Sunday, August 22, 2004

TV on DVD Roundup

The TV-on-DVD releases just keep on coming, and here, courtesy of TV Shows on DVD, are a few of the season sets we have to look forward to -- with enthusiasm or trepidation -- before the year is out:

Columbo: the Complete First Season (September 7) - A&E have never been the same since they stopped showing all those old "ABC Mystery Movie" shows -- from the best, like "Columbo," to the worst, like "Banacek." (There's an old Polish proverb: shows with George Peppard scoring with every woman in signt should never be allowed to hit the air.) The first season of "Columbo" is only nine episodes because it was, as mentioned, part of a rotating series of shows which ran 90 minutes instead of 60. This is sort of a precusor to the networks' increasing dependence on limited-run series, whether it's the reality shows on the cable networks or the 13-episode seasons on the cable networks. I wouldn't be surprised to see some network bring back the basic concept behind the ABC mystery movie, and rotate three 8 episode series instead of ordering 24 episodes of one show.

Taxi: the Complete First Season (November 16) - This is the season when Reverend Jim only appeared once, in a guest role, and when the garage had an extra cabbie, John Burns, played by Randall Carver. When it was decided in season 2 to make Christopher Lloyd's Reverend Jim into a regular, someone had to be dropped to make room for him, and it was Carver who got the ax; as he later recalled, it was felt that he and Tony Danza were basically playing the same character (the naive guy), and Danza's character, as a failed boxer and Vietnam veteran, had more story possibilities.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the Complete Seventh Season (November 16) - After the disappointing sixth season of Buffy, this season was supposed to be a return to the show's roots: by all accounts, the original intention was to do a series of self-contained episodes, incorporating a simple but effective season-long arc, and built around the high school setting -- that is, a return to the style of the first three seasons of the show, which were and remain the best. The first seven or so episodes of the season followed this pattern, and the whole thing generally seemed very promising. And then, partly based on network orders and partly on bad writing/producing decisions, the rest of the season became a bunch of interchangeable episodes with no self-contained stories (instead they'd drop a couple of soap-opera plot points, yak a bit about the season-long villain, and then show the closing credits), and the main focus of the season became the worst character, Spike, aka Fonzie Spike. I've already ranted about the Spikeification of Buffy, but it's just sad to watch a season crash and burn like that. In some ways it was worse than the sixth season, because the sixth season had some good ideas, badly executed (the idea that people didn't like the season because it was "dark" was of course a crock; everyone liked the musical episode, which presented those "dark" themes in a professional and entertaining way. Nobody likes any themes, dark or otherwise, presented with sloppy direction and lines like "axe -- not gonna cut it"). The final season of "Buffy", which eventually made no sense at all, sort of demonstrated the problem with what might be called the Geek Drama -- drama shows created and produced not by grizzled TV drama veterans but by enthusiastic, youngish writers. A show like this, at its peak of inspiration, is fresher and more inventive than the traditional show, which sticks to the old effective-but-familiar tricks. The problem with the Geek Drama that once it runs out of inspiration, it can't rely on skilled execution to keep it at least watchable. That's why Geek Dramas get bad really fast; look what's happened to "Alias." Some of the seventh-season Buffy episodes are so slapdash in terms of execution, structure, plotting, logic, visuals, etc. that they make you long for the sterile professionalism of a Dick Wolf. Well, almost. Anyway, here's a good FAQ for people trying to make sense of the final season.

King of the Hill: the Complete Third Season (December 28) - I'm one of the few people in my age group who loves "King of the Hill" and dislikes "Family Guy" (which is why I am shunned by drunken frat-boys). Actually, though it's hard to remember now, "King of the Hill" was a huge hit and something of a phenomenon in its first two seasons: it sometimes got higher ratings than "The Simpsons," and both TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly selected it as the best show of the year for 1997. In the third season, it was moved to a highly uncongenial Tuesday time slot, and has sort of bounced around the schedule ever since; and its internet fan following seems to be close to zero. (I think there's a perception that because the show is about Texans, you have to be a Texan to get it, though for some reason nobody thinks you have to be a New Yorker to get "Seinfeld.") But the third season, probably its best, is a good reminder of why KotH is by far the best of the post-Simpsons animated sitcoms. This was the season where the writers did some rather dark and offbeat plots: Hank Hill gets sexually assaulted by a dolphin; Hank and Peggy teach their son Bobby a lesson by convincing him that he got his cousin Luanne pregnant and that he has to marry her; Hank's friend Bill goes insane from loneliness and starts to dress up as his ex-wife (this is the Christmas episode); Bobby goes to see a magician and uses some of the tricks and patter to spruce up his Sunday School report on Jesus:

BOBBY: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I am the Amazing Jesus, son of God and master of prestidigitation! Has this ever happened to you? Your followers want a glass of wine, but all you have is water. Well, if you're the Amazing Jesus, no problem! Water into wine! It's a miracle! John 2:11. Thank you. Now you're going to need something to go with all this wine, maybe some bread. But how are you going to feed all these hungry people with just one slice? No problem, if you're the Amazing Jesus! Amen! It's a miracle, ladies and gentlemen! Mark 6:44. Thank you! Now, for my next miracle, I'll need a large wooden cross and a couple of volunteers.

No word yet on whether there will be any extras, but it's worth picking up one way or the other. Particularly since Mike Judge's next movie (which, like Office Space, will include King of the Hill regulars Stephen Root and David Herman) won't come out until next year.

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