THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – April 20, 2008
Matlock: The First Season (Paramount)
Perry Mason: 50th Anniversary Edition (Paramount)
Murder, She Wrote: The Complete Eighth Season (Universal)
Law & Order SVU: The Sixth Year (Universal)
All right, let’s break this down. Andy Griffith as Matlock is a pretty damned solid figure, even if it sometimes seems like there’s a minimum age requirement of 65 for anybody to get enjoyment out of the series (let’s just say that this first season box set is Rated G in every way, shape and form). Whether the guy’s cases are redundant and plain-jane is irrelevant, though – if you underestimate the charisma and pull of Griffith (and not necessarily The Andy Griffith Show – I’m talking more on the Face in the Crowd side of things), you’re missing out. Raymond Burr as Perry Mason also has a nostalgic charm to him – he may not be the kind of unmistakable southern gentleman Matlock is, but Perry will tell it to you straight, and this kind of bold confidence shines through Burr’s iconic performance all through this 50th Anniversary Edition of the show. And don’t even get me started on Murder, She Wrote. I don’t care how many insults my dear readers could throw at me for having more than a passing fancy for this Angela Lansbury detective series: If you’re a sucker for a cliffhanger mystery television, there’s no way you could get through half of an episode from this Complete Eighth Season set and not want to watch the whole thing. Viva la Lansbury!
Fast forward a few decades, though, and we hit Law & Order: SVU, which, when compared to these other two titles, is a veritable snuff-fest. Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay make a good team, to be sure – both of these actors are able to infuse true human drama amidst the shit-storm of nasty-ass crimes that surround them – but what becomes readily apparent about this incarnation of the L&O universe is just how grisly the crimes it covers really are. If you need your crime stories to have a you-are-there immediacy to their very cores, check out this Sixth Year set – but know what you’re getting yourself into: Matlock would never address issues this prickly and unsavory on his show.
Beverly Hills 90210: The Fourth Season (Paramount)
Melrose Place: The Fourth Season (Paramount)
Laverne & Shirley: The Third Season (Paramount)
Party of Five: The Complete Third Season (Paramount)
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – I didn’t get versed in the delicious melodramatic magic of Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place until I reviewed their season-long sets on DVD: For one reason or another, I was far too busy watching Alf and Perfect Strangers reruns in my sitcom-heavy childhood to see what was happening in the land of the primetime soap opera.
And while I’ll admit that there was a bit of goofy fun to be had by the series’ initial DVD releases, these fourth-season sets are hard to get through in any capacity. Melrose Place is a little easier because it is so flagrantly ridiculous – my favorite episode is the one in which Hayley Armstrong (played with giddy silliness by Perry King) accidentally falls off a boat – but both reek of being the kinds of things pre-teens loved in the early 90s but might not have much tolerance for now.
Laverne & Shirley and Party of Five – though wildly disparate shows – fall into a similar bracket. When Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams really hit their stride in L&S, the results are comedy gold (and Hell – do any of us really have enough Lenny and Squiggy in our lives?), but most of this third season set is dumb-ass silliness without much warmth or draw to it. And Party of Five – oh, MAN. Between a pre-Lost Matthew Fox seeming wildly out of place as the head of a parent-less family and Jennifer Love Hewitt’s insane Mexican adventures in this third season box set, this series seems like a 90210 only with a little more death and grief thrown in for good measure (and tight tops – J. Love definitely looks her best as her Jeep gets stolen in the Mexican wasteland (jeez…)).
Alien Nation: The Ultimate Movie Collection (Fox)
Mannequin/Mannequin 2 (MGM)
The Shirley Temple Collection v. 6 (MGM)
Okay, kids – quick quiz: Which of these four DVD sets holds up the most to repeat viewing?
Let me give you a hint – it’s totally not Mannequin and Mannequin 2. Yes, there are moments involving Hollywood (Meshach Taylor) in the original film that are so over-the-top they’re delicious, and come on – Andrew McCarthy and Kim Cattrall together? That’s movie magic. The second one, though? Yikes. And those Alien Nation TV movies were pale comparisons to the original James Caan movie to begin with: Unless you’re a mega-nerd with a penchant for weirdly-tinted aliens in bald caps, these five pictures – Dark Horizon, Body and Soul, The Enemy Within, Millennium and The Udara Legacy – are worth skipping.
And the Cloverfield inclusion here was a trick – even those who found the J.J. Abrams monster-attacks-city actioner to have an interesting shtick, this flick is the kind of thing that lost its cultural imperative half-way through its first night in theatres. It really had one of the greatest ad campaigns in the history of modern cinema – this much is true – but I remember sitting in the theatre watching the MySpace generation start texting on their cell phones after ten minutes of movie once they realized it was really just another dumb monster movie (albeit one with exceptionally dramatic nausea-cam). And while this DVD has a whole nest of bells and whistles on it, it doesn’t make up for the fact that the movie was a turkey to begin with and now exists on DVD…as a turkey.
While nothing in The Shirley Temple Collection v. 6 is entirely unique (the question here is: How many volumes can this sucker contain?), the ‘cute factor’ runs rampant, and we even get Wee Willie Winkie, which is fascinating not only for the fact that it was directed by cinema maestro John Ford but because it’s presented in both its original black and white and a new colorized version (pretty friggin’ trippy).
Cheers: The Ninth Season (Paramount)
Becker: The First Season (Paramount)
Fortysomething (Acorn Media)
The Last Detective: Series 4 (Acorn Media)
Big Gay Sketch Show: Seasons 1 and 2 (Paramount)
It’s hard not to like Ted Danson in TV land – Sam Malone remains one of the greatest central characters a sitcom has had in the last twenty-five years. Sure, Cheers: The Ninth Season is a shell of itself – not only does it not compare well with the halcyon Shelley Long days, but it pales when put up against the hit-and-miss early Kirstie Alley days – but when Sam and Carla (Rhea Perlman) really get into it, you can’t resist. You can, however, resist Becker, the show heralded as Danson’s return to boob-tube glory from the late 90s. Danson as an amiable, handsome bartender somehow worked, but Danson as a cranky physician? No. Not even close.
Speaking of ‘not even close’ – have you seen this Big Gay Sketch Show (Season 1 & Season 2)? I’m all for dumb-ass skit television, for sure, and the idea of having one with a gay and lesbian slant to it really seemed like a good idea. But oh no, folks. Oh, dear God no. The laugh tracks on these two seasons’ sets are outlandishly over-used (it’s like Mad TV only about a trillion times worse), and while a couple of the ideas presented in these skits really seem like they might blossom into something really friggin’ funny, they all collapse in on themselves. No dice.
Thankfully, we can cross the pond and find some good TV-on-DVD material to get us through until summer comes around. The Last Detective: Series 4 is the latest installment of the exceptionally intriguing British series that follows a deeply flawed (yet implicitly lovable) sleuth named “Dangerous” Davies (Peter Davison) as he embarks on the kind of complex, terrifying and involving mysteries you didn’t think they made any more. And anybody with a Hugh Laurie fetish should pick up Fortysomething immediately – not only is this mid-life crisis romance a hoot from start to finish, but we get to watch Laurie go through some wild gauntlets, indeed, from Laurie developing a potentially life-changing case of ESP and a hilarious sequence that involves some devastating public humiliation nudity on Laurie’s part. House may be what he’s famous for, but the guy has an astonishing cinematic track record, and for those not fully versed in his British work, Fortysomething is a great place to begin.