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

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