With the new fall season starting in September, a lot of TV on DVD titles have turned out over the last few months to help fans catch up with favorite shows. I do mean a lot. So many that it'd be a deluge of reviews if we were to write them all up individually. To keep from drowning you in print, but still keep you up to date, here's a quick look at many of the new titles that have arrived recently.
The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner Home Video)
The Show: CBS's hit sitcom reveals in its geekdom, with a fourth season peppered with more pop culture references and episode titles with interesting vocabulary words. Emmy winner Jim Parsons leads a cast that includes former Roseanne cast member Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, and Mayim Bialik. It's a little too nerdy for me, but admittedly, I don't warm to many sitcoms. If nothing else, I enjoyed recognizing all the references, and I think people similarly inclined will enjoy this one. Check out fanboy fave Eliza Dushku (Dollhouse, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) as an FBI agent in the seventh episode.
The DVDs: There aren't a lot of special features here (no surprise, as half-hour comedies can be hard to come up with bonuses for), but I love the ones that are included. Barenaked Ladies - one of my favorite bands - provide a music video for the show's theme song and you can also watch the making of that video. There are also cast interviews, which in a nice twist are done by other cast members; I think DVD interviews would be a lot more interesting if other shows also did this! Note that this was also released on Blu-Ray and the BR is touted as having additional features.
Verdict: Consider it. While the comedy may not necessarily be your cup of tea, it's a solid release with some great bonus features, which is all we can ask for when it comes to TV on DVD.
Blue Bloods: The First Season (CBS DVD)
The Show: Tom Selleck takes a break from the long line of Jesse Stone TV-movies to lead the cast of this multi-generational New York crime drama. He plays NYC Police Commissioner Frank Reagan, who took over from his father Henry (Len Cariou) and looks out for his three kids - detective Danny (Boomtown's Donnie Wahlberg), ADA Erin (The Recruit's Bridget Moynahan), and beat cop Jamie (Will Estes). Blue Bloods reminds me of Numb3rs, in that it does a successful job of mixing family into the crime procedural. I can't say that I'm planning on watching it every week, but I enjoyed it and might peek into a second season when that arrives on DVD.
The DVDs: The transfer for Blue Bloods is outstanding visually, and only slightly less so audio-wise, plus it boasts two language tracks (English, French) and four subtitles (those two plus Spanish and Portuguese). I have some minor gripes about the packaging, first and foremost being the all too common oversight - the set's first and sixth discs are attached to the inside of the set's case, meaning that reading the episode guide requires taking them both out. There are six featurettes - including a twenty-plus minute character creation piece and twelve and a half minute one on the family dynamic - deleted scenes, a gag reel and promo spots.
Verdict: Consider it. The show is promising, and it comes home with a fantastic transfer and some thorough special features. It didn't arrest me quite enough for me to recommend it as a blind buy, but it's worth a glance for anyone who loves crime shows.
Body of Proof: The Complete First Season (ABC Studios)
The Show: A fairly boilerplate series featuring longtime TV staple Dana Delany (Desperate Housewives now in her rear view) as a savvy medical examiner. There's nothing spectacular about Body of Proof in my eyes, but Delany is a treat to watch and I also enjoy John Carroll Lynch (K-Ville, The Drew Carey Show). The real pleasant surprise here is Jeffrey Nordling (24, Once & Again) as Megan's ex; he and Delany have real chemistry together and I've always felt that he's one of those actors who doesn't get enough credit.
The DVDs: Not a lot of special features for BOP. There's one featurette with the cast and creators discussing research for the show and the realism behind it - but really, if you're doing a show based on any sort of science or medicine, isn't that almost an expected feature by now? Another focuses on the cast's wardrobe, which is nice but costume design is not really something that intrigues me. Then there's a gag reel, which is funny enough. A couple of commentaries would have gone a long way here, especially in a first-season set where you could talk a lot more about the show's creation and intent.
Verdict: Consider it. It's got an interesting cast, but unless you're a Delany fan, I lean more towards a rental than a purchase with this one; there's not a lot here, and the show itself isn't one that I would revisit often. On the plus side, the set does have a fairly cheap price tag (Amazon,com has it right now for $18), so you're not spending a lot of cash if you do decide to pick this one up.
Castle: The Complete Third Season (ABC Studios)
The Show: While I'm not as on board the "Nathan Fillion Is Awesome" train as many people I know, I have to admit that Castle has a certain charm about it. There's no doubt that Fillion is having a great time in the role of novelist Richard Castle, and that comes across on screen. Stana Katic balances him out pretty well as Kate Beckett. Watch for the underrated Jason Wiles (Third Watch, Persons Unknown) as an old friend of Castle's who becomes a murder suspect. This season ends on a cliffhanger that didn't worry me as much as it did others, but I will give Castle credit for using that to move the Castle/Beckett romance along, and hopefully avoid dragging the audience down that "will they or won't they" road too long.
The DVDs: There's a pretty good package of special features here. You have three featurettes (including an awesome one that includes real mystery writers and another about the show's location shooting in Los Angeles), some cast/crew commentary, a music video, deleted scenes and a gag reel which consists mostly of Fillion - but that's also what makes it so funny. I'd like to have seen more accessibility; there's only English audio and English, French and Spanish subtitles for a good presentation of the season. This set definitely comes with more bells and whistles than most TV on DVD releases.
Verdict: Consider it. It's not a show that I'd go out and buy, but I can see where it gets its cult following from, particularly if you're in the mood for mysteries with a lighter aspect to them. I am, however, all in favor of supporting TV on DVD sets with ample bonuses, particularly as such sets seem to have become the minority.
Desperate Housewives: The Complete Seventh Season (ABC Studios)
The Show: Admittedly, I've never thought Housewives was the same after its first season. I've tried to watch it twice since when it added actors that I loved, but still couldn't hang with it. That hasn't changed with this year. It's an unabashed primetime soap that, like sometimes happens in the genre, gets ridiculous at times. Some people call that fun; me, I just shake my head. Vanessa Williams and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles' Brian Austin Green arrive, but the former can only do so much and the latter exits by season's end, as does Dana Delany, who left to star in Body of Proof. There's also a guest appearance by Julie Benz (who also starred in No Ordinary Family for ABC).
The DVDs: A passable but not outstanding set. There's not really much in the way of extras - the highlight is a piece showing how much the ladies of Wisteria Lane know about their characters (or not). There's also an unremarkable one about the child actors and the usual gag reel and deleted scenes. Even for Housewives fans, if you don't dole out the money for this set, I can't see you being that heartbroken over it.
Verdict: Skip it. The show feels as if it's showing its age - this current season will be its last - and the DVD's are nothing special. Unless you absolutely must have all the seasons, you could save your money this time around and not miss much. Keep in mind that with the series ending, there's probably (although not definitely) a Desperate Housewives: The Complete Series set in the works too.
Fringe: The Complete Third Season (Warner Home Video)
The Show: Fringe is TV's equivalent of a cat; it seems to have multiple lives, having survived the axe at FOX this season while in the Friday night "death slot" and over shows that pulled in more eyeballs. I've never quite caught on to it, but I can understand why it survives - it's the kind of mind-bending show that J.J. Abrams is famous for (Lost, the latter seasons of Alias) and there should always be a place on TV for a show that encourages use of the human brain, even if it's sometimes hard to follow. This season sees Olivia (Anna Torv) replaced by her double, an episode named for LSD, and the universe nearly getting destroyed (again). It's definitely not for everyone, but it's ambitious for sure.
The DVDs: With a show this complex, it's great that the DVDs are conscious of that and come with features that really dig into the plethora of content. You get seven featurettes on everything from alternate universes to psychology to the show's use of animation (beware of spoilers!), two commentary tracks, a gag reel, and network promos. I'm impressed with how these features clarify and elaborate, making sure fans grasp the ideas so that they can really enjoy the show. I like the transfer as well; it's pretty good, though I say that guessing that it probably looks great on Blu-Ray (Warner's BR releases are usually very sharp). My one issue is that this set isn't that accessible: it has only English audio, although it does have English, French and Spanish subtitles (on the episodes, at least). With special features that the audience really ought to watch, I think it's a shame that some people may not be able to.
Verdict: Recommended. While Fringe as a series may not be for everyone - if you're curious about it, I would definitely say to start at the beginning - this is a fantastic set that does something most TV on DVD sets don't: takes into account the audience and gives them not just what they want, but what they need to get the most out of the show. Fans will love digging in, and even casual viewers should enjoy the set.
The Good Wife: The Complete Second Season (CBS DVD)
The Show: The Good Wife has been one of the most critically acclaimed dramas over the past two seasons. After trying to find a show that fit her (remember Canterbury's Law, anyone?), Julianna Margulies earned another Emmy this past weekend for playing attorney Alicia Florrick. Not only is Alicia in the aggressive world of the legal profession, she's entangled between her husband Peter (Chris Noth, Law & Order) and her old friend Will Gardner (Emmy nominee Josh Charles, who's been one of my favorites since Sports Night). This season ratchets up the tension on both fronts, as Peter tries to make a professional comeback that, unsurprisingly, digs some nasty personal skeletons out of the closet.
The DVDs: The six-disc set comes loaded both in terms of features and options. There are three audio tracks (English 5.1, English stereo, and French) and four subtitles (English, French, Spanish and Portuguese) for a solid presentation of the episodes. Bonuses include an interview with series creators Robert and Michelle King (who are really interesting to listen to), an in-depth look at the episode "Real Deal," footage from the Paley Center for Media's Good Wife event and the season one DVD release party, videos shot by star Alan Cumming (who could have his own show) and music videos from the campaign (cheesy, but a good idea), and a bevy of deleted scenes. I miss the commentaries that we got with the last set, though.
Verdict: Recommended. The Good Wife is a great show, and the set has some truly entertaining features on it. I only hope that now that the show has moved from late Tuesday to late Sunday nights (starting this Sunday), more people might catch up with it.
Grey's Anatomy: The Complete Seventh Season (ABC Studios)
The Show: ABC's long-running medical soap opera had an interesting seventh season, focusing mostly on the aftershock from the previous season's shooting. Sarah Drew and Jesse Williams became series regulars, other characters' personal lives saw various big changes, and there was a "music event" that saw Seattle Grace break into song, that I personally thought just wasn't very good. (To be fair, I didn't like the idea when it was done on Chicago Hope years earlier, either.) Grey's is not my kind of show; I prefer my medical shows to have more medicine and less of characters' entanglements. I'll give it credit, though; it's more about medicine than other recent attempts at medical series that I've seen. Just not enough for my taste.
The DVDs: This is an unremarkable set for fans and newbies alike. The major special features both have to do with the musical episode - an extended version of the installment and a behind-the-scenes featurette about its production. What's left are little tidbits, basically; a gag reel, some unaired scenes, and the "Message of Hope" webisodes that are still available online. There's no "making-of" season featurette, no commentaries, really nothing that digs into any episode other than the musical one, which seems a real shame for fans of the show. Accessibility-wise, it's an average showing as well, with only English audio and English, French and Spanish subtitles. At least the transfer is decent.
Verdict: Skip it. Unless you're a die-hard fan of the show who's collecting as you go or truly need to be caught up on episodes, you don't need this season sitting on your shelf right away. Fans can pick this up when the price goes down in a few months, and casual fans won't be missing out on much.
Hawaii Five-O: The First Season (CBS DVD)
The Show: One of the best new shows of this past season and quite possibly the most successful as well, Hawaii Five-O is a reboot that actually works - namely because of a charismatic cast that infuses their roles with plenty of wit and bite. This is a procedural, yes, but it's one with chops and surprisingly funny at that. The beautiful scenery doesn't hurt either, nor do interesting guest spots by the likes of Max Martini (The Unit), Kyle Secor (Homicide: Life on the Street) and Wood Harris (The Wire). Scott Caan earned himself a Golden Globe nomination for his work as Detective Danny Williams, and it looks like Alex O'Loughlin - playing a much less buttoned-up Steve McGarrett - has finally found a starring vehicle that will last.
The DVDs: Hawaii Five-O is beautifully shot, which is a compliment to the show and also something about the home release that ticks me off. The show is probably even better-looking in its Blu-Ray release, but as of this writing, said Blu-Ray is only available through a specific retailer. I hate these "exclusive" arrangements because they limit fans' access to the title and/or keep them from being able to compare prices; in this case, right now, the H5O BR is $62 before tax. I love this show, and this set, but I can't justify paying that kind of money for any TV season. Hopefully it will become more widly available (and potentially cheaper) at a later date. At least the DVDs have plenty of bonuses themselves, including a season "making-of" (spoilers!), a pilot "making-of," commentaries with crew and cast, and nods back to the original series with pieces "Legacy" and "Re-Scoring The Theme Song."
Verdict: Recommended. This is even a safe bet for a blind buy; it really is that one good remake, and not only are there a lot of special features, but this is another set that reflects the show itself. It's a nice touch to respect the original series by including content about it and what went into remaking it. You can't go wrong picking this one up.
Nikita: The Complete First Season [Blu-Ray] (Warner Home Video)
The Show: My most pleasant surprise from last season, Nikita escaped the expectations of a traditional CW series to skew darker and deeper, putting a new twist on the beloved franchise. Maggie Q (Live Free or Die Hard) is more than capable in the title role, but for me it was Shane West (ER) who was the real revelation as the conflicted Michael. The show boasts two always-welcome faces in Melinda Clarke (CSI, The OC) and the severely underappreciated Xander Berkeley (24). Franchise fans will love the cameo by Alberta Watson (La Femme Nikita) near season's end.
The Blu-Rays: This is a show I wanted to see on Blu, because I was convinced it would be beautifully transferred, and I was right. The picture and sound here are outstanding, particularly great since this is a show with a lot of dark scenes and one actor who sounds like Batman (that's West and I say that with love). There's English and Spanish audio, with English, Spanish and French subtitles. The special features are impressive: two commentaries, the two-part making-of documentary (spoilers!), character profiles, and deleted scenes. My favorite, though, is the Blu-Ray exclusive "Division Tracker," which helps you keep tabs on all the characters throughout continuity, a real plus for a show like this with complex backstory. One flaw: I would have loved to see a gag reel.
Verdict: Recommended. A great action series looks fantastic in the high definition afforded by Blu-Ray, and there are more than enough special features here to keep fans entertained. Skeptics should definitely also give it a peek; while I'm not sure it's going to stay broken from the mold in the upcoming second season, the first season is definitely not your typical CW series.
No Ordinary Family: The Complete Series (Lionsgate)
The Show: It reminds me of The Incredibles, only without the spandex. Jim Powell (Michael Chiklis, stepping about as far away from The Shield as he can get) and his family develop special abilities following a plane crash and their lives change drastically as a result. The cast includes Dexter's Julie Benz (also coming off a stint on Desperate Housewives where she worked with Dana Delany), former Human Target guest star Autumn Reeser, and Weeds alum Romany Malco. Jason Wiles also turns up in No Ordinary Family, playing Jim's ne'er do well brother. It's a fun series with a lot of untapped potential, and I'd recommend it for anyone up for lighter fare or something they can watch with their family.
The DVDs: ...clearly scream "we knew this show was cancelled so we just put them out there." The only special feature is a blooper real and forget about accessibility. This is a next-to-bare bones release all the way around, from packaging to extras. At least the people who enjoyed the show now have it to add to their collection, but couldn't the studio have thrown them something more?
Verdict: Skip it. Unless you were a fan who wants to have the show, this is the kind of DVD release that makes me sad: one that exists and little more.
Private Practice: The Complete Fourth Season (ABC Studios)
The Show: My feelings for Private Practice are the same as the ones I have for Grey's Anatomy; it's just not my flavor of series. Having said that, there is one fantastic episode in this season, and it's episode seven, "Did You Hear What Happened To Charlotte King?" KaDee Strickland's performance is superb, and it deals with the uncomfortable and often thorny issue of sexual assault and its aftermath pretty well. I respected how that storyline continued through the season, taking the time to show that there's a lot that must be endured after such a horrible event. In happier news, check out Kyle Secor, who also appears in Hawaii Five-O, making an appearance as Pete's (Tim Daly) brother.
The DVDs: The Private Practice set has even less special features than the Grey's Anatomy set. There's the now-standard deleted scenes and gag reel, and one additional featurette - that's it. That featurette is an important one, as it focuses on Charlotte's rape storyline; KaDee Strickland talks about her research and preparation for the plot, and her work with anti-sexual assault organization RAINN (Rape, Abust & Incest National Network). It's really worth watching, but I can't recommend that you buy an entire DVD set to watch one storyline and one bonus feature. In addition, you'll only get English audio, and English, Spanish and French subtitles.
Verdict: Skip it. It's worth a rental to see Strickland's superb storyline, as well as to be informed about what went into it and what can be done about sexual assault in real life - but that alone isn't enough to justify the $40 MSRP to put it on your shelf.
Stay tuned next week as I dig into more new TV on DVD and Blu-Ray releases!