Angie Tribeca: The Complete First Season (Warner, DVD) – I loved Police Squad, the short-lived TV comedy from the creators of Airplane! that spoofed TV cop shows with an anything goes approach. Only six episodes were made before the networks gave up on it. This was 1982, after all, back in the days when only three major networks existed, and though the concept had greater success a few years later in Sledge Hammer!, which spoofed 70s tough-guy crime shows and the Dirty Harry movies, it didn’t have the same concentrated absurdity. Had Police Squad launched 30 years later, it might have found a home in the cablesphere if not on network TV, where 30 Rock stirred Airplane!-like gags through the workplace comedy and media satire.
That’s where Angie Tribeca steps in. Created by Steve and Nancy Carell, it is the 21st century answer to Police Squad reworked as a parody of modern police procedurals. Rashida Jones is Angie Tribeca, a hard-case lone wolf cop who is assigned a new partner named Jay Geils (Hayes MacArthur), and they spend the season dancing around the mutual attraction while taking such high-profile cases as blackmail, art theft, and illegal pet ferrets smuggled into California. Just to break things up, they go undercover on an airliner where Angie’s competitive sister is a stewardess and in a prison with a gang of British thieves whose accents are almost impenetrable. The character names are a hodge-podge collection of pop culture references—fellow officer DJ Tanner is named after a “Full House” character, the coroner is Dr. Scholls, and their flinty boss is Chet Atkins (Jere Burns), who barks out every line with a disgruntled yell, no matter what the situation—and the cases are clichés turned on their heads. This kind of comedy demands creative lunacy, deadpan delivery, and a rapid fire barrage of gags to succeed and Angie Tribeca delivers, from crazed sight gags to nonsensical non sequiturs. It also features an impressive line-up of guest stars through the season, with appearances by Lisa Kudrow, Gary Cole, James Franco, Jeff Dunham, John Michael Higgins, Amy Smart, David Koechner, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Keegan-Michael Key, and Bill Murray. The season ends on a cliffhanger that spoofs the whole idea of season-ending cliffhangers, complete with romantic confessions in midst of defusing a bomb.
10 episodes on DVD, plus behind-the-scenes featurettes for each episode and bonus promotional featurettes
Based on the epic fantasy series of novels by Terry Brooks and produced for MTV, The Shannara Chronicles: Season One (MTV, DVD) attempts to create a sweeping adventure fantasy on the scope of Lord of the Rings (like the films, the show is shot in New Zealand) with a limited budget and a cast of attractive young heroes and heroines. The books themselves launched as a Tolkein-esque fantasy, a world of humans, elves, trolls, and gnomes, with prophecies and magic and heroes fated to go one epic quests, and the series reflects the inspirations as it tosses a half-elf outcast with magical Elfstones (Austin Butler), a royal elf princess (Poppy Drayton), and a human thief (Ivana Baquero) together to overcome their differences and save a dying ancient tree that protects the world from demons that want to destroy the world. The first episode tosses legends and myths and magical words at the audience as a Druid (Manu Bennett) arrives to warn the Elf King (John Rhys-Davies of Lord of the Rings) of the demon uprising. The big reveal—this is actually a post-apocalyptic Earth—is given away on the DVD cover, which shows Seattle’s Space Needle collapsed and overgrown with vegetation, but it’s still an enjoyable discovery as their quest takes them to the ruins of San Francisco.
It’s developed for TV and produced by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (who created Smallville) and co-produced by Jon Favreau (Iron Man), which should be promising, but given its ambitions, it plays like a 1990s cable fantasy series revived in the era of “Game of Thrones,” or a cheap, ersatz knock-off of a CW teen genre show with a cast out its depth. These kids don’t have the heft to pull off such humorless proclamations in the face of nonsense fantasy lore and the end of the world. The exception is Ivana Baquero, a Spanish actress who played the adolescent protagonist of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, while Bennett provides a sense authority as the Druid, even if he basically wins over everyone to his knowledge of the magical lore by declaiming better than anyone else in the cast. It looks cheap even with all the CGI enhancements, and is produced in a way that makes it seem much smaller than its scope demands. Despite its gorgeous New Zealand locations and CGI enhancements, it lacks a sense of scope, and the clichés show through the threadbare script. It has, however, been renewed for a second season in 2017.
10 episodes on DVD, with 24 minutes of production featurettes (see how elf ears are applied!) and a brief interview with author Terry Brooks.
Lou Grant: The Complete First Season (Shout! Factory, DVD) –The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended in the spring of 1977 with the newsroom staff fired by the new management. Lou Grant opens in the fall of 1977 with Ed Asner back in character as the acerbic, irascible veteran newsman arriving in Los Angeles to interview for a job on the (fictional) Los Angeles Tribune. It’s more than simply a change of scenery. Hired as the new City Editor by his old friend and current Editor-in-Chief Charlie Hume (Mason Adams, whose voice graced scores of TV commercials and radio shows in the seventies), he slips easily into his new role. I don’t simply mean trading TV news for print journalism, but moving from playing the boss in a half-hour sitcom to becoming a member of the team in an hour-long drama.
There is a healthy dose of humor in the show, thanks in part to a solid cast and well-drawn characters, namely Robert Walden as reporter Joe Rossi, a serious, streetwise character who isn’t quite as good or as savvy as he thinks he is, and Linda Kelsey as Billie Newman, who joins the team in the fourth episode (replacing a poorly-conceived reporter played by Rebecca Balding). They provide the energy as investigative journalists with a friendly rivalry and Hume and the paper’s blue-blood publisher Mrs. Pynchon (Nancy Marchand) represent the old guard, a more conservative approach to journalism, with Lou Grant often in the middle, pushing the young reporters to get past their own assumptions and pushing the editors to take on more controversial stories. It’s an old-school newspaper show that uses the investigative format to take on dramatic issues (from neo-Nazis to politic muckraking) while it takes on the ethics of journalism and the politics of how and what gets covered and how it gets played in the paper. And it is surprisingly relevant today, an age when newspapers are being supplanted by more reckless forms of web journalism.
22 episodes on DVD, with a new interview with actor Ed Asner.
Vinyl: The Complete First Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) – Vinyl debuted on HBO in 2016 with a two-season commitment. The reviews were mixed at best, the ratings a major disappointment, and a new showrunner was brought in to retool the show for its second season, which was still in the works when the first season was released on disc in early June. Then the word hit the web: HBO cancelled the show. And frankly, no one was very upset. Because while it was one of the most impressive HBO original dramas in theory—created by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger with Boardwalk Empire co-creator Terence Winter—in practice, it became a compendium of flamboyant fashions, seventies excess and show business clichés: sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Vinyl takes on the American music industry of the early 1970s through the drama of a failing record company run by Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale). He’s on the verge of selling it all when he goes on a drug-fueled odyssey and emerges with a plan to cast off the has-been artists and sign exciting new acts emerging from the punk and hip-hop and disco cultures of New York City. Olivia Wilde co-stars as his exasperated wife Devon, who came out of Andy Warhol’s circle and gave up her artistic career to raise a family, with Ray Romano as Finestra’s bitter hatchet-man (who took the fall for a payola scandal), Juno Temple as an office gofer and in-house dealer who pushes them to sign a promising new punk act (James Jagger, Mick’s son, play the band’s lead singer), and Ato Essandoh as a former R&B artist who was betrayed by Finestra with career-ending consequences. Real-life music figures and historical events (many in flashback) are woven through the fictional stories, with actors standing in for David Bowie, Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Andy Warhol, and others. There’s a murder and a cover-up, shady deals and backstabbing, and plenty of sex and booze and cocaine to sustain the energy.
Scorsese, who also directed the pilot, was part of both the rock and roll culture and the drug-fueled lifestyle of the seventies, both of which he brought to movies with great style and passion. Here, however, it all comes off as second rate Scorsese—the drug-fueled intensity of GoodFellas and The Wolf of Wall Street, the rock and roll soundtracks, the swooping cameras and jolting cuts—without a story to tell. What’s left is a lively series with a superb cast and great production values and music that doesn’t offer any insight to the music industry or the rock lifestyle that hasn’t been done before, and better.
10 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on three episodes by show-runner Terence Winter and members of the cast and crew (including Bobby Canavale and Olivia Wilde on two tracks), “Inside the Episode” shorts for each episode, and the featurette “Making Vinyl: Recreating the ’70s” (the Blu-ray version is longer than the DVD), plus a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the entire season.
Two Guys and a Girl: Complete Series (Shout! Factory, DVD), originally titled Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, is the nineties-era sitcom of quirky, attractive young singles in and out of college launched big screen heartthrob Ryan Reynolds (he was one of the two guys) and small screen star Nathan Fillion (who joined in the second season).
Reynolds is Berg and Richard Ruccolo is Pete, best friends and roommates in their final years of college (where Berg changes majors as often as he changes clothes), and Traylor Howard is their buddy and upstairs neighbor Sharon, who has already graduated and has a job she hates doing PR for a chemical company. The pizza place is where Berg and Pete have part-time jobs and is the social hub of the show for the first couple of seasons. It’s also where Sharon meets the love of her life, jukebox repairman and all around good guy Johnny (Nathan Fillion), in the second season. Suzanne Cryer also joins the cast in season two as a hypercompetitive college student Ashley, who moves into their apartment building and takes her medical residency with Berg. By season three, as the boys graduate and go looking for real jobs, the show shortened its title to Two Guys and Girl (even though there are now three guys and three girls in the main cast) and got rid of the pizza place entirely.
This is a typical late-nineties sitcom featuring neurotic, self-involved, attractive young adults fumbling their way through romance and life, with sardonic jokes, insult humor, and plenty of humiliation run through familiar sitcom tropes. It is done well with charismatic actors delivering snappy dialogue, but apart from the cast there is little that makes this stand out from the TV landscape. The series ended on a pregnancy cliffhanger at the end of season four and viewers voted for one of four possible endings.
81 episodes in a 11-disc DVD box set, with all three alternate endings.
Also released in June:
X-Files: The Event Series (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) – The six-episode revival with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson returning as FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully was a minor event with mixed reviews, but it did give us one new instant classic episode written and directed by Darin Morgan. It is, of course, packed with supplements.
Underground: Season One (Sony, DVD) may be the best original series yet from WGN, a drama about the Underground Railway set in the years before the American Civil War. A second season will arrive on 2017. 10 episodes.
Ballers: The Complete Season One (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) is the half-hour dramedy starring Dwayne Johnson as a pro sports agent. The second season begins in July. 10 episodes.