Friday, June 17, 2011

Newest TV Shows on Disc

Ben Bailey Road Rage (e one)
Best known for hosting the voyeuristic Cash Cab program, comedian Ben Bailey takes his no-holds-barred style to the stage for his first stand-up special, where he riffs on everyday life, including his adventures as a TV host. Genuine laughs abound, but Bailey’s hulking persona is definitely an acquired taste.

The Big C, Season 1 (Sony)
The first season of Showtime’s new sitcom, about a 42-year-old teacher whose life is irrevocably changed when she discovers she has incurable cancer, takes its conceit (she tells no-one about the diagnosis, especially her family) to its illogical conclusion. Despite becoming increasingly annoying, The Big C has a big ace in the hole: Laura Linney, an actress incapable of a false note or any exaggerated showiness. Even as the writing and characterizations falter, the show is worth watching just for Linney. Extras: deleted scenes, outtakes, on-set featurette and interviews.

Black in Latin America (PBS Blu-ray)
Historian Henry Louis Gates follows up his groundbreaking Faces of America, which dug into the ancestry of several celebrities with often surprising results, with this equally fascinating four-part exploration of how Latin American cultures were developed through both European and African influences, with specific studies of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico and Peru, all shot in superb hi-def.

Breaking Bad, Season 3 (Sony Blu-ray)
This acclaimed drama won Emmys for its stars, and it’s easy to see why: Bryan Cranston (Best Actor) and Aaron Paul (Best Supporting Actor) are dynamic as the teacher who becomes a meth cook for ready money and his antsy partner in crime. There’s also stellar support by Anna Gunn as Cranston’s estranged wife. The pair’s adventures become more precarious (and dangerous) as the series goes along; Blu-ray gives the show more immediacy, with excellent use of Albuquerque locations. Extras: uncensored episodes, audio commentaries, deleted scenes, gag reel, on-set featurettes, pod casts.

Burn Notice, Season 4 (Fox)
Counter-intelligence, convoluted plot twists and smoldering relationships mark the fourth season of Burn Notice, as spy extraordinaire Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) returns, along with his super-sexy ex (and current sidekick) Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar, looking more stunning each season: was Scent of a Woman really 20 years ago?). Extras: deleted scenes, featurettes, audio commentaries, gag reel.

Celebrity Bowling (S’more)
The three discs on this set collect vintage episodes of the L.A.-based game show that ran from 1971-1978, and featured then-popular celebs like Adrienne Barbeau, Angie Dickinson, William Shatner, Bob Newhart, Brenda Vaccaro, Loretta Swit, Nipsey Russell, and even Roy Rogers. Some of the bowlers have better senses of humor than others, and can take the ribbing they receive when their shots go astray (which is often).

Children’s Hospital, Volumes 1 & 2 (Warners)
If you’re wondering what happened to Rob Corddry, one of the most brilliantly fractured minds to ever come from The Daily Show, look no further than this acidic, absurdly funny sitcom about horny doctors and nurses working in a local children’s hospital. Not many shows can transition from the web to television, but this one pulls it off. Extras: deleted scenes, gag reel, music video, interviews.

Genius of Britain (Acorn Media)
This five-part British TV series comprises portraits of some of England’s most brilliant scientists discussing their personal heroes: among others, there are Stephen Hawking and Isaac Newton, Richard Dawkins and Alfred Russel Wallace, and David Attenborough and Joseph Banks. A bonus disc includes the 90-minute documentary, Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything.

The Glades, Season 1 (Fox)
Fish out of water stories have endless permutations, as this drama series shows: a Chicago detective moves to Florida hoping to leave behind 24-hour days filled with violent crimes, but soon finds himself swamped with murders in his new town of Palm Glades. Matt Passmore’s effortless charm helps makes this retread material enjoyable. Extras: deleted scenes, audio commentaries, gag reel and featurettes.

Haven, Season 1 (e one Blu-ray)
Perky actress Emily Rose stars as an FBI agent whose murder investigation takes her to the strange village of Haven, Maine, where she discovers that its inhabitants are people with all manner of supernatural and mysterious afflictions: she also discovers her own not-so-hidden past. Based on a Stephen King story, Haven is itself afflicted with Kingitis, or a terminal case of the cutes, but its top-notch on-location photography (which looks great on Blu-ray) and attractive cast make it a decent diversion. Extras: audio commentaries, making-of featurettes, video blogs and interviews.

Outback Pelicans and Salmon: Running the Gauntlet (PBS Blu-ray)
These PBS Nature specials combine spectacular hi-def photography with involving chronicles of how nature’s creatures must adapt or pay the consequences. Outback Pelicans studies the return every decade of pelicans to the dry Australian outback, while Salmon: Running the Gauntlet explores the salmon decline in the Pacific Northwest, where billions of fish once went on their annual run. Nature programs are perfect for Blu-ray viewing thanks to their awe-inspiring visuals.

Pretty Little Liars, Season 1 (Warners)
This teen mash-up of Desperate Housewives and I Know What You Did Last Summer follows four comely co-eds whose lives are turned upside down when they start receiving mysterious messages, which seem to be coming from their missing best friend. More often than not risible, but at least the actresses (Lucy Hale, Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Shay Mitchell) are having fun, so some of that rubs off on the viewer. Extras: interviews, featurettes, deleted scenes.

Robin of Sherwood, Season 1 (Acorn Media Blu-ray)
This British series, which began in 1983, retells Robin Hood’s story with a fine cast: Michael Praed as Robin, Ray Winstone (later of Sexy Beast fame) as one of his ‘merry men,’ Nikolas Grace as the antagonistic Sheriff of Nottingham, and Judi Trott as Lady Marian. The location shooting was done on actual countryside locales and in authentic period castles, and is brought to especially vivid life on Blu-ray. Extras: commentaries making-of featurette, two documentaries, outtakes and foreign credit sequences.

The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Volume 6 (ABC Family)
Having detailed how Amy (well-played by Shailene Woodley) dealt with having a baby and how it affected her family (especially her mom, played by none other than Molly Ringwald), this popular ABC Family series followed school ‘slut’ Adrian after she becomes pregnant. Francia Raisa, a wonderfully expressive actress, makes Adrian’s travails worth watching.

William & Kate (Lifetime)
This Lifetime network movie was understandably overshadowed by the real thing, as its soap-opera approach to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s courtship and engagement is far less compelling than what was in the tabloids and on TV. Still, Nico Evers-Swindell and Camilla Luddington make a charming couple; the supporting cast, including Ben Cross, Serena Scott-Thomas and Victoria Tennant, adds credibility to the proceedings.

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