MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

TV-to-DVD Wrapup: Revenge, Homeland, 2 Girls, Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy … More

Now that the flow of TV-to-DVD compilations has grown from a trickle to a flood, it’s time for those titles to escape ghetto-status in DVD Wrapup, if only occasionally, and find their own place in the MCN world. Normally, there aren’t enough to fill a standalone column, but, rather than wait for the shows to enter the syndication market, the networks hope to boost interest in returning series and keep newcomers and fans, alike, up to date. Collections of episodes from vintage series, including next week’s “Kojak: Season Five,” make wonderful gifts for those convinced that everything has gotten worse since they turned 30. There’s even a market for shows that were canceled before completing a full season. Most DVD and Blu-ray packages arrive with a generous list of bonus features not available on TV or a show’s Internet sites.

Revenge: The Complete First Season: Blu-ray
Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season: Blu-ray
Homeland: The Complete First Season: Blu-ray
2 Broke Girls: The Complete First Season
When gorgeous Canadian blond Emily VanCamp joined the cast of the ABC’s psycho-soap, “Brothers & Sisters,” as the late William Walker’s secret love child – or, so it seemed at the time — it quickly became clear that she was a star in the making. If nothing else VanCamp gave the audience something pleasant to look at while the rest of Walkers yelled at each other and swapped gossip they had sworn not to repeat. Her good looks and independent bearing also work well in “Revenge,” a prime-time melodrama that’s set in Hamptons and populated with some of the most despicable characters on television. Her Emily Thorne arrives as an accommodating stranger in a strange land, but quickly evolves into a femme fatale dedicated to avenging the death of her father. In each episode, Emily constructs intricate plots to discredit and humiliate the people, all of whom summer in the Hamptons, responsible for framing her dad. The acts of revenge are often quite intricate and highly entertaining. The spoiled young adults, ruthless middle-age men and women (Madeleine Stowe, among them) all seemingly were put on Earth to host charity luncheons, commit adultery and stab each other in the back, so what’s the harm? On the flip side, the dialogue and much of the acting are laughable. By comparison, “Gossip Girl” and “Royal Pains” look like “Downton Abbey.” The complete-season package adds several crowd-pleasing extras, including backgrounders, making-of pieces, music videos, deleted scenes, a gag reel and a look at the fashion design.

The setting for ABC’s fantasy drama, “Once Upon a Time,” is a quaint Maine town both enchanted and cursed. As conceived by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (“Lost,” “Felicity”), Storybrooke is situated at the junction of present-day reality and a fairy-tale past. The people who live there are familiar storybook characters, cursed by the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) to live within the town’s boundaries in human form and absent any memory of their true identities. Because he was adopted after the curse was imposed, a boy named Henry is the only resident able to leave Storybrooke and co-exist in both realms. He uses the free pass to track down his birth mother, Emma (Jennifer), who, he believes to be the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), and the only person capable of lifting the spell. First, though, Henry must convince Emma that this entire scenario isn’t constructed from baloney. It isn’t easy. The series’ creators employ sophisticated CGI effects and time warps to keep everyone guessing as to how the characters’ unique traits will serve the residents of Storybrooke. “Once Upon a Time” sounds far-fetched, but so did the premise of the beloved Broadway musical, “Brigadoon.” Fantasy fanatics are encouraged to hit the pause button as often as necessary to study the references, puns and homages buried in the stories and set designs. Considering who owns ABC, the writers probably had few concerns about borrowing liberally from the Disney library. The Blu-ray package offers several entertaining features, including commentaries; fairy-tale history lessons in Maximum Movie Mode; a tour of Storybrooke; interviews with cast members about their favorite stories; deleted scenes and bloopers; and making-of material. Season Two is scheduled to premiere September 30.

Showtime scored a direct hit with its taut post-9/11 drama, “Homeland,” about a U.S. Marine who was captured by Al Qaeda and may or may not have been brainwashed into becoming a “sleeper” terrorist. CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) certainly believes that Nicolas Brody (Damian Lewis) has changed teams during his incarceration and cautions against giving him too much latitude. Reports of Brody’s brutal treatment at the hands of his captors feel far too real to be contradicted and too juicy not to be exploited by image-conscious politicians and bureaucrats. Before long, it’s Mathison’s patriotism that’s put to the test. “Homeland” was nominated for Emmys in the Best Drama, Best Actors, Best Writing and Best Directing categories, as well as for four more in the Creative Arts section. The series was developed for American television by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, after the Israeli series “Hatufim” (“Prisoners of War”). The Blu-ray package contains commentaries, deleted scenes, a Season Two preview and behind-the-scenes featurette.

The heat surrounding the CBS sitcom, “2 Broke Girls,” was generated primarily by its association with comic Whitney Cummings, whose other 2011-12 sitcom, “Whitney,” struggled on NBC. Apart from fans of the raunchy Comedy Central roasts, Cummings was a mostly unknown quantity. Insiders appreciated her racy, often self-deprecating approach to standup comedy and willingness to mix it up with the guys. Very little of that spunkiness came through in “Whitney,” if only because viewers could see her character’s wisecracks coming from a mile away and she usually stood flat-footed while delivering the punches. “2 Broke Girls” had a much smoother flow and the lead characters were drawn as equals from opposite sides of the tracks. The odd-couple roommates were played by physical opposites Max (Kat Dennings) and Caroline (Beth Behrs), both of whom wait tables in a Brooklyn diner. Their goal is to save $250,000 and invest it in a cupcake shop. The restaurant’s multi-ethnic staff wasn’t created to promote diversity as much as it provides context for the racially charged barbs hurled liberally throughout the shows. If nothing else, they made an easy target for easily offended critics. – Gary Dretzka

The Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season: Blu-ray
Haven: The Complete Second Season
Sons of Anarchy: Season Four
Fringe: The Complete Fourth Season
Two and a Half Men: The Complete Ninth Season
Adapted from a comic-book series set against the background of a zombie apocalypse, “The Walking Dead” became the unlikeliest of hits two years ago for AMC, a cable network that took a big risk on “Mad Men” and saw it pay huge dividends. Although the big screen and DVD market had already become saturated with tales of the undead — ranging from good to awful – someone saw room on television for even more zombies, and it became an instant hit. Who knew, right? With that challenge overcome, the producers could focus on turning Season Two into something deeper than a survival thriller. Instead of letting the walkers steal the show this team around, it’s the humans who take charge of the drama. The Blu-ray adds commentary on several key episodes; a dozen short making-of featurettes covering all aspects of the production; a half-dozen Internet webisodes; and a half-hour’s worth of deleted scenes.

Everything’s a bit off-kilter in Haven, Maine. Even the FBI agent assigned to track down a prison escapee there decided to remain as a cop, if only out of curiosity about her own secret past. As the city’s name suggests, the residents aren’t particularly welcome in other American. That’s because they possess myriad supernatural qualities that would freak out and possibly endanger their neighbors. In Syfy’s “Haven,” such disturbances are almost taken for granted. The Season Two episodes followed a similar pattern to those in the inaugural go-round, with Audrey and Nathan (Lucas Bryan) solving bizarre crimes and investigating her own secrets. The series is based on a novel by Stephen King.

When two of the best and most devotedly followed shows on television are based on the premise that outlaw motorcycle gangsters and meth cookers are people, too, you know that something has changed fundamentally in the American psyche. Characters most people would be afraid to sit next to in bar now are welcomed into our houses every week on television. Of course, the same can be said about zombies. More than anything else, I suppose, “Sons of Anarchy” is a show about how one atypical family takes care of itself and its own. If the bikers too often put their loved ones in harm’s way, their struggle to pull them back to safety is that much more thrilling. Season Four opens with the release of gang members imprisoned for crimes committed in Season Three, which almost jumped the shark with a wild storyline involving the “True IRA” and screw-ups back home. The boys are challenged immediately by a new sheriff and U.S. attorney. News that a developer is intent on building an upscale subdivision in Charming also pisses off the Sons. On the plus side – for viewers, anyway – is the introduction of Danny Trejo in a storyline that reads as if it were written just for him. The DVD comes with commentaries, deleted scenes, a gag and an app that provides access to the gang’s clubhouse.

Fox’s “Fringe” combines elements of the police procedural with sci-fi fantasy, much in the same way as “Haven.” The difference is that FBI agents in “Fringe” must contend with criminals and investigations involving enemy universes, alternate timelines, shape-shifters and other bizarro stuff. In Season Four, the characters learn that human love may be as strong a force in the universes as anything else. Apparently, the upcoming season will be its last.

Despite the absence of Charlie Sheen, the ninth season of “Two and a Half Men” went on as planned. The show easily survived the loss and will live to see yet another season. Given Jake’s physical development, it could re-titled “Three Men and a Cranky Maid.” As billionaire slacker Walden Schmidt, Ashton Kutcher helped make the transition smoother than could have been expected, considering all the media hoopla. In Season Nine, Jake had a transition of his own to make and the passage was a tad rocky. One of the season’s highlights came when Walden decided to cut his hair and shave his beard. And, so it goes. BTW: now that FX has given Sheen’s “Anger Management” sitcom a 90-episode extension, you can cancel the tag day plans. – Gary Dretzka

Jim Gaffigan: Mr. Universe
I didn’t know that Jim Gaffigan spent his formative years in Indiana, but, now that I do, it’s easy to trace his straight-from-the-heartland approach to comedy and big personality. Even after all these years toiling on the standup plantation, he can still get away with material about fast-food restaurants, resisting the temptation to get in shape and being a lazy husband. In his new comedy special, “Mr. Universe,” Gaffigan still looks like the guy next-door, who’s on his way to or just returned from Home Depot. He opens the door to that world for us and we’re happy to join him, even for 77 minutes and absent bonus features. – Gary Dretzka

PBS: The Barnes Collection
PBS: Guilty Pleasures
PBS: e2: Intervention Architecture
PBS: The Musical Brain
PBS: Golf’s Grand Design
PBS: The First Ladies
PBS: American Experience: The Presidents
PBS: America & the Civil War
In 2009, Don Argott’s documentary, “The Art of the Steal,” exhaustively chronicled the intricate legal maneuvering that led to the transplantation of the Barnes Foundation art museum from Lower Merion, Pa., to a spanking-new facility a short stroll away from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The movie made a very good case for the argument that chemist and art collector Albert C. Barnes would have never permitted the move, if, in fact, he hadn’t died in a car accident in 1951. Because his will stipulated that the museum and school should stay where they are, it appeared as if clout-heavy foundations and politicians had bullied administrators and judges into ignoring Barnes’ wishes. The other side of that coin revealed that the original site couldn’t be sustained financially and repairs to the buildings would have cost a fortune. The museum’s well-heeled neighbors were getting pissy about traffic and parking hassles, while the 12-mile relocation would allow more exposure to the magnificent collection, which was next to impossible for tourists to see. PBS’ 55-minute overview, “The Barnes Collection,” mostly skirts the legal maneuvering, showcasing, instead, the history of the collection, Barnes’ great prescience, construction of the new facility and the philosophy behind the interior design and placement of the artwork. While it’s sad whenever the wishes of an individual are overridden by commercial ambition, it’s wonderful to know that the Impressionist-heavy collection now is so readily accessible. “The Barnes Collection” should serve as a useful primer for art lovers who will be in the neighborhood and don’t mind doing a little homework. For them, I’d also recommend renting “The Art of the Steal,” if only to fully understand how the business and politics of art often detract from the beauty and sensitivity of what’s on exhibit.

Guilty Pleasures” takes an almost frivolous topic and turns it into a compelling examination of how we live today. The only thing most people know about romance novels is that their primary contribution to culture is the beatification of Fabio and other models who personify passionate love and hidden desire. Not at all condescending, the PBS documentary profiles five people whose lives have been changed by novels published by Harlequin and Mills & Boon. A prolific author describes the formulaic structure of the novels and how he meets the specific demands of his readers. A fastidious male model explains the physical requirements of the job, including proper grooming and acting as if you’ve got the world by the tail. A woman in Japan has been inspired by her favorite characters to master ballroom dancing; an Indian woman hopes that by dressing more like a siren she can lure her estranged husband back home; and an English woman travels fantasy worlds while her husband smokes cigarettes and watches the telly. The film argues persuasively that frivolity is only the eyes of the beholder.

For all of his achievements as an actor, Brad Pitt may finally be best known for his contributions toward the rebuilding of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and ignored by politicians. His Make It Right Foundation commissioned several internationally prominent architects to design homes that were affordable, green, flood resistant, attractive and functional, while also maintaining a neighborhood feel. It’s no accident, then, that he was called upon to narrate “e2: Intervention Architecture,” which documents the efforts of the Aga Khan Development Network to encourage new thinking about how architecture can meet the needs of communities in the Muslim world, by awarding prestigious prizes and financial considerations. The criteria for nomination stipulate that “projects set new standards of excellence in architecture, planning practices, historic preservation and landscape architecture,” in societies with a significant Muslim presence. Inherent in those guidelines is an understanding of Islam’s traditional influence on architecture, which has been huge and not limited to mosques and castles. To put it crudely, when it comes to supporting reconstruction projects in the Islamic world – and promoting the religion’s positive core beliefs — the Aga Khan walks the walk and talks the talk, just as Pitt did in New Orleans. The projects spotlighted here include the Wadi Hanifa Wetlands, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; revitalisation of the Hypercentre of Tunis, Tunisia; Madinat Al-Zahra Museum, Cordoba, Spain; Ipekyol Textile Factory, Edirne, Turkey; and Bridge School, Xiashi, Fujian, China. Even people whose knowledge of architecture is limited to how the word is spelled will find something in “e2” worth pondering.

One of the guiding principles of music appreciation, at least for laymen, is not to overthink the joy it brings. If a song or rhythm makes you want to dance, snap your fingers or bang your head … do it. In the PBS documentary, “The Musical Brain,” however, scientists and musicians put their heads together to understand how the brain retains musical memories and, essentially, makes us feel better. Inspired by Dr. Daniel Levitin’s book, “This Is Your Brain on Music,” the show examines how infants benefit from listening to music, adults from allowing themselves to dance when the groove hits and Alzheimer’s patients from listening to songs that meant something special to them when they were young. In fact, researchers have determined that the last part of the brain to deteriorate is the one to appreciate music. Among the musicians interviewed are Sting, Wyclef Jean and Michael Buble.

Like music lovers, golfers don’t spend a lot of time analyzing a course’s architecture, composition and logic while also trying to get the little white ball in a hole. Television analysts often touch on a tournament course’s peculiar challenges and how they relate to an architect’s thinking. It’s rare that anyone will show us what a course looked like before breaking ground and at various stages of its construction, as well as the final layout as seen from above and at eye level. “Golf’s Grand Design” looks back at century’s worth of development in the U.S. and introduces us to the people responsible for the traditional designs and evolutionary changes made to improve the game.

As we approach the final stretch of another interminably long and increasingly dispiriting presidential campaign, “American Experience: The Presidents” reminds us of a time when mudslinging, obfuscation and dishonesty weren’t the only things we got from candidates. This isn’t to suggest that previous campaigns were fair and aboveboard, just that the White House represented something more important than being a source of jokes on late-night talk shows and a B&B for wealthy campaign contributors. The documentary profiles 11 20th Century presidents, with an eye toward demonstrating how they shaped the office and left their mark on the country. Likewise, “The First Ladies” puts a tight focus on the wives of five presidents from different eras: Dolley Madison, Eleanor Roosevelt; Lady Bird Johnson; Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan.

For those buffs who simply can’t get enough Civil War history, the latest compilation of PBS shows adds to the accumulated understanding of a war that continues to shape the national dialogue. “America & the Civil War” is comprised of Robert Child’s “Gettysburg: The Boys in Blue & Gray,” “American Experience: John Brown’s Holy War,” “Nova: Lincoln’s Secret Weapon,” “American Experience: The Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry” and “American Experience: Reconstruction: The Second Civil War.” – Gary Dretzka

History: 10 Things You Don’t Know About: Season One
BBC: Planet Dinosaur
It’s too bad that the shows on History, Discovery and PBS don’t come with footnotes, on screen or at their Internet websites. In academia, footnotes are what separate fact from speculation and outright fantasy. On television, viewers are at the mercy of research assistants and producers, who, we assume, read the footnotes for us. History’s fascinating, if frequently hyperbolic “10 Things You Don’t Know About” assumes we have a basic knowledge of the well-known figures profiled in it. In the case of such well-known subjects as JFK, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, J. Edgar Hoover, Adolf Hitler and the Rat Pack, the producers assume, as well, we’ve heard much of the gossip. Columbia PhD David Eisenbach assumes a casual approach while revealing the trivia behind the headlines and gossip and conducting dopey man-and-on-the-street interviews with people who, not surprisingly, are ignorant of such minutiae. Hint: cocaine and homosexuality figure prominently in several segments. Other historical figures probed are Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin / Abraham Lincoln, the Earps and Clantons, the Mormon hierarchy, Pablo Escobar, George Patton and Caligula, The DVD adds bonus footage.

It must be frustrating to be a publisher of textbooks on paleontology. Every time the discovery of a new bone or fossil has been announced lately, it introduces us to a previously unknown dinosaur that’s larger, stranger looking and more vicious than the previous title holder. I stopped keeping track after my son lost interest in pursuing a career in the science, when he was 6 or 7. Some people never waver in their love of dinosaurs and experience orgasms with the discovery of each new species. Narrated by John Hurt, last year’s six-part BBC series, “Planet Dinosaur,” makes extensive use of CGI technology and the latest research based on field work and laboratory science. Among the fresh reptilian faces introduced here are the gigantic Spinosaurus; marine creature, Predator X; and the cannibalistic Majunasaurus. The immersive experience combines 3D graphics and CGI to create photo-realistic fight scenes unlike previous efforts. – Gary Dretzka

Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation: Volume One
The Amazing World of Gumball
Nickelodeon: Big Time Movie/Rags
Nickelodeon: SpongeBob Squarepants’ Ghouls Fools
It’s rare that a multiplatform media phenomenon is spawned by action figures, instead of the other way around. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” accomplished this feat in the mid-1980s, when a one-off, tongue-in-cheek comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird attracted the attention of licensing agent Mark Freedman, who suggested also creating an action figure. The toy prompted interest from television executives, who experimented with an animated mini-series. It took a while, but when the toys started selling and the mini-series went into repeats, “TMNT” found a more permanent home with Group W and CBS. Before long, images of Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo could be found everywhere. The cleverly named crimefighters — genetically mutated turtles that lived in the sewers of New York City – served at the behest of a mutant ninja rat, Master Splinter, whose nemesis, Shredder, controlled the evil Foot Clan.

After the animated series ran its course, “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation” was handed the baton carried by the live-action turtles in New Line Cinema’s theatrical franchise. It didn’t fare nearly as well as the previous iterations, despite the addition of female turtle, Venus De Milo. Another product of genetic experimentation, Venus was swept down the sewer system at the same time as the other turtles, but ended up in China. While there, she studied with a martial-arts discipline called Shinobi, which would come in handy when forced to deal with new villains Dragon Lord, Bonesteel and Vam Mi. The series lasted only one season and 26 episodes. “Volume Two” will arrive sometime early next year.

Hipsters of the pre-teen variety have found a lot to like in Cartoon Network’s “The Amazing World of Gumball,” a show that combines 2D, 3D, stop-motion, CGI, live-action and puppetry in a sometimes dizzying visual mash-up. Series creator Ben Bocquelet specialized in producing commercials in Britain before committing to “Gumball.” Apparently, he recycled rejected characters from his commercials and threw them together into a typically wacky – for Cartoon Network, anyway – domestic setting. Among them are trouble-making cat, Gumball Watterson; Darwin Watterson, a goldfish with legs; short-tempered sister, Anais; mother Nichole, a workaholic cat; and father Richard, a large stay-at-home rabbit. The DVD adds the featurette, “Meet the Wattersons.”

In Nickelodeon’s “Big Time Movie,” the BTR ensemble stumbles into trouble on their first world tour, when their bags are switched at the London airport. Instead of their instruments, they discover a possibly devastating weapon. It makes them a target for someone other than their teeny-bopper fans. The second half of the double-feature, “Rags,” offers a reverse-take on “Cinderella,” with Max Schneider and Keke Palmer. They are, of course, filled with music and action designed to remind us of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The arrival of the new compilation, “SpongeBob Squarepants’ Ghouls Fools,” officially marks the beginning of Halloween-hype season. Besides several boats’ worth of ghosts and other ghastly characters, the DVD takes fans on a treasure hunt and teaches them nautical knots. The episodes include the double-length “Ghoul Fools,” “The Curse of Bikini Bottom,” “Ghost Host,” “Born Again Krabs,” “Arrgh!,” “Your Shoe’s Untied” and “Money Talks.” – Gary Dretzka

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3 Responses to “TV-to-DVD Wrapup: Revenge, Homeland, 2 Girls, Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy … More”

  1. Goldie T. says:

    I personally can’t do without the video releases. I hardly have time to catch the shows on TV anyway.

  2. Gary Dretzka says:

    me neither … binge viewing is fun

  3. REVENGE is my favorite show on TV. Emily Thorn rocks! Never miss a show!

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“I really want to see The Irishman. I’ve heard it’s big brother Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. But I really can’t find the time. The promotion schedule is so tight, there’s no opportunity to see a three and a half-hour movie. But I really want to see it. In 2017, right before Okja’s New York premiere, I had the chance to go to Scorsese’s office, which is in the DGA building. There’s a lovely screening room there, too, with film prints that he’s collected. I talked to him for about an hour. There’s no movie he hasn’t seen, even Korean films. We talked about what he’s seen and his past work. It was a glorious day. I’ve loved his work since I was in college. Who doesn’t? Anyone involved with movies must feel the same way.”
~ Bong Joon-ho

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~ Steven Soderbergh