Television

That 70s Show: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)

Be Groovy. Be Very Groovy. Back in 2008, we suddenly because as far away, historically, from the start of The Wonder Years as The Wonder Years was from its starting place in 2968. Sometime in 2010, we approached the moment in which we were as far away as Dazed And Confused was from the Bicentennial when it was released. It will only be a few years (2020, to be exact) until we’re at the same place with That ’70s Show, which started in 1998, 22 years away from its opening in 1976. Aside from making viewers feel old, this little tidbit should also suggest that the show, which launched several careers, should have received its definitive presentation already. That feeling doubles when we take into account the fact that this is the second release of the complete series on Blu-ray. It’s a mixed improvement over the previous release, and still short of definitive. That ’70s Show opens in May of 1976, in a suburb of Green Bay, Wisconsin, where six teenagers spend the latter half of the 1970s getting into sitcom-worthy hijinks and living through the best and worst the 1970s have to offer. The 90s will forever be the decade of Friends and Seinfeld in terms of sitcom titans. They also represent twin poles of what a sitcom could do or be. Friends ruled the airwaves by creating a NYC that did not, by any stretch of the imagination, exist. But the stories of a few friends living the dream (or not) in the big city appealed to a wide part of the viewership because most people either wanted to be part of the Freinds group, or knew people like that. Sienfeld, in contrast, took place in an equally-imaginary NYC, but it’s willingness to be weird and off-putting, with characters unlike anyone viewers were likely to know. That ’70s Show seems to have learned a bit from both camps. The very concept of a show that takes place two decades in the past, with all the attendant meta-commentary of using pop culture trends and calling out previous sitcoms, smacks of a Seinfeldian “episode about nothing” vibe. On the other side, though, That 70s Show swings for the likability-style fences of Friends. We all know somebody who is like one of the characters on the show. That, ultimately, is what That 70s Show stakes its legacy on. Rarely has such a likeable bunch of actors been assembled for a sitcom. Even when the show’s plots meander or the jokes fall flat, there’s something enjoyable about hanging out with these characters, and that’s a rare feat for a sitcom to achieve. The fact that more of That 70s Show‘s actors have gone on to post-show fame than Seinfeld and Friends combined (depending, of course, how you measure it – but at least Kutcher and Kunis have become A-listers, whereas only Aniston has been able to open a movie herself between her 90s castmates). Fans have already had multiple opportunities to own That 70s Show. There were releases of all eight seasons on DVD, followed by the first two seasons on Blu-ray before a full-series box set on Blu-ray. Mill Creek Entertainment has been responsible for the show on Blu-ray so far, and this release is their second attempt at a complete run of the series. Theoretically, this set’s presentation should be a bit stronger. We’ve got 200 episodes spread over 16 discs, which is a decent amount of room for the 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfers. We also get a slight upgrade in that one episode (“The Kids Are Alright”) has been sourced from an NTSC rather than a PAL master. Two minor episode image updates have been made as well. Overall, however, the show looks about the same, and that’s not a bad thing. Detail is pretty strong, with 70s patterns coming through with a lot of nuance. Colors can verge on oversaturation, but overall keep the period entails looking appropriate. As with most sitcoms, the show is generally pretty bright, so black levels never really get tested. Yes, super fans might wish for a complete remastering from the original negatives, but overall the show looks good here. The set’s DTS-HD 5.1 audio tracks are equally good. Though everyone remembers the fashion of the 1970s, the sounds of the era are just as important for conjuring the show’s atmosphere. Dialogue stays clean and clear from the front, while the surrounds get used for things like audience laughter. The songs that appear sound rich and detailed as well, as does the show’s own score. This set keeps the previous audio commentary tracks, but loses the two discs of video-based extras. That ’70s Show doesn’t re-define the sitcom formula. It’s a solid product of its time and place, but it trades a lot on nostalgia to push both comedic and sympathetic buttons. If you’re not particularly fond of the actors (I, for instance, have never been particularly thrilled by Topher Grace) then the appeal of the show will drop proportionally. That ’70s Show is a solid example of what a decent sitcom can accomplish. It’s got its share of laughs and more than a few moments of well-earned poignancy. This Blu-ray set is a fine way to own the show, but if you’ve already got the previous set there’s no reason to switch. In fact, the disappearance of the two discs of extras makes the previous set preferable to fans. THE VERDICT Could be better, but not guilty.

Blaze and the Monster Machines: Race into Velocityville (DVD)

Blaze up, bro Here we have another batch of episodes from Nick Jr.’s high-octane kids show. Blaze and the Monster Machines relays the adventures of a talking, living monster truck named Blaze who has a kid named AJ riding shotgun wherever he goes, which, to be honest seems a little weird. Anyway–who am I to argue with physics? Especially since Blaze is all abut introducing early concepts of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to the kiddos. So, hey, they’d know a lot more about the science behind the unholy union between man and machine. So this DVD has six episodes: RACE CAR BLAZE RACE TO EAGLE ROCK SKY TRACK THE WISHING WHEEL THE HUNDRED MILE RACE THE POLAR DERBY Not much  more to say, really. You get six random episodes, generally held together by the common thread of these machines going incredibly fast. As a dad, I have much respect for Blaze. My preschool-aged son is absolutely bonkers for all things monster truck and this show serves it up with aplomb. Add to that the the educational element–which, honestly, is not simply tacked on to help the Nick Jr. suits sleep at night; the STEM stuff is legit and a core of the program–and you’ve got a children’s show any parent would be good with. THE VERDICT Not Guilty. Vrooom.

Hooperman: Season One (DVD)

“You know, I never realized how dangerous this city is.”

The IT Crowd: The Complete Series

“Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

From Dusk Til Dawn: Season Three (Blu-ray)

To save their lives, and their fortune.

Quarry: Season 1 (Blu-ray)

Packing a (period) piece. Hey, you know what network has the best original TV shows going right now? It’s not HBO. It’s HBO’s horny, hyperactive cousin, Cinemax. I’ve been a Max devotee since Strike Back Season 2 blew me away, with the unsheathed, pulpy id of Banshee close behind. Even The Max’s dalliance with gothic horror–the bizarre, engrossing Outcast–was a humdinger. Now the network is back with something else daring and unique, a show unlike anything else you’ll find anywhere. Quarry is based on the the potboiler mystery novels by Max Allan Collins, which tells the story of a recently returned Vietnam vet and the trouble he finds in his hometown in Memphis. Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) is back after serving two years in Vietnam. He returns under a cloud of controversy as his unit had been fingered for war crimes. The life as he knows it has evaporated; his wife Joni (Jodi Balfour) was unfaithful, no one wants to hire him for work and, worse, his best friend and former squadmate gets himself killed trying to be a hitman. Mac finds himself drawn into the seedy world of contact killing, pressed into working for a mysterious man known only as The Broker, forced to pay down his friend’s debt and save his family. As you can imagine, this leads to all manner of unsavory situation and domestic mishap and before it all ends, Quarry will have to face his own demons. And there are demons aplenty in this broody, atmospheric series, an eight-episode tour de force that kept me utterly transfixed the whole time. There weren’t humongous explosions or colorful villains or outlandish plot threads or sex galore or any of the elements you might think would characterize a Cinemax show. No, Quarry is a hardboiled, gritty, ultra-realistic drama, a tale of a broken man with a damaged soul who can’t extricate himself from his violent past or the promise of a violent future. The acting is top-shelf throughout, headlined by Marshall-Green as the tortured anti-hero (and I mean anti) and Balfour as his desperate wife. The two are exceptional talents and their relationship offers as compelling a caricature of a troubled, but loving marriage. Their connection is the emotional core of the show and it works brilliantly. The thrust of the narrative is Quarry’s attempts to negotiate the dark corridors of his new, bloody profession, while trying to preserve his relationship with his wife. Meanwhile, he’s being tracked by a tenacious law officer and The Broker is funneling him towards deadlier and deadlier contracts. It’s all set against the backdrop of the racial powder-keg that is ’70s Memphis. Quarry takes it time to let its plot breathe; this isn’t a slam-bang action thrill ride. But hang with it and you’ll be richly rewarded with some of the very best performances on television, a unique setting, a story that builds gravity a it rolls on and, finally, a one-shot Vietnam War flashback sequence that rivals True Detective’s gold standard continuous sequence. Great Blu-ray set: pristine video (1.78:1, 1080p) and audio (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) joined by audio commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, music videos and interviews. THE VERDICT Hard-boiled mustachioed goodness. Not Guilty.

The Grinder Season 1 (DVD)

Grinded to a halt. Last year, Fox put out a pair of promising half-hour, laugh-track-free sitcoms: John Stamos’s Grandfathered and this, Rob Lowe’s foray into headlining his own show. For a while Grandfathered and The Grinder got regular play in the Johnson household. But then…slowly but surely…we tuned out. The problem? Both were built entirely on a single gag that couldn’t sustain an entire series. For the Stamos show it was “lifetime-bachelor-50-something-refuses-to-grow-up;” and for The Grinder, well…let’s start from the beginning. Rob Lowe is Dean Sanderson, a famous TV actor who was known for his hot-shot lawyer character “The Grinder” on The Grinder (the fake show, not this series). Done with the superficial Hollywood game, he returns to his hometown to take up with his real lawyer brother Stewart (Fred Savage). Smitten with quaint, small-town life, Dean convinces Stewart to let him stick around, working as some kind of bizarre consultant to offer spice to the straight-laced law practice. And like that we’re off and running–to an eventual cancellation. Which is a shame, because this show has a good heart and at time s can be laugh-out-loud-funny. Rob Lowe’s ultra-slick, blissfully-self-unaware Dean is one of the more charismatic and likeable creations we’ve seen on network TV in some time. Fred Savage’s Stewart has his moments, but he’s essentially reduced to straight man duties with a sporadic helping of full-blown-neuroses. So charming leads, funny jokes and William Devane–what’s the problem then? It’s the temporary nature of the gag. Every plot rests on the juxtaposition of Dean’s earnest ceaselessness bailing out a trial (or some permutation of this conceit). There are wrinkles, and role switches, and romances and even a slam-bang recurring bit from Timothy Olyphant–but in the end there just isn’t enough to keep the train moving. We eventually lost interest and it was obvious we weren’t the only ones.  So The Grinder bids us farewell and we tip our hat–you had some potential, but in the end, you just couldn’t grind your way to a season 2 order. THE VERDICT No Guilty. Also, not on the air anymore.  

The Carol Burnett Show: Classic Carol (DVD)

Just to have a laugh or sing a song.

Hee Haw Salute! (DVD)

Kornfield County, Represent!

The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Ninth Season (Blu-ray)

“Wine again? No, thank you. I like my grapes the old fashioned way. In a juice box.”

The Best of Friends: Volume 4 (DVD)

I think the whole concept of marriage is unnatural. I mean, look at pigs. Let’s take a second here and look at pigs. Okay, pigs don’t mate for life. I mean, a pig can have like a hundred sexual partners in a lifetime, and that’s just an ordinary pig, not even a pig that’s good at sports!

The Best of Friends: Volume 3 (DVD)

Is everybody else seeing a troll doll nailed to a two by four?

Teen Titans: The Complete First Season (DVD)

“I respect that you don’t eat meat. Please respect that I don’t eat fake meat.”

Street Fighter II V (Volume 1) (DVD)

“By the Snake, these fighters are extraordinary!”

Street Fighter Alpha (DVD)

One possessed of an evil spirit will fight out of pride until his dying day, and most likely fight to kill…

Star Wars: Clone Wars, Volume 2 (DVD)

“Anakin, the most difficult trial a Jedi must face is to look inside one’s self. Often, we see things we don’t like, but these aspects are not set in stone. It is our decisions that shape our destinies.”

Star Trek: The Original Series, Volume 8 (DVD)

To boldly go where no man has gone before…

Star Trek: The Original Series, Volume 31 (DVD)

To boldly go where no man has gone before…

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