ER: Season 2

I was surprised it started this early, but this does seem to be the first indication of the series heading from outstanding and innovative into the depths of melodramatic soap opera. However while the signs of (imho) the series’ downfall are present, this season still ranks pretty highly. Compared to the first season which was all about people fighting and often succeeding, this one seems about failure and loss. Even battles that are won come at a price and even it’s the personal battles that are given the most screentime.

There are some episodes here that are truly outstanding and I can remember clearly from watching them on tv nearly a decade ago. Hell and High Water makes George Clooney an action hero, while The Healers is 45 minutes of working my way through a box of tissues and marvelling at the power of script where the important things are not said. Running sub-plots include Susan Lewis taking care of her sister’s baby (which I found pretty tedious to be honest), Peter Benton being a smug self-righteous ass, Doug Ross trying to work out what he’s doing with his life and Mark Green getting divorced and grumpy.

The new characters bring some interesting relationships with them, Jeanie becoming a regular and playing off of Benton and the nurses, Kerry Weaver appearing and pissing pretty much everyone off and the introduction of a couple of paramedics who give an interesting dynamic feel to story lines, but rapidly degenerating into psycho-analysing.

DVD Special Features
The packaging of this dvd is the same as the first, very neat and tidy, yet faintly irritating having to peer at labels on double sided dvds. I ended up watching 2 episodes out of order ‘cos I got the dvd upside down. The special features aren’t quite so enthusiastic as the 1st however, I guess there’s less to talk about once you’ve covered the start-up information and are confronted with wondering what you’re going to put on the next 10 box sets. The commentaries are pretty dull and dry “wasn’t this fun” type things with lengthy pauses as the commentators just watch the episode. The documentaries on directing and the making of Hell and High Water are also pretty dull and lacking in comments from most of the cast and big names. There’s a whole heap of extra scenes which are interesting but the out-takes are more limited and less fun than the 1st season’s. A respectable collection of stuff, but not enough to make this an outstanding collection.


CSI: Season 3 (second half)

I was disappointed with this box set I have to admit. I had actually seen all the episodes on tv before, something which I don’t usually do, so this may well have coloured my view of the 1/2 season. However my ‘comments’ on the previous half of the season apply even more, the episodes are all about huge things, many of them linked to the team personally somehow. I just don’t feel that this is what CSI is about, the first couple of seasons the characters were always secondary to the science, but now they’re front and centre and frankly I want to slap most of them and forcibly remove them from involvement on cases that are personal to them. That said the episodes are still very watchable, even if I do tend to find the b-stories more enjoyable as they’re what I think CSI should be about. Is it only me that can’t help but smile when Doc Roberts or Greg appear on screen?

DVD Special Features
A fairly nice collection There are commentaries by writer/directors on Random Acts of Violence (Warrick’s personal episode) and Lady Heather’s Box (one of Catherine’s personal episodes but stolen by the brilliant Lady Heather) that are fairly well balanced and interesting. A couple of mini documentaries on the special effects and writing processes are also very intersting and concise. The cast are completely and utterly absent from the whole thing.

The West Wing: Season 2

Season 2 opens just seconds after the cliffhanger, the resolution to this only really lasts one episodes but by merging it with flashbacks to the original campaign and how the familiar faces came to the team it’s extended to 2 episodes. It’s a great start to the season, showing us where the characters and administration are and where they’ve come from. The season continues along much the same lines as the first, but there seem to be more defeats than victories with various things coming to light and the President having to decide on whether to stand for re-election. No cliffhanger this time, but still the overwhelming desire to see more. I watched seasons 1 and 2 in 8 days. It is simply superb.

DVD Special Features
Absolutely no special features. (I don’t care what they say “interactive menus and scene selection” are not special features!)

The West Wing: Season 1

Starting in the 2nd year of Bartlet’s presidency the series starts with the President falling off his bike (particularly hilarious following Bush’s tumble recently) and most of the rest of the staff suffering various personal and political mishaps. The season continues through various political events, but focusses on the west wing, the president and the staff and their lives, not the life of the government. It’s about how they get things done, not so much what the things actually are. This is what really makes the show addictive – you care about these people, even when they’re being idiots and they bring life to politics. An average episode will probably have me laughing out loud a dozen times, close to tears a couple, inspired and distressed in equal measure, but most importantly unable to stop watching until there’s no more episodes to watch. The end of season cliffhanger drove me to distraction and I only had to wait about 18 hours to see the conclusion!

DVD Special Features
Pretty scant. There’s about 8 interviews with the principle cast Aaron Sorkin (creator, writer, producer) and a director. But they’re pretty bland, taped just a few episodes into the 1st season. Nothing very exciting. There’s a making of documentary which is interesting but brief, and a few tv spot things that aren’t anything more than padding. A real shame they didn’t make more effort, some commentaries would be great.

Northern Exposure: Season 1

This season spends most of it’s time finding it’s feet and trying to work out what it the series actually is. It’s not until the final episode (Aurora Borealis) that I think it really finally works out that it can be a drama and a laugh out loud comedy. Its the quirky secondary characters that really stand out from the fairly standard fish out of water plot and will-they/won’t-they ranting between the two leads. At just 8 episodes long it’s a great taster and definitely makes me want to see more.

DVD Special Features
Some text biographies and some unexciting photos. Also, why do tv show dvds almost never give a “play all” function? Drives me nuts.

Firefly: Season 1

Truly one of the best shows of the last few years, better than Stargate, Enterprise, even Angel, it absolutely blows them all out of the water. Criminally limited to 13 episodes (one of which was double length) the show managed to come up with a truly believable group of characters in an original and credible universe. More a western in space than Star Trek ever managed it also brings in strong elements from eastern cultures, including mandarin swearing and geishas. For the most part the technology is very limited as the series focusses on border worlds where surviving is a struggle involving livestock, smuggling and gunfights. However every now and then a glimpse of future technology appears reminding us that it is set in the future after all. Oh and of course the spaceship. The style is very interesting, intentional loss of focus and steadiness (even on cgi shots) brings the audience right in to the action and little things like the absence of sound in space add an extra layer of realism.

As with most Joss Whedon shows though, it’s all about the people. The 9 residents of the Firefly Serenity are a random bunch of people who’ve fallen together, each with a different core role to play and way of interacting with the others, the cast loved working on this series, and it really shows.

The writing is typical of a Whedon show, entertaining and witty while making occasional deep and meaningful comment (particularly Objects in Space which works just as well as a philosophical statement as it does a Bounty Hunter tale). The characters are all natural and get a fairly good balance of screentime even in the limited run. There aren’t really any stand-out episodes, they’re all superb and varied, from the A-Team caper of Ariel, the excellent pilot Serenity, the flashback episode Out of Gas… the list is only limited by the networks short sighted stupidity cancelling the show.

DVD Special Features
First and foremost the dvd has the episodes in the original order with the pilot at the beginning not the end! This is invaluable for the character development and gives you a much better idea of what the show was about. Also the episodes are broadcast in the intended wide screen, showing some really beautiful framing in places. The packaging is also very pretty with a funky double size dvd case type thing.

The special features are fairly numerous. 6 commentaries including the double episode are all interesting listens, although it took me a while to find them under “language options”. They range from Nathon Fillion and Alan Tudyk’s hilarious take on War Stories through to Joss Whedon’s philosophical discussion of Objects in Space. Shining through these and the documentary is the sense of pride and fun that the cast and crew had working on the show and there’s more than a few snide remarks about the cancellation.

The two features on the making of the show and the ship are very interesting and just about everybody gets a word in somewhere (including Kelly who some may be familiar with from the official website). The other features are fairly mindless filler, nice enough, but nothing special. The out-takes are funny, but sadly not the full collection that have been available on the web. It’s a shame there wasn’t more of the stuff that’s been available on the web, but what is there is still vastly superior to what you get on most other box sets. I’m glad that a cancelled show got such a loving treatment as this.

CSI: Season 3 (first half)

I don’t think this is one of the series best seasons, they seem to be trying to make each episode bigger and weirder than the last, making it sometimes drift towards seeming unrealistic or rushed. The team rarely deals with anything except murders and a lot of the levity is lost. The characters also seem to get lost a bit at times and fall into being one dimensional (yes already, I know Catherine is a single mum, get over it!). The best episode is probably Fight Night, if only for it’s self mocking teaser. The Accused Is Entitled is usually billed as another stand out episode, but I have to say I didn’t like it as it seemed to make the team look somewhat incompetent.

DVD Special Features
The packaging is consistent with the previous boxes and very nice, but the other special features are a bit lacking The ‘CSI moves into season 3’ seems to have more comment on the episodes in the next box set than in this one and is rather brief. The tour of the police station is a nice little filler, highlighting some of the locations seen less often and helping to make sense of them. However with just these two featurettes it really is a bit pathetic. 4 commentaries look like a better deal and they have some interesting comments from writers and directors, but they also contain a lot of deathly silence as they just sit watching the episode. Rather disappointing.