Top 10 Best TV Shows on DVD July 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
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.
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.
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.
A new day breaks for Michael Westen when he’s reinstated by the CIA, but his good fortune is impossibly short-lived. Framed for murder and blackmailed by a diabolical foe, Michael and his team must do whatever it takes to clear his name and catch a killer. As the danger builds, Michael finally comes face-to-face with the man who burned him, leading to an explosive finale, after which nothing will ever be the same. Featuring an exclusive extended episode, deleted scenes, and so much more, Burn Notice Season Five will reveal more shocking secrets than ever before!
The superb sitcom The Big Bang Theory launches into its fourth season with an expanded cast and a whole new set of social dynamics to go with it. It’s a little unsteady at first: Sheldon (the ever-inspired Jim Parsons) denies having a girlfriend in the similarly intellectual Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik, a long way away from Blossom), which leads to several Sheldon-dominated episodes–and as marvelous a character as Sheldon is, he can be too much of a good thing. Fortunately, things soon take a clever turn: Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Howard’s girlfriend Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), and Amy become, ever so awkwardly, friends, providing an ingenious counterpoint to the socially hapless quartet of Sheldon, Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Howard (Simon Helberg), and Raj (Kunal Nayyar). Amy’s emotional disconnection but fervent curiosity provides a delicious variation on Sheldon (without in any way replacing him) that gooses the show up to a new level. But episodes without her are still enjoyable–this is one of the best-written and -acted comedies on television. Though there is an odd increase in bodily function humor (perhaps the writers are trying to counter the jokes about comic books and theoretical physics), inventive stories abound: Sheldon becoming obsessed with cats; Amy’s complete bafflement at becoming aroused by one of Penny’s ex-boyfriends; grappling with Wil Wheaton over 21 extra seconds of Raiders of the Lost Ark; the plundering of Sheldon’s World of Warcraft account; Leonard getting involved with Raj’s sister Priya (Aarti Mann), much to Raj’s discomfort; and much, much more. The balance of the ensemble grows increasingly skillful over the episode, giving everyone a chance to shine.
The explosively popular Dexter is back with a vengeance for a sixth season of startling suspense and unexpected twists. It’s been a year since last season’s shocking and heartbreaking conclusion, and mild mannered criminologist-cum-grisly serial killer Dexter Morgan has come to terms with who he is. But his existence is shattered when he crosses paths with an enemy unlike any he’s faced before. A delusional religious zealot with unflinching convictions, this new adversary soon draws Dexter into a dangerous game that could well end in disaster.
A likeable Miami police forensics expert moonlights as a serial killer of criminals who he believes have escaped justice.
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!
High school is a turbulent time for any teenager, but factor in the murder of a good friend and constant stalking by a relentless blackmailer, and four Rosewood teens are living unbelievably stressful, dangerous lives. In the second season of Pretty Little Liars, Emily, Hanna, Spencer, and Aria are crumbling under the constant pressure of A’s relentless texts and the knowledge that A inexplicably knows every little detail of their lives, including their thoughts, and is watching and anticipating the girls’ every move. The season opens with Ian, the girls’ prime suspect for murdering Alison, falling from the bell tower, but the girls’ relief is short-lived as Ian’s body disappears and the police refuse to believe their account of what happened. Eventually the mystery around Ian clears up, but just when it looks like Alison’s murder has finally been solved, the girls discover that things are once again not what they seem. Meanwhile, Spencer’s family is falling apart, with Melissa now pregnant and husbandless and Alison’s brother Jason stirring things up by moving back in next door. Aria and Ezra’s relationship gets even more complicated, and Aria’s brother Mike finds himself in trouble with the law, while their parents find themselves tested like never before. Emily’s shot at a swimming scholarship get derailed, and she ends up moving in with Hanna and her mom, who have their own problems, thanks to Hanna’s dad’s impending remarriage and move. Add in a therapist, assorted boyfriends and girlfriends who get pulled into the mess to varying degrees, Jenna’s chance to regain her sight, Hanna’s new stepsister, increasing parental suspicion, and the never-ending interest of the local police, and there’s plenty of drama, and trauma, for these Rosewood teens, who’ve never felt more alone. The last few episodes of the season culminate in the discovery of A’s identity, and it looks like A’s reign of terror over the four girls will finally end–unless.…
What makes this series based on the books by Sara Shepard so addictive is the constant intensity of suspense and mystery, and the realization that these girls are basically not that different from the average teenager struggling to discover their own identity and sense of self-worth. The fact that these teens have been pushed to such extremes by desperate circumstances leaves viewers contemplating the frightening thought of just how they might react in a similar situation. (Ages 13 and older)
Copyright David Masters