Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: The Complete First Season (ABC, Blu-ray, DVD) is a problematic debut season. I think we can all agree on that. Critics have been less kind and fans more indulgent but the fact is, this series took most of the season to find its mojo. Perhaps it’s because creator Joss Whedon, who also directed the pilot, left the show in the hands of regular collaborators Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen while he directed his focus on the second Avengers film.
The first TV series set within the fabric of the Marvel Universe of the movies takes place in the aftermath of The Avengers, where the superheroes and god and monsters exist and the world knows all about it, and it resurrects Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), who died in that movie. The series teases out the secret of his resurrection throughout the season as he forges his own special operations team that includes bad-ass battle veteran Melinda May (Ming-na Wen), hunky field agent Ward (Brett Dalton), science squad Fitz and Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge), and rebel hacktivist Skye (Chloe Bennet), who has her own secrets teased through the season as the loner learns to become a team player. Their mission is to find and help “gifted” beings before the bad guys (namely Hydra) get to them. Which leads to colorful but routine types of episodes: capers, computer hacks, undercover operations, and the occasional mission to retrieve alien technology or supernatural artefact.
The series was never actually bad but it was often just a cut above mundane and it kept tripping over its squad of poorly-defined characters and lively but routine team dynamics. Gregg is great fun as Coulson, embracing his unconventional approach to the S.H.I.E.L.D. super-agent with a legendary past, and Wen brings confidence and focus to her role as the legendary agent who earned the nickname “The Cavalry” (the story behind the name is so mired in myth that no one actually knows where it came from) and has to be coaxed back into the field. But the young agents are not very interesting and the actors fail to give them any grit, the episodes rehash familiar stories and situations, and the show spins its wheels for most of the season without forging its own distinct sensibility or identity. It has great production values, impressive actions scenes, some memorable guest stars from the movies (including Samuel Jackson as Agent Fury), and of course the Whedon brand of pop culture riffing and humor, but no sense of a bigger picture beyond the basic idea of the maverick squad fighting the interference of organization commanders as well as taking on the threat of the week.
The season’s storyline pivots around the events of the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier and that’s where the show finally gets interesting: the maverick unit becomes the rogue team battling the S.H.I.E.L.D. takeover and the traitors who have sided with Hydra and the intrigue within the squad itself takes some unexpected turns. Bill Paxton added his brand of enthusiasm as a recurring character, Angel alumnus J. August Richards became an interesting (if not fully satisfying) tragic figure, and comedian and comic book fan Patton Oswalt gets to geek out by getting his own distinctive role in the Marvel superhero universe. The final episodes finally deliver an engaging series with a promise of a better second season. It rewarded fans who stuck with it, brought other fans back to the show, and gave the critics reason to take a second look. The second season launches this month with hope that the new direction, with Coulson faced with rebuilding the organization from the ground up, continues at the level established in the final episodes of the season.
22 episodes on DVD and Blu-ray, with commentary on multiple episodes, the TV special “Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe,” featurettes on five episodes, the 2013 Comic-Con panel presentation.
Five episodes are available to stream on Hulu, otherwise the only streaming solutions are Digital purchase, either a la carte or full season.
Person of Interest: The Complete Third Season (Warner, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) adds another partner to the team (Sarah Shahi as a coolly efficient former CIA assassin), turns renegade activist and maverick genius Root (Amy Acker) into a wary ally, and most dramatically kills off a trusted and beloved ally, a loss that sends the reliable John Reese (Jim Caviezel) into a dramatic tailspin. This season expands the surveillance conspiracy aspect of the series—the premise depends on a supercomputer hooked up to every camera and communications device on the grid—by introducing a second system controlled by an shadowy international organization and sold to the American government with an elaborate terrorist plot. As the show gets more complex and the cast gets bigger, Detective Fusco (Kevin Chapman), the one-time corrupt cop who saved his soul be helping out the team and eventually became a reliable and trusted member of the secret squad, wound up getting forgotten, swept to the fringes of most episodes, but he takes the lead in coaxing Reese back to the team in one of his finest hours.
It’s an increasingly complex series, which keeps its fans riveted to the show, while still delivering stand-alone mystery of the week episodes that sends the team out to save an innocent (and sometimes a not-so-innocent) victim from harm. It remains action packed and full of science fiction-level technology but the characters are still the most interesting dimension of the show and the loyalty they show one another defines the series and keeps me connected to the elaborate mythology. By the end of the season, it goes in directions most viewers would not predict, setting itself up for big changes in the fourth season which begins in September.
23 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD editions, along with three featurettes, commentary on the season finale by actor Michael Emerson, and the 2013 Comic Con panel presentation. The Blu-ray release also features bonus DVD and digital copies.
Five select episodes of the show – including the three final episodes of the season, can be streamed at CBS.com.
Supernatural: The Complete Ninth Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD) – I confess that I don’t see the series in its broadcast run but I get caught up in binge-watching the show when the seasons come out on disc. It’s a matter of timing (screening copies arrive in that period between the end of the summer shows and the launch of the fall TV season) and affection: I like the mythology they’ve created around the premise and the characters in this universe. So do a lot of other folks: it launches its tenth season this fall.
Season Nine is a solid, meaty series with an epic storyline: the demon-hunting Winchester Brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), try to stop a war between the angels. In case you’re not up on supernatural lore, God left Heaven and Metatron (Curtis Armstrong), the former scribe of God, ejects the angels from paradise. The season begins with the heavenly bodies falling to Earth like flaming meteors and finds the grounded celestials less benevolent than ruthlessly pragmatic: they burn through human hosts like sacrificial lambs as they split into faction and go to war for control of Heaven. Essentially, who will be playing God? These aren’t the benevolent cherubs of valentine’s cards but warriors of Heaven and humans are collateral damage. In the immortal words of Dean: “I’ve always said angels are dicks.”
Castiel (Misha Collins), who was tricked by Metatron into unleashing the spell and then robbed of his grace, deals with his mortality as he joins forces with the Winchesters and the demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard) becomes an unlikely ally as he defends himself from a power play in Hell and helps Dean find “the first blade,” which means tracking down Cain and taking on the cursed “mark of Cain,” an act that has devastating consequences. The brotherly trust between Sam and Dean is already fractured, thanks to a secret angelic possession of the dying Sam, but the mark pushes the already hot-headed Dean into violence that borders on demonic. Meanwhile, the Winchesters take up residence in their new “Batcave” headquarters, a bunker gifted to them by the “Men of Letters,” and fans of the show will appreciate return visits from recurring characters Sheriff Jodie Mills (Kim Rhodes), Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day), Garth Fitzgerald IV (DJ Qualls), and even Bobby (Jim Beaver) in a dream episode.
23 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on three episodes, a collection of “Men of Letters” featurettes on the bunker and its legacy, a tongue-in-cheek behind-the-scenes featurette created by Misha Collins and featuring the cast and crew, the Comic-Con panel, and deleted scenes, plus an UltraViolet digital copy of the entire season.
Netflix will add the ninth season to its library in October the day after the tenth season debuts, so if you want to catch up before the launch, disc is the only way to do it. Check your local neighborhood video store or call your library if you’re not ready to purchase.
As you can see, I have a taste for supernatural TV but not all incarnations are to my taste. Case in point: The Originals: The Complete First Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD), the spin-off from The Vampire Diaries that follows the “original vampires”—the cruel vamp / werewolf hybrid Niklaus “Klaus” Mikaelson (Joseph Morgan) and his purebred vampire siblings Elijah (Daniel Gillies) and Rebekah (Claire Holt), who were introduced in the second season of the earlier series—as they return to New Orleans to investigate a plot against Klaus. They were exiled from the French Quarter, which they founded, a century ago and Klaus’ former protégé Marcel (Charles Michael Davis) now rules the underworld with his vampire pack, terrorizing witches and werewolves alike. “My family and I have done some terrible things one another over the centuries,” he admits in one episode, which is an understatement. Darker than its parent show, this Gothic horror melodrama is kind of like the original Dallas, with siblings, friends, and allies forever double-crossing one another for power, with supernatural powers tossed in to make the battles more ferocious. The wild card is Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin), a werewolf pregnant with Klaus’ child. According the show’s lore, the blood of this baby would make any vampire or werewolf far more powerful, which means everyone is out to grab her. It’s another series with gorgeous young adults with supernatural abilities and a thirst for power and it is full of shifting alliances, betrayals, and reunions. Which makes this one for fans of young adult Gothic soap opera.
22 episodes on DVD and Blu-ray, with creator commentary on the pilot episode, three featurettes, and cast and crew panel discussions from 2013 Comic-Con and 2014 Paleyfest. The Blu-ray release also features bonus DVD and digital copies. The second season begins in October.
Also arriving is its parent series The Vampire Diaries: The Complete Fifth Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD), which sends Elena (Nina Dobrev) out of Mystic Falls for college. The dark forces follows and supernatural melodrama follow, of course. Like other WB show young adult shows with fantasy elements, the set includes original featurettes for the fans (including the 2013 Comic-Con panel). 22 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray release also features bonus DVD and digital copies.
Both shows are also coming to Netflix in October but, like Supernatural, only after the new season premieres, so disc is your binge format for now.
Doctor Who: Deep Breath (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD) presents the new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, in his series debut. The extra-long story drops us in Victorian London as the Doctor tries to recover his memories while he recovers from his latest regeneration and his companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) struggles to come to terms with this new, older incarnation of the friend she had a crush on. The episode features a dinosaur, spontaneous combustion, and old allies Madame Vestra (Neve McIntosh), the high society lizard-woman agent, and her loyal solider Strax (Dan Starkey). This is series with a passionate, even obsessive following, so BBC is releasing this single episode as stand-alone release for those who can’t wait for the full season disc release in December. It features a special prequel scene and a behind-the-scenes featurette, which were shown in special theatrical presentations but not on TV, plus the original live announcement of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor and an episode from The Real History of Science Fiction, the BBC documentary series narrated by Mark Gattis (a regular Doctor Who screenwriter), focusing on the theme of time and featuring members of Doctor Who discussing the show.
Crossbones: Season One (Universal, DVD) stars John Malkovich as a very gray Blackbeard in the NBC piracy adventure that ran over the summer. No word on whether the low-rated series is getting a second season. Nine episodes also available on Hulu (HD versions on Hulu Plus).
Chicago P.D.: Season One (Universal, DVD) is the Chicago Fire spin-off from producer Dick Wolf, starring Jason Beghe as the compromised Sgt. Hank Voight, a cop with a history of corruption who apparently has turned over a new leaf to lead an elite unit, and Jon Seda, Jesse Lee Soffer, Sophia Bush, Elias Koteas, Patrick John Flueger are the members of his hand-picked squad. The full season also on Hulu and on HD on Hulu Plus.
Available exclusively from the Time Life website is late-night rock performance series The Midnight Special Collector’s Edition (StarVista/Time Life, DVD), in a deluxe 11-disc set. The press release also promises a smaller The Midnight Special Collection (6 discs) (StarVista/Time Life, DVD), and the sampler single-disc The Midnight Special (StarVista/Time Life, DVD), but I couldn’t find them on the website. There is, however, an even bigger set announced for later release.
The Goldbergs: The Complete First Season (Sony, DVD)
Years of Living Dangerously: The Complete Showtime Series (FilmRise, DVD-R from Amazon)
Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Tenth Season (ABC, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Following: The Complete Second Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
Homeland: The Complete Third Season (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Blue Bloods: The Fourth Season (Paramount, DVD)
Chicago Fire: Season Two (Universal, DVD)
New Girl: The Complete Third Season (Fox, DVD)
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Complete Ninth Season (Fox, DVD)
The League: The Complete Fifth Season (Fox, DVD)
Little House on the Prairie: Season Three (remastered) (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
Line of Duty: Series 2 (Acorn, DVD)
Lovejoy: Series 2 (Acorn, DVD)
Midsomer Murders: Series 10 (Acorn, DVD)
Midsomer Murders: Series 11 (Acorn, DVD)
Batman: The Brave and the Bold – The Complete Season (Warner, Blu-ray)
Transformers: Beast Machines – The Complete Series (Shout Factory, DVD)
R.L. Stine’s Mostly Ghostly: Have You Met My Ghoulfriend (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD)
Regular Show: Rigby Pack (Warner, DVD)
Duck Dynasty: Quack or Treat (Lionsgate, DVD)
History Detectives Special Investigations (PBS, DVD)
Nature: Fabulous Frogs (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sex in the Wild (PBS, DVD)
Secrets of Westminster (PBS, DVD)
Operation Maneater (PBS, DVD)
The World Wars (History, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Curse of Oak Island (Lionsgate / History, DVD)