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.

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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.

Stargate SG1: Season 9

I’ve been rather unexcited with this new season of SG1. The series has had to go through several changes following the conclusion of most of the old arc storylines and the change of several cast members. The new cast are doing a good job and could be interesting, but I just don’t think they’re being given the material by the writers and the original cast have teh same problem. I think they’re trying to do too much too fast – introduce new major characters and a new arc plotline all within a few episodes. in doing this they’ve missed out on the standalone episodes that made SG1 fun to watch on a weekly basis.

Of the new stuff – the Ori plot just doesn’t interest me, I think it’s been rushed. Ben Browder’s Cameron Mitchell is frequently amusing and potentially interesting – if only he’d drift a bit further away from John Crichton. The new general is a bit bland (although so was Hammond) and the new doctor seems irritatingly bitchy. By far the highlight of the season were the 6 episodes with Claudia Black’s Vala creating mayhem and hilarity. The rest of the season so far has just not had the fire that those episodes do.

The Shield: Season 2

I forgot to actually write the review of this season after I watched it and only wrote the review of the special features for some reason. Looking back at the episode list the key plot arcs come back to me – particularly the Armadillo drug wars and the set up for the Money Train heist at the end (which I seem to recall actually came across as a bit of a damp squib after a whole season of buildup). It’s a continuing miracle that the Strike Team manage to get themselves out of trouble every time having got themselves into seemingly untenable positions.

The character arcs seem mostly set around breaking characters down, in contrast to season 1’s building them up. It seems we see the characters fail more often and more spectacularly and then see them mope about a bit and eventually work out how to get back on top. The end of the season ends explosively and sets up some interestingly different situations for season 3.

DVD Special Features
This season has a lot more featurettes than the first season, but fewer commentaries. In some ways this actually works well – particularly in the form of the directors table which is a fascinating 45 minute discussion between 3 directors and Shawn Ryan the creator. Having the directors together discussing the whole season allows them great interplay and range rather than being locked to an episode. The wrap day is a bit sappy with everybody hugging and gushing, but it shows how shooting actually happens and I’m a sucker for watching cast and crew looking so happy. The sound and editorial features are a bit dry, but informative. The 30 deleted scenes are great – most of them again cut for time, sometime losing whole sub-stories but this really really suffers from the lack of play all functions.

The Shield: Season 1

The first episode tells you just about everything you need to know about the show. It drops you right in the middle and expects you to catch up, keep up and hardly gives you the time to evaluate your feelings at any point. The world of the shield is all about conflicts and shades of grey, between good cops through bad cops, good criminals through to real evil criminals – and also how a person’s label can change by the hour. I found myself desperately trying to like characters that I knew had done unforgivable things, the contrast of watching Mackey with his family after seeing what he does ‘at work’ is breath taking. So many of the characters are hanging to their jobs/sanity by their fingertips it makes almost every scene potentially life changing.

The first season has some elements of arc, mostly watching the back and forth between Captain Acceveda and Vic Mackey and over the thirteen episodes the balance is well maintained with neither side ever coming across as victorious or incompetent. Other characters also have their own developments, Dutch’s eventual acceptance is a particularly welcome moment that seems so well earned and genuine. The stories have an interesting range covering regular cases as well as the strike team cases which seemed likely to be the focus. The complex politics of the gang/drug cases the strike team manipulate are contrasted with regular detective cases with Claudette and Dutch and even the beat officer scenes with Danny and Julian. There really aren’t any stand-out episodes, the short season of 13 episodes is intense and continuous almost all the way through, I’m not sure a longer season would have managed this intensity and realism.

DVD Special Features
This is quite probably the best dvd of a season I have ever seen. Every episode has a commentary and there’s a couple of documentaries as well. The pride and joy the cast and crew have in their show is outstanding and the number of people involved in the dvd shows this. The commentaries are ‘overseen’ by creator/writer/director Shawn Ryan who compares them, meaning that they don’t descend into self congratulations or deathly silence. All the series regulars are involved in the commentaries as well as crew from writers, directors to the music director and all thirteen are fascinating. There’s a whole bunch of deleted scenes which mostly fall into the category of ‘cut for time’ rather than ‘crap and not important’. The making of feature is interesting although mostly is covered in the commentaries. My one criticism would be that a play all button would improve flow of episodes and was a huge oversight for the 17 deleted scenes. But that oversight is only so irritating because of how superb the whole rest of the set is.

Will and Grace: Season 5

I find all of the 4 main characters cringingly painful a lot of the time and have a hatred for stunt casting celebrities – yet still find this series hilarious and addictive. Season 5 actually moves some of the characters forward a bit as Grace gets married (to probably the least annoying character in the whole season) and Will deals with losing her – a perfect opportunity for them to be whiny and dense. Karen almost behaves like a normal person at times, but Jack manages to bumble along just as ever. The wit and sappiness manage to overcome the cringey bits and make it quite hard to actually stop watching.

DVD Special Features
Buying the whole season in one box set is definitely a better idea than buying 6 separate dvds as I have in previous years and the box is very nicely packaged. The highlight of the specials is the ~5minute blooper reel which is hilarious. There’s a long Living TV interview with Eric McCormack which is cheesily fun (including a surprisingly good karaoke Don’t Go Breaking My Heart). There’s another behind the scenes feature which is fun if sappy and the usual collection of montages. An impressive set given that I picked it up for under 20quid.

Buffy: Season 3

Is this actually the best season of Buffy? I’d never really thought so, but on re-watching it I might be more tempted to come down as a yay vote. While the more mature gang of the later years might not be so irritating it’s hard not to rejoice at watching the original gang together in all their glory. Cordelia, Oz and Angel bringing the bitchy, the wit and the intensity respectively in ways that later replacements never quite managed.

Plot wise, I was surprised at how late in the season it was that the arc of the Mayor and Faith really got going. 2/3 of the season was completely stand alone episodes and some of them go down as all time greats – Band Candy, The Wish, The Zeppo, Dopplegangland and Earshot are all truly superb. Most of the characters have interesting arcs too especially the stand-out Faith. The end of this season marks a dramatic change in the series with Angel spinning off and the start of ‘grown-up Buffy’, which half of the series is better is a debate to be had over and over, but season 3 is definitely a worthy end to the first half.

DVD Special Features
As with all Buffy seasons there’s an interesting collection of commentaries from the writers (and one rather dull one from a director of photography) which very interestingly discuss the development of the series, season and episode in question. The featurettes on wardrobe, effects and weapons are short and interesting for 5 minutes but not much more. The overview featurette is considerably longer and is very interesting but should be watched at the end of the season not 1/2 way through as it’s placed on the dvds. Pet peeve is that the menu systems look very pretty but are a pain to use – there’s no ‘play all’ feature and it’s often not clear which order episodes come in.

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