DVD REVIEWS – NOV 15, 2007



— The Queen Mother — 

  • Gilmore Girls: The Complete Series (Warner)


I can hear you grumbling: What kind of an imbecile would be moved nearly to tears with the arrival of a DVD collection called oh-so-femininely a ‘tote’?

Well, poo-poo to all you naysayers – this writer insists a hundred times over that this tote just happens to be one of the year’s finest DVD releases.

Gilmore Girls: The Complete Series (Warner) is an exceptional piece of work, a collection of some of the greatest, fastest TV repartee that the medium has ever seen. It’s often a tough sell – when I forced my sister to watch the pilot episode, she complained of its stiff theatricality; when she watched three more episodes on her own a few nights later, she became nothing short of addicted to the show (she and I have been known to watch up to 5 episodes in a sitting) – but once you give up trying to resist the series, it welcomes you like a warm blanket.

Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel are (dammit – were – the show went off the air this year) the two coolest ladies on television, and show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino is just about the greatest creative force any TV show has seen. Yeah, the seventh season isn’t exactly as full of magic as the first six, but I’ll take Gilmore Girls running at 75% power any day of the week over pretty much everything on TV.

This tote – it comes in a lovely white foam packaging that, honestly, made me want to sit up late with the girls, do my nails and talk about boys – houses a Madeline Albright cameo, the recently-deceased Norman Mailer shows up as a B&B patron, and – in the grandest coup television as a format has ever achieved – in the last episode of season six, both Yo La Tengo and (hose me down) Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth pop by to do a number each (Kim and Thurston are even joined by their daughter Coco on bass). This is boob tube Valhalla, people!

Yeah, it’s TV melodrama/soap opera at its highest and most histrionic, and in a sane mindset, I might not admit it hits the same heights as, say, Twin Peaks, but I won’t lie to you: When Gilmore Girls is on in front of me, it feels like the best TV show of all time.

Just get the tote. GET THE TOTE!

— Grandma’s Mystery Stories —

  • CSI: The Complete Seventh Season (Paramount)


My grandma – an avowed crime story devotee who would very well accept a wedding proposal from Peter Falk as Columbo any day of the week – cares for CSI, but doesn’t like how groady it is: She prefers her murders done in classy fashions, with blood but no guts. She’s shit out of luck with CSI: The Complete Seventh Season (Paramount), though – this one’s a gore-fest. But it’s hard to bemoan the series’ penchant for splatter when the dramatic end results continue to be so powerful. CSI’s seventh season is the kind of TV-on-DVD set that you sit down to watch for an hour or so and end up staying up until three in the morning devouring. Who knows if it’s good or not? It’s damned addictive.

  • CSI: Miami: The Complete Fifth Season (Paramount)


CSI: Miami: The Complete Fifth Season (Paramount) is a tad less engaging than the o.g. CSI, but dammit, that Caruso factor is a wildcard. David Caruso – king of the graying-redhead smirk, attacks his performance as Lt. Horatio Caine with the kind of steely-eyed intensity that hardly anyone on the boob tube can pull off without seeming like a bona-fide ham. Yes, Miami’s CSI has intriguing murder mysteries and super-cool high-tech crime fighting machines, but it all swirls in a vortex around the meteorological anomaly known as David Caruso. Don’t believe me? Check out Come as You Are on this set, where Caruso gets knee-deep into an Iraq war murder situation. You just might think differently.

  • NCIS: The Complete Fourth Season (Paramount)


And with these CSI behemoths in the room, it’s hard not to look down on lesser shows. While there are elements of NCIS: The Complete Fourth Season (Paramount) that work truly well, it just doesn’t gel the way CSI does. Mark Harmon’s a fine TV actor – handsome, old-fashioned and aggressive, he’s nothing if not implicitly likeable – but there’s no danger to him, no sense of anxiety that his mystery-solving skills might crack under the weight of his burdened psyche (Caruso seems like he’s on the verge of sanity every week – Hell, even William Petersen is on the ledge most of the time). My grandma prefers NCIS to CSI – it’s at least a little less bloody – but she’ll also be the first to admit that its week-to-week status is just kind of ‘eh’.

She’ll take Columbo over any of these shows, though, if that tells you anything.

— Old-School Moldy Oldies —

Call me a TGIF-era child of the 90s if you must, but the handful of shows from the late 60s through the 90s that I’ve sifted through over the last week or so have been tough. Is it a different kind of cheesy sitcom rhetoric? A dissimilar type of storytelling? Who knows….?

  • Love, American Style: Season 1, Volume 1 (Paramount)


Love, American Style: Season 1, Volume 1 (Paramount) is a downright weird – it’s kind of like a hippie/Brady Bunch hybrid about how groovy love is, man. Each episode on this inaugural DVD set of the series has different characters doing different things – it’s an anthology series, not a week-by-week comedy – and we follow them falling in love. I found it cute, but without any kind of nostalgic tie to the series, I lost interest pretty quick.

  • Mission Impossible: The Complete Third Season (Paramount)


Far more intriguing to this viewer’s penchant for shoot-em-up mentalities was Mission Impossible: The Complete Third Season (Paramount). Again, I was introduced to this series via the movies – I still stand by de Palma’s Mission Impossible as one of the better action movies of the 90s – but when these season-by-season sets of the show started getting released, I found them far more than shtick-y cheese-fests: They’re amazing. Peter Graves and his team have some bona fide charisma to them – they’re an obvious influence on my beloved A-Team – and while some of the show’s pseudo-labyrinthine plot twists seem more like MacGyver lite than anything else, for every bum episode, this set offers four or five keepers. And the video transfers here are astonishing – far better than most any other TV series of its age.

  • Wild Wild West: The Third Season (Paramount)


Equally retro and cool was Wild Wild West: The Third Season (Paramount), the semi-futuristic western starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Having been appalled by Barry Sonnenfeld’s film of the same name a number of years ago, I was worried that the show would be just as tedious and dull, but I guess I’ve finally learned what everybody else knew all along: The TV show was excellent; the movie was poop. The nifty inventions at the show’s center, the camaraderie between Conrad and Martin, the superb western sensibility – it’s like a western show for nerds. Count me in.

  • The Benny Hill MegaSet (A&E)


In the ‘WHAT THE HELL?’ department, though, lies The Benny Hill MegaSet (A&E). The sexism that Hill was notoriously accused of doesn’t worry me so much here – if you watch more than one of these discs, you’ll see that the show (like many other satire series) lampoons everyone regardless of physiology or sentiment: The oddity of the thing is what left me scratching my head. He dresses in drag, he dons multiple accents and sensibilities, and – most cringingly – he recycles gags all the time. The same joke appears multiple times on one disc here (and mind you, there are eighteen discs total) – it’s quite redundant and unfortunate. And weird – did I already say ‘weird’?

  • Happy Days: The Third Season (Paramount)

  • Laverne and Shirley: The Third Season (Paramount)


Happy Days: The Third Season (Paramount) didn’t bother me too much – there’s something boy-next-door/cotton-candy refreshing about the adventures of these white-as-alabaster young suburbanites: It’s like American Graffiti, only with a far more intense Leave it to Beaver streak. Laverne and Shirley: The Third Season (Paramount) was a bit dicier – while Penny Marshall’s and Cindy Williams’ repartee definitely appears as an I Love Lucy of the 70s (in all the best ways), I found the Lenny and Squiggy factor to be too much to handle (for this TGIF alum, it was like having two Urkels in the show instead of one – wow, did it just get cold in here?).

  • Mork and Mindy: The Third Season (Paramount)


But the truly mystifying TV experience of these old shows is Mork and Mindy: The Third Season (Paramount). Robin Williams is a wonder to behold, to be sure, and Pam Dawber has just the right amount of aw-shucks girlishness to truly make her an exceptional straightman to Williams’ zany freak-o. But I’ll tell you what – watching this season is equivalent to watching Robin Williams driving 75 in a 25 zone: You can’t take your eyes off of it – you really can’t believe it’s actually happening – but something about it is seriously and clinically INSANE. I’d have to take a break after the third or fourth episode in a row because I felt like Mork and Mindy was beating me over the head with a mallet 26 minutes at a time.

I guess some people like that.

— Modern Times —

  • The Best of the Colbert Report (Paramount)


Fresh off his attempts to get on the presidential ballot in South Carolina, Comedy Central has released The Best of the Colbert Report (Paramount), a potpourri of ridiculous moments from the comedian’s exceptionally loony series. Much of the stuff here is predictably uproarious (his dissection of the term ‘truthiness’ is just as funny as you’ve heard from the guys at the office), and even though it’s hard to get through in one sitting, there’s enough liberal oddity and humor here to keep leftists occupied for hours and hours.


  • Everybody Loves Raymond: The Complete Series (HBO)


For those with less politically-slanted boob tube interests, there’s always Everybody Loves Raymond: The Complete Series (HBO), a collection of all things Romano. Featuring new packaging – it comes in the shape of a house! – and a collectible book, it’s simultaneously hard to dislike the show (when it gets rolling, it can be painfully funny) and difficult to recommend it (as funny as it is, it’s not exactly the thing that folks might revisit again and again). But leave it to HBO to give the show a lovely package – for anybody with half a heart of love for the family at ELR’s center and a wallet full of cash, this set’s as nice a compilation as any show’s likely to get. If only Who’s The Boss? got the same treatment…

  • The Sopranos: Season Six, Volume II (HBO)


And then there’s The Sopranos: Season Six, Volume II (HBO). A must-see coda to the show that will be remembered as half of HBO’s grand TV establishment (Sex and the City being the other), these episodes are as challenging as they are devastating, as formally rambunctious as they are endlessly engaging. In order to avoid getting hate mail from those who haven’t seen how the show ends, I’ll stay away from specifics, but two or three of the last episodes here are among the greatest the series ever offered. One thing’s for sure: You’ll never listen to Journey the same way again.

And HBO sweetens the deal by offering Blu-ray and HD DVD editions of this final installment, as well. HBO sent ET the HD DVD version, and it’s simply stunning. Detail is exceptional, colors are vibrant and punchy, and the show’s superb sound design is presented with flair and savvy, enveloping fidelity. It’s worth going out to get a high-def player just to get the full experience.


  • Cars (Disney)

  • Ratatouille (Disney)

  • Pixar Short Films Vol. 1 (Disney)


Speaking of high-def, though, there’s little likelihood you’ll get a chance to experience anything quite as beautiful as Disney’s new Blu-ray releases of Cars, Ratatouille and Pixar Short Films Vol. 1. And this isn’t a back-patting reassurance of the new format, either – while the early Pixar films are presented as well as they can be (with slight inconsistencies), there are simply no ways to describe how crystal clear and crisp these images are. They’re simply astonishing.

The only drag is that Ratatouille and Cars are by far the least impressive Pixar films in the company’s pantheon, and the Pixar Short Films set is for devoted aficionados only (while adorable, it’s unlikely that kids will respond to them the same way they do to, say, Finding Nemo). So with these releases, Disney has announced with exceptional fortitude that Blu-ray really looks that good.

What will seal the deal, though, are some better titles – these three may look like a million bucks, but I say next time they get some releases with more meat on their bones.