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The first two seasons of “Mr. Show” (starring Bob “Breaking Bad” Odenkirk, David “Arrested Development” Cross, Mary-Lynn “24” Rajskub, and Sarah “The Sarah Silverman Program” Silverman), $29.99 in 2008 and $14.49 last month, is now $7.82!! (69% Off!!)
New This Week
A huge investment of money and effort has been expended to upgrade “Star Trek: The Next Generation” to HD for a series of Blu-ray releases. Season one hits shelves today, and the upgrade from low-rez is spectacular and well worth the engineering.
I’ve a very old memory of attending a TNG event at the Museum of Television & Radio in Los Angeles and hearing showrunner Rick Berman explaining to an inquiring fan that Gene Roddenberry hadn’t been much involved with TNG subsequent to its first season. The new documentaries on this set seem to hint at a general dissatisfaction with season one that led to Berman replacing Roddenberry as TNG’s creative boss.
And while the first season is easily the worst of the series’ seven, it’s still surprisingly watchable. If nothing else, it’s fun to see how far the series had come since those days when Starfleet crewmen wore minidresses and a proud Klingon had to depend on a teenager to save his warrior ass over and over again.
Clearly someone was already wising up by season one’s end; Wesley Crusher is as absent as Tasha Yar in the final three episodes.
New HD bonus material includes:
* ENERGIZED! TAKING THE NEXT GENERATION TO THE NEXT LEVEL (23:46), which looks into the remastering of the series for release on Blu-ray. We learn that Michael and Denise Okuda were “intensely skeptical” when they were approached about remastering the series. This mini-doc demonstrates that the task was daunting indeed, but also well worth the trouble. The side-by-side comparisons are eye-popping, particularly the space shots depicting the Enterprise 1701-D and the other spacecraft used in the series. Candidly, it’s shocking how beautiful Picard’s ship looks now, and the remastered shot of its approach to the massive Starbase 7-4 is jaw-dropping in its texture and detail. The Blu-ray team apparently realized pretty quickly that a quick upconvert of the standard-definition episodes would never be acceptable. (Words cannot express how shitty some of the first season’s effects look on an HD screen.) We get glimpses of the original film and audio elements in cans and boxes, which Paramount was smart enough to store underground in a Pennsylvania mine shaft(!)! Some 2,500 cartons were excavated, each of which held up to a dozen boxes of film and audio. One of the tricky parts of the restoration were finding the special effects elements that were repurposed from season to season; as a consequence, shots used in season one may have come to their final resting place in a box full of season three elements. Some of the TV elements found their way into boxes containing elements for the Trek movies. Something between 30,000 and 50,000 elements have to be recovered and scanned into HD. Some elements harder to find than other. A blurry standard-def upconvert had to substitute for 13 seconds of missing negative for “Sins of the Father” (included on the four-episode TNG “sampler” Blu-ray released in January), but those 13 seconds were found subsequently and the episode will be 100% HD when the third-season TNG Blu-ray is issued. Taking a page from the recent Blu-ray releases of the 1960s Kirk-Spock show, there are some new, built-from-scratch CG effects substituting for TNG effects elements that remain missing. The crystalline entity from “Datalore,” for example, gets a remarkable (and apparently quite time-consuming remodel and upgrade for this new season-one set while remaining faithful to the creature’s original look. Convincing arguments are made by the restorers for maintaining the series’ original 3x4 aspect ratio despite fans clamoring for the series in the 16x9 ratio favored by HD sets.
* STARDATE REVISTED 1: INCEPTION (28:09) Old standard-def footage of Gene Roddenberry is interspersed with new HD interviews with Rick Berman, D.C. Fontana, David Gerrold, and others. Learn that Paramount VP Berman became the studio’s liaison with Roddenberry because he was one of the more junior executives. Original make-up and wardrobe tests are presented in HD. Learn that one of Roddenberry’s ideas for TNG was to maybe ditch the starships and simply travel to distant worlds via a long-range transporter beam. Learn that Gerrold argued against the inclusion of Wesley Crusher and other children on an exploratory vessel. Learn that Roddenberry integrated the nigh-omnipotent character of Q into the pilot script only after Paramount insisted on a two-hour pilot instead of a one-hour pilot. Learn that Roddenberry was for months adamant about not having a Klingon on the bridge, but relented late in the process when others kept pitching the idea to him. Learn that the series was able to stretch its budget by repurposing sets used in the “Star Trek” movies (the Whale-centric “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” had already hit cinemas before TNG launched). Learn the “wishbone railing” on the Enterprise-D bridge was particularly difficult to construct. Learn Roddenberry originally balked when producer Bob Justman suggested bald, middle-aged Englishman Patrick Stewart for the new captain. Learn Gene Roddenberry told “Cagney & Lacey” icon Stephen Macht in a meeting, “I want you to play this part [of Picard]. I’ve seen everything you’ve done. You’re the guy.” Macht apparently lost the role because he refused to read for it.
* STARDATE REVISTED 2: LAUNCH (32:13) All the original cast members discuss their earliest experiences with the series. Learn that Patrick Stewart knows another actor almost got the part of Picard, but to this day does not know and does not want to know that actor is Stephen Macht. Learn Jonathan Frakes got the role of Riker because somebody thought Berman’s first choice, Billy Campbell, didn’t seem like someone men would follow into battle. Learn both Brent Spiner and Gates McFadden both had their eyes on big-screen careers when they auditioned for the series. Learn that Wil Wheaton and show producers agreed Wheaton’s initial audition did not go well. Learn Worf was initially conceived as a recurring role. Learn Denise Crosby thought “Star Trek: The Next Generation” sounded to her like a terrible idea. Learn that Marina Sirtis and Denise Crosby were originally cast in each other’s roles, with Crosby playing Troi and Sirtis playing Yar. Learn Michael Dorn met his Oscar-winning “Trek” make-up artist, Michael Westmore, when Dorn played Apollo Creed’s bodyguard in the first “Rocky.” Learn (via make-up tests) that Roddenberry’s first ideas for Data’s skin color were bubblegum pink and battleship grey. (He quickly settled, however, on “white gold” before seeing the other two colors.) Learn Troi’s skintight unitard costume (introduced after the pilot’s “cheerleader” Starfleet minidress, was made of uncomfortable grey denim.
* STARDATE REVISTED 3: THE CONTINUING MISSION (32:42) Learn the pilot went $400,000 over budget. (By contrast, the Kirk-Spock pilot cost $300,000 total.) Learn some subsequent episodes ran more than $1 million over budget. See how crude the pencil animation of the Starfleet crew is for the rear window of the Enterprise-D used during the opening credits. Learn, via D.C. Fontana and others, that Roddenberry had very little to do with the Harve Bennett-produced Trek movies. Learn that Roddenberry did major rewrites of many first season TNG scripts – rewrites that did not please the scripts’ original writers. Learn that Gerrold and Fontana both elected to exit the show for good after its first 13 episodes were completed. Learn Crosby, who like the rest of the regular cast has signed a six-year contract, asked to be written out of the series during season one. Learn that Stewart didn’t like the female stereotypes written into the early scripts.
* TEASER FOR TNG SEASON TWO. This promotes the set containing Dr. Katherine Pulaski episodes. We learn it includes the first appearance of The Borg and Melinda Snodgrass’ Data-on-trail episode “The Measure of a Man.” It also contains footage of a cast reunion (including Gates McFadden, even though she didn’t participate in season two) that demonstrates that Jonathan Frakes is losing his hair.
The new Blu-ray set also comes with standard-def bonus features carried over from the 2002 DVD release:
* THE BEGINNING (18:01) looks back at the series’ origins and philosophies.
* SELECTED CREW ANALYSIS (15:18) finds the cast looking back their earliest experiences.
* THE MAKING OF A LEGEND (15:27) deals with the visual designs and effects utilized.
* MEMORABLE MISSIONS (17:04) features the cast and crew discussing the making of season-one episodes “Skin of Evil,” “Heart of Glory,” “Where No One Has Gone Before,” “The Arsenal of Freedom,” “Lonely Among Us,” “11001001,” “The Last Outpost,” “Justice,” “Conspiracy” and “Code of Honor.”
* INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES (2:45) is a promo for the series from 1987.
* SEASON ONE PROMO (4:07) offers a slightly longer version of the “Introduction to the Series.”
* GAG REEL (8:10) A very standard-def (it looks like a really sad old VHS tape) compilation of blown takes and the like.
“Boss” was my favorite new series of last fall and my third favorite hourlong of 2011, after “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad.” The series was created and is overseen by Farhad Sarafina, who earlier scripted Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto”; he is clearly a writer to watch.
This mesmerizing tale of a complex, monstrous Chicago mayor isn’t yet as good as “The Wire,” but for me it fills the vacuum left by “The Wire” much more capably than “Treme.”
Like “Boardwalk Empire,” this is a tale of gangster-politicians. If you’ve been enjoying the saga of Nucky Thompson, I strongly encourage you to pursue the tale of Tom Kane.
... tightly written and intensely acted ... The good news, if you can ever call a true horror show good, is that by the time Mayor Tom Kane actually calls himself bad, we are already battered and reeling from the shock of how awful, or how destroyed, almost everyone here is. …
... a swing-for-the fences drama that can be as reflexively cynical and brutal about politics as The West Wing was reflexively hopeful and earnest. It’s ambitious and operatic, certainly one of the most interesting and potentially promising offerings in a mostly cautious season of new fall shows. …
... knowing the broad strokes didn't entirely prepare me for the intensity and magnetism of Grammer's performance. ... suffers a bit for having to remind people that they're watching a pay cable drama, with nudity and/or sex scenes so gratuitous as to be laughable. …
... The role of Kane lets Grammer present his dramatic bona fides and put his 'Frasier' (and, er, 'Hank') personas to rest, and he's so good as the driven politician that he alone is almost reason enough to tune in. The problem is, the show that's been built around the actor (who's also a producer on the project) isn't nearly as interesting as what Grammer brings to the screen, and the sluggish pacing and melodramatic excesses of 'Boss' could put off those drawn in by the actor's confident star turn. ...
… a smart look at political power brokers that gets silly on the subjects of sex and violence. ... …
… This ability to project opposing forces is one reason Grammer has been so successful in comedy — he can play the fool and still remain an alpha male. It's also why he is now able to breathe life into Frasier Crane's hard-hearted doppelganger, Chicago Mayor Tom Kane... if the writers have overly epic ambitions, they also have a collective eye for detail. The pilot, directed by Gus Van Sant, is visually rich and textured, opening as it does in an abandoned slaughterhouse. ...
... has my vote for the best new show of the season. ... “He understood something basic about all people,” Kane said of Cermak. “They want to be led.” They want to be entertained, too, and “Boss” gets the job done. …
... the best new fall series. It's a captivating political drama that contains echoes of "The Sopranos," "The Wire" and "Breaking Bad" … Kane is a fascinating TV monster, perfect for an era of political cynicism and disappointment. But TV viewers who watch "Boss" probably won't be disappointed and even those who are wary of latching onto a new series have reason to give the show a chance: Starz renewed "Boss" for a second season weeks before tonight's series premiere. …
... a stunning new dramatic series ... as big, bold and complexly two-fisted as the city it celebrates. It marks an obvious departure for Grammer after years of sitcom work, an expansion of Van Sant's interests to television and, most of all, a coming of age for the cable channel … When you have a story as thoroughly involving as this one, evoking both "King Lear" and "Citizen Kane," and when the performances are this good, "Boss" almost directs itself. …
... at once the most cynical and most captivating portrayal of American politics ever presented on television. ... If Boss has a television ancestor, it’s not the idealist-streaked-with-pragmatism West Wing but the dark and relentlessly cynical The Wire, in which self-interested urban politicians, cops and prosecutors were as corrupt as the drug gangs they pursued. …
... works hard to resist the usual “this is how we do things in Chicago” nonsense and dutifully aims for a somewhat “Wire”-esque believability. Yet it can also feel like a burden to watch. Everyone here is pretty despicable, which gets old quick. ...
... Unlikable characters are practically the norm on cable dramas — shows from “Damages” to “Dexter” star monsters of one sort or another — yet they all have some element that draws viewers to them. Publicly charming, privately vile, Kane treats everyone in his orbit with everything from whiplash harangues to outbursts of violence. His illness is the only detail that might render him sympathetic, but his spitefulness prevents that. ...
… “Boss’’ is so hard-hitting and so willing to challenge viewers, it begins to put Starz in another league of cable identity, alongside AMC, FX, HBO, and Showtime. One or two more similarly ambitious series and Starz will be remade. … It is not an optimistic hour of TV, so much as a strong, cool rebuttal to “The West Wing.’’ …
... I kept hoping would get better or more interesting the more I watched. No such luck. This series is most notable for giving Kelsey Grammer (Frasier who?) a wonderfully meaty dramatic workout. ...
… Boss does have one big card to play in its favor, and that's the Boss himself, Kelsey Grammer, in his first dramatic series starring role. Playing Chicago Mayor Tom Kane, Grammer proves what we should have known from all those Frasier Emmys: He's not just a great comic actor, he's a great actor, period. ... Some of the intrigue is cleverly done, but none of it connects to characters we care about. ...
... certainly creates a showy role for star/producer Kelsey Grammer as a ruthless Windy City mayor diagnosed with a debilitating disease, adding a "Breaking Bad," nothing-to-lose quality to his serialized story. Still, the show labors under the weight of familiar political-movie cliches, offsetting its polished look -- and Gus Van Sant's unorthodox direction of the pilot -- with a been-there, seen-that feel. …
... For HBO, it was The Sopranos; for Showtime, it was Dexter; for FX, it was The Shield; and for AMC, it was Mad Men. … those were game-changers. And now Starz has its channel-defining series in Boss, a wholly impressive new drama that comes out of the gate with gravitas, swagger, originality and intrigue. ...
Dan Vs. 1.x
Designing Women 7.x
Diff'rent Strokes 3.x
The Inbetweeners: The Complete Series
James May's 20th Century
Sanctuary 4.x (Blu-ray)
Scooby-Doo: Laff-A-Lympics - Spooky Games
At Home With The Georgians <--- NEW!!
Blade Anime: The Complete Series
The Costume Drama Collection
Federal Men: 16 Episodes
Hatfields & McCoys
Hatfields & McCoys (Blu-ray)
The Kent Chronicles
Magic School Bus: The Complete Series
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Little Women: The Complete 1978 Miniseries
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Mighty Morphin Power Rangers 1.x Vol. 1
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Star Wars: The Clone Wars 4.x (Blu-ray)