I think I see your problem. You have this list. It’s a list of people you need/want to buy a Christmas gift for. The trouble is that they’re into home theatre, and you don’t know Star Trek from Star Wars. You couldn’t tell a Wolf Man from a Wolverine. And you always thought that Paranormal Activity was something too kinky to talk about. Fortunately, Upcomingdiscs has come to the rescue every Christmas with our Gift Guide Spotlights. This time we turn our attention to CBS. You already know about Star Trek releases, but you say you have some drama fans on your shopping list. They don’t want aliens or spaceships. They want stories and criminals getting caught. We’ve got you covered with the best from CBS.
Criminal Minds Season 9
To the point, Criminal Minds is very compelling television. Ever since The Silence of the Lambs and perhaps long before, we have been fascinated by serial killers and the profilers who try to get inside their heads. To see evidence of the continuing trend, one needs only look toward the success of films like Zodiac and shows like Dexter. Of course, serial killers are not the only prey this FBI team pursues, but they are certainly the marquee item on the agenda. To be sure, there are equally disturbing subjects such as arsonists, bombers, kidnappers, and rapists to give the show a touch of variety, but let’s face it, it’s the killers that keep us tuned so attentively to Criminal Minds.
Let’s not take anything away from the show’s true force here. This is an excellent cast being fed brilliant scripts playing to an awesome crew. Everything just clicks on this series, and it only got better in the second year. I am truly impressed with how much these characters are fleshed out and how much we learn about them without the need of office romance. No precious show time is squandered on excessive personal life stories. We’re given just enough to bring the characters alive beyond their team dynamic, which is quite strong. Each character is constructed through the subtle nuances the actors infuse their performance with. From the moment you watch your first episode, you will find this team believable enough to care about them and their work. Surprisingly, the show often gets muddled in a ton of exposition, but somehow it’s carried off by the cast so that you never find yourself going numb with clinical information overload. Granted, the material itself is attention-worthy, but these guys pull it off no matter how interesting the information might be. Add to the stellar portrayals a writing team second to none in the industry. The support teams do everything they need to make sure these talents are never wasted.
Enter Agent Rossi (Mantegna) who is actually one of the unit’s founding fathers. Agent Hotchner (Gibson) is the often stoic agent in charge who defers to Rossi’s judgment most of the time. The team also includes young Dr. Reid (Gubler), who is a genius but lacks the necessary skills to have much of a social life. Agent Morgan (Moore) is the dynamic soul of the team, possessing an unending supply of energy to drive their investigations. JJ (Cook) is the public face of the team, handling liaison duties with local law enforcement and also the team’s press relations. In a command center that rivals the bridge of the Enterprise is Agent Garcia (Vangsness) who handles the computer research while the rest of the team is in the field. Big Love’s Jeanne Tripplehorn arrived last season as a new agent. She has had a troubled past with Director Strauss. She blames Strauss for her career getting stuck in the mud and has a bit of a chip on her shoulder as she thinks her arrival at the BAU is long overdue. Together they travel to hot spots throughout the country to help local cops and feds with hard to capture UnSubs (what the team calls the criminal, meaning Unknown Subject).
This season sees some more cutting-edge material. One of the show’s best sets comes as a representation of a city in the tunnels beneath Vegas. This nothing like the world CSI has shown us over the years. Here the homeless gather as a kind of literal underground community. There are makeshift services like showers and even furniture. It’s one of the most startling images, and for Criminal Minds that’s a tall order. But that’s exactly what keeps happening here and why the show is entering its 10th season. They continue to find ways to top what they’ve done before.
If that doesn’t whet your appetite, how about an episode where the unsub is somewhat sympathetic? We’re talking a person with rabies who attacks and kills because of the disease. The cast do a great job of expressing the mixed feelings of needing to protect society and the nature of the unsub’s condition. It’s one of the more chilling effects on the show, because it could happen to anyone, not just psychotics.
NCIS Season 11
Special Agent Gibbs (Harmon) heads up this group of criminal investigators. Harmon has always been good, but I dare you to find a character he’s played better. He just eats up the part. You won’t have any trouble believing that Gibbs is the seasoned veteran investigator leading this team. Special Agent DiNozzo (Weatherly) is a former Baltimore homicide detective who often lets his determination run his investigation into trouble. He’ll bend a rule or throw a punch, whatever it takes to bring down the bad guy. Pauley Perrette plays the goth chick/forensic specialist Abby Sciuto. She reminds me a ton of the Penelope Garcia character from Criminal Minds. She’s flirty, far too informal for Gibbs, but is a lot smarter and tougher than she appears. Making himself more visible in this series is David McCallum as pathologist Ducky Millard. Ducky is the Quincy of the group as he checks out the bodies. His dry wit makes him my favorite character on the show. Sean Murray plays Tim McGee, who we’ve seen go from a young man with little self-confidence to a strong agent in the field. That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t suffer the barbs of Tony’s sarcasm.
NCIS combines elements from many types of genre shows which make it such a fresh series to watch even after 11 seasons. There’s a little bit of CSI along with a touch of Law & Order. You won’t have to look too hard to also see elements of JAG in there as well. While the soap opera aspects of the show run deeper than I like, I don’t find the relationship stuff here to be as intrusive as it was in JAG.
When the season started there was a strong action premier planned that was quite heavy with the Ziva character. At literally the last minute actress Cote de Pablo decided not to return. The writers managed to keep the action, and on such short notice they delivered a powerful sendoff for Ziva. I’ve always thought this was a strong writing team, but the way they worked on their feet here and the phenomenal episodes they put out make my head spin. This is likely one of the best writer teams on television. The show reached episode 250 with this season, and as much as it’s a team effort, the writers are a huge reason why this show continues to dominate. I have little doubt they will not miss a beat with Ziva’s departure, as beloved as the character was.
Of course, with Ziva gone a replacement had to be found. Credit the writers again for taking their time and doing things right. For eight episodes we see a few characters fill the role on a temporary basis. Finally we are introduced to Emily Wickersham as Agent Ellie Bishop. She comes with a little history. She had applied for the job years ago, and something about her stayed with Gibbs. She’s not a copy of Ziva by any means. She’s a fresh face who also brings a lot of odd quirks. She loves to sit on the floor or often on desks or tabletops. She’s a bit bouncy and likely will bond well with Abby. She rubs the old-school guys the wrong way a little at first, but they quickly respect her unique perspective. She’s a good fit, and I don’t think it will take long for you to warm up to her.
The season also serves up a back-door pilot for a spinoff that’s starting now on CBS. There’s a lot of that going on these days. Popular shows are reproducing and dominating time slots with like-minded television. NCIS; New Orleans will star Scott Bakula as the head of a very small but effective team in The Big Easy. Of course, we meet him and travel to New Orleans in this season of NCIS. This is going to be a more laid-back feel for the franchise. Hopefully, no less exciting.
The set contains all 24 episodes and the best set of extras in the CBS family. Every single episode gets an Eyes Only feature that takes us behind the scenes for each one. They’re about 3-5 minutes each. There’s a gag reel. There’s a props feature and a look at the 200th episode. Yes, it’s a police procedural series, but there are several things that continue to make it stand out from the rest. The cast is brilliant and have a very powerful chemistry. It doesn’t hurt that the stories continue to be clever and imaginative, and the show does a pretty solid job of not repeating itself. This show is still going strong. “Permission to state the obvious?”
Hawaii Five-O Season 4
“Book ’em, Danno.”
It’s been 30 years since we last heard that phrase. Still it persisted in the modern lexicon along with the term Five-0, which is still shouted in high-crime areas in cities all over the country whenever a police presence is felt closing in on the bad guys. Hawaii Five-0 ended in 1980. That’s when Tom Selleck took over the sets and production crew on Hawaii to work as Magnum P.I. until 1988 when it all closed down for good, or did it? Wouldn’t you know it, the show has been resurrected and become the hottest drama on television? A younger Steve McGarrett and company are back in action and Hawaii …the world might never be the same again. Roll wave…
Steve McGarrett (O’Loughlin) is a Navy Seal, and his latest mission ended with the murder of his father. The governor of Hawaii has offered him a special unit with complete immunity and means to tackle the tough cases and look into his father’s death. He’s allowed to assemble his own team. His first choice becomes his own partner. Danny “Danno” Williams (Caan) is a detective on the Honolulu Police Department assigned to his father’s case. He’s a divorced father of a young girl. The two work well together, but there’s a ton of buddy cop bickering on this one. Next on the team is Chin Ho Kelly (Kim). He’s a disgraced Honolulu officer who was accused of stealing a ton of money. He didn’t do it but ended up resigning in shame. He was Steve’s father’s last partner when he was a cop, and Steve believes in him and brings him on board. It does cause friction with the local cops who tend to shun Chin. The next member of the team is Chin’s cousin and newly graduated from the Academy. She’s Kono (Park), and she’s the bright-eyed rookie with high ideals and a knack for sophisticated tech and a competition-level surfer. Newer members of the team include Heroes ‘ Masi Oka as the medical examiner Dr. Max Bergman. Like his previous character, he’s a bit of a sci-fi geek. It took some getting used to to listen to the techno-babble medical stuff that he delivers now. Michelle Borth returns as officer “Cat” Rollins.
The first thing you need to know is that there have been a lot of changes to the formula. Steve McGarrett is a much younger, hipper and more active. He no longer rolls in at the clean-up to bark orders. This Steve is an ex-Navy Seal who is quite accomplished at weapons and hand-to-hand combat. He’s the primary investigator in the whole thing. Alex O’Loughlin has been trying hard to get a successful series running. He started out as a vampire on the short-lived Moonlight and went on to another series called Three Rivers which lasted even fewer episodes. But give the television executives some rare credit here for believing he could run a quality show. It looks like the third time really is the charm. There’s a lot more action and explosive f/x than you ever could have imagined in the 70’s show. It’s a faster-paced show, and the team has the latest in technology to use on their cases.
The season kicks off with a real bang. A group of criminals takes over the station. Steve also ends up protecting the now-imprisoned Wo Fat in jail from some folks who want him dead and come with a lot of weapons and equipment to see that it happens. Steve also discovers that his mother has been secretly visiting with Wo Fat. He may be in jail, but make no mistake. He’s driving things this season and ends up providing us with plenty of thrills by the end of the season.
It’s not really the stories that make for a strong year of this show. Even the normal run-of-the-mill procedural has more flair when you’re doing them from these kinds of locations. The production values get a real boost, and the actors have a lot more unique stuff to play with. The show also attracts a pretty strong guest cast. Previous seasons saw such greats as Scott’s dad James Caan. This year Melanie Griffith plays his mother. It’s a natural fit. The duo played son/mother in a play together recently.
The newcomer of note is Chi McBride as the city’s SWAT captain who doesn’t get along with Steve at all. The two butt heads all season until they slowly warm up to each other enough that Captain Grover has become a regular on the team and in the show. They share a pretty good chemistry that is not unlike the one shared with Danny. It’s an evolving relationship, and I look forward to more from them in the coming seasons.
There’s a bit of a Lost reunion going on this season. Of course, we already had Daniel Dae Kim and the same location for both shows. Terry O’Quinn returns as Commander Joe White. There’s a lot of promise for even more appearances in the future. He was Locke on Lost. One of my favorite characters on Lost was Jorge Garcia’s Hugo. Here he plays Jerry Ortega, who is a bit of a conspiracy nut. Think of The X-Files and the Lone Gunman guys. This character is a load of fun. He appears twice here, and the word is that he’ll continue to be recurring in the upcoming seasons. There’s a great amount of charm to this show when these guys are on the episode. These episodes absolutely stand at the top of my favorite list.
The show gives you all 22 episodes on six discs. You get a half-hour season rundown. There are short features on the stunts, action, production design and the Lost reunion. The show has been holding its own on a network filled with shows that are in their double-digit seasons. It’s one of the more thrilling shows out there with more action and drama than the makers of the original had the resources to pull off. They also continue to honor that show. I was pleased to see a wall in the writer’s room on one of the extras. There was a Jack Lord poster on the wall. These guys don’t forget where they came from. Meanwhile, this is a different group of cops. You could call them “McGarrett’s merry band of do whatever the hell you want”.
CSI Season 14
CSI is one of the longest-running shows on television. There are still a great number of original or early-years cast members still there. But I think it’s actually the changes that have allowed the show to rediscover itself once again. It’s actually been a good thing for the series and the franchise. It’s a family again. That’s no dig on anyone who has left. It’s just that I like this group a lot, and we’ve been able to see stories that just would not have been done in the old days. It has new legs, and I think we just might be in it for the long haul.
So what does a show do when they’re going into their 14th season? For CSI the welcome news is to go a little more old-school. The season went back to being about the cases and the forensics of the team. Yes, the chemistry of the team remains, and we do get to see their stories. Someone somewhere obviously decided to take a step back and deliver what made the show so popular to begin with.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t episodes devoted to each of the regulars. The season begins with Brass dealing with his daughter and her tragic turn to crime. Greg has to defend himself from the charges I mentioned earlier. Hodges gets a hot Italian girlfriend but gives her up to remain on the team. I never said he was smart. Sarah gets to be the focus of the show’s 300th episode. We get treated to newly filmed flashbacks that deal with her first-ever case now coming back to her. Catherine Willows returns in these episodes. It’s sad that we did not get to see Grissom in new footage. There’s also a ladies’ night out episode that turns bad, and Finley is nearly killed and raped. It focuses on Sarah, Morgan and Finley. They also killed Santa for the Christmas episode. Doc Robbins goes south of the border where he befriends a Mexican medical examiner.
The season also launched the third spinoff with a back-door pilot. The show will be called CSI-Cybercrimes and feature Patricia Arquette as an investigator who looks into crimes online.
The season is loaded with great guest stars as well. Look for appearances by Ron Glass, Steve Valentine, Gene Simmons (as himself, of course), Robert Davi, Jamie Kennedy, John Heard, Armin Shimerman, Jason Priestley and a Cheers reunion with John Ratzenberger.
You get all 22 episodes and a half-hour rundown of the season, a feature on guest stars, a feature on the back-door pilot and a 300th episode celebration. Wow! 300 episodes. That’s 300 episodes, and it isn’t slowing down. Will there be a 400th? “Oh, I’m going to be right there, waiting patiently.”