Top 10 Best TV Shows on DVD August 2012
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The first murder happens barely five minutes into the episode that opens this fourth season of Breaking Bad. There will be many others. That’s no surprise; this show didn’t become one of the most highly acclaimed TV series of its time because of its light, frothy tone, and central character Walter White (multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston) won’t remind anyone of Grandpa Walton. Those who watched the first three seasons will be familiar with Walt’s story by now: a former chemistry teacher, he was diagnosed with cancer and turned to manufacturing 99% pure methamphetamine, ostensibly so his family could stay afloat after he died (the cancer is now in remission). Walt’s devolution into the hard-core criminal known as Heisenberg is pretty much complete by now, but the brilliance of this character is that he appears to be deeply conflicted. Is he the tough guy he acts to wife Skyler (Anna Gunn), bragging about his role in “a business big enough that it could be listed on the NASDAQ” and proclaiming, “I am not in danger–I amthe danger”? Or is he just a dude in way too deep who loves his family, and buys a gun he barely knows how to use, and whose actions have collateral consequences he never imagined? One thing is certain: Walt wants to stay alive, an increasingly dicey proposition given his relationship with his drug-lord boss, Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). It takes the entire season for that struggle to be resolved; by the end, we know a lot more about Walter, and very little of it is good.
There’s plenty else going on this season, of course. Walt is forever struggling with his partner, the wayward Jesse (Aaron Paul), especially once Gus tries to convince Jesse that he can cook the meth just as well without Walt. Skyler, who last season finally learned what her husband’s up to, convinces Walt that they should buy a carwash–mostly to launder money, not automobiles (Walt also goes along with her plan to pretend that he earned the money to buy the place by being a professional blackjack hustler). And his brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris), who was badly injured in season three, recovers enough to resume his investigation into the identity of the infamous Heisenberg. Whatever the storylines, Breaking Bad continues to feature superb acting by all, outstanding direction and production values, and a wonderful eye for detail (one example: when Walt takes over the carwash, he breaks open the frame containing the prior owner’s first dollar and uses it to buy a Coke). The typically generous assortment of bonus material includes audio commentary for all 13 episodes, eight featurettes, deleted scenes, and 21 Inside Breaking Bad mini-docs, in which cast and crew discuss various aspects of the show.
Season 2 of the EmmyÂ® Award-winning Downton Abbey returns as The Great War rages across Europe, and not even the serene Yorkshire countryside is free from its effects. The men and women of Downton are doing their part both on the front lines and the home front, but the intensity of war only serves to inflame the more familiar passions love, loss, blackmail, and betrayal.
…it remains a glorious, escapist entertainment which, as the fabric of society is torn asunder, the economy crashes around our ears and the autumnal rain lashes down, should at least keep us distracted until Christmas. –Andrew Pettie, The Telegraph
Sex, blackmail, girls in nice frocks and now a war. Downton Abbey just got even better. –Sam Wollaston, The Guardian
All seven seasons, 139 eppisodes.
Special features include MacGyver Movies of the Week: – Lost Treasure of Atlantis – Trail to Doomsday
Like James Bond–but without the high-tech gadgets–Angus MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) is one of those rare beings who can avert any crisis without mussing a hair. (The rest of us should be so lucky.) In the pilot alone, the secret agent dismantles a missile using a paper clip and fashions a rocket thruster out of a pistol. Is there anything MacGyver can’t do? As the first season of ABC’s long-running adventure series proves, the answer is a resounding no. MacGyver’s secret: the everyday items he “finds along the way,” like matches or gum wrappers, and the ingenuity to put them to a myriad of uses (a background in physics and chemistry doesn’t hurt). Unlike Alias‘ Sidney Bristow, he isn’t a multi-linguist, a martial artist, or a master of disguises. Wits are MacGyver’s weapon of choice.
Produced by Henry Winkler (Arrested Development), The Complete First Season includes all 22 episodes from 1985-1986 (alas, there are no extras). MacGyver is joined by Phoenix Foundation director of operations Pete Thornton (Dana Elcar), who is introduced in “Nightmares.” Also, his grandfather, Harry Jackson (John Anderson), makes his first appearance in “Target MacGyver,” while friend Penny Parker (Teri Hatcher of Desperate Housewives) makes hers in “Every Time She Smiles” (they will appear more frequently in future seasons). Other notable guest stars include Joan Chen (The Last Emperor) in “The Golden Triangle,” Nana Visitor (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) in “Hellfire,” and John De Lancie (Star Trek: The Next Generation) in “The Escape.”
MacGyver ran for seven seasons and was followed by two made-for-TV movies in 1994, Lost Treasure of Atlantis and Trail to Doomsday. In 1997, after a short-lived series for UPN (1995’s Legend), Anderson landed the lead in an even longer-running series, Stargate SG-1, based on the sci-fi extravaganza with Kurt Russell.
There is nothing elementary (a Holmesian cliché that this exceedingly smart and savvy series wisely shuns) about Sherlock. This sophomore season exceeds the pleasures and promise of the Emmy-nominated first season with three feature-length mysteries that fully test Holmes’s mettle and cunning, and shake his very high self-regard. The first and third episodes do full justice to two figures who loom large in the Holmes canon. The first is Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), a.k.a. “the Woman,” in “A Scandal in Belgravia,” a ripping and naughty yarn involving a high-class dominatrix and some scandalous royal photos. The second, of course, is Moriarty (an Emmy-worthy Andrew Scott) in “The Reichenbach Fall,” who hatches a mad scheme to bring about Holmes’s ruination. The middle mystery is perhaps Holmes’s best-known, “The Hounds of Baskerville,” a psychological thriller that lacks the other two’s worthy central adversaries, although Holmes’s rare moment of bafflement sets the stage for the seemingly game-changing finale that has Dark Knight echoes. Sherlock‘s high concept–transplanting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master consulting detective to 21st-century London–is brilliantly realized, but at the heart of this series’ success is the casting and chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson, who chronicles their adventures in–what else–a blog. While some may make innuendo about the nature of their relationship, it is their friendship that unfolds by degrees that holds the most fascination. “I don’t have friends,” Holmes confesses to Watson in one of his rare quiet and less prickly moments. “I have one.” Sherlock benefits from repeat viewings, not so much to decipher clues, but to savor the brilliant wordplay. Series three cannot arrive fast enough.
Game of Thrones, the first book in author George R.R. Martin’s sprawling fantasy saga A Song of Fire and Ice, serves as the basis for this brawny, lusty series about courtly intrigue and civil war in a sprawling fantasy kingdom. TV and fantasy veteran Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings, Sharpe’s Rifles) leads the massive cast as the warrior-noble Eddard Stark, who reluctantly assumes the role as the Hand of the King after the mysterious death of his predecessor. The King, Robert Baratheon, has leadership of the lands of Westeros, a mythical country plagued by severe, decade-long shifts in weather. His rule is challenged by the exiled Prince Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd), who trades his own sister (Emilia Clarke) for the allegiance of the Dothraki, a savage nomadic tribe led by Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa of the 2011 Conan the Barbarian). A shocking secret kept hidden by Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey, 300) leads to an upset in the balance of power and, ultimately, a challenge to the House of Stark to bring control to the bloodshed that threatens to overtake Westeros.
Fantasy has been a tricky genre for television–the scope required to bring the sweep and imagination to life is usually better suited for the big screen. But Game of Thrones neatly sidesteps the issue by virtue of the quality of the production at every level. Though the series is steeped in fantastic elements, from direwolves to dragons, series creators David Benioff (who wrote Troy and The Kite Runner, among others) and author D.B. Weiss (Lucky Wander Boy) have rooted the drama in the emotional landscape of its characters, which brings the end result closer to Benioff’s humorous description of the show as “The Sopranos in Middle-Earth.” Intricate plotting and direction with an eye for realism by a host of HBO veterans, including Tim Van Patten, Alan Taylor, and Daniel Minahan, underscores that notion, as does its stellar cast, which includes Mark Addy as Headey’s husband, King Robert, Iain Glen as the faithful knight Ser Jorah Mormont, and Aiden Gillen (The Wire) as Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. However, the proceedings are handily won by Peter Dinklage’s Emmy-nominated turn as the cunning Tyrion, whose intellect is constantly disregarded due to his size. Of course, viewers can also tune in to simply enjoy the more visceral elements of Game of Thrones, which features quite a bit of medieval-style carnage, as well as an at-times unnecessary level of nudity, which feels like a network decision based on the amount of flesh on display in their other successful shows. Regardless, Game of Thrones is an entirely addictive experience for both fantasy and drama fans alike throughout its debut 10 episodes, all of which are featured on this multi-disc set.
Alan Ball’s pop supernatural series True Blood expands its scope to an epic scale with its fourth season, which spreads its vast network of characters, human and otherwise, across the map while bringing aboard a host of new personalities, including a magic store owner-cum-white witch (Fiona Shaw) with a dangerous secret. Shaw’s transformation from a mousy magic practitioner to vessel for the soul of a long-dead Spanish sorceress is the most intriguing storyline in the fourth season, which also concerns the return of Sookie (Anna Paquin) from the Faerie Kingdom and her subsequent romantic yearnings for Eric (Alexander Skarsgård), which naturally upset her beau and newly minted vampire king of Louisiana, Bill (Stephen Moyer). Though these two arcs alone would be sufficient for most series, season four also manages to fit in a fairly ridiculous bit of business involving Sookie’s brother, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), who becomes a sort of stud for a commune of were-panther women seeking offspring, as well as the fate of Arlene’s (Carrie Preston) baby, which begins to share some personality traits with its father, deceased serial killer Rene. It’s a lot to pack into just 12 episodes, and as a result, some storylines that deserve to be fleshed out, like the relationship between fledgling vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and human Hoyt (Jim Parrack), are left on the back burner while less effective but flashier ones, like Jason’s bout with the were-panthers, are granted a larger spotlight. The result is an uneven season in comparison to its predecessors, but that shouldn’t bother die-hard True Bloodfans, as the show’s steady diet of sex, death, and morbid humor is still operating on full blast.
The five-disc Blu-ray edition of True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season is fleshed out by a wealth of informative and entertainment extras that provide a detailed look at the series’ execution from the perspective of creator-executive producer Alan Ball, as well as key members of the cast and crew. Ball is front and center on the majority of the supplemental features, from commentary with Anna Paquin on “If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin’?” to the 28-minute Final Touches, a postproduction documentary roundtable that explores the central themes and creative requirements of the season. Moyer, Skarsgård, Woll, Shaw, and Sam Trammell, who plays shapeshifter Sam, also contribute to five additional commentary tracks, and a vast number of the show’s supporting cast reprise their characters in the Enhanced Viewing mode, which offers both video and text commentary on individual episodes. Much of this is quite amusing and well crafted, though they can only be accessed through the Enhanced Viewing option and not separate from their respective episodes. The little details are also key to the True Blood Lines, a thumbnail encyclopedia of the show’s immense cast of characters, organized by their particular species (human, vampire, etc.), that traces how each are connected to the rest of the Bon Temps population. Each episode also gets a brief summation from the show’s writers and producers in the Inside the Episode featurettes. A pair of double-sided DVD copies and digital copies rounds out this impressive set.
The stakes have never been higher in this all-new season of Leverage, the thrilling crime drama that puts you at the heart of the action.
Timothy Hutton returns as Nate Ford, now more determined than ever to fight injustice with the help of his elite team of crack con artists.
They can bend the laws of nature. They can push science to the absolute limit. But there’s one force they can’t change: their destiny. Return to the small town with big secrets as the geniuses of Eureka venture beyond everything they’ve ever known in the fifth and final season of one of TV’s most beloved shows. From searching for the lost Astraeus crew to experiencing a disaster drill that proves all too real, it’s anything but life as usual in the seemingly idyllic town. And as the final moments tick by, one question looms large for everyone: will Eureka be shut down for good? Guest starring sci-fi fan favorites Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, this three-disc set is a fitting, mind-boggling send-off for the community that never “officially” existed.
Matt Bomer is back for another thrilling season of high-class capers and criminal intrigue on TV’s slickest, sexiest show, White Collar! Bomer returns as suave con man turned FBI consultant Neal Caffrey, racing to stay one step ahead of the feds even as he helps his partner, Agent Peter Burke, bring down some of the world’s most clever criminals. The stakes are at an all-time high as Neal struggles to come to terms with his own checkered past, but will his greatest con cost him everything? Featuring DVD-exclusive extras, the white hot Season Three of White Collar is a whole new bag of tricks!
The change of network for the legal thriller Damagesdoesn’t appear to have hurt its core appeal–the fireworks ignited by Glenn Close’s dogged, morally ambiguous attorney Patty Hewes–in the series’ fourth season, which aired on DirecTV after three years on FX. Malfeasance on the part of a private security firm working with the US military in Afghanistan is the central case in season four, with Hewes and Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) once again in uneasy cahoots to bring down the company’s bullish man in charge (John Goodman). In doing so, they attract the attention of an icy mercenary (Dylan Baker, fascinatingly malevolent) determined to keep them off the blood trail that links Parsons’s friend (Chris Messina), a former soldier-for-hire in the grip of posttraumatic stress after his experiences with the firm, to Goodman. As in previous seasons, the main case is the nucleus for several orbiting side plots, including Patty’s struggle with her son (Zachary Booth) over custody of her grandchild, as well as Baker’s personal connection to the case, all of which underscore the series’ recurring theme: everyone has a secret, and most likely, it will be their undoing.
As with previous seasons of Damages, the fourth season benefits greatly from its mix of regular players and guest actors, which include Judd Hirsch as a dipsomaniacal PI, Tom Noonan as a deceptively charming ex-cop, and Fisher Stevens as Patty’s court-appointed therapist, and the show’s trademark shifting timelines still create considerable tension as they inexorably snake together at the season’s end. If there’s any complaint to be had, it may be that the network shift seems to have reduced some of the show’s production value: the direction occasionally feels static, while sets and locations have a stage-bound feel that undercuts the show’s sense of realism. That may have little impact on die-hard fans, who come to Damages to watch Close’s finely tuned blend of legal demolition derby and predatory backroom maneuvers. Extras are limited to a pair of brief featurettes, one on the making of the new seasons, the other focusing on Close as she discusses Patty’s path to season four. Deleted scenes and an outtake reel round out the three-disc set.
Copyright David Masters