OrphanBlackS2Orphan Black: Season Two (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD) confirms what I suspected back when I binge-watched the first season on disc last year: this BBC America original series (which is, of course, produced in Canada by a Canadian creative crew) soars almost entirely on the wings of its star Tatiana Maslany, who not only plays the five clones at the center of the conspiracy drama but a few others who have drifted in and out of the show in its initial two seasons. It’s more than simply an impressive performance, or rather collection of performances, as each character has a distinct and different personality. Maslany brings the show to life with the intensity of each of the characters and the evolution of their relationships to one another, often acting against herself through digital trickery. The characters are far more engaging than the conspiracy storyline, which runs through familiar cycles of shadowy corporations and treacherous agents working for their own devious ends.

The second season opens with Sarah (the streetwise orphan) searching for her kidnapped daughter and Cosima (the scientist) working with the shadowy group run by Rachel (the cold, manipulative one) to find a cure for the illness that is beginning to appear in the clones. Maslany also plays an alcoholic suburban mom and a crazy assassin who is only slowly learning to trust her sisters, and amazingly she makes all five these characters riveting. The complications include a survivalist religious cult that wants to give birth to more clone offspring, a former boyfriend (Michel Huisman of “Game of Thrones”) who helps Sarah hide out from the research group, and the accidental murder of a manipulative scientist. The cover-up of this crime oddly enough helps repair a failing marriage, just one of the bits of dark humor that helps it overcome the otherwise familiar collection of mix-and-match tropes.

And it’s not just Maslany who energizes the show. Jordan Gavarish is quite winning in a splashy role as Sarah’s devoted foster brother and Maria Doyle Kennedy is wonderfully enigmatic and ferocious as Sarah’s shadowy foster mother, a member of a resistance group that she realizes is also untrustworthy. Like so many conspiracy thrillers, these folks learn that the only ones they can trust are family, however they define it. That’s what ultimately has made the show a cult favorite.

10 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with a “Cloneversation” interview hosted by Wil Wheaton, deleted scenes, and four behind-the-scenes featurettes among the supplements.

EndeavopurS2Endeavour: Series 2 (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD), the “Inspector Morse” prequel set in 1960s Oxford, opens with the young Detective Inspector Endeavour Morse (played by Shaun Evans) recovering from a gunshot wound that almost killed him at the end of the previous series. His superior officer and mentor DI Thursday (Roger Allam) worries that Morse has lost the passion and commitment to police work that made him stand out in a department filled with compromised and corruptible officers, but in his first investigation back on the job, Morse discovers evidence that a suspected suicide is actually murder.

He tends to alienate the veteran officers with his intellect and his abrasive, argumentative attitude and Thursday protects him from the older commanding officers, though by the final mystery of this set Thursday is pressured to retire, which leaves Morse with little incentive to remain. More interesting than the personal conflicts of this series is the way that the four mysteries reveal an environment of intolerance and abuse and, in the final mysteries, a culture of corruption that goes back decades and reaches to the most powerful people in Oxford. And on a lighter note (because it can’t all be gloomy and dire), Endeavour starts dating a nurse in his apartment building. This series forges its own identity unique from the beloved “Inspector Morse” series and the second series develops the show into one of the best British mysteries running today. Four feature-length mysteries on two discs on Blu-ray and DVD. The discs offer the complete British versions of the shows, which are longer than the versions broadcast on “Masterpiece Mystery” on PBS.

ViciousVicious (PBS, DVD), the new British sitcom starring Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellan as a longtime gay couple whose relationship has slid into a rut of nasty insults and backbiting remarks, plays like a throwback to a shrill era of outsized stereotypes. McKellan plays an actor whose career was never very successful and whose ego is still fragile. Jacobi is his partner who, after 50 years living together, still hasn’t told his mother that he’s gay. Both characters are flamboyant and catty, like a decades-old stereotype of flaming queens who haven’t changed even as the world around them has, and the show traffics in the big, loud, nasty kind of insult humor that defined the worst clichés of boisterous British TV comedy in the seventies. These guys are pros and their delivery is dead-on, but it doesn’t make their material any better.

Frances de la Tour (Madame Maxine in the Harry Potter films) co-stars as their man-hungry best friend Violet and Iwan Rheon is their amiable upstairs neighbor Ash, the only youth in the senior citizen cast and the only genuinely likable character in the bunch. The series premiered in Britain in 2013 and stateside in PBS the summer of 2014. Eight episodes on two discs on DVD, with a cast and crew interview.

Also new and notable:

PrisonersofWarS1Prisoners of War: Season One (Shout Factory, DVD) is the Israeli TV series about soldiers returning home after years of captivity as POWs that inspired the American series Homeland.

Black Dynamite: The Complete First Season (Warner, Blu-ray) presents the animated spin-off of the Blaxploitation spoof, produced for the Adult Swim block of the Cartoon Network.

The Soul Man: The Complete First Season (Shout Factory, DVD) is the TV Land sitcom starring Cedric the Entertainer as a singer turned preacher.

Cedar Cove: Season One (Lionsgate, DVD), the first original series produced for the Hallmark Channel, is based on the books of Debbie Macomber and stars Andie MacDowell as a small town judge.

Broadway Theatre Archive: Great Performances – Volume One (Kultur, DVD) collects four stage productions produced for the PBS showcase and previously released separately on DVD: Death of a Salesman (1966) with Lee J. Cobb, Alice at the Palace (1981) with Meryl Streep, Uncommon Women and Others (1978) with Streep, Swoosie Kurtz and Jill Eikenberry, and For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide (1982) with Alfre Woodard and Lynn Whitfield.

More releases:SoulMan

Labyrinth (Lionsgate, DVD)
A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lionsgate, DVD)
The Mill (BFS, DVD)
Case Histories: Set 2 (Acorn, DVD)
Hell on Wheels: Season 3 (Koch, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Big Valley: Season 3 (Timeless Media, DVD)
How the West Was Won: The Complete Second Season (Warner, DVD)
The Wipers Times (PBS, DVD)
David Suchet: In the Footsteps of St. Paul (Athena, DVD)BlackDynamiteS1
Hidden Kingdoms (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD)
I, Caesar (Kultur, DVD)
Frontline: Locked Up In America (PBS, DVD)
American Pharaoh (PBS, DVD)
D-Day 360 (PBS, DVD)
Day of Days: June 6, 1944 (PBS, DVD)
Nova: D-Day’s Sunken Secrets (PBS, DVD)
100 Years of WWI (Lionsgate, DVD)
The Visual Dictionary of Ballet for Children (Kultur, DVD)BroadwayArchiveSet1
Time Scanners: St. Paul’s Cathedral (PBS, DVD)
Time Scanners: Petra (PBS, DVD)
Nature: The Gathering Swarms (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
Nature: Leave it to Beavers (PBS, DVD)
Hercules: Hero, God, Warrior (Lionsgate, DVD)
America’s Test Kitchen: Season 14 (PBS, DVD)

Calendar of upcoming releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, and VOD