I apologize for not posting more DVD reviews to the website in the last few weeks. I have recently been preoccupied by a couple of television shows making their appearances on DVD. These multiple disc sets have taken up a lot of my available viewing time. Now that I am finished with them, I am moving on.
AS DVD became a phenomenon and more and more players were purchased, people began buying more and more movies on DVD. A couple of companies experimented with releasing their shows on DVD. Perhaps one of the most successful early entries was “The Sopranos”. HBO decided to release an entire season in one package at a higher price point. Since HBO is a pay service, and not everyone subscribes, this presented them with an additional stream of both revenue and viewers, adding further to the phenomenon.
A few years ago, Fox started to release “The Simpsons” on DVD. Season 1 of “The Simpsons” is still one of the highest selling DVDs. When Fox realized that the fans would pay $30 to $40 for a boxed set of old seasons, which are currently airing for free in syndication, they ramped up the production schedule. The added benefits of these DVDs are the extras they include and the fact that they are commercial free. “The Simpsons”, currently at Season 5, is one of those shows that is so consistently funny that you can always play one of the DVDs and laugh at something new or something you have laughed at millions of times before.
The release on “Family Guy” on DVD was so successful that Fox realized that there is a huge fan base for this series and brought it back to TV.
With the success of these and other titles, every studio is cleaning out their vaults and releasing everything, in boxed sets, for each season. Everything from “What’s Happening?” to “Knot’s Landing”, “Three’s Company” to “Everybody Loves Raymond”, “Seinfeld” to “The Mole”. Personally, I don’t get the point of buying a lot of television series on DVD. There are a few exceptions, but why would anyone need to buy a season of a reality show or a mystery series like “Murder She Wrote”? How often could you watch “Survivor: The Australian Outback” and continue to find new things? It seems like once you know the outcome, you would never watch it again. Also, if a comedy is released on DVD, let’s make sure it has some sort of lasting value before plunking down our hard-earned dollars. “I Love Lucy”, “Seinfeld” and “The Simpsons” may have a place on collector’s bookshelves. But I can catch any episode of “The King of Queens”, “The Drew Carey Show” or “Everybody Loves Raymond” that I need to in syndication. I don’t even care to rent these. There is a real and significant place for shows that appear on Pay Cable. “The Sopranos”, “Queer As Folk”, “From the Earth To The Moon”, and others, reach new audiences because of their DVD exposure. I am more inclined to rent them, than buy them. However, cable services are now releasing anything that reaches any level of viewership on DVD. This helps to create more viewers for the next season of the show, and helps to increase ratings.
Perhaps the best use of Television shows on DVD is when the studios release short-lived series on DVD. These shows have a certain fan base and will probably never make it into syndication. Just because they didn’t catch on with the masses, doesn’t mean that they were not good, or maybe even great. Series like “Firefly” and “The Lone Gunmen” are able to find a new audience on DVD.
One of these series was “Murder One”. Created by Steven Bocho (“L.A. Law”, “NYPD Blue” and others), this series followed the lives of a group of lawyers at a high-profile firm in Los Angeles. Not exactly ground-breaking. Bocho did this already with “L.A. Law”. However, “Murder One” stretched the concept a bit. Each season would follow one case, from crime to jury verdict. The lawyers would investigate different leads, file different motions, etc. The series was an attempt to give a more complete view of the legal system, good and bad.
“Murder One” was not a perfect series, but when it was firing on all cylinders, it was riveting to watch. Daniel Benzali plays Theodore Hoffman, the head of a high-profile law office in Los Angeles. The firm has a number of high-profile clients including Richard Cross (Stanley Tucci, in one of his first big roles). The series opens with Richard Cross being arrested for the murder of a teenage girl in Hollywood. As Hoffman and his associates work the case, they soon learn that Neil Avedon (Jason Gedrick), a famous TV actor soon to make his feature film debut, may be involved.
Each week, the series introduced a number of twists and characters. As the twists and turns happened, some of them actually catch the viewer by surprise, yet, upon reflection, seem perfectly believable.
Another unique thing about the series is that it provided us with the first work by a number of well-respected actors today. Besides Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson appeared as Hoffman’s wife; their scenes together, usually at the end of Hoffman’s day (an episode), are interesting to watch. She provides a grounding influence to his character and his life. Mary McCormack played Justine Appleton, one of the lawyers in the firm. Since appearing on this series, she has gone on to play a number of character roles in films, some of which are forgettable.
Less successful is the series attempts to keep all of the lawyers ‘in the mix’. This is a large firm and Hoffman employs a large group of lawyers. During the course of events, Hoffman and the lawyer he is working with on the case are involved with events surrounding Cross and Avedon. As the events get going, the other lawyers need something to do. The solution is to let them handle smaller cases, which provide the “B Story” for the episode. Some of these are interesting, some are just silly. One involves two neighbors who go to court over a noisy dog. Another involves a young boy, the brother of a rapper, who is charged with murder. The quality of these cases varies wildly and detracts from the overall power of the primary case.
After the first season, the ratings were low and Benzali was demanding, so they reformatted the show. Anthony LaPaglia was brought it. He bought the firm. The second season covered three different crimes, the first involved a Basketball player charged with murder. It was a good season, but nowhere near as impactful as the first. With the change in format, it also became a grittier version of “L.A. Law”. What was the point? It was cancelled.
Fox recently released Season 1 of “Murder One” on DVD. It is a good excuse to catch the series and experience some great acting and good writing. Definitely worth renting from Netflix.
Returning to “The Simpsons” for a few moments…
After the enormous success of Season 1 on DVD, Fox began releasing all of the other seasons, slowly, and methodically. Season 5 is the most current offering. With each season, the bells and whistles get a little more elaborate. More commentaries, more storyboards and animatics, more deleted scenes. Season 4 contains a number of my favorite episodes and Season 5 marks the beginning of David Mirkin’s run as producer of the show.
In Season 3, Producers Al Jean and Mike Reiss seemed to realize that they could get away with some crazy stuff. The stories get a little wilder, a little more out of control and it works. They achieve a level of comedy that is hard to match.
Season 3 contains many of the classics. “Flaming Moes” is probably the most famous episode. It contains a lengthy appearance by Aerosmith, with all of the band members providing their voices. It also features a great parody of “The Phantom of The Opera”. “Brother Can You Spare Two Dimes” features the return of Danny DeVito as Homer’s half brother Herb. “When Flanders Failed” is a great Ned episode. Ned, a Lefty, decides he will open a store called the Leftorium. Naturally, Homer wants it to fail. “Bart The Murderer” contains some great parodies of gangster films. “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” is one of my favorites. Burns sells the power plant to a German company. The new owners are shocked by the ineptitude of the employees, particularly Homer, “the Safety Inspector” and the state of the power plant. It also features one of my favorite Homer daydreams, when he dreams he is in the Land of Chocolate. “Bart The Lover” is a story featuring Edna Krabapple, Bart’s teacher. She answers a singles ad which was placed by Bart. But the piece de resistance is “Black Widower”, one of the classic Sideshow Bob episodes. Sideshow Bob, brilliantly voiced by Kelsey Grammer, weds Selma in an attempt to get closer to Bart.
Season 4 is my all time favorite for two simple reasons: “Homer the Heretic” and “Last Exit To Springfield”. Each of these episodes is chock full of jokes, parodies, sight gags and more. In “Homer the Heretic”, Homer doesn’t want to get out of bed on a snowy Sunday to go with the family to church. Staying at home, he has the best day ever while his family gets caught in the freezing church. This features one of my favorite Reverand Lovejoy lines. But who could resist an episode when Homer dances around the house, in his underwear, in a parody of “Risky Business”. He also dreams that he meets God, who visits while Snowball is cleaning his butt. It is a great, great episode. “Last Exit to Springfield” contains one of the most cleverly written stories of them all. It contains a bunch of funny references and parodies.