the show only lasted 13 episodes.
The Bob Newhart Show: Season Three
plays an innkeeper in Vermont. It’s the one where he plays a psychologist in Chicago. There’s still one constant, however: Bob Newhart plays Bob Hartley, the straight man in a world full of eccentrics. Of course, as a psychologist, you’d already figure that eccentrics would be easy to come by…but don’t underestimate his friends and family; they’re pretty odd in their own right. This is from the ‘70s, before story arcs were required by law, but if you’re keeping track, the major ongoing plot line from this season is that Bob’s sister, Ellen (Pat Finley), is dating the Harley’s next-door neighbor, Howard (Bill Daily). Otherwise, it’s essentially the same as in other seasons: Bob treats his patients at the office – including the great Jack Riley as Mr. Carlin – and has normal domestic goings-on at home, with his wife, Emily (Suzanne Pleshette). Fox picked up the slack after the first season was released on DVD, so this season, like its predecessor, features audio commentary from Newhart, Peter Bonerz (Bob’s dentist friend, Jerry), director James Burrows, and guest star Fred Willard. Great stuff all around, with laughs which remain funny no matter how many times you watch. Can you believe that, in its six year run, this show was never nominated for an Emmy Award? There just ain’t no justice.
Bob Saget: That Ain't Right
Never before have I seen a comedian use so much explicit language for the sole purpose of getting a rise out of his audience. True, Bob Saget’s got a lot working against him – what with his long stint on squeaky-clean TV shows like “Full House” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” But when the end result is an incoherent (and very unfunny) mess, you have to ask yourself: is there any method to the madness? Apparently not, and that’s where the comic’s act fails miserably. Relying too much on improv and dirty language (he’s obsessed with sticking pinkies up people’s butts), Saget talks about everything from fatherhood to killing vampires with garlic diarrhea, but it’s all incredibly R-rated, and unnecessarily so. I wasn’t even that surprised when he declared he would wrap up the show with a few songs (including one about his dog licking his balls), but I was a bit shocked to hear some people laughing in the audience.
Bosom Buddies: The Complete Second Season
If Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari weren’t such a great on-screen duo, we wouldn’t even rate this set this high, but, dammit, those guys are funny together. Kip (Hanks) and Henry (Scolari) are still living their dual lives as Buffy and Hildegarde at the women-only Susan B. Anthony Hotel, but that all goes to Hell in the season’s second episode, when their secret is revealed. Fortunately, the hotel’s new manager is their old buddy, Isabelle (Thelma Hopkins), who keeps it quiet from the majority of the other residents, with the exceptions being Amy and Sonny, played by Wendie Jo Sperber and Donna Dixon, respectively. This season also finds Kip and Henry leaving their job at their old ad firm – with boss Ruth Dunbar (Holland Taylor) in tow – to start their own firm: Sixty Seconds Street. Yeah, that’s about the level of humor we’re looking at, people. Don’t get excited by the words “Special Feature” on the back of the box, though. Someone at Paramount apparently thought they’d pacify fans by digging up the least-interesting show-related artifact possible, and the so-called “Sales Presentation” is, well, we don’t know what it is. It’s clearly not the original pitch reel for the show, because not only is it a bunch of random clips from both seasons of the show (there were only two, you know), but the voiceover references Hanks’ role in “Splash.” Maybe it was used to sell the show into syndication? One thing’s for certain, anyway: it’s in no way special.
Brad Stine: Tolerate This!
I’m a big fan of comedy, but one thing I didn’t find humorous was this DVD popping up in my mailbox. Talk about counting your lucky stars. Brad Stine may just be the worst comedian in the history of comedy, and yet he still has a loyal fan base willing to spend millions of dollars on his ever-growing collection of CDs and DVDs. Even Stine himself finds his material hilarious, because he laughs at every joke he tells – a surefire way of marking a no-talent hack. His clean Dennis Leary shtick is annoying at best, and while he’s thanking his fans for supporting “the comic for the other half of America,” I’m thinking that this “other half” must be missing their funny bone.
The Brak Show: Volume Two
I fell in love with the genius that is Brak long before he ever graduated to his own show; the songs he did during his days as Space Ghost’s sidekick were what sold me on his greatness, so there’d never be any argument about whether or not he deserved his own series. The reality, though, is that Brak isn’t in his own show nearly enough. His appearances – at least in this second collection of episodes, which contains the final 14 episodes of the series – tend to be sparse; he pops up, gets a few witty lines, and then the plot falls back to Dad or Zorak or even Thundercleese, the giant robot who looks suspiciously like a Transformer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, you understand; Dad’s outrageous Spanish accent means that every line he delivers tends to be funny, Zorak still makes being evil look cool, and I’m going out on a limb and saying that Thundercleese deserves his own show. “The Brak Show” continues to be wildly eccentric, occasionally to the point of being virtually inaccessible to anyone who just happens upon it while channel surfing, but it’s still damned funny. The reason for such a low rating, however, is that after filling the first volume full of special features, Cartoon Network didn’t include a single freaking bonus for the fans on Volume 2. Nothing. Nada. Zip. It’s also damned annoying to know that there was one more episode of the show – “New Year's Eve Party at Brak's House” – that is MIA…and one can only presume that it’ll stay that way, because where the hell else is it going to turn up? Final bitch: why in God’s name did a DVD set with a sum total of 154 minutes of material need to be spread across two discs?
Bridezillas: The Complete First and Second Seasons
What do you call a completely normal bride-to-be who turns into a fire-breathing monster by her wedding day? A bridezilla, of course, and though the series – which chronicles the journey of a bride as she plans the “perfect wedding” – touts far more drama than actually takes place, the topic still makes for good reality television. In fact, one bride isn’t even aware that her cake has been emergency airlifted to the reception via helicopter, let alone her French-imported videographer having a meltdown all his own. Then again, this is Manhattan, and a majority of the planned weddings that appear on the show are more glamorous than most people could ever imagine. Every bride has her very own wedding planner, and the total cost of each occasion is rarely less than $100,000. One special bride even has a fancy beach get-together the day before her wedding that costs more than most couple’s entire ceremonies. Case in point: these are rich little brats who throw a hissy fit any time they don’t get their way; not just on their wedding day.
The Bugaloos: The Complete Series
The creations of Sid & Marty Krofft were everywhere in the ‘70s, fondly reminisced about during the ‘80s and ‘90s, and, now that they’re on DVD, it’s becoming increasingly clear that, um, they’re not as great as we remembered them. In some cases, it’s because you were a lot less concerned about production values when you were eight; in other cases, it’s because it turns out the acting was really quite awful. With “The Bugaloos,” it’s a little from Column A and a little from Column B…and, yet, in some ways, it’s held up better than you might expect. John McIndoe (in a role it’s rumored that Phil Collins auditioned for), Wayne Laryea, John Philpott, and the incredibly cute Caroline Ellis are the Bugaloos, four British insects who play sunny pop music when they’re not on the run from the villainous-yet-incompetent Benita Bizarre, played by Martha Raye. You’ll need less suspension of disbelief to buy the premise than you will to accept that the Krofft brothers didn’t smoke dope when they came up with the concept for the show. The Bugaloos’ songs are actually enjoyable enough to make you want to seek out the show’s soundtrack (which was, as it happens, recently reissued by UK label El Records), and, really, you have to respect a show with a character named Funky Rat. What’s most amazing is that the Bugaloos tend to use Cockney rhyming slang, which is impenetrable to most Americans; no surprise, then, that the show was more successful in England.
Charlie's Angels: The Complete Third Season
It’s a testament to the popularity of “Charlie’s Angels” that, for its third season premiere (a two-part episode), the show managed to rope Dean Martin in as a guest star…and it’s not just a cheap throwaway cameo appearance where he plays himself, either; he stars as a Vegas casino owner whose luck seems to be taking a turn for the worse, and he hires the Angels to investigate the unfortunate goings-on in his establishment. Vic Morrow, Scatman Crothers, and Dick Sergeant (a.k.a. the second Darren on “Bewitched”) also appear in the season opener, but the most hilarious guest spot comes from Robert Urich; he’s playing Dan Tana, his character from “Vega$,” but the lapels on his suit are longer than the amount of time he’s onscreen. You may remember this as the first full season with Cheryl Ladd playing the sister of Farrah Fawcett’s character; Fawcett made a handful of guest spots during the third year – enough for the set’s designers to be comfortable slapping her photo on the front cover as “guest star” – but she’s in no way a regular anymore. The cheese factor is definitely overwhelming any legitimate drama by this point…there’s an episode called “Disco Angels,” for God’s sake…or did that happen straight out of the starting gate? Oh, who cares, anyway? Just enjoy the parade of ‘70s-era guest stars (Sarah Purcell, Bubba Smith) and soon-to-be celebrities (Jamie Lee Curtis being the most notable) and, of course, enjoy the Angels in their tight-fitting outfits. Those assets are always worth watching.
Cheers: The Complete Seventh Season
I’m still partial to the Diane years, but Kristie Alley hits her prime in her second season playing Rebecca. She also looks hot as hell, as this was filmed years before she became the “Fat Actress.” The rest of the characters are as funny as ever, and Sam is back in control of the bar, much to Rebecca’s chagrin. Cheers never did “jump the shark” so you can’t go wrong with any season from this classic series.
CHiPs: The Complete First Season
God love Erik Estrada. Excepting his hilarious work on “Sealab 2021” and his stint on a popular Mexican telenovela (“Dos Mujeres, Un Camino”), he really hasn’t done much of note that hasn’t involved playing himself, but, even so, we’ll always remember him fondly for his work on “CHiPs.” Warner Brothers has apparently given up on waiting for the long-discussed feature film version of the show (with Wilmer “Fez” Valderrama playing Estrada’s role) and just decided to release “CHiPs: The Complete First Season” without waiting to make it a movie tie-in. For all the jokes people like to make at Estrada’s expense, though, his patented “look what an awesome ‘70s stud I am” performance as Officer Poncherello is what makes “CHiPs” worth watching. He plays the character as a guy who thinks he’s far more of a ladies man than he really is, and he’s pretty funny at it. Shame the same can’t be said for Larry Wilcox, whose performances often have you wondering if he once proved that he most certainly could act his way out of a paper bag, but blew his entire wad as a thespian while doing so. Still, “CHiPs” wouldn’t be “CHiPs” without both Ponch and Jon, so enjoy the cheesy ‘70s police drama, along with typical ‘70s guest stars like Jim Backus, Rosie Greer, Alice Ghostley, Phyllis Diller and – yes! – H.R. Pufnstuf. Additionally, Estrada has recorded new intros for several episodes and contributed to a featurette about himself, entitled “The Ride Out of Spanish Harlem.”
The Chris Rock Show: Seasons One & Two
It may have been an Emmy winning show. It may have even been the precursor to the far better and much funnier “Chappelle’s Show.” But one thing “The Chris Rock Show” hasn’t done is aged well. A lot of the jokes here are dated (the O.J. Simpson trial was still fresh when the first season aired) and too many of the interview guests aren’t very interesting (Jennifer Lewis, Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett, Arsenio Hall). Even Rock himself seems uncomfortable and at a loss during some of the Q&A sessions. But this is the problem when releasing seasons of shows like these. You’re going to get plenty of skip-button moments to get to the good stuff. Thankfully, a lot of the comedy bits are spot-on. “The Black History Minute” segments are classic Rock, and his man-on-the-street bits are both funny and cringe-inducing. But Rock seems best and most effective in his stand-up arena. There’s no denying that Dave Chappelle cut a riskier, edgier, and undoubtedly funnier path from this same formula. If you’re a diehard fan, then you might find these two seasons worth digging through. Otherwise, stick to the highlights found in the better “The Best of the Chris Rock Show, Volumes 1 & 2.”
The Comeback: The Complete Series
For anyone that saw the pilot episode of “Sex & the City” creator Michael Patrick King’s HBO comedy, “The Comeback,” there’s a good chance you didn’t tune in the following week. The series wasn’t exactly given a fair chance, however, and it does get better with time; though how much better is still debatable. Starring Lisa Kudrow as a hasbeen sitcom queen desperate to revive her career, the show follows the actress as she attempts to make her big comeback with a role on the new sitcom, “Room & Bored,” as well as her very own reality series documenting the return to national television. Featuring the kind of “uncomfortable comedy” that either makes you laugh or drives you completely insane, “The Comeback” is drastically hit-and-miss, but Kudrow is pitch-perfect as the fallen star, a woman so tragically humiliating that it’s often difficult to endure. She more than deserves to take home the Emmy come award time, but her chances of winning will likely be crushed after the series was given the axe. It’s just too bad the show couldn’t find an audience during its thirteen-episode run, because this is the kind of television that most critics lap up like chocolate syrup on an ice cream sundae.
Comedy Central Presents: The Southern Gents of Comedy
It’s been just over five years since the release of “The Original Kings of Comedy,” the first live comedy concert (to my knowledge) to ever hit theaters. This colossal success, of course, was followed by the superior “Blue Collar Comedy Tour,” as well as direct-to-DVD rip-offs like “The Queens of Comedy” and “The Latin Kings of Comedy.” There’s even an Asian-themed concert, but the name of that disc escapes me at the moment. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Paramount is now releasing themed comedy DVDs to reflect faux groups, the latest of which being “The Southern Gents of Comedy,” a redneck jumble of four “Comedy Central Presents” half-hour sets featuring Ron White (before “Blue Collar” fame), Otis Lee Crenshaw (of “SNL” fame), Vic Henley and Steve McGrew. Any fan of White will enjoy his earlier work, and Crenshaw’s humorous songs are definitely worth checking out, but the real gem of the set is relative unknown Vic Henley. I’ve seen this guy once before on Comedy Central and always wondered why he wasn’t given the same kind of recognition as the Blue Collar guys, because he certainly deserves it. And though all four stand-up routines aren’t nearly as enjoyable as either of the “Blue Collar” concerts, there’s a good chance that you can catch them individually when they air on the comedy network.
Comedy Central Roast of Flavor Flav
As entertaining as Comedy Central’s roast of onetime Public Enemy jokester Flavor Flav is, the producers of the show might want to take this opportunity to reboot the property. The non-comedians are rarely funny (the part of Courtney Love is played here by the newly rehabbed Brigitte Nielsen), the insistence that Greg Giraldo and Jeffrey Ross appear at every roast is dubious – Jimmy Kimmel succinctly described Giraldo’s performance, telling him, “Greg, you killed, and once again, it will lead to nothing” – and lastly…Flavor Flav? You’re roasting Flavor Flav? Yes, the potential for comedy gold is great and alluring, but is he truly worthy of the honor? Indeed, you even get the sense that Comedy Central knows that roasting Flav was a dicey proposition, because they invited Carrot Top (!) to take part in the festivities. Two roastees in one! All in all, the show turns out fine, and the funniest line, again, belongs to Lisa Lampanelli, and it’s a clean one to boot: Carrot Top earned his nickname not because of the color of his hair, but because everyone would like to see him buried up to his forehead in dirt.
Comedy Central Roast of Pam Anderson Uncensored!
What a brilliant train wreck the roast of Pamela Anderson was. The house comics don’t know Anderson at all, which left them all cracking the same jokes about Pam’s boobs and Tommy Lee’s johnson. The guest roasters who did know her, like Lee, made for lousy comedians (and performer; man, was that song he did lame), though Courtney Love, as smashed as she was, actually delivered a pretty good, if overly karmic, set. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a sense of humor about anyone else’s jokes (“Fuck them,” she said to Pam during her routine), and frequently chastised the other comedians during their routines, even though they were merely doing their jobs. Andy Dick was equally humorless about the jokes at his expense, as was guest Anna Nicole Smith, who flipped the bird to one person who dared to make a joke about her. It’s a roast, people. If you don’t want people to make fun of you for the stupid things you’ve done, then stop doing stupid things. Pam, luckily, was a great sport, and gave as good as she got (“Nick DiPaolo came up to me backstage and told me what a huge Hole fan he was, so I introduced him to Lisa Lampanelli.”). If only all of the presenters had been as funny as Lampanelli, whose killer routine came way too late.
Comedy Central Roast of William Shatner
You have to give credit where credit is due: Comedy Central’s roast of William Shatner starts nice and strong. It opens with a brief monologue by host Jason Alexander, follows with a rapid-fire collection of clips from the man’s best and worst work, then leads directly into Shatner’s arrival in the studio. (He rides in on a stallion to the tune of Blues Image’s “Ride Captain Ride.” That’s money, baby!) Unfortunately, after Alexander’s return to the dais for a few more funny remarks, we move on the rest of the event, which is chock-full of what’s proven to be a staple of Comedy Central’s roasts: people who’ve never actually met the guest of honor spend their time making jokes that emphasize filth over funny, punctuated by shots of people laughing way too hard at what’s been said. Poor George Takei probably regrets coming out of the closet after the number of cheap shots taken at his homosexuality, but at least he gets his chance to fight back. His closing lines result in the night’s most priceless expression from Shatner. There certainly are some highlights, including a montage of the “best” moments of Shatner’s recording career and Kevin Pollak trotting out his immaculate impression of the Shatman. Patton Oswalt completely geeks it up at the podium as he drools over Jeri Ryan, and reminisces with Carrie Fisher about her stint in that gold bikini. And, okay, you have to laugh when Greg Giraldo calls out Nichelle Nichols, Betty White and Farrah Fawcett and says, “Uh, I’ll take ‘Women I Would’ve Masturbated To 30 Years Ago’ for $1,000.” On the whole, however, it’s all far too foul to really recommend.
Comic Relief: The Greatest... and the Latest
Critiquing any project that gives its proceeds to charity is akin to drowning kittens, but it must be said: while Shout! Factory’s two-DVD compilation of the nine Comic Relief shows is very funny, it does not live up to its massive potential. The first DVD, a clip show of highlights from the first eight shows, is fantastic (dig Dane Cook’s Daryl Hall-style mullet), but all too brief given the amount of material they had at their disposal. The disc also does not tell you the names of the comics while they’re doing their bits, which is a great disservice to the comics who no longer have the profile they had at the time (Michael Davis, Elayne Boosler). Disc Two is the ninth show, a benefit to victims of Hurricane Katrina, in its entirety, buy-a-Comic-Relief-t-shirt skits and all. The routines are funny – though it is amusing to see Sarah Silverman performing at the same show as Rosie O’Donnell – but one can’t shake the feeling that the set would have been better off mixing all nine shows and making both discs extended clip shows. It’s a worthy cause, and a damn good set, but a golden opportunity seems to have been missed here.
Crank Yankers: Season Two, Volume One
The series that took the Jerky Boys one step further. This uncensored DVD set features all the favorites: Birchum, Elmer, Niles Standish, Spoonie Luv, Hadassah and, of course, Special Ed. There also are hilarious guest appearances from Gilbert Gottfried, Super Dave Osborne, Kevin Nealon and Snoop Dogg, as well as an unaired call from stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg and two bonus audio calls.
Da Ali G Show: Da Compleet Seereez
It’s really no surprise that after only two weeks in theaters, HBO is cashing in on the success of the feature-length film, “Borat,” by re-releasing the critically acclaimed series from which everyone’s favorite Kazakhstani journalist was first introduced. Running for only two seasons – and several more before that on the UK’s Channel 4 – “Da Ali G Show” garnered multiple Emmy nominations and highlighted star Sacha Baron Cohen as one of the premiere comics in the industry. But perhaps more importantly, the series also made some of the most powerful men in the country look like a bunch of impatient assholes. Case in point is Ali G’s one-minute sit-down with Donald Trump, who never actually sniffs out Cohen’s elaborate prank, but probably just doesn’t want to be stuck in the same room with some MTV-generation wankster. The title character’s interviews are absolutely hilarious – from his chat with Pat Buchanan about Iraq’s possession of “BLTs” to his description of Gore Vidal as a hair stylist – but it wouldn’t be nearly as effective if the whole show revolved around him. Luckily, Cohen makes great use of his other two characters – Borat and Austrian fashionista, Bruno – in order to deliver a balanced program filled with ignorance, arrogance and naivety. The four-disc box set doesn’t offer anything new apart from a schnazzy slip cover, but it’s the perfect companion piece to one of the greatest satires of the past decade.
Daniel Tosh: Completely Serious
The cover of Daniel Tosh’s new one-hour special may feature the rising talent in a Zen-like meditation, but his stand-up routine is anything but. From racy material about abortions and the handicapped, to one of my personal favorite pastimes (the necessary emasculation of Ashton Kutcher), there’s nothing Tosh is afraid to tackle. And while this would usually result in a lack of mainstream appeal, it’s actually the quite opposite. Tosh is not only one of the most requested comics in the country, but his style casts such a wide net that it’s no surprise his debut CD (True Stories I Made Up) has sold 10 million copies. Still, as is common in the world of comedy, Daniel Tosh isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of guys like Louis C.K. and Jim Gaffigan (a strange combination, for sure), you’ll certainly enjoy his latest collection of jokes, quips and comments.
Dave Attell's Insomniac Tour
Filmed in Las Vegas at the House of Blues, Dave Attell has taken his late-night Comedy Central series to the stage and invited three of his best friends along for the ride. The comedy is fast and furious throughout the entire 90-minutes, and while this may be Dave’s special, it’s Dane Cook’s show through and through. Why else would the other three acts (by Attell, Greg Giraldo and Sean Rouse) preface Cook’s crowd-pleasing routine? Quite simply, because the manic comic has risen the ranks of rock star status over the past few years, and as his career continues to blossom, the other three guys wallow across the country booking whatever paying gigs they can get. This is the only performance of Cook’s currently available on DVD, however, making this a highly desirable disc amongst fans of the comic. Then again, you could always pocket the cash and wait for his HBO special, “Vicious Circle,” scheduled to debut sometime this summer.
Def Comedy Jam
If you’ve ever seen an episode of “Def Comedy Jam,” you already know that you’re gonna get a real mixed bag of comedians. If you haven’t seen the show before, take our word for it -- don’t believe the instant standing ovations the crowd gives to every single person who takes the stage. You’re usually averaging about one really hilarious comedian per episode, and on the first episode, it’s Tony Rock. He might not be as funny as his brother, Chris, but he definitely goes a long way toward proving the existence of a comedy gene. Episode Two is a little better, opening with Vince Morris (he mercilessly mocks the way ad agencies target the black community, claming that he recently heard a radio commercial which consisted of several seconds of beatboxing, followed by a voiceover saying, “Get your prostate checked”), then closes with a decent set by Earthquake. The second disc, which includes the third and fourth episodes of the show, fares about as well, and as far as the show’s latest host goes, well, Mike Epps ain’t no Martin Lawrence, but he gets the job done.
Demetri Martin. Person.
One of the more original voices in comedy today, Demetri Martin’s second TV special isn’t as strong as some of his earlier work (including his first appearance on Comedy Central and his debut CD These Are Jokes), but it still stands as one of the more memorable performances by any comedian of the past five years. A master of the one-liner, Martin’s style is best compared to the likes of Steven Wright, Mitch Hedberg and Zach Galifianakis. True, not exactly household names, but they’re all legends in their own right, and the 34-year-old comedian is well on his way to joining the ranks. What sets Martin apart from every other stand-up in the business, however, is his complete willingness to not only take risks, but to incorporate music and visuals into his act. Along with a hilarious monologue on everything from the inconsistencies of Paper-Rock-Scissors to realizing the full potential of an “exit only” door, Martin entertains the crowd with his social findings, tells jokes while playing the piano, guitar, harmonica and bells, shows off his personal drawings via a musical slideshow, and wraps it all up with a theatrical finale. This is intellectual comedy at its absolute best, and though the show isn’t as solid as it could have been, it still shows immense promise from a comedian who, for all intents and purposes, is just getting started.
Desperate Housewives: The Complete Second Season
Upon opening the box to the new DVD release of “Desperate Housewives: The Complete Second Season,” I discovered a small insert advertising the Wisteria Lane perfume (cleverly titled Forbidden Fruit) and thought to myself: “Since when do fictional characters get their own fragrances?” Still, despite never seeing a single episode of the show before writing this review, I actually found my first taste of the sarcastic quartet of protagonists to be quite satisfying. After only a few more episodes, however, it became quite clear why “Desperate Housewives” has fallen so far since its critically acclaimed debut: all of the pageantry is just too much. While pleasantly entertaining every now and again, the stories are far too outlandish to expect any casual fan to stick around for an entire year; especially the one about a crazy black lady (Alfre Woodard) who’s locked her husband in the basement, but still brings him dinner on a silver platter. There’s nothing particularly forbidden about watching this show, but just do so in small doses. And until better shows return to the air, be on the lookout for the new Jack Bauer cologne for men: Dammit.
Diagnosis Murder: The Complete First Season
God love Dick Van Dyke. He’s a funny, funny man, and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” will long be remembered as one of the greatest, most consistent sitcoms in television history, which is a right and just thing. Better he should have that achievement next to his name than, say, “Diagnosis Murder.” Van Dyke plays Dr. Mark Sloan, described on the back of the DVD box as a “good-natured, unconventional and sometimes zany physician with a lighthearted bedside manner and a nose for murder.” Your spider sense should’ve started tingling at the realization that, minus the “nose for murder” bit, the description is almost identical to that of one Patch Adams. But when you add in the fact that Van Dyke’s character is both zany and is a crime-solving doctor? No way. And, yet, it’s Dick Van Dyke. With his white hair, mustache, and mile-wide smile, you get suckered in. Not for long, mind you. I only lasted three episodes, personally. It’s just too...well, you can’t argue with the adjective. It is zany. Just not the good kind of zany. It also has Scott Baio playing a tough-guy resident, reminding you that as a serious actor, he’s quite the comedian. Again, God love ya, Dick, but I’m gonna go watch “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and see if I can wash the taste of “Diagnosis Murder” out of my mouth.
The Dick Cavett Show: Hollywood Greats
It’s great to have all these Dick Cavett DVDs coming out lately. He was undoubtedly the hippest talk show host to emerge out of the format and being able to dig his interview style once again is a sincere joy. Fans of Cavett should pick up this latest collection simply for the Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles interviews. Suffice it to say that these two men were real geniuses of the silver screen. Hitchcock exudes a dry and dark sense of humor throughout, while Welles is simply captivating to watch as always, a master raconteur if ever there was. The show featuring Debbie Reynolds and an aged Groucho Marx is a hoot as well. Other guests include the reclusive Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum, and Bette Davis. In all, there are four jam-packed discs with a new featurette called “Seeing Stars with Dick Cavett and Robert Osborne” that’s worth a viewing as well.
Dirt: The Complete First Season
It was only a matter of time before a show about the world of celebrity journalism was made, and FX is just the network you’d expect to make it happen. Already offering shows about morally ambiguous cops (“The Shield”), firemen (“Rescue Me”) and plastic surgeons (“Nip/Tuck”), it seemed only natural that the basic cable network would eventually extort some of the more morally ambiguous professionals in America. Starring Courtney Cox as magazine editor Lucy Spiller, “Dirt” follows the goings-on of a celebrity rag as it struggles to get the scoop on the latest gossip by any means necessary. Unfortunately, while the magazine side of the show is very interesting, the celebrity subplots are lacking the satirical bite they deserve. Instead, the writers are far more interested in spinning over-the-top subplots involving whiny A-listers who do drugs and fornicate, while parallels to real-life celebs are a little too wink-wink, even for a show like “Dirt.” Cox is great in the lead, however, proving once again that TV is where she shines the brightest, while co-star Ian Hart steals the show as schizophrenic paparazzo Don Konkey. Guest spots from Paul Reuben (who should be made a series regular) and Jennifer Aniston (whose season finale kiss with Cox can be chalked up as a last-ditch effort to earn ratings) definitely help to keep things fresh in the second half of the season, but the show is still nowhere near the quality that FX has been known to produce.
D.L. Hughley: Unapologetic
D.L. Hughley has done a bit of everything over the course of his comedic career. He was part of Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam; he had his own TV show, “The Hughleys,” that ran for five seasons; he appeared in “The Original Kings of Comedy;” and played the character Simon Stiles on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” “Unapologetic” is his second HBO special, and while Hughley’s comic eye touches on everything from the usual topics as politics, his childhood, being a parent, immigration, and the rest, his routine is often hit and miss. There are definitely a number of moments here where the man is seriously funny, but unfortunately these points are countered by other routines that are simply average at best. Still, give Hughley the credit he deserves for having a wide array of talents that has allowed him to excel in his career, when many like-minded comics have failed. If you’re a fan, “Unapologetic” is certainly worth a rental.
Doctor Who: Robot
“Say hello to the new Doctor!” No doubt, that’s the phrase that popped up in the BBC’s advertisements for “Robot,” the “Doctor Who” serial which premiered on Dec. 28, 1974, and introduced us to the so-called Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker. It’s Baker who’s remained the most recognizable visage of Doctor Who over the years, thanks to his highly memorable floppy hat and rainbow scarf. Unfortunately, however, this is far from the most exciting of Baker’s adventures in the role. The Doctor and his companion, Sarah Jane Smith, find themselves teamed up with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) to stop a robot and a plan to hold the world for ransom under threat of nuclear attack. At the time, the premise was no doubt far more disconcerting than it is today, but current audiences may find this particular serial a bit more dialogue-heavy than they prefer. Still, it’s interesting to see how little Baker’s performance in the role changed over the years. It’s evident that he knew exactly how he wanted to play The Doctor, and he stuck with it until his departure from the series in 1981. As per usual, the DVD is chock full of extras, the most notable of which are an audio commentary from Baker, Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane) and the serial’s writer, Terrance Dicks; and a new documentary about Baker’s introduction into the role of The Doctor. That’s the best bit about these “Doctor Who” DVDs: the fans are never, ever left wanting for special features.
Dragon Ball Z: The History of Trunks / Bardock: The Father of Goku
The only two Dragon Ball Z movies produced specifically for TV, “The History of Trunks” and “Bardock: The Father of Goku” have finally been re-released on DVD to coincide with the launch of Season Four. Both films run about 45 minutes, and while they’re not essential to enjoying (or even understanding) the series, they serve as excellent supplemental material to the DBZ universe – something that can’t be said for many of the future films. “The History of Trunks” is undoubtedly the stronger of the two, and it’s best viewed chronologically before Episode 118 (“Frieza’s Counterattack”). Existing as a sort of “what-if” tale set in the future, the story follows teenage Trunks as he teams up with adult Gohan to take on Dr. Gero’s androids. The second film, “Bardock: The Father of Goku,” acts more like a prequel to the whole series (including the original “Dragon Ball”), as it chronicles the Saiyans’ demise at the hands of Frieza. Regrettably, most fans will have already heard the story before, as it’s been referenced in earlier episodes. Had they chosen to focus on an adolescent Prince Vegeta instead, the final product would have turned out a lot better. Nevertheless, if there are any films from the “DBZ” catalog that should be deemed must-see, it’s these two, and the fact that they’re packaged in an ultra-cool steelbook only makes the high price tag that much easier to swallow.
Dragon Ball Z: Season Two
Fans of the Japanese anime series “Dragon Ball Z” have a lot to be thankful for. Not only has their favorite show been digitally remastered and released on DVD in affordable season sets, but series producer Funimation isn’t wasting any time in delivering the goods. It seems like just yesterday that the first season of the series arrived on my doorstep, and with the second season now in stores (and the third season scheduled to arrive in August), this truly is the Year of the Dragon… Ball, that is. The second season of the show includes the Namek and Captain Ginyu sagas (two of the series’ best), in which our heroes travel to the planet of Namek to recover the original Dragon Balls and wish their fallen friends back to life. Meanwhile, Goku nurses himself back to health before joining Gohan, Krillin and Bulma in space, while the evil Lord Frieza seeks world domination by finding the Dragon Balls first. Along with acting as the precursor to Goku’s eventual Super Saiyan ascension, the second season also features Piccolo’s powerful transformation and Vegeta’s conversion into an unlikely hero. Of course, the season’s strength is the only reason this release deserves such a high rating, because there are absolutely no special features on the six-disc set. Here’s hoping Funimation remedies this on the next release, as a behind-the-scenes featurette on something as banal as voice recording would be better than nothing.
Dragon Ball Z: Season Four
Continuing in the tradition of releasing one new season every few months, the fourth season of “Dragon Ball Z” collects three of the series’ smaller story arcs – the Garlic Jr. Saga, the Trunks Saga and the Androids Saga – in a six-disc box set. With Goku still missing after his epic battle with Frieza, the fate of the world has been placed in Gohan’s hands, and his first mission is to send the recently escaped Garlic Jr. back to the Dead Zone. When Goku finally does return, his arrival is quickly overshadowed by the appearance of Future Trunks, who has traveled back in time to warn his friends of an impending attack by Dr. Gero and his androids. Dubbed the “bastard child” episodes by some fanboys, the Garlic Jr. Saga in particular doesn’t actually expand on the DBZ universe. In fact, the nine episodes that make up the mini-arc feel remarkably out of place, and while the Trunks and Android sagas aren’t essential either, they do at least serve as a bridge between the death of Frieza and the birth of Cell. It’s hardly Funimation’s fault for the quality of the episodes, however, and though they’re not exactly up to par with the rest of the series, they’re still a necessary addition to the Dragon Ball universe.
Dragnet 1967: Season One
This one’s a must-buy for any baby boomer who grew up watching this breakthrough cop drama, but we still prefer the comedic film version starring Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd. There’s a fine line between paying homage and spoofing a classic, and the 1987 film manages to do both without falling on its head. Still, Jack Webb has to be the best Joe Friday to ever portray the character.
Drawn Together: Season Two
Since the idea of “Drawn Together” is to scrape the recesses of childhood by re-imagining certain cartoon character archetypes into distorted versions of the already familiar, this review plays upon a fond childhood memory of mine: “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Review 1: “Drawn Together” is a witty, fast-paced offering from the fine folks at Comedy Central. It’s supposed to be a sort of cartoon version of “Big Brother,” although that element has little to do with the overall execution of the series. Adam Carolla does the voice of Spanky Ham, and Foxxy Love will fuel the fantasies of many a “Josie and the Pussycats” fan. Humor is subjective, so while it may not tickle my funny bone, it could very well yours. If you choose Review 1, go forward and purchase this set, but, by all means, don’t show it to your grandmother. Review 2: “Drawn Together” is filthy, vile, borderline racist and draws only on the basest instincts of the most retarded eight-year old. It isn’t funny or well animated, and it makes little sense. Stick with “South Park;” at least those guys have something to say. If you choose Review 2, stay far away from this material. Review 3: “Drawn Together” may grow on the viewer who bothers to stick with it for more than a couple episodes, though what it would take for a person who isn’t reviewing the set to do that is beyond me. If you do choose Review 3, though, well, there’s always Netflix.
The Best of The Electric Company, Volume Two
We’ve already raved about Shout! Factory’s first “Electric Company” best-of, so it’s a given that we’ll be doing the same for the second volume as well. Once again, you get four discs worth of the series that helped many a child to read during the ‘70s, this reviewer included. Regular characters like Easy Reader, Fargo North, Decoder, and J. Arthur Crank are joined by guest stars like Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton, Wilt Chamberlain, and Dean Martin. Among the special features are a nice featurette entitled “Remembering ‘The Electric Company,’” which offers new interviews with cast members Luis Avalos, Jimmy Boyd, Judy Graubart, Skip Hinnant, and Hattie Wilson (who later went on to play Ted Danson’s office manager on “Becker”), along with new episode introductions from the cast. The most interesting inclusion, though, is a 1975 documentary which shows the successful effects of the show on schoolchildren. (I can only presume I was already booked when they filmed it.) Sorry, but we’ve gotta dock it a half-star because, once again, we still aren’t given Tom Lehrer’s “L-Y.” Come on, Shout! Factory, I need that song!
The Ellen Show: The Complete Series
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “didn’t this series already come out on DVD?” The answer is no, but don’t conclude that you’re crazy for thinking so. This particular “Ellen” show, which hit the airwaves in 2001 (three years after the cancellation of the original “Ellen” and two before her Emmy Award-winning talk show), stars the comedian (post out-of-the-closet) as a failed dotcom executive who returns to her hometown to accept an achievement award and re-examine her life. Co-starring other great talents like Cloris Leachman (as Ellen’s mom) and Jim Gaffigan (as her ex-boyfriend), the series never really got a chance to find an audience and was unceremoniously cancelled midway through the first season. Still, the motives for cancellation were certainly there. The stories were uninspired, the jokes were lame, and unlike Ellen’s first series (as well as her stand-up routines), her character wasn’t given the freedom to be eccentric. Her performance reeks of an openly gay celebrity trying to win over mainstream America with safe comedy and, unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
Emergency: Season Two
There’s surprisingly little hyperbole involved when suggesting that “Emergency!” was the ‘70s equivalent of “ER” and “Third Watch” rolled into one show. No, the acting on Emergency!” wasn’t necessarily on par with those series – nor would one expect it to be, given that it was the brainchild of Jack Webb, the man with the definitive deadpan delivery – but “Emergency!”’s blending of tales from the hospital and the fire department were solid TV drama. Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe played paramedics John Gage and Roy DeSoto, respectively, and, although their colleagues were regularly spotlighted in episodes, Gage and DeSoto never waived from the primary spotlight; in the hospital, the key physicians were Dr. Kelly Brackett (Robert Fuller) and Dr. Joe Early (Bobby Troup), working along with Nurse Dixie McCall (Julie London). Brackett was clearly intended to be the hip young doctor – how else to explain those sideburns? – with Early being the old hand who was always willing to assist his colleague. What made “Emergency!” really stand out was the authenticity of the medical dialogue as well as the situations to which the paramedics had to respond, which ranged from the serious (car crashes, drownings) to the mundane (kids getting stuck while crawling through windows). Because of that authenticity, however, the scripts feel a little dry at times, particularly when they’re falling back on how “ordinary folks” are scared to trust the medical abilities of the paramedics. (The concept of non-doctors working on patients was still relatively new.) For the most part, however, the drama holds up surprisingly well. As is standard practice for most Universal sets, there are no special features to be found, but it’s still good viewing.
Epitafios: Season One
Anyone who dismisses HBO’s sister station, HBO Latino, simply because it’s in Spanish is missing out on some real quality television. A perfect example of this is the crime drama, “Epitafios” (or “epitaph”), an amazing psychological thriller with each episode shot like a mini-movie. The story takes place five years after the infamous murder of four high school students, where a serial killer has surfaced looking for revenge on all those involved. Everything is planned so that one by one they die a torturous death (the first being the original killer himself), but when an ex-cop and a sexy psychiatrist team up to investigate the case, they uncover a secret plan meant to save their deaths for last. Filmed in Argentina, “Epitafios” is like “Se7en” meets “Saw,” with each death reflecting the victim’s specific crime in relation to the murders. One instance of this can be found in the second episode, when he attacks a school treasurer responsible for denying the original killer (a former professor accused of sexual harassment) the redundancy money he’s due. An in return, she’s killed by an excess of metal coins being poured down her mouth until she can no longer breathe. Ironic, no? Oh yea, and she’s also been bound to a chair with fishhooks and fishing line to hold her mouth open. Most of the other deaths aren’t nearly as bad (acid burns, flesh-eating dogs, and the like), but they’re enough to make you squirm in your chair. How this series was so blindly passed up by the press is beyond me, but if you have a chance to pick it up, you’ll definitely be glad that you did.
The Fairly Oddparents: Scary Godparents
“The Fairly Oddparents” is one of the few shows for kids that won’t put the grownups into a stupor-induced coma, and this collection is good fun. The title episode is a two parter about Timmy’s wish to make everyone’s Halloween costumes real and scary, which of course winds up nearly destroying the earth. There are also bits about good dental hygiene, witch trials, 3-D glasses, and scheming genies. They overdo the guest voices a bit (Norm MacDonald, Jay Leno, Adam West, Gilbert Gottfried) but the show is smart enough to survive the stunt casting. This is a disc that you’ll actually enjoy watching with your little ones.
Family Guy: Blue Harvest
Unless you’ve been rotting away in solitary confinement for the last 30 years, you know a thing or two about “Star Wars,” and unless you’ve never seen an episode of “Family Guy” before, you know that creator Seth McFarlane is a diehard fan. After referencing the pop culture phenomenon countless times over the course of the show’s last five seasons, it makes sense that they’d finally devote a special hour-long episode to George Lucas’ popular space opera -- and with his permission, too. The setup is pretty simple: the power is out at the Griffin house, and in order to pass the time, Peter tells the story of “Star Wars.” Replacing the original characters with those from the “Family Guy” universe (Chris is Luke, Lois is Princess Leia, Peter is Han Solo, Brian is Chewbacca, Stewie is Darth Vader, etc.), the episode is a fairly straight re-telling of “Episode IV: A New Hope,” but with a certain “Family Guy” twist (i.e. Meg is reduced to a cameo as the garbage compactor monster). Though the episode itself was a success (FOX has already greenlit parodies of the other five chapters), the decision to release it exclusively on DVD probably won’t go over well with fans. Sure, the inclusion of an extended cut helps ease the pain (as most of the deleted scenes deserved to remain intact), and the bonus material (audio commentary, making-of featurette, George Lucas interview, etc.) ain’t bad, either. But one question remains: will they be releasing the episode on the corresponding season set as well? If not, they might want to call in the Kaiser Chiefs for a little crowd control, because I predict a riot.
Filmation's Ghostbusters: Volume One
Anyone who knows a thing or two about television can appreciate the fact that while “The Real Ghostbusters” may have been the more popular cartoon series during its run in the late ‘80s, Filmation’s own rendition was actually the real “Ghostbusters.” Based on the 1975 live-action series of the same name, “Ghostbusters” wasn’t turned into a cartoon until after the live-action comedy starring Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd (which had no relation to the original TV show) became a box office hit. Produced mostly to cash in on the sudden popularity of the “Ghostbuster” property (a name that Filmation sold to Columbia for use in the film), but also probably to substantiate who came up with the idea first, Filmation’s animated series picks up with the sons of former ghostbusters Jake Kong and Eddie Spencer (here voiced by their live-action counterparts Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch) taking over the family business. Unfortunately, while the series may have been the first show carrying the “Ghostbuster” name, it comes off as a cheap rip-off of “Scooby Doo,” complete with a rogue’s gallery of lame villains, as well as their very own animal/detective: Tracey the Gorilla. Still, the series holds up pretty well nearly 20 years after the fact, and BCI Eclipse has done an amazing job with bringing the show to DVD. Along with the first 32 episodes of the series, the six-disc box set also includes a ton of bonus material including creator interviews, the original promo pilot, storyboards and image galleries, and yes, even the first episode of the live-action series, “The Maltese Monkey.” Now, if only someone can explain to me why there’s a character named Kong on the show that’s not the gorilla.
The Flash: The Complete Series
Boy howdy, you sure can tell one thing about this series: it never, ever would’ve happened if it wasn’t for Tim Burton’s “Batman,” which had been a massive success the year before. The Flash, while having significant longevity in the DC Comics universe, wasn’t what you’d call a first-tier hero…and, of course, by “first tier,” I mean he wasn’t a primary member of the Super Friends. He showed up later, of course, but, basically, even Aquaman had a higher profile. Warner Brothers still pulled out all the stops for this show…by attempting to imitate the look and feel of “Batman.” (It even has a Danny Elfman-composed theme song.) Thing is, that particular look and feel didn’t match this source material nearly as well; Batman lives in the shadows to strike fear in the hearts of criminals, but the Flash didn’t have or need such restrictions. Maybe the producers just couldn’t imagine a guy in a bright red suit with little wings on his ears and ankles running around in broad daylight. John Wesley Shipp, who went on greater fame by playing James Van Der Beek’s dad on “Dawson’s Creek,” is a fine Barry Allen (the Flash’s secret identity), and it added to the plot that they played up the difficulties his super-powers brought to his metabolism – you try running at super-speed on a regular basis and watch how quickly you burn through your calories – but, as with so many of these comics-to-TV adaptations, it’s as though someone said, “Hey, let’s do a TV show about the Flash,” then, after they’d sold it, said, “Hey, how the hell are we going to pull this off without it looking ridiculous?” This obvious hesitation would explain why the Flash didn’t battle any real super-villain types ‘til about halfway through the show’s one-season run. Too bad; those episodes – with David Cassidy as Mirror Master and Mark Hamill as the Trickster (his two appearances are easily the best of the series; you can tell this is where he worked up the voice he’d later use for the Joker on the animated “Batman” series) – are when the show started to reach consistent excellence…which, naturally, is right about when it got cancelled.
Flavor of Love: Season Two
Confident that sitting through an entire season of “Flavor of Love” would result in my loss of all hope in humanity, I did what any other self-respecting television critic would do – I only watched the first and last episodes. And if these two hours of bitching, screaming, name-calling, hair-pulling and backstabbing just don’t quench your reality TV thirst, well, then, there’s something seriously wrong with you. In the season opener alone you have a horribly one-sided fight between a skinny white girl and a ferocious black girl (who later asks God’s forgiveness for “beating this bitch’s ass today” and “thinking about beating her ass again”), a purportedly bisexual contestant boasting her lack of a gag reflex, and another girl (nicknamed Somethin’) who in fact does leave a little somethin’ on the floor during an emergency trip to the bathroom. Whoopsies – maybe she should’ve put on some underwear if she was planning on shitting all over the mansion. Of course, you can hardly let Flavor Flav off the hook, either. You’ve got to be really desperate for attention to put yourself through this for the second time, and Flav is most certainly that. The season finale leads you to believe that Flav and his new girl will live happily ever after (I mean, who could turn down a set of gold grills over an engagement ring?) when we know deep down inside that there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing “Flavor of Love: Season Three” sometime next year.
Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Season One
What happens when kids outgrow their imaginary friends? Why, they go to Madame Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, of course. That is, until another child comes along looking to adopt them. But when eight-year-old Mac is forced to outgrow his imaginary friend Bloo (a blue blob reminiscent of a “Pac-Man” ghost), he makes a deal with the staff to not adopt Bloo as long as Mac visits him every day. And like that, the basic premise of the show is set into motion. With the exception of the three-part series premiere, the other episodes pretty much stand on their own, with Mac and Bloo get into trouble with Foster’s residents Wilt (a one-armed, one-eyed skyscraper-sized Muppet); Eduardo (a cowardly Mexican bull monster straight out of “Where the Wild Things Are”); Coco (a strange bird who speaks by only using her name, like Pokemon, and lays giant plastic Easter eggs with prizes inside); and Madame Foster’s teenage granddaughter Frankie. Easily one of the most original and wildly imaginative cartoons on television today, Cartoon Network’s “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” comes from the mind of Craig McCracken, creator of “The Powerpuff Girls,” and marks the first time an animated series has been produced completely in Macromedia Flash. Fans of McCracken’s previous shows (“PPG” and “Dexter’s Laboratory”) will likely welcome his newest creation with open arms. Simply put, this is the best new cartoon on TV, and you won’t want to miss a single minute. Oh yeah, and neither will your kids.
Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Season Two
Craig McCracken’s wonderful Cartoon Network original returns in its second season all nicely boxed up on two discs for the kids and adults alike. Indeed, McCracken is a wiz when it comes to reeling in the older viewers by doing up episodes that spoof “The Big Lebowski” (“The Big Leblooski”), and by introducing insanely juvenile new characters such as Cheese -- in his debut episode he is mistakenly taken in by the Foster’s as a new imaginary friend “accidentally” created by Mac (“Mac Daddy”). Absolutely hilarious, especially when it comes down to the episode where Grandma Foster bakes her once-a-year cookies and Bloo manages to reap rewards from them by selling them at premium prices (“Cookie Dough”). And who could forget “Frankie My Dear” where Mac, Bloo, a delivery boy, and a suave imaginary friend all think Frankie (impeccably voiced as always by Grey DeLisle) is in love with each of them, and all set out to crash her date with her new boyfriend? Lots of great episodes in all, with special commentary by Cheese on “Mac Daddy” and other fun extras such as a new character gallery that the younger viewers will enjoy.
Fraggle Rock: Season Two
“Dance your cares away / Worries for another day / Let the music play / Down at Fraggle Rock.” That’s about all I can remember when it comes to the Jim Henson-produced children’s series, but that probably has something to do with the fact that I was only a year old when it first debuted. Featuring a brand-new cast of Muppets created specifically for the show, “Fraggle Rock” never experienced the same level of success as the original “Muppets” series, and that’s most likely due to the complete lack of any adult humor in the scripts. This is purely for the children, and while other popular kid’s shows give off the impression that they’ve been timestamped to expire after a set number of years, “Fraggle Rock” is the kind of unadulterated programming that most parents would be more than happy to share with their youngins. Now, if only Jim Henson Home Entertainment would just release those damn “Muppet Babies” episodes on DVD.
Frisky Dingo: Season One
As a casual fan of “Sealab 2021,” I was surprised to discover that the latest series from creators Adam Reed and Matt Thompson – the superhero spoof “Frisky Dingo” – wasn’t even remotely as funny or clever as its predecessor. The first season of the show follows the extorts of supervillain wannabe Killface as he attempts to destroy the world with his Annihilatrix doomsday device. When multi-billionaire Xander Crews (whose superhero alter ego Awesome-X is teetering on retirement) catches wind of the villainous plot, however, he swings back into action -- as a children’s toy, that is. Positively teeming with untapped potential, “Frisky Dingo” ultimately falls victim to its been-there-done-that concept. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an Adult Swim show similar in theme (“The Venture Bros.” executes it about 10 times better), nor does it compare to the sheer greatness of past animated series like “The Tick.” Instead, “Frisky Dingo” is merely second rate, and though it’s not as condemnable as something like “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” it’s not much better, either.
Fullmetal Alchemist: Season Two, Part Two
Entering a TV series in the middle is always tough, but it’s especially difficult when you’re dealing with animes. The story arcs are often long and complex, characters tend to appear and disappear without much explanation, and they’re usually about one of only four things: robots, vampires, ninjas or schoolgirls. As you can imagine, it’s very easy to get them confused. Oh yeah, and did I mention that they’re long? “Dragon Ball Z” – perhaps the medium’s most popular (and successful) series – is comprised of a whopping 251 episodes, so imagine my relief to discover that “Fullmetal Alchemist” was much shorter. Unfortunately, that also meant that the batch of episodes I would be reviewing were the series’ last. I had missed out on most of the backstory – the who, the what and the why – and somehow, I was still supposed to enjoy the climactic ending like any other dedicated viewer. And you know what? I did. After brushing up on the show’s history with a little help from Wikipedia, I jumped straight into episode 41 (of 51) with almost no expectations. I walked out pleasantly surprised, and with a better understanding of why “Fullmetal Alchemist” is as popular as it is. I still wish the supporting characters were even half as interesting as the Edward brothers, but anyone who’s been following the show since episode one certainly won’t be mind.
Gene Simmons: Family Jewels: Complete Second Season
Continuing in the same vein as the first season of this series, “Gene Simmons Family Jewels” features the KISS bass guitarist living his life as only he knows how: in search of more money and fame. Of course, this time around, viewers also get to check out the plastic surgery that Simmons and his non-wife Shannon Tweed have together. For what it’s worth, she’s already had enough work done that it’s made her look 10 years older than she is. Post-op Gene looks about as bedraggled as before, so maybe there just wasn’t any hope there. Throughout the season, the Simmons family gets into the same type of wacky shenanigans that occurred during the first season. The only reason to watch it remains Simmons and Tweed’s kids, Nick and Sophie, who basically point out all the faults of their parents and lifestyle with nary a blinking eye. If you’re a fan of this stuff, then you’ll enjoy this set. Everyone else can only be mildly amused and keep moving.
The Ghost Busters: The Complete Series
When the Dan Aykroyd-Bill Murray-Harold Ramis film, “Ghostbusters,” hit theaters in the dark days before the internet, people thought I was insane when I told them I remembered watching a live-action show on Saturday mornings called “The Ghost Busters,” about two guys and a gorilla who go on missions to stop rambunctious ghosts from wreaking havoc. I got a certain amount of vindication when Filmation, the company who’d produced the original series, took advantage of the popularity of the phrase “Ghostbusters” by creating an animated version of the original 1970s series. But, now, I can finally produce proof of the existence of the show as I remember it. “The Ghost Busters” reunited the “F-Troop” duo of Larry Storch and Forest Tucker, threw in a guy (Bob Burns) in a gorilla suit for good measure, and found as many guest stars as possible to participate in their haunted house shenanigans. These included Billy Barty, Bernie Kopell, Ted Knight, Marty Ingels, Jim Backus, Carl Ballentine and even Huntz Hall (from “The Bowery Boys”). The result remains probably the most enjoyable live-action kids’ show of the ‘70s that wasn’t a Sid & Marty Krofft production. It’s a little sad, though, to watch the fun and realize that the show would never even get on the air today; they’d say, “Kids are never gonna watch anything where all the main characters are over 50!” Wrong. Kids will watch anything, just as long as it captures their attention, and “The Ghost Busters” is still a blast to watch.
Girlfriends: The Complete First Season
To this day, it’s still not entirely clear to me why Kesley Grammer attached his name as Executive Producer to this series. I’ve read interviews indicating it had something to do with racial diversity on television, but surely he could’ve found anything better than this generally cheesy UPN comedy. And it’s not that I’m a white guy and this is a series aimed at black women, I promise. Virtually every character is a paint-by-the-numbers cliché: there’s a romantically challenged career woman, a smart-ass loudmouth, an eccentric free spirit and a man-eating sex fiend. As often as not, they sound less like they’re friends chatting among themselves and more like what they actually are: relatively talented comediennes reciting hackneyed dialogue. Actually, let’s just put all the cards on the table: everyone’s got comedic chops except for Persia White, whose delivery is almost always excruciating. There’s also an attempt at comedy by having the characters break the fourth wall and divulge their inner thoughts to the viewer, but it doesn’t work. The only possible reason to endure the show is to watch the rapport between Reggie Hayes and Tracee Ellis Ross. As William and Joan, their evolving romantic relationship is the only consistently enjoyable part of “Girlfriends.” P.S. No special features whatsoever.
Gomer Pyle, USMC: The First Season
Some of my best childhood memories are of watching back-to-back reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle” with my dad. As a little tot not yet in school, I don’t remember much about the show other than Jim Nabors’ goofy accent and the fact that it was in black-and-white (it’s not ignorance, it’s adolescence), but I sure got a kick out of every time Nabors would unleash his amazing operatic singing voice. The actor’s portrayal of the dim-witted mechanic-turned-Marine, Gomer Pyle, has actually aged pretty well over the past 40 years, and his onscreen chemistry with Frank Sutton (Sgt. Carter) remains one of the classic television couplings of the decade. Surprise, surprise, surprise – the colors are crisp and look great, while the five-disc set also features some great bonus material, including an audio commentary with Nabors on the pilot episode. There’s not much else to say but “Shazam!
Gomer Pyle, USMC: The Third Season
At five discs and 30 episodes, this third season of “Gomer Pyle” should appeal greatly to the hardcore fan. And good news for those people: unlike the second season that featured many episodes with the musical numbers cut, this set seems to be intact, albeit with a few musical cues being cut or changed. Still, fans of Jim Nabors’ singing should be able to rest at ease. Underneath that, it’s still the same old dependable and predictable Gomer Pyle. Granted, sitcoms didn’t take a lot of chances back in 1964, so it’s understandable that this show followed the recipe of other comedies at the time. Even so, fans will be disappointed to know that there are no bonus features on any of these discs, making this a pretty bare bones affair. But if it’s only the show you truly care about, then you should be able to find a lot to enjoy here.
Good Times: The Complete Sixth Season
As “Good Times” began its sixth and final season, it was running on fumes, but you can’t say attempts weren’t made to revive the series. The year began with a sprawling four-part episode that offered an emotional rollercoaster ride which included such events as – get ready for a run-on sentence, kids – sister Thelma (Bern Nadette Stanis) marrying professional football player Keith Anderson (Ben Powers), Esther Rolle returning to the series as family matriarch Florida Evans, J. J. (Jimmie Walker) planning to pay for the wedding, then getting fired from his job and having to borrow money from a leg-breaking loan shark, and Keith tripping over J.J. during the wedding, leading to a hurt leg and the loss of his financially-lucrative football contract. So much for escaping from the ghetto. After 19 more episodes, including a ridiculously-fast resolution of Keith developing then successfully battling a drinking problem from his depression over losing his contract, the show ended with an episode that managed to offer more plot developments in a half-hour than were included in that initial four-parter! J.J. sells a comic book character, becomes a full-time artist, and announces he’s moving out, Keith gets signed to the Chicago Bears, Thelma reveals that she’s pregnant, and neighbor Willona (Ja’net DuBois) gets a promotion at work, allowing her and adopted daughter, Penny (Janet Jackson…yes, that Janet Jackson), to move out of the ghetto. Hey, but what a coincidence: Keith has just leased an apartment upstairs from Willona’s new place, and he’s invited Florida to come live with them! “At last,” the audience sighs, “the Evans family truly has found good times.” And the curtain falls.
Grounded for Life: Season Two
Two seasons into its DVD release program on Anchor Bay, and “Grounded for Life” still finds its reputation intact as one of the funniest, most surprising family sitcoms of the last decade, thanks to its flashback plot format. Donal Logue and his MILF of a wife, Megyn Price, continue to play an extremely realistic set of parents who still really haven’t grown up. There are great guest spots this year from Stephen Root (“NewsRadio”) and Vincent Pastore (“The Sopranos”), but if there was ever a show that didn’t need stunt casting, this is it. That having been said, the episode where it’s revealed that, on July 13, 1985, daughter Lily (Lynsey Bartilson) was born backstage at Live Aid, delivered by the not-yet-a-reverend Run from Run-DMC, is priceless. Sadly, only one episode features audio commentary from the cast; the rest of the special features – bloopers, a mixture of new and stock interviews with cast members, as well as one with guest star Ashton Kutcher – are interesting, but except for the brand new conversation with Kevin Corrigan (“Uncle Eddie”), you can take or leave them. By the way, Kutcher’s guest spot is very short and way too derivative of his character on “That ‘70s Show,” but any series willing to have Kutcher’s character die and spend almost the entire episode dead – minus a few minutes of flashbacks – deserves a thumbs-up.
Gunsmoke: The Director's Collection
Given that “Gunsmoke” ran for 20 years (and 635 episodes), it’s not entirely surprising that the powers that be at CBS haven’t been releasing it in full-season sets; instead, they’ve been putting out best-of sets. This time, they’ve taken a different tactic by picking out certain episodes based on their directors; even more impressively, however, they’ve rounded up several of them to do commentary, including Arthur Hiller (“Love Story,” “Silver Streak”), Andrew V. McLaglen (John Wayne’s “McClintock!” and “Chisolm”), Mark Rydell (“On Golden Pond,” “The Rose”), and Peter Graves. Yes, the same Peter Graves who starred on “Mission: Impossible.” Longtime fans of the series will enjoy a last opportunity to hear the voice of Dennis Weaver – who played Chester on the show – as he speaks of his experiences directing the Season Six episode, “Love Thy Neighbor.” (The set is dedicated to Weaver, who passed away not long after recording his commentary.) Other impressive special features on the set include original radio broadcasts of four of the episodes and an interview with Amanda Blake (Miss Kitty) on “The Mike Douglas Show.” Oh, yeah, and there are 15 episodes in this three-disc set as well, which are consistently enjoyable and show why the series was such a favorite – pay particular note to “How to Kill a Woman,” which was written by Sam Peckinpah (“The Wild Bunch”) – but, in the long run, it’s those commentaries that make this collection so impressive.
Hamish Macbeth: Series 1-3 Collection
If you were to take equal parts of “Northern Exposure” and “Picket Fences,” throw in about half the population of Stars Hollow, mix ‘em all together, then transplant the lot to the Scottish Highlands, you’d have something not so terribly far removed from “Hamish Macbeth.” Adapted from the series of mystery novels created by M.C. Beaton, the title character is a police officer in the small coastal village of Lochdubh who’s always on the case to solve whatever criminal activity might occur within his jurisdiction. Funny how small towns on TV always seem to have such a disproportionate amount of crime, isn’t it? Well, in this instance, the stories are ultimately less about what offenses are being perpetrated and more about the small town lifestyle and the interactions between the members of its populace. Hamish is played by Robert Carlyle, whose movie career began to take off in the midst of his work on the series (both “Trainspotting” and “The Full Monty” were released while “Hamish Macbeth” was on the air), but while he serves as the focal point for the ensemble, it’s the various townsfolk who provide the charm that makes all three seasons of the show so entertaining. Fair warning, though: it’ll be a wee bit o’ struggle for the American (without an ear for the Scottish brogue) to adapt at first, so hang in there.
Happy Tree Friends: Winter Break
The violent hilarity continues in the 30-minute holiday special with all of your favorite cute and cuddly friends returning to wreak havoc on one another. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed to have discovered that a majority of the material on this disc can also be found in the upcoming “Overkill” box set, but there are a few original shorts and some new special features that make this worth owning for any hardcore fan of the series. For those who would rather pocket the ten bucks for a rainy day would be better off just picking up the three-disc set.
Hardcastle & McCormick: The Complete First Season
Stephen J. Cannell really had the magic touch in the ‘70s and ‘80s when it came to creating hit TV series – “Baretta,” “The Rockford Files,” “The A-Team,” and “21 Jump Street” are just the tip of the iceberg – but one of his shows that isn’t mentioned nearly as often as it should be is “Hardcastle and McCormick.” The Canadian company VEI, however, has taken it upon themselves to release Season 1 of the series (you might have to visit Amazon.ca to get it, but it’ll still play on American DVD systems), and, although the special features on the set amount to nil, it’s just nice to have access to the show again. Why hasn’t it gotten much play in recent years? It can’t just be because the centerpiece of the show – a spiffy-looking sports car called the Coyote – makes it look like such a period piece. One thing’s for certain: few actors do the gruff-but-loveable bit better than Brian Keith, who portrays Judge Milton Hardcastle, and while Daniel Hugh-Kelly – who played ex-con Mark McCormick – didn’t really do much else of note after this series (the sitcom “I Married Dora” most certainly does not count), he played extremely well against Keith. The premise of the show was a simple one – Hardcastle, who has a heart of gold that he tries to hide, takes McCormick under his wing to help him turn his life around – but it’s less the premise than the easy camaraderie between Keith and Hugh-Kelly that keeps it fun.
Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law: Volume Two
It was weird enough when Cartoon Network took Space Ghost and made him into a talk-show host, but it was inspired genius when Michael Ouweleen and Erik Richter came up with this concept: take Birdman, give him a first name, and have him serve as attorney for any and all Hanna Barbara characters who might cross his path, be it Grape Ape, Secret Squirrel, or Black Vulcan from the Super-Friends. The show’s humor leans toward the surreal on many occasions, but any show where the voices are provided by Stephen Colbert and Gary Cole is one worth watching. Both actors contribute to audio commentaries on the set, and there are also deleted scenes, a music video, behind-the-scenes footage from the recording studio, and, oddly enough, a scene that’s been animated such that the characters are devoid of clothing. Actually, come to think of it, given this show’s sensibilities, that’s not terribly odd at all.
Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law: Volume Three
When Space Ghost got his own talk show, he scored a seriously high profile thanks to his seriously high-profile guests. Less heralded, however, was Harvey Birdman, who ran second fiddle to Space Ghost back in the ‘60s when they were still playing the superhero game and stayed that way when he went into law and got his own show on Adult Swim. I must cry “foul,” as “Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law” was one of the most clever (if most surreal) cartoons in the Adult Swim line-up, utilizing just about every character from the Hanna Barbera archives, in ways that neither William nor Joe ever imagined. Well, unless they secretly always knew that Peter Potamus would be sexually harassing Birdgirl, that is. Additionally, the show’s voices are provided by Gary Cole, Stephen Colbert, Peter MacNichol, John Michael Higgins and Paget Brewster, and, really, how can you argue with talent like that? This is the third and final DVD set, as the show was cancelled after its fourth season (don’t ask me why these have come out as volumes rather than full-season sets), but the series went out with a bang, courtesy of an ongoing storyline revolving around the death of Phil Ken Sebben, the president and cofounder of the law firm Sebben & Sebben, where Birdman practiced. The final episode, “The Death of Harvey,” ends with Birdman being forced to retry ever client he’d ever gotten acquitted throughout the run of the series. What a way to go.
The Hills: The Complete First Season
“It’s been a very, very special six months… I’ve never been with someone this long.” This type of dim-witted conversation is bound to pop up in a show like “The Hills,” a “Sex & the City: The College Years”-type spin-off of MTV’s hugely popular “Laguna Beach.” The show follows series alum Lauren Conrad as she moves to LA to attend the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (as well as pursue an internship at Teen Vogue). It also features Lauren’s best friend Heidi, new co-worker Whitney, and slut extraordinaire Audrina on their journey to becoming women. Filled with all the usual teen drama you’d expect from a show produced by MTV, “The Hills” is at its absolute best when it’s behind-the-scenes at LA fashion events and clubs. Still, after watching only a few episodes, you can’t help but question how these girls (not to mention their slacker boyfriends) are surviving in a city like Los Angeles. Some of them just sit around all day long, while others bitch and moan about working a full-time job; but perhaps the biggest bonehead move of all is when Lauren gives up an internship in Paris so that she can spend the summer with her dumbass boyfriend. Grow up already little girl – not even Heidi (who might just be the dumbest and most shallow person on TV in a long time) would make such a huge mistake.
The Hills: The Complete Second Season
While the first season of “The Hills” proved to be an unexpected addiction I just couldn’t kick, season two quickly proves that it was all just a bad dream. The MTV reality series isn’t as good as I remember, and part of the reason is because the cameras spend less time exploring the world of fashion magazines and night clubs, and more on the high schoolish drama between the four main stars. The summer is over, and as expected, the beach house idea didn’t quite work out. Jason may be gone, but there’s a new idiot in the mix: Spencer, the asshole boyfriend of Heidi. He actually tries to date two girls, who are friends, at the same time. Somehow he manages to exit that particular situation unscathed, but he still has plenty of bonehead moves up his sleeve. The guy is just plain creepy, and everyone seems to notice except Heidi (who, as you may recall from the first season, is a complete airhead). The season ends with the two of them moving in together, but when the show airs, what’s going to happen when she sees what he really did with those Playmates? It just might be worth tuning in for, but only if MTV promises never to disgrace Colin Hay again by using one of his songs on the soundtrack.
Hogan's Heroes: The Complete Fourth Season
Does anyone else remember how, back in ’98, there were rumors about how Mel Gibson was considering doing a film version of “Hogan’s Heroes”? Huh. Maybe now’s the time to revisit that, Mel. Surely doing a movie about incompetent Nazis like Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz would be the perfect retribution for all those anti-Semitic remarks. After that decidedly disturbing biopic about Bob Crane, who played Hogan, suddenly, “Hogan’s Heroes” didn’t seem quite as funny anymore…but, then, it’s always been hard to laugh at the show without bringing the right mindset to it. If you give it a chance, though, it’s as funny as some of those early episodes of “M*A*S*H” in the way that it spoofs the incompetence of the military; the second episode of this season, “Klink vs. the Gonculator,” is one of the all-time classics of the series in this regard, proving conclusively that when two officers get together, neither ever wants to admit that they don’t know what the other is talking about. The fan-favorite character Major Bonacelli (Hans Conreid) returns for his second and final appearance in the series this season as well. There are no special features this time around, which isn’t all that surprising…but it’s still mildly disappointing, considering that all previous volumes contained at least a little something.
Home Improvement: The Complete Fourth Season
Some people swear by “Home Improvement” as one of the greatest all-American sitcoms ever, and, given that the show lasted for eight seasons on ABC and was nominated for a ton of Emmys and Golden Globes, those people probably have a pretty decent leg to stand on. When going back and watching the show’s fourth season, however, what’s mostly evident to these eyes is a relatively standard family sitcom that’s just…okay. Tim Allen seems to really be playing himself when he’s wearing Tim Taylor’s tool belt, and Patricia Richardson is consistently dependable as his long-suffering wife, Jill, but whenever the unique premise of the show – Tim’s TV show, “Tool Time” – is left behind in favor of the various dramas at the Taylor house, the results are pretty pedestrian. Okay, Tim’s a man’s man, and Jill’s the brains of the outfit, and there’s humor there. You’ll watch, and you’ll laugh. When all is said and done, however, while “Home Improvement” might be a show for the everyman, fans who prefer their humor to step even slightly outside the mainstream will be left severely wanting. The only special feature here, by the way, is a blooper reel, but it’s better than nothing.
Home Improvement: The Complete Third Season
One of the best family sitcoms of the past two decades, “Home Improvement” offered a healthy balance of mature and light comedy, while still holding true to the Law of “Full House,” which is to say that there was an important moral to learn at the end of every episode. Tim Allen was in his comedic prime during the early 90’s, and his work on the first few seasons was among the best of the series’ eight-year run. Still, with only one special feature and no audio commentaries by the Toolman himself, it’s hard to recommend this three-disc set to anyone other than hardcore fans of the show.
Hong Kong Phooey: The Complete Series
We’ll be honest: we’re as big a fan of the number one super guy as anyone, but these ‘toons have not held up well at all. Once you get a sense for the whole bumbling-superhero thing, the episodes are all pretty interchangeable. And don’t even get us started on the animation, made for all occasions (two separate crooks in the first episode turn around to see the exact same shot of Phooey driving behind them), even if it means Phooey faces left in one shot, faces right in the next shot, and left again in the shot after that. What saves the show is the voice work by Scatman Crothers as Phooey and Joe E. Ross as his sergeant, plus the Gromit-like work of Phooey’s cat Spot. And is it just us, or is it a little weird that Rosemary the receptionist (Kathy Gori) refers to herself as Lady Fuzz?
If Christopher Guest was an animator for Adult Swim, his latest flick (“For Your Consideration”) would have probably turned out a lot like the IFC original series “Hopeless Pictures.” It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, to discover that Bob Balaban is the man behind all the action. As one of Guest’s regular collaborators, Balaban has succeeding in delivering a hilarious look at the inner workings of Hollywood, and has even invited improv pals Michael McKean and Jennifer Coolidge to join in on the fun. McKean voices the main character, Mel Wax, the head of a dysfunctional indie studio named after his deceased parents, Hope and Les, while Coolidge does double duty as the studio’s head of development as well as renowned actress Nina Boroslova. Crudely animated in a manner that’s very reminiscent of the cult Comedy Central series “Dr. Katz,” Jonathan Katz himself even makes a scene-stealing appearance as – surprise, surprise – Hollywood’s most in-demand shrink.
Hustle: The Complete First Season
It’s been done before – the show about a group of con artists who work together to pull off a series of heists – but no one’s ever come as close to getting it right as the BBC-produced drama “Hustle.” At the forefront of the group is Mickey Stone (Adrian Lester), the smooth inside man who’s never been caught… not even once. He’s joined by fellow criminal masterminds Ash Morgan (Robert Glenister), Stacie Monroe (Jaime Murray) and Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughn) – all of which he’s worked with before – and a brand new addition to the gang, Danny Blue (Marc Warren), a hot shot youngster with the potential to become the best in his trade. Perhaps the biggest reason why a lot of these shows are never very popular is because the criminal anti-hero is such a tough sell. Luckily, the characters in “Hustle” are actually quite easy to like; quite simply because they never con anyone that can’t afford it. Unfortunately, not even the show’s flagrant pinching of classic heist films (like “The Sting” and “Ocean’s Eleven”) are enough to keep things interesting for very long, and though the first year only stretches six episodes, it’s hard to imagine that future seasons will be quite as entertaining. Then again, I’d be more than happy if someone could just prove me wrong.
Hustle: Season Two
The last time we sat down to talk about the BBC series, “Hustle,” I mentioned that it was the closest anyone’s ever come to getting the world of the con artist right. Well, that particular assessment hasn’t changed a single bit, but while the show remains one of Britain’s best imports yet, it still pales in comparison to what you’re bound to find while surfing the channels on this side of the pond. In the second season of the series, the cons do get a bit more ambitious, but they all follow the same boring path. The crew goes after a mercenary poker player; Danny brings in a greedy new recruit; and the season finale finds Mickey in handcuffs after an attempt to steal the crown jewels. None of the risks seems particularly daring when the viewer already knows that in the end they’re going to come out on top. It’s still good entertainment for those looking for something a little different (we don’t have a show like this in the U.S.), but it’s far from perfect.
Hustle: Season Three
The third season of the BBC series may not open with much of a bang, but it certainly ends with one, when the “Hustle” team is blackmailed by a crooked police detective into tracking down an infamous thief known as The Ghost. Unfortunately, the rest of the season isn’t quite as exciting: Mickey poses as a record producer in an attempt to con a mobster into investing in his wannabe rapper son; the team convinces a tabloid editor that they hold the key to the royal scandal of the century; and Richard Chamberlain guest stars as a fellow grafter who cons the cons. Though the writers aren’t entirely to blame for the lack of excitement that drags down the third season, it does prove why so many thief/con artist shows have failed in the past. They manage to make up for the less complex cons with a unique spin on the formula (where Mickey and Danny must compete against one another to make the most money in a six-hour time frame) but even that turns out exactly as you’d expect. Fans of the show shouldn’t worry just yet, but with its leading man running off to Hollywood for bigger and better things, this may be the last season of “Hustle” worth investing in.
I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Second Season
They say they never showed Barbara Eden’s navel on television at any point during the five-year run of “I Dream of Jeannie,” lest America have a collective heart attack from the scandal. With or without a bellybutton, however, Eden was just about the sexiest thing on television during the ‘60s…and her genie costume probably stayed atop the list of Top Outfits You’d Like Your Wife To Wear In The Bedroom list until it was knocked off by Princess Leia’s slave girl outfit from “Return of the Jedi.” As a show, “I Dream of Jeannie” is actually extremely funny, although, of course, almost every episode follows the same path: Jeannie performs magic and alters the life of her master, Major Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman), in some fashion, resulting in shenanigans that invariably cause Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rourke) to see something he can’t rationally explain. You might find yourself really annoyed by Jeannie’s insistence at not just instantly fixing the problems she’s caused, but Hagman’s reactions and attempts to play off the crazy events are always funny. The highlight of this season probably comes from “Fastest Gun in the East,” which features neither Dr. Bellows nor Tony’s best bud, Captain Roger Healey (Bill Daily), but which mercilessly skewers every cliché of the then-popular Western genre. Sure, it’s slight stuff…and devoid of any special features…but it’s still tons of fun. How could it not be with guest appearances by Paul Lynde and Sammy Davis, Jr.? Plus, what, you’re going to complain about having to look at Barbara Eden? I think not.
I Dream of Jeanie: The Complete Third Season
Given that this is the second consecutive season of the show without any special features on the DVD, I guess it’s reasonable – if unfortunate – to expect that there won’t be any on successive releases either. Cheapskates! “I Dream of Jeannie” was still cruising along nicely at this point, with a lot of great sight gags based around the various wishes that Jeannie (Barbara Eden) grants her master (Larry Hagman). In a move unique for the ‘60s, the sitcom had a mammoth 4-part story arc with Jeannie locked in a safe bound for the moon. Any attempt to force the lock or use the wrong combination would set off an explosive destroying the safe. (The network had a contest for viewers to guess the combination.) Adding to the drama, Jeannie was in there for so long that whoever opened the safe would become her new master. There are enjoyable guest spots by Larry Storch, Milton Berle, Don Rickles, Bob Denver, Don Ho and Paul Lynde (who shows up twice during the season playing two different roles). You absolutely won’t want to miss the episode “Jeannie, The Hip Hippie,” with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart singing a couple of numbers, and Phil Spector signing them to a record deal!
I Love Lucy: The Final Seasons
Given how many years this classic series has been in syndication, you might think that you’ve seen every episode a dozen times over. But, in actuality, you probably haven’t seen many – if any – of these 13 episodes. That’s because, despite the title, these aren’t episodes of “I Love Lucy;” they’re episodes of “The Lucille Ball – Desi Arnaz Show,” which is what the sitcom was called when it expanded from 30 to 60 minutes after its sixth season. The feel of the show remains more or less the same. It’s still Lucy and Ricky, Fred and Ethel, and lots of harebrained schemes and celebrity guests. In fact, if anything, these seasons probably have more celebrities popping up than in any of the years preceding them. There’s a particularly great appearance from Tallulah Bankhead, who clearly relishes the opportunity to make fun of herself, but some of the biggest celebrities of the 1950s pop up during the proceedings: Hedda Hopper, Cesar Romero, Ann Southern, Rudy Vallee, Fred MacMurray, Betty Grable, Harry James, Fernando Lamas, Maurice Chevalier, Red Skelton, Ida Lupino, Milton Berle, Bob Cummings, Edie Adams and Ernie Kovacs. There are tons of special features, too, including deleted scenes and original cast commercials. It’s a nice way to finish off the run of a landmark show in the history of television.
In Living Color: Season Five
You can’t deny the crucial importance of “In Living Color” in introducing new talent to Hollywood, from Jim Carrey to Jamie Foxx…and let’s not forget J-Lo’s stint as a Fly Girl. Unfortunately, by its fifth season, most of the show’s heights had already been hit, and several of its key cast members had jumped ship, like Damon Wayans, Kim Wayans, Kim Coles, and Kelly Coffield; even creator Keenan Ivory Wayans wasn’t making appearances on the show anymore. Chris Rock showed up as an occasional guest performer, but he tended to recycle old bits (“How much fo just one rib…?”) as often as he offered new material. Carrey was clearly off filming “Ace Ventura” and “The Mask” during this season, because he’s missing from a lot of episodes; in his place as the token white guy is one Jay Leggett, who – despite having great comedic delivery – ultimately is forced to milk most of his comedy from being a big, fat guy…like, of the size to put Chris Farley to shame. Foxx has a funny running bit throughout the season where his character, Ugly Wanda, is on a quest to find the father of her child, and the game show parody, “Dirty Dozens” – an excuse to offer lots of “yo mama” jokes – is classic, too. In short, there’s funny stuff here, but the show was starting to run on fumes, making it no surprise that “In Living Color” was dead after this season.
Inside the Actors Studio: Icons
While fans of the Emmy-nominated talk show may never see the complete series on DVD, “Icons” (the first of what looks to be many themed “Inside the Actor’s Studio” releases) offers some of the best guests in the history of the show. It doesn’t really get any better than this. Eastwood. Newman. Redford. Streisand. All four performers have risen to the top of their profession since their cinematic debuts, and all four continue to deliver some of the best material that Hollywood has ever seen. Usually lasting only 45 minutes long, the episodes that appear on this DVD set have been extended to include the entire interview, as well as a small collection of great moments that never made the cut. For this, fans should be truly excited, since it means that in most instances, you’re getting more than twice as much content. There’s not much criticism that one could make about a program like this, but I did find it odd that while three of the four interviews were taped recently, the Newman episodes goes back all the way to 1994 – the first year of the show. In fact, Newman was the very first guest (so it makes sense that his interview would be included on the set), but he’s also the President of the Actors Studio. Updated introductions by host James Lipton are also included on all four episodes, making this three-disc box set a must-have for any longtime fan of the show.
Inside the Actor's Studio: Johnny Depp
While it’s certainly cool to see Johnny Depp give the rare interview, there’s just something about the whole thing that seems a bit too precious. It’s not Depp’s fault, either. It’s that damn James Lipton. Apparently, Depp’s appearance on the show attracted the largest in-studio audience ever during the series’ history. That’s rather cool given that Lipton has hosted so many greats on his set over the years. But he still handles the interview with the same old “kid in a candy store” wonderment that got stale ages ago. Still, fans get to gain a few insights on how Johnny chooses his always eclectic roles, and which of those roles and fellow actors meant the most to him. His stint on “21 Jumpstreet” is glossed over, while Lipton manages to toss off the questions about everything else in his usual childlike demeanor. Given that when these shows are taped, the sessions actually last for a few hours, you’d think fans would be thrown some bonus footage, but no. This is the show as it originally aired on TV with no bonuses in sight. Blah.
Ironside: The Complete First Season
Say, here’s an idea for a show: take a crotchety, egotistical son of a bitch who’s a genius in his field but has trouble walking, and team him with a group of young upstarts. Then, for the sake of diversity, be sure that the upstarts include a white guy, a black guy and a white girl. If you leapt for the buzzer with the answer of “House,” sorry, that’s incorrect. Turns out that description also aptly sums up “Ironside,” which beat Hugh Laurie’s character to the punch by more than three decades. Raymond Burr’s character, Robert Ironside, is a former San Francisco Chief of Detectives who, after being shot by an attempted assassin, leaves the force and enters the private sector as a consultant to the PD. Once you get past that difference, however, the similarities between Bob Ironside and Greg House prove bountiful. Ironside constantly berates his subordinates for their inability to answer problems to his satisfaction; regularly bucks the system in order to prove that he knows better than the SFPD; and, inevitably, is proven right by the end of every episode. It’s impressive, actually, that Burr was able to dive so successfully into the character of the gruff and grumpy Ironside that you actually forget his demeanor as Perry Mason. (It’s also pretty funny the way he peppers his annoyances with the word “flaming,” which is clearly intended to represent a different “F” word entirely.) The big disappointment here is that there are absolutely no special features whatsoever. It’s such a rarity amongst Shout! Factory releases, however, that we’ll let it slide…this time.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Seasons 1 & 2
If there’s one show that doesn’t quite get the attention it deserves, it’s the FX comedy series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” A sadistic cross between “Cheers” and “Seinfeld,” the show centers on four friends who run an Irish pub in a not-so-safe part of town. While that may not sound very original, there is one thing that sets them apart from the usual cast of sitcom misfits: they’re the most politically incorrect group of people you’ll ever meet. Whether it’s manipulating the debate on abortion in order to pick up women, providing a safe haven for underage drinkers, or exploiting a water stain that looks like the Virgin Mary, there’s nothing the gang won’t do to turn an extra buck. Certainly the most un-PC show to ever air on TV (even more so than Bill Maher’s myriad of projects), “It’s Always Sunny” may be immoral in several ways, but it’s also inappropriately hilarious and refreshingly edgy. Part of its comic brilliance can be attributed to the fact that the show was created, written and performed by the three-man team of Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton, and though fellow cast members Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito (who expands his role from executive producer to recurring character in season two) pitch in when they can, it’s the brotherly trio that ultimately deserves all the credit.
Jack of All Trades: The Complete Series
As the other short-lived television series starring cult film icon Bruce Campbell, “Jack of All Trades” didn’t feature the same kind of great writing and quirky genre-bending that made “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” such a unique experience, but it did have a secret weapon of its own – the executive producing team of Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert (who not only worked with Campbell on the now-famous Evil Dead trilogy, but were also behind the hugely successful “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Xena: Warrior Princess”). And given that Campbell had been friends with Raimi and Tapert since childhood, the two men knew exactly how to play to the actor’s strengths. Taking place in a post-Revolutionary War era, the series stars Campbell as Jack Stiles, an American spy whose been sent on a mission by Thomas Jefferson to the island of Palau Palau where he’s to work alongside a British spy (Angela Dotchin) in an effort to vanquish French Imperialism. Unable to investigate without further exposing their true identities, Jack adopts the guise of a local folk hero – the Daring Dragoon – to battle the evil French Governor Croque (Stuart Devenie) and put an end to the tyrannical rule of Napoleon Bonaparte (Verne Troyer, AKA Mini Me). The spot-on casting of the vertically-challenged dictator is absolutely brilliant, but it’s Campbell’s satisfying off-the-wall performance that seals the deal. Whether delivering witty one-liners, sweet-talking the ladies or holding his own in a sword fight, “Jack of All Trades” features the actor at his absolute best. Plus, who doesn’t want to see Bruce battle a Mini Napoleon?
Jackass: The Box Set
This four disc set, which contains 292 scenes plus a bonus disc, is quite possibly the textbook definition of ‘Only in America.’ Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera & Co. come up with the dumbest, craziest, most juvenile junk you can imagine, and just try not to laugh. The first disc is the roughest, since the show’s budget was clearly small and the boys were still, um, finding themselves. By the second and third discs, Tony Hawk was appearing on the show and they had become a household name. The audio commentaries are loud, expletive ridden rants (curiously, some swear words are edited, and some aren’t) that confirm what we already knew: these guys are really, really gay.
JAG: Season One
How a show like “JAG” managed to stay on the air for ten seasons is beyond me. The series never pulled in great ratings and its star, David James Elliot, is the kind of actor you’d expect to see in one of those low-budget, Movie of the Week dramas they run on PAX. Sure, Catherine Bell is kind of a hottie, but she doesn’t even show up until the second season (unless, of course, you count her guest starring role as a completely different character in the unaired “Skeleton Crew” episode – provided here on the six disc set). Then again, this is exactly the kind of show that most women aged 30-50 love to watch alone on a Friday night, so while I don’t exactly understand its appeal, there’s at least some reasoning to support the show's minimal popularity.
The Jeffersons: The Complete Fifth Season
Where do you go once you’ve moved on up to the East Side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky? Well, if you’re George and Louise Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford), you start bringing in guest stars to keep the ratings up; the fifth season includes an appearance from Billie Dee Williams as himself, as well as roles by Sheryl Lee Ralph, T.K. Carter, and the legendary Willie Tyler and Lester. The Williams episode is pretty funny, with Florence the maid (Marla Gibbs) absolutely convinced that he’s a celebrity impersonator. As ever, there are regular plots involving George’s dry cleaning business, as well as the Jeffersons’ neighbors, Mr. Bentley (Paul Benedict) and TV’s first black and white married couple, Helen and Tom Willis (Roxie Roxer, a.k.a. Lenny Kravitz’s mom, and Franklin Cover); in fact, this is the only season where Tom and Helen’s son, Allan (Jay Hammer), is a regular on the show. (He’s white, which gives George an opportunity to make more jokes about honkies and zebras.) Hemsley’s George Jefferson is about as grumpy and as much of a self-absorbed shyster as has ever appeared on television, but Gibbs has the best delivery of anyone on the show. Unfortunately, there is no excuse for Sony to have released this set with a photo on the back cover of an episode that’s from the ninth season rather than the fifth; presumably, most longtime fans would know the difference, but, frankly, I was all excited to see the episode in the photo and was legitimately bummed out to find that it wasn’t part of the set.
Jim Gaffigan: Beyond the Pale
Jim Gaffigan might just be the funniest comic you’ve never heard of. Of course, he’s had his share of Comedy Central specials over the years, and has even made appearances in hit shows like “Sex & the City” and cult films like “Super Troopers,” but most people would never recognize him by name alone. His latest stand-up routine, filmed live in Chicago, is also his best material to date and offers a hilarious insight into the creation of holidays, his immense love for food, and best of all Hot Pockets. The comic’s five minute rant on the microwavable snack is perhaps the funniest bit of the past decade, but it’s Gaffigan’s bizarre routine of slipping into internal monologue and his relatively clean brand of humor that make him one of the best comics in the business.
The Johnny Carson Show
You’ll note that this isn’t “The Tonight Show” but rather, “The Johnny Carson Show.” Yes, Carson had a life in show business before getting the late-night gig in 1962 that would keep him gainfully employed for 30 years. He spent 1955 and 1956 hosting and starring in a half-hour comedy/variety show that bore his name. Shout! Factory has collected ten episodes of the series, and although a flock of then-current pop culture references will go zooming over most viewers’ heads like supersonic jets, it’s fascinating to see how Carson’s comedic sensibilities were already in place in the mid-‘50s. Parodies of movies, TV shows, and commercials drive the series, and although Carson at times comes off as a surprisingly meek host, it’s wonderful to watch him burst into life when he latches onto something he thinks is funny (even if the audience doesn’t). Be sure to look for the episode where James Arness guests, promoting his then-new series, “Gunsmoke.” The special features include some Jell-O commercials Carson did at the time, along with a glimpse of his guest-hosting “The Jack Paar Show,” and an episode of “Who Do You Trust,” the quiz show he hosted after “The Johnny Carson Show” was cancelled. If you ever enjoyed The Mighty Carson Art Players on “The Tonight Show,” you’ll want to snap this up immediately. The picture quality isn’t always spectacular, but the history is invaluable.
Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple
On Nov. 17, 1978, the mass murder-suicide of 909 people in a small compound located within the rain forests of Guyana made headlines around the world. The compound was designated Jonestown by the members of the People’s Temple as a tribute to their founder, Rev. Jim Jones, a move they probably came to regret as he ordered them to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. In “The Life and Death of People’s Temple,” director Stanley Nelson provides a harrowing look at the events leading up to the infamous day. It includes an in-depth examination of Jones’ childhood and early years; interviews with former members of the People’s Temple (including two who managed to escape while the Kool-Aid was being passed out, even as their spouses and children succumbed to its effects); and family members of several people who died that day. There are significant amounts of archival footage, but none proves more gripping than the material from the compound that was actually shot on Nov. 17. Adding considerably to the experience are a half-hour’s worth of deleted scenes that flesh out the story. It’s clear why the director ultimately viewed them as superfluous to the film, but they’re just as enthralling as the material that did make the final cut. “Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple” may well be the most depressing and unsettling film you see all year; you can see on their faces that many of the Temple members truly believed that they’d found their salvation in Jim Jones. It’s a gripping documentary that should not be missed.
Knight Rider: Season Two
Back when David Hasselhoff was cool. Okay, so maybe David Hasselhoff was never cool, but the closest he ever came was when he played Michael Knight in this ‘80s classic. The three-disc set features all 21 season-two episodes and boasts guest appearances from Geena Davis, Lance LeGault from “The A-Team” and (are you ready for this?) MacGyver himself, Dana Elcar. We still say K.I.T.T. was the coolest car on television. And yes, that includes the General Lee.
The King of Queens: Season Five
Despite his role in “Hitch,” Kevin James hasn’t yet made the leap from television to movies, but his loss is the quality sitcom viewer’s gain…though, of course, the show doesn’t exclusively focus on his character, Doug Heffernan. In fact, for a show that started out as a spin-off from “Everybody Loves Raymond” without a great deal of buzz, “The King of Queens” has really developed into an entity of its own, with an extremely solid ensemble cast. Jerry Stiller’s comedic delivery as Doug’s father-in-law, Arthur, is mighty similar to his work as Frank Costanza, but who cares? Funny’s funny…especially when the writers and producers found a way to bring in his real-life wife, Anne Meara, into the proceedings for a few guest spots. Patton Oswalt begins to hit his stride on the show as Doug’s pal, Spence, and Rachel Dratch (“SNL”) is a semi-regular this season as Doug’s co-worker, alongside his ever-suffering buddy, Deacon (Victor Williams). The idea from a prior season to have Lou Ferrigno play himself as the Heffernan’s neighbor was a masterstroke, one which continues into this season, and there are also great guest appearances from Dave Foley (“NewsRadio”) as a psychiatrist, Marcia Cross (“Desperate Housewives”) as another new neighbor, legendary comedian Shelly Berman as Arthur’s half-brother, and Joe Flaherty (“Freaks and Geeks”) returning as Father McAndrew. In truth, the series’ only weak link is having Doug’s hot wife, Carrie (Leah Remini), come off as such a shrill bitch so much of the time. There’s nil in the way of special features – thanks for nothing, Sony…literally! – but, comedically speaking, Season 5 is still a worthwhile buy.
The Kumars at No. 42
While not nearly as clever as other BBC-produced series like “The Office” and “Spaced,” the first series of “The Kumars at No. 42” is another breath of fresh air in the realm of television comedy. Based around a fictional British-Indian family who have built a studio in their backyard, their son Sanjeev hosts a weekly talk show with real celebrity guests ranging from Hollywood stars like Minnie Driver to more obscure British names like Michael Parkinson and Fay Ripley. Impulsively funny, a majority of the series’ laughs come from the cast’s frequent improvisation and the guest’s enthusiasm to partake in the antics.
The L Word: The Complete Fourth Season
Here’s a series with a reputation for showcasing heaping loads of girl on girl action, so imagine my surprise to find nothing of the sort for the first half of its fourth season. Even more surprising was the fact that it didn’t matter; by the time the girls started takin’ it off and getting’ it on about halfway through the set, the Hot Skin Nudie Watusi was as much distraction as it was turn-on. Simply put, “The L Word” is some really good storytelling with a fantastic ensemble cast -- it’d be a great show if its stars were dressed in iron maidens. There are probably a dozen ongoing storylines in as many episodes. Some of the best: a soldier (Rose Rollins) who’s recently returned from Iraq falls for a woman whose lifestyle and opinions go against everything she stands for; a female-to-male transsexual (Daniela Sea) deals with office harassment, prejudice and the death of a parent; a 50-ish university head who’s married with children (Cybill Shepherd) deals with feelings she’s suppressed since college. But the centerpiece of “The L Word” is Katherine Moennig’s Shane McCutcheon, a complex woman who recklessly acts out as one might expect a man to do, yet there’s nothing particularly mannish about her. In Season Four, she’s forced to care for someone other than herself – her abandoned younger brother. Moennig gives a layered, believable human performance and it’s baffling that she’s never been nominated for an Emmy.
The Lair: Season One
There’s always something new under the sun. It’s true. Just check out “The Lair” which is all about a gay nightclub run by vampires. As the title would suggest, the Lair is really just a trap to lure fresh blood into the club to keep the vampiric blood line going. Too bad for the club that the carcasses its clientele is leaving behind are piling up, attracting the attention of a local journalist (David Moretti). Of course, the obvious investigation begins and the club’s owner Damian (Peter Stickles) sees a strong resemblance to his own old lover in Moretti. Much studly overtures ensue and the next thing you know, you have a new series on your hands that follows in the path of “Dante’s Cove” (also on Here! TV). Fans of that series will undoubtedly draw comparisons, and whether or not it lives up to them remains to be seen.
Larry King: The Greatest Interviews
When you see the bold typeface declaring that “Larry King: The Greatest Interviews” features “over 300 of Larry’s most amazing guests,” you’re instantly tipped off that, three discs or not, there’s no way you’re getting all of King’s greatest interviews in their entirety. It’s depressing, however, to pop open the set and discover that, in fact, you don’t get any complete interviews. The three discs are divided up thusly: “Hollywood Film Stars & Legends,” “Presidents & First Ladies, News Events & Scandals,” and “Television Stars, Broadcast News Icons, Comedians & Unforgettable Moments.” Yes, each disc provides a veritable cornucopia of famous faces. It’s virtually impossible to watch without uttering the occasional “holy crap” at the sight of someone (long dead) who you never realized King spoke with, like, say, Bette Davis or Sammy Davis Jr. (to name but two Davises). Unfortunately, however, “The Greatest Interviews” proves an ultimately underwhelming viewing experience, because so many of King’s subjects tend to pop up for only a few well-chosen snippets. Also, you’ll quickly remember what an obsequious interviewer King can be. Still, with all these names and faces, three stars still seems an acceptable rating
Law & Order: The Fifth Year
This is also known as the season with the unofficial subtitle, “Enter Sam Waterson.” A guilt-ridden Ben Stone (Michael Moriarty) stepped down as Executive District Attorney following the murder of a witness by the Russian Mafia, and Jack McCoy (Waterston) quickly and quietly replaced him. By “quickly and quietly,” I mean that Stone might as well never have existed. The extent of the transition between Stone and McCoy involved one scene with Claire Kincaid (Jill Hennessy) reacting to what she’s heard about McCoy’s reputation upon first finding him settling into his office. This might well be the definitive season of “Law & Order,” since it’s Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Logan (Chris Noth) walking the “Order” beat of the show, while Waterson and Hennessy handle the “Law” side of things -- but you’d never know it from the special features. The only bonus that’s been tacked on by Universal is a self-serving piece of work about the best TV sleuths that, in fact, is just a promo for the Sleuth cable network. Blech. Still, you can’t give this season any less than four stars. The cast is arguably the best of the show’s run to date. Guest stars include Edie Falco and Vincent Pastore from “The Sopranos,” and, in the last episode (“Pride”), Logan punches out a homophobic politician who’d murdered a gay man. Of course, it got him transferred to Staten Island (as Noth left the series), but what a way to go.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fourth Year
It would seem unlikely that a show that focuses on subjects as disconcerting as sex crimes and child abuse could serve as the TV equivalent of comfort food, but that’s what “Law & Order: SVU” is: a group of familiar faces you’re always glad to see, no matter what awful occurrences they might be investigating when you stop by. And make no mistake, Season Four finds Benson, Stabler and company delving into situations that’ll make your skin crawl: serial pedophiles, the rape of a comatose woman and a stepmother having an affair with her teenaged stepson. (Mind you, the stepmother is played by Sherilyn Fenn, which means that the average guy would probably at least briefly think, “I might just be able to work past the incredible creepiness of this.”) The fourth season of “SVU” is a rare year where, cast-wise, the status quo remains approximately the same – B.D. Wong makes the leap to series regular as FBI psychiatrist Dr. George Huang, but it’s not like he hadn’t already been loitering around the precinct on a regular basis. Frankly, there aren’t really even any tremendous character developments this year, aside from Stabler going into therapy after killing a victim. But, then, the “Law & Order” franchise has always been more about the victims than the officers themselves, and in a series where the word “victims” is actually part of its name, you’d expect it to be at its strongest here.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The Fifth Year
The fifth season of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” is now available in an impressive four-DVD set, a package that fans of the show will no doubt cherish. There aren’t many extras to go along with the 25 episodes, though the one-on-one “Police Sketch” interviews with some of the cast members are interesting (still have a hard time buying “Cop Killer” Ice-T as a homicide detective), as is the “SVU Alumni” feature, showing some of the show’s past guest stars, including Serena Williams, John Ritter, Beverly D’Angelo and the Fonz himself, Henry Winkler.
Life As We Know It: The Complete Series
Another victim of premature cancellation, this primetime high school drama is an oversexed “Saved by the Bell” that is far better than “The O.C.” Unfortunately, only eleven episodes actually made it to air before the FCC turned out the lights on the series for being too promiscuous. It’s always the good shows to go, but now you can own the complete series on DVD, along with two unaired episodes.
Little Britain: The Complete Third Season
The comparisons to Monty Python are warranted in that it’s a decidedly off-kilter British comedy that’s basically one sketch after another, but you could also argue some similarities to “South Park,” given the occasionally off-color comedy and downright disconcerting sequences. But just when you’re prepared to write it off as just being too damned gross…such as the recurring sequence of an old woman spontaneously urinating as she walks through the grocery store…you’re handed a subtle but hilarious sketch, like the one where a gentleman walks into an art shop and says, “I’m looking to buy a painting of a disappointed horse.” (He rejects one because “the horse looks more perturbed than disappointed.”) Sci-fi geeks will dig that the narrator is former Dr. Who Tom Baker, and that the Prime Minister is played by Anthony Stewart Head, a.k.a. Rupert Giles from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but they’re both ultimately incidental to the show; it’s really all about Matt Lucas and David Walliams, who write and star in every single segment of every single episode. Kudos on the special features on the set as well, which include audio commentaries for every episode, deleted scenes, an interview with Lucas and Walliams, and a radio episode of the show.
MacGyver: The Complete Second Season
Forget about James Bond. MacGyver took over the reigns as the world’s coolest super spy when the series debuted in 1985, and the second season offers more of the same cool gadgetry from his manipulation of everyday objects like paper clips and chewing gum. He may not be on the same page as 007 when it comes to the ladies, but we’re convinced that this modern-day nerd was before his time.
MacGyver: The Complete Fourth Season
By year four, Richard Dean Anderson was at the height of his popularity, with a hit show and a comfortable place in TV icon heaven. The series itself also experienced one of its best years with guest stars such as Teri Hatcher, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Jason Priestly (yes, he was cool then), as well as the return of MacGyver’s arch-nemesis Murdoc. But with four seasons down, and three more yet to be released, the disregard for any special features is starting to take a toll on the fans.
Mad About You: The Complete Third Season
When four years pass between the release on DVD of a show’s seasons, it’s reasonable to think that they won’t ever resume. But “Mad About You” defies the odds and returns with its complete third season. If you never watched the series during its original run, but you married in the interim, you definitely need to check it out. It was arguably the definitive sitcom look at husband-wife relations during the ‘90s, with Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt providing a remarkably realistic take on marriage. The third season still found Lisa Kudrow making regular appearances as ditzy waitress Urusula. We were also graced with guest stars like Rudy Giuliani, Jay Leno, Lyle Lovett, Carl Reiner (playing his “Dick Van Dyke Show” character Alan Brady, no less), Rachel Hunter, Brent Spiner and Eric Stoltz as Alex Tofsky. It’s disappointing that Reiser, Hunt, or even some of the supporting players couldn’t chip in some commentaries (this is a 100 percent special-feature-free zone), but the comedy remains strong enough to warrant an unreserved recommendation.
Magilla Gorilla: The Complete Series
“We’ve got a gorilla for sale / Magilla Gorilla for sale / Won’t you buy him / Take him home and try him / Gorilla for sale!” Wait a second, wait a second…stop the music! Would you believe that in this set, purportedly the end-all and be-all of “Magilla Gorilla,” the folks at Warner Brothers decided to cut the opening and closing credits from the episodes, thereby removing the theme song? That’s just crazy! Oh, well, at least the cartoons themselves are enjoyable, if predictable; no matter what goes on during the course of the episode, whether Magilla becomes a football player, an astronaut, or the target of a big game hunter, you can always count on him ending up back in the front window of Mr. Peeble’s pet shop. The less-remembered cartoon co-stars of Magilla’s show – i.e. the others who had their own segments – were the Western parody of Ricochet “bing Bing BINNNNNNNNG” Rabbit and Droop-A-Long as well as the hillbilly cat and mouse team of Punkin’ Puss and Mushmouse. As with the other Hanna-Barbera sets, the special features are particularly enjoyable, including the original promotional feature to promote “The Magilla Gorilla Show,” along with new interviews with animator Jerry Eisenberg, animation historian Jerry Beck, and the voice of Magilla himself, Allan Melvin (a.k.a. Sam the Butcher from “The Brady Bunch”). There’s also a live performance of the show’s theme song by Bill Hanna and composer Hoyt Curtin, but if they think that makes up for not including the original credits, they’re very much mistaken.
Magnum P.I.: The Complete Second Season
Do you remember the good old days when guys like Tom Selleck ruled Hollywood? Neither do we, but you have to exhibit a certain degree of respect for a series that contracted him against playing Indiana Jones. The show was a bonafide smash hit in the 80’s when it won an Emmy, but that was the 80’s. If you’re not looking to cash in on three discs filled with classic memories, do it as thanks to the studio. Who ever said contracts were bad?
Magnum, P.I.: The Complete Seventh Season
By its seventh season, the adventures of private investigator Thomas Magnum had gotten pretty formulaic; they were rarely bad – the combination of Tom Selleck’s good-humored charisma in the title role and John Hillerman’s straight-laced performance as Higgins prevented that – but, at the same time, one couldn’t help but wonder just how long the series could continue. As it happens, the answer turned out to be “one more season,” but even in Year 7, the show still had a pretty decent amount of pull, as most predominantly evidenced by the guest appearance by one Francis Albert Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes plays retired New York police sergeant Michael Doheny, a man on a quest to find the man responsible for raping and murdering his granddaughter; it’s a pretty solid performance by Sinatra, particularly during his final scene, making it a far better finale to his acting career than, say, “Cannonball Run II.” This is also the season when Magnum teamed up with Jessica Fletcher…and, thankfully, Universal has had the courtesy to include the second part of their team-up on this set, even though it took place in an episode of “Murder, She Wrote.” There are a few other notable adventures, including a two-part episode which takes place in L.A., flashbacks to both Magnum’s and Higgins’s past, and an adventure which finds the cast in an old-school whodunit where everyone but Magnum plays a completely different character. Long story short, it’s more of the same, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Mail Call: S.N.A.F.U.
Remember back in the ‘80s, when those Dick Clark and Ed McMahon blooper specials on NBC became so popular that they not only spawned a weekly series but also inspired a knock-off show on ABC (“Foul-Ups, Bleeps & Blunders”)? Between those shows and the outtakes-during-the-credits trend that has swept both movies and TV over the years, we’ve almost reached the point of blooper overload. Yet, for some reason, if you put one of the world’s most famous former Marines – R. Lee Ermey (a.k.a. The Gunny) – in front of a camera and have him screw up his lines while spewing profanity left and right, you still can’t help but laugh to the point of just about peeing yourself. “Mail Call: S.N.A.F.U.” is a collection of on-screen errors made by Ermey during the last several seasons of his popular History Channel series, where he tackles viewer questions about the various branches of the military and the wars in which they’ve found themselves throughout history. It’s 53 minutes long, and by the end of it, your sides will be sore from laughing. It comes available with two versions: “Family Friendly,” where the obscenities are bleeped out, and “Xtra-Salty,” where you get to hear Ermey in all his glory. But, c’mon, you already know which one holds the most laughs, and if you don’t, you will within about two minutes, when you hear him begin a letter by saying, “Well, John, the answer to your damned stupid-ass fucking question…”
Man Stroke Woman: The Complete First Season
Unconventional in that it isn’t filmed in front of a live audience, the UK sketch comedy series “Man Stroke Woman” is a breath of fresh air for us Yanks, who stopped watching “SNL” years ago. Created by the producer of the original “The Office” and starring six of Britain’s most promising comedic talents – including Nick Frost (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) and Meredith McNeill (“Confetti”) – the series takes a humorous look at the everyday relationships between friends, husbands, wives, children and just about anything else that’s worth laughing about. Similar to “Big Train” (Simon Pegg’s comedy troupe) in method, but much more consistent in its selection, the series is very good about not dragging out a sketch longer than necessary. Of course, that doesn’t mean the first season isn’t without its share of running jokes, and though some just aren’t funny the first time around, others get funnier with each successive skit. Fans of Frost will enjoy watching the comic sidekick’s evolution as an actor, while the short season will likely leave you wanting more.
Margaret Cho: Assassin
Everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed protestor is up to no good in her new live concert DVD that offers an entire 90 minutes of brand new material. Her new focus on politics takes a front seat, comparing things like Ronald Reagan’s funeral procession to “Weekend at Bernie’s.” And when she’s not ranting about her two favorite things (gays and sex), Margaret nails impressions of Bjork and Zhang Ziyi, a welcome change from her usual supply of crude ammo. This is by far her most original stand-up since her return to the business with “I’m the One That I Want,” but it’s only worth a second viewing if you’re a diehard fan.
Married... With Children: The Complete Fifth Season
If you pride yourself on having a vaguely-highbrow sense of humor, there are few pleasures guiltier than “Married with Children.” The fifth season is when famed series killer Ted McGinley – who has been directly linked to the deaths of both “Happy Days” and “The Love Boat” – entered the fray as next-door neighbor Marcy Rhoades’ new husband. (She woke up in bed next to him, wearing a wedding ring and a t-shirt that read, “I went to Clyde’s No Blood Test Needed Wedding Chapel And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.”) So was this when the show officially jumped the shark? Nah, that wouldn’t come until they brought in the little kid named Seven. This season is, however, probably the last truly good year of the show...relatively speaking. The second half of the season features two two-parters…one involving the Bundys taking up residence at a supermarket, the other taking a cue from the Bradys and having Al, Peg, and the kids end up stranded in a ghost town…but the one-shot episodes tend to be the funniest, like “Wabbit Season,” where Al plays Elmer Fudd to a rabbit that’s devouring his garden. That our favorite shoe salesman ends up blowing up the house with dynamite should go without saying. It’s over the top, and there’s a drinking game to be had by chugging each time the audience goes “WOOOOOOO!” But even though you hate to admit it, it’s still kinda funny…but, um, preferably in small doses.
Married... with Children: The Complete Seventh Season
Ted McGinley, for those who do not know, is the official “patron saint of shark jumping,” according to the experts at JumptheShark.com. But according to the site (and echoed by yours truly), McGinley’s arrival as Jefferson D’Arcy on “Married…with Children” was not where that series jumped. By a landslide vote, the honor goes to the introduction of Seven, the 5-year old towhead taken in by the Bundy’s at the start of the show’s seventh season. Played by a kid named Shane Sweet, Seven nauseatingly lives up to the actor’s last name no matter how hard the production team tries to make him a Bundy. He’s so damn cute you really wish the family dog, Buck, would have the little peckerhead for breakfast some morning. Aside from this saccharine ray of sunshine, the rest of the season is mostly Bundy business as usual, and the kid disappears with nary a mention about two-thirds of the way through these 26 episodes. That leaves Disc Three the job of picking up the pieces and getting the show back on track. Props to the writers for avoiding a “Very Special Episode” where Al runs over Seven with his infamous Dodge. As has been the case with the “Married” DVDs since Season Three, Sinatra’s “Love and Marriage” is absent from the opening credits, although numerous pop songs remain in the episodes, such as The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ “Tuff Enuff,” in an episode where Al takes a job as a male stripper to pay the mortgage.
Martin: The Complete First Season
Anyone that’s ever read one of my reviews for a film starring Martin Lawrence knows exactly how I feel about the guy. He’s a one-joke horse who relies far too heavily on playing the annoying, loud-mouthed protagonist that urban audiences seem to love. Furthermore, no matter how hard he tries, Lawrence will never come close to matching the quality of playing multiple characters that guys like Eddie Murphy (or even Tyler Perry) have built careers on, because in the end, they’re all just the same annoying guy under some very unconvincing make-up. This last element factors greatly into why the comic’s self-titled FOX sitcom – about the lives of a brash radio personality and his no nonsense girlfriend (Tisha Campbell) – isn’t nearly as funny as many would make you believe. Sure, it’s one of the better situation comedies produced for an urban audience, but considering the amount of crap that has come out of the now-defunct WB in the last decade, that’s not saying very much. And when it comes down to it, I’ll take Damon Wayans and his far superior “My Wife and Kids” over “Martin” any day.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Fourth Season
Given that her theme song has been recorded by everyone from Joan Jett to Husker Du, it’s probably not big news to learn Mary Tyler Moore can turn the world on with her smile. (For the record, she can also take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile.) It should never be forgotten, however, that, in addition to having one of the best TV themes ever, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is still the definitive ensemble comedy of the ‘70s. Thank goodness Fox decided to continue releasing the show on DVD; after the first season was released to sales that didn’t meet their expectations, they held off releasing any further seasons for three years. The opener of this, the show’s fourth season, introduces WJM’s “Happy Homemaker,” Sue Ann Nivens, played by Betty White; White also features heavily in “The Dinner Party,” which focuses on Mary’s reputation for throwing really awful parties. (This episode also includes a guest appearance from Henry Winkler.) Probably the most classic episode from this season is “Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite,” where Ted Knight’s egotistical, airheaded newsman meets his polar opposite, but a major thread running throughout the year that’s used to consistent comedic effect involves Lou Grant (Ed Asner) re-entering the world of dating after his marriage disintegrates. With both Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) continuing to extend the ensemble to include more of Mary’s personal life, it’s no wonder “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was a regular Emmy winner throughout its run.
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: Volume One
In its time, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” was hailed variously as a “hilarious soap spoof” (TV Guide), “mind-blowing” (Newsweek), and “television’s zaniest show” (Reader’s Digest). But, alas, time has not been terribly kind to Norman Lear’s attempt at parodying the hour-long melodramas that keep housewives glued to their television sets every weekday afternoon. In the show, which was syndicated from 1976 to 1977, Louise Lasser played the title character, a woman whose life consisted of little more than a series of increasingly bizarre and outrageous events. In the first episode alone, Mary Hartman’s neighbors are murdered, her grandfather is arrested on charges of being a flasher, and her husband hasn’t made love to her in five weeks. The series was sufficiently outrageous in the ‘70s that most stations refused to air it until after 11 p.m. It’s definitely a broad parody of some of the ridiculous events that occur in the average soap opera. Unfortunately, it tends toward incredibly subtle humor, so much so that, on many occasions, it isn’t even as interesting as your average soap opera. There’s little question that “Soap” was more successful as a parody of the genre (maybe because it had a laugh track). There are no special features, which will no doubt annoy fans who are aware of the filmed cast reunion which took place in 2000 at the Museum of TV and Radio, and certainly could’ve been included here.
M*A*S*H: Season Nine
As great a show as “M*A*S*H” was in its heyday, by Season 9, the cracks were beginning to show. Things had become stagnant at the 4077th by this point; in fact, after Frank Burns was replaced by Charles Emerson Winchester III and Radar O’Reilly returned to Ottumwa, Iowa, no changes were made to the core group of the show’s actors for the remainder of the series’ run. Sure, there were still highlights; in particular, the Christmas episode, “Death Takes a Holiday,” where the surgeons fight to keep a mortally-wounded soldier alive until December 26th so his kids won’t think of the holiday as the day their daddy died, is one of the most moving the series ever produced. (You want proof? It won the Emmy in 1981 for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series.) On the whole, however, things drift too much into drama for a show that was once one of the funniest shows on television. Oh, and once again, there are no special features…but now that we’re nine seasons in, “M*A*S*H” fans are probably resigned to their disappointment on that front.
The Best of The Match Game
On the surface, the idea of releasing episodes of a game show on DVD might seem a little ludicrous, since after one viewing, you know who’s won. Once upon a time, however, there used to be game shows where the game was almost incidental; it was either about the host or about the celebrity guests. The industry standard for the former is “You Bet Your Life,” hosted by Groucho Marx, but for the latter, it’s hard to top “The Match Game.” “The Match Game” challenged contestants to match celebrities when both were asked to fill in the blank in a particular sentence, and host Gene Rayburn had the perfect leer for the gig, given how the show’s writers loved to offer the opportunity for dirty jokes and double entendres. (“The doctor said to the patient, ‘Madam, if you want to ring for the nurse, pull on this cord; don’t yank on my BLANK!’”) There’s such a loose, freewheeling feel to the show that it’s fun to watch, even if has been 30+ years since most of these episodes originally aired; the banter between Charles Nelson Reilly and Brett Somers remains priceless (Somers contributes her reminiscences to the set’s special features in new interviews), and it’s fun seeing people like William Shatner, Joan Collins, Michael Landon, and a very young Jamie Lee Curtis playing the game alongside ‘70s game-show stalwarts like Richard Dawson, Fannie Flagg, Marcia Wallace, and Vicki Lawrence. Sure, the actual jokes are groan-inducing, but seeing these people in such a casual environment is what’s worth watching.
McHale's Navy: Season One
How little did I pay attention to the details of “McHale’s Navy” when I was growing up? When I watched the first episode on “Season One” of Shout! Factory’s newly released set, I was surprised to discover that the series had been set during World War II. Whoops. When “McHale’s Navy” premiered, Ernest Borgnine was a pretty big star; he’d already played Sergeant Judson in “From Here to Eternity” and earned himself an Oscar for playing the title character in “Marty.” Still, the lure of television (specifically, the opportunity to play Commander Quinton McHale) proved too much for an old salt like Borgnine to resist. Plot-wise, the series wasn’t a great deal more than a naval version of “The Phil Silvers Show,” where Silvers played U.S. Army Sergeant Ernest Bilko. The cast of “McHale’s Navy” caused it to stand out, and there are plenty of laughs. Tim Conway served as Borgnine’s second-in-command, and Joe Flynn was their easily flustered superior. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, trust me, you’ve seen him in a zillion Disney movies, where, unsurprisingly, he’s usually playing an easily flustered type. The crew was filled with comedic stalwarts like Gavin McLeod and Carl Ballentine. Some of the comedy is rather politically incorrect now (the character of Fuji, a P.O.W., utilizes every Japanese cliché in the book), but the trifecta of Borgnine, Conway and Flynn make “McHale’s Navy” hold up. Bonus: the set includes a reunion of several primary crew members for an exclusive new interview.
McHale's Navy: Season Three
Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine) and his band of “eight balls” from the PT-73 are back with more schemes and scams in the 36 episodes that make up the complete third season of “McHale’s Navy.” Set in the South Pacific during World War II, the show remains a light-hearted comedy focusing more on beating the boss than the actual enemy. While it’s obvious that the plot ideas were beginning to run thin by Season Three, Borgnine and Tim Conway, who plays Ens. Parker, are just as good as ever in this classic war-time comedy. Joe Flynn’s Capt. Binghamton returns to the short end of McHale’s shenanigans, while Yoshio Yoda can be counted as the only real new addition to the cast, playing Japanese POW Fugi Kobiaji. (Yoda appeared in the first two seasons but was given an extended part in Season Three.) Some other recognizable faces that pop up in this season include Ted Knight (Ted Baxter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Judge Smails from “Caddyshack”), a pre-“That Girl” Marlo Thomas, and a very young but ever stunning Raquel Welch. Unfortunately, there are no special features included in this set, but with 36 episodes, there’s more than enough comedy to make this worth your while if you’re a true fan of the series.
Medabots: The Complete First Season
In another “Pokemon”-styled animated adventure series, kids do battle with each other via their pet robots called “medabots.” Of course, each bot has its own special attacks, strengths and weaknesses, and can be modified to do even more. Featuring more than 370 bots in all, this is definitely one of those “collect ‘em all” situations. The underlying theme of this series is to teach the kids viewing it about courage, inner strength and the bonds between friends and family. This is all good, of course, but the fact that the premise has basically been done to death in other animated series renders “Medabots” as just another clone. But of course, every new generation apparently needs its own twist on the whole “Pokemon” thing, so this series is that latest iteration. My three-year-old loves it and really digs the battling robots, so this is definitely going to win over similarly minded kids who can’t get enough action through robotics.
Metalocalypse: Season One
Most Adult Swim shows fall under one of two categories – brilliant, pop culture-inspired comedy (“Robot Chicken” and “The Venture Bros.”) or mindless chaos (“Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and “Tom Goes to the Mayor”) – but in the case of “Metalocalypse,” there’s a little of both. Created by Tommy Blacha and Brendon Small (“Home Movies”), the show follows the extorts of five-man metal band Dethklock, the most famous musical act on the planet and the 12th largest economy in the world. Yes, they’re that popular, but Dethklock is also just like any other band, with one small exception: their lives are being monitored by a secret government organization out to destroy them. Rarely as funny as it wants to be, “Metalocalypse” makes up for it with its guest stars (like Mark Hamill and Metallica’s James Hetfield) and awesome musical sequences. In fact, it’s almost as if the show was pitched solely as a reason to put out a CD (also now in stores), and while that may not be encouraging to the animators, give Small credit for finding a way to expose yet another one of his talents.
Michael Moore: The Awful Truth: The Complete Series
Michael Moore has always been one of those guys people either love or hate. There’s rarely been any middle ground. While his films have often been eye-opening pieces of work, Moore has also been accused of skewing his movies to his own political agendas. “The Awful Truth” was Moore’s second TV series (the first being “TV Nation”) that appeared on the Bravo network. This DVD set collects both seasons of the show in their entirety. Moore is as blunt as a sledgehammer with many of his tactics, including taking a bunch of cigarette smokers, who must now use voice boxes, into the offices of Philip Morris and having them sing Christmas carols. Then there’s the moment in the second season where Moore introduces a mascot called “Pistol Pete,” a costumed weapon, and gets thrown out of a Vegas gun show, NRA headquarters and the U.S. capitol itself. Sometimes Moore’s satire works quite well, and other times it almost seems as pointless as the topics he’s railing against. Still, it’s pretty entertaining stuff, and it’s all available right here in an affordably priced package.
Moonphase: The Complete Series
Based on the popular manga “Tsukuyomi,” “Moon Phase” is about as Japanese as animes get. Its main character, Hazuki, is a teenage vampire who struts around wearing fancy Victorian dresses and a pair of white cat ears. For those wondering what this has anything to do with Japan, you needn’t look any further than the streets of Tokyo for your answer. Japanese fashion is positively obsessed with creating the most ridiculous outfits possible, and though most anime fans probably won’t enjoy a series like “Moon Phase,” it will appeal to the very girls who dress like their cartoon counterparts. The series follows Hazuki after being freed from a German castle by freelance photographer Kouhei Morioka. Invited back to Kouhei’s home to live with him and his grandfather, Hazuki is immediately disappointed to discover that her kiss (read: bite) hasn’t transformed Kouhei into her slave as she had hoped. If there’s one anime series that “Moon Phase” reminded me of most, it’s “Tenchi Muyo!” – probably because of Kouhei’s strange knack for attracting girls – but “Moon Phase” isn’t quite as good. The comic moments are fun, but they’re also few and far between when compared to the darker, supernatural themes that serve as the series’ backbone. Just beware of the opening theme song – you may not know what they’re singing, but you’ll be humming it for days.
Mork & Mindy: The Second Season
When watching the painful unfunny trailer for “License to Wed,” I couldn’t help but think, “My God, was there ever a time when I found Robin Williams to be funny rather than annoying?” Thankfully, this arrived as a reminder. Giving Williams the role of an alien was genius. It gave him a valid excuse for his crazed antics and rambling monologues, but, more importantly, it proved a perfect opportunity for him to utilize his natural gift of improvisation. ABC never seemed happy with the series, though. Every year involved some sort of retooling, and the beginning of Season Two found the departure of Mindy’s dad and grandma, then followed with the arrival of her cousin, Nelson, and her deli-owning friends, Jeanie and Remo Da Vinci. Thankfully, we continue to get more visits from Mork’s eccentric (and, man, is that an understatement) friend, Exidor, and, of course, Pam Dawber remains cute as a button as Mindy McConnell. Despite the changes, the focus still remains on Mork’s attempts to understand Earth culture. But still no special features? Shazbot!
The Munsters: The Complete Second Season
It may seem quaint now, but “The Munsters” was high concept, cutting edge comedy in its time. A pet dragon? A family of vampires, werewolves and Frankensteins, with the gorgeous Marilyn (Pat Priest, who took over for Beverley Owen halfway through season one) as the family black sheep? This was comedy gold in 1964. The second season finds the show getting much lighter in its approach, with Herman (the late, underrated Fred Gwynne) downplaying his intimidating stature and becoming more childlike, while the writing lost some of its satirical bite. The show would be canned by season’s end, but not before the cast had made over 70 episodes, 70 episodes, in two years. The bonus disc features four specials made for A&E in 2002 that analyze the show and its lead actors Gwynne, Al Lewis (Grampa), and Yvonne De Carlo, as Herman’s wife Lily. The most fascinating part shows how extensively merchandised the show was during its heyday, spawning enough products to make the Simpsons blush.
MXC: Season Two
While “Most Extreme Elimination Challenge” may be one of the most nonessential DVD releases in history, just try not to laugh the first time you see a contestant face-plant in the mud. Created from the footage of the Japanese game show “Takeshi’s Castle,” “MXC” is essentially a clip show of the most painful flops and falls by various contestants, with a few winners thrown in to keep things running. Being the product of Spike TV, the newly dubbed dialogue is awash in innuendo and scatological humor, but Victor Wilson and Christopher Darga deliver it all with a knowing wink and a smile. If that sounds like your kind of show, do yourself – and the world – a favor, and rent it. Every copy rented is one less copy that winds up in a landfill two years from now.
My Hero: Season Two
The idea of a superhero-themed sitcom is nothing new, but, as ever, there’s something about a British accent that makes any comedy seem a bit more highbrow. In the case of “My Hero,” however, things never really rise above the level of, well, if we were to go after an American equivalent, it’s on the level of a better-than-average ABC “TGIF” comedy: certainly funnier than the stuff around it, but still in no way a classic. Rather like “Mork & Mindy” if Mork had used his alien abilities to help mankind, “My Hero” focuses on the adventures of George Sunday, who secretly saves the world on a daily basis as…Thermoman! Originally from the planet Ultron, George spends his hero downtime as the owner of a health food store. He also dates and lives with Janet Dawkins, who knows of his other identity. This being the second season, George is already on his path to learn about humanity and its quirks, and, to keep things moving, by season’s end Janet is pregnant and the pair are walking down the aisle. There are plenty of stock comedic characters, such as Janet’s disapproving parents and her quirky work acquaintances, but their ultimate purpose is to flesh out George’s adventures through the mysteries of us Earth folk. It’s an amusing premise, certainly, but “My Hero” is strictly a mainstream affair.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume 9
Some of my fondest high school memories are of sitting around watching “Mystery Science Theater 3000” with my friends. And not the crappy Joel Hodgson episodes from the late 80s/early 90s, but rather the shows that appeared during the final seven years of the series hosted by Mike Nelson. It doesn’t really matter who you favor, though, because the real stars of the show are the robot companions (Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo, both voiced by several different men throughout the years) that join the host in mocking whatever god awful sci-fi movie is being screened that night. And while past collections have rarely failed in delivering classic episodes from “MST3K,” Rhino’s release of the ninth volume confirms that they finally might be running out of good material. Of the four episodes that appear in the box set, one of them (“Wild Rebels”) isn’t even a sci-fi film, and another is a cheap shot: “The Sinister Urge,” by Ed Wood. The other two films are just teeming with comedic material, but while “Women of the Historic Planet” serves up plenty of laughs, it’s no contest when compared to “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.” Oh yeah, and it’s a musical too.
NBA Street Series: Volume 4 - Class of '03
The NBA Draft class of 2003 has already gone down in history as one of the league’s best, so it seems appropriate that the NBA put out a DVD profiling the stars and superstars who have emerged from that class. NBA Entertainment has access to loads of game footage as well as the players themselves, so there’s no shortage of highlights and interviews. The big three from the ’03 class – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony – are the focus, with special attention paid to the growing friendship and rivalry between LeBron and D-Wade. Chris Bosh, Darko Milicic, T.J. Ford, Kirk Hinrich, Chris Kaman, Mickael Pietrus, Nick Collison, Luke Ridnour, David West, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard and Luke Walton are also profiled. The only glaring omission is second round pick Mo Williams, who has played All-Star caliber ball this season for the Milwaukee Bucks. Since it’s part of the “Street Series,” the highlights consist of mostly dunks, while a few acrobatic lay-ups and key jump shots, passes and defensive plays are also included. Platinum recording artist Chris Brown (who?) apparently provides the “street cred” during the intro for each segment, while NBA TV’s Andre Aldridge capably narrates. The main feature lasts almost an hour, and there is another half hour of bonus footage, which includes draft day and training camp highlights for LeBron and ‘Melo as well as extended profiles for Ford, Diaw, Howard and Barbosa. But the most interesting bonus feature is a short profile of the Class of ‘96, the last great draft class prior to ’03. While it would have been more interesting to dig a little deeper and talk about what could have been (i.e. Carmelo Anthony playing for the Pistons), “Class of ‘03” is a good collection of highlights and interviews for those that want an outline of one of the NBA’s greatest drafts.
New Street Law: Season One
It’s been said many times before that the BBC series “New Street Law” is the UK’s answer to “Boston Legal.” But having now watched Season One of the former, it’s now hard to imagine that anyone who’s familiar with the latter could possibly think anything other than, “Wow, David E. Kelley could totally sue over this.” Perhaps it’s intended as an homage? Well, for the sake of propriety, you’d like to think so, given that both series focus on small law firms headed by fiery young defense attorneys who are struggling to make ends meet, until they try a seemingly un-winnable medical case and score a huge settlement that saves the day. That’s not to say that “New Street Law” is a straight-up copy across the board, but, then, when you get right down to it, a law show is a law show is a law show: cases are tried, then they’re either won or lost. The key is whether or not you’ve got a good ensemble of actors and a wide variety of case types, and “New Street Law” unquestionably has both. John Hannah (Jonathan Carnahan in Universal’s “Mummy” films) does a fine job leading the firm, with Paul Freeman (the villainous Belloq in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) serving as his former mentor turned adversary. And any show that allows a plot involving a really terrible Robbie Williams impersonator is okay by me.
Over There: The Complete Series
The FX original series about U.S. troops in Iraq was touted as the first television show about an ongoing war. This was, without a doubt, the only reason the show was greenlit, and in many respects, the very reason it was cancelled. In all honesty, Steven Bochco (“NYPD Blue”) and Chris Gerolmo handled the material quite well, but when it comes down to choosing what to watch at night, most Americans aren’t going to pick this for the simple fact that we already see enough about the war on a daily basis; both in the paper and on the nightly news. And because it aired on FX, the series’ writers did everything they could to make the show edgy – like blowing up the supposed main character’s leg in the first episode and forcing him to deal with life as an amputee. This isn’t edgy television, it’s a daytime soap with guns.
Pablo Francisco: Ouch! Live from San Jose
If Dane Cook were an impressionist, his act would be a lot like that of Pablo Francisco, onetime “Mad TV” cast member and furiously energetic comedian. His latest concert, “Ouch! Live from San Jose,” doesn’t contain the freshest material in the world (“90210,” ecstasy, Mentos, William Hung, “Brokeback Mountain”), but when Francisco gets in a groove, like he does during his bit about death metal and the multiple fake movie trailers he creates, he’s impossible to stop (his Danny Glover impression is fall-down funny). It can get a bit redundant at times, but wait a minute: before you know it, he’s hit another groove, and all is well again.
Patton Oswalt: No Reason to Complain - Uncensored
If you only really know him for his role as Spence on “The King of Queens,” then you’re likely to just kind of stare blankly at the screen for the first few minutes of Patton Oswalt’s first DVD, “No Reason to Complain.” If you’ve seen him on Comedy Central’s “Comedians of Comedy,” however, it may not surprise you to hear that he opens this special by complaining about false advertising in the subject line of spam E-mail from porn sites – “’Here are those stamps you ordered!’ ‘Oh, did I get drunk and order stamps?’ And then you click on it and you’re elbow-deep in Asian teens! Omigod!” – then offers some facts of questionable scientific authenticity on midgets. (“If you kick a midget in the balls, he turns into eight squirrels, which then run into the forest.”) Okay, the midget bit’s a little surreal, but for the most part, Oswalt’s ruminations are straightforward and hilarious, though his topics are kind of all over the place; few of his comedic peers can claim to have an act that covers everything from Alvin and the Chipmunks to the Apocalypse. (In case you’re concerned, it’s not a straight line from one to the other.) He can even veer into political commentary on occasion (his position on ownership requirements for a Humvee sounds damned good to me). Oswalt is second only to David Cross as the funniest comedian working today, and here’s the proof. By the way, keep your eyes open during his rant about how if you listened to metal in the ‘80s, you’re gay; the camera cuts to audience member Scott Ian of Anthrax…who’s laughing just a little too hard.
Perry Mason: Season One, Volume One
Finally, the granddaddy of TV legal dramas makes it to DVD. If you’re only familiar with the “Perry Mason” franchise through the latter-day TV movies, don’t just shrug off this series; in this first season, half the episodes play out like little Hitchcock movies, complete with a score that, while occasionally feeling slathered on, nonetheless sounds inspired by Bernard Herrmann. Oh, of course, it’s formulaic to a certain extent: Perry’s handed a case and, with the assistance of his girl Friday, Della Street, and his favorite private detective, Paul Drake, he invariably gets into court, badgers a witness, and wins the day. District Attorney Hamilton Burger (William Talman) is forever complaining about “Mr. Mason’s courtroom theatrics,” while Lieutenant Tragg, of the LAPD, is always going through the motions by arresting someone you just know Perry’s going to prove is innocent. Still, it’s a rare occasion when you can precisely piece together how a case is going to end. The scripts are well-written, the camaraderie between Mason, Street, and Drake comes across as extremely real; when Drake gets a phone call in the middle of the night, he answers the phone by asking Perry what he wants, instantly knowing it’s him because “no one else would call me at this time of the night!” And who wouldn’t want an assistant like Della Street? She works ‘til the wee hours of the morning if the case requires it, and she’s always ready to rub Perry’s shoulders if he gets tense. You might question some of Mason’s tactics, particularly his tendency to beat the police to crime scenes and potentially trample on evidence that could end up clearing his clients, but you can’t argue with the results.
Pimp My Ride: The Complete First Season
The breakout first season of the Gen-X car improvement show delivers rapper Xzibit at the front door of fifteen unlikely candidates with one mission in mind: to pimp their ride. These poor souls have been driving around real pieces of junk for the past few years, and there’s nothing like a few unnecessary luxuries (say, a ping pong table or an espresso maker) to brighten up their day. Also included on the three-disc DVD set are deleted scenes, bloopers and a featurette on what kind of pimped-out vehicles the guys at West Coast Customs drive to work everyday.
This HBO Documentary Film, directed and produced by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, delves into the horror of what happens when plastic surgery doesn’t pan out the way it’s supposed to. Within the course of this hour-long program, we get a brief history of plastic surgery, but the majority of the time is spent telling the very graphic stories of three individuals – Mona, Tony, and Lucille – with the aid of actual operating room footage (likely not of their operations but, more likely, of others going through the same procedures they went through), home movies, and, yes, “before” and “after” photos. You’re tempted to be a little unsympathetic when presented with the concept of the documentary, because, well, these people didn’t need this surgery, and they knew what could happen; when all is said and done, though, you feel pretty bad for all them. Tony’s the least sympathetic member of the trio, since most of his issues are the result of him not being happy with the end result of his nose job. Lucille, however, started with a few collagen injections, moved up to having a facelift, then ended up having a procedure done that left her with collapsed facial muscles and tremendous breathing problems; her biggest issue is that doctors refuse to accept any blame for the resulting condition, accusing her of being obsessed with her appearance. Mona’s story is probably the most disturbing of the bunch; she decided to get liposuction not because of vanity but because, as a diabetic she felt it would help her condition to lose a bunch of fat. Due to complications from the procedure (and the actions of a surgeon who kept putting her off when she complained about the residual pain), she ended up losing both her legs! Whew, it’s rough. There’s a lot of graphic stuff here; if you tend toward getting queasy at the drop of a hat, you’ve come to the wrong place. If, however, you’ve been considering plastic surgery but you’re on the fence, this ought to place you squarely on the side marked “Get That Freaking Scalpel Away From Me.”
Man, this is a disappointment…and the fact that it is a disappointment totally blindsided me. Because, I mean, the title is in no way false advertising: it’s about porn stars and their pets. It seems like it’d be a slam dunk, right? Well, first off, there’s not enough nudity to warrant an R rating, let alone an X, so they might as well not be porn stars…and, beyond that, as you listen to them go on about the various animals they share their lives with, you realize that there’s a reason why they make a living with their bodies rather than with their brains. The concept behind the documentary would make a funny “SNL” sketch, but this is done with such seriousness that it becomes a snooze sooner than later. Oh, but speaking of furry creatures, there’s an audio commentary by Ron Jeremy – star of “21 Hump Street” and “San Fernando Jones and the Temple of Poon” – that’s so excruciatingly vapid that it’s arguably worth more of a listen than the film itself; his girlfriend, Natalie, does the commentary with him, and although I don’t know what she looks like, I can tell you that if they ever do the story of her life, she needs to be played by Jennifer Tilly, because, trust me, Tilly’s already got Natalie’s voice nailed. If you rent this, here’s a game to play: as each porn star comes on the camera, try to figure out if the pet is smarter than the owner.
The Pretender: The Complete Fourth Season
If you’ve not followed the dramatic saga of Jarod the Pretender for the three seasons that preceded this, you may well think this final season of the show will be utterly inaccessible…and, at least for the majority of the first episode of Season 4 – which picks up where the cliffhanger of Season 3 left off – you’d be right. Fortunately, there’s a documentary on this set, “Jarod’s Mythology,” that helps illuminate things somewhat for the uneducated. In general, though, as long as you know the general concept (Jarod was raised at a research facility called The Centre and kept there against his will until he managed to escape, and they’ve been trying to get him back ever since), you can still get into the show pretty easily. The 19 episodes from this season are all here, including the double-length series finale, but, disappointingly, the two TV movies which continued the path of the characters following the series’ cancellation aren’t included. You’d think they’d’ve been added on, if only for the fans to get a sense of completion…but, then, that wouldn’t give them full closure, anyway. The storyline for a final film to close the story of “The Pretender” has long since been written by the show’s creators, Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle (who contribute a few commentaries to this set, by the way), but no one’s ever offered up the funding to make it. Now that’s just depressing.
Prison Break: Season Two
We’ve all heard of the sophomore slump – heck, it only happened a year before with such critically acclaimed shows like “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” – but the second season of “Prison Break” represented a major falling off point, not only in terms of quality, but interest as well. Now that Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller) and brother Linc (Dominic Purcell) have successfully escaped from prison, they’re on the run from the law, but as the brothers make a mad dash for Utah to find Westmoreland’s buried treasure, they discover that traveling the path of least resistance can sometimes be the hardest journey. Whether it’s other members of the Fox River Eight, Brad Bellick on his own personal bounty hunt, or FBI agent Alexander Mahone (William Fichtner), the guys soon realize that if they’re ever going to make it down to Panama, they may just have to prove Linc’s innocence along the way. Unlike the debut season, there’s not a whole lot to love about the show’s second year. Characters aren’t as appealing outside the prison walls, others are given meaningless storylines that serve as filler to the main plot, and loyalties change quicker than a 10-minute oil change and lube. Does this sound anything like the groundbreaking TV series everyone was raving about two years ago? We didn’t think so.
Project Runway: The Complete Second Season
As “Project Runway” ramps up for a third season, Bravo has, by no coincidence, decided that it’s the perfect time to release Season 2 on DVD. If you’re not familiar with the concept of the series, 16 fashion designers compete for a chance to win a prize package which includes, among other things, a spread in Elle Magazine, a showing at Fashion Week, a car, and 100 Grand to start their own fashion line. Not a bad haul. (Each contestant has a model that stays with them throughout the entire contest – although if a contestant wins a challenge, they can steal someone else’s model – and the model wins prizes as well.) Of course, the producers of the show don’t make it easy. At one point, the designers are told they’re going to be designing for a national icon, then they’re taken to a toy store and discover they’re going to be designing an outfit for Barbie. (The winner gets their picture on the box of the doll that’ll be wearing their creation.) At another point, they’re taken out to dinner and told that they have to make an outfit inspired by the clothes on their back; they had to remove their clothes (off camera, naturally) and use the material from their current ensemble to make a new outfit for their model. Nicky Hilton and Debra Messing (“Will and Grace”) make appearances in various episodes, and Heidi Klum – who’s pregnant throughout the run of this season – might be breathtakingly beautiful, but, as a host, she’s rather dry; she attempts to go with a dramatic delivery when introducing each task to the designers, but, as an actress, let’s just say she’s a hell of a model. The contestants are constantly catty and forever fighting, frantically trying to complete their tasks in the designated amount of time, and that’s all good viewing, but, after such a major build-up, the finale proves anticlimactic. Still, as reality TV goes, there are a lot worse things to watch for a few hours than a bunch of hot models.
Rawhide: The Complete First Season
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, etcetera. “Rawhide” is best remembered nowadays because it was Clint Eastwood’s first regular gig outside of some uncredited movie roles and the occasional TV guest spot, but when the show premiered, the show’s star wasn’t Eastwood; it was Eric Fleming, who played trail boss Gil Favor. Favor and his trusty assistant, Rowdy Yates (Eastwood), seemingly run cattle over every last inch of the frontier, with Yates playing the young upstart to Favor’s old hand. The only thing is, it’s established pretty quickly that Yates was a P.O.W. during the Civil War, so it seems like he’s probably been around the block enough times that he shouldn’t be nearly as naïve as the scripts want to portray him. Nonetheless, the remainder of the cast of regular characters, including Frank McGrath as Wishbone (the cook, naturally) and country singer Sheb Wooley as trail scout Pete Nolan, came across as authentic, as did most of the situations the bunch came across, from Indians to bandits to stagecoach robberies. Generally, Fleming preferred that his crew keep to themselves, but, of course, it’s hard to stay by the sidelines when the action’s unfolding right next to you. As the fourth longest running Western in TV history (beaten only by “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” and “The Virginian”), it’s good that CBS has started the reissue process, but it’s disappointing that there are no special features whatsoever. C’mon, Clint, you couldn’t sit down for a few minutes and reminisce about the good old days? I reckon not. Well, that’s all I got for you cowpokes, ‘cept to say that if you like a good Western, “Rawhide” is good viewing. Head ‘em up and move ‘em out!
Remington Steele: Season Three
It might’ve been what put him on the map originally, but, now and forevermore, “Remington Steele” will be remembered as the show that kept Pierce Brosnan busy until the James Bond franchise rescued him from the drudgery of a weekly TV series. The premise, you may recall, is that Laura Holt (played by Stephanie Zimbalist) couldn’t get anywhere as a private investigator until she created a fictional male detective by the name of Remington Steele and acted as though she was his “assistant”; the plan worked until someone actually had to meet Steele, at which point she had to hire someone to play the part of Mr. Steele. Enter Pierce Brosnan. There’s an ongoing mystery as to who Brosnan’s character was before he took on the identity of Remington Steele, and, of course, there’s the inevitable sexual tension between Steele and Holt. Zimbalist and Brosnan have a great chemistry, and there’s added humor from Doris Roberts (Ray’s mom on “Everybody Loves Raymond”) as their assistant, Mildred Krebs. “Remington Steele” has a very ‘40s-styled screwball comedy feel – you won’t believe how much Pierce Brosan channels John Cleese at times – and, in the new documentary included with this set (along with audio commentary from the stars and creators), it’s obvious that everyone from Brosnan on down really enjoyed their experiences on the show. While not designed for epic, multi-episode viewing marathons, “Remington Steele” remains a light, fun detective series.
Ren & Stimpy: Season Five and Some More of Four
Abandon hope all ye who enter here. Story ideas are shamelessly recycled (more Space Madness, Stimpy watches too much television), the animation is grosser than ever, and Billy West completely forgets how to do a good Ren impression. The previous DVD set benefited from a few leftover ideas from the Spumco crew, but it is clear that the writers are on their own here, and haven’t the faintest idea what to do. John K comes back to do audio commentary, and is polite enough not to trash these episodes outright, but you can tell that he’s as disappointed with what they did to his babies as the rest of us are.
Ren & Stimpy: The Lost Episodes
Every Spumco fan knows the story: John Kricfalusi makes “Ren & Stimpy,” Nickelodeon strips the show from him, show becomes unwatchable dreck almost overnight. Thank the heavens, then, that Spike TV recruits John K. and his old Spumco crew to make a new, more adult-friendly batch of “Ren & Stimpy” ‘toons, right? Well, sort of. These episodes are certainly better than anything in the show’s last two seasons on Nickelodeon – several of the episodes here, some of which never aired, were inspired by fan letters from the early ‘90s – but your gag reflex will get severely tested throughout, especially in “Stimpy’s Pregnant,” which should not be viewed within 30 minutes of eating. On the other hand, these being made for Spike TV, there are also lots and lots of boobies, which arguably makes “Naked Beach Frenzy” one of the best R&S episodes ever. John K. has said that he and his Spumco veterans are better animators now than they were during Ren & Stimpy’s heyday, but that “improved” animation comes at the expense of the dialogue, which is woefully underwritten this time around. It’s an improvement, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the original.
Reno 911!: The Complete Fourth Season
Once critically acclaimed for its unique and innovative take on the reality cop genre, the Comedy Central series “Reno 911” has since degenerated into 30 minutes of over-the-top ridiculousness that is, quite frankly, too ridiculous for even a show of its nature. Many point to the third season as the start of its decline, but I’m convinced it was the show’s disastrous jump to the big screen that served as the turning point. As such, season four is a giant mess, and while past years have had their share of ups and downs, there’s hardly a single episode on this two-disc set that deserves any sort of recommendation. From Weigel’s mysterious pregnancy to the last-minute destruction of Dangle’s marriage, it just doesn’t seem like the creators have put much thought into the future of the series. Past commentaries have exposed that several takes are tossed out simply because the cameramen can’t stop laughing, and if this is preventing the cast from delivering quality on-the-spot material, then those crew members need to be fired.
Reno 911: Most Wanted
You’d think that a television show would have to be pretty popular in order to receive the old Greatest Hits treatment. “Reno 911” is not such a show, but with a feature film on the way and the second half of the fourth season gearing up for its big return, “Reno 911” couldn’t be flying any higher. In fact, it almost seems like the Comedy Central curse (which no doubt had a hand in the cancellation of cult hits like “Strangers with Candy” and “Chappelle’s Show”) has finally been broken. Featuring seven classic episodes from the show’s first four years, the single-disc release may seem a bit on the light side, but there’s no denying that every one of these episodes deserves a spot in this set. Old-school favorites like “Scavenger Hunt” and the two-part “Homeland Security” will take you back to the days when the show was still experimenting with its goofy “COPS”-inspired formula, while the other four episodes feature arguably the best characters in the history of the series. My personal favorite is Paul “Pee-Wee” Reuben’s pitch-perfect cameo as Rick from Citizen’s Patrol. So is the “Most Wanted” set really worth your time and money? Well, that all depends on if you already own the individually released season sets. If you do, the addition of the live musical performance of “Don’t Steal Cable” is hardly worthy the $17 price tag; but if you don’t, then this could very well be the best “Reno 911” DVD on the market.
Riptide: The Complete First Season
Remember the robot? Sure you do. “Riptide” was yet another series from Stephen J. Cannell (“The Rockford Files”), who was – at the time of its premiere – riding sky-high from the success of “The A-Team,” and it was an extremely fun show. Cody Allen (Perry King) and Nick Ryder (Joe Penny) play former Army buddies who decide to start up their own detective agency, based on their boat, the Riptide. They bring on another guy from their military days: nerdy scientist Murray “Boz” Bozinsky (Thom Bray), to serve as the agency’s resident computer geek. Boz brings along his robot, a orange plastic behemoth known as the Roboz. Of course, technology has changed considerably since 1984, so it’s no longer quite as impressive when Boz is able to log onto his computer and pull data from various databases. Back then, of course, he was the hero of every kid with a pair of horn-rimmed glasses held together by pieces of Scotch tape. (It’s no coincidence that one of the biggest movies of 1984 was “Revenge of the Nerds.”) While this is yet another infuriating TV release from Sony, with no special features whatsoever (even worse, an e-mail to Bray confirmed that he’d never even contacted about contributing to any special features), the camaraderie between King, Penny, and Bray is tight, and the dialogue – and its delivery by the trio – is consistently laugh-out-loud funny. Okay, so a lot of the bikini-clad clients are some of the worst actresses you’ve ever seen. Did you not see the adjective “bikini-clad”? Who cares if they can’t act, right?
Rob & Big: Seasons 1 & 2
The reality TV genre has gotten raunchier and more degrading by the year, so it’s nice to see a worthless network like MTV deliver a show that isn’t only enjoyable, but is also completely void of beeped-out explicit language and blurred-out nudity. Following the extorts of pro skateboarder Rob Dyrdek and his bodyguard/roommate/best friend Christopher “Big Black” Boykin after their recent move to the Hollywood Hills, “Rob & Big” is one of the funniest reality shows on television. From buying a bulldog and teaching it to skate, to going on a double date courtesy of Meet a Mate, Rob and Big Black are comparable to the likes of some of the greatest TV duos. Though the second season is clearly more scripted than the first (i.e. there’s no way that Rob’s decision to buy a mini horse was his own), the dynamic between the two stars remains solid throughout all 16 episodes. Still, there’s a lot more to laugh about during season one, including trips to the recycling center in order to weigh Big, and weekly run-ins with rent-a-cop security guards. Plus, with audio commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes, interviews and skate tutorials, the four-disc box set is actually worth purchasing for diehard fans of the show.
Robot Chicken: Season Two
A sick, twisted and oh-so-hilarious mash-up of pop culture past and present, “Robot Chicken” takes playing with toys to new heights (and lows). Similar to shows like “SNL” and “Best Week Ever” in theory (but only a fraction of the length and 10 times as funny), the ADD-friendly stop-motion series is one of the shining gems in Adult Swim’s late night line-up. Created by Seth Green and Matt Senreich, the show’s first season may have only briefly displayed the potential of working in such a unique medium, but the second year executes it with pinpoint precision. The jokes fly fast and furious in the 20 episodes included on the uncensored two-disc set, including potshots at M. Night Shyamalan (“What a twist!”) and Fandango.com (“Why not add a dollar to the price of your movie ticket?”), and more pop culture parodies crammed into a single episode than most shows cover in an entire season. Some of my personal favorites include Lindsay Lohan as the ultimate Highlander (“There can be only one!”), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Beastmaster” (starring David Hasselhoff), “My Little Pony, Apocalypse Pony,” and a “March of the Penguins” parody that juxtaposes Morgan Freeman’s word-for-word narration to describe a day-in-the-life of The Penguin. If there’s one complaint to be made about the show, it’s that it isn’t long enough, but Green and Co. more than make up for it with audio commentaries on every episodes, deleted scenes, audio and animatics, video blogs, promos, behind-the-scenes featurettes and much, much more. In other words, this is one $20 experience that you simply can’t miss.
The Rockford Files: Season Three
Jim Rockford returns with another season of P.I. shenanigans. It’s no coincidence that the series begins to hit its stride just as David Chase becomes a member of the writing staff. Yes, that’s the same David Chase who created “The Sopranos.” His two contributions, “The Oracle Wore A Cashmere Suit” and “Rattlers’ Class of ’63,” are certainly highlights, especially the latter, where con-man Angel Martin thinks he’s marrying his way to a fortune and, as ever, discovers he’s gotten the shaft. We also get “Just Another Polish Wedding,” where two of the most interesting guest stars from Season Two – Marcus Hayes (Louis Gossett Jr.) and Gandolph Fitch (Isaac Hayes) – team up as partners. (And why didn’t that get picked up as a spin-off?). In addition, there are two solid two-part episodes in the second half of the season. There’s nothing terribly special about including an episode from Season Four as a purported “bonus feature,” when that season is scheduled for a May 15 release. We’ve come to expect a dearth of extras from these sets, but, fortunately, just getting the opportunity to watch “The Rockford Files” makes them worth purchasing.
The Rockford Files: Season Five
It almost comes as second nature to offer up a four-star review for “The Rockford Files,” just as it seems necessary to clarify that even the vaguest attempt at including a special feature would’ve almost certainly upped the set at least another half-star. But, then, that’s just how good a show it is. The character of Jim Rockford fits James Garner like a second skin, and with “Sopranos” creator David Chase running things behind the scenes (as well as contributing scripts to the series) it’s no wonder the quality remained top-notch even into its fifth year. This season finds the return of Richie Brockelman (Dennis Dugan) and Rita Capkovic (Rita Moreno); several encounters with Angel Martin (Stuart Margolin); and the introduction of a pre-“Magnum P.I.” Tom Selleck as Lance White, a reappearance by Jim’s ex, the world’s nicest P.I. (What a shock that he manages to ruffle Rockford’s feathers at just about every turn.) The most notable new character, though, is John Cooper, played by Bo Hopkins as a quiet, unassuming guy who just so happens to know the law like the back of his hand. He’s no Beth Davenport, of course, but he does a fine job nonetheless.
Rodney Carrington: Live at the Majestic
You’ve seen him on the ABC-TV series “Rodney,” and this DVD was a special on Comedy Central recently. So now you can own the visual act of Rodney Carrington too, which follows up the audio release of his latest album, King of the Mountains. Rodney is a blue-collar comic all the way -- his stage gear consists of jeans and a cowboy hat -- and he appeals to that market like few comics today can. This show is a sampling of Rodney’s latest material, including how he and his wife experienced culture shock when they left their hometown of Tulsa for some promotional appearances in Hollywood for the TV show. The bit about buying a sweater from a gay man on Rodeo Drive is worth the price of the DVD. Rodney rolls on with some really funny poking-fun-at-everyday-life humor, such as how men react when getting a massage from a female, and how his kid slugged him with some new boxing gloves on Christmas morning. But the best part of Rodney’s show, as always, is the music. Songs such as “Do You Wanna Do Something That Rhymes With Truck?” and “Show Them To Me” are bordering on comedic brilliance. And the latter prompts women in the audience to show their breasts, making the live show even livelier, and in turn making this DVD even more valuable.
The Rookies: The Complete First Season
“Hill Street Blues” tends to be remembered as the beginning of television’s love affair with presenting “real” police drama, as opposed to, say, the stiff-as-a-board melodrama of a series like “Dragnet.” Somewhere in the middle, however, lies “The Rookies,” which premiered in 1972 and kicked around ABC for a few years. It’s an Aaron Spelling production, so, unsurprisingly, everyone in the cast is far more attractive or handsome than you’d generally find in your average police department, even one in Southern California. Similarly, it’s no shock that there’s actually quite a lot of melodrama. Part of that comes because it focuses a fair amount on the personal lives of the officers, but most of it occurs as a result of the show’s attempts to be in touch with what was actually happening on the streets at the time. At least the ensemble is solid, with George Stanford Brown and Michael Ontkean receiving the bulk of the focus. Additionally, the show introduced America to Kate Jackson, and no doubt helped earn her that spot in the cast of “Charlie’s Angels.” Though it’s interesting to see these actors in their early years, unfortunately, there’s so much focus on the young folks “doing the right thing” that, more often than not, “The Rookies” comes off feeling way too preachy.
Russell Peters: Outsourced
When it comes to making fun of Asians (how they talk, do business, etc.), it doesn’t get much better than the Indian-Canadian comic. Unfortunately, this is about the only thing he does do well (other than his quick-witted reactions to audience members), and while the first twenty minutes of his latest act is positively hilarious (especially if you have Asian friends, or are Asian yourself), the laughter doesn’t continue much further than that. Of the three different shows that I’ve seen, it’s become pretty clear that the comic has enough quality material to fill up an entire show (most of which pertains to the Asian race), and while it’s officially a waste of talent until he does so, he may never be poised to take on the role of “that Asian guy."
Sam Kinison: Outlaws of Comedy
Painful. The box claims that this poorly recorded performance at a venue in San Francisco is one of Kinison’s last live performances, but refuses to divulge a date. Based on the material he performs (and the hairstyles of the crowd and his assistants), it looks like it was actually 1989, a good three years before Kinison’s death. But that is the least of this DVD’s problems. Kinison just flails onstage, shouting for the sake of shouting and swearing for the sake of swearing, with none of the subtlety or timing that made him a star to begin with. The material is even worse; all gays stuff gerbils up their asses, and all women are dirty, dirty whores. It all winds up sounding ironically like the very preachers he claims to despise. Kinison has done some excellent comedy; you won’t find any of it here.
Saturday Night Live: Best of Alec Baldwin
Sure, it helps that he’s hosted the show about 150 times, but “SNL: The Best of Alec Baldwin” is unbelievably good, with Baldwin showing incredible diversity in the characters that he plays. Whether he’s doing spot-on impressions (the Charles Nelson Reilly bit will be lost on anyone under 35, but his Tony Bennett and Robert DeNiro bits are money), selling his Schwetty balls on The Delicious Dish, or making out with Phil Hartman at Greenhilly, Baldwin is game for anything. His commentary with producer Marci Klein is somewhat loopy, but there are some great zingers (when Baldwin says he gave the Deuce Bigalow idea to Rob Schneider, Klein snaps, “So we have you to thank for that?”). Even better are two very funny dress rehearsal skits, where Baldwin does a hilarious impression of Harvey Fierstein on the Bravo show “Gay Train.” This is funny, funny stuff.
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Cheri Oteri
Coming soon, to a landfill near you, is easily the least amusing installment in the “SNL” performer compilations to date. The cheerleader skits were generally funny – there are two of them here, along with some clips from other skits over the closing credits – but Barbara Walters? Gilda Radner did it 30 years ago. Debbie Reynolds? That’s an even more dated reference. They do include the best “Simma down nah!” skit (the one with Tobey Maguire and the Donna Summer album cover), but one viewing of it is more than enough. The DVD’s funniest moments, in fact, come from either Will Farrell, who’s in all of the best skits, or the guest stars. Britney Spears is awesome as a wigger ex-Mouseketeer who talks about setting Britney’s hair on fire, and Christopher Walken is funny in a car-crash kind of way as he stares long and hard at the cue cards while spitting out the best Noo Yawk accent he can muster. To summarize: Spears gets a half star, Walken gets a half star, and Sarah Michelle Gellar gets a half star for the spanking contest she and Oteri get into, which previously only existed in “Buffy” fans’ wettest dreams.
Saturday Night Live: The Best of David Spade
David Spade is actually a great writer, and no one is better at under-delivering a line (When a Gap girls skit takes a time break and returns “four days later,” Spade deadpans, “I can’t believe we’re all wearing the same clothes we did four days ago.”). Watching his “SNL” best-of, however, reveals his limitations. Between his impression-free impressions – Martha Stewart, Teri Hatcher, and Brad Pitt (which is on the much funnier Alec Baldwin compilation) all sound just like Spade – and the need to use three “Spade in America” skits in order to fill this DVD, Spade shows that he’s a far better support player than he is at anchoring a scene. The dress rehearsal skits in the bonus materials were scrapped from the final show for a reason, but the commentary by Spade and Matt Piedmont is amusing, if only because Spade himself acknowledges how many of the scenes simply aren’t that good. He’s also the first to remark on the ridiculous haircuts he sported over the years.
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Commercial Parodies
In a word, money. This collection of commercial parodies is admittedly top-heavy, featuring much more from the last 10 years, than the previous 20, and Will Ferrell’s filler bits are just that, filler. But they ads they picked are nearly flawless, from Kelly Ripa’s hilarious Tressant Supreme hair care product spot (it’s laced with crack) to the classic Happy Fun Ball (“Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball”). Mom Jeans and Bad Idea Jeans are a great one-two punch as well, and the Black Eyed Peas bit (they’re for sale to any and all buyers) is funny on multiple levels. And mad props for unearthing the Nikey adjustable turkey spot, which is a spot-on parody of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Still, we would be remiss if we did not mention two skits that inexplicably missed the cut: Schmidt’s Gay, and Coldcock Malt Liquor. Surely those would have been better choices than the string of Corona skits featuring a drunk, obnoxious Jimmy Fallon.
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse
The single best “SNL” compilation to hit the market, period. Through the ups and downs of “Saturday Night Live” (mostly downs of late), Robert Smigel’s irreverent cartoons have made even the worst show worth watching, and this collection of shorts is bulletproof. Disney is a repeat target, with Bambi dodging bullets “Matrix”-style and Jim Henson revealed to be locked in the Disney vault (“He wouldn’t sell!” cries Mickey Mouse). The “Fun with Audio” bits are all money, particularly the one with Bryant Gumbel repeatedly trying to kill himself while interviewing contestants from “Survivor.” But nothing comes close to the “Audio” bit where Jesus comes back and attempts to straighten out those who think they are spreading His message. The ending of that skit is as flattering a tribute to Charles Schultz as you will ever find.
Saturday Night Live in the 80's: Lost and Found
This NBC special from 2005 finally gets issued on DVD, with enough extra footage to merit a sequel. The show’s writers, producers and stars pull no punches about what casts didn’t work, the show’s undeserved image as a drug haven, and how competitive it was behind the scenes for face time. (Julia Louis-Dreyfus equates it to being on “Survivor.”) The most surprising thing about the show is realizing how little time your favorite cast members were on the show. Billy Crystal, Martin Short, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Rich Hall? One year, meaning Tony Rosato logged more time on “SNL” than they did. The bonus (and uncensored) footage contains another hour or so of quotes from the staff on politics, the boys-club nature of the show, and the difficulties minority cast members had being taken seriously, which is illustrated beautifully by Damon Wayans defiantly going out of character in a sketch and thus guaranteeing his dismissal at the final bow. Great stuff, across the board.
The Scooby-Doo Dynomutt Hour: The Complete Series
While this is otherwise known as the last “Scooby Doo” series that was even remotely worth sitting through…since, after this, Scrappy Doo – that yippity little shit – entered the mythos…it’s also the year that Scooby Dum first appeared. It’s not as classic as those first few years Scooby was on the air, and it’s not even as much fun as the guest-star-laden follow-up, “The New Scooby Doo Movies,” but fans of rubber-masked villains and their inevitable “I’d have gotten away with it” line at the end will still enjoy it. But who are we kidding? What really makes this worth purchasing is the dog wonder whose adventures feature in the second half of each episode: Dynomutt…and, of course, his partner, The Blue Falcon. It’s not quite “The Tick,” but there are some really funny tongue-in-cheek tributes to old-school superheroes to be had, a la the ‘60s “Batman” series. Hanna-Barbara has produced another fine transfer, and the documentaries, “Eerie Mystery of Scooby-Doo and Dynomutt’s History” and “In Their Own Words” are a blast. The latter, in particular, is a must-see, as you get to see the people behind the voices. It is truly surreal to watch the voice of Fred (not to mention Dynomutt) coming out of the mouth of cartoon voice actor extraordinaire Frank Welker, but it’s matched by seeing Casey Kasem, the voice of Shaggy, utter his immortal exclamation, “Zoinks!”
SCTV: Volume 4
The fifth season of SCTV shows the group in transition; Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas and Catherine O’Hara left the show (though O’Hara does come back for one show), but Martin Short is full time, and instantly makes an incredible impression. The shows are curious to watch in retrospect, as they were less sketch comedy than they were scene comedy, with threads running throughout an entire show. It seems a little slow to watch now, but this was Emmy winning television in its time, and every comedy show today owes them a debt of gratitude. One really funny bit comes from a Nutty Professor sketch where Ed Grimley (Short) takes a potion and becomes John Cougar (no Mellencamp back then), and Cougar, good sport that he is, does a shot of him with the Grimley ‘do as the potion wears off.
Sealab 2021: Season Four
Rest in peace “Sealab 2021,” we knew thee well. Not only does this latest release of the Adult Swim series mark the arrival of the fourth season on DVD, but it also commemorates the show’s demise. Based on the short-lived 1972 Hanna-Barbara cartoon about a group of scientists working in a government-run underwater lab (titled “Sealab 2020”), the guys over at Williams Street have interspersed old footage with new animation to create the funniest ten minutes on cable television. Okay, so the show doesn’t have much competition (save for the network’s other programs, like “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and “Robot Chicken”), and I’m not even sure if any old footage was still being used by the fourth year, but it’s damn funny nonetheless. Complete with the return of series regular Marco (voiced by Erik Estrada) and his son, Sharko (a self-conscious half-shark/half-man), the fourth season is one of the best yet. Of course, the episodes are still too short, and the series finale leaves much to be desired, but it’s a must-buy for anyone who’s ever tuned in to Adult Swim late at night and laughed their ass off.
Shaq: Like No Other
I’m not exactly sure an hour-long documentary about the sheer greatness of Shaquille O’Neal was necessary (he already has his own reality series), but it’s here nonetheless, and in all honesty, it’s actually pretty entertaining. By starting from day one in the NBA, young fans of the superstar hoopster can finally experience the numerous disappointments that plagued his career. From the failed dreams of bringing home a championship for his maiden team (Orlando Magic) to the several playoff eliminations during his early years with the Los Angeles Lakers, “Shaq: Like No Other” demonstrates just how the power center transformed his zealous determination into MVP gold. Along with detailing Shaq’s three-year championship run with the Lakers and his more recent achievements in Miami, the documentary also highlights the superstar’s amazing personality and his unique understanding of teamwork. Curiously, no mention of Kobe Bryant is made throughout the entire feature (though Dwayne Wade is), despite the fact that he’s shown alongside Shaq in a majority of the game and news footage. Rounding out the 60-minute special are a series of bonus features including Shaq’s top five dunks and blocks, as well as the generous charity work that he participates in during his downtime.
Significant Others: The Complete Series
Introduced as part of small-time cable network Bravo’s attempts at creating original programming (a decision that was no doubt made after the massive success of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”), “Significant Others” was an innovative new show that failed to stay, well, innovative. Only on the air for two seasons (a total of 12 episodes), the series centered around three very different, and very white, married couples who were all attending marriage counseling. Then, midway through the first season, a fourth (BLACK) couple was introduced, almost as if Bravo had grown tired of receiving phone calls from angry minorities about the show's bigoted programming decisions. The sharp improvisational skills of the eight regular cast members was entertaining to watch each week, but this hardly changes the fact that, after only three episodes, the series was rapidly going down the drain.
The Simple Life 3: Interns
It’s a real shame that celebrity socialites Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie couldn’t patch things up after the third season of “The Simple Life,” because there’s no one I’d rather laugh at than these two. In fact, it was almost too easy to laugh at the girls sometimes, which has got to make you wonder: “they can’t be this dumb, can they?” It’s hard to be sure, but it’s inconceivable that even Paris and Nicole would be capable of some of these third-grade shenanigans. Stuffing office mail into a fridge? Vacuuming up the spilled remains of a dead person? Seriously people, this has got Fox’s dirty little fingerprints all over it, but did you really expect anything less from the same people who brought you “Joe Millionaire” and “Temptation Island”?
The Simpsons: Bart Wars
A patently misleading title, since only one episode is tangentially connected to the “Star Wars” franchise (Mark Hamill appears in the hilarious “Mayored to the Mob”) and most of the plots do not focus on Bart. Nonetheless, these four episodes are damn good, and “Mob,” where Homer becomes Mayor Quimby’s bodyguard, is a classic. The Christmas episode “Marge Be Not Proud” is notable for introducing the Try-n-Sav store, though the appearance of Troy McClure (voiced by the late, great Phil Hartmen) is a sad reminder of what could have been.
The Simpsons: Kiss and Tell
The aliens from “South Park” would be the first to tell you that when the “Simpsons” cash cow moos, what it’s saying is, “Enough! Get your damn hands off of me!” Fox is churning out the seasons of “The Simpsons” at light speed, so why do they feel possessed to flood the market with these four-episode theme DVD’s at the same time, which are a sixth of the content at a third of the price? The latest set, “Kiss and Tell,” is at least smart enough to include nothing but episodes that have yet to appear on DVD, but only two of the four are worth owning. Those two, however, are money: In “Natural Born Kissers” Marge and Homer find a thrill in public displays of affection, but spend the last third of the episode running naked through Springfield (Marge looks surprisingly hot when naked and with her hair down), and Marge mistakenly gets breast implants in the very funny “Large Marge” (Marge: “I’ll be back with my husband, and he’ll show you!” Doctor: “Yes, I’m sure he’ll be furious.”). The other two are from the Lost Years, where the characters acted wildly out of, um, character, and the writers invented nonsensical flashback stories instead of coming up with something new. Yes, it’s funny, but you’re better off sticking with the box sets.
Smallville: The Complete Fifth Season
I never really got into the WB’s “Smallville” – mostly because they managed to single-handedly ruin a comic book icon by placing him into the world of the high school melodrama – but with the fifth season of the popular series, it got remarkably more like what you’d expect from a show about Superman. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to follow, and if this is your first time watching the show, you’re bound to have plenty of questions – like, for instance, why there are two girls in Clark Kent’s life (named Lana Lang and Lois Lane), and why Clark and Lex Luthor are best friends. That doesn’t stop season five from delivering some of the best moments in the series, however, including the emergence of the Fortress of Solitude, the debut of classic DC superheroes like Aquaman and Cyborg (and supervillians, like Braniac), and a killer season finale where Lex Luthor is used as a human vessel for… wait for it… General Zod!
Solty Rei: The Complete Series
The impeccable production studio Gonzo (“Burst Angel”) is behind this stunning 2005 sci-fi anime. A giant explosion called the Blast Fall has crippled the Earth, splitting its citizens into regular humans and “Resembles” that are your basic cyborg hybrid. Along comes Solty Rei, a 100 percent Resemble whose powers are off the chart. Solty becomes the new adopted daughter/partner to reluctant bounty hunter Roy Revant, who is searching for his daughter (who may or may not have been killed after the Blast Fall). As usual, there are a clutch of other characters whose lives intertwine with Solty and Roy, and fill the duties of comedic relief and underdog action heroes. “Solty Rei” is perfectly balanced between addictive action and terrific writing. There’s no slouching here with the stories, which is nice, as not every episode in this series is centered around big explosions and gunfights. The English voice cast is excellent as well. Definitely a series worth picking up if you haven’t checked it out before.
Sonic Underground: The Series
Much as I expected, my three-year-old absolutely loves watching this set of Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons. So much so, in fact, that it’s all he wants to watch lately. Too bad, then, that the actual product is pretty damn painful for adults to sit through. This time around, Sonic and his siblings are in search of their mother, who had to give them up at birth due to an order from the evil Dr. Robotnik. Sonic and his sister are voiced by Jaleel White, and let me just say it’s seriously weird to hear the Urkel voice used for a female character. The talented voice actor Maurice LaMarche also lends his pipes to the series. Still, this series has to have one of the worst theme songs ever composed, and the whole idea of the Hedgehogs being a rock band (the “Underground”) through magical powers exploding forth from their necklaces is a bit lame. But then again, the last batch of Sonic games have been lame as well, so it seems only fitting. Score one for the kids, zero for the parents.
Space Sentinels / The Freedom Force: The Complete Series
While in no way a great show, “Space Sentinels” – which was originally called “Young Sentinels” until someone decided to try and grab some of that “Star Wars” success – at least should be applauded for having a seriously multi-cultural cast of characters. Same with “The Freedom Force,” which lasted for all of five episodes. With “Space Sentinels,” the story revolved around a super-computer called Sentinel One which transported three humans to his pad, gave them super powers and eternal youth, and said, “Okay, now go protect the universe.” “The Freedom Force,” however, had kind of a “Justice League” feel, bringing together Isis, Hercules, Merlin, Sinbad, and Super Samurai, having them hang out in the so-called Valley of Time and, again, protect the universe. The thing about sci-fi cartoons in the ‘70s, these two being no exception, is that they tended to have characters spew out technical-sounding jargon, then, moments later, a little creature would perform some slapstick maneuver for cheap laughs. It was a really weird dichotomy. As with almost all Filmation shows, the character designs here are awesome, but the scripts will make you go, “Wow, I really watched this? And enjoyed it?” Yes, you did. And you were eight at the time, so you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Speed Grapher: The Complete Series
For those looking to escape the usual trappings of anime, Gonzo’s 24-episode neo-noir plays like a dark and gritty mix of “Akira,” “Cowboy Bebop” and “Se7en” – only twice as violent and sadistic. The series follows ex-war photographer Saiga on a journey through Tokyo’s seedy underground to protect a young girl named Kagura from a dangerous cult. Hell-bent on exploiting the girl’s special abilities – which enable her to bestow a cursed gift upon any willing victim – the group’s leader sends a rogue’s gallery of baddies to dispose of Saiga before it’s too late. What they don’t realize, however, is that Saiga has been bestowed a gift of his own: the ability to destroy anything that enters his camera’s sight. That’s right, it’s a camera with figurative bullets, and while the fact that he has to bring the “photo” into focus before unleashing havoc is a bit cumbersome, it also helps to make him less invincible. The series itself is a bit hit-and-miss, and like most animes, characters are absent from the main story for episodes at a time, but despite it’s minor faults, “Speed Grapher” is easily one of the more original series in quite some time. The subject matter is incredibly R-rated, and some of the sadistic villains that Saiga must face off against are 10 times worse than any Jigsaw-inspired torture trap. This one’s for the adults, kiddos, so approach with extreme caution.
Stargate: SG-1: Season Nine
Talk about coming in on a show late…but if you’ve never seen an episode of “Stargate: SG-1” before, you might be surprised to find that the ninth season actually ain’t a bad place to begin. After eight years, Richard Dean Anderson – the former MacGyver – decided to step down from his role as Jack O’Neill, leader of the Stargate team; stepping into his position was Cameron Mitchell, played by Ben Browder, late of “Farscape.” Appropriately, Browder’s former “Farscape” co-star, the decidedly hot Claudia Black (okay, maybe it’s just the British accent, but I think she’s hot, anyway), guest starred on several episodes as well. If you’ve never seen the show, let alone the flick on which it’s based, the premise involves the U.S. Government having access to a gateway to other worlds; Beau Bridges plays Major General Hank Landry, head of the project, and he and the rest of the team meet up with many an alien over the course of this season, one of which is played by Louis Gossett, Jr. If you’re a sci-fi fan and you’ve never checked out the show, do it up now with Season Nine…and if you love it, work your way back. If this set is any indication, MGM really treats the show’s fanbase right, offering up a few featurettes and commentary on every episode. Yes, every episode. You rarely see that outside of sitcoms, so seeing it on a sci-fi drama is particularly impressive.
Star Trek: Enterprise: The Complete Third Season
With its third season, “Star Trek: Enterprise” went where no previous “Trek” show had ever gone before: on a plot arc that lasted the entire season and included, if only tangentially in some cases, every single episode. (The Dominion War in “Deep Space Nine” went off track on occasion.) At the end of Season 2, Earth had fallen victim to an attack by an alien race called the Xindi (in a thinly veiled reference to 9/11), and, in that season finale, left for the Xindi’s territory, an area of space called the Expanse. The beauty of Season 3 is that, with few exceptions, it requires no multi-semester education in “Trek” history; it’s more or less standalone sci-fi action/drama that can be appreciated by anyone who enjoys the genre. The Xindi Council, consisting of several species of their race, is an inspired creation, its members existing with the help of both make-up and CGI. Unfortunately, despite the special features (commentaries and documentaries), as with all “Trek” series, the cost – you’re unlikely to find it below $99 – is prohibitive for inspiring anyone who isn’t already a fan to make a purchase.
Star Trek: Fan Collective - Q
Following in the footsteps of Fox’s groovy idea to release themed DVD box sets for their sci-fi cult hit “The X-Files,” Paramount has done the same with their flagship franchise, “Star Trek.” Featuring such themes as Time Travel, the Borg, Q, and the Klingon, each four-disc set includes all of the best episodes as voted by the fans, and span across every “Star Trek” series from the original to the recently cancelled “Enterprise.” As the third set in a series of four, the Q collection is undoubtedly the weakest, but still features one of the greatest characters in the Star Trek universe. Unfortunately, of the twelve episodes that appear on the set, 75% of them (that’s eight for you mathematically challenged) are from the “Next Generation” series. This is, in part, because the character of Q never appeared in the original series or in “Enterprise,” and only showed up one time in “Deep Space Nine.” It hardly discredits the individual episodes (and there are quite a few good ones to be found, including “All Good Things…), but when comparing this set to the other three, it certainly feels like something is missing.
Starsky & Hutch: The Complete Fourth Season
The fourth and final series of this classic ‘70s buddy cop show finds the title characters going through 22 more episodes of their patented dramedy. By this point David Soul (as Hutch) was sporting a not-so-groovy moustache, but was still wooing the ladies with his singing and fine choice of jewelry (that awesome moon and star necklace) when he wasn’t taking down the bad guys with Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser). Captain Dobey and Huggy Bear return once again, as do a bevy of guest stars including Kim Cattrall. The centerpiece of this final season is undoubtedly the lengthy three-part “Targets without a Badge” that finds the duo voluntarily retiring from the force! But it’s the campy nature of episodes like “Discomania” and “Dandruff” that made the series as groovy as it was. Although Soul’s moustache seriously makes him look like a cheap Lee Majors clone, and we all know he was cooler than that.
Storm Hawks: Hawks Rise Again
Another volume of this fine animated series created for the younger set features four more episodes of engaging fun and action. Like the other set, “Hawks Rise Again” also features a bonus episode and a mini-comic packed inside. Once again, the writing is fun and intelligent without dumbing it down for its core audience. If you are/were a fan of the classic “ReBoot” series that aired on ABC on Saturday mornings in the ‘90s, you’ll undoubtedly find a lot to enjoy in this series with its sleek animation style and terrific characters. Hopefully, either more discs of this series will be issued, or even a complete box set, as it’s definitely that good. However, this is apparently a “wait and see how it sells” sort of situation with the two discs already released, so fans will just have to continue to wait and see themselves before either of those situations comes to light.
Storm Hawks: Tales from the Atmos
This Cartoon Network show features über-cool animation, an engaging cast of characters and smart storylines, making it a favorite among members of its young target audience. In this collection, viewers are treated to four episodes: “Best Friends Forever,” “The Black Gorge,” “Absolute Power,” and “Velocity.” Featuring lots of cool weapons, flying machines, and a slew of entertaining creatures, “Storm Hawks” is one of those rare newer cartoons that isn’t just mindless action pumped out to make a quick buck. Of course, being a Cartoon Network feature doesn’t hurt it at all in that regard, and indeed even explains why it is so good at its core. But then, all you really have to do is ask my three-year-old if he likes it, and you’ll get an excited “yes” for an answer. It definitely passed the kid test as it was all he wanted to watch for an afternoon. So chalk up “Storm Hawks” as a success for the smaller set, and older, younger viewers as well.
The Streets of San Francisco: Season One, Volume Two
Years before Michael Douglas played a San Fran cop hounding Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct,” he played a San Fran cop paired with Karl Malden. You know Malden: he’s the big-nosed guy from the old American Express commercials who advised, “Don’t leave home without it!” If you’re a fan of “Police Squad” with Leslie Nielsen, the opening credits for “The Streets of San Francisco” will give you plenty to chuckle about, as an announcer’s voice booms, “Guest Starring!” followed by a roll call of the episode’s guests. (It’s almost a shame it doesn’t end with “In Color!”) The final episode of the set, “Legion of the Lost,” gets the biggest laugh, however, when the announcer proclaims, “Guest Starring…Leslie Nielsen!”Yeah, the show’s dated when compared to the fast-paced cop dramas of today, but if you can get past that, from time to time it’ll offer up a decent installment. It’s often surprising how little Michael Douglas has aged over the years or how old he looked back when he was young. The Frisco location work is a huge bonus for a show of this ilk, and the cinematography is always the show’s biggest star. “Streets” fans will be blown away by the crystal-clear transfers here. (I know I was.) One of the best episodes, “Beyond Vengeance,” weirdly echoes Scorsese’s “Cape Fear,” mostly because it guest-stars Joe Don Baker – who was in Marty’s remake – as a psychopath hounding Malden’s Mike Stone for putting him away 12 years ago. Baker is pure 70s sleaze, and Malden is great in the piece.
Suburban Shootout: The Complete First Series
The first series of the British comedy “Suburban Shootout” is a clever combination of American favorites “Desperate Housewives,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and even “The Sopranos.” In the pilot episode, we meet Joyce, a middle-aged housewife who has just moved with her husband to the London suburb of Stempington, a seemingly perfect community. There are no burglaries or vandalism or crime of any kind in Stempington. Why? Because the entire town is controlled by rival housewife gangs – yes, you read that correctly – who are now vying for Joyce’s allegiance. Above any content within the individual episodes, it is this overall premise that serves as the ultimate running joke. It makes you wonder if it would have worked better as a more contained feature length film rather than an episodic series. While there is nothing tangibly wrong with the show (solid writing, fine performances by a good cast), there’s not much else to bring you back week after week, therefore making this DVD collection of the complete first series the best viewing choice. Also making the set more beneficial is the fact that all eight episodes on the disc contain optional commentary from various producers, writers and cast members, something too many TV sets are lacking. There is also a Cast Filmography listing, and the “Behind the Scenes” feature serves as a good introduction of the characters and the story and proves more valuable to watch prior to screening any of the episodes.
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show
In the 1980s, Nintendo ruled the video game industry with popular franchise stars like Mario, Link and Mega Man. At the end of the decade, the Japanese gaming giant made a run at television with the part-animation/part-live action series “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show.” Starring former WWF superstar Captain Lou Albano as the pudgy red plumber, Mario, and stage veteran Danny Wells as his pasta-thin brother, Luigi, “Super Mario Bros.” quickly became one of the most watched shows in the country. And in keeping with their recent success of reviving retro programming, Shout Factory has finally released the first 24 (of 65) episodes from the series in a four-disc box set, complete with guest stars like Cyndi Lauper, Magic Johnson and Nicole Eggert. The box set also includes a nice selection of special features including storyboards and concept art, as well as a brand new interview with Captain Lou Albano himself. “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show” stands the test of time fairly well (or at least better than most childhood favorites), but unless you still enjoy watching cartoons, this may not be the best way to spend your hard-earned cash.
Supernatural: The Complete Second Season
It’s always tough to come into a show in the middle of a season, but coming in midseries is damn near impossible. Who knows what will happen? You might not be able to follow what’s going on, or worse, you might actually like what you see. And if that’s the case, how do you go about catching up on past seasons when you already know where it takes you? That was my biggest dilemma surrounding the second season of “Supernatural,” a sort-of “The X-Files” meets “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” mash-up that had me hooked from the get-go, only to lose me along the way. For those who missed out on the first season, the series follows the adventures of the Winchester Brothers – Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles doing his best Sasha Mitchell impression) – as they drive across the country in a badass Chevy Impala, hunting demons and other creatures that go bump in the night. Trained by their father (Guest Star of the Year Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to join the fight against evil, the second season picks up right where it left off – with the boys on a crusade to track down the yellow-eyed demon that killed their mother. Clearly a welcome replacement for both “Buffy” and “The X-Files,” “Supernatural” still isn’t quite up to par with either. Nevertheless, fans will enjoy a little playful casting on the part of the producers (“Buffy” vet Amber Benson guest stars as a vampire in “Bloodlust”), while the upcoming debut of “Reaper” (another supernatural series on The CW) will create quite the formidable one-two punch.
Survivor: The Australian Outback: The Complete Season
The Australian Outback marked arguably the best season of the long-running reality series, with an entertaining array of castaways who kept the game interesting from day one. This is the season that reeled most viewers in to the high-tension drama of reality TV, with memorable villains like Jerri Manthey, and Michael Skupin's shocking fall in to the fire. That guy still deserves the million bucks to this day, and every fan of the show knows it.
Survivor: Pulau: The Complete Season
One doesn’t have to watch the latest installment of “Survivor” to know that the popular reality series has been over for years, but just in case you need some hard evidence, look no further than “Survivor: Pulau.” Throughout the first half of the show, one tribe dominated the other so badly that by the time it came to merging, it was no longer necessary. Why, you ask? Because there were no more tribemates for the last person to vote off! The people that watch the show know exactly how to play this game, and so when they’re finally chosen as contestants, it’s no longer much of a challenge. The provided audio commentaries are a nice touch for fans curious about the total experience, but the replay value is absolutely horrible. Why would anyone that watches “Survivor” on television (and therefore already knows who’s won) invest in a copy on DVD?
Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo
Light, fluffy and totally lacking its usual bite, the Teen Titans direct-to-DVD adventure, “Trouble in Tokyo,” is an upsetting finale to a show that deserved so much better. When a high-tech ninja attacks the Titans’ home one day, the teenage superheroes journey to Japan to investigate, uncovering a mystical villain and his secret plot in the process. Of course, what’s a trip to Japan without exposing all of the usual stereotypes? Before long, the film becomes bogged down with clichéd references to anime, Godzilla, sushi bars, karaoke, Dance Dance Revolution, Astro Boy and more; not to mention Beast Boy is annoying as ever. It quickly becomes apparent that while the creators of the show had the perfect chance to produce an amazing debut film (which would no doubt result in future projects), they instead went for the easy buck with this lazy tale centered on Japanese pop culture. The sheer fact that Robin and Starfire, like, totally hook up at the end is only further evidence that the Teen Titans will probably never return, but a boy can dream, can’t he?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Volume Five
It’s always nice to see your favorite childhood shows get the old DVD treatment, especially when they still hold up alongside today’s programming. And for a Saturday morning cartoon, nothing will ever top the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” a series that ran for ten years, spawned three live-action movies, a successful video game franchise, thousands of toys, and even a live concert tour. Of course, diehard fans of the popular Kevin Eastman/Peter Laird comic books weren’t as enthused when they saw their gritty ninjas transformed into the colorful cereal box characters they’re best known for today, but the idea is still there. The fifth volume of the ongoing collection features some of the best episodes yet, not to mention the introduction of several classic characters including Leatherhead, Usagi Yojimbo and Metalhead. Still, it doesn’t make sense why the show is being released at such a slow pace. With only 13 episodes to a volume, and 190 episodes all together, it’s going to take ages before they’ve all been released. And even worse, the overall level of investment will probably be much higher than if they just released each season individually. This is strictly for hardcore fans.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season Four
In a move that is sure to confuse “TMNT” fans all over the world, Lionsgate has finally put an end to the ridiculous 12-episodes-on-one-disc DVDs and started to release full season sets of the classic Saturday morning cartoon. Great news, right? Not exactly. You see, instead of re-releasing all of the seasons in complete sets, Lionsgate has decided to pick up where they left off. Sigh. In any event, it’s nice to see this problem finally amended, despite the fact that it should have been attended to long before the show saw any sort of release on DVD. Still, it’s perfect timing for those who have yet to decide on investing in the series. With the new feature film only weeks away, a renewed interest in the Turtles will no doubt lead both longtime fans and younger audiences to check out the original series. This collection, featuring all 40 season four episodes, is sure to satisfy. Cowabunga indeed.
That 70's Show: Season Three
It’s been a real boon for “That ‘70s Show” that FX has been re-running it constantly; finally, people who wrote it off as some sort of flashback novelty show – and, given that some plots this season revolve around roller disco and going to see Led Zeppelin in concert, you can kind of see why they might – have been able to discover that it’s actually a solid ensemble comedy. No, it’s not going to be remembered as one of the best of all time, but within the Forman family – Eric (Topher Grace), Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp), Red (Kurtwood Smith), and Laurie (Lisa Robin Kelly) – there is no comedic weak link. In particular, Red Forman is single-handedly responsible for reminding today’s kids that the word “dumbass” is comedy gold. In this, the show’s third season, it’s mostly business as usual, but two ongoing plot points involve Fez finding love with a psycho (played to crazed perfection by Allison Munn), and the Pinciottis – Donna’s parents – dealing with the economic changes wreaked by her dad’s company going out of business. The producers love their stunt casting, but particular kudos for having two Canadian Mounties played by Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty; hearing Thomas call someone a hoser is just about worth the cost of the set. The set also includes audio commentary and episode introductions by the cast members.
That 70s Show: Season Four
Last season, they were together; this season, they aren’t. So goes the relationship of Eric Foreman (Topher Grace) and Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon) on “That ‘70s Show” during its fourth season. And, frankly, the situation between Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) and Jackie (Mila Kunis) ain’t doing so great, either, what with Jackie having kissed her boss at the cheese shop. Oh, but I’ve said too much. Show-wise, you’re looking at more of the same, so if you’re a fan, you’ll get everything you’ve come to enjoy: Kelso’s still dumb, Jackie’s still egotistical and vain, Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) is still the goofy foreign kid, and Red (Kurtwood Smith) remains the unheralded star of the show. Amongst the regular fantasies and dream sequences, the most unfortunate misstep is the musical episode because, hey, guess what, no one in the cast can sing worth a crap! (How is it that no one noticed this during rehearsals and called a stop to the proceedings?) The biggest disappointment about this set is that Season 3 was packed with special features, while this one has neither commentary nor new intros to the episodes from the cast (though director David Trainer does comment on three episodes). It’s probably because the show’s coming to the end of its run on Fox and no one could be bothered. Bummer, man.
Tom and Jerry Tales: Volume Three
The old “Tom and Jerry” cartoons weren’t really my thing as a kid, but all kids are different, and my son seems to really enjoy this set of 15 ‘toons from the new Tom and Jerry series. For everyone else familiar with the series, it’s the same-old, same-old, but with updated animation. Thankfully, that updating looks rather nice and doesn’t detract from the onscreen action. Other than that, though, it’s Tom and Jerry doing what they’ve always done – chasing each other endlessly, with some moments given over to helping each other out. The cartoons themselves are divided up into themes: some “spooky” ones and some “adventure” types, and so forth. But if you need a seal of approval, my three-year-old laughed out loud many times during these cartoons, and really, that’s all that matters when it comes down to these sorts of videos. Older fans may indeed find something to enjoy here. Warner didn’t mess with the formula, they just gave it a new coat of paint.
Tom Goes to the Mayor: The Complete Series
There’s no doubt in my mind that the guys over at Williams Street are true pioneers of new wave animation. After all, they practically revived the medium with a handful of mature-themed series via Cartoon Network’s late-night animation block Adult Swim. Cult classics like “Space Ghost,” “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” “Sealab 2010” and “Robot Chicken” are among the best examples of the studio’s ability to create bizarre (but funny) animated series on a ridiculously small budget. But their latest project, “Tom Goes to the Mayor,” is a bit too experimental, even for them. Created by the comedy duo of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, the show follows new Jefferton resident Tom Peters (Heidecker) as he pitches his never-ending supply of business propositions to the town’s mayor (Wareheim). The animation is cheap and crude, but it’s also something that’s never been done before. Essentially, the characters are animated by taking photographs of the real actors, and then filtering them through a Photoshop process that causes them to look like blue paper cutouts, or more specifically, mimeographs. The result is far from eye candy, but it only draws more attention to the writing. Unfortunately, the writing isn’t the show’s strong point either, and while there are plenty of funny moments sprinkled throughout, it’s far from enough to make watching the show a memorable experience. What “Tom Goes to the Mayor” lacks in style and wit, however, it certainly makes up for with an amazing collection of guest stars including Tenacious D, David Cross, Sarah Silverman, Michael Ian Black and more. That hardly makes for a glowing recommendation, but it is a nice perk for fans of that comedic mindset.
Tommy Tiernan: Something Mental
Irish comic Tommy Tiernan has been on the circuit for 12 years, but it is only in the last couple of years that his star began to rise in the States, and “Something Mental,” while not exactly a masterpiece, should win him some new fans. Some have compared Tiernan to Eddie Izzard, but the truth is that the two have very little in common, other than being from the other side of the pond. If Izzard is mannered and calm (and dressed like a woman), Tiernan is manic and, as the title suggests, a little nuts. But his material isn’t loopy; the majority of his jokes come from making fun of his upbringing (Catholicism, his mother, booze, soccer), and while that leads to some comic gold (“How many beers are you going to have?” “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.”), it’s difficult to shake the sense of familiarity. Fortunately for Tiernan, he’s an extremely likable guy, and few people have the command of the word “fuck” that Tiernan possesses.
Tony Robinson's Cunning Night Out
He’s perhaps best known for playing Baldrick in the various incarnations of the “Blackadder” series, but Tony Robinson’s career has found him traversing many paths in the world of entertainment, from being pushed into the Thames by John Wayne in the film “Brannigan,” to participating in reality TV via such series as “Time Team” and “The Worst Jobs in History.” In “Tony Robinson’s Cunning Night Out,” Robinson demonstrates his gift of public speaking by offering up an hour and a half of his own experiences, as well as tales from throughout history. The story of his run-ins with the Duke and director James Cameron are pretty darned funny, as are the revelations about how much you can get away with on British television as long as you dress in cute animal costumes. Robinson is a force of nature on stage, skittering about almost constantly, to the point where you almost get more out of the show by closing your eyes and simply listening. (Otherwise, you soon reach a point where you want to yell, “Stand still, for God’s sake!”) The special feature is simply Robinson answering a few questions from the audience, but in addition to offering a bit more “Blackadder” trivia, it also gives him a chance to offer up a snipe at his former co-star. “We all said (in 2000) that what we would like to do is meet again in 2010 and make another ‘Blackadder,’ but, then, in the intervening time, Hugh Laurie’s gone on to be the second most famous person in the whole of the United States.” A beat. “Isn’t it great when your friends do well?”
Tripping the Rift: The Movie
It’s “UNRATED” and says “Starring Jenny McCarthy,” so if that gets your hormones pumping, just calm down for a sec. “Tripping the Rift” is really just a piss-poor animated sci-fi comedy series that has had four of its episodes sewn together to make this “movie.” The computer animation used in this flick is pretty dated-looking, the dirty jokes spewing forth from the various alien characters’ mouths are nothing near the hilarity of “South Park,” and the voice talent (by such folks as the aforementioned McCarthy and Maurice LeMarche) just seems wasted. But hey, if characters named Chode and Six of Nine crack you up with their names alone, then this just might be your thing. As animation, this fails mightily. As comedy and general entertainment goes, it is – frankly -- neither. Best to save your purchase or rental money and keep your eyes open for something better.
Tsunami: The Aftermath
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it was only a matter of time before an onslaught of made-for-TV movies began pouring in, but while “Tsunami: The Aftermath” has absolutely nothing to do with the New Orleans-based catastrophe, the same themes ring true. It’s also probably better than any film made about Katrina, unless you include Spike Lee’s well-received documentary “When the Levees Broke.” The three-hour HBO special recreates the cataclysmic natural disaster that ravaged the coast of Thailand in December 2004, and follows the intertwining stories of seven different survivors as their lives are changed forever. Chiwetel Ejiofor leads an ensemble cast as Ian Carter, a British tourist desperately searching for his missing wife (Sophie Okonedo) and daughter amidst the wreckage of an exotic resort. The two-part miniseries also stars Tim Roth as an ambitious journalist, Toni Collette as a relief worker, and Samrit Machielsen as a local Thai waiter coming to terms with the eradication of his entire village. All of the performances are top-notch (with Ejiofor as the obvious standout of the group), and the filmmakers have done an incredible job with being respectful to the material, but when all is said and done, “Tsunami” is still a made-for-TV movie. That isn’t meant to discredit the project by any means, but it is a necessary warning for those thinking about setting aside the time to watch it in its entirety.
Two-A-Days: Hoover High - The Complete First Season
For anyone that looks at movies like “Varsity Blues” and “Friday Night Lights” and wonders if football is really that important in the South, you needn’t look any further than the MTV-produced reality series about the Hoover High football team. The players are idolized, the parents attend practice sessions like it's church, and all of the businesses close down on game days. Oh, and let’s not forget the most important element: their head coach is a grade-A asshole. To be fair, Rush Propst is a very good football coach (he’s since led the Hoover Buccaneers to four straight state championships), but his personality isn’t very far off from Jon Voight’s borderline psychotic Coach Kilmer. Focused mainly on four of the team’s key players – Alex Binder, Max Lerner, Ross Wilson and Dwarn “Repete” Smith – the show follows the team as the deal with the pressures of school, girlfriends, college recruitment and the journey to state championships. All in all, it’s quite an achievement for the music video channel, which doesn’t have the best track record in producing quality programming, and while the melodramatic subplot involving Alex and his girlfriend becomes a bit grating after only a few episodes, the stellar compilation of game footage is well worth sticking around for.
Ultraman: Series One, Volume One
I’m not sure how I totally and utterly missed out on this show when I was growing up…because I was a major-league Godzilla aficionado and a diehard fan of superheroes, and I would’ve been twitching at the mere thought of a series that brought together the best of both worlds. (It was a syndicated show rather than one on a network, so perhaps that’s why.) The premise of the series is that Shin Hayata, a member of the Science Patrol, accidentally collides with a giant red and silver alien being called Ultraman, killing him. Upbeat stuff for a kid’s show, right? Well, Ultraman feels so guilty about it that he merges his essence with Shin’s, thereby reviving him and giving him the ability to transform into Ultraman when danger arises…and, being an action show, danger is arising every time he turns around. There always seems to be some giant monster attacking Japan, and the Science Patrol is invariably unable to stop the creature without Ultraman stepping in. By the way, the Godzilla connection isn’t just because the monsters look like they stepped straight out of his gene pool; “Ultraman” was created by Eiki Tsuburaya, the F/X legend who was responsible for Godzilla. It’s a really creative show, one without which the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers never could’ve existed, for better or worse. If you want your kids to enjoy some old-school heroics with a nice amount of fake science, go with “Ultraman,” man. (Don’t miss the poorly-filmed but highly entertaining interviews with the Americans whose voices were dubbed in, having a good laugh over their overly-dramatic line readings.)
The Venture Bros: Season One
Following in the Adult Swim tradition of creating original cartoon programming for a mature audience, the network’s latest series, “The Venture Bros.,” has quickly become a late-night hit. Best described as “Johnny Quest” meets “The Hardy Boys” meets “South Park,” the series follows the two title characters – fraternal twins Hank and Dean – as they travel around the world with their scientist father, Doctor Venture, and his bodyguard Brock Samson. One half brains and the other brawn, the brothers refuse to be left out of any adventure, no matter how dangerous or, as is usually the case, mundane it may be. For an Adult Swim-produced series, the humor can be quite infantile at times, but it’s important to note that this is most certainly not for anyone under the age of 18. One needn’t look any further than the episode in which Monarch (the main villain of the series) is discovered pleasuring himself by one of his subordinates. Still, while the humor is pretty touch-and-go, Patrick Warburton’s performance as killing machine/ladies’ man Brock Samson (a character indisputably influenced by past cartoon Alpha males like Race Bannon and Johnny Bravo) is worth every minute.
The Venture Bros: Season Two
With 18 grueling months separating the end of the first season and the beginning of the second, fans of Adult Swim’s “The Venture Bros.” were forced to endure quite the wait before finally learning the fates of Hank and Dean Venture, who were presumably killed in the finale. What? You didn’t get that far into the first season because the early episodes were too hit-and-miss? Well, you’ll certainly want to rethink that decision now that the second season is out on DVD. Overcoming just about every problem that plagued the first year of the animated series, season two jumps back into action and never looks back. It’s revealed in the first episode that not only are Hank and Dean really dead, but they’ve died 13 times before. As such, Dr. Venture has cloned his “death prone” sons several times in case of such an incident, and the new brothers are reintroduced as if nothing ever happened. Meanwhile, The Monarch tries to regain his status as the world’s greatest supervillain, and Dr. Venture’s own brother, Jones Venture Jr., vies for control of the company. The humor is, for the most part, still extremely infantile, but the writing has improved by leaps and bounds, making “The Venture Bros.” the closest thing to must-see TV on Adult Swim. Now, if only we didn’t have to wait so damn long for new episodes.
Viva La Bam: The Complete Second and Third Seasons
Bam Margera was one of few really entertaining guys from the Jackass crew, so it’s no surprise that his spin-off show, “Viva La Bam,” is one of the flagship programs for MTV. Along with his number-two man, Ryan Dunn, Bam continues to wreak havoc on his family, friends and the world in this three-disc set featuring all sixteen episodes and an entire disc dedicated to bonus material. If you’re short on time, check out the two-part Mardi Gras road trip and the all-out prank war with buddy Johnny Knoxville.
Walker, Texas Ranger: Season One
Whenever anyone mentions “Walker, Texas Ranger,” I always think of a friend’s grandmother; she was absolutely addicted to this Chuck Norris action vehicle, and the show was her permanent Saturday night date. I can see how this would appeal both to those who miss the old days when action/drama shows didn’t need a lot of blood and guts to be interesting – Cordell Walker (Norris) is a Texas Ranger who prefers to use martial arts over his gun – but, from this writer’s perspective, it’s easier to appreciate the series on the level of a guilty pleasure. Norris is certainly enjoying himself in his role as Cordell Walker, like when he punches a guy in the face and tells him, “You have the right to remain silent,” and his supporting cast is solid; crusty old Noble Willingham (sadly, now deceased) was the best curmudgeon to hit TV since Wilford Brimley, and Clarence Gilyard Jr. plays Walker’s new partner, James “Jimmy” Trivette, the fish out of water who’s just in from Boston. The acting from the various no-name guest stars, however, ranges from iffy to deplorable, and the directors tend to lay the drama on pretty thick. It’s a hoot…if it wasn’t, Conan O’Brien wouldn’t have a “Walker, Texas Ranger” lever that he pulls whenever he needs to liven up his show with a clip…but an entire season will probably be too much for anyone but the diehards.
The Waltons: The Complete Third Season
It’s nothing short of a crying shame that in just the few decades since “The Waltons” was originally on the air, we’ve found ourselves in a world filled with kids who, when presented with an episode of the show, will do nothing more than laugh at how hopelessly naïve a world view it presents. The irony, however, is that when the show first premiered, America was in much the same place that it is now, except the war was in Vietnam rather than Iraq. In its third season, John Boy (Richard Thomas) went off to Boatwright University, though it was within driving distance, so he was still living at home; in fact, his exploits at school drive the majority of the stories during this year of the show. The rest of the Walton family still ends up with major plots, however, including the season premiere, where Aunt Martha Corinne’s house is threatened by the building of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ellen Corby and Will Geer as Grandma and Grandpa Walton remain one of the most irascible yet loveable set of grandparents in television history, just as Ralph Waite and Michael Learned remain unbeaten in the field of Most Understanding Parents. You don’t see many shows these days with plots as simple as a kid running away from home because the school guinea pig died while in his care, but we could do with more innocence like that on today’s networks. The trials of a Depression-era family might seem dated, but if you’ve got an open mind, you’ll find that heartwarming stories like these don’t have a sell-by date.
What I Like About You: The Complete First Season
So here’s the thing: there’s really only one reason that “What I Like About You” is so watchable, and that’s because Amanda Bynes is cute as a damned button. Legally, you’re not allowed to look at her and think she’s hot – she’s playing a 16-year-old, after all – but it’s totally cool to acknowledge that she’s cute. I swear. Unfortunately, just because it’s watchable doesn’t mean that it’s really all that good, or, more crucially, that your average guy will relate to it in the slightest. Bynes plays Holly Tyler, a 16-year-old whose circumstances find her moving in with her neat-freak sister, Valerie (Jennie Garth, late of “Beverly Hills 90210”), and it’s slapstick shenanigans galore as the two attempt to co-exist in the same apartment. Basically, that’s about the extent of the show’s depth. What’s far more interesting about this particular set, though, is the mystery surrounding Warner Brothers’ decision not to pay for the rights to include the show’s theme song: Lillix’s cover of The Romantics’ song that gave the series its name. And yet, within the first few episodes, they’ve spent the money to license Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Baby” and Wang Chung’s “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” C’mon, WB, if you’re gonna fork out those dollars, why not go the extra mile and get the show’s actual theme song, too?
What's Happening Now!!: The Complete First Season
Hey, hey, hey! Remember Rerun, Dwayne and Raj from “What’s Happening!!”? Sure you do. (Just in case you don’t, though, there’s certainly no better way to refresh your memory than by checking out their close encounter with The Doobie Brothers.) Ah, but do you remember their ‘80s reunion series, “What’s Happening Now!!”? In the show, Raj (Ernest Thomas) is married and living in his childhood home with his new bride, Nadine (Anne-Marie Johnson). While still pursuing his writing, Raj also owns half of Rob’s Diner, where he and his pals used to hang out in the original show. Yes, Raj’s pals are back as well: Dwayne (Haywood Nelson) is now a computer programmer, and Rerun (Fred Berry) is a used car pitchman, working under the name “Swami Stubbs.” Plus, Raj co-owns the diner with Shirley (Shirley Hemphill), who used to waitress there back in the day. Unfortunately, while the original show is viewed as a ‘70s classic by some, the humor of “What’s Happening Now!!” never rises above the sort of groan-worthy jokes that wouldn’t pass muster on your average “Saved by the Bell” episode. Plus, since the wisecracking little girl of the original series is now a freshman in college (and if you’re wondering, yes, Dee – played by Danielle Spencer – pops up for a few guest spots), Raj and Nadine end up adopting (shocker!) a wisecracking little girl named Carolyn (Reina King), whose delivery is almost worse than her dialogue. Stick to the original series, and forget about “What’s Happening Now!!”
Whose Line Is It Anyway? - Season One, Volume One
Let’s get something out of the way up front: do not for a second think that “uncensored” means “Pamela Anderson roast-type bedlam.” The uncensored material of which they speak is relegated to the gag reel…and it’s freaking hilarious (Ryan Stiles will surely be audited every year for the rest of his life once the IRS sees this). That said, the episodes themselves are the same squeaky-clean shows that you saw on TV, and what’s wrong with that? Indeed, every episode with the Big Four (Greg Proops, Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie and Stiles) is pure improv genius, with Brad Sherwood serving as the perfect musical foil for Brady during the Serenade skits. The weakest link in the whole show, of course, is host Drew Carey (though his rant when the producers told him they couldn’t say a man was in love with a gerbil was money), who’s a funny standup but a mouse among men in the improv world. Best bits: Ryan as a newborn foal, Wayne on the dating game as an old blues guy, and Mochrie skiing into things. It may not be as naughty as its title implies, that doesn’t mean it’s any less funny.
WildBoyz: Season Two
Nature-show prostitution at its finest, and borderline gay porn. Steve-O and Chris Pontius have no real skill, outside of a willingness to subject themselves to excruciating pain or humiliation, usually while naked. In spite of this, there are moments where their exploits are fall-down funny (taunting an electric eel while in a pool, the safari ants that nearly bit off their nipples). For every good scene, however, is an equally bad one, like Steve-O’s golden shower from an elephant in India. Occasionally funny, and thoroughly gross.
WildBoyz: Season Three and Four
Getting bounced to sister channel MTV2 would seem to be a death knell for former Jackasses (oh, who are we kidding, they’ll always be jackasses) Steve-O and Chris Pontius, but the last two seasons of “WildBoyz” contain three scenes that alone make this set worth picking up. In Argentina, they watch orcas feast on baby seals on the beachfront (hey, nature is cruel), then later Steve-O and Johnny Knoxville, dressed as a llama, get mounted by a randy elk. But the money shot of the entire set takes place in Indonesia, when Pontius actually kisses a king cobra on the back of the head (nicknamed, appropriately, the kiss of death). There is also a great scene in a Russian jet where the boys experience zero gravity and, per WildBoyz law, each episode contains no less than one puke scene. The show looks like a ton of fun to make (well, less so for Steve-O, especially that bit where the baby crocodile bites him on the ass), but if Steve-O and Pontius are smart, they will walk away while they still can. If fate is unafraid to take Steve Irwin out with a stingray, then no one is safe.
Wings: The Complete Third Season
Say hello to my little friend, Mr. Antonio Scarpacci. Actually, Antonio – played, as you may well recall, by Tony Shaloub (“Monk”) – made his debut in Season Two, but he was a waiter in that appearance…and when he made his return in the first episode of Season Three as a series regular, he was suddenly a cab driver. Fair enough, I can buy that. So you’ve got an Emmy winner in Shaloub, an Oscar nominee in Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”), who plays Lowell the mechanic, and, in this season, you’ve got Emmy nominated guest performances from Tyne Daly and Kelsey Grammer. Not too shabby. Grammer, by the way, plays not just some random character passing through the airport but, indeed, Frasier Crane; the psychologist arrives in Nantucket with his then-wife, Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), to hold a motivational seminar that (predictably) goes horribly wrong. “Wings” might’ve gone downhill in the later years, but it still maintains a consistent level of comedy on this set. No special features, though. Bah!
Wings: The Complete Fifth Season
I only remember ever catching “Wings” when it was finally being aired in re-runs on the USA Network at one point, having not really watched it during its initial run, so I was somewhat surprised this thing actually ran for so long. In this rip-roarin’ season, such wacky hijinks as Lowell (played by Thomas Hayden Church, the best character on the show) marrying and divorcing his gal Bunny on the same day ensue. Then there’s the big season finale where Joe (Tim Daly) and Helen (Crystal Bernard) get hot and heavy again after their mutual intimacies having previously cooled off! The set contains 24 episodes in all, with the notation that “some episodes may be edited from their original network versions.” What?! Oh well, I couldn’t tell you what those changes would have been, since I only ever briefly watched the series in the first place. Still, “Wings” delivers solid sitcom laughs even if a lot of it now feels a bit dated.
Wire in the Blood: The Complete Fourth Season
Every long-running TV show eventually has a season that winds up paling to the ones that preceded it. This fourth season of “Wire in the Blood,” the riveting BBC crime drama, is one such item. Starring Robson green as Dr. Tony Hill, a clinical psychiatrist with an uncanny knack for getting into criminals’ heads, this fourth season also introduces detective inspector Alex Fielding (Simone Lahbib) who is paired up with Hill to solve the various crimes in this set. Four discs with one episode each are included here. “Time to Murder and Create” and “Wounded Surgeon” are the best of the bunch, holding fast to what made the earlier seasons so thrilling and enjoyable. But the other two episodes, “Torment” and “Hole in the Heart” are lacking that certain something. They’re solid enough tales, just not up to the usual high standards of the others. Perhaps it has something to do with the new character of Fielding being added to the mix. Or maybe it just comes down to the writing in general. Still, if you’re a fan, this season’s worth checking out; you just may want to watch your wallet when considering it as a purchase.
Witchblade: Volume Five
More of the same, more of the same. The “Witchblade” series continues along, this time featuring Wadou creating a weapon that both male and female sexes can use as part of his “Ultimate Blade” project. Unfortunately, his secretary destroys Masane with the weapon, and well, all hell breaks loose after that, as one would expect. Complete with the usual amount of excessive violence and flesh (not a judgment call, but a fact), “Witchblade, Vol. 5” will certainly appease fans of the show’s need for the expected. It’s not necessarily bad, per se, but it is average at best, the sort of thing that people who aren’t into anime hold up to make fun of the genre. Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all. But would it hurt to maybe mix things up just a tiny bit and not be so peanut butter and jelly all the time? In this case, it probably would.
World Poker Tour: Bad Boys of Poker
Settle in for yet another exciting night at the table when five of the biggest and baddest poker champions face off in a no-limit game of Texas Hold ‘Em. The WPT special isn’t nearly as exciting as most tournament final tables, and the absence of “poker brat” Phil Hellmuth, Jr. can certainly be felt around the room, but a small collection of extras make this DVD a must-buy for any poker aficionado.
World Poker Tour: Season Two
The Travel Channel’s hit series returns to prove who the real king of televised poker is. As the show that set off a poker craze around the country, the “WPT” delivers a second season filled with fourteen exotic locations including Paris, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and over $35 million dollars in prize money. This is a must-have DVD box-set for any fan of the sport, with select audio commentaries by some of the hottest rising players at the table, and a bonus disc packed with even more special features.
The Worst Week of My Life: The Complete First Season
People always tell war stories about how getting married is never easy, but as Howard (Ben Miller) prepares to wed the lovely Mel (Sarah Alexander), he soon discovers that it’s an absolute nightmare. From trying to impress his bride-to-be’s incredibly judgmental parents to fending off the advances of his psychotic ex-girlfriend, Howard’s final days of bachelorhood amount to, as the title suggest, the worst week of his life. Featuring one episode for each day leading up to the wedding, the BBC comedy is a lot like a serialized version of “Meet the Parents” – with a dash of British wit, of course – as Howard stumbles through a gauntlet of viciously bad luck. Whether it’s killing the family dog by shoveling it into a cement mixer, misplacing his fiancée for her mother (in bed), or losing the ring down an office drainpipe, Howard has much more important things to worry about than getting married; like, say, staying alive long enough to attend the wedding.
The X-Files Mythology, Vol. 1 - Abduction
"The X-Files" creator Chris Carter could be accused of repackaging his hit series in a ploy to make some extra money, but the newly released Mythology collection is actually a pretty good idea. The upcoming series of anthologies will offer fans who haven't already purchased the original nine sets the opportunity to own only the episodes that directly affect the major plot. With the removal of the standalone episodes, the first volume of the Mythology collection is a great way to own your favorite series in a cost- and space-effective manner.
The X-Files Mythology, Vol. 4 - Super Soldiers
Viewed as probably the worst of Chris Carter’s Mythology series - if only because it follows the final two seasons of the show – volume four focuses on the uncovering of a top secret government program designed to create Super Soldiers, while Mulder finally gets a little piece of mind when he’s put on trial for killing one. Not so unstoppable now, are you Mr. Bioengineered Soldier Guy? The series was definitely experiencing a major downfall by the eighth season, with the writers struggling to keep fans interested, but the two-hour season finale is a just ending for one of the biggest television successes of the past decade.
Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion
It’s been almost five years since the name Zach Galifianakis has meant anything in the comedy world, and after watching his latest stand-up routine, it’s pretty clear why. Since the cancellation of his short-lived VH1 series, “Late World with Zach,” the It comic has faded into obscurity. The guy is all over the place during his short set at the Purple Onion, which interjects road trip footage and fake interviews with his “twin brother.” He spends more time annoying the audience (by constantly flubbing jokes) than actually entertaining them. Once known for his deadpan delivery in the tradition of Steven Wright, Zach now comes off as just another comedian trying way too hard to be unique. The disappointment certainly stings, and makes the career of up-and-comer Demetri Martin (who shadows Zach’s style) one worth keeping an eye on.