DVD REVIEWS – SEP 24, 2007

THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – Sep 24, 2007


  • Hetty Wainthropp Investigates: The Complete Collection (Acorn Media)


There’s something near-magical about a solidly-made British detective show – seeing as every other presentation on Masterpiece Theatre is something from that sub-genre, it’s at the very least monstrously popular – but Hetty Wainthropp Investigates: The Complete Collection (Acorn Media) contains even more whodunit magic than its rivals. This exceptionally-written series featuring a wondrous Patricia Routledge as the eponymous crime-solver and a goofy young Dominic Monaghan as her teenaged sidekick has all the elements of a by-the-books mystery show, but somehow the series maintains a freshness and noble vivacity that few others attempt.

And now, instead of throwing down monies after monies to keep up with Hetty’s adventures, Acorn Media has made the full series available in one big box set. Audio and video quality aren’t top-notch (most British shows on DVD suffer similar fates), but we get the show’s original 1991 pilot episode, Missing Persons, as a bonus feature, along with a short but sweet interview with Routledge herself.

Perfect for your early-fall DVD rental queue…


  • 30 Rock: Season 1 (Universal)


Shh…keep it down. If we say too many things about Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, it might get cancelled, just like its formal older brother, Arrested Development. So in lieu of lauding praises on this inimitable series (damn! I gotta keep it together!), quietly purchase 30 Rock: Season 1 (Universal) online, open it in a securely at home and proceed to enjoy the Hell out of it.

This Alec Baldwin/Fey/Tracey Morgan show really is as funny as snobby, bookish TV critics make it out to be – and then some. The mere concept of Tracey Morgan as the star of a film called Who Dat Ninja? is enough to make this writer a die-hard fan, but the thing about 30 Rock is that it’s able to balance both pop-culture-heavy one-off jokes and a striking sense of narrative formality: It’s both a funny-as-Hell and a solidly-made piece of TV.

This 3-DVD set is obviously worth picking up – 16×9 transfers are fine, and the show’s sound mixing is truly top-of-the-line – but the bonus features aren’t extraordinary. Even a 12-minute-long blooper reel falls short (how can that be?).

But seriously – keep it down. If we’re going to survive this TV generation, we’re gonna need 30 Rock on the air for at least another two years. Cross your fingers…


  • Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Season Three (Universal)


It’s embarrassing – this time last year, I was a stone-cold Grey’s Anatomy freak. My roommate and I would count the hours before each Thursday’s new GA (even reruns, for God’s sake!) and revel in all the histrionic magic that McDreamy, George, Izzie and all their scrubs-wearing buddies could throw at us.

But Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Season Three (Universal) stinks.

No, it’s not backlash against that whole Isaiah Washington slur toward T.R. Knight, and no, it’s not just a show stumbling to keep its core storylines afloat: This third season, showcasing painfully ill-developed new characters and even more awful plot points (the ferry-crash episode featuring Meredith’s (Ellen Pompeo’s) near-death experience is so bad it should have never been developed outside of a writers’ meeting), was wildly popular, but it’s totally lost me. Last year, if GA had switched networks to HBO, I would have purchased a subscription just to watch it. After season three (Izzie sleeping with George? Really?), I cry ‘uncle’.

But I was able to relive the pain and suffering of season three with style in this multi-disc box set. Audio and video quality are both stellar (no matter how you slice it, the show looks like a million bucks), and even though the bonus features – most notably including ‘extended’ cuts of a handful of episodes (I couldn’t tell a difference between the long versions and the aired ones) – are copious, they don’t add up to much.


  • Masters of Horror: Season One Box Set (Starz)


Masters of Horror: Season One Box Set (Starz) is a fan’s dream. With exceptional 16×9 anamorphic widescreen transfers and super-creepy-crawly Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mixes, the film series could hardly be presented with more technical finesse, and there are more bonus features here than you could swing a stick at (commentaries, featurettes, DVD-ROM screenplays, promos, etc.).

The only problem: For anybody who considers themselves even marginally less than a ginormous Tales From the Crypt fan, these movies are hit and miss at best. Sure, horror mavens like Stuart Gordon and Tobe Hooper have the kind of reputations in the horror genre that up-and-comers dream of, but aside from impressive name-checking (Joe Dante and John Landis also pop up here) even the greatest moments in this collection are outweighed by typical, late-Saturday-night cheesy-horror banality. Chocolate, director Mick Garris’ contribution to the set, is goofy, cornball fun, but if you’re looking for consistency with your horror tales, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.


  • South Park: The Complete Tenth Season (Paramount)


South Park: The Complete Tenth Season (Paramount) is, in so many words, amazing.

Yes, the argument could be made that the show continues to beat the same dead horse that it always has – those who hated South Park from the get-go will no doubt continue to loathe it here – but this tenth go-round has some of the series’ greatest moments. The double-episode that takes aim at both Family Guy and the Islamic portrait of Mohammed in modern media is jaw-droppingly smart and savvy; the World of Warcraft episode (which recently won an Emmy for best animated episode of the year) is singular in both its narrative breadth and comedic achievement; and let’s just that the installment of the season that revolves around Satan’s birthday party is nothing short of brilliant.

And as usual, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone offer short commentaries on each episode, and their brevity and openness are refreshing and atypical. Humble, proud and savvy, they’re able to showcase their intentions with each episode with thought-out and hilarious frankness.

For fans, there’s no need to stop buying now; for those uninitiated in the South Park pantheon, it’s time to drink the Kool-Aid.