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.

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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.

Another one of those series where you forget just how good they were at the start. A truly stunning series from the very start of the pilot. Really hits the ground running and just keeps running throughout the whole season. The huge range of story-lines is fascinating, with some running a scene, some an act, episode, right up through to season long character arcs.

Standout episodes include Blizzard (a big disaster, snow, christmas), Into That Good Night (absolute floods of tears over Alan Rosenberg’s performance), Love’s Labour Lost (just plain stunning).

DVD Special Features
A lovely dvd package, with all the season 1 episodes and the feature length pilot. The packaging is nice and compact, although I’m not convinced about the double sided dvds – more efficient, but I keep putting the damn things in upside-down. The small collection of documentaries are very interesting, with most of the principle cast reflecting back on the start of the series. I’ve only listened to one commentary track and have to admit it was deadly dull, so I’m not holding out much hopes for the other two. It’s fascinating to see just what a long shot it was considered at the time, with the networks almost refusing to air it because they thought the audience just wouldn’t get it. Also nice to see said executives admitting how wrong they were.

CSI: Season 2 (second half)

Still one of the most reliable shows I’ve ever seen. There’s really no such thing as a bad episode. There are some unsubtle character moments with the introduction of Grissom having a problem and the Sara/Grissom dynamic, but there’s also some nice subtleties from a team that’s worked together for several years. Stand-outs include a huge bus crash (I’m a sucker for a big disaster), the return of Paul Millander and the CSI Miami pilot. But it really is the overal high quality that makes the set so enjoyable.

DVD Special Features
Disappointing compared to the previous box. The lack of commentaries is really noticeable. The few features on the final disk are decidedly unexciting. The tour of the lab, location discussion and equipment guide are all fairly dull, the making of a hit is the same old stuff. Very similar to the first season stuff, but disappointing after the commentaries. Oh, it still glows in the dark though.

CSI: Season 2 (first half)

Season 2 resumes where the 1st left off, 12 individual episodes and cases, but there’s probably more stand out episodes. Episodes 1 and 2 both feature the whole team working together on the same cases which is always fun to watch. Other stand-outs are Slaves of Las Vegas introducing Lady Heather (who’ll return in season 3) who plays Grissom at his own game, Ellie which gives the ‘youngsters’ the chance to do their thing without the parents, and some nice stuff for Brass. A bit more background stuff on the characters is nice to see, but the cases are still central.

DVD Special Features
Quite a bit more than the 1st season sets. First the box glows in the dark! Nifty! Commentaries on the first episode (Burked) and Ellie have some nice information. The features on the set walk-through (all the equipment is real and theoretically works) and cast (Coroner Doc Robbins really does have a prosthetic leg) are also fun, and the fillers of music video, trailers and the rather funky 3d menu fill it all out nicely.