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Thursday, January 30, 2014

'Maverick' S4 DVD: Roger Moore as Maverick Beau Maverick

Maverick: The Complete Fourth Season
The 32-episode fourth (and penultimate) 1960 - 1961 season of the classic TV Western "Maverick," which the equally classic Warner Archive recently released on DVD, is notable for cast changes. The release is also memorable for coming close on the heels of the release of the previously reviewed third season of this series.

The especially good fourth-season premiere episode introduces a pre-Bond Roger Moore as Maverick cousin Beau Maverick, who is named for the oft-quoted Pappy of brothers Bret and Bart Maverick. The origin story of Beau is that he grew up with his cousins but is returning from living in England for five years to engage in the family vocation of being a traveling professional gambler.

Said aptly titled premiere "The Bundle from Britain" is easily the most fun one of the season; it is a variation of the Mark Twain story "The Prince and the Pauper" in that it has Beau accepting a job posing as a visiting British aristocrat who would rather continue his own Old West gambling career than obey the directive of his father that he become a man by spending time at a ranch.

The ensuing hilarity is notched up when Bart gets involved in the fun; suffice it to say, the numerous scoundrels who scheme in this one do not require any schooling in their art.

The following "must-see" clip, courtesy of YouTube, from "Bundle" expertly demonstrates both that Moore brings the same charm to the role of Beau as he displays as Bond and that the chemistry between him and Jack Kelly as Bart is as good as the match between Kelly and Bret portrayor James Garner.

The other big casting change is that the uber-awesome Garner makes his final appearance as Bret roughly one-third of the way into the fourth season in an episode that is aptly titled "The Maverick Line."

The "Line" episode is one of the always awesome joint Bret/Bart episodes. This outing has the les fils Maverick scrambling to accept lucrative offers regarding a recently inherited stagecoach line. The obstacles include an unscrupulous attorney and an equally untrustworthy ranch owner.

Much of the humor from Buddy Ebsen of "The Beverly Hillbillies" and "Barnaby Jones" playing very laid-back stagecoach robber Rumsey Plumb. Nonchalance regarding Acme-style threats against the lives of the Mavericks also generates laughs.

This departure of Garner prompts a "Cousin Oliver" casting change in the form of having Robert Colbert of the uber-awesome Irwin Allen sci-fi series "The Time Tunnel" appear as younger brother Brent Maverick in fourth-season episodes titled "The Forbidden City" and "Benefit of the Doubt."

"Doubt" is a more typical Western than "Bundle" and a handful of other fourth-season episodes. This one, which involves a Maverick being in the wrong place at the wrong time, gets Brent wrapped up in nefarious doings related to the princely sum of $7,000 that goes missing in the immediate aftermath of a robbery.

The seemingly shifting alliances and spirited interaction between a dance-hall performer and her more tomboyish sister add to the fun of this enjoyable caper.

In addition to Ebsen, Bart gets to rub shoulders with another '60s sitcom legend in the very amusing "Hadley's Hunters." This one guest-stars Edgar Buchanan as Sheriff Hadley who takes a Charles Foster Kane approach to establishing his reputation as a legendary lawman; he simply creates a criminal if none exists.

An unfortunate confrontation at a saloon places Bart on Hadley's enemy list, and the efforts of Mr. Maverick to clear his name in the face of a formidable opposing force provides for an especially entertaining hour of television.

Bart is also featured in the truly compelling two-part season finale titled "The Devil's Necklace" that is worthy of release as a theatrical film. The '60s sitcom star in this one is John Dehner of "The Doris Day Show" as the thoroughly unscrupulous Luther Cannonbaugh.

The massive literal and figurative death toll from Cannonbaugh's misdeeds, which include actively inciting Indian violence and kidnapping an Indian girl to sell her into slavery, include an entire fort full of soldiers, the sweet and loyal wife of a cavalry officer, and the career of the commander of the fort.

An additional '60s sitcom element of this episode is that the set that is used for the fort is almost certainly the same set that was used for Fort Courage in the classic "F Troop" series.

These episodes and the 20-something other ones in the fourth season demonstrate both that the series seems to include an increasingly large percentage of light-hearted episodes as it approaches the end of its run and that the appeal of the series extends well beyond fans of westerns. The same can be said of future "The Rockford Files" star Garner's follow-up western-comedy series, which is the previously reviewed "Nichols."

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Maverick" or "Nichols" is encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

'Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2' BD: Awesome Family Film and Description of State of the Union

Product Details
Today's Blu-ray and DVD release of the very clever 2013 animated film "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" coinciding with President Obama's State of the Union speech is too amusing to ignore. This title is a very apt description of our national woes and of the "meatballs" on both sides of the aisle charged with resolving those challenges. 

Fortunately, silly escapist fun like "Cloudy 2" provides a much-needed break from thinking of things such as the 62.5-percent employment participation rate and a royally botched Obamacare system. Watching the shenanigans in Blu-ray, which comes with a DVD format disc as well, is particularly awesome and well worth spending a couple of extra dollars to do so.

For those unfamiliar with the exceptional "Cloudy" franchise, which is based on a classic children's books by Judi and Ron Barrett, it revolves around the adventures of well-meaning but flawed inventor Flint Lockwood. His first film and book adventure has him trying to save the day after his invention that is designed to convert water into food in a controlled manner creates mayhem that Flint and his fellow Swallow Falls residents must resolve.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Cloudy 2's" trailer provides a great sense of the plot and the related infectious fun.

"Cloudy 2" begins in the aftermath of the disaster around which the first film centers. A group from Live Corp. swoops in FEMA style for the stated purpose of evacuating the folks of Swallow Falls to facilitate a clean-up of the havoc-creating food.

The evacuation leads to Flint working for Live Corp. with the hope of joining the team that directly reports to company head Chester V., who is an innovative genius and Flint's hero.

A "Jurassic Park II" style twist that has Flint's machine that causes the problem in "Cloudy 1" transforming the created food into food-animal hybrids known as foodimals has Flint and his friends returning to Swallow Falls to once again save the day.

The new creatures include the incredibly cute sentient and highly mobile strawberry Barry, who has his own equally cute plush toy. Chimpanzee-shrimp hybrids known as shrimpanzees and very pretty flamangoes are almost as cute as Barry and are just as harmless.

The more seemingly fierce creatures are tacodiles and the heavily featured cheespiders.

These imaginative creatures and the greatly transformed Swallow Falls, which now has a gooey maple syrup swamp, make for a fun movie. Examples of the wonderfully juvenile humor that appeals to the eight-year-old in all of us include the entrance to Flint's abandoned lab being through a port-a-potty and a separate scene that includes a joke about cutting the cheese.

The tone of the film is nice and free of the heavy-handed messages that can infect such fare. The lessons this time include knowing whom to trust and learning to not take everything at face value.

Bill Hader, who did spectacularly as Stefon on "SNL," does a terrific job providing the voice of Flint. He conveys that character's shifting moods and overall geekiness exceptionally well.

Having Kristen Schaal, whose work on "Bob's Burgers" and "Gravity Falls" shows her talent for playing wonderfully quirky young girls, as Chester's highly sentient ape/right hand ape Barb is just as delightful.

Neil Patrick Harris also adds to the fun in his role as the voice of Flint's monkey/pal Steve; as is the case in the first film, Harris' vocalizations are among the best aspects of the film. Arguments with a shrimpanzee and with Barb are hilarious, and merely thinking about either film gets the cry of "Steve!" stuck in your head for days.

In addition to the afore-mentioned scratch-and-sniff cover, the DVD and Blu-ray versions offer a plethora of "making of " special features that include a look at creating the foodimals.

The features that are exclusive to the Blu-ray/DVD combo set are deleted scenes and four roughly eight-minutes shorts starring members of the "Cloudy" gang. The quasi-self-explanatory "Steve's First Bath" is the best of a great batch.

The final results of this experiment in "weird science" is that it shows the awesomeness that the right mixture of writers, animators, and voice actors can produce.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Cloudy 2" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, January 27, 2014

'First World War Centenary Collection: The Somme' DVD: A Battle that Will Live in Infamy

First World War Centenary Collection - The Somme DVD
BFS Entertainment's recent DVD release of  "First World War Centenary Collection: The Somme" is a nice follow-up to the BFS DVD release of the Daniel Craig WWI, a.k.a. "The Great War," drama "The Trench" that Unreal TV reviewed in November 2013.

"The Trench" portrays the numerous hardships and anxiety that a group of British soldiers endured in said deep ditch in the months leading up to said Battle of the Somme, which occurred on the WWI Western Front beginning on July 1, 1916. This bloodbath was predicted to last one day but went on for five months.

The much more difficult than expected task regarding driving German forces back in the battle has prompted calling the first day of that campaign the worst day in British military history. Both the number of killed or wounded soldiers and the percentage of the total force that those statistics represented were painfully astronomical.

"The Somme" from 2005 is the first of the three documentaries in the "Centenary Collection." British actress Tilda Swinton of the recent big-budget "Narnia" films, "We Need to Talk About Kevin," and numerous other classics narrates.

This film evokes memories of a series of documentaries on the Great War's sequel WWII that ran on basic cable several years go. That series interspersed actors reading excerpts from the diaries and letters of soldiers with animated maps and archival still photos and film footage.

Similar to "Trench," we meet the featured soldiers in "Somme" in the period leading up to that battle. Although most of the focus is on the British troops, the scope extends to a German soldier and a French nurse.

The most memorable of this group is a sincere 16 year-old British soldier whose letters home include an account of revealing his true age, which was too young to allow him to officially serve in the military, to a surprisingly supportive Army chaplain. Another letter from this lad, who is literally in the trenches, makes an uber-sweet request for his Bible and his football (my people call it soccer) boots if his mother can afford the postage required to send those items.

A more poignant aspect of the story of this soldier is how his service changes him. It is highly unlikely that he places any value on either a Bible or football boots in the post-war period.

The second documentary "Battle of the Somme: The True Story" is a perfect follow-up to "Somme." British actor Julian Richings, who is perhaps best known to American audiences as "Death" on "Supernatural," narrates this one.

"Battle" is an awesome variation of the equally awesome American debunking series "Mythbusters" in that it uses entertaining experts to determine the extent to which the propaganda film "The Battle of the Somme," which successfully rallied British support for WWI at the time, was staged. This effort also involves using forensics techniques and good old-fashioned research to identify some soldiers in the earlier film.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of the original "Battle" film. It provides a wonderful sense of both that film and its subject.

The techniques of the modern team included comparing the depicted terrain with that of the battlefield and using basic common sense regarding the credibility of some segments. Two brothers who had relatives who fought in The Somme assisted with this project.

The researcher also consulted with an facial-comparison expert regarding whether a widely publicized identification of a heroic soldier in the 1916 film is accurate. This expert additionally tackled the task of putting a name to the face of an unidentified officer in another segment.

Another memorable moment centers around an expert lip reader determining what the soldiers are saying in this silent film. The results are not surprising and validate that life in the trenches is not exactly as portrayed.

Seeing more footage from the battle helps bring it home that much more, and discovering that not all of it is accurate is a good reminder that even material that your side produces may be propaganda.

The third film in this trilogy is "Instruments of Death: The Great War - The Somme 1916."  This documentary focuses on the hardships related to living in the trenches, military strategies of the era, and the weapons of mass and individual destruction from that battle. There is every reason to believe that this one is as good as the other two, but it is the one from this group that is being saved to watch in the not-too-distant future.

The final debriefing regarding this trio of documentaries is that they do an exceptional job bringing a devastating battle to life. They make most of us aware of both how little most of us know about the Western Front and the value of learning more about what easily makes the list of one of the most momentous events of the 20th (or any) century.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Somme" is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Correction to 'Life's an Itch' Review

Product Details
A nice email from Kevin Kent during the weekend points out an error in last week's review of the film "Life's An Itch." It is unfortunate when these (thankfully very rare) errors occur.

This error relates to mistakenly attributing a supporting role to '90s sitcom "Dave's World" and long-running daytime sudser "General Hospital" DeLane Matthews to a similarly named role played by the arguably similarly looking actor Lin Shaye. Shaye's role of the wacky neighbor being one that is well suited for Matthews and not having seen Matthews in a role since the days of "Dave" are factors.

An interesting "cosmic" aside related to this goof is that the email exchange with Kent included mentioning that the seemingly discontinued DVD sets of "Dave's" are priced a little high; an apology for the error and a promise to run this correction today seemingly triggered grabbing the last copy of the first season of "Dave's" for $9.96 before it soon rose back above. It is nice when Karma is not a bitch.

Returning to the topic at hand, the email that Kent wrote states the nature of the goof very well and provides the bonus of interesting insight into the film. Consequently, your embarrassed reviewer is now turning the wheel over to him.

It was Lin Shaye (From "There's something about Mary")  that plays "Gloria" the nutty and unflappable neighbor. Lin is an incredible actor and came on the movie at the last second when Lupe Ontiveros first became ill, (Lupe passed away later that year)   So the stellar part was Lin agreed to come on at the last second, then I had to write  all new dialog for her, because she would not walk a little white dog. (My "Zoe" the little Shitpoo)  Lin said she was already famous for walking a little dog in "There's Something About Mary", it was Lin's suggestion that she walk a "fish"  I ran with it and started writing at about 10PM for the 7AM Call time. Lin Shaye was amazing on set, an American treasure and a joy to work with.

DeLane Matthews, who played the pot eating, crazy yoga aunt of real yogini "Marilyn" played by fantastic real life yogi and model, Jesse Golden.  DeLane is one of the actors that I really didn't put in as many oddball circumstances like I should of. There were some improvised dialogs of DeLane and Lin vamping at the bar that unfortunately didn't make it in the final cut for time reasons.  But both women are gems, American treasures.

This correction will end on this awesome note.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

'Bonnie and Clyde' BD: Miss Parker's Vicious Circle

Product Details
The two-part A&E (and History Channel and Lifetime) mini-series "Bonnie and Clyde," which is being released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 28, 2014, is a nice reminder of the potential that A&E possesses. This three-hour docudrama of the lives of two of the depression-era's most famous criminals teaches the audience everything that he or she wanted to know about this dynamic duo but did not know enough to ask.

The passage of roughly 25 years (and 1,000s of films and television programs) since last seeing the uber-classic 1967 film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway prevents properly comparing this entertaining mini-series with that movie. However, a vague recollection is that the newer production is more comprehensive regarding the lives of Mr. Barrow and Miss Parker and devotes more screen-time to secondary players in their story.

This same fuzzy memory has images of Dunaway striking the same pose of holding a gun while lifting a shapely leg on the front bumper of a classic car as newer portrayor Holliday Grainger. The similarities end there in that Grainger, who provides a performance that is consistent with this type of production, does not do nearly as well as a clearly recalled job by Dunaway (who received an Oscar nomination for the role). Dunaway simply did much better conveying the era and Parker's toughness.

Further, Barrow portrayor Emile Hirsch does just as well as Grainger but lacks the intensity of Warren Beatty, who received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Barrow, in the role.

The following trailer, courtesy of YouTube, provides an excellent sense of these performances and the overall production.

This four-hour event opens with a graphic scene that few who have watched the 1967 film will ever forget; the story that conveys how Clyde got to that point begins soon after his birth and spends roughly 15 minutes on his childhood before rapidly speeding ahead to roughly his 18th year.

Scenes from Clyde's later-teens include his first seemingly pre-destined meeting with Bonnie; it was not murder but very well might have been.

The next portion of the first-half of "Bonnie" shows our leads largely conducting separate lives and ends with them fully beginning their crime spree. The next half depicts said spree, the resulting fame, and the efforts to bring them to justice.

One important player who receives moderate screen-time is Texas female reporter P.J. Lane; many of her scenes relate to convincing her chauvanist bosses that a woman can be just as tough and as interesting of a gangster as her male counterpart.

The audience also gets to observe much of the planning that legendary former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, played by William Hurt, devotes to his manhunt of Barrow and Parker. These scenes do a great job conveying both the frustration and stakes associated with that quest.

On a general level, the mini-series is very well produced. The terrific cinematography of the beautiful outdoor rural scenes that comprise most of this noir film looks uber-awesome in Blu-ray. Further, the series is exceptionally well-edited and flows perfectly as an uninterrupted three-hour presentation that can feel a little like a marathon but never gets boring. Knowing how the story ends does not diminish seeing the events that lead to that point.

Additionally, the lurid scenes are a perfect match for the tone of the film and are never sensationalistic. The blood and gore galore are very apt and not overdone; the few sex scenes (including a brutal prison rape) are easily PG-13 and are just as apt as the ones in which blood freely flows.

The extras on both the DVD and Blu-ray releases include features on the real-life Bonnie and Clyde and the actors' preparations for their roles; "A Legendary Story" revisited is a Blu-ray exclusive.

The final sentence regarding "Bonnie" is that it shows that the TV mini-series is only comatose; hopes remain high that the positive response to this one and similar productions of the past few years will restore the genre to the strength that it enjoyed in the era of "The Thorn Birds" and "Rich Man, Poor Man."

Anyone with questions about "Bonnie" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, January 24, 2014

'Superman Classic Cartoons' DVD: Animated Man of Steel

Product Details
TGG Direct's recent DVD release of  the 17 Superman theatrical shorts that animation legend Max Fleisher created between 1941 and 1943 provides the dual treats of seeing the first series in which Superman appeared on film in any form and getting a look at classic animation.

The website reports that the pilot cartoon cost $50,000 and that each subsequent entry in the series cost $30,000.  This article also points out the detailed artwork that reflects the early '40s very well and the all around artistry, which includes awesome soundtracks, that explain those high budgets.

Based on eight of the seventeen cartoons in the set, it seems that the apparently nameless city editor is not Superman mainstay Perry White. Other probable lore omissions are the absence of kryptonite and super-villain Lex Luthor and other familiar foes. Further, the only sign of Jimmy Olsen is a seemingly unnamed late-teens creepy and gawky bucktoothed redhead.

Kryptonite first appearing in Superman lore in the late '40s explains its absence from the cartoons. However, the existence of the omitted characters predates the cartoons.

Said pilot start things off with an illustrated version of the "more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings" narrative that the Supermanhomepage article states that these cartoons introduced. The remaining 16 shorts open with either this introduction or a variation that compared the man of steel to a hurricane.

The next segment in the roughly seven-minute pilot provided a slight variation on what seems to be the standard origin story that has Ma and Pa Kent finding little Kel-El in a field. (This may have contributed to the myth that storks deliver babies to cabbage patches.)

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of this origin story. It also provides a limited sense of the awesome quality of the animation in these cartoons.

Superman's first adventure then establishes a pattern that holds true for most of the cartoons in this series. The last son of Krypton is in his guise of mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent when he and fellow journalist Lois Lane learn of an evil scheme that a mad scientist has hatched.

Lois recklessly rushes off into the clutches of said evildoer in the midst of his creating mayhem in Metropolis; meanwhile, Clark heroically declares "this looks like a job for Superman," surprisingly indiscretely dons his Superman duds in a stock room at the Daily Planet building, and flies into the midst of the action.

Superman next struggles a little bit to disable the death ray that is destroying his community and then swoops in to rescue Lois and the mad scientist from the latter's crumbling lair.

The next scene is of the headline of the story that Lois writes, followed by Lois needling Clark about his inferiority, and the fade-out is of Clark's knowing smile.

Standard variations of that story line are criminal gangs and a group of saboteurs who are led by a man with a passing resemblance to Adolph Hitler. This one ends with Superman flying the female intelligence agent, who is filling in for Lois as the damsel-in-distress of the week, to the U.S. Capitol and saluting the American flag as he goes up, up, and away into the sky to engage in his next fight for truth, justice, and the American way.

One further variation is a "King Kong" style story that also may have inspired "Jurassic Park III." This one has a wonderfully scary frozen dinosaur who is on display in Metropolis causing mayhem after thawing out. Of course, (presumably) he captures Lois in the process.

Just as is the case with 100s of other awesome series that closely follow a formula, the fun regarding these Superman cartoons is seeing both what variation is presented and wondering if the writers will vary from it.

Anyone with questions regarding these cartoons or any Superman lore is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

'Life's an Itch' DVD: GH Vets in Film in Which He Learns to Like the Sprite in Her

Product Details
Platcom (or platonic comedy) "Life's an Itch," which Monarch Home Entertainment released on January 21, 2014, is promoted as "Hollywood's first ever chick flick for guys." This tagline relates to the central figure in "Itch" being a happily married middle-aged guy whose week alone with a much-younger female yoga instructor prompts introspection.

The events that lead to this seven-day itch are that Roger Wright, a.k.a. "Mr. Right," stays home to work on his big break in the form of composing a score for movie while his wife Jen and his stereotypically disapproving mother-in-law take the couple's two young children to Hawaii.

This trip coincides with yoga instructor Gillian staying in the guest house of the Wrights' beautiful California home at the invitation of Jen.

The following clips, courtesy of YouTube, provides a good sense of the kinder and gentler nature of the humor in "Itch" compared to most contemporary comedies.

"General Hospital" veteran Andrea Bogart plays Jen; film and prime-time television drama veteran Kathleen Quinlan plays said mother-in-law, and Ali Corbin of "American Reunion" plays Gillian. In stereotypically chick flick fashion, the prospect of a new age oddball yoga instructor invading his home when he is under specific tremendous pressure to compose the music for the film and more general pressure to get his life in order does not please Roger. A potentially serious heart condition does not help matters.

"Itch" further follows the chick flick formula by having Roger thaw to Gillian hanging around. This includes her teaching him relaxation techniques and demonstrating that vegan food can be tasty.

Not much hilarity ensues, but there are amusing moments. One of the best scenes has Gillian innocently ridding Roger of most of his clothes and getting him in a mellow state until this effort to align his chakra gets a little too up close and personal for his comfort.

Other good humor is attributable to "General Hospital" and mid-90s sitcom "Dave's World" star DeLane Matthews as next-door neighbor Gladys, who has little in common with "Bewitched's" next-door neighbor Gladys Kravitz.

Glady's often-hilarious bits include carrying her (apparently well-hung) fish named Moby around and frequently trying to coerce Roger into coming over for cocktails. She additionally plays an role in one of the most important scenes in "Itch."

"Itch" defying expectations for the light-comedy genre to which it belongs sets it apart from similar indie fare of this nature. Every character varies enough from the stereotype associated with his or her personality type to be interesting, and the path of Rogian nicely strays from the chick flick formula.

The bonus consists of yoga instruction that includes scenes from the film. Watching just the first few minutes of this feature was relaxing.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Itch" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

'revenge' S2 DVD: Retribution is the new Kabbalah

Product Details
The 22 episodes in the DVD set of the 2012-2013 second season of the current ABC drama "revenge" demonstrate that seeking retribution is the new trend among most seasonal residents of the upscale Hamptons region of New York since main character Emily Thorne, nee Amanda Clarke, arrived there seeking payback plus interest.

The general nature of Thorne's vendetta relates to said "one-percenters" who make up the "Dave Clark[e] Five" and those in their inner circles playing a role in the unjustified downfall of her father roughly 20 years earlier. Considering the complexity of that lore, readers who are unfamiliar with the series are asked to please catch up via Unreal TV's review of  the DVD release of 'revenge' S1.

Like the recently reviewed DVD release of the second season of the ABC fantasy-based drama "Once Upon A Time," the look and plots of "revenge" take a darker tone in that series' sophomore series (which does not suffer from any hint of a slump.) Much of this relates to making Emily's classmate in revenge school Adian resurfacing in a very violent manner and becoming her literal (not always trustworthy) partner-in-crime.

As an aside, one of the many and truly special features in the second season DVD set provides an awesome inside look at l'ecole de vengeance. The blooper reel is just as terrific in that it shows the "revenge" stars stepping out of character in every sense of the word.

The consequences of the Emdian relationship include nudging Emily's other ally tech-wiz Nolan Ross a little closer to the edge of her personal inner circle. This coincides with youngish Mr. Ross, who looks and acts at least five years older than he did in the first season, engaging in his own series of revenge involving former and current love interests/executives at Ross' tech. firm.

The more dramatic manifestations of Ross losing much of his boyish charm include selling his fabulous home that is decorated in early Apple Store and trading his uber-preppy bright duds for darker options.

This season gets rolling with a flash-forward scene that is reminiscent of the first scene in the series' pilot in that both feature an apparently dead body. As is the case in the first season, many second-season developments show how this apparent tragedy comes to pass.

Emily's neighbors and the primary focus of her quest for vengeance the uber-wealthy Graysons jump on the revenge bandwagon by amping up their nefarious plots against each other. These include self-proclaimed boy wonder Daniel (rather than Dick) Grayson plotting to unseat his father Conrad from his place at the head of the family high-level investment firm, no longer presumed dead wife Victoria not taking her wedding day off to pursue her campaign against Conrad, and Conrad responding in kind to these (and many other) betrayals by his flesh-and-blood.

Conrad additionally transforms even more into his quasi real-life counterpart Mitt Romney during Conrad's campaign for governor of New York; fortunately, no golden retrievers were harmed during the making of these episodes.

Not to be left out, working class bar owner Jack Porter falls victim to a plot that relates to dealings between his father and that of the mid-level criminal who plots the downfall of the Porter family. Much of the drama regarding that relates to uncertainty as to whether Jack will sink or swim.

One of the other numerous quests for retribution involves a campaign against a foster mother who makes Joan Crawford seem like June Cleaver. This plot line  includes a scene that is perfect for a Hansel and Gretel story arc on "Once."

"revenge's" now-standard flashback episode is arguably the best of the second season. This one, which is chockful of revelations, is set during the 2006 Thanksgiving season. This turning back the clock allowing for a cameo by one the most likable first-season cast member, who suffers a sad death near the end of that season, is the nicest part of this offering.

The storyline from the flashback episode that is of greatest importance to 'revenge' lore can be thought of as "When Adian Met Emily." These segments provide a look at the early stages of Thorne's campaign and provide the background regarding Adian's own baggage. (This will be hilarious when you watch the episode.)

The similarly named Adrienne Barbeau of the '70s sitcom "Maude" literally plays a role in a more fun plot from "That 2006 Show." She portrays Victoria Grayson's mother Marion Harper in a story that demonstrates a couple of  well-accepted truths.

Marion's outlook on life and general behavior support the theory that looking at the mother provides an accurate image of the daughter in 20 years. Additionally, Marion learns in a scene that puts the confrontations between Krystle Carrington and Alexis Colby in the '80s prime time soap "Dynasty" to shame that payback truly is a bitch.

The final second-season episodes are explosive in many ways and set the scene for great drama in the current third-season episodes. This has at least one reviewer counting the days until the August 2014 DVD and Blu-ray release of that season.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "revenge" is welcome to email me and can be assured that your communication will not end up in the hands of your enemy. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, January 20, 2014

'The Portrait' DVD: The Gregory Pecks Do the Henry Fondas' 'On Golden Pond'

The Portrait
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1993 TNT original production "The Portrait" provides an additional chance to experience the wide variety of films from that era in that series of made-for-TV-movies. Past productions that Unreal TV has reviewed include "Young Catherine" about Russian ruler Catherine the Great and "Dinner at Eight," which is a remake of a classic '30s comedy.

The release of "Portrait" coincides with the release off the soon-to-be reviewed "Orpheus Descending," which can be considered Tennessee Williams' "Cougar Town."  Both films star British actress Vanessa Redgrave.

The numerous parallels between "Portrait" and the 1981 theatrical classic "On Golden Pond" start with "Portrait" star Gregory Peck co-starring with his real-life daughter Cecilia, who is not an agent of Satan, and "Pond" star Henry Fonda co-starring with his real-life daughter "Hanoi" Jane Fonda. Additionally Peck's Gardner Church is as much a WASPy retired college professor as Fonda's Norman Thayer.

The parallels continue with each man having devoted and loving wives. Lauren Bacall plays Gardener's former teaching assistant cum spouse Fanny Church, and Katherine Hepburn portrays Edith Thayer. A related connection is that Bacall starred in an '80s stage production of Hepburn's classic 1942 film "Woman of the Year."

The similarities continue with Cecila's character Mags having the same form of strained relationship with her elderly parents that Jane's Chelsea experiences with Norman and Ethel and that inspired the folk song "Teach Your Children Well." Further, both films revolve around those offspring having an extended visit with their cabin-owning mother and father.

The impetus for Mags to come home again is that she is an artist whose opportunity to struggle a little less hinges on completing an unfinished portrait of her parents. A pleasant mother and child reunion that is less than a phone call away turns ugly within a few minutes due to Mags learning that her parents sold her childhood home without informing her and are in the final stages of packing up to permanently move to their aforementioned cabin.

This ensuing "portrait" of this sometimes-Loud family depicts a couple that enjoys a closeness that inadvertently shuts out their child, a daughter whose work does not earn her parents' respect, and a father who seems oblivious to these dynamics.

Gardner angrily telling Mags that he is sorry that he and Fanny are not the parents that Mags hoped to have is painfully relevant to folks whose parent does not realize and/or care that even adults would like a nice relationship with the people who raised them.

Bacall steals the show in the same manner as she does in "Dinner," "Woman," and everything else that she does. This is due to her amazing ability to simultaneously play tough, goofy, and sentimental.

Peck's role all-around seems to be that of a husband there to hold his wife's purse. He and Bacall have decent chemistry, and he gamely goes along with what her character initiates. Another way of saying this is that I know Atticus Finch, and Gardner Church is no Atticus Finch.

Aside from Bacall and Peck, "Portrait" comes across as a perfectly respectable Hallmark Channel film. The elements described above are standard for those movies.

Additional scenes that include artist Mags' amusingly awkward date with an investment banker who Fanny pushes her to have dinner with and in which faculty wives gossip about Fanny at a college event are equally typical for the movies that Hallmark sandwiches between reruns of "The Golden Girls" and "Frasier."

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, begins with the end of the aforementioned date; the next scene in this sample does an excellent job showing the state of the relationship between the Churches.

All of this boils down to "Portrait" being an above-average made-for-TV movie that gets adults thinking about their own relationships with their elderly parents but does not necessarily inspire picking up the cell to reach out and touch them.

Anyone with questions about "Portrait" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

'Newhart' S2 DVD: 2013 Emmy Winner Bob Newhart in Emmy-Worthy Eponymous Sitcom

Shout! Factory's February 11, 2014 DVD release of the second season of the '80s sitcom "Newhart" is EXACTLY why Unreal TV began life as "Shout Factory for Joy" before expanding the range of covered titles prompted the name change. 

The "Newhart" release is another example of the awesome folks at Shout! "rescuing" a terrific series after another distributor only releases one or two seasons on DVD. Shout!, which is releasing the third season of "Newhart" in April 2014, seeing this show through to the eighth season is a near certainty; this raises hope that this company will also adopt the Bea Arthur sitcom "Maude."

The simple but uber-awesomely executed premise of "Newhart" is that Newhart, who won his first-ever Emmy in September 2013, plays "how-to" book author and New Yorker Dick Loudon who relocates to rural Vermont to own and operate the Stratford Inn. Dick's loving wife Joanna joins him in the adventure.

The uber-WASPy Stephanie, who guest stars in a first-season episode, replaces her more likable cousin Leslie as the inn's maid in the second season premiere. This role leads to Stephanie portrayor Julia Duffy playing Suzanne Sugarbaker's cousin/replacement Alison Sugarbaker in "Newhart's" CBS Monday Night Line-up and Shout! neighbor "Designing Women."

"The Bob Newhart Show" frequent guest-star Tom Poston rounds out the Stratford crew as sweet and naive handyman George Uttley.

Newhart puts his dead-pan straight man persona to excellent use in episodes that largely have him get exasperated regarding the hilarious mayhem that Stephanie and George, the eccentric townsfolk, and wacky guests create.

A bonus regarding these episodes from 1983 and 1984 is that 95-percent of the situations, dialog, and even clothing is still timely today.

A bit of real world background is appropriate before further discussing "Newhart's" second season.

On a general level, any husband and wife who fulfills the same fantasy as the Loudons of jointly operating a New England inn knows that portraying that "Notchland" experience as being largely free of tears, recriminations, and at least serious discussion of divorce is almost as major (of course pun intended) a fantasy as finding a genie bottle on the beach.

Further, "Newhart" is clearly set in Strafford, Vermont. Like Stratford, this small town is roughly 20 minutes from Dartmouth College. However, the inn that is used for exterior shots of the Stratford Inn is more than 100 miles from Strafford and has a lobby that does not even closely resemble the Stratford lobby.

The description of the fictional Stratford and the exteriors shots of the main street in that town suggest that it is more akin to Woodstock, Vermont than Strafford. The fact that Stratford eatery "Barney's" is virtually identical to Woodstock institution "Bentley's" further supports that theory.

Returning to the primary topic at hand, the "very special" two-part second season premiere of "Newhart" features veteran actress Stella Stevens in an Emmy-worthy performance as veteran actress Erica Chase. Chase aggressively tries to "seal the deal" with Dick in more ways than one when they meet to discuss his writing her biography. This leads to a fall-on-the-floor funny resolution that demonstrates the awesomeness of this show.

Another early episode brings back first-season guest characters woodsman Larry and his two mostly mute brothers, both of whom are named Darryl. Fans know that this trio become regulars in the soon-to-be-released third season. The second-season episode has these boys sheltering Stephanie in their very crude cabin when she becomes lost in a storm.

The second season additionally introduces WASPy Micheal Harris, who Peter Scolari of "Bosom Buddies" plays. This character's first episode is a stand-out offering that mines humor that is exceptionally good even for "Newhart" from having Dick guest on a low-budget local television show that Michael produces.

The same fans who know that Larry, Darryl, and Darryl become the Urkel of "Newhart" also know that Michael's role greatly expands during that series' run.

Another group of episodes revolve around the romance between cafe owner/inn neighbor/jerk/chronic liar Kirk Devane and sweet clown Cindy. Kirk's rudeness and other hilarity during a dinner party that Kirk and Cindy host at the cafe is a second-season highlight.

Memorable second-season inn guests include a couple who repeatedly try sneaking out without paying and Stephanie's frenemy from the period in which that maid enjoyed "the lifestyles of the rich and famous." These characters, and the others folks who vacationed in Vermont, were funny because they were true.

The five pip "TripAdvisor" review of the 22 visits to the Stratford Inn between October 1983 and April 1984 is that each excursion is highly entertaining thanks to the antics of the maid and the handyman and how their boss reacts to those situations. Further, the simple life and basic (largely illogical) logic that the townsfolk embrace harken back to a kinder and gentler period in television history. All this is a nice reminder that good humor does not relay on strongly sexual plots or the "blue" language that often accompanies such stories.

This leads to recommending "Newhart" to anyone who wants good and relaxing escapism but cannot make it to the real-life Woodstock Inn.

Anyone with questions about "Newhart" or Vermont is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, January 17, 2014

'In the Heat of the Night' S5 DVD: Big Hollywood Star Maintains Small Town Law and Order

Product Details
TGG Direct's release of the fifth season of the eight-season Carroll O'Connor procedural "In the Heat of the Night" coincides with releasing the previously reviewed fourth season of this series. The episodes in both seasons demonstrate the lack of a sophomore slump regarding this series.

The only downside of this release is that clearance issues prevent including four of the twenty-three episodes in the fifth season.

The premise of this '90s procedural is that it is Carroll O'Connor's "Matlock" like follow-up to his awesome run as Archie Bunker in "All in the Family" and the "Family" spinoff "Archie Bunker's Place." O'Connor's Bill Gillespie in "Heat" is the sheriff of small southern town Sparta, Mississippi that has a surprising number of murders and other felonies for an otherwise sleepy and peaceful burg.

"Heat" is also notable for being based on a book and subsequent film of the same name that tells the tale of  MR. Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Poitier, facing challenges associated with being a black big-city detective who relocates to the aforementioned small southern town.

O'Connor does a particularly good job in the fifth season, slightly toning down an already decent southern accent and bringing his overall acting down a notch. Further, Howard Rollins does well as chief detective/father of year-old twins/part-time law student/devoted husband and citizen Tibbs. The rest of the cast, including O'Connor's son Hugh as one of his underlings, does equally well as the police officers and citizens of Sparta.

The fifth season gets off to a great start in an episode in which Mississippi native Stella Stevens guest stars. Stevens plays Gillespie's former lover who winds up dead soon after seeking him out after a roughly 20-year absence. Stevens does a fantastic job, and the episode introduces us to a new member of Gillespie's family.

As an aside, Stevens also wonderfully plays a very frisky veteran actress in the season premiere of the second season of the '80s sitcom "Newhart." Unreal TV is reviewing the DVD release of that season within the next several days.

Another episode from early in the season is a wonderfully fun southern gothic offering. The murder victim this time is an uber-wealthy man who dies while hosting his annual high-stake poker game that includes enjoying the services of prostitutes literally under the nose of his wife. Said wife's acceptance of this once-a-year blow-out, her refusal to abandon her home during this event, and the indications of her own extra-marital activity add to the steaminess of this episode.

Another fifth season episode follows up on a fourth season episode by having Captain "Bubba" Skinner return to Los Angeles on official business. This puts him back in touch with the lady detective with whom he bonded on a trip during the prior season.

A later episode harkens back to a third-season episode in which a married white man who fathers an illegitimate child with a black woman is murdered. The fifth-season episode relates to the efforts of the murdered man's wife to obtain custody of this child from council member Harriet DeLong, who has a close relationship with Gillespie. The themes in this one are about as close to racial issues as fourth and fifth-season episodes seem to get.

The fifth-season DVD set winds up with "Family Reunion," which has the same southern gothic vibe as the wonderfully titled "Liar's Poker" referred to above. This one has a bank robber returning to confront the ex-wife who has held onto the loot from his heist for roughly 10 years. The twists associated with his quest for the ill-gotten gains and her efforts to protect her family and the remains of the haul are worthy of a Coen brothers film.

These episodes (as well as the others in the fifth-season set) simply are a nice reminder of a time in which procedurals relied on good stories and interesting characters without taking gore and personality quirks to extremes.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Heat" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

'In Loving Memory' DVD: 'Six Feet Under' Britcom Style

Product Details
BFS Entertainment provides a glimpse into a possible inspiration for the HBO drama "Six Feet Under" by offering a DVD set of the 1979 first series (my people call them seasons) of the classic Britcom "In Loving Memory."

The similarities include "Memory" revolving around the death of undertaker Jeremiah Unsworth in the first episode further tying the nephew that Jeremiah and his wife Ivy have raised to the family undertaking/monumental masonry business. There is also a touch of the same dark humor that makes "Under" so special.

Aside from being a much kinder and gentler program than "Under," "Memory" differs from that show in that is more of a traditional sitcom.

Much of the humor relates to the adorkable 28 year-old Billy Henshaw being largely unsuited for work as an undertaker and his related desire to live a fuller life than practicing that profession in a small English town in 1929 provides. Christopher Beeny, who also starred in the uber-classic original "Upstairs Downstairs" and a latter season of the recently reviewed Britcom "The Last of the Summer Wine" does a brilliant job playing Billy's simultaneous timidity, awkwardness, and frustration.

Thora Hind, who also appeared in "Wine" and is well-known for her role in the hilarious Britcom "Hallelujah," does equally well as Billy's Aunt Ivy who devotes roughly equal time to helping with the family business and mothering her favorite man-child.

Setting "Memory" in 1929 gives the program a nice nostalgic vibe that is consistent with the mostly low-key humor in the episodes. It also allows deriving some humor related to using the privy (my people call them outhouses).

The second episode gets the premise of Ivy and Billy working and living together off to a grand start by having them take in a difficult elderly relative as a condition regarding their inheritance from Jeremiah. A "touched by an angel" moment and the resulting mayhem in this episode truly is must-see TV.

Many of the other episodes revolve around challenges related to the undertaking business. Hilarious moments include a runaway coffin, cleverly turning the tables on an unscrupulous competitor, and napping in the back of the hearse ala Herman Munster in the ghoulish '60s fantasycom "The Munsters."

One of the best story lines regarding Billy's quests for independence and happiness relates to his lying to girls about his profession in an episode that also has a very aggressive neighbor pursuing him. Anyone who is familiar with the episodes in "Three's Company" that have the cougarish Lana gets the picture.

The 1929 element comes into play in this episode in a hilarious scene that has the object of Billy's affection and the object of the neighbor's lust interrupting Billy's bath in the home of the living room that he and Ivy share. These events also shows Beeny's willingness to do a nude scene if the story calls for it.

The first series also ends on a great note that combines every element of "Memory." A death at the beginning of the episode presents a logistical problem that prompts Billy to assert his independence. The fact that Billy's plans go awry is expected; the manner in which that occurs is not. 

The eulogy regarding "Memory" is that Ivy gives Ruth Fisher of "Under" a run for her money regarding how she faces the challenge of running the family funeral business in the wake (of course pun intended) of her husband's sudden death (yeah, another pun). In fact, an early "Under" offering that requires sacrificing a leg of lamb easily could have been a "Memory" episode.

Billy also matches Nate Fisher of "Under" regarding his sense of being trapped in said business and living under the roof of his maternal figure.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Memory" is welcome to email me; connecting on Twitter via @tvdvdguy is also an option.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Breaking News: Unreal TV Association With Grand Entertainment Group Coincides with Notice of "Ghost Hunters' S9 DVD

Product Details
A series of events during the past 30 minutes have lead to Unreal TV entering a very promising relationship with Grand Entertainment Group, which offers some great independent and foreign titles and is committed to working with smaller sites. Posts of "Grand" titles should begin appearing in the next few weeks.

Another indication that a "grand" match exists between this site and that distributor is that the formation of this new friendship follows an announcement of Grand entering a much more lucrative relationship for it by four hours. To use "industry" parlance, a press release from early today announces that Grand has inked a deal to release the ninth season of the Syfy Channel original series "Ghost Hunters" on DVD. The release date will be announced later.

Folks who have read this site's 2013 Christmas post and the now-classic March 2013 entry titled "Reality Stinks" know that reality programming is a highly disfavored genre of your humble reviewer. The good news is that "Hunters" is an exception that is as rare as a sighting of Haley's Comet.

Viewings of "Hunters" episode are limited to episodes of personal interest, such as one set at the Mount Washington Hotel where your loyal scribe once worked and lived. However, every episode has been enjoyed.

The primary elements that sets "Hunters" apart from 95-plus percent of the shows in the genre to which it belongs are that the subjects are not the primary focus of the show and they lack personalities that inspire fantasies of slapping them hard enough to leave a mark.

The "Hunters" crew consists of personable guys who show strong dedication to figuring out what is going bump in the night. Further, their seemingly genuine enthusiasm when they can adequately clear up background static or a shadow to document ghostly goings-on is infectious.

On a more general level, memories of  "Hunters" include a lack of the multiple teasers and endless commentary by every "star" regarding even minute developments that plague most reality shows. It additionally has the most escapist vibe of any reality show out there.

All of this boils down to the "Hunters" guys either having integrity that the Kardashians and Phil Robertson and his clan cannot dream of or do an exceptional job hiding their lack of ethics.

"Hunters" also deserve recognition as an arguably suitable program for a cable network that is designed to air science fiction programming; no one has explained how a show about a duck call company fits into the mission statement of a network that is intended to air arts programming.

The final promise regarding all this is that Unreal TV will review the DVD of "Hunters" S9 when Grand releases it; this post will share whether this season is more akin to Honey Boo Boo or the uber-awesome '70s Saturday morning cartoon show "Goober and the Ghost Chasers."

Anyone with questions or comments regarding the views expressed in this post is welcome to email me. You can also contact me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, January 13, 2014

'Blue Jasmine' DVD: New York Allen Takes on Tennessee Williams; Blanchett Wins Golden Globe

Product Details
Cate Blanchett's Golden Globe award, the slew of other well-deserved best picture and best actress nominations, and an equally valid avalanche of other accolades for the Woody Allen film "Blue Jasmine," which is being released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 21, 2014, bodes well for a slew of Oscar nominations. This film also evokes thoughts of the line "I liked your films better when they were funny" from Allen's 1980 semi-autobiographical movie "Stardust Memories."

Allen makes great use of current (and not so current) inspiration to awesomely bring the tale of Jasmine, nee Jeanette, French to life.

The combination of the Tennessee Williams classic "A Streetcar Named Desire" and the lethal "ripped from the headlines" combination of class warfare, intense arrogance/conspicuous consumption among many members of the "one percent," and the cathartic downfall of Bernie Madoff and other billionaire bilkers provide the clay with which Allen molds his best piece in more than a decade.

Determining whether this take on Williams' work is better that than the musical version of this play from "The Simpsons" requires additional thought.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the exceptional trailer for "Jasmine" may help regarding the comparison noted above. The DVD does not include this promo but does have many behind-the-scenes interviews.

The headline "Pride Stays, Even After the Fall" from the New York Times July 25, 2013 review of "Jasmine" perfectly describes Cate Blanchett's spot-on portrayal of the titular character. This exiled Queen of Blissful Ignorance continues to be demanding and unduly critical after the "scorched earth" level downfall of her "master of the universe" husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, lowers her to squatting on a cot in the dining room of the San Francisco apartment of her sister Ginger.

Both the abode and Ginger's job as a grocery store cashier are perfectly respectable, but Jasmine acts as if she (rather than Hal) has been sent to prison and that she is forced to have a someone who killed a litter of puppies as a cellmate. This reaction provides some insight regarding how Martha Stewart handled the sentence that she served for her own improper financial activities.

An especially amusing aspect of the elements of Jasmine's personality described above is that she behaves very much like the real-life star of a failed sitcom who marries for money and shares the EXACT same feeling about relatives. Discretion requires not elaborating, but the stories are plentiful and hilarious. (No, it is not Erin Moran of "Joanie Loves Chachi.")

Both Allen and Blanchett do award-worthy jobs making Jasmine highly sympathetic despite her mood swings, habit of concurrently gulping Xanax and high-end vodka at an almost "thank you, Linus" pace, and stopping just short of biting the hand that is almost just as literally feeding her.

We truly feel Jasmine's pain as she takes a menial job and struggles to learn a new skill in response to her harsh new reality; Blanchett does just as well conveying that character's humiliation at both initially having to move to Brooklyn and taking another low-level job that causes intense shame.

The audience further shares Jasmine's joy at the hope of reliving the "lifestyle of the rich and famous" that regular flashbacks portray is infectious despite the underhanded techniques that she uses to reverse her reversal of fortune. The audience feels a corresponding level of sympathy when an eleventh-hour development threatens that happiness.

Allen additionally provides a treat by doing Williams one better in the form of giving the "Jasmine" audience two Stanleys. Andrew Dice Clay plays Ginger's ex-husband Augie, who blames Hal for robbing him of his one big chance. Ginger's current boyfriend Chili, who is played by Bobby Cannavale, is a more pure Stanley. He is louder and hairier than Augie and has higher levels of rage and crudeness.

An equally spectacular aspect of the film is the big surprise at the end that removes any doubt that Jasmine must improve both her judgment and her control of her emotions. Despite this, her status at the end of the film likely does not satisfy anyone.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Jasmine" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

'Once Upon A Time: S2 BD: This is Not Your Father's Disney Park

Product Details
This shamefully belated review of the Blu-ray release of the 2012-13 second season of the ABC drama/fantasy/scifi show "Once Upon A Time" relates to this set's inclusion in the awesome gift from ABC that the recent review of "revenge" S1 mentions. The promised reviews of "revenge" S2 and "Scandal" S2 will follow.

The first noticeable aspect of the Blu-ray version of "Once" is that the sharp images and enhanced sound associated with this format is tailor-made for this modern fairy tale. The spooky woods look even spookier, and the exteriors and interiors of the scenes in the small Maine town to which most characters were forcibly relocated provide a wonderfully vivid sense of being in that part of the country.

A specific Blu-ray goodie include the "season pass" feature that ABC has developed. This tool provides viewers of ABC Blu-ray titles an electronic "bookmark" that allows picking up watching an episode where they left off in contrast to most recent Blu-ray releases losing your place when you turn off your Blu-ray player.

An equally good and helpful exclusive Blu-ray treat on this set is a clip and cast member-laden special feature on the rather complex family relationships of the characters in "Once." The plethora of surprising developments in the second season make this feature especially helpful.Sarah Hyland, who plays wonderfully dopey party girl Haley Dunphy on the ABC sitcom "Modern Family" narrates this extra.

Special features that both the Blu-ray and DVD releases of "Once" S2 offer include a very amusing episode of the morning show "Good Morning Storybrooke," which has a plethora of familiar faces from the "Once" "community," and a profile of Captain Hook, nee Killian Jones.

One spoiler regarding Hook is that Colin O'Donoghue embraces that role with elan and overall enthusiasm for his role that rivals that of Kevin Kline regarding the Pirate King in "The Pirates of Penzance" and puts Johnny Depp to shame regarding his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in ABC-parent Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise.

The second season picks up soon after the events in the first season's grande finale places the
"awakened" fairy-tale characters in a state of confusion and tremendous anger. They direct much of their rage at Mayor/Evil Queen Regina Mills, who struggles with competing desires to win the hearts of her constituents and to rip them out and crush them in her hand.

Comprehensively discussing the almost constant significant developments from the 22 episodes in the second season would require far too much time and space. The highlights are that much of the action in Storybrooke revolves around battles with Regina and her partner-in-crime Mr.Gold/Rumpelstiltskin and with the Snow White/Prince Charming family dealing with the same issues, including onerous grandparents, that many of us face.

Other ongoing Storybrooke-based plots involve outsiders who are seeking revenge almost as vigorously as Emily Thorne of the aforementioned series of that name coming to Storybrooke, the also aforementioned Hook and a surprise companion seeking retribution of their own against Gold and Regina respectively, and Gold valiantly trying to be as good as the metal with which he shares a name.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of one of the later season two episodes provides a good sense of the drama in these 22 episodes.

The fictional, but not fairy tale, character Dr. Victor Frankenstein deserves notice only for the Storybrook name that "Once's" writers bestow on him. Identifying this character as "Dr. Whale" is a wonderful tribute to James Whale, who did so well directing the 1931 classic version of "Frankenstein" and the sequel "The Bride of Frankenstein."

An episode that is set in Storybrooke literally at the dawn of that town's creation also deserves mention because it harkens back to the first season and resurrects a character from that season. This is akin to an episode from 'revenge' S1 that returns the action to a time before Thorne's campaign ruined friendships and careers.

Other settings in S2 of "Once" include the Enchanted Forest in the period in which the Maineiacs in Storybrooke lived there, the modern-day Enchanted Forest, and even Manhattan in a storyline that has a touch of the uber-awesome Disney film "Enchanted."

All of this makes for a particular good show, and the second season episodes draw viewers into the spirit of the series so well that watching people talk about things such as Mulan and Aurora, a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty, climbing the magic vine from "Jack and the Beanstalk" or Pinocchio returning to town seems as natural and normal as watching Adam Goldberg of "The Goldbergs" fight with his mother over his school wardrobe.

The nature of the developments that unfold during this season additionally provide the same sense of the producers and writers that its audience is a little older that the "Harry Potter" books and films convey.

Much of the action is darker in literal and figurative tone, and the story lines seem a little more adult. One nice aspect of this is a burning desire to see awkward and unduly eager young Henry Mills end up in the oven of the witch from "Hansel and Gretel" easing a little in this sophomore season.

The build-up to the season finale is quite exciting, and that event leads up to the drama and action in the third season episodes that ABC is currently airing. There is no doubt that a Blu-ray version of those episodes will join the home-video collection that makes up the Unreal TV library.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Once" is welcome to email me; you can also use the "magic portal" known as Twitter to make contact by casting the spell that consists of @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

'The Young Riders' S2 DVD: Six Guys, a Girl, and a Pony Express Route

Product Details
The treats in TGG Direct's DVD release of the 1990 - 91 second of the three seasons of the ABC western "The Young Riders" extend beyond the gift box that houses it to include seeing performances by stars Stephen Baldwin and Josh Brolin early in their careers and getting a taste of the quasi-realistic western shows and films from that era that followed the popular "Lonesome Dove" mini-series.

The bad news regarding this release is that clearance issues regarding the season premiere and four other episodes restrict the set to 17 of the 21 episodes from this season. The good news is the included episodes have plenty of action, adventure, and charming interaction among the "Young" studs to help forget the short days, cold weather, and frequent storms that are plaguing much of the country.

A bit of TV history related to "Riders" is that ABC faced a legal challenge regarding the name of this series being very similar to a 1988 film titled "Young Guns." Complete candor requires confessing that a 20-year old memory resulted in initially thinking that that series is based on that film.

The premise of "Riders" is that our boys (and girl) in buckskin are riders for the Pony Express, which delivered mail in rural areas from 1860 -61. This group includes younger and fictionalized versions of Buffalo Bill Cody, played by Baldwin, and Wild Bill Hickok, played by Brolin. In this reagrd, it is similar to the mega-awesome "Young Indiana Jones" series that ABC aired during the early '90s.

The rest of the crew (an occasional posse) consists of half-breed Running Buck Cross, very expressive and opinionated mute Ike McSwain, free-born black man Noah Dixon, sweet Southern boy "the Kid," and initially girl-in-disguise Louise "Lou" McCloud.

The male members of this group roughly resemble a 19th century boy band. Cody is the hot but not-so-bright one, Hickok is the tough guy with a temper, Kid and McSwain share the role of the quiet and shy member of the group, and Dixon and Buck adds the ethnic vibe to the mix.

The Studly Six and Lou work under gruff and rough old coot Teaspoon Hunter, who has the proverbial soft center under the tough exterior. His role extends beyond playing surrogate dad to trying to maintain the peace as the town's marshal. This responsibility often leads to Teaspoon deputizing one or more of his riders in response to a threat.

The remaining member of the core group is Rachel Dunne, who is the new caretaker of the express station where the crew lives.

The second episode of the season, which is the first in the DVD set, establishes that Rachel is escaping a true old West-style trauma from her past. This episode additionally includes a hilarious scene that involves the then ongoing efforts of Lou to conceal her gender from Teaspoon.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of the aforementioned Lou/Teaspoon scene.

Many episodes place one or two of the show's two-legged stallions in the spotlight. Hickok-centric episodes include him contending with a bank robber who is impersonating him and another episode in which Hickok competes with a bounty hunter to bring in a separate bank robber who believes that his crimes are justified.

An amusing Cody storyline has his buds convincing him that disrespecting Buck's religious beliefs has brought a curse on Cody's head. All this might have been an excuse to have Baldwin don a loincloth.

Buck being a half-breed results in his getting some of the best stories in a season full of strong episodes. One of these involves the rescue of the wife and daughter of storekeeper William Tompkins seven years after a tribe captured them.

The complications from the rescue include the daughter experiencing Stockholm Syndrome in the form of identifying more closely with the tribe than the settlers and the wife entering a romantic relationship with a tribe member during her unfortunate incarceration.

Another Buck episode has him assist a military officer who served with Teaspoon during that man's Army days with an effort to peacefully remove a tribe that is occupying land that the U.S. government wants. Much of the conflict in this one includes doubts regarding Buck's loyalty to the settlers and his feelings regarding taking land away from the tribe. His stance is that the tribe wants their own land, rather than a replacement parcel.

The arguably best episode in the second season revolves around the death of a traveling elixir salesman triggering intense panic regarding a cholera outbreak. This one is an apt allegory regarding the same  undue fear that existed regarding AIDS in the early 1990s.

The season finale is a wonderfully funny and twist-laden two-parter. This one has Teaspoon and his crew trying to rescue someone near-and-dear to Teaspooon  from a man who is holding that loved one in exchange for a prisoner who faces an imminent hanging for bank robberies. This episode involves so many characters, false developments, multiple motives, and exchanges of captives all around that you almost require a scorecard to keep up. The good news is that this well-told story is worth the effort to keep up.

The final word regarding "Riders" is that they truly do not make them like this anymore and no cast has ever been easier on the eyes than this group. All this combines to make "Riders" a great choice when you want to truly escape the plethora of woes in our current society.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Riders" is welcome to email me; you can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.