Mr. and Mrs. Murder: Series One (Acorn, DVD), a breezy mystery series from Australia, is on par with the more lighthearted strain of British detective shows. This one features a likable married couple who run a crime scene cleaning business and inevitably turn investigator as they spot overlooked clues in the course of the clean-up. Nicola (Kat Stewart) is excitable and impulsive and husband Charlie (writer and co-creator Shaun Micallef) jumps right in to back up her hunches (“It’s one of the reasons I married her,” he explains to his niece in one episode).
They are great company and fun to watch as they banter affectionately whether scouring a bloody mess at a murder scene or sneakily engaging witnesses and suspects in covert interrogations. Lucy Honigman co-stars as their niece Jess, who invariably gets drafted into helping out in the investigation, and Jonny Pasvolsky is the police detective who shares more information than he should with the civilians because of his crush on Nicola, which Charlie barely tolerates. They are the latest in a long line of talented amateurs who turn detective just for the fun of it and their job puts them at the scene of murders in high-end hotels and restaurants and other colorful crime scenes, the perfect locations for a charming crime show that emphasizes character and humor. Nothing serious here. 13 episodes plus featurettes, interviews and extended scenes.
Rogue: The Complete First Season (eOne, DVD) is satellite TV’s answer to the pay cable original series. Produced for DirecTV’s Audience Network, it stars Thandie Newton as Detective Grace Travis, an undercover cop in Oakland working for a gangster named Jimmy Laszlo (Marton Csokas) when her young son is killed in a drive-by shooting. For reasons that are never really explained, she has a feeling that something else is behind his death and goes rogue when the official investigation goes nowhere, ending up in this shadowy place between the cops (with her former contacts serving as conduits of information to and from the police) and the crooks. Jimmy finds out she’s a cop but keeps her alive as long as she supplies him intelligence, because the same shooter who killed Grace’s son is also after him and his gang.
So yes, there is some sort of conspiracy here, with at least one corrupt cop, a mole in the force leaking information to Jimmy’s organization (including Grace’s true identity), and a power struggle between Jimmy’s two sons, the loyal but impulsive Alec (Joshua Sasse) and the brilliant but manipulative Max (Matthew Beard). Meanwhile Grace tears her family apart on her obsessive quest, abandoning the living to lose herself on vengeance for the dead. That’s the part of the show that really convinces. The writers hit us over the head by repeatedly explaining this to us, mostly through her exasperated husband (Kavan Smith), but that doesn’t make Newton any less effective in her manic pursuit and self-destructive behavior. The danger and the violence is something of a drug to numb the guilt and the grief, and her reckless pursuit finally lands her on the wrong side of the cops. Ian Hart plays an Oakland Detective with tendencies that land him in a compromising position and Ian Tracey (a veteran to two great Canadian crime shows, Da Vinci’s Inquest and Intelligence) is a San Jose colleague who left the field for a desk job, and they are the only guys in her corner.
This is another show shot in Vancouver subbing for the U.S., but the night shooting, industrial locations, grimy, gritty sets and liberal second unit photography makes the conceit work well enough even when it isn’t’ completely convincing. Being a DirecTV exclusive, the show also features the kind of gratuitous nudity and bloody violence unique to the pay cable model, and some of the episodes pour it on so thick it gets downright distracting. Ten episodes on four discs, plus the featurette “Script to Screen” and ten webisodes of “Rogue Files: Reparation.” And for the record, a second season is in production.
Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD), the 2013 Christmas special, marks the end of Matt Smith’s run as The Doctor with an adventure that takes him and Clara (Jenna Coleman) to a town called Christmas on a planet emitting a strange signal. It leads to a centuries-long battle to save the hidden planet of the Time Lords from the Doctor’s worst enemies, including the Weeping Angels, the Cybermen, the Sontarans, and the Daleks. Show-runner Steven Moffat scripts this one and it is another of his densely-woven adventures, with a story that weaves through time, ricochets off events from previous episodes this season, pulls in an intergalactic church with a vow of silence, and ends with The Doctor’s next incarnation: introducing Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor.
This rips along at a furious pace, jumping from scene to scene with more momentum than usual, and it’s stuffed with so much invention and humor it could have been twice as long without appreciably slowing. I guess Moffat really wanted to send out Smith with an epic to rival David Tennant’s farewell, and still keep it all in a single hour. That’s quite a challenge and the episode fudges things to get it all in, but it’s still a fun ride. This stand-alone disc comes with three featurettes, all previously broadcast on BBC: the hour-long “Farewell to Matt Smith” (narrated by Alex “River Song” Kingston), the 12-minute “Behind the Lens” look at the making of the episode, and “Tales from the TARDIS.” If you can wait until the end of the year, expect to find this episode, plus other stand-alone releases, in a complete “Season Eight” set.
Trinity: The Complete First Season (Eagle Rock / eOne, DVD) is actually the only season of this British series, a mix of young adult drama, raunchy college comedy, and shadowy conspiracy thriller that ran in 2009. It’s set in an exclusive, Cambridge-like British University, where the children of the rich and powerful lord it over the scholarship students and the members of a centuries-old Dandelion Club are experimented upon by a faceless cabal for reasons never revealed in the show. There’s plenty of romantic entanglements and sexual hook-ups among the student bodies, including romances across the battle-lines of class that throw the alliances out of balance. Meanwhile the adults struggle over control of the administration, with the imperious dean (Charles Dance) protecting the Dandelion Club from the progressive new college warden (Claire Skinner), who is determined to end the system of rich privilege and protected bad behavior. It’s empty entertainment, a kind of narrative rollercoaster that goes up and down but ends up where it started. The show never lasted long enough to add up to anything more than hints of things to come. Which, of course, never did. Eight episodes on three discs, plus behind-the-scenes featurettes with stars Christian Cooke and Reggie Yates.
Big History (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), based on the best-selling book by Bill Gates and David Christian, makes connections between history, science and sociology, finding unexpected links between major historical events. It’s produced for the History Channel and narrated by Bryan Cranston. 17 episodes plus 10 bonus featurettes.
Siberia: Season One (Lionsgate, DVD) sends 16 contestants to the wilderness of Siberia for a Survivor-type contest, but this is a faux reality show that turns into a Lost-style supernatural show where the fake challenges become real threats that start killing the contestants. The series, which ran over the summer, has not been picked up for a second season.
Vikings (BBC, DVD)
Transformers Armada: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, DVD)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Series 11 (Acorn, Blu-ray)
The Science of Measurement (Athena, DVD)
Talks About Nothing (Athena, DVD)
The Best of Men (PBS, DVD)
Reportero (PBS, DVD)
The Venture Bros.: Season Five (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Teen Titans Go!: Mission To Misbehave Season 1 Part 1 (Warner, DVD)
Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock (Warner, DVD)
Comet Encounter (PBS, DVD)
Noah and the Great Ark (Lionsgate, DVD)
Bible Secrets Revealed (Lionsgate, DVD)
Rawhide: The Seventh Season, Volume One (Paramount, DVD)
Rawhide: The Seventh Season, Volume Two (Paramount, DVD)
Ancient Aliens: Season 5 – Volume 2 (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)