Mini reviews of Television seasons old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional bunnies.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1987)

Season 3 finally breaks free of the show's formula somewhat with new characters and interesting stories. No more of repeats of Igthorn and/or backfired spells ad nauseum. It's too bad none of the new plots are explored beyond the one episode they feature in as adding too much continuity would hurt syndication rights. Some of the new characters would have added to the show. Even the new cast member introduced at the end of last season is used very sparingly which is puzzling.

The usual one episode geared towards the overarching plot is also absent this season and focuses on simply another piece of Gummi legend. It's a great episode at least. The whole season is pointed towards progress, but then does nothing with it. Wasted potential, but still entertaining and better than last season.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on the same 3 disc set as the previous seasons.

3 disappearing castles out of 5

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Empire Sq (2007)

The blurb on the back of the DVD box states: There was a time when the people of your community knew your name, knew your family and they'd stop you in the street to talk about everything and nothing... Thank fuck those days are gone.
Featuring corpse-sex, monkey shaving, bum-love, super-heroes smashed to death on pavements, electric shock therapy, crack-whore surgery, swan eating... etc.

Sounds like fun. It isn't. Comedy can be offensive and still be comedy. Empire Sq is just offensive. Even the retro-cool pixel animation is appallingly bad.

12 episodes, approx 3 minutes each. Short but still too long.

0 out of 5

Cleopatra 2525: Season One (2000)

Cleo (Jennifer Sky) went for a boob job because she's a shallow bimbo stripper and that's what shallow bimbo strippers do, but complications during surgery meant she was placed in suspended animation. She wakes 525 years later in the year 2525, alone and frightened. The shit had largely hit the fan during those years, forcing humanity to retreat underground. Above ground is ruled by armed flying machines known as Baileys, of which little is known.

Cleo 2525 is from the makers of Xena: Warrior Princess and shares a similar sense of fun and disregard for logic. It follows three female freedom fighters determined to take back what the Bailey's took from them.

It was my introduction to the wonderful Gina Torres; her character, Hel, brings a strength and compassion to the group that makes her perfect for team leader. Hel receives guidance from an unseen voice, known simply as Voice, which is a kind of female disembodied Charlie (of Charlie’s Angels), delivering critical intel.
The trigger-happy Sarge (Victoria Pratt) is Hel’s partner. She struggles with her emotions because they occasionally get in the way of her shooting things.
And then, of course, Cleo who is the comedy relief. Her history enables the writers to reference 20th Century pop culture, which has the added effect of reinforcing her fish out of water position in the future time period. As the series progresses she becomes less shallow, morphing into someone endearing.

The show has many faults, but it never tries to be high art. Each episode erupts into at least one firefight wherein the women back-flip and somersault for no apparent reason while lasers fire randomly in all directions. Despite living underground everyone is well-tanned. Their mode of transport is laughable. Nevertheless, the strong characters and the short running time work in the show's favour. Its punchy, fast paced comic-book style is perfect for filling a brief hiatus between something better. There's a recurring villain named Creegan that's excellent. but the less I reveal about him the better.

It won't win any awards, and it even got cancelled after Season Two, but if you're not averse to parking your brain in Dumb Town and enjoying some fast cheese then Cleo 2525 could fill that hole.

14 episodes, approx 21 minutes each.

3 women with more than just tits out of 5

Monday, December 17, 2012

Deadwood: Season One (2004)

A violent Western set in 1870’s South Dakota, home to prospectors and traders. Being situated in Indian Territory means the law has yet to take a foothold, so it also attracts the criminal, the corrupt and the trigger-happy outlaw.

The entire cast are exceptional, not just the principal actors. Ian McShane plays foul-mouthed saloon owner Al Swearengen, the show’s main villain; although nothing is really that black and white in Deadwood. It's the role he was born to play. All thoughts of Lovejoy will wash away instantly.

Brad Dourif’s Doc Cochran is my favourite part of the show. If you’re familiar with Dourif from his film work you’ll know the power he can bring to a scene.

I should also mention Robin Weigert, who plays Calamity Jane; she steals most scenes she stumbles into with a lashing tongue and a wicked humour.

The presentation is flawless. The cinematography, particularly in the early episodes, helps it transcend the usual TV limitations. Every inch of the frame is purposefully lit. And the town bustles with life so it never feels empty.

It may take some viewers a little more time than others to become accustomed to the vernacular used, but pay close attention and you shouldn't have too much of a problem. It's certainly much more fascinating than what we use today. The excessive use of profanities isn't there just to offend, they help place people socially and are an integral part of characterisation. You should also aim to pick up on things implied though subtle glances and quiet movement because what's unsaid is as weighty and as important as what's overtly revealed.

Deadwood is essential viewing for Western fans, provided you don't baulk at the use of language. Alongside the violence, the double dealings and the remorseless aggression are moments of genuine sensitivity, often tinged with sadness, a combination that plucked an opera on my heartstrings during the finale.

12 episodes, approx 55 minutes each.

5 hungry pigs out of 5

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Mighty Boosh: Series Two (2006)

The Boosh changed location for the second series but remained just as weird and unique as before. The two leads, Vince Noir (Noel Fielding) and Howard Moon (Julian Barratt), no longer work at the Zoo. Instead, they're shacked up in a North East London flat, which they share with the shaman Naboo the Enigma, and his familiar Bollo, the talking Ape, both of whom were also in Series One.

Despite their musical differences, Howard and Vince form a band. They somehow make their quest for recognition and stardom the catalyst for bizarre storylines involving singing, dancing, and failed romancing.

The show appears to have had a cash injection, enabling the guys to build more elaborate sets that facilitate ever more elaborate scripts. By the final episode all the stops are out and they are deep in the Boosh.

Both Noel and Julian play multiple parts, as does Rich Fulcher (who played Bob Fossil in S1); they're so damn good at it that at times I wasn't sure if it was or wasn't them beneath the make-up. The moronic Moon was a stroke of genius.

Only 6 episodes this time, approx 28 minutes each.

3 mangina lights out of 5

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Mighty Boosh: Series One (2005)

The Mighty Boosh is an alternative British comedy series that's just plain weird. I can't even think of an easy comparison to make this review go quicker. The show primarily revolves around two main characters, Howard Moon (Julian Barratt) and Vince Noir (Noel Fielding), both of whom are zookeepers at England's shittiest Zoo, The Zooniverse, a dilapidated, mostly empty, crappy little hovel.

Howard resembles the guy from your local supermarket who hovers in the bread aisle. He agonises over every decision, loves jazz funk and wants desperately to sleep with Mrs Gideon, the Reptile House lady. He has no chance.

Vince resembles a Dr Doolittle and Rod Stewart love child. He has perfect hair, a love of electro pop and a laid back attitude to life. The less he tries the more he succeeds. Mrs Gideon, the Reptile House lady, wants to sleep with him.

When not feeding animals or chilling in their homely hut, the pair stumble into ridiculous adventures that rarely make any rational sense.

There are recurring characters who help fuel the madness: the aforementioned Mrs Gideon; the resident shaman Naboo, who likes his hookah; the zoo manager, Bob Fossil, who's 51 cards short of a full deck; and the zoo owner, Dixon Bainbridge, with his upstaging moustache. Most of them play some part in the drama, even if it's just to take a kick in the balls.

There's no one definable element that makes Boosh entertaining. It's the mix of well-crafted characters, the clever insults, the off-the-wall events, the ridiculous conceits, and the dancing animals that separate it from the crowd.

8 episodes, approx 28 minutes each.

3½ human persons who buff and squirt out of 5

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Gargoyles (1994)

And they say the Middle Ages were barbaric...
In medieval Scotland, creatures called gargoyles that turn to stone during the day and protect their castle's human inhabitants at night are betrayed to marauding vikings and are almost all killed. The survivors are then put under a magic spell that will put them into their stone sleep "until the castle rises above the clouds." 1000 years later, billionaire David Xanatos comes across the story and in an effort to see if it is true buys the castle and moves the entire thing to the top of his New York skyscraper which breaks the spell. Now the gargoyle leader, Goliath, must lead and protect his clan of 6 of the last gargoyles on earth in modern Manhattan. He will find there are no shortage of enemies both criminal and supernatural. Those who would be their ally, like NYPD detective Elisa Maza, are few and far between.

Gargoyles was quite the departure from Disney's usual animated fare. It was a serial drama with stories and characters heavily influenced by various world mythologies, a heavy smattering of action and some actual violence. Very PG violence mind you as it was ostensibly a kid's show, but it was still a break from the norm even if a lot of it was later invalidated by censorship of repeat airings. Despite being for kids, adults could still get a lot out of it as the characters were actually fleshed out with motivations and personalities and the themes could be picked up by history buffs and Shakespeare fans alike. Star Trek fans might get some kicks out of it as a majority of the voice actors were also on one of Trek's incarnations. Jonathan Frakes voices the scheming David Xanatos and Marina Sirtis voices the fiery Demona among others. Goliath is voiced by Keith David in his wonderfully deep baritone voice. The sometimes low quality TV animation is a point against it, but it is never bad enough to break engagement.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on a 2 disc DVD set with the uncut 13 episodes and some bonus features. Or you can watch the edited versions on Disney's YouTube channel here.

5 probably irritated though job-secure cleanup crews out of 5
It was actually a 4½, but remember, Keith David gets an automatic ½ bonus.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1986)

Season 2 of the Gummi Bears brings many new things like new voice actors and a few new characters, but it is a big heaping helping of more of the same. The majority of the plots are the same as season 1 i.e. thwarting Igthorn or dealing with backfired spells. The interchangeability of the episodes even led to original airings of the 11 minute episodes to be paired with ones from previous seasons to fill out the time slot. It says something that doing it actually doesn't really mess with continuity and such. There are only 3 episodes that have new plots and they are welcome, but so very few and far between.

The only other not tired storyline of the exiled Great Gummis is mostly absent from this season. Someone must have noticed because they seem to pull the new character thing out simply to distract from it's absence. Some other characters are pushed back and forth like princess Calla has a much bigger presence this season than the page Cavin.

Despite its flaws, it still carries the Disney pedigree, so even the recycled feel of this season is still a high quality recyclable. It still has (for it's age) quality animation and voice work. It's a shorter season at least so the recycling doesn't last too long.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on the same bare-bones 3 disc set as season 1 that contains the first 3 seasons of the show.

Clint Eastwood parodies out of 5

Sunday, December 2, 2012

HOMELAND - Season 1 [2011]

 
Why kill a man when you can kill an idea?

It's not often a television series has me completely absorbed into it by the final scene of the pilot episode.  Normally it takes a few episodes, sometimes a complete season.  However Showtime's Homeland managed to capture my undivided attention within the first twenty minutes of the pilot.  Inspired by Gideon Raff's Israeli television series, Hatufim, showrunner's Howard Gordon & Alex Gansa (of the Kiefer Sutherland vehicle 24) run over familiar territory, dealing with the subjects of terrorism, espionage and paranoia.  It tells the disturbingly intense story of a troubled U.S. Marine returning home to his family after being a tortured prisoner of war for 8 years to the al-Quada.  Even though he's celebrated as a hero, an equally disturbed CIA agent suspects him of being turned by the enemy and a potentially dangerous threat to the country. 

While 24 was driven by it's implausible, yet riveting, action, Homeland keeps it's feet firmly grounded in realism and makes the experience all the more terrifying.  Driven by such intimate intensity, Homeland is the type of show that will keep you awake at night wondering if it's time to lock yourself up in your house with a tinfoil hat. 

The first 5 episodes are consistently strong, compelling and effectively suspenseful, however it seems to lose it's step for a few episodes in the middle but still has enough purpose to keep the viewer trucking on forward.  Thankfully, we're rewarded by the final 4 episodes that pick up the slack and dare you not to break a sweat or hold your breath. Without the wonderfully absorbing cast, including My So Called Life's Claire Danes, Band Of Brother's Damian Lewis, Firefly's Morena Baccarin and Dead Like Me's Mandy Patinkin, Homeland probably wouldn't have been nearly as emotionally engaging. 

It's not a perfect series or even breaking new ground, with 24 and Rubicon before it, but it is certainly something that's easy to recommend to anybody that loves episodic suspenseful television. 

13 episodes.  Roughly 55-60 minutes each

Buyer's Guide:
Available in DVD and Blu-ray box sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

  instances where your own side is scarier than the enemy out of 5

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Slayers: Revolution (2008)

More than ten years since Try ended comes Revolution, a new adventure for Lina Inverse and her band of Slayers. The entire team is back in action including Gourry, Zelgadis, Amelia, Xellos and a few others who appear down the road. The season starts with, what else, Lina punishing baddies not for justice but for treasure, in an effort to satiate her bottomless hunger.

With Gourry in tow she quickly runs into Zelgadis & Amelia who introduce the new character of Mr. Wizer, an overconfident police inspector. He not only becomes instant trouble for Lina but also a running gag through the next few episodes as he continually fails to incarcerate her and ends up crispy at the end of a fireball. Any fan of previous seasons will feel right at home with the over-the-top comedy and magic-packed action sequences.

Another new character, Pokota, a cute miniature-sized creature makes his presence known early as he steals Lina's thunder (or should I say Dragon Slave?) and leads us down a trail to the main conflict. The relationship between these two newbies and Lina is like a cheese grater to the skin as they drive her absolutely batshit crazy.

All of the original music cues return and voice actor/singer Megumi Hayashibara pulls double duty once again performing the opening and closing sequence songs beautifully. On more than a few occasions I had these stuck in my head. The story ends as it usually does in a big, fat life-threatening battle against some unstoppable beastie, but when all the dust clears it's obvious things aren't exactly resolved. But if the hinted-at resurrection of a certain blind priest tells the Slayers fan anything, it's that Lina and the gang are in for a wild ride in the next season: Evolution-R.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in a 2-disc Blu-Ray set & a DVD/Blu-Ray combo which also includes season 5.

3.5 brains cells Gourry desperately clings to out of 5

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pushing Daisies (2008)

"What's your plan? To bring him back and ask him where she is?"
 "..."
"That was a joke."
"Heh-heh."
Season 2 kicks off some time after the season 1 cliffhanger. The Pie-Hole waitress Olive is crumbling under the weight of the secrets she now knows, private investigator Emerson Cod continues in his quest for a certain missing person, alive-again Chuck wishes to reconnect with her past and The Pie-maker Ned wishes to stay connected to his can-never-touch sweetheart Chuck even as circumstances force new changes on them. All that digging into their collective pasts though may dredge up things that they didn't expect and may even be dangerous. All while continuing to solve bizarre and outlandish murders by reviving the victims to ask who killed them.

With the extended episode count, the show was going new and interesting places. But then it is quickly and hastily shoved into a mostly unsatisfying conclusion in the end due to cancellation. Having never recovered the lost audience from the writer's strike the previous year, ABC decided to not renew the show despite some mail-in efforts of daisies and pies by fans as well as petitions and the remaining episodes were sporadically burned off. Which is a pity because the aforementioned new stories were looking to be exciting and what is there is still wonderfully entertaining with colorful and fantastic aesthetics, strange and original murder mysteries and snappy banter. There is also a cadre of wonderful guest performances from many well-known actors throughout the episodes that bring great characters and stories to a bittersweet end.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in DVD and Blu Ray box sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

4½ Alliterative names and gratuitous cleavage out of

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Adventures of the Gummi Bears (1985)

It's the Gummi way.
Centuries ago a great civilization of anthropomorphic bears called Gummi Bears were driven from their land by humans who wanted their advanced technology and magic. In the present medieval setting, the descendents of the ones who stayed behind continue to watch over their forest haven, Gummi Glen, while avoiding humans who have begun to believe of them as myths in the intervening centuries. By chance they are discovered by a human boy named Cavin who befriends them. With his help they will go on adventures and help any in need while still remaining a secret to the population at large.

Season 1 has a variety of stories ranging from battling the main villain Duke Igthorn and his army of stupid ogres to smaller ones involving backfired spells and teaching the young ones a lesson. Igthorn tends to harass the Gummi bears to gain their secrets and magic to help him conquer the castle Dunwyn. Specifically he wants the secret recipe to Gummiberry juice that makes bears bounce and gives humans and ogres temporary super strength. That is the majority of episodes and despite the variety they are rather interchangeable (perfect for syndication and making Disney money, natch), but there is an overarching story about communicating with and finding the remnants of the exiled Gummi Bears to restore Gummie Glen to it's former glory. The 6 main characters start as typical stock characters, but grow over time. There is the grumpy one, Gruffi, the fat one, Tummi, the bumbling one, Zummi, the mother figure, Grammi, the girl, Sunni, and the kid, Cubbi. The animation is cheaper television stock, but higher quality than most given the Disney pedigree which shows in most aspects of the show.

Perfect for an old fan feeling nostalgic or if they want a show for their kids that they might enjoy as well.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in a 3-disc set that contains the first 3 seasons of this old Disney afternoon staple. The episodes switch between full 22 minute and half 11 minute episodes. Season 1 is 21 episodes. The set is very bare bones. No special features, just the episodes and subtitles.

Super catchy theme songs out of 5

THE PACIFIC [2010]

"There are things men can do to one another
that are sobering to the soul.
It is one thing to reconcile these things with God,
but another to square it with yourself."

Nearly 10 years after the hugely successful 10 part mini-series Band Of Brothers, producers Steven Spielberg & Tom Hanks and HBO reteam for the World War II mini-series companion piece The Pacific.  It focuses primarily on three marines from separate regiments of U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific Theater of Operations.  Based on the tormented memoirs of Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie and the life of John Basilone, The Pacific has a bit of a difficult time narrowing down into a coherent, smooth narrative which hurts the series a bit.  With this baffling choice, we're never fully involved with the characters to feel as deeply for them that we did with the men in Easy Company.

Another weakness with the series is it's lack of focus on someone in charge of the tactical side of the Pacific War seeing as we learn next to nothing about a lot of the questionable maneuvers they made.  It's one war-torn terrain to the next, without giving us any idea what exactly was going on with the placements of the marine themselves.  Band Of Brothers educated us with the tactical side of the war, the hands-on violent side and the hearts & minds of the soldiers, while The Pacific relies a little to heavily on the doom & gloom of overly long battle sequences that aren't much different from episode to episode.  This might work in a 3 hour film but to drag it out over 10 hours is simply not interesting enough to remain effective.

Where it does excel in, is it's brutal honesty and will to take risks in horrifying the viewer with questionable actions from the protagonists.  Normally, we're led to believe soldiers and marines are nothing but heroic, where as here these guys do some pretty terrible things to their enemy, each other and themselves.  It's unsettling to think human beings could perform senseless acts like this but something we need to know and never forget. 

With some jaw-dropping production values, wonderful performances from Jurrasic Park's Joseph Mazzello, Rubicon's James Badge Dale and Treme's John Seda, beautifully frightening music from Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli & Blake Neely and some unforgettable stark scenes of brutality, violence and despair, The Pacific is definitely better than most television today.  It's just unfortunately had a lot to live up to, compared to the near-perfect Band Of Brothers.

10 Episodes. Roughly 60 minutes each.
Buyer’s Guide:
 Available in both DVD and Blu-Ray sets on it’s own and packaged with it’s companion series Band Of Brothers.

3½ letters that will never make it home out of 5

Friday, November 23, 2012

Copper (2012)

BBC America's first original show follows Detective Kevin Corcoran in 1860s New York as he searches for answers in the disappearance of his wife and the murder of his daughter while he was away fighting in the American Civil War. He searches while simultaneously solving crimes in the neighborhood of Five Points. He is known for being relentless and solving many cases. Unbeknownst to many though is he does it with the help of a doctor friend who he keeps secret because he is black and so the evidence gained through his scientific inquiry would be racially dismissed. Also with the help of his fellow immigrant cops they will catch criminals and root out corruption in a violent and corrupt manner.

The show could be dismissed as another procedural, but makes the most of the time period it's set in by solving crimes through old fashioned methods as this is before the advent of forensics and miranda rights. Also the characters are wonderfully flawed and interesting, like Corcoran himself who is probably the most upstanding dude around, but isn't above prostitutes, beating information out of suspects or generally bending the rules to solve a case. Or the brothel madam who dreams of high society despite the fact she gets nothing but neglect and derision from it. The racism proves an interesting plot device, but is somewhat underused which is puzzling given the setting. As Corcoran gets closer to answers, more questions will be raised and more violence will be dealt with.

The show is very well put together with characters and story but feels a little underwhelming in the sets. They don't feel as organic as the sets in say Hell On Wheels, another period drama. But that is understandable on it's cable budget and is just a smudge on an otherwise great 10 episodes.

Buyer's Guide:
Available now on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

4 Brass knuckles cracking real knuckles out of 5

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest (2007)

A short animated Doctor Who serial featuring the Tenth Doctor and his companion, Martha Jones. Together they traverse time and space, hunting for data chips and getting into the usual kind of trouble on the way.

You'll be glad to hear that both David Tennant and Freema Agyeman voice their respective characters from the live action show. Plus, Anthony Stewart Head pops up; it's always fun to hear him lend his vocal chords to the Who universe.

The story is set some time during Season 3 of the parent series but doesn't fit snugly into series continuity, so don't try too hard to place it chronologically. It's best to just accept it for what it is, which is a mildly entertaining Dr Who animation.

The short format doesn't leave much time for anything to develop beyond an immediate danger being followed very quickly by an immediate solution. Then onto the next episode for a similar thing to happen.

The animation is decent enough but it isn't able to convey the wide-eyed wonder that Tennant is so very good at; even when the live action scripts were dodgy his infectious nature and comical facial expressions kept the momentum up.

Long time fans should get a smile or two from it, but I don't imagine many of them will return for a second or third viewing.

13 episodes, approx 3.30 mins each.

2 fleshy bipeds out of 5

Monday, November 19, 2012

Children of the Dog Star (1984)

While staying at her uncle's New Zealand farm, twelve-year-old Gretchen is drawn to the unusual "brass daisy" weathervane atop the barn. Neither her aunt nor uncle knows when, why or how it got there. Gretchen later learns that local Maori legends tell of something unnatural sleeping nearby that mustn't be awakened. When she begins to experience strange dreams, she suspects that all the separate incidents may somehow be connected.

Children of the Dog Star was a mid-80s children's TV show that wasn't afraid to offer lofty concepts to the young, while simultaneously keeping things simple by utilising basic character traits that would connect with a wide range of viewers, such as the inquisitive child, the neglected child, and the misunderstood child that frequently finds trouble even when not seeking it.

It splits the adults into three distinct camps, too: the money-hungry villains who care nothing for conservation; the caring and patient guardian who's respectful of local traditions; and at the other end of the spectrum, the simple folk who like to find the good in everyone, but have neglected their history. The last lot are painted much too blank, coming across more like village idiots.

It presents the kind of story you'd have found in the teen section of the library, the suitable for all ages team-up adventure that sees children overcome obstacles and attempt to uncover hidden truths, while simultaneously finding their roles in life. It's mostly predictable and safe. However, the last episode pulled out all the tricks. I was surprised at the turn of events taken.

6 episodes, approx 28 minutes each.

3 kids with too much time on their hands out of 5

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Season 1 (1987-88)

I remember people saying it was a ridiculous idea making a new Trek, that it was an insult to The Original Series (TOS), but I think having Gene Roddenberry as creator helped smooth the transition for a lot of them. I was too young to feel the nostalgia burn (I was 11), so I embraced TNG 100%.

The pilot episode is very Roddenberry. It’s easy to imagine TOS crew in place of TNG crew. However, from Ep 2 things change. It’s amazing how quickly it settled into a new and unique identity. The actors seemed to bond and a very real sense of camaraderie surfaced. It still paid homage to TOS (Deanna Troi in her "cosmic cheerleader" outfit, and orange skies on alien worlds, etc) but at heart it became a series of quality sci-fi scripts wrapped in a shiny new Trek aesthetic.

Patrick Stewart is a fine actor. His Shakespearean demeanour gave the show a new angle from which to approach drama. Kirk was the action everyman, the lover, the fighter, etc. Picard was the thinker, the confident delegator and the symbolic father figure (albeit one that felt awkward around children).

The second greatest addition to the show was the android Data, played by Brent Spiner. He was inspired by the masterful Russian born author Isaac Asimov. Data enabled the writers to critique the human condition from a point constitutionally more interesting than the typical alien of the week idea.

Without those two men at the forefront of the action, I think the show would've struggled to distance itself from the crushing preconceptions that surrounded it. In the end, it became my favourite Trek series. I never tire of its cheesy charms.

26 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

4 spine destroying romper suits out of 5

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Chocky's Challenge (1986)

The title of the final part of the Trilogy raises an intriguing question: is it Chocky setting a challenge or is it Chocky being challenged? The answer is satisfying to a degree, but except for one other instance of inference the writing is more concerned with answering such questions than offering up food for thought.

The biggest fault is that the first of Chocky’s children, Matthew, who was the glue that held the whole thing together, is absent most of the time. His notoriety has forced him away from the project, meaning he’s very little to offer the others as they continue to work toward Chocky’s goal.

That leaves young Albertine as the main protagonist. She’s joined by some new children pulled from an unintentional(?) ethnically racist roster; a clever Asian that plays the piano, and a black kid from Boston who looks like he just stepped out of an 80's pop music video. Neither of the new additions are much good at acting.

The cynical adults aren't the only villains. There are others watching the children, others with a deeper agenda than to simply recover from hurt pride. It mimics events of the previous series but they no longer feel fresh, nor do they carry the same sense of surprise. Nevertheless, it's still better than most of the crap they show on kid's TV today.

6 episodes, approx 25 mins each.

2½ gestalt children out of 5

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Cape: The Complete Series (2011)

Honest cop Vince Faraday is framed for a crime he didn't commit, and his good name dragged through the shitter by the media. To more effectively battle the corrupt system that framed him, and to simultaneously clear his name, he enters the underworld and assumes a new identity: Vince Faraday becomes The Cape!

You can probably already tell by that intentionally cheesy synopsis that The Cape is a superhero series that doesn't do anything particularly new or inventive. What it does is give the familiar a new skin, and it does it with tongue-in-cheek while keeping one hand on the accelerator. It has the camp charm of the 1960s Batman TV Series, with the action and scripting of a modern TV show. Its greatest strength is that it revels in its comic book inspirations, and if you embrace that same sense of adventure you'll probably enjoy it a lot more.

Vince is played by David Lyons. I'd not seen him act before. He starts out a little blank, but gets better as the character develops more. He learns to brood.

What really pulled me in was the supporting cast, who are wonderful: Keith David brings the awesome; Summer Glau brings the intelligent and sexy; and Vinnie Jones brings the Vinnie Jones.

On the flip side, the main villain, Chess, lacks any real menace or charisma. He's the typical corporate bad guy with an endless supply of cash to fund his criminal endeavours. Mercifully, he isn't the only antagonist.

The introduction of a criminal collective known as Tarot offered some exciting possibilities for the future, but they never got the chance to flourish because the series was cancelled just when it was starting to get really good.

10 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

3 times it's okay to stalk your wife if you're legally dead out of 5

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pushing Daisies (2007)

"You can't just touch someone's life and be done with it."
"Yes I can. That's how I roll."
Ned is The Pie-maker, a bakery owner who learned at a young age that he could revive dead things with a touch. The caveat is he can only keep what he touches alive for one minute or something else will die in its place. If he touches a revived thing again it will return to being dead forever. He uses this gift to help his business partner who is a private investigator by reviving murder victims to ask who killed them and collect the rewards. This becomes a problem when the case involves his childhood sweetheart being murdered on a cruise. Ned revives her, but is unable to re-dead her because of his love for her and ends up letting her live and she becomes the newest crime-solver. Ned also begins a relationship with her. One in which they cannot physically touch lest she die again in addition to an amorous third party in the bakery waitress and Ned's own neuroses.

Bryan Fuller created an odd mix of a show here. It is both very upbeat with its lighthearted soundtrack, bright, saturated colors and borderline saccharine romance, but also with a foot in the grim with it's gruesome murders and black comedy. It is by design reminiscent of a fairy tale (complete with a great narration by Jim Dale), but not the happily ever after kind. The old, uncensored and very adult tales before they were watered down into kid's bedtime stories.

Despite there being at least one dead body per episode, the show never veers too serious. The likeable characters are full of jokes and witty banter about the often very odd and hilarious deaths around them that range from the typical guns and strangulations to death by scratch n' sniff and being run over by monkeys. Add a cup of romance, relationships, jealousy and secrets for an entertaining and original mix of a show that despite its jumble description of a comedic detective fantasy drama is very coherent and very watchable. Season one's writer's strike truncation to 9 episodes is the only real problem as there should have been more of a season.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on DVD and Blu Ray box sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

5 "Bitch, I was in proximity!" out of 5

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Red Dwarf X (2012)

It’s been three years since the Red Dwarf crew last left a streak of brown across the blackness of space, so it's great to see them back with a welcome tenth series (the mini-series Back to Earth is considered Series IX). I can happily say it feels like they never left. The four guys slip back into character with ease.

The first episode is a little shaky, but episode two picks up the pace and things quickly fall into place. The gags come quick and fast, like they should.

Doug Naylor is once again on writing duties for all six episodes, dropping in references to past exploits that will please long-time fans. He finds the perfect balance between the show’s sit-com origins and the comedy drama that it toyed with in later years; it's a bit of both this time. For those that don’t know, Naylor is one half of the original team that created the series back in 1988. The other was Rob Grant. It wouldn't feel the same without at least one of them being present.

Howard Goodall returns to music duties. He composed the music for the series from its very beginning until series VII, so it’s a joy to have him back.

6 episodes, approx 29 minutes each.

3½ hey-ho, pip and dandy out of 5

Monday, October 29, 2012

Millennium: Season Two (2005)

The team of Glen Morgan and James Wong took over writing duties to the second season, penning 12 of the 23 episodes and overseeing the production and direction taken by the remainder. I guess they're to blame for what unfolded.

The focus shifted away from Frank and the psychological drain his visions placed on him, into a more esoteric dead-end. The two producers heaped on a barrelful of supernatural intervention, quasi-religious cult bullshit, conspiracy theories and shady organisations, with endings pretending to be open to viewer interpretation but which are really the product of bad scripting that make little sense in themselves; if I wanted that I'd watch the X-Files. Even series creator Chris Carter (who was busy elsewhere and had virtually zero input) admitted to not having watched all of the episodes.

Morgan and Wong turned Frank into a dupe. They brought the Millennium Group to the fore; turning them into something they were never conceived to be. They struggled to deal with the relationship between Frank and his wife, Catherine. The amateurish direction that took tore the show right down the middle, removing the reason for Frank's initial involvement with the Group. Detective Bob Giebelhous is turned into an asshole Noir beat cop. The furthering of the religious motifs made sense but the way it was integrated was clumsy, overblown and painful to watch.

There are a number of 'comedy' episodes, which are the worst hours of TV I've ever forced myself to watch. Normally I'd hit stop, but I made myself endure every agonising minute. Glen Morgan's brother Darin was responsible for two of them.

Both Morgan and Wong refused an invitation to appear in the accompanying documentary; I'd be ashamed to show my face, too, if I were them.

23 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

2 Millenniumistic is not a word out of 5

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

True Blood: Season 1 (2008)

Based on the novels by Charlaine Harris, True Blood opens into a world where the legendary monsters known as vampires no longer lurk in the shadows. Instead their race as a whole has decided to come out of the coffin, so to speak, and as they put it "mainstream" as members of society. What the show is really about is the effect this has on the rest of the world, specifically the Louisiana town of Bon Temps, the main setting for the show and the home of one special lil' waitress, Sookie Stackhouse.

Anna Paquin fits snugly into the role of this beautiful spitfire with a cross to bear. Sookie not only waits on the patrons of Merlotte's Bar & Grill but hears all their dirty little thoughts too. Her telepathic powers have made her an inevitable pariah but once she crosses paths with Bon Temps' first vampire, shit really hits the fan.

Brooding Stephen Moyer plays Bill, the dignified and cultured bloodsucker whose entrance causes quite a splash in the mud puddle of Bon Temps. One unfortunate ripple is a series of murders committed on women who have been known to associate themselves with vampires. The main suspect turns out to be Sookie's clueless man-slut of a brother Jason whose problems only start there.

The vampires portrayed in True Blood are designed to be set apart from any other representation as their fangs protract like a rattlesnake's and as they move faster than the human eye can see, we are treated to some pretty lacking sfx. And in a reality where these creatures exist it's fun to think of what else may be possible but sometimes the fantasy element is pushed a little too far. The somewhat stereotypical characters are generally fun to watch and likable if you exclude Sookie's abrasive best friend Tara and her overly dramatic and unpleasant drunk of a mother.

Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) has created a distinctive series full of potential and while season 1 may not live up to it all the time, it is still a formidable first stab at the vampire genre.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu Ray box sets including episodes 1-12

3 vampire chunks in Sookie's cleavage out of 5

Monday, October 15, 2012

5ive Days to Midnight (2004)

Physicist and college tutor John T. Neumeyer (Timothy Hutton) finds a mysterious briefcase containing information that documents his death five days later, with some very convincing evidence to support the claim. The discovery starts him on a race against time to change the future and combat the consequences of fiddling with fate. Can he change it or is the physics of the future immutable?

It's an interesting premise for TV, with a decent production and some excellent casting. John's girlfriend Claudia (Kari Matchett), who reminded me of Laura Dern, adds further tension to an already strained situation. His young daughter Jesse (Gage Golightly) is equally well cast, she's believable and not at all irritating.

Structurally, it's split into five parts, one per day. The tension builds as it gets nearer the deadline, offering up a number of potential suspects that'll have the viewer guessing and second-guessing based on motives and beliefs. There are a few minor continuity errors but nothing to make you scream at the screen.

With all of the parts in the correct place it should've been a great series, but it had a problem, namely the finale. Some folks will find it exciting and accept the events as given, but a more discerning viewer might feel a little cheated and a little saddened that such a promising story was handled poorly at the end.

Five episodes approx 44 mins each (eps 1+2 are merged into one feature-length beginning). There's no logical reason why the word ‘5ive’ has a number in it.

3 friends with convenient jobs out of 5

Thursday, October 11, 2012

BOARDWALK EMPIRE - Season Two [2011]

"Don't think I can't play this game?"
"I don't think you even know the rules."

With Season One of Terrence Winter's Boardwalk Empire I felt it's biggest drawback was that it simply took no chances.  I can safely say Season Two did away with that from the very get go and risked everything almost instantly making it one of the most intoxicating series of 2011. 

It makes puts Season One in perspective as merely laying out the board and placing the pieces in their respective places, allowing Two to let the games begin with a barrage of bullets.  The canvas becomes larger and more complete as the vast variety of characters all begin to intricately interwine as well as spread out into new hostile territory.  With characters switching sides left, right and center, most series would be in danger of turning into a soap opera but Boardwalk does so with such class and craftiness it feels naturally authentic and respectable.
  
Season One already allowed Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Michael Pitt and Michaek Kenneth Williams to prove their heavy acting chops, now Jack Huston steps up to the plate as one of the most interesting characters in television since LOST’s Desmond Hume.  Huston's portrayal as disfigured ex-soldier turned assassin is tragic, frightening and so astonishingly well-woven it brings tears to my eyes in nearly every scene he's in.  As much as there is going on with the characters, the backdrop is just as interesting by touching on subjects as racism, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, sexism, bigotry and poverty. 

Season One required a lot of patience and concentration only to reward you with gold in the second season. 

I'll drink to that.

12 episodes. Roughly 50-60 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu Ray box sets. Also available from iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

4½ damned face-stealing mutts out of 5

RoboCop: Prime Directives (2001)

Prime Directives is a miniseries made up of four feature length TV movies: Dark Justice / Meltdown / Resurrection / Crash and Burn. It's important you watch them in that order because there's continuity. It takes place ten years after the original Paul Verhoven film, which is referenced briefly. Had they been allowed to use it more, I'm sure they would have.

Like the short lived TV Series (1995) it ignores the original film sequels, and goes even further by ignoring the TV Series as well. It's odd that it would do that, because it feels like a middle ground between the two. It's less violent than the original film but much more so than the kid-friendly series. I lost count of the number of dead cops that piled up in the streets.

OCP are returned to their selfish, profit driven ways. Robo's real name is still a guarded secret known only to a few privileged OCP members. It makes use of the same kind of satirical news bulletins to comment on the nature of propaganda and truth (real and invented) that add an extra layer of poignancy to the script.

Robo is valued for his contributions to crime prevention, but is slowly becoming outdated. Where that puts him emotionally is something that could have been developed further. That's the biggest flaw of the four films in a nutshell: they present a number of ideas but don't go deep enough with any of them.

The third film (Resurrection) is where things get more interesting. It's arguably not very 'Robocop', but maybe that's a good thing because trying to compete with Verhoven is folly. It's better to take existing standards and go some place new. If you've read and enjoyed any of the Robocop comic books then you'll maybe be more forgiving of the rather unrealistic turn of events.

Watch the end credits of the final film for some post-ending goodness.

4 episodes, approx 90 mins each.

3 estranged fathers out of 5

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Men Behaving Badly: Series 3 (1994)

The further misadventures of flatmates Gary (Martin Clunes) and Tony (Neil Morrissey), which is based on a Simon Nye novel of the same name.

It's business as usual for the guys that never grow up. Getting a channel change and a post-watershed slot meant the jokes could get cruder and consequently funnier. The writers are also getting better at what they do. In fact, everything begins to gel much more cohesively this time. The cast are clearly enjoying themselves more; you can see Caroline Quentin struggling not to burst into laughter more than once.

Topics covered in Series 3 include sexual-inferiority, insomnia, a relationship-saving holiday, and the dirtiest of words: Marriage. *shudder*

It's a British sitcom that hits and misses. When it hits, about 60% of the time, it's classic stuff.

6 episodes, approx 25 mins each.

3½ beers, Tupperware pouches and a face like an ass out of 5

Monday, October 8, 2012

BOTTOM - The Complete Series [1991-1995]


You get born, you keep your head down and then you die.
…if you’re lucky.”

After taking some time off from working together on 1986's Filthy, Rich & Catflap, actor/writers Adrian Edmonson & Rik Mayall team-up once again to create the classic 90's BBC alternative comedy series Bottom for 3 series of 6 episodes each.

Showcasing the same sort of creative enthusiasm as they did in The Young Ones, Mayall & Edmonson seem right at home with their special trademark violent slapstick and gross-out humour.  While The Young Ones dealt with political & social issues and Filthy, Rich & Catflap took jabs at fame and celebrities, Bottom is simply just 2 middle-aged Hammersmith losers trying to get by with no morals or sense of a sanitary lifestyle whatsoever.  It doesn't offer much to think about but belts out the funny like nobody's business.

With Mayall & Edmonson's usual director Ben Elton out of the picture, things seem a bit different this time around but all is not lost as he's been replaced by Red Dwarf’s Ed Bye and Fawlty Towers' Bob Spiers to tame the bug-eyed alt. comedians down to a little bit of sense.  The arrival of their old The Young Ones' co-star Christopher Ryan and Steve O'Donnell as two of their equally pathetic friends is always a welcome addition to the episode.   The first 2 series were mostly set in the front room of their building and the third series seemed to have a bit more of a budget and allowed them take the series to different settings without ever sacrificing the quality of the writing. 

It's not quite the anarchic comedy of The Young Ones, but it’s certainly better than Filthy, Rich & Catflip and has staying power that begs for more. 

18 episodes.  30 minutes each.  

Buyer’s Guide:
The complete series is widely available on DVD in complete series sets.

3½ Souped up trick ‘r treating cattle prods out of 5

Ghost Adventures: Season 4 (2012)

In season 4 Zak, Nick, and Aaron add another chapter to their paranormal investigating series Ghost Adventures. As you venture through you will encounter proverbial hotbeds of activity in death-ridden locations such as Gettysburg, the Sacramento Tunnels, a Salem witch house, and a return to Goldfield Hotel, the site of their most stunning piece of evidence. After watching a few episodes I noticed a change in tone compared with previous seasons, one almost of respect as their usual provocational methods had dissipated. Zak still heads fearless into each investigation but more with aims to communicate rather than intimidate any potential lost souls.

Spontaneity is key this season as different sites are acquired on the fly during preliminary analysis. In some cases the crew splits up to cover more ground as they did in the Stanley Hotel, filming three separate rooms simultaneously. Thankfully, less attention is spent fooling around as the team seems more determined. Creepy effects and 2nd unit footage have increased though this can become very distracting and certain reenactments are almost laughable. Zak adds to his mission of documenting the paranormal as he uncovers hidden truths on certain unsolved events such as at the Villisca Axe Murder House where a class A EVP sheds light on the case. The crew continually add local ghost hunters to their numbers during investigations and even have an EVP specialist analyze live data in order to be kept up to date on any phenomena.

And the list continues when it comes to the documentative and spiritually interactive equipment used, my personal favorite being the PX Device, which contains a 2,000 word database for disembodied entities to choose from. With 12 haunting episodes abundant with phantasmal footage and a more mature focus on documentation and less on pointless antics, the Ghost Adventures crew has proven it is the top showcase for evidence of the paranormal.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a 3 disc set containing 12 episodes

4 terrifying places Aaron doesn't want to be out of 5

Everybody Loves Raymond: Season 1 (1996)

Comedian Ray Romano heads this traditional sitcom about sportswriter Ray Barone and his colorful family life in Long Island, New York. The title is coined in the pilot by jealous brother Robert (fellow comedian Brad Garrett) from a place of envy and sarcasm. Ray's wife Debra (Patricia Heaton) is a fleshed-out representation of a genuine homemaker who must handle three young children and the daily intrusions of her in-laws who live right across the street. The source of most of the conflict and comedy generate from Ray's parents (the oil & water pairing of Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle) who infest every facet of their son's life.

Like most great comedy it comes from truth as the writers add a spin on their daily happenings. To date I have seen every episode of Everybody Loves Raymond and it is interesting to see the transformations from season one to nine. Romano, not an actor, struggles in certain dramatic situations but with the aid of a strong supporting cast and a role written as close to his real life as possible, he succeeds. Early on his profession is exploited too much with a collective who's-who of sports guest stars. As the series progresses it becomes obvious that home is where the laughs reside as they do in my favorite season 1 episode "The Game" when the family attempts a board game because the cable is out.

As creator Phil Rosenthal has commented, the writers take responsibility and portray a sitcom suitable for the family but this certainly does not add any water-downed stigma. Everybody Loves Raymond creates comedy from colorful family life and while the show would continue to grow greater, this is where the laughs started.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a 5 disc boxset containing episodes 1-22

3 chin touches out of 5

Friday, October 5, 2012

Millennium: Season One (2004)

Millennium is set in the late 1990s, in the years preceding the turn of the last millennium. Frank Black (played by Lance Henrikson, not the Pixies vocalist) is an ex-FBI agent trying to keep his family safe from the real horrors of the world. He may be officially retired but he's not out of commission. He's a member of the mysterious Millennium Group, a collective set up to aid police when the rising eschatology that Y2K heralded manifests in acts of seemingly arbitrary violence, planned ritualistic murder, sacrilegious torture, etc. Frank witnesses all the nasty things that we pretend don't exist.

He has a gift/curse that lets him experience traumatic visions, placing him in a killer's mind at the time of an attack. By working backwards, anticipating forwards, profiling and forensics, he's able to get a clearer picture of a criminal and their crime.

It's fair to say that the series went to some very dark places. It was grounded in reality but is ultimately a dichotomy in that while it strives for realism it asks us to accept that Frank has unexplained visions. If you're willing to accept that, there's much to enjoy in Season One.

Besides the occasional and incidental pairings with his wife, Catherine, and regular team mate, Peter Watts, the drama required Frank to be alone with his thoughts, as he was alone with his visions. Consequently, it lacked the buddy dynamic of series creator Chris Carter's other TV show at the time, The X-Files. But where X-Files used conspiracy and aliens to mask its occasional lack of a satisfying conclusion, Millennium had no such crutches, so when it fell flat it did so openly. Conversely, when it worked it was like a small screen version of David Fincher's Se7en (1995).

22 episodes, approx 44 minutes each.

3½ ouroboros' out of 5

Thursday, October 4, 2012

BREAKING BAD - Season 4 [2011]

"I am not in danger.
...I am the danger."

After the devastating, jaw-dropping finale of the the third season, Vince Gilligan's neo-noir/modern Western Breaking Bad had nowhere to go but down some immensely dark passages in it's fourth year. 

Like a twisted chess game, with lives at stake, the year starts off fairly slow, with the exception of the intense season premiere, enthrals in the middle and puts you at the edge of your seat with it's explosive finale.  Riddled with symbolism and a determination to drive forward, it's difficult not to be in awe of Gilligan and Co.'s attention to detail and character arcs.  The color schemes of both the costume and set designs are particularly impressive this year, as they compliment the beautifully, unique photography both dramatic and expositionary.  Dave Porter's ambient score broods and ticks like a time bomb waiting to go off with precision and dread, while the mostly Latino source songs slip into the setting with comfortable ease. 

Lastly, I know everybody says it but I can't say enough about Bryan Cranston's brilliantly intimidating performance.  Having never seen the show, my brother was comparing the DVD covers of Season One and Season Four and laughed “what happened to him?”  By the end of the fourth season, sweet old high school teacher, Walter White has finally become the monster he pretended to be in it's first year.

No more Mr. Nice Guy indeed. 

13 Episodes. 47 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu-Ray sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

4 ½ Walking Dead's out of 5

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Case Closed: Season 4 (2010)

Where there is crime there is Conan Edogawa, detective to confront it but as the tide rolls in on Case Closed season 4, it would be more befitting to state wherever Conan stands a murder isn't far off. As the series ventures past the 100th episode mark it's obvious the stories are running low on drama as there are more two-part episodes than ever this time around. And as lovable as the cast of characters are, some change to the line-up would be welcome. Kudo's rival-turned-confidant Harley makes a few appearances but is hardly a regular. The original language dialogue with subtitles still reigns over the dubbed. As I found in the mystery "Massacre Night" the writing for the English version struggles to make sense of certain Japanese-specific clues like kanji.

As in usual television fashion, there are 100th episode festivities which include a feature length story, superior animation and coloring, special guest appearances, and yet another tease as Rachel gets close to unveiling Conan's true identity. Unfortunately the feature is really just two investigations back-to-back and ends up being divided into the regular format, dissolving any sort of dramatic build-up. The special appearances include Rachel's mother and Jimmy's jetsetting parents who both figure in to the latter investigation. The show tries to add some much needed flavor once again with new opening title and closing credit sequences but what Case Closed really needs is a permanent change to the main mystery's structure. It needs to be shook up to create some waves or it will continue to grow tepid and unimaginative.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a 4 disc boxset containing episodes 80-105

2 Rachel is as clueless as Lois Lane out of 5

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

BOARDWALK EMPIRE - Season 1 [2010]

We all have to decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with.

The Sopranos veteran Terence Winter, enlists the aid of Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg to bring his fantastical vision of Boardwalk Empire to life.   Inspired by Atlantic City crime kingpin Enoch L. Johnson's reign in the 1920's during the Prohibition in New Jersey, the series takes pages right out of history and inserts a few of it's own for dramatic purposes.  The oddly charismatic Steve Buscemi takes the lead role as the corrupt and powerful treasurer, Nucky Thompson, who despite all the terrible things he does you can't help but cheer on.  Michael Pitt, Kelly MacDonald, Michael Shannon, Michael Kenneth Williams and Dabney Coleman round out the fantastic cast who all seem to disappear into their roles with graceful ease. 

Most folks seem quick to compare Boardwalk to The Sopranos, simply because it’s an HBO series about organized crime run by a former writer of the modern classic series.  In fact, unlike The Sopranos, Boardwalk almost immediately gives off the feeling of a much larger scope and aspiration to explode into something far more precisely executed.  Like Deadwood, it meshes fictional characters with the non-fictional which is quite interesting, however the potential of being a speedbump in the future.  Taking a page out of The Wire's writing style, Empire never stops or slows down to explain to the viewer who each character is, instead it assumes we're smart enough to keep up and allows it to unfold as the series dives deeper into the story. 

With some beautiful cinematography, wonderful music, mesmerizing actors and believable sets, Boardwalk Empire is instantly likeable.  With that said, I can't help but be disappointed the series never takes any real risks or chances, considering the subject matter and the fictional storytelling based in a real world.  A gangster HBO series created by a Sopranos writer produced by Scorsese and starring Buscemi has a lot to live up with those names alone and it nearly does.  I suspect this first season is just the beginning and it shows promise of becoming something I can't wait to see. 

12 episodes.  Roughly 50-60 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu Ray box sets. Also available from iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

3½ Alcohol Funerals out of 5

Monday, September 17, 2012

Breaking Bad Season 3 (2010)

 
I chose a half measure when I should have gone all the way... 
No more half measures.
Season 2 expanded the scope of the show and revealed that Walt's actions can have consequences that affect people other than himself. Season 3 sees him and Jesse dealing with the fallout. Jesse does so with rehab and Walt does less successfully by trying to reconnect with his now estranged family. Jesse learns to accept he is a bad guy while Walt chooses to end his criminal activity as it has cost him the reason he began in the first place, but both of those decisions may be premature. Meanwhile 2 Hispanic assassins cross the Mexican border in search of Walt and the stress and frustration of Hank's job begin to affect his mental health.

Like the above quote, the show isn't going by halves now. Everything has higher stakes. The transformation of the two main characters has begun in earnest now as they waffle between two extremes.  The excellent recurring characters have become regulars and there is more tension that is so palpable that it feels all the better when it is relieved in spectacular fashion. Slower burn leads to a more delicious steak. The subplots involving anyone other than the main players can still be irritating and feel like they are only there out of necessity (looking at you again, Skylar) and the black comedy moments have all but disappeared. Quite an enhanced season that felt the tiniest bit janky at some points.

Episodes to See:
One Minute - One of those aforementioned tension relievers.
Half Measures - And another with some excellent performances all around including new regular Jonathan Banks.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu Ray box sets. Also available from iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Homemade flyswatters  out of 5

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Legend of Korra (2012)

With the Aang Gaang’s continuing adventures being told in various Dark Horse comics titles, The Legend of Korra jumps ahead by 75 years after the original Avatar:TheLast Airbender series. Korra, a bending prodigy and next incarnation of the Avatar must complete her training and bring order to a city plagued with ever growing corruption and social unrest.
Just like its predecessor, Korra’s voice acting is fantastic and many of the more known talent easily disappear into their rolls enough for you to not even notice them if you didn’t look up their IMDB. One was sort of jarring to hear talk though. Production wise the art design and animation are all sublime and never look rushed or short changed. While the music is an audible treat which sounds quite like Chinese Jazz from the roaring 20’s.
Unfortunately the series hits several large snags in the story and character department. Now the characters themselves are all lovable and cover a diverse range of backgrounds and archetypes.  And the story lines are a heck of a lot more complex than the standard fantasy road trip to save the world. But with so much content and only 12 episodes things get messy past the first few installments. Civil rights, terrorism, romance, friendship, spiritual empowerment, and moral ambiguity are all touched upon too briefly and then put to the side for next development. This leaves many of the cast not as fleshed out or likeable in the end as they were in the beginning. I also have to say that the fight scenes aren’t as good due to the way so many characters are taken down so quickly with just token resentence. 
With all its shortcomings I can still recommend Korra. However I can’t help but feel that I’d rather be watching the continuing adventures of Aang in its stead.

12 episodes. Approx 24 Mins each.

Episodes to See:
There’s only 12, just watch all of them.

Buyer’s Guide:
Not available on DVD or Bluray yet. But when it is I’d expect to pay between $30 and $50.  You can snag it on iTunes right now.

3 Sexy Older Ladies out of 5

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Planet of the Apes: TV Series (1974)

Spin-off TV series of the PotA movie series. The human population can talk, which makes sense for dramatic purposes. Before getting upset about such changes it's worth considering that the first Planet of the Apes film was set in the year 3978. The TV series is set sometime during or after the year 3085 (it's never specifically stated). That leaves a possible 893 years between series and film, which is ample time for mankind to forget how to speak for any number of reasons.

Alternatively, the series can be considered as a separate entity, as simply another telling of the original Pierre Boulle novel. That makes more sense to me because it avoids a number of other small inconsistencies with the films.

Enough jibber jabber. Is it any good? Yes, in a typical low budget 1970s kind of way. It starts out with an ongoing story arc clearly defined but drops it somewhere along the way. I'm guessing it would've resurfaced had the series been allowed to come to fruition. Unfortunately, it got cancelled after just fourteen episodes.

The wonderful Roddy McDowall returns to the franchise. He plays a different character than he did in the films but is again sympathetic to the humans. Being caught between two worlds and unwelcome in both means he receives most of our sympathies as viewers, despite being covered in fur.

The story requires that Roddy and the two human protagonists are forever moving from town to town. It gives the writers the opportunity to create their own sub-section within the ape world while still remaining a part of the larger premise.

There was to be three distinct zones: an ape city with human slaves; a rural zone where humans are allowed to farm provided they provide produce for the ape city; and a Forbidden Zone that's inhabited by rebellious humans. The last zone was held back and never got the chance to be explored.

Continuity is maintained through each individual episode by having the trio of escapees pursued by a butt-hurt gorilla, determined to see them shot for their "crimes" against the accepted doctrine.

Like the book and films it uses the format to comment on various social problems that are still relevant today. It mostly plays it safe but occasionally leaves you in no doubt as to what it's attempting to say. While it probably won't hold the attention of the average viewer weaned on modern TV, if you're an Apes fan and can appreciate 1970s productions then it's an entertaining journey for as far as it gets. The world is believable and the characters are developed enough that they grow to be more than just the aforementioned vehicles for social commentary.

14 episodes, approx. 47 minutes each.

3 bananas and brown eyes out of 5

Sunday, September 9, 2012

BREAKING BAD - Season Two [2009]

How can you suggest that we kill a man,
and you can't even open the gun?

After a bumpy, yet compelling, first season, X-files vet, Vince Gilligan’s darkly comical crime thriller Breaking Bad comes completely into it's own during it's sophomore year.  Season one laid out the basic outlandish premise of the series, while delicately setting it in a world all too real to allow the viewer to truly believe in it.  We greeted the characters into our lives and became familiar with the meshing of science and violence, while realizing the potential danger such a situation beholds.  It still had it's fair share of hits and misses and that's where in it's second year Gilligan and the gang iron out the creases and hit every note with skillfully balanced perfection.   This might be because they had the entire run of 13 episodes planned from beginning to end before they even started filming.  Something Gilligan has said paid off quite well but would never want to do again due to pressuring time restraints. 

Season two picks up directly where one left off and runs with it, without ever turning back while never fully breaking out into action pieces or melodrama which most television series revert to all too often.  Instead the tension of the series, is built around the luxury of being able to linger on long, drawn out scenes of seemingly nothing.  With a little thought, you'll figure out everything is done for a reason and no frame is ever wasted.

The second year delivers on the surprises and twists just enough to never become ridiculously unbelievable or expected.  To compliment Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul and Dean Norris’ flawless performances, there's a slew of noteworthy work from guest stars like Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito, Mark Margolis, Krysten Ritter, John De Lancie and Danny Trejo.

Like a Hitchcockian character driven Western/noir adapted for television by The Coen Brothers, Breaking Bad Season Two is the perfect chapter to really get the ball rolling into the nightmare that it's soon to become. 

13 Episodes.  47 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu-Ray sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

5 one-eyed burn victim teddy bears out of 5