Stargate Atlantis: Season 1

Atlantis manages to succeed in all the ways SG1 did, while also occasionally falling into the same holes. At it’s heart this is an episodic sf series with a group of great characters and an abundance of sarcasm. The plots are usually interesting and fun, occasionally suffering from large holes or hammering home the ”shades of grey” moral issues a bit much. The arc storylines focus on exploring and setting up the new Atlantis base and the threat from the vampirey Wraith. The former allowed for some budget episodes and the chance to distinguish themselves from the more military feel of SG1. The latter plot was well handled through the first season and made a refreshing change from the complex political situation that the Gould became in SG1.

What sells this series for me though are the great characters and their interactions. Frankly all of the characters are at least faintly annoying, but that only makes them more interesting. The ”snarking” between characters is hilarious and feels very natural, they feel like real people not just The Doctor, The Soldier. The Jack-Daniel double act is replaced here with Shepherd-McKay, but here the Soldier also happens to be a bit of a geek and The Geek is something of a force of nature. The alien (Teyla) and the sidekick (Ford) get a bit of a slim deal in the first season but they manage to be more than their stereotypes even with only a few lines each episode. Probably the weakest link is Weir who never quite manages to have the gravitas that’s required from the leader, always coming across as rather deferring and wet.

Atlantis plays to its target audience with the geeks saving the day half the time and with characters referencing Star Trek and Back to the Future enthusiastically. It’s not the best science fiction out there, but it’s a very entertaining watch each week.

DVD Special Features (Region 1)
The Region 1 dvd is truly a thing of beauty, from the nice slim line box, to the huge amounts of special features to the great quality video. There are commentaries on about 1/2 the episodes including contributions from all the main actors, the writers, directors and even a couple of SG1 people that seemed to wonder in and feel like chatting. They are all as crazy and dedicated as each other and the commentaries are hilarious and interesting. The featurettes cover the usual stuff like set tours, make-up and behind the scenes on a couple of the episodes. The season 1 review is actually a showcase of everyone messing about and failing to take anything seriously. This show is either amazing fun to work on or everyone is a great actor.

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House: Season 1

I tried watching this show on tv each week but found it very irritating and predictable. For some reason though it was much better to watch all in one go (well, over a few days anyway) as the formulaic episodes usually have some interesting character stuff buried in them and there are occasional but interesting breaks from the formula.

The star (and indeed the point of the show) is House himself, a miserable, sarcastic, bitter diagnostician who has no real interest in dealing with patients. It is glorious to watch him put everyone down with one-liners, harassment and cultural references and watch everyone around him try to work him out. Whether he really is a bastard, or actually has a heart of gold buried deep inside doesn’t really matter, any small hints given in the first season are extremely small. The rest of the cast is there as support really – the ”ducklings” (the trio of junior doctors who follow House around) are hugely cliche but have some interesting interactions, the dean of medicine seems ridiculously young and frequently pathetic, but makes a good foil for House sometimes. The standout is the long suffering best friend who seems to be the only indication that House actually has a heart.

Plots are almost a sideline, they’re usually vaguely interesting, but suffer from having almost identical structure eatch week. Patient has weird symptoms, House et al guess at cause A, patient nearly dies, they guess at cause B, patient nearly dies, they guess at cause C (sometimes being a mixture of A+B), patient gets better. Slotted somewhere in there will be a patient nearly dies, something they do makes the patient worse/nearly dead, something they want to do is radical/illegal hence the hospital administration gets involved, House treats minor cases in clinic one of whom leads him to come up with the solution. If you’re watching it on tv you can actually time these phases by advert breaks.

Towards the end of the season a threat to House is brought in in the shape of a generous donor who gets himself on the hospital board and decides he wants House out. Frankly this whole thing seemed a bit daft to me as it seemed ridiculous that a successful businessman would try to micromanage something he knew nothing about. It all seemed contrived to create tension for the seemingly untouchable House, which it did do successfully, so I guess it’s ok if you can look past the absurdity.

Boston Legal: Season 1

Season 1 is a strangely truncated season thanks to a bizarre network decision to move the last 5 episodes from season 1 into season 2. The shortening of the season makes the whole thing seem very focussed and dense (or maybe that’s because I watched the whole thing in just a few days).

I don’t care what the labels say, this is by far more of a comedy than a drama – nothing that makes me laugh out loud and splutter my tea so many times per episode isn’t a comedy. The characters played by James Spader and William Shatner are so deliciously nasty, weird and compelling that they can steal the whole episode with just raised eyebrow. The other characters frequently suffer not because they’re bad or poorly acted, but just because they can’t compete. These two on screen seperately are brilliant, when they’re together playing off each other they’re amazing.

Plot wise it is interesting to see the lawyers fighting different sides of criminal cases and how ‘approved’ practice changes depending on the situation and the client. I can’t wait to see the 2nd season and I have just two words…

Denny Crane!

Angel: Season 1

The first season of the spin off takes a little bit of time to settle down while they play about with ideas. The season has two halves as the series starts off with Doyle as Angel’s link to the powers that be. It would actually have been interesting to see where they went with this character, it was nice to see a new and genuinely L.A. character. When Wesley first arrived he was cringingly embarrassing but after a few episodes he settled down and became useful and the trio worked well together as a team.

Plot wise I felt there were a couple too many “Angel becomes human” type stories and possibly too many cross-overs from the Buffy verse. It’s quite clear that there’s more shades of grey in the Angel world than in Buffy – not all demons are bad and there’s a whole other layer of society set up for them. The season did a surprisingly good job at not becoming ‘vision of the week’ and kept stories and ideas pretty varied. There was plenty of set up for the 2nd season with Gunn and Darla introduced near the end. This season felt like it was stumbling around to find it’s feat a bit, but it got there in the end.

DVD Special Features
Just two commentaries seems a little bit stingy for a Buffy-verse dvd, but they are both quite interesting – Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt talk a lot about the show’s conception and style over the pilot and Jane Espenson talks more about the characters and writing over Room W/A Vu. The featurettes are a few minutes each on Angel, Cordelia and the various demons and feel rather sound-bytey and overloaded with clips, rather than going into any depth. The season overview which is usually very good was a bit lacking here – maybe indicative that the producers are just as aware at how many wrong turns there were during the season. Also – why do they insist on putting the season overview on disc 3 of 6?

Buffy: Season 6

A bit of a low point in the series I think, the addition of a whiny teenager didn’t really add much to the series except for a whiny teenager and more sanctimonious Buffy. I think the most interesting dynamic was actually between the two sisters and their mother which makes it a shame the group didn’t last very long. Joyce’s death forces Buffy to be the grown up and make the difficult decisions, but it takes away part of the soul of the show.

Most of the storylines of the season were just more irritating than entertaining. I really liked Riley, he was an interesting character and he and Buffy worked well as a couple. The disappearance of the goofy-Xander character was considerably less depressing! Anya and Tara continue to develop in the group funnily and cutely respectively and although Spike is occasionally funny he’s not a character I ever really liked much. I liked the Magic Box as a final replacement for the library and Giles having something to do was less pathetic.

All in all there were some good character development, but nothing particularly standout about the plots for the year.

DVD Special Features
A standard collection of Buffy special features. The long season overview was interesting as ever , bringing together some of the themes of the season and touching on almost every episode. The commentary tracks seemed a bit scarcer than usual but were informative as ever, particularly Joss’ very personal discussion of The Body. The additional features on Dawn and … um… something else were apparently pretty forgetable. It would still be nice to see some more stuff from the cast.

Buffy: Season 4

This always seems to be thought of us as one of the poorer seasons of Buffy and I can see the logic in that, but I actually quite liked it. It was definitely a transitional piece moving from High School to college and grown-upness and I think it actually did it in a very slick manner – conveying the huge life changes while still being Buffy. The characters of Giles and Xander got sidelined a bit by nature of not going through this process – but for Buffy and Willow the season had some nice development and cool stories. For all the grumbling about Riley being a poor substitute for Angel I actually much prefer the character and the relationship – enough brooding and doom already. The initiative is maybe not the most exciting of arcs ever, but it made a change from Big Bad Demon of the year.

The season also features two of my all-time-favourite episodes – Hush and Restless, some hilarious moments in Superstar and almost any time Anya is on screen and makes me cry every time I see Oz leave.

DVD Special Features
A nice collection of commentaries. Joss’ commentaries on Hush and Restless are fascinating, expanding hugely on their themes and implications. Doug Petrie is greatly entertaining in hers and throughout they rarely degenerate into “everyone was wonderful”. The season overview was interesting as ever – although there was a notable lack of cast members. The other mini-features were also informative, I particularly liked the one on the music which actually managed to tell me stuff I didn’t already know. My niggles would be that I really hate the teeny music snippets on the menu, I couldn’t find any way to actually switch a commentary off and the scripts are pretty terrible to read in the format of 8 lines per page.

Monk: Season 1

A cute collection of episodes that made for pleasant background viewing. There wasn’t a huge amount of mystery to most of the episodes – either with the guilty party shown committing the crime at the start or through just being utterly predictable. This doesn’t really matter that much as the whole series is focussed on Monk and how he does what he does. The idea of an obsessive compulsive detective is an interesting one and well suited to a comedy-drama – but I wish it was a bit funnier or a bit more dramatic.

DVD Special Features
The small collection of featurettes on the development of the series, casting and concept are interesting to watch. Shame there wasn’t a bit more detail and a couple of commentaries.

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