FargoYear2Fargo: Year Two (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) – Made for the FX channel, the TV series Fargo is not an adaptation of the Oscar-winning film by Joel and Ethan Coen but it feels like it came from the same world. Each season is an original crime story that plays out in the winter landscape and affable culture of rural Minnesota and neighboring locations. The second season, however, has a connection to the first through the character of Lou Solverson. He was a retired cop (played by Keith Carradine) running a diner in Year One.

This series takes place a couple of decades earlier in 1979, with a youngish Solverson (played by Patrick Wilson) a husband, father, and earnest State Trooper. He’s called to the scene of a multiple murder at the local Waffle House and ends up in the middle of a mob war between the North Dakota and Kansas City crime families. Meanwhile a small-town butcher (Jesse Plemons) and his nervous wife (Kirsten Dunst) are targeted after she hits a member of the North Dakota crime family in a car accident on an icy road and the husband disposes of the body and covers up the accident to protect her.

Fargo: Year Two

Fargo: Year Two

The series shares the dark, offbeat humor, quirky characters, comic Midwestern accents and manners, stabs of gruesome violence, and unexpected narrative swerves of the original film, and it improves upon the excellent first season by anchoring the show in the family life of Solverson, whose wife (Cristin Milioti) is fighting cancer and father-in-law (Ted Danson) is the town sheriff. Amidst all the violence is a core of decency and generosity, of family and neighbors looking out for one another. The writing is sharp and clever, with the narrative turns and unexpected twists always grounded in the distinctive personalities and dimensions of the characters, and the lilting accents and Minnesota nice manner aren’t used to make of the characters, merely place them in their culture. The storytelling is clever and compelling without slipping in gimmickry and the supporting cast is superb: Jean Smart, Jeffrey Donovan, Bokeem Woodbine, and Nick Offerman are among the co-stars and Bruce Campbell plays Ronald Reagan campaigning for President in one episode. Welcome to 1979.

10 episodes on DVD and Blu-ray with interviews and featurettes.

BansheeS3Banshee: The Complete Third Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) – Produced for Cinemax, Banshee brings together the elements that the pay cable channel is known for—action, violence, sex, and pulp-oriented stories—and showcases them in a clever, tightly-plotted crime series with vividly extreme characters and novel twists on familiar conventions.

At the center of the show is a career criminal who takes the name Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) and becomes the sheriff of a town controlled by an Amish gangster (Ulrich Thomsen), and he uses the cover to pull robberies with his gang: former wild-child girlfriend Carrie (Ivana Milicevic), now the wife of the town Mayor; world-class hacker Job (Hoon Lee); and former boxer Sugar (Frankie Faison). This season they plot the robbery of a military base run by a corrupt commander who safeguards (and skims from) cash to be shipped overseas and the heist itself, presented from the POV of a series of surveillance cameras, is one of the season’s stand-out episodes. Meanwhile Lucas takes on a militant Native American militia leader (Chayton Littlestone) from a nearby reservation who declares war on white society and (in a memorable episode) lays siege to the police station.

What makes Lucas so interesting is that he becomes serious about protecting the town and applies his criminal skills to policing, even pulling the real cops into his rogue missions. But ultimately all of our heroes and anti-heroes follow a criminal code of loyalty and vengeance, which has an odd way of uniting them in common cause, if only for brief situations. The show delivers well-mounted, hard-edged action in every episode, much of it with a brutal edge, and plenty of sweaty sex and nudity, while keeping audiences hooked on the twisting stories and committed characters, which has earned the show a small but passionate following. The producers have announced that the upcoming fourth season will be its last.

10 episodes on DVD and Blu-ray. This is in many ways the signature original series for Cinemax so they pack their disc releases with extras. This edition features commentary tracks on a number of episodes, multiple featurettes, bonus webisodes of prequel stories featuring the cast, and deleted scenes.

VeepS4Veep: The Complete Fourth Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) begins with Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) deep in the primary campaign for the party nomination when the President resigns over a scandal and she is instantly elevated to the Oval Office. Of course, her staff competes for prime positions on her team, leading to the same kind of mistakes and embarrassments that have plagued her B-team collection of functionaries throughout the series. This time, a few of them are even sacrificed when gaffs become scandals and Amy (Anna Chlumsky) and Dan (Reid Scott) end up parlaying their contacts into lobbyist jobs. Hugh Laurie joins the show as Selina’s running mate, a veteran politician and born campaigner whose easy manner with the public and the media makes her almost pathologically jealous, but the best in show here are Gary Cole as a veteran advisor and Diedrich Bader as her new campaign manager. Both actors bring jaded cynicism to new levels.

It’s the polar opposite of Aaron Sorkin’s aspirational shows like The West Wing and The Newsroom, a comedy of petty personalities, political waste, ineffectual leadership, personal advancement, and public relations opportunism over government action, with an often nasty sense of humor and a snappy wit. Patton Oswalt also guest stars this season, and it ends on a humdinger of an election night cliffhanger. The show won five Emmy Awards this season, including Outstanding Comedy Series and awards for star Louis-Dreyfus and supporting actor Tony Hale. Features foul language, adult themes, and unrelenting cynicism for the political process.

10 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with deleted scenes.

SiliconV2Silicon Valley: The Complete Second Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) of the HBO satire of the internet startups and tech innovators in California’s Silicon Valley takes the software breakthrough of technically brilliant but socially inept programmer Richard (Thomas Middleditch) to the next level. Having proven his new compression app, he goes searching for investment money and fends off a lawsuit from their former employer, the unscrupulous CEO (Matt Ross) of a Google-like corporation that claims ownership of his creation.

This is a world of savants—nerds, really, with plenty of technical know-how and no business savvy or social skills—and the humor revolves around their arrested adolescence-driven behavior in an ostensibly grown-up world of business plans and public relations. Richard is a likable schlub whose idealism bumps up against the greed and self-interest of the tech world and whose support team (programming partners Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr, earnest business advisor Zach Woods, and self-proclaimed mentor T.J. Miller) is equally helpless in the face of an egotistical idiot of a billionaire investor or the business savant who steps in to take control from Richard before he crashes his own start-up before it even launches. It’s created and largely written by Mike Judge, who grounds the tech world story in nerd humor and workplace comedy, and it’s both a satire of the new tech company world an affectionate look at the American Dream.

10 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary, a featurette, and deleted scenes.

Major CrimesS4Major Crimes: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner, DVD) – The superior spin-off of The Closer continues its case-of-the-week episodes, all of them interesting and compelling crimes, while it delves deeper into the personal lives and stories of the members of the team, from the developments in the romance between Captain Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) and Lt. Flynn (Tony Denison), and the crusty Lt. Provenza (G.W. Bailey) falling in love after giving up on the whole thing, to the journalistic efforts of Raydor’s adopted son Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin) to find the identity of an unidentified crime victim, an odyssey that becomes personal as he develops a friendship with the dead girl’s brother.

The final five episodes of the season are presented as a mini-series within the series: a single murder investigation with roots in an old crime, a controversial case involving the killing of a fellow officer, the murder of a District Attorney, and a disgraced cop (guest star Jason Gedrick) whose perjury resulted in one of the suspects going free. It’s the most ambitious storyline the show has tackled to date and it is quite compelling.

There are plenty of ensemble police procedurals and crime dramas but “Major Crimes” is the rare show that emphasizes the teamwork and collaboration of officers and other members of the team (including the coroner and the assistant D.A.) and the soft-spoken leadership of the Captain. The fifth season debuts in the summer of 2016.

23 episodes on DVD, with deleted scenes and a gag reel.