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. Keep checking back to see more recommendations for your holiday shopping. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. 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.
NCIS Season 12 (Blu-ray)
CBS has finally decided to release the number-one-rated show in the world on high-definition Blu-ray. It’s a milestone event for the network and for fans of the show, and it only took 12 years to get it done. To be fair, Blu-ray hasn’t quite been around for 12 years, but many networks have gotten us caught up with popular shows in high definition by this time. It’s remarkable that it did take this long to get a season of NCIS on Blu-ray. Let’s hope the numbers warrant that future seasons be given the same treatment and that we’ll then be able to get the previous 11. It’s an experiment CBS has tried with both CSI and NCIS: LA. Unfortunately, numbers must not have supported that move. But if ever a series deserved to live a long life in high definition, this is the one.
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. Last season we were 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. She’s settled in and already feels like a part of the team dynamic.
How does a series go for 12 years and still find ways to keep the show interesting? NCIS appears to have found the secret. Not only has the show survived, it has thrived. It has often been the # 1 drama on network television, but that has only expanded in its 12th year. This last television season found the series recognized as the # 1 show of any kind in the world. On top of that, it doesn’t appear to be losing any ground. Year 12 is one of the best to date, and the show just keeps on getting better with age.
I Love Lucy Season 2 (Blu-ray)
I Love Lucy changed the fledgling television industry in the 1950’s. This was a time when network television was less than a decade old. Most folks had never heard of television just 15 years earlier. I Love Lucy defined the concept of a sitcom. The show was driven by the very strong personalities of the cast. Desi Arnaz was considered a charismatic Latin lover by American women. Lucy played the perfect foil and found a mountain of gold to mine in strong physical comedy. So many modern shows owe their roots to this classic that it would be impossible to mention them all here. Now CBS and Paramount are bringing the show back in brand-new high-definition restored image that will delight even the pickiest fans of the show. We’ve now reached the second season of these efforts, and it is absolutely worth a look.
Even if you are not a particular fan of the show, it would be a mistake to dismiss the impact the series had both on the situation comedy and the television industry itself. The show’s pioneering use of the three-camera format and shooting on film allows the material to be in a position to be restored at all. That setup has remained a staple of the television comedy since that time. Desi was also a marketing genius who was the first to take advantage of the promotional value of putting the show’s name on everything from lunch boxes to sleepwear. It’s an innovation that is exaggerated in a Red Skelton skit provided in the extras here. Desi changed the way television crew did their jobs and created the modern production methods still used today.
The show would also be a springboard to other ventures for the couple. Mission Impossible and Star Trek fans certainly know the contributions their DesiLu studios created for more serious television. Both shows are enjoying enormous success in the franchise film market and serve as cash cows for Paramount today. Who knew Tom Cruise owed so much to a 1950’s sitcom? The truth is the couple ended up raking in far more money in the role of producers than they ever made as television or movie stars.
The show also set the template for a life in syndication. I Love Lucy was the first widely syndicated television show, and it found more success in those reruns than it did in its original airings. Those reruns still air today after nearly 70 years. If ever there was a vintage comedy that deserved this kind of restoration and high-definition treatment, it would surely have to be I Love Lucy.
A milestone event occurred in the second season. Lucille Ball was pregnant with Desi Arnaz, Jr. The show decided to use the real-life event and bring young Ricky into the lives of the Ricardos. That became the most watched event of its era. Over 72% of the televisions in America and 92% of the viewing audience tuned in to see the arrival of Little Ricky. The actual birth happened the day the episode first aired. It was a national sensation. The event made the front page of both TV Guide and Newsweek. Lucy and Desi had conquered both the entertainment and reality worlds in one event. It’s all here in high definition with this release. The show also predicted accurately the sex of Lucille Ball’s baby, as Little Ricky arrived first. This was in the days before ultrasound would have made sure the script was accurate. The couple turned the event into an extravaganza of publicity for the show and for themselves. This was the very first “event” episode in television history.
The shows have been available in many incarnations over the last 60+ years. They still run on television. There are DVD season and compilation sets. There are videotapes, and I’m sure many fans have had their own private copies for decades. Why buy them again now? Because I promise you that you don’t have anything like these Blu-ray copies.
NCIS: LA Season 6:
“Let’s do it!”
NCIS has become the number-one-rated television show in the world. It might stand alone in that distinction, but it certainly doesn’t stand alone. Last season saw a new spin-off that took us to New Orleans. It’s hard to believe that it was six years ago now that NCIS: Los Angeles took to the West Coast streets and developed its own brand of Naval criminal justice. It’s a franchise that rivals Law & Order or CSI in its ability to stretch out and continue to build a fan base. It’s part of a powerhouse lineup at CBS that has plenty of shows going double digits in seasons. I suspect that this one will be around long enough to join that group, if this season is any indication.
It’s not just the explosive action that defines this show. Like the original series, the characters are everything. Each of them gets to have their moments in the spotlight that will challenge and change them as the season progresses. For Hetty it’s all just beginning when the feds put her under investigation. And it’s not just Hetty. The DOJ sends their agents to scrutinize the entire team. This is not the kind of operation that you can put under a microscope. This leads to one of the show’s craziest moments as Nell goes undercover as Hetty. Watching her in the wig and doing the impersonation is going to be a golden moment for the fans, to be sure. This whole story plays out for several episodes, and, of course, the team is going to break whatever rules they need to in order to protect their matriarch.
Speaking of extras, you get the traditional half-hour season summary and gag reel. There’s a small feature on the Die Hard episode. There are also short features on the puppet theatre, making Hetty younger and costumes. You get 24 episodes on six discs. The show continues to improve, and you’re not going to want to miss this season out from CBS. While I still like the original NCIS a bit more, “This is one cat you don’t put in a bag.”
Elementary Season 3:
Modernizing Sherlock Holmes has been a popular trend in film and television lately. We have seen two slick action film adaptations courtesy of Guy Ritchie, a contemporary BBC adaptation (Sherlock), and now there is Elementary, which transplants Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion Watson from Victorian Era England to modern New York.
Jonny Lee Miller’s portrayal of Holmes makes me want to start drawing comparisons to the title character in the medical drama House. Both shows surround an eccentric, drug-addicted savant who blazes beyond socially acceptable behavior to a series of “aha!” moments. Granted, said “aha!” moments are much less contrived and formulaic than they are in House. It takes a little while for the show to get its legs, but it does. The creators are clearly hoping the eccentric charm of Holmes can shoulder the burden of maintaining audience interest. Said eccentricity can come off a bit aimless at first. Sherlock has the ability examine people almost perfectly, yet the writers do not seem to have the character fully figured out, and there are too many moments where Holmes’ odd behavior seems a bit tacked on, such as when he hypnotizes himself to get through an addiction support group meeting.
Each episode features a mildly captivating crime puzzle for Holmes to solve. Lucy Liu plays Watson. This incarnation of the classic character is a disgraced former surgeon who is assigned to keep Holmes from falling back into his heroin addiction. Very soon she begins assisting him in his investigations as she demonstrates a great aptitude for it. The platonic chemistry between Holmes and Watson is a bit of an issue for this show. Watson is more babysitter than partner, but they do start to grow closer as the series progresses. There is no real hint of romantic connection between them, which I enjoy. This show avoids the laziest possible device for character tension, and I applaud it for that. For you non-bookworms out there, Holmes’ drug use is actually taken from the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There are numerous references to Holmes’ use of various drugs and stimulants, many coming from Watson’s perspective, which means that this adaptations method of having Watson be a caretaker of Holmes is more closely related to the original than one might assume.
This season is all about Holmes returning. He brings with him a new protégée in the form of Kitty Winter, played by Ophelia Lovibond. Don’t both actress and character names sound like a Bond girl name? Holmes also finally gets a more friendly relationship with Detective Bell, played by John Michael Hill.
You get all 24 episodes on six discs with a pretty solid list of extras that include the usual CBS season summary, a profile on the evolution of the Watson character, and profiles of Kitty Winters, Bell, and Holmes himself. There’s a gag reel and a couple of short behind-the-scenes features. It’s another pretty solid release.
Hawaii Five-O Season 5:
“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…
It seems that every year this show kicks up the drama and action. It mixes up the kinds of action and stories. The show hits its 100th episode milestone this year, and it’s quite an episode. It also marks an end for Wo Fat, who is leaving the show for a new bad guy who will be introduced later in the season. I think we’re going to be playing cat and mouse with this guy for another few years.
So with all of these changes, what makes this show work so well? The most important element has to be the characters and the actors who play them. O’Loughlin and Caan develop almost instant chemistry, although I do think they take the bickering banter a little too far sometimes. When last we saw Daniel Dae Kim, he was finishing his six years on Lost, also filmed in Hawaii. Lucky for us he got the job. Lucky for us, too, he’s quite good in the role, and it’s nice to see him have a more active and English-fluent character. Grace Park comes from the new Battlestar Galactica and brings probably the most balanced character to the show. She actually has a life outside of the office. She’s the geek smart member of the team, and she can kick butt as well as the guys. You can really see a lot of Scott Caan’s father, James Caan, in the kid. He has those manners of speech that remind us of Sonny Corleone. He’s a huge find for this series. These characters might not reflect anything from their earlier counterparts, but they are all very compelling in the way they work together. It’s a nice team, and the Hawaiian locations don’t hurt any either. So often in my reviews of this show it goes back to the characters.
You get all 25 episodes on six discs with a few nice extras spread about the set. There’s a celebration of the 100th episode. Profile on Kim as a first-time director. There’s a music video, gag reel, and stun feature. Plus there’s the CBS traditional half-hour season summary. All in all, it’s another action-packed year in the life of Steve McGarrett, “the kind of cop that gets things done.”
Criminal Minds Season 10:
What can I say about Criminal Minds that hasn’t been said in the last 10 years? It’s the little show that could. I’ve been a fan since the first episode when Mandy Patinkin was the show’s leader. His departure left the show with a hole it was swift to fill, and I have to say it hasn’t missed a beat since. The rest of the cast has been solid for most of that decade, and they’ve evolved into one of the best teams on television. Because of this show we all learned what an unsub was and have become pretty aware of the things that go on in a killer’s mind. It was the perfect sister show to CSI for years on Thursday nights. CSI dealt with the physical evidence, while Criminal Minds dealt with the mind. What a combination.
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.
The show also continues to provide sympathetic killers. In this case a woman suffered brain damage in a specific part of the brain that can turn you into a killer. Hey, that’s scary all by itself. It gives us a killer we feel bad for, but one who must be stopped. What do you do with 2000 cockroaches and assorted spiders? You dump them on a victim and create a creepy crawly episode that might have you feeling more than a little itchy. JJ has one of the better episodes as she lives the anniversary of her tragic 200th episode events. It’s one of the show’s trends this season to pay off earlier episodes and stories. Derek gets a steady girl, and Hodge gets to deal with a crumudgedy Ed Asner. A plane crash allows for one of the most expensive locations and sets for the series.
There are plenty of extras to be found here. You’ll get deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a music mockumentary. There are a few brief behind-the-scenes features and the traditional half-hour season summary. You get all 23 episodes on six discs.
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 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. I suspect that Patinkin might have some regrets about not being a part of what this show has become. “Life is about choices. Some we regret, some we’re proud of. We are what we chose to be.”
CSI The Final Season:
After 15 years CSI is finally calling it a day. CSI is one of the longest-running shows on television. Most of the original cast members have moved on, and the series managed to bring in some pretty solid talents to replace them. It appeared as though the long-running show still had legs. It outlasted two spinoffs both which ran 10 and 5 years themselves. CSI: Cyber has just finished its first season and will remain, for now, the only surviving member of the franchise. We’ll be offering up our look at that show next week. Until then, join us in a farewell review of the series that launched it all. CBS is treating us to CSI: The Final Season.
It’s clear to me that these guys did not know they were ending the series until the very end. The last episode is fine but certainly not a classic series finale for such a long-lived series. The extras on the disc make it clear they planned to return for a sixth season. The George Eads character has his goodbyes, and everyone’s talking about how it won’t be the same without him. No way these guys knew it was the end. Now thanks to fellow writer John who dug up the research, the answer is finally made clear. In just a few days the cast reunites for a final 2-hour film to give the series the finale it deserves. Let’s just hope it’s memorable and doesn’t let the fans or the cast and crew down.
Critics don’t always know what the heck they’re talking about. I include myself in that statement. When I first saw CSI 15 years ago, I predicted a short stay for the series. I thought it was too cerebral and not enough action to keep the short attention spans of the MTV generation. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I couldn’t be happier about being so wrong. CSI has not only outlasted those expectations but has given this reviewer hope that audiences are smarter than I thought, Real Life Housewives and Survivor to the contrary. Goodbye CSI, “I’m going to miss you”.