Orange is the New Black: Season One (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) – Netflix followed up the acclaim of House of Cards with this original series, a different kind of prison drama based on the memoir by Piper Kerman and developed by Jenji Kohan, the creator of Showtime’s Weeds. Taylor Schilling stars as a middle-class entrepreneur sent to prison for an old smuggling charge that goes back to her young and reckless days when she dated a drug smuggler (Laura Prepon), who it turns out is also serving time in her facility.
We’re not talking supermax here, and there’s nothing out of Oz or a seventies women-in-prison picture here. This is a mix of social drama and social satire, with a low key humor running under the very real sense of threat hanging over the entire situation. Schilling’s Piper Chapman comes from affluence, a college education and a young adulthood that allowed her the freedom to travel around the world and rebel against everything her parents stood for without worrying about little things like making a living. She’s since gotten that out of her system and is getting ready to marry (to Jason Biggs) and start her business when her past catches up with her and turns herself in to serve a year in women’s prison where she meets women who have been looking after themselves any way they can all their lives. It takes a few weeks to get her expectations adjusted and her missteps and unguarded comments have a habit of getting her into trouble.
What makes this so good is the rich cast of diverse characters who bring with them experiences not usually seen on the screen. The fact is, the prison population is racially mixed and dominated by poor and working class women who got caught up in crime out of desperation, not some youthful lark. There are some angry women in here, a few unbalanced and unpredictable as well. I much prefer this to Kohan’s “Weeds,” which played criminality for laughs and made light of the violence inherent in her world. The humor is more barbed and troubling here, the characters have the weight of lives behind them, and while it favors Piper’s experience, the show is at its best an ensemble piece and every character gets to tell her story along the way. Uzo Aduba’s “Crazy Eyes” stands out as a fan favorite, a truly unpredictable character who seems to enjoy letting people think she’s crazier than she is, and Kate Mulgew, Natasha Lyonne, Danielle Brooks, Taryn Manning, and Michelle Hurst are among the fellow inmates.
Netflix doesn’t share its viewership numbers but all indications suggest that Orange is the New Black is actually watched by more subscribers than their marquee series House of Cards. It certainly offers a much more diverse cast and a less rarified culture on the screen. You won’t mistake this for a social realist drama, but the microcosm of this community offers characters and experiences we can relate to more easily than the Cards culture of power brokers and political players.
13 episodes on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital formats. The disc editions include producer commentary on two episodes and four featurettes. The second season debuts on Netflix on June 6, with entire season available at once.
Eastbound and Down: The Complete Fourth and Final Season (Warner, DVD) concludes the saga of Kenny Powers (Danny McBride), once the biggest jerk (and the most unjustified ego) in professional baseball, now a suburban husband, father of two, and civilian working at a car rental agency as the season opens. Frustrated that his wife (Katy Moxon) is now the star player of the family her real estate sales success, he returns to his debauched, viciously competitive ways after a chance meeting with a former teammate turned sports talk show celebrity (Ken Marino) sends him on the road to becoming a cable TV personality. Which, of course, takes its toll on his wife, his sycophantic sidekick (Steve Little), and everyone in his life. Sacha Baron Cohen guest stars as the amoral head of the cable network in the final episode and Jody Hill (“Observe and Report”) and David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”) direct the eight episodes of the season.
It’s a rude show about a shallow, self-involved, oblivious character who constantly gives in to his worst instincts and justifies it out of a sense of entitlement, and much of the humor is built on his insensitive remarks and assumptions, especially when it comes to race and sex. Which, oddly enough, makes him a natural for this TV sport talk show, which thrives on conflict and humiliation. It makes for a high-energy and often very funny mix of social satire and low comedy, and since this is made for pay cable, there is plenty of nudity, foul language, consumption of drug, and bad behavior in general. This is the final season of the show, which developed a small but passionate cult following on HBO. Two discs on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on every episode, deleted scenes, and outtakes.
Longmire: The Complete Second Season (Warner, DVD) – The rural mystery series based on the novels by Craig Johnson and starring Australian actor Robert Taylor as laconic Sheriff Walt Longmire in rural Wyoming has become a critical and popular hit for the A&E cable channel, which despite standing for Arts and Entertainment has specialized in reality and non-fiction shows. And for good reason. In a TV culture overrun with detective shows looking to set themselves apart with a catchy gimmick or a novel setting, the modern frontier cop show Longmire is all about character. From Taylor’s leathery Sheriff, whose cowboy sensibility and stoic style tends to alienate the people who care about him, and Katee Sackhoff as the former Chicago homicide cop Vic, who doesn’t quite fit into the rural culture but is a tough, smart, and very loyal deputy, to the character of the community itself, Longmire presents a fully realized community unlike anything else on TV.
The second season opens with an episode that sends Longmire into the mountains after an escaped prisoner while a snowstorm rages and his best friend, local saloon owner Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), trailblazes after him on horseback. It plays like a short film in its own right, a muscular manhunt in miniature with one man taking on the elements to take down his quarry. Later episodes take us through a contentious campaign for Sheriff to election day (where his deputy Branch, backed by the local business interests, runs against him) and bring a vengeful figure from Vic’s past back to cause her trouble and the season finale revisits the shadow that hangs over Walt and his best friend: the murder of Walt’s wife and the unsolved killing of her murderer, in which both friends are suspects. This is one of the best mystery shows on TV, network and cable alike, smartly written and beautifully produced. The landscape dominates the show and the setting lends itself to an austere style, with a few characters set against a stark landscape or a small town barroom, and the show has a pace and tone to match. (New Mexico subs for Wyoming for the production.)
10 episodes on two discs on DVD, with two extended episodes introduced by the producers and the featurette “Testing Courage: The Storm Defines the Man.”
Glad All Over: The Dave Clark Five and Beyond (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD) – Actor, drummer and songwriter Dave Clark formed The Dave Clark Five in the explosion of the British Invasion and he managed the group into becoming one of the most successful rock bands of its era. Between 1964 and 1966 they had 15 straight Top 20 hits, more than any other band except The Beatles, yet their high-energy pop-oriented rock and roll is overshadowed by less popular but more inventive and influential British Invasion. Glad All Over, a 2014 British TV documentary directed and produced by Clark himself, looks back at the band and their influence through new interviews with such music legends as Elton John, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder and mostly archival interviews with the member of the DC5 (most of whom had passed away when Clark made the film).
It’s full of interesting information and a wealth of archival performances and film and TV clips and Clark makes a point of celebrating the talents of Mike Smith, the band’s lead singer, and the other members. But the focus is mainly on Clark himself, who wrote or co-wrote all the band’s original songs, produced their recordings, and kept ownership of the songs, and after disbanding the group at the end of the sixties went on to write and produce the stage musical “Time” featuring Laurence Olivier (in his last performance) and Queen’s Freddie Mercury. It doesn’t necessarily come off as autobiography but Clark does narrate in a fashion and includes interviews of every band member (mostly through archival interviews) except himself. It’s actually quite fitting for a creator whose control shaped the band’s success throughout their career. He’s just shaping the history now.
Blu-ray and DVD, each with a second disc featuring two hours of bonus footage including interviews, performances, and archival footage from “Time.”
Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley (HBO, DVD, Digital HD) celebrates the legacy of the pioneering comedienne who broke racial and gender barriers in her five-decade career. Goldberg produces and directs.
Theatreland (Athena, DVD) goes behind the scenes of London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket in the 2009 season to look at the inner working of two hit productions: “Waiting for Godot” (with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart) and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Eight episodes plus a booklet.
Nikita: The Complete Fourth and Final Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD) wraps the high-energy spy series starring Maggie Q with a short season of six episodes.
Warehouse 13: Season Five (Universal, DVD) brings the popular SyFy series to its conclusion. Warehouse 13: The Complete Series (Universal, DVD) boxes up all the of the previously-released volumes in a single box.
JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time (Warner, DVD)
L.A. Law: The Complete Second Season (Shout Factory, DVD)
Perry Mason Movie Collection: Volume 2 (Paramount, DVD, Amazon Only)
The New Normal: The Complete First Season (Fox, DVD)
Last Man Standing: The Complete First Season (Fox, DVD)
Last Man Standing: The Complete Second Season (Fox, DVD)
Louie: The Complete Season 3 (Fox, DVD)
Call the Midwife: Season Three (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD)
American Dad!: Volume 9 (Fox, DVD)
Bob’s Burgers: The Complete Third Season (Fox, DVD)
Happy Days: The Fifth Season (Paramount, DVD)
Dalziel & Pascoe: Season 9 (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD)
Waking the Dead: Season Nine (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD)
Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD)
Arthur Hailey’s The Moneychangers (Paramount, DVD)
Coming Back with Wes Moore (PBS, DVD)
Amish Mafia: Season One (Discovery, DVD)
Duck Dynasty: The Duck Days of Summer (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Mountain Men: Season 2 (Lionsgate, DVD)
Chased by Dinosaurs (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD)
Secrets of the Third Reich (Smithsonian, DVD)
Civil War 360 (Smithsonian, DVD)