Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dallas: The Complete Fourteenth and Final Season

By 1990, the ‘80s nighttime power soaps were on the way out, and new types of soapy television, like Beverly Hills, 90210 and Melrose Place, were either on the air or on the horizon. Dynasty and Falcon Crest were gone, Knots Landing only had a couple seasons left in it, and the one that started them all, Dallas, was kicking off its final season. What on earth was there left for this show to do that it hadn’t done in the 13 seasons previous? Having successfully revamped the show in the previous year (at least artistically, even if not commercially), the producers now had to find a way to end it all. The core cast had dwindled down to only three characters that had been there since the start: J.R., Bobby and Cliff. And yet, if you’ve got those three guys, you’ve still got quite a bit to work with, and while the final season is never going to go down as a Dallas highpoint, at least it doesn’t go out like a bruised, whimpering puppy with its tail between its legs. Well, not quite.

When last we saw J.R. (Larry Hagman), thanks to his son James (Sasha Mitchell), he was being hauled off back into the looney bin where he’d been conducting some unsavory deeds. In this season, that story continues on for another five or so episodes, as he finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into an unhealthy state, although for perhaps the first time in his life, J.R. finds himself making actual friends. Meanwhile, Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and April (Sheree J. Wilson) are honeymooning in Paris, and no sooner than they get off the plane than they run into Susan Lucci. Now, it’s a shame that soap characters are forced to live in a bubble, because as a viewer you’re yelling at the screen, “That’s Susan fucking Lucci! She’s evil!! No good can come from this. Stay away from her, Bobby and April!!!” Of course, they do not, and terrible, terrible things happen, but since the production has moved to Paris for an extended shoot, at least the proceedings look nice.

Back in Dallas, Cliff (Ken Kercheval) is angling for a government position as Energy Czar of the U.S., while at the same time romancing Liz Adams (Barbara Stock), a lady with a few secrets of her own which revolve around a slick, macho blowhard named John Danzig, a.k.a. Johnny Dancer (Ramy Zada). Sooner, rather than later, Dancer ends up deceased. But who done it? Cliff? Liz? Carter McKay (George Kennedy)? Plenty of people had a motive, but everyone’s got an alibi. Also lurking on the sidelines is Michelle Stevens (Kimberly Foster), and she’s got some serious payback in mind for J.R. after he shipped her away last year. Enter Lee Ann De Le Vega played by none other than Hagman’s old I Dream of Jeannie co-star Barbara Eden. Stunt casting? Perhaps. I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt for the duration of the Lee Ann storyline which in the end fizzled out to at least some degree. Credit must be given to the writers for stifling the urge to work in any Jeannie references or in-jokes.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dark Skies: The Declassified Complete Series / Interviews with Bryce Zabel & Megan Ward

TV history is littered with the bones and carcasses of shows killed off before their time. In fact, if we were discussing living, breathing creatures rather than little collections of filmed or videotaped entertainment, we’d have long since moved past the term epidemic. On the flip side, there are plenty of shows that lived for too long; fare that far outlives its usefulness, while so many other programs that deserve chances don’t ever really get them. Dark Skies, which NBC unveiled back in ’96, is one of those programs that deserved better. Much better. After 19 episodes, it wasn’t so much cancelled as it was “not renewed.” (Don’t you just love that kind of TV exec jive double talk?)

It’s the story of two bright-eyed innocents in 1962 who are dragged into a world of nasty, violent aliens and sinister government cover-ups. John Loengard (Eric Close) and his girlfriend Kim Sayers (Megan Ward) move to Washington D.C., idealistic like you are in your mid-20s. He works for a congressman and she gets a job in Jackie Kennedy’s office. When John is sent to look into some areas for government budget-cutting, he stumbles onto Project Majestic, which is led by Captain Frank Bach (J.T. Walsh). Even if this show had nothing else to offer but Walsh’s performance, it’d be worth watching for his work alone. This is 19 episodes of Walsh being a real fucker. He died less than a year after his work on this series, and if you have any love or like for him as an actor, you simply must watch this show.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here to visit Bullz-Eye.

And be sure to check out my interviews with Dark Skies co-creator and executive producer Bryce Zabel and Dark Skies co-star Megan Ward.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Complete Third Season

Here’s a show that’s immensely frustrating to review. No matter how tied it is to the current series of Doctor Who, there’s no getting around the fact that its target audience is pre-teen and younger, and that’s a demographic of which I’m simply not a part. Nor do I have a kid that age in the house to gauge a reaction through. I’m pretty sure that if the show had existed when I was 10, I’d have thought it was incredible. But I am, as they say, pushing 40, and so to appreciate it I’ve got to be awfully forgiving, or maybe understanding is a better word. This isn’t like a Pixar movie (or even Doctor Who, for that matter), where the material is operating on several levels. Nope, this thing is made for kids.

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it details the exploits of the Doctor’s old companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), her adopted, genetically-engineered-by-an-alien race son, Luke (Tommy Knight), and two other teenagers – Clyde (Daniel Anthony) and Rani (Anjli Mohindra) – who come along for the adventures, which typically involve some kind of alien invading Sarah Jane’s suburban neighborhood. By this point in her life, Sarah’s got all kinds of cool gadgets, including sonic lipstick, a super-computer called Mr. Smith, and occasionally the robot dog K-9. When it comes to fighting aliens, she knows far more than the average human, so she’s pretty well equipped to deal.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Doctor Who: Meglos / The Dominators

Before moving on to reviewing these serials, it’s worth taking some time out to talk about where the classic Doctor Who video range is at the moment here in the States. For the first time in all the years these DVDs have been coming out, we’re finally getting releases very close to day-and-date with the U.K. “Meglos” is the first such release in the U.S.; the release date for it is January 11th here, while in the U.K. it came out on the 10th. Why it’s taken ten years for this to happen is beyond me, but it’s a welcome development nevertheless, especially for fans that enjoy discussing these discs on internet message boards and the like, because they don’t have to feel out of the loop. It was always irritating to read about a particularly cool U.K. release, knowing that it was going to take six months or more for it to come out stateside. Not so anymore, although the plan hasn’t been perfected yet, as the upcoming releases of “Kinda” and “Snakedance” will have a one-month lag between the U.K. and U.S. release dates (March across the pond; April here).

What this also means is that there will be no shortage of classic Who discs this year, because in addition to the newest releases, here in the States we’re still behind on some half dozen or more discs, so we need to catch up on those as well (this month’s catch up title is “The Dominators”). For at least the first half of the year, every month we should be getting no less than two releases. So if you’re someone who collects all of these, you’d better start pinching some pennies. On the other hand, if you’re someone who just wants to pick up the best titles, I’ll be here, throwing out lofty opinions to aid you in your purchasing decisions. Another nice new addition to the range is the recently unveiled BBC Classic Doctor Who Channel on YouTube, which will be updated periodically with clips from past, current and upcoming DVDs. Be sure to add it your Favorites.

So while this is all great news, it’s something of a shame a better title couldn’t have been used to kick this whole thing off. “Meglos” is from Tom Baker’s last season as the Doctor, and its release completes Season 18 as well. Season 18 –John Nathan-Turner’s first as producer and Christopher H. Bidmead’s first and only as script editor – was designed to have a harder sci-fi edge to it, as well as pulling back on much of the comedy that had been prevalent in previous seasons. Having written before about the beauty of Season 18, I won’t go down that road again, except to say that “Meglos” isn’t up to the same level of quality as the other six stories from that block. In fact, in many ways the script feels like a leftover from Season 17, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that the entire feel and approach of Season 18 was fresh and new. As a result, “Meglos” is a story pulling in opposite directions.

Read the rest of the DVD review for "Meglos," as well as the Patrick Troughton tale "The Dominators" by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Andy Griffith Show 50th Anniversary: The Best of Mayberry

Sometimes it isn’t a terrible idea to check back in with a series you used to not care for, and haven’t seen in many years. I grew up watching a fair amount of reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, mostly because back in the good ol’ days, we only had, like, four channels. But I never liked the show as its golly-gee-shucks cornball country antics were never to my taste. It was just filler between The Munsters and something else. So this new “Best of” collection came my way, and I decided to give it another shot, some 30 years later, to see how I felt about it today. Guess what? I still don’t really care for the show, but as an adult and a “professional appreciator” (as a friend of mine recently dubbed me), I can see that it’s a quality TV series despite my feelings.

What I didn’t know until last week was that The Andy Griffith Show was huge back in the 60s. So popular was the show, that during its eight seasons on the air, it was in the Top Ten every single year, and inexplicably even snagged the #1 spot in its final season. How many shows go out at #1? I have no idea, but I’d imagine the answer is “not many.” If by some chance you’re unfamiliar with it, the show stars Andy Griffith as Andy Taylor, the sheriff of the tiny fictitious burg of Mayberry, North Carolina. He’s a widower with a young son named Opie (Ron Howard, the famous director – who’s credited here as Ronny), although I’m not sure if the tragedy of his wife’s passing is ever really dwelled upon; it certainly isn’t in any of these episodes. He’s aided by his bumbling but good-hearted deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts), although aided in what is debatable. Very little law breaking ever happens in Mayberry. Even the town drunk is amiable enough to check himself into the jail when he needs to sober up. Mostly, Andy settles minor arguments between the silly townsfolk with his country wisdom and level-headed way of thinking.

Think of Twin Peaks without all the weirdness, violence, murder, sex and drugs, and you’ve basically got Mayberry.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.