• American Gangster: The Complete First Season (Paramount)

  • Chinatown (Paramount)

  • The Two Jakes (Paramount)


The Ridley Scott film of the same name is burning up box offices as we speak, but unfortunately American Gangster: The Complete First Season (Paramount) holds no such fire. This Ving Rhames-hosted documentary series that sheds light on some of our nation’s most notorious baddies – Stanley “Tookie” Williams, Troy and Dino Smith, and The Chambers Brothers, to name a few – has moments of historical intrigue to it, but more often than not fails to come forward with any kind of convincing analysis of these figures’ influence on modern society. In fact, when the show decides to try and ‘make a point’, the results are often preachy, heavy-handed and unconvincing.

On the other hand, while they don’t illuminate specifically African-American bad guys, there continues to be a distinct crime-themed truth to Chinatown (Paramount), which gets a DVD re-release this month, along with its much-maligned sequel The Two Jakes (Paramount). Part of the reason for Polanski’s film’s continued success is that it avoids the kind of finger-pointing and distinct cultural dissection that American Gangster: The Complete First Season has in spades – everything in Chinatown is mysterious, unresolved and (at film’s end) just as dangerous as it ever was.

The Two Jakes is more of a one-off curio than a de facto Chinatown: Part II – it’s interesting to see what Jack Nicholson does behind the camera with the film, but it lacks its predecessor’s gravitas and narrative heft.

And to add insult to injury, these DVD presentations aren’t exceptional – most of the stuff on the new Chinatown disc has been regurgitated from its original release (the new featurettes are so-so), and The Two Jakes has little in the way of bonuses – it doesn’t even have a commentary from Nicholson (which would have been amazing, right?).

  • Northern Exposure: The Complete Series (Universal)


The backlash has already begun, and while this writer understands it, it’s nevertheless quite difficult for me to not call Northern Exposure: The Complete Series (Universal) one of the better DVD releases of the year. No, there isn’t anything new and exciting about the DVD content here – it does, however, come with a strapping moose-labeled carrying case! – but Northern Exposure stands as one of the better series the 90s offered, and it continues to engage.

The problem? Music.

Because of ever-escalating music rights costs, Universal has changed much of the music that was featured on the show, an act that has prompted certain NE fans to insist that fans eschew this lovely DVD presentation of the series and stick with the VHS tapes of the show’s original broadcasts that continue to circulate on eBay. I understand this disconcerting act – changing music definitely doesn’t help series in any way – but even if this Northern Exposure set only holds onto 90% of its charm, it’s still a moose-head higher than most everything else on the market right now.

You very well may hold a grudge against the show’s music-changing for the first couple episodes, but while it’s still a pain in the neck, this writer stopped caring so much after a while, for whatever that’s worth…

  • Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition (Paramount)


Let’s get this out of the way: This writer has no qualms in calling Twin Peaks the greatest show in the history of television. So it was with baited breath that I opened Twin Peaks: The Definitive Gold Box Edition (Paramount), because it had been a while. I’d purchased the series on VHS, on LaserDisc (in particularly expensive box sets, mind you), and then both season 1 and season 2 sets on DVD (separately). So it was nice to have everything together.

And to have the original broadcast version of the pilot included here is a real treat. I’ve worn my bootleg copy of that episode to the nubs, and the fact that it’s presented with exceptional clarity and with a stellar sound mix only sweetens the deal (the weird-ass ‘international’ version that ‘solves the mystery’ of Twin Peaks in two hours is also included here, but those new to the series should DEFINTELY wait until they’ve seen the whole series to watch it).

But there are still hiccups here. The bonus goodies included on the season one/season two box sets aren’t here (save the strangely uninteresting Log Lady Intros, recorded for the show’s reruns on Bravo. Season two’s set didn’t have too much, but season one came with commentaries, interviews – all sorts of stuff. Yeah, those pale in comparison to the near-two-hour documentary on the show included on this set, but it would have been nice to have them here, anyway.

And no, Fire Walk With Me isn’t included here. So is this set amazing? Absolutely. Is it definitive? Well, the owls are not what they seem, for sure.

  • Outing Riley (Wolfe)

  • The L Word: The Complete Fourth Season (Paramount)


I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Pete Jones’ latest movie really isn’t all that bad. Outing Riley (Wolfe) definitely falls into the clichés that so often plague gay-themed romantic comedies (Kiss Me, Guido, anyone?), but I’ll be damned if I didn’t find this simple tale of a brother (played by Jones himself) coming out to his Irish Catholic family to be effortlessly charming and adorable. And seeing as Jones’ last film was the please-shoot-me-in-the-face awful Stolen Summer, Outing Riley definitely stands as a step in the right direction.

The L Word, on the other hand, is a more hit-and-miss affair. I’ve enjoyed the realistic melodrama of this Showtime series for a while now, and Season Three was filled with more genuinely affecting gravitas than most other shows I’ve seen on television (don’t even get me started about that death scene…). But The L Word: The Complete Fourth Season (Paramount) splinters off in way too many directions to be truly effective.

Cybill Shepherd’s turn as a woman coming out of the closet at a late age is exceptional (when is that actress not phenomenal?), and Marlee Matlin continues to be an intriguing presence on the show, but with storylines involving the war in Iraq, more on-again-off-again relationships than one can mention and endless dissections of Jennifer Beals’ character’s particularly controlling personality, the show ends up crumbling under its own weight.