Summer TV on DVD Roundup: From 'Alcatraz' and 'CSI' to 'Mad Men'
November 4th, 2012 9:25am EST
Just before the fall TV season starts, that's when the TV on DVD season begins. A bounty of titles have hit shelves over the last few months, and they range from the must-own to the not so much. Here's a quick look at select TV on DVD and Blu-Ray releases, including Alcatraz, The Firm, The Good Wife, Hawaii Five-0, Mad Men and the latest in the CSI and NCIS franchises.
Alcatraz: The Complete Series [Blu-Ray] (Warner)
FOX's Alcatraz was reminiscent of the network's Fringe - it had a female heroine, working in law enforcement and played by a relatively unknown actress, working her way through plenty of mythology, and both were produced by J.J. Abrams. So why did Alcatraz get axed after just one season while Fringe became a cult hit? The stories of Alcatraz aren't as interesting, and the lead character of Rebecca Madsen leaves something to be desired. Lost alum Jorge Garcia is the bright spot as "Doc" Soto, and Sam Neill is good in his role as Emerson Hauser, though a tad underused. If you're into the Abrams-produced series, Alcatraz is worth a rent - but might not have a lot of replay value.
The Blu-Ray transfer of the show is likewise solid if not outstanding; fans of the show should feel confident in the quality of both the episodes' picture and sound. That's about all there is on this set, though; aside from the now-standard deleted scenes and gag reel, the only bonus feature is a featurette entitled "Island of Intrigue," which has interviews with not just the cast but folks who were former guards and inmates at the real Alcatraz. It's worth a look, especially if you're unfamiliar with the history of the famous prison, but not something with a lot of rewatch value. For that reason, this set's for fans only; everyone else should give it a rent first.
You can purchase your copy here.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation : The Eleventh Season (CBS DVD)
Season eleven of CSI is the last for Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Raymond Langston, but the show has perfected its formula by now, and it's not really about who's on the team anymore, except for maybe the always-dependable Marg Helgenberger, who herself left the show in season twelve. By season eleven, CSI knows what works and just keeps doing it, akin to NBC's late powerhouse Law & Order. Among the happenings this season: the show writes out Liz Vassey's Wendy Simms, Melinda Clarke returns again as Lady Heather, and William Petersen has a cameo appearance. And yes, this is the season that Justin Bieber guest-stars in.
When it comes to the DVD edition, the season has its strengths and weaknesses. The episodes look good, but not as great as they did in their initial HD broadcast on CBS; if you've seen any of the limited Blu-Ray releases for CSI, they look better than this. There are subtitles, but not on all the special features, and only English and Spanish audio tracks. Like previous season sets, there are a handful of brief featurettes (with some spoilers!) about key episodes, and the more general season-in-review piece. Season eleven only has two commentary tracks: one on "House of Hoarders" with George Eads among others and one on "A Kiss Before Frying" with Eric Szmanda and Dita Von Teese included.
Then there's the purely nitpicky stuff: the episode guide for the set is on the inside front cover - but you'll have to take the first disc out to read it. Thankfully, the information is also printed on each of the discs. Completists will want this set; for everyone else, it depends on if you enjoyed this particular season, because there's nothing here that makes this set a must-own.
You can purchase your copy here. (The eighth season of CSI: NY and tenth - and final - season of CSI: Miami are also now available.)
The Firm: The Complete Series (Entertainment One)
NBC's The Firm was one of those shows that had promise and ultimately didn't work. The show had two outstanding leads in Josh Lucas (Glory Road, Sweet Home Alabama) and Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica), but the writing ultimately let them down as it quickly abandoned the strong legal drama in favor of overemphasizing its conspiracy thriller elements. So should you bother with the DVD set? Yes, if you're a fan of either actor; they turn in solid performances even when they don't always have the best material. The show also stars Molly Parker and Juliette Lewis, with small supporting parts for Shaun Majumder and Tricia Helfer.
There are more special features here than you'd expect for a single-season show like The Firm; unfortunately, most of those features only serve to demonstrate how the show could've been a lot better than it was. For the people who don't know the history, there's a feature (billed as a "story") where John Grisham explains how the story began as a book and then the Tom Cruise movie. A little bit misleading is the "Josh Lucas is Mitch McDeere" piece, which is basically an extended interview with Lucas giving his thoughts on the piece and picking up after Cruise - it never actually talks about how he got the part or what makes him right for the role. Cast and crew interviews, some scant behind the scenes footage, and a "sneak peek" promo piece round out the set. Lucas and Rennie fans should give it a view, but everyone else can skip The Firm.
You can pick up your copy here.
The Good Wife: The Third Season (CBS DVD)
CBS's The Good Wife is one of the most critically acclaimed drama series on television right now, and its third season is billed as "a new beginning" on the back of this set. That's because the show finally pays off two seasons of romantic tension between Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and Will Gardner (Josh Charles), while introducing all sorts of new issues at the firm of Lockhart/Gardner. To say much more would be spoiling, but the best part of season three might just be Eli Gold joining the firm, because Alan Cumming continues to steal almost every scene that he shows up in. The season isn't quite as great as the headlines might have you believe, but when The Good Wife is good, it's great.
This six-disc set features a reasonable transfer of episodes, with deleted scenes and then four different featurettes that shouldn't be watched until you've seen the whole season. Like CSI, this set suffers from the problem of having its table of contents obstructed by the discs; unlike CSI, the special features are not printed on the discs themselves, so if you are looking for something in particular, you'll have to take out the first and last discs to read which one it's on. The special features will please fans of the show, but commentaries would have been a welcome addition. For anyone who's thinking about checking into The Good Wife, though, this is the kind of show where you really should start from the beginning.
You can pick up your copy here.
Hawaii Five-0: The Second Season (CBS DVD)
After a fantastic first season, CBS's Hawaii Five-0 went off the deep end in its sophomore year. Whether it was trying to shake up the perfect team chemistry by introducing a new character who just didn't work, or episode plots that fell flat, there was more wrong with season two than there was right. The core ensemble - Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park - are still there, though, and they continue to be watchable, so fans of any of those actors will want to give this one a spot on your shelf regardless.
While this is a weak season for the show, it's ironically a very good DVD set. The presentation is good (though it's downright amazing on the Blu-Ray version ), and there's a decent range of special features to go along with it. Everyone but Scott Caan joins producer Peter Lenkov for a commentary track on the season premiere, which is an entertaining listen that will make you wish they'd done more than one. (Lenkov and another producer make up the set's other commentary.) There are three featurettes which are all entertaining, highlighting the show's action and Steve McGarrett's Navy SEAL training (although the "Story of Season 2" one shouldn't be watched until you've seen all the episodes), then there's the usual gag reel and deleted scenes. It's a nice touch that the set also includes the crossover episode from NCIS: Los Angeles for folks who don't watch that show. As TV on DVD sets go, this is a nice one - now if only the season itself were of equal quality.
You can pick up your copy here.
Mad Men: Season Five [Blu-Ray] (Lionsgate)
Season five of AMC's Mad Men is as good as the four that came before it; by the end, you'll grasp why it was nominated for a whopping seventeen Primetime Emmy Awards. It's hard to talk about the season without giving too much away, but it's still very unflinching, sometimes controversial, and even shocking at points. If you haven't gotten into the show before, this won't change your mind, but if you're one of its many fans, there's plenty here that you can sink your teeth into.
The season five Blu-Ray is a great set, principally because it doesn't just give fans material about the show, but about the world in which it's placed, and how some of the series' more obscure aspects are handled. There are commentary tracks here with creator Matthew Weiner and cast members, but you're also going to learn about the inspiration behind the season five poster art, how the show is scored, and more about select actual events from 1966. On top of all that, the show looks wonderful in Blu-Ray. Sets like this one are why TV buffs always ask if a show is coming out on Blu-Ray.
There is one flaw with this set, though, and it's a big one: there is no table of contents or episode guide included. If you want to know which episodes are on which disc, or which ones have those commentaries, you're going to have to find out by trial and error. With everything Lionsgate did right with this set, you think they could've included an insert somewhere.
You can pick up your copy here.
NCIS: Los Angeles: The Third Season (CBS DVD)
The spinoff of NCIS won't surpass the original by any means, but it's a serviceable counterpart - the West Coast Avengers to the original series' Avengers, if you will. Like NCIS, it's not reinventing the wheel, but it's well headlined by the effective team of Chris O'Donnell and LL Cool J, with Linda Hunt as their boss. There's a little more emphasis on action in Los Angeles (and understandably so when one of your stars is LL Cool J), and the supporting cast is fairly interchangeable, but it's a solid procedural nonetheless. Season three sees multi-episode guest arcs from Claire Forlani and Miguel Ferrer, a welcome appearance by Law & Order's Alana de la Garza, and the brief return of Peter Cambor, who was downgraded from regular status at the end of the first season.
This particular DVD set leaves much to be desired. While the quality of the episodes is decent, this set isn't what you would call user-friendly. Like the other CBS sets, the table of contents is completely obscured by the placement of the discs...and worse, there's no information about any of the six included featurettes other than their titles. You'll have to watch them to find out what they are. Here's some hints: "Dishing With Barrett and Renee" is mostly fluff with stars Barrett Foa and Renee Felice Smith, while there's the obligatory season overview on the last disc. The other four are fairly ordinary spots on various aspects of the season's production.
A fun but not that memorable commentary with actors Daniela Ruah and Eric Christian Olsen is also on that final volume. It's not a great collection of special features, and the set itself seems like only the bare minimum of effort was put into it. At least CBS was considerate enough to include the Hawaii Five-0 crossover episode. This is a season you can skip unless you're a completist or huge fan of the show.
You can pick up your copy here. (The ninth season of NCIS is also now available.)
Also Reviewed: You can check out my thoughts on the Blu-Ray sixth season of Dexter in this earlier article and my review of Nikita: The Complete Second Season on Blu-Ray is located here.
For more from Brittany Frederick, visit Digital Airwaves and follow me on Twitter (@tvbrittanyf).
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.
Photo Credits: CBS