True Detective (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) tells a single, self-contained story told over eight hour-long episodes, technically a miniseries but more like an original novel for television: focused rather than sprawling, intimate rather than epic. Created and written by novelist Nic Pizzollato and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, it stars Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rust Cohl, a smart detective with a fierce psychological insight to criminals but poor collaborative and social skills, and Woody Harrelson as Detective Marty Hart, a family man with a more traditional approach to police work but rather loose definition of fidelity.
They aren’t so much an odd couple set of partners as simply colliding personalities who have to work to get along enough to solve cases, but they both agree that something is not right with their current case, which has similarities with other unsolved murders, cryptic clues with cult dimensions, and a murky trail that leads them to a regional church, a white supremacist organization, and a legacy of corrupt cops who have muddied the waters with bad police work and cover-ups. It jumps back and forth through time, framed by interviews with the two detectives years after the investigation ended without an arrest, and seems to be heading into supernatural territory, but ultimately the scariest revelation of the story is how such evil can continue for decades because of corruption, special interests, and institutional incompetence.
Harrelson and McConaughey inhabit rich, complicated, terribly flawed characters and Michelle Monaghan plays Hart’s wife, frustrated by his affairs and his lies, but also unable to deal with his failure to communicate as the case takes a toll on his psyche. It is beautifully written and directed, with haunting imagery and challenging subject matter, and it delves into dark territory. Not just the worlds they investigate but their own instincts and impulses and self-destructive choices. Pizzollato is working on a second series which will feature new characters and an entirely new story. Not a sequel as much as a follow-up television novel in the same spirit.
Eight episodes on DVD and Blu-ray, with commentary on two episodes by creator Nic Pizzollato and select collaborators, short “Inside the Episode” featurettes on each episode, the brief “Making True Detective,” interviews featurettes with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and creator / writer Nic Pizzollato with music director T Bone Burnett, and deleted scenes. Both feature an UltraViolet Digital HD copy of the season.
Created by Ann Biderman, whose L.A. cop drama Southland was a critical favorite that was picked up and sustained by TNT for four years, the Showtime original series Ray Donovan: Season One (Showtime / CBS, Blu-ray, DVD) is ostensibly about the dirty business of covering up the scandals and crimes and bad behavior of the rich and famous of Los Angeles but it is centered on the family drama of a Boston clan that moved west after their criminal father Mickey (Jon Voigt) went to prison on a murder conviction. Liev Schreiber is the title character, a tough, emotionally unflappable fixer for LA’s celebrities, the man who makes scandals and legal problems for famous clients go away, or does what he can to mitigate the damage of their misdeeds when it’s too late to cover them up. He’s also the protective brother who looks after Terry (Eddie Marsan), a former boxer damaged by his years in the ring now running a gym, and Bunchy (Dash Mihok), an alcoholic in rehab who has never gotten over the abuse he suffered at the hands of his priest. He loves his wife (Paula Malcomson) and children and is determined to keep them apart from the celebrity culture of excess and entitlement, but is so committed to his work that he has little time to spend with them, which puts a strain on the marriage. And he has never forgiven his father for his neglect and abuse, which creates tensions when Mickey gets out of prison early and tries to get back into his sons’ lives, reopening old wounds and creating new ones along the way.
It’s an interesting mix of cultures, the dark family drama with Boston Irish crime connections and the show business scandals in the shadows of sunny Los Angeles, and it gives the series an outsider’s perspective on it all. It’s also a rather grim and downbeat show, without much humor to leaven the heaviness of the family turmoil, centered by a strong performance by Schreiber. One of Hollywood’s most underrated actors, he carves out his version of the familiar anti-hero with a ruthless dedication to his job, a temper he mostly keeps in check, and a moral code, a man who will do almost anything for a client but will cross the line for family. Steven Bauer co-stars as Ray’s right hand man and James Woods guest stars as a vicious Boston hitman modeled on Whitey Bulger. 12 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, no supplements.
The Escape Artist (Masterpiece Mystery!) (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD) – David Tenant continues his impressive post-“Doctor Who” run of British drama with this three-part made-for-TV thriller. Tenant plays Will Burton, a brilliant London Barrister who is so successful at defending his clients that he earned the nickname “The Escape Artist.” It comes back to haunt him when he frees a murder suspect (Tony Kebbell) on a technicality. The man murders his wife (Ashley Jensen) and the rival attorney (Sophie Okonedo) he defeated takes up his defense in the new trial.
The three-hour drama is a mix of courtroom drama and murder mystery thriller and it pivots on legal details specific to British law, which can make it a little tricky for American viewers. But it also adds intrigue to the plot: Will is legally barred from any contact with the prosecutor because he is a witness in the case, which the killer specifically engineered, so he covertly investigates and advises the prosecuting attorney. Ultimately, however, it’s less a legal drama than a battle of wills and minds as Will has to outsmart the killer and protect his son, and it plays out with the clever neatness found in many British mysteries. There aren’t many characters to like here and there is an impersonal efficiency to the direction, but Tenant makes Will an interesting and enigmatic character. It played in the U.S. on the PBS showcase “Masterpiece Mystery,” but the disc release features the “Original UK Edition,” which runs a few minutes longer. Also features interviews with Tenant and creator / writer David Wolstencroft.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) updates and continues Carl Sagan’s landmark science mini-series with renowned (and very personable) astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson hosting and Sagan’s original collaborators Ann Druyan writing and producing (along with co-executive producers Seth MacFarlane and Star Trek TV producer Brannon Braga). More than 30 years after the original series inspired a generation of scientists and thinkers, the new series uses state-of-the-art special effects to engage the next generation, takes on the advances in scientific discovery, and takes on the “controversies” like climate change by focusing on the science, which it traces back as continuum of research, experimentation and discovery dating back centuries.
This is the most ambitious science programming to get such a prominent television forum – it was shown simultaneously on FOX and the National Geographic Channel – and a healthy riposte to the anti-science atmosphere currently polluting political debate. 13 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on the opening episode, an interactive cosmic calendar and three featurettes.
Red Shoe Diaries: The Movie (Kino Lorber, DVD) and Red Shoe Diaries: Season One (Kino Lorber, DVD) are the birth of the erotic cable drama as we know it. Zalman King created Red Shoe Diaries for Showtime in 1992, following the success of Nine ½ Weeks, when the cable landscape for adult fare with generally cheesy comedies and / or thrillers with nudity and softcore sequences set to bad soft jazz. King brought romance to cable erotica, with soft-focus elegance and stories of desire and disappointment, and framed them with the angsty presence of David Duchovnny as a tortured widower.
The made-for-cable film Red Shoe Diaries: The Movie tells his story, discovering the diary of dead fiancée (Brigitte Bako) and her secret affair with a hunky construction worker, and sets up the series as he solicits the secret diaries of women ready to share their secret sexual lives. Sort of like a classy Penthouse Forum as a glossy erotic romantic fantasy. Red Shoe Diaries: Season One presents the 13 half-hour episodes of the first season, with Duchovny playing the brooding, mostly silent host who opens the show by checking the mail and takes long walks between the stories. Joan Severance, Steven Bauer, Denis Crosby, Arnold Vosloo, Nina Siemaszko, Matt LeBlanc and Maryam d’Abo are featured guest stars and Duchovny takes the lead in one episode, having a fling with Sheryl Lee (of Twin Peaks). The episodes include introductions by Zalman King and the featurette “The Stars of Red Shoe Diaries.”
Also new and notable:
DCI Banks: Season One (BBC, DVD) carries on the British procedural mystery series, based on the novels of Peter Robinson, that began in the 2001 TV mystery DCI Banks: Aftermath. Stephen Tompkinson stars as London-trained but Yorkshire-based Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, a private, dour cop, and Andrea Lowe is his more outgoing and less by-the-book partner. Features three complete mysteries across six hour-long episodes.
House of Cards: The Complete Second Season (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD) continues the dirty dealing and political ambitions of savagely Machiavellian politician Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, and his equally fierce wife (Robin Wright). 13 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with five featurettes
Teen Wolf: Season 3 Part 2 (Fox, DVD) takes a new storyline for the 12 episode of the second half of the split season, this one focused on Stiles (Dylan O’Brien) and what appears to be some kind of possession that sends him into a dark, dark place. The supernatural MTV series has been a hit for the network and this show just keeps getting more interesting as Alpha Wolf Scott (Tyler Posey) redefines what pack really is. With a featurette.
Klondike (Gaiam, Blu-ray, DVD) is a six-episode mini-series (divided up into three parts) made for the Discovery Channel, set in the Yukon Territory during the late 1890s. Richard Madden stars as a tenderfoot miner and Abbie Cornish, Marton Scokas, Iam Hart, Tim Blake Nelson, Tim Roth and Sam Shepard co-star. With two featurettes and cast interviews.
Death in Paradise: Season One (BBC, DVD)
Scott and Bailey: Season One (BBC, DVD)
Resurrection: The Complete First Season (ABC, DVD)
Wilfred: The Complete Third Season (Fox, DVD)
Regular Show: The Complete Third Season (Warner, DVD)
The Village: Series One 1914-1920 (BFS, DVD)
The Accidental Soldier (BFS, DVD)
The Chisholms: The Complete TV Series (Shout! Factory, DVD)
Major Crimes: The Complete Second Season (Warner, DVD)
Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner, DVD)
Brazil with Michael Palin (BBC, DVD)
William Shakespeare Collector’s Edition (PBS, DVD)
Perry Mason Movie Collection Double Feature 1 (Paramount, DVD)
Perry Mason Movie Collection Double Feature 2 (Paramount, DVD)
Perry Mason Movie Collection Double Feature 3 (Paramount, DVD)
Sesame Street: Monster Manners (Warner, DVD)
This is America, Charlie Brown (Warner, DVD)
Tosh.O: Collas Plus Exposed Arms (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD)
Alexander’s Lost World (Athena, DVD)
The Rise of the Nazi Party (Athena, DVD)
NOVA: Why Sharks Attack (PBS, DVD)
Pennsylvania Ballet (PBS, DVD)
Secrets of the Dead: The Lost Gardens of Babylon (PBS, DVD)