that the third season has started, I guess we'll know soon enough, but
The Walking Dead must figure out a way to deliver a
consistent season. It delivers awesome season openers and closers, but the
ones in between can be maddening; they can take several episodes to go
from Point A to Point B.
In the AMC series' initial, six-hour season, it wasn't as troublesome, but with season two being the double the length (yet not double the storytelling), it's a real detriment. Here, the gang getting to the farmhouse is exciting; the gang leaving the farmhouse is exciting; the gang staying put at said farmhouse for a dozen episodes? Not so exciting, especially how few zombies they offer.
This is a show I want so badly to love, yet can only like; millions disagree, and they'll eat up (no pun intended) this four-disc set, heavy on how-we-did-it featurettes. And I admit, the zombie effects do look outstanding on Blu-ray.
In real life, Adam Green and Joe Lynch are directors of horror and thrillers, like Frozen, Hatchet and segments of Chillerama. In Holliston, a FEARnet sitcom which Green created, they play barely employed versions of themselves. Here's the thing: The two are not really actors.
Here's the other thing: Once I realized it's partly an anti-sitcom, I didn't care about the two being so rough around the edges. Besides, as their girlfriends, actresses Corri English and Laura Ortiz are much more natural. All four tackle the material with such earnestness, Holliston floats on an odd charm. With all of its splatter-film references, the six-episode season is geared straight toward that audience; I can't imagine any other viewer segment getting it.
This is, after all, a show where blood and guts are played for laughs, in which Adam's imaginary friend is played by a GWAR band member in full costume, and in which Adam's cat is mentally handicapped.
Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season
By now, year four, Fringe no longer resembles the Fox sci-fi puzzler that debuted in 2008 amid more hype than it could handle. That's great news if you're a sci-fi obsessive who relishes in the most minute details that call back from one episode to another.
Or you can be like me, who just doesn't have the time to get eyebrow-deep in mythology.
Oh, the shape shifters and time travelers and the ever-more-rare monsters still appear as per the original, X-Files-esque “freak of the week” format, but now the focus is on the baffling alternate timeline introduced in its junior year. The downside of this is that all but the most dedicated viewers may require a flowchart; the upside is that star Anna Torv is allowed to give a richer performance.
I suspect that when once the fifth and final season ends, Fringe will make for a fascinating start-to-finish marathon. For now, it’s definitely an investment — one sometimes too enigmatic for its own good.
Spartacus: Vengeance The Complete Second Season
Liked Spartacus' first two seasons' mix of swords and sex and sweaty talk? Then odds are you'll like its third. (I always refer to the prequel, Gods of the Arena, as season two, because, c'mon, it essentially is.) It continues to be a show with enough redeeming factors to merit a curious peek every now and again, but retains the same problems that have dogged it from the start: namely, that the scripts draw out about 30 minutes of material into 60.
The comic-book action sequences are still the big draw for me — yes, even over the copious (and Lawless) nudity. (That said, viva la Viva Bianca!) However, I increasingly tire of the dialogue, which says a lot without saying much of anything; the writers continue to aim for a level of highbrow dramatics that just doesn't jive with executive producer Sam Raimi's pulp-soap model of a Skinemax-ready Gladiator rip-off.
Stepping into Spartacus' sandals is Liam McIntyre, and while he gives it his all, I'm afraid he doesn't have half the charm of the late Andy Whitfield. They probably should've called it quits with his untimely passing, but there's one more season to go, War of the Damned, a tease of which is the highlight of the three-disc set's promo-leaning extras.
Hung: The Complete Third Season
I'm going to miss Hung. No, I'm going to really miss Hung. The unsung hero of HBO's lineup, it was canceled before it could wrap its story up, so episode 10's last scene is written as a season finale, but does not work as a series finale. (And the DVD's alternate ending is even less satisfying.) That's the only negative thing I have to say about the two-disc set.
Thomas Jane continues to do great against-type work as the unemployed high school coach turned unlikely gigolo, and Jane Adams is better than ever as his hippie-dippy pimp, clearly over her head. Points for not repeating last season's pimp-vs.-pimp arc with the magnificent Rebecca Creskoff, but escalating it with the addition of younger competition (Stephen Amell, now starring on The CW's Arrow) and his greedy GF (Crazy, Stupid, Love.'s Analeigh Tipton, in what deserves to have been a breakthrough comedic performance).
Hung runs dramatic rings around HBO's current teacher's pet, Boardwalk Empire. Yeah, I said it.
Downton Abbey: Seasons One & Two Limited Edition
Until this handsome, six-disc collection — OK, OK, and the utter slew of Emmy nominations — I'd resisted PBS' golden child, assuming it'd be a plodding British historical costume drama that would be more work than entertainment. I mean, when you insert the first disc, the menu screen displays an intimidating 18 characters!
I'm pleased to announce I was wrong. In other words: I get it, world, I get it!
As became clear mere minutes into the masterful first hour, Downton Abbey is glorious stuff, rich in period detail, character development and committed performances, plus unexpected humor and intrigue. It's about the two families who reside under the same royal roof: one, the Earl and Countess of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern) and their three single daughters; the other, the unofficial family of maids and butlers and footmen and valets and chauffeurs who respond to their every need. The ways in which members from each side cross that uncrossable, invisible line between them makes for fascinating, addicting viewing.
Haven: The Complete Second Season
When we last left Haven, FBI agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose) was confronted at gunpoint by … FBI agent Audrey Parker. Yes, based on a Stephen King novel, Syfy’s supernatural series is all about odd events like that. In this quaint little town, they’re daily occurrences: sprinkler systems spurting blood, dead heifer, your worst fears coming to life (be it clowns or zombies), a killer fishing boat, a wendigo on the loose, etc. Geez, is Charles Fort the mayor?
Continuing the first year’s level of mild engagement, the sophomore season burns brightest in its delightful Christmas episode. Like Warehouse 13, the particular festive hour is a standalone ep that can be enjoyed by the newcomer and hardcore fan alike. It gets you into the Christmas spirit while also remaining true to the series' supernatural mythology. (And what is Santa but supernatural?) This one opens with a surfer getting halved to a music-box soundtrack of "Silent Night," so the adventures of George Bailey, this is not.
Strike Back: Cinemax Season One
Although it has yet to score a breakout hit, Cinemax is getting into the cable game of daring original series, quietly importing the British series Strike Back to give 'er a go. My entirely crude, but entirely apt summation of the show is this: It's like 24 with tits.
Instead of one Kiefer Sutherland, you get two in the gun-totin’, girl-teasin’ male spies who work for a super-secret counterterrorist organization. Its stories are full of near-nonsensical dialogue, but the action is plentiful and slick ... both on the field and in the bedroom. Seriously, these guys get laid all over the globe. It makes one wonder if the real Strike Back is to arrive when their urine starts to burn.
The Complete Hammer House of Horror
God bless the godless Synapse Films for bringing this long out-of-print 1980 TV series back to fruition. With the iconic Hammer production company experiencing a bit of a resurgence both in theaters (The Woman in Black) and Synapse’s own Blu-rays (Twins of Evil), it’s nice to get a taste of Hammer’s upper-crust televised terror that is the Hammer House of Horror.
The anthology series — an appropriate 13 episodes on five discs — is presented here “fully intact.” To Americans, that means all the nudity and gore that the Brits can get away with on the regular ol’ telly, predating the cable boom. (Imagine what Hammer could do nowadays!) They play like mini-movies, and while I’m not going to pretend each hour is worth watching, enough of them hit the spot to make the set a must-purchase for fright fans.
True, the show often takes the Horror part of its title quite liberally, but that ones that don’t — in particular, “The House That Bled to Death,” “Visitor from the Grave” and “The Two Faces of Evil” — are irresistible. It helps that occupying Hammer’s House were real actors, such as Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliott and UK sex bomb Diana Dors. —Rod Lott
Hey! Read This:
• Chillerama Blu-ray review
• Crazy, Stupid, Love. Blu-ray review
• Frozen DVD review
• Hatchet Blu-ray review
• Hatchet II Blu-ray review
• Spartacus: Gods of the Arena: The Complete Collection Blu-ray review
• Twins of Evil Blu-ray review
• Warehouse 13: Season Two DVD review