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DEADLINE (1959-61) (DVD)

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Grade: C+
Entire family: No
1959-61, 1006 min. (39 episodes), Black & White
Drama
Not rated (would be PG for some adult situations)
Film Chest Media
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Bonus features: C+
Amazon link

It’s almost hard to remember, but before unfair cries of “fake news” journalists were widely respected. From the ‘20s through ‘50s they were even considered heroic because they did whatever it took to get a story, whether it involved immediate danger or possible repercussions. Crusading editors and reporters were the frequent subject of films and featured such stars as James Stewart (Call Northside 777), Humphrey Bogart (Deadline —U.S.A.), Kirk Douglas (Ace in the Hole), Clark Gable (Teacher’s Pet), Cary Grant (His Girl Friday), Fred McMurray (Exclusive), Alan Ladd (Chicago Deadline), and Joel McCrea (Foreign Correspondent).

The short-lived Deadline(1959-61) TV series takes viewers back to those simpler times when journalists worked alongside police and the public trusted and relied on them.

Paul Stewart, the series host and frequent “guest actor,” played a reporter in the film Deadline – U.S.A., but he doesn’t have what it takes to carry an anthology series like this. Assuming the role of various reporters from real newspaper stories across the nation, he goes about that reporter’s business with the stiff formality of Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday. In fact, Dragnet is a good comparison.

Dragnet had Friday’s voiceovers, while Deadline has Stewart’s in almost every episode. Like Dragnet, the Deadline investigations are pretty facile and stagey, which was typical of TV crime shows from the ‘50s. The “dramatizations” are, like most TV reenactments, a little hokey and decidedly melodramatic. A situation is quickly set up, there’s a brief investigation with questions asked of various people involved, and by the end of every 30-minute episode there’s a resolution. Guest stars include Peter Falk, Diane Ladd, Robert Lansing, Telly Savalas, George Maharis, and Simon Oakland, but for the most part these are unknown actors and fresh faces, because most of their careers never took off.

Thirty-nine episodes were produced, and all of them are included in this three-disc DVD set from Film Chest Media. The timing couldn’t be better, and you get the feeling that Film Chest is doing a little crusading of their own, thinking perhaps that the mainstream media have been systematically and unfairly maligned the past three years. More

Review of SUPERGIRL: SEASON 2 (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B+
Entire family: Yes
2016, 931 min. (22 episodes), Color
Sci-fi action-drama

Warner Bros.
Not rated: would be PG for fantasy violence
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C+/B-
Includes Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link

As I said when I reviewed Season 1, there are two DC Universes, and Melissa Benoist really brightens up the television one. She has the kind of charisma that propelled Lynda Carter (who appears as the President this season) to stardom as TV’s Wonder Woman during the seventies and the kind of girl-next-door likeability and warmth that inspired the writers of Supergirl: Season 2 to emphasize her “humanity” after otherwise drawing a distinction between humans and aliens.

In this winning 2016 CW series she’s the “girl” you want to be friends with, to confide in, to rely on, to have fun with, and, if you’re a guy, to date. Though Supergirl comes from the planet Krypton, with Benoist wearing the costume she embodies everything that’s good in humanity. She may be a badass, but she’s as amazed by her powers and the fun of being a hero as any teenage Earthling would be. And teens can identify with her because she’s also awkward in social situations, still trying to find her way in the work world, just a little geeky, and a little too wide-eyed for a typical adult her age. In other words, the character was deliberately crafted with a teen and young adult audience in mind, though the show is entertaining enough for all ages.

Supergirl offers a less dark DC Universe in which characters have down time, bond, laugh, share food and drink, and grapple with problems that audience members face—like questions about identity, body image, relationships, glass ceilings, and juggling career and personal life. The series’ first-season feminism and “stronger together” theme was reflected in the Hillary Clinton campaign, and this season remarks exchanges like this one tip viewers off that the left-leaning politics continue:

Supergirl (as Kira, defending a young woman in the office): “She went to Yale.”
Cat Grant: “So did George Bush.”

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Review of SHARK WEEK: SHARK ‘N’ AWE COLLECTION (DVD)

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Grade: B
Entire family: Possibly
2015-16, 1355 min. (32 episodes), Color
Documentary
Lionsgate
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Teaser/trailer
No online purchase link available

Sharks are to the Discovery Channel what Mickey Mouse is to Walt Disney Studios. And every year the cable network celebrates their viewers’ fascination with all things shark with a special televised Shark Week that has all the hoopla of a Super Bowl. This past year’s theme was “Shark ‘n’ Awe,” and you can pick up the Shark Week: Shark ‘n’ Awe Collection on DVD now—but only at Walmart and only in-store, no online sales.

What you’ll get in this six-disc, 32-episode collection is the usual blend of episodes: some of them documentaries about scientific studies (including one, pictured, where scientists and shark experts devised a way to accurately measure sharks underwater), some “in search of” adventures, some of them attempts to capture certain shark behaviors on film for the first time, some spotlighting acrobatic aerial attacks, others chronicling an increase in shark attacks worldwide, others habitat-centered, and a bunch of them dealing with Great White Sharks, whose popularity skyrocketed with the summer 1975 release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. As clichéd as it sounds, there’s literally something here for everyone, and tastes will vary. I found the Mythbusters episode to be the most boring of the bunch, but that won’t be the case for everyone.

I mostly enjoyed the scientific studies, many of them focused on the tagging of sharks so they can be monitored via satellite. Such episodes were largely pure research-based, but one of them sought to pinpoint the movement of enormous Great Whites along beaches in order to alert officials to keep human-shark contact at a minimum when they’re in the area—kind of like a sophisticated cowbell. The most interesting of these may have been “Tiburones: Sharks of Cuba,” because it involved a collaboration between Cuban and U.S. shark scientists working frantically during the limited window that both governments had given them.

But the daredevil episodes were also pretty engaging, including ones where shark chasers experimented with new underwater cages and methods of goading the sharks to strike so they can study their behavior. And there’s a train wreck factor to episodes where shark attack victims are interviewed . . . or we see them go back into the water again because they’re as addicted to sharks as many viewers.

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ARROW: SEASON 4 (Blu-ray)

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Arrow4coverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
2012, 972 min. (23 episodes), Color
Unrated (would be TV-14 for violence)
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: B
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Arrow is by far the most popular DC Comics series on television. It’s also the darkest, the most complex, and the most violent—which means it’s strictly for families with teenage children.

The creators were clearly fans of Lost, as they incorporate the same kind of flashback structure over an arc that spans a number of seasons, with each season offering new flashbacks and new revelations. The problem with Season Arrow4screen14 is that those flashbacks seem a little more disconnected from the main narrative and often are so brief that they also feel annoyingly interruptive. That’s one thing that sets this season apart from the rest. Another is that a villain called Anarchy wasn’t terribly popular with friends, though I found him to be just as interesting as the others, all of whom take a backseat this season to Damien Darhk. I can’t imagine this season without Darhk, who has all the fascinating charisma and on-screen presence of a James Bond villain. The last things that distinguish Season 4 from the first three is that Arrow becomes Green Arrow and magic and supernatural elements take center stage.

Unlike a few other DC series—Supergirl or Flash come instantly to mind—you can’t just pick up a later season of Arrow and start watching. Too much is predicated on your knowledge of revelations from the previous seasons, and you’ll sit there in confusion without an Arrow fan nearby to tell you plot points you may have missed.

The show’s premise is this: In Season 1 billionaire Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) went out on his father’s boat with his girlfriend’s sister (whom this spoiled rich boy was also “dating”) when a storm hit. She was sucked out to sea, but the men survived (yeah, this is why the series appeals mostly to males). The father makes a huge sacrifice so his son can live and atone for his mistakes, which are all chronicled in a book of former business partners and “like” minds. Queen was marooned on an island for five years, and he wasn’t alone. There were people there who wanted to (and DID) hurt him badly, and others who were tough on him because they wanted him to survive. Other things happened, and flashbacks tease viewers the way Lost did with its disjointed narrative. One thing is certain: he’s no longer the irresponsible bad boy he once was. Like Bruce Wayne/Batman, Queen assumes a dual identity as himself and The Vigilante (as the media first calls him), with plenty of tension on the work and home fronts. That dualism gradually breaks down over the course of several seasons.

Arrow4screen2In Season 4, Green Arrow and his crew fight against Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), who has decided humanity needs a “reset” and is determined to wipe everyone out, starting with Star City. This season Oliver as Oliver runs for mayor and Oliver as Arrow comes up against a villain who pulls playing cards off his skin and flings them like lethal weapons in very cool sequences. Those are the easy plot lines. More complicated twists involve the League of Assassins and a Pit that can bring people back to life, an old enemy of Arrow’s named Ra’s al Ghul (Matthew Nable) who coaches his daughter in her “bloodlust,” Arrow’s bodyguard-turned-helper-turned-Arrow-turned-helper-again John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Diggle’s concern over a brother who might be involved with Darhk, Arrow’s complicated relationship with Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), and a revelation of paternity for Oliver.

If all of that sounds a bit sudsy, Arrow does feel like a stylish, action-filled, dark, and violent soap opera at times—but with better acting and production values, great special effects, and a pleasing superhero-fantasy structure. Season 4 may have a few weak spots, but it’s still superior to most of the dramas on television. If you’re interested, though, do start with Season 1!

Language: Lots of minor swearwords, but no f-bombs
Sex: Nothing here, surprisingly
Violence: Lots, and bloody as well; shooting, stabbing, hand-to-hand
Adult situations: Beloved characters die; characters are tortured; characters smoke, drink, and do drugs
Takeaway: If Neal McDonough isn’t cast as a future Bond villain, I’d be flabbergasted

LUCIFER: SEASON 1 (DVD)

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Lucifer1coverGrade: B
Entire family: No
2015-16, 566 min. (13 episodes), Color
Warner Bros.
Not rated (would be TV-14 for violence, adult situations, sexual innuendo, and language)
Aspect ratio: Letterboxed widescreen “enhanced” for 16×9 monitors
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

In the ‘60s, novelty sitcoms like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched proved that shows with positively ridiculous supernatural premises could still be popular if the situations were interesting enough, the cast likeable enough, and the writing clever enough.

That lesson was not lost on the creators of Lucifer: Season 1, a series that’s based on a character from the DC Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman and Sam Kieth. Could there be a crazier premise for a male-female police procedural than to pair the real Lucifer (aka Satan, who’s taking a vacation from hell by running a nightclub in L.A.) with a detective who was a former actress known primarily for posing topless in Hot Tub High School?

Tom Ellis stars as the suave ladies man Lucifer Morningstar, who runs a trendy nightclub called Lux. He had grown bored and restless in hell and often did a deliberately poor job of punishing the people who were sent there because his Father assigned him to that as a punishment for his rebellion. All these Lucifer1screen1millennia later he wanted out, so much so that his L.A. vacation turns into a permanent abdication. When he witnesses a murder outside his club, he finds himself becoming curiously involved and decides to help Det. Chloe Decker (Lauren German) by using some of his powers. In Touched by an Angel Michael Landon gave people warm fuzzies; Lucifer has the power to get people to speak the truth about their deepest, most secret desires, and to admit their sinful urges—including, in an opening scene, a cop who decides to take the bribe after Lucifer exposes his loose relationship with the law. He’s like truth serum, and in extreme situations he shows his real satanic form to those he wants to shock.

Now, why would a good, dedicated cop pair up with Satan? Good question, since one would guess the LAPD would have certain rules about a non-force partnership. Though Lucifer Morningstar comes right out and tells her who he is, she thinks he’s speaking metaphorically, until his character and his immortality is gradually revealed to her. His fascination with her is more believable: she’s the only human who is impervious to his powers—which, by mid-season, like Samantha’s nose-twitch and Jeannie’s head-blink, start to get a little old. But the situations and clever writing are enough to compensate.

This first season Chloe and Lucifer investigate the slaying of a movie star’s son, a girl that turns up dead in a football star’s pool, a woman who’s killed at a fashion show, a biker gang that’s into nasty stuff, a murdered therapist, an underground drug ring, the murder of a prominent restauranteur, a philanthropist that was found dead, and a girl who may have been murdered by a group of Satanists.

Rounding out the cast are Scarlett Estevez as Chloe’s precocious daughter, Trixie (“You do know that’s a hooker’s name, don’t you?” Lucifer says upon first meeting her); Lesley-Ann Brandt as Mazikeen (aka Maze), an assistant of sorts who accompanied Lucifer to L.A.; DB Woodside as Amenadiel, Lucifer’s “brother” who is intent on getting him to return to hell; and Rachael Harris as Dr. Linda Martin, whose sessions and relationship with Lucifer will remind viewers of Tony Soprano and his therapist, especially since both men run clubs that are highly sexualized.

Lucifer1screen2Fans of forensic shows won’t be impressed that no attention is paid to that aspect of criminal investigations. Even when we see a body with bruises we just get a coroner’s pronouncement of  “strangulation,” and it’s left to Chloe and Lucifer to find out whether the attacker was male or female, how tall or heavy, etc. And though the writers try to make sense of why and how Chloe is working on her own, it’s not totally clear why, after she clashed with the LAPD over a cop shooting, she’s still able to work on her own while ostracized by her homicide detective ex-husband Dan Espinoza (Kevin Alejandro) and the rest of the detectives. But the show’s writing is clever enough, with laugh-out-loud moments, where you tend to shrug and overlook such things.

Any positive messages that the show might offer (Lucifer’s gradual enlightenment, for example, or anti-bullying, or the always available possibility of reinventing oneself) get lost among the Satanic elements that the writers clearly favored. It’s like a Satanic version of Touched by an Angel meets Remington Steele, with a little Dexter and The Sopranos thrown in for good measure. No wonder the website One Million Moms launched a petition drive to keep the show from airing—though far short of a million signed it by the time the show first aired (165,643). The irony? The show airs on Fox, the network most identified with the GOP and their emphasis on “family values.” Lucifer is a stylish and entertaining show, but it won’t be for many church-going families. It’s also every bit a TV-14 series. Given the soundtrack and special effects, you might want to pick this up on Blu-ray instead. The 5.1 Surround and standard definition, while strong, do have their limitations—especially, with the visuals, in low-light situations.

Language: A bunch of it, mostly male-female slurs like “bitch” or “dick”
Sex: Lots of innuendo, some scantily clad females, implied sexual coupling
Violence: Jerry Bruckheimer produced this, so you’ll see a bunch of crashes and explosions and high-concept stylized violence, some of it bloody
Adult situations: Drug-use, smoking, drinking
Takeaway: Despite the ridiculous premise, Lucifer is surprisingly entertaining

SUPERGIRL: SEASON 1 (Blu-ray)

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Supergirl1coverGrade: B/B+
Entire family: Yes (except for preschoolers?)
2015, 877 min. (20 episodes), Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-TV for violence
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

There are two DC Universes, and Melissa Benoist really brightens up the television one. She has the kind of charisma that propelled Lynda Carter to stardom as TV’s Wonder Woman during the seventies and the kind of girl-next-door likeability and warmth that inspired the writers of Supergirl to refer to her “humanity” after otherwise drawing a distinction between humans and aliens.

Then again, alienity just doesn’t cover it when we’re talking about Benoist as Kara Danvers, aka Supergirl. In this winning 2015 CW series she’s the “girl” you want to be friends with, to confide in, to rely on, to have fun with, and, if you’re a guy, to date. Though Supergirl comes from the planet Krypton, with Benoist wearing the costume she embodies everything that’s good in humanity.

Supergirl1screen1Supergirl offers a less dark DC Universe in which characters have down time, bond, laugh, share food and drink, and grapple with problems that audience members face—like questions about identity, body image, relationships, glass ceilings, and juggling career and personal life. The series’ feminism and “stronger together” theme is even reflected in the Hillary Clinton campaign, and who knows? Maybe this is the year that a female who is dedicated to the prospect of helping people is finally able to be accepted as a hero. That’s certainly Kara’s main focus in Season 1.

Kara Zor-El was sent to Earth to look after her younger cousin, but because her pod strayed off-course she arrived after Kal-El, who’s grown up and already accepted as a hero in Metropolis. Instead of her taking care of him, he’s the caretaker who whisks her her off to foster parents. The series begins when Kara, who had been experimenting with her powers off-camera all this time, is now 24 and working in National City as an assistant to media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart).

Kara’s boss reminds her that things come easier for men, and that women have to work twice as hard in order to be accepted. That’s no truer than for Kara, who is still feeling the burden of role reversal. She was supposed to take care of her cousin, and instead, once a disaster forced her to reveal herself as a superhero before she felt ready, the unseen Superman continues to be her protector. In fact, Superman even asked his good friend Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) to move to National City and work at the same media corporation so he could keep an eye on Kara. Who else knows her secret identity? Aside from her foster mom and an older sister (Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers) who works for the DEO (Dept. of Extra-Normal Operations), just tech expert and good friend Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan). Well, and Alex’s boss, Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), who eventually allows the sisters to work together. And her Kryptonian mother’s deceased sister Astra, who escaped destruction because she was on a prison transport full of hundreds of aliens that also crashed on Earth—which she now wants to conquer.

Supergirl1screen2The Supergirl writers do a nice job of withholding information and adding characters along the way in order to keep the series fresh, and a reviewer with no spoiler scruples could go on and on about plot twists and the numerous thematic threads. Relationships are also a focus, as unrequited love seems as abundant as the number of Kryptonian criminals who either surface or break out of prison. Winn likes Kara who likes Jimmy who likes Lucy Lane (Lois’s sister, played by Jenna Dewan Tatum). In the DC movie universe the focus seems to be on creating a puzzle that readers can piece together, Marvel-style. But Supergirl is all about the female hero and the many challenges she faces—both physical and emotional.

If all this estrogen starts to make Supergirl sound like another Gilmore Girls for women only, rest assured: The action and special effects are decent and there are plenty of DC villains to interest a broader audience. This season you’ll encounter the insectile Hellgrammite, the bio-electric Reactron, the newly electrified Livewire, the wonderfully rendered Red Tornado, the Toyman, a plant known as Black Mercy, the Martian Manhunter, the Master Jailer, Myriad, and a not-so-nice human industrialist in the Tony Stark vein named Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli). Sometimes the villains are rendered in a way that it reminds you vaguely of Power Rangers, but for the most part they’re villainous enough. Just.

Bottom line: Supergirl hooks you quickly and Benoist holds your attention until the writers can toss in a new wrinkle every now and then to keep things interesting. She’s even a strong enough hero to where you don’t mind if she battles a villain that seems a bit hokey. But you can’t help but wonder, as Cat Grant’s mother does, “Why Supergirl? Why not Superwoman?”

Language: n/a
Sex: n/a
Violence: Battles between good people and bad, superheroes and villains, elite fighters and worthy opponents; not much in the way of violence to everyday people
Adult situations: There is drinking, but no intoxication
Takeaway: This series has a lot going for it, but the big plus is Melissa Benoist, who was also one of the few charismatic replacement characters Glee brought in when the main cast changed

THE WONDER YEARS: SEASON 5 (DVD)

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WonderYears5coverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: No, age 10 and older
1992-93, 721 min., Color
Time Life/StarVista Entertainment
Rated TV-PG for smoking, drinking, and some adult situations
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: B-
Season 5 opening
Amazon link

The Wonder Years is a rarity among TV sitcoms because it’s both original and authentic. You’ll find few familiar or recycled sitcom plots here, and a voiceover narration by an adult Kevin replaces a laugh track because in addition to being funny The Wonder Years also provides a poignant account of one boy’s coming of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The focus may be on Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), and the time period may be nostalgic for some and mythic for others who watch, but the situations, emotions, and outcomes are universal. It’s why the show still works, even though it aired from 1988-1993.

You don’t have to have seen the first four seasons to appreciate Season 5, which offers the added bonus for Friends fans of featuring David Schwimmer in four episodes as the serious boyfriend of Kevin’s sister, Karen (Olivia d’Abo)—both of whom appear in bonus feature interviews.

Though The Wonder Years six-season arc charts the on-again-off-again relationship between childhood friends and sweethearts Kevin and Winnie (Danica McKellar), they’re on “break” Season 5, which finds a 15-year-old Kevin experimenting with other girls. Though the series remains as innocent as ever, this age pushes the writers into territory that includes never-used condoms hopefully carried in wallets. This season Kevin gets his driver’s license, but that episode is followed by one in which Grandpa Arnold needs to give up his license because of aging. The writers for this show have always looked for ways in which a single idea could resonate or how a simple concept could be expanded into the kind of complex situation that most often mirrors “real life.”

WonderYears5screenThis season Kevin crushes on a young smoker while on a family vacation, he endures a first day of high school that turns into his worst nightmare, he wrestles with a first job and first boss, he gets in the middle of a Grease-style high school couple’s problems, he and three friends talk an older boy into trying for his driver’s license so they can all go “cruising” for girls, he finds himself kissed by his older brother Wayne’s (Jason Hervey) girlfriend, he joins a losing soccer team, he tries to treat his father to a dinner that’s ruined by Dad’s (Dan Lauria) annoyance with his sister, he tries to get out of attending the annual Christmas party his family throws for the neighborhood, his family friendship with Paul’s (Josh Saviano) family is threatened when the latter comes into money, a popular black teacher gets in trouble for her unorthodox methods, Wayne decides to join the Army, Kevin becomes friends with the school’s basketball star, he stumbles through dates with different girls, he and friends plan to sneak into an R-rated movie, he hosts a poker party when his parents leave town for the weekend, and the whole family is drawn into Karen’s pre-marital drama. By season’s end, Kevin is thinking hard about getting back with Winnie.

This four-DVD set (single sided discs on plastic non-overlapping “pages”) features 24 episodes, and there isn’t a single one I’d rate lower than a B-. Most fall in the A- range, and this season the series, known for its vintage music, features music by The Archies, Frankie Avalon, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Joan Baez, Bread, James Brown, The Byrds, Canned Heat, Patsy Kline, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Benny Goodman & His Orchestra, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, The Platters, Linda Ronstadt, Sly & the Family Stone, Sonny & Cher, Ringo Starr, The Stylistics, Traffic, The Turtles, Muddy Waters, and Andy Williams.

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