DVD REVIEW – June 30, 2008

THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – June 30, 2008


The Fugitive: Season Two, Volume One (Paramount)
Hawaii Five-O: The Fourth Season (Paramount)
Da Vinci’s Inquest: Season Three (Acorn Media)
The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season (Paramount)
Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Fourth Season (Paramount)
The Closer: The Complete Third Season (Warner)


Consider this quick peek at the first volume of The Fugitive’s latest DVD release a word to the wise more than a line-by-line review. The show itself is great – really exciting; quite confidently performed – but Paramount has really pushed the boundary of their ‘replacement’ policies when it comes to music rights with this release. There has been a heavy fan outrage seeing as every piece of music on this release that isn’t an opening or closing theme is replacement music. As interesting as it is, this is not The Fugitive as fans remember it.

[Gord Lacey over at www.tvshowsondvd.com has a thorough investigation of this misstep of Paramount’s, including their official response to the hubbub]

Hawaii Five-O’s fourth season also has some replacement music in it, but whether it’s less prevalent or not as noticeable a discrepancy, these discs are easy, punchy entertainment. This writer only got turned onto the series on DVD – I was a bit too young for it during its original broadcast – and, along with my discovery of the original Mission: Impossible series, it’s one of the best classic series I’ve ever run across. Jack Lord is the king of cool, and somehow the show is able to contrast its relatively simple plot constructions with a cast that has more collective charisma to it than most modern shows combined. Book ‘em.

Speaking of charisma on TV, it remains a sin that Da Vinci’s Inquest is still a Canadian curio and not mandatory mainstream viewing for crime television devotees. One of the most risk-taking series this writer has ever seen as far as painting its characters as being almost cripplingly multi-faceted – the terms ‘protagonist’ and ‘antagonist’ here simply don’t do the star players on the show justice – and this third go-round showcases the show manifesting the kind of confident swagger that can only come with viewership success. Here’s hoping the show’s positive reputation descends stateside.

The Odd Couple also remains a wildly entertaining presence on DVD, and while this fourth season doesn’t exactly start off with a bang, by the time you get to the episode where Tony Randall has to dance the lead in a performance of Swan Lake, you’ll be hooked. You won’t, however, be hooked on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Like Full House only with slightly fewer schmaltzy moments and worse special effects, this fourth season of the show showcases maybe five or ten minutes of nice camaraderie between star Melissa Joan Hart and her auntie Caroline Rhea, but the bad news is that there are 460 minutes to account for after that. Stick with The Odd Couple.

And then there’s The Closer. This Kyra Sedgwick series sees its third season hit DVD with the same kind of push and pull that embodied its first two go-rounds, and while on many levels it’s just another crime program, Sedgwick’s savvy, confident performance and some truly messed-up storylines (check out Ruby for one of the creepiest and goose-flesh-inducing exposes on the life of a sex offender you’re likely to see on basic cable) make it a treat for anyone with a murder mystery sweet tooth.


What’s Happening: The Complete Series (Sony)
Soap: The Complete Series (Sony)
7th Heaven: The Sixth Season (Paramount)


Here’s the rub: These series-long releases of What’s Happening and Soap are priced to sell – they LIST for less than sixty bucks a piece – but the packaging afforded the sets is, to be blunt, crappy. It’s great to have beginning-to-end compilations, for sure, but these are 9- (What’s Happening) and 12- (Soap) disc collections, and the potential for mega-scratch on these flimsy releases is high. Soap is a standout series, and even What’s Happening has some solid moments, but your buddy Mike says to tread lightly with these slap-shot collections: They’re as cheap as they are for a reason.

I was so flustered by the crappy packaging problem with those two box sets that it was a welcome relief to return to 7th Heaven. No, of course the drama at hand in this show is downright awful, and by the time this sixth installment of the series had come to pass, pretty much all the good ideas the show had to investigate had been executed, but as TV-holics know, sometimes it’s not about quality: It’s about comfort. Consider 7th Heaven the TV-on-DVD equivalent of a large popcorn at the movies: You really shouldn’t order it, it’s not good for you at all – but sometimes you’re known to get through the whole thing in one sitting. Am I wrong?


American Gangster: The Complete Second Season (Paramount)
Californication: The First Season (Paramount)
Burn Notice: The First Season (Fox)
Meerkat Manor: Season Three (Animal Planet)
Jericho: The Second Season (Paramount)


Russell and Denzel have nothing to do with American Gangster the show, but that’s all right, because it turns out that the series is a totally addictive true-crime success. Like a great Court TV series fused with a kind of History Channel background, the show offers quick, volatile looks at some of the most notorious gangster the urban world has ever known. And I have to be honest – they’re a lot scarier than anything Ridley Scott dreamed up in that 2007 film of his.

It’s sometimes hard to watch icons attempt to reinvent themselves. They don’t want to be always known as one particular character – how boring is that? – but TV watchers are creatures of habit: Sometimes it’s hard to give an actor a fair shake in something new when s/he is so recognizable in one specific show. David Duchovny was amazing in a guest role on Twin Peaks, but he’ll forever be remembered as Agent Mulder in The X-Files, so even though his sultry turn on the new Showtime series Californication is a nice stretch for the star (he really is a great actor), as much as Duchovny probably hates hearing it, it’s no X-Files. Ditto for Burn Notice. Bruce Campbell is a personal hero of mine – if you can watch Evil Dead and its sequels and not completely fall in love with Campbell’s character, you simply don’t have a soul – but even his presence in this show can’t elevate its ho-hum writing and blasé narrative.

Much more inviting is Meerkat Manor. Yeah, it gets old after a while, but in half-hour fits and spurts, this constructed melodrama about the complexities of life for a group of our cute little devils is implicitly enjoyable (and your kids will love it). And while it definitely falls victim to the difficult-to-juggle premise at its center (end of the world is a-comin’, but Skeet Ulrich will save us!), Jericho’s second season is a noble, if flawed, experience. It doesn’t end as much as it simply abandons its stories, but for anyone with a sweet tooth for end-of-the-world storylines (think The Stand with some Eureka thrown in for good measure), Jericho provides an exceptionally easy way to waste a few hours.


The Ruth Rendell Mysteries: Set 3 (Acorn Media)
The 2007 Newport Music Festival: Connoisseur’s Collection (Acorn Media)


Acorn Media is a great resource for DVD viewers who have a taste not necessarily for the exotic, but the different. The Ruth Rendell Mysteries is a ravishingly intriguing crime drama from across the pond – and again, while it doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel (it contains five mystery episodes that leave one guessing, for sure, but don’t go out of their way to broadcast any kind of narrative provocation or newness), if you start an episode, you’ll definitely finish it.

And for this writer who knows about as much about chamber music as he does about…well, he kinda doesn’t know anything about chamber music, so there you go. That being said, The 2007 Newport Music Festival isn’t exactly the kind of thing you’d re-watch over and over again and show your friends, it provides a mesmerizing introductory course to the kind of gorgeous music and performance involved with some of the most acclaimed chamber music in all the land. And this DVD collection is thorough to a fault – there are commentary clips and nothing short of six hours of bonus performances that really flush out the edition.


Raw Spice (Shout Factory)
X-Files: Revelations (Fox)


Let’s talk guilty pleasures, people. I’ll out myself straight away: I love the Spice Girls. I have since their pre-packaged, jiggly personae hit the scene a decade and change ago – I did, in fact, wannabe their lover. Raw Spice isn’t exactly sanctioned by the mega-corporation that is now known as THE SPICE GIRLS, but that doesn’t mean it ain’t a good watch. You don’t get to hear any of the girls’ music, which is a drag, but this disc provides a quick glimpse into what these chicas were doing before they took over modern pop culture. I’ve definitely watched it more than once.

And in keeping with repeat viewing, your buddy Mike could really watch X-Files episodes all day every day. I was turned on to the show earlier this year by my DVD compatriot Ryan, and it’s been a blur of aliens, monsters, and Gillian Anderson’s silhouette ever since. Revelations is nothing more than a collection of the eight episodes one must see before the new movie comes out in a few weeks (this is where Mike starts salivating in anticipation) and some introductions to the chosen shows by X-Files swami Chris Carter himself, so if you already have the complete series box set, this one ain’t worth a purchase.

However, even if you’re half the X-Files fan I am at this point, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to pass this one up. And hey – it comes with some Movie Money for a free ticket to the new movie in theatres: How cool is that?