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. These gift guides ARE NOT paid advertisements. We take no money to publish them. The kinds of things we recommend here are things I would be delighted to find under the tree.
CBS still has the highest rated dramas on television. There have been quite a few good DVD sets from the network in 2017. Here’s a look at my recommendations.
NCIS: Season 14
There have been a lot of changes at NCIS over its 14-season run to date. Over time people have come and gone, but rarely has the series had to deal with so much change going into a new season. The most obvious of these has been the departure of Michael Weatherly as beloved character Tony DiNozzo. Tony was one of the still many remaining characters from the show’s premier season a decade and a half ago. He’s the kind of character who couldn’t be replaced by just one new character. NCIS starts the 14th season with three new characters on board. But Weatherly wasn’t the only big loss to the series. The unexpected death of showrunner Gary Glasberg hit the cast and crew pretty hard. He passed without warning or obvious illness just as the season’s shooting was beginning. He had been with the series since 2009 and left a pretty big impact on the show. His loss might not be as obvious to the people who watch the show, but it was as big as that of Michael Weatherly. In many ways the 14th season marks a turning point in the long life of the NCIS franchise.
As the season opens, we discover that Gibbs (Harmon) has been going through prospective replacement agents at an alarming pace. It’s gotten so bad that the NCIS training officer in charge of sending those agents arrives to find out just what it is Gibbs wants. That training officer is Agent Alex Quinn, played by Jennifer Esposito. He suggests Quinn stick around a bit to find out what he wants. I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to reveal that it was Quinn Gibbs was trying to get all along. But she won’t be the only new agent. The first episode has the team looking into an undercover agent who has failed to check in for six months and may be in trouble. There’s the possibility he’s gone “native”. That agent turns out to be Agent Nick Torres, played by Wilmer Valderrama. He also ends up being invited to stay with the team. Torres offers a bit of a higher-tension wildcard that shakes the team up a bit. He’s used to going it alone and has trouble learning to depend on others. With Quinn there is the added element that she trained the other agents, except for Gibbs, and knows things about them that maybe the rest of the team doesn’t. But that’s not the end. NCIS goes for the hat trick by turning recurring character Clayton Reeves into a part of the team. Reeves is a British liaison agent much the way Ziva was for Israel. He’s played by Duane Henry and is a loner, but of a different sort than Torres. He doesn’t have much in the way of family or friends and volunteers for dangerous assignments as a result.
The season ends with a cliffhanger that finds the team in Paraguay trying to find out why a missing Marine defied orders and risked his life to deal with a group of rebels. You get all 24 episodes plus the New Orleans crossover on six discs. Extras include deleted scenes, new character feature, and the usual CBS half-hour season summary. There’s plenty of explosive action to go along with all of that character development. That’s why some of us guys have watched it for so long. We love seeing things blow up. “And this is why men aren’t invited to baby showers.”
NCIS: New Orleans Season 3
“Welcome back to New Orleans.”
The most recent member of the NCIS family enters its third season. There are some changes, but not just in the show’s cast. I have noticed a concerted effort to use the term NOLA by both the characters and various signs and symbols displayed throughout the new season. It’s a bit odd, because at one point a character chastises an outsider that the locals prefer New Orleans. Minutes later that same character uses the term NOLA. The crew now even wear lanyards that say NCIS:NOLA on them. I have not been to New Orleans post-Katrina, so I’m not up on whatever local thing might be going on with the name. I suspect there are some politicians who are using the new designation in order to help re-brand the city. Whatever’s going on, the series is apparently caught up in it. The term even shows up in episode titles.
For the first time the series uses two story points to separate the season halves. The first arc is a big tie-in to the FBI team in town to investigate the NCIS team. They are also after a huge drug cartel that has imbedded agents in the New Orleans area. That’s the excuse for Agent Gregorio to remain and even work with NCIS for the first part of the season. The big target here is Javier Garcia, played by Julian Acosta. He gets too close at times to the team and even shows up as engaged to an old friend of Pride’s. As the team closes in on Garcia, they accidentally uncover a connection to Mayor Hamilton, played nicely by Steven Weber. That’s where the baton is passed, and Hamilton becomes the big fish for the second half of the season. While there are still some standalone episodes, this season is far more serialized than previous years in the franchise. By the last few episodes of the year, Pride ends up going rogue to bring down the man who has really been a kind of nemesis since the show began. Bakula and Weber share great chemistry, and it’s a treat to see these characters go head to head with the gloves off. The result will change the team, and perhaps the series a bit going into the next season.
I love Scott Bakula and was a fan of both Quantum Leap and Star Trek: Enterprise. He adds that command-authority mixed with caring-father-figure here that he delivered as Captain Archer. One of the big issues, however, has to do with his New Orleans accent. He still travels in and out of it so much that it’s actually getting distracting. Early in the first season they appeared to kill the accent, but instead it is rather toned down. I suspect it really drives the New Orleans people crazy. I guess “that’s just the way we do things around here”.
Elementary Season 5
“My name is Sherlock, and I’m an addict.”
Elementary is one of those shows that rather quietly continues to do what it does without drawing a ton of attention, but yet has enough fans that the series has been able to reach the 100-episode milestone here in its fifth season. That used to be a little more important than it is today. Years ago a show’s only chance at making money after the original run was through syndication. Today there are less independent stations, and they tend toward the situation comedies more than drama. There are cable networks that once used these shows as their primary material. Remember when TNT might as well have been called The Law & Order Network? But even those times are drying up. Cable networks are churning out more and more of their own scripted shows so that there is less and less space for syndication. Today shows live on in the form of streaming services like Netflix or home video like the latest CBS release of Elementary The Complete 5th Season. 100 episodes continues to be impressive, and it appears there are legs left for more to come.
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.
There are some interesting developments in Season 5. The first is the change of Holmes’ look. He shaves his head. I’m not so sure I like it. It makes him look a little sickly. I guess we’ll see how that plays out by next season. He’s also getting closer to Watson. This season marks a rather dramatic admission from Holmes that the joy of the cases is no longer the solving but rather the solving together. For a guy with this kind of ego, that’s a huge step in personal development. Holmes also deals with the arrival of his former London investigations partner Kitty Winter, who has found a connection between cases they worked and a string of murders.
Blue Bloods Season 7
Blue Bloods is the first television drama to capture the best of the police procedural and also the warmth and charm of the family drama. It’s like NYPD Blue invaded the set of Brothers & Sisters. The show brings incredibly good writing and production values that do look and feel like a film every week. You hear that a lot from series show runners, but this is one of those rare cases where it is true. It doesn’t hurt that the show has a strong cast that includes the like of Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg. It doesn’t work unless everyone connected with a show buys into a common goal. That’s exactly what you get here, and it shows on the screen.
Tom Selleck is Frank Reagan. He’s the police commissioner of the NYPD. He’s no stranger to the job. In fact, police is the Reagan family business. His father Henry (Cariou) was the commissioner before him, who was fired for his brutal honesty and straight talk. His father is a constant reminder that the job is not always just about policing the city. There are politics to deal with no matter how hard he tries to avoid them. His son Joe was killed in the line of duty. His elder son Danny (Wahlberg) is one of the force’s best detectives. His youngest son Jamie (Estes) is a on the force. He has a Harvard law degree, but he decided to give up the idea of a law practice to go into the family business. Daughter Erin (Moynahan) is not a cop. But that doesn’t mean she’s out of the loop. She is a lawyer who works for the DA’s office. When the Reagans gather for their traditional Sunday dinner, the family chatter often involves dead bodies and hard criminals.
There’s just enough of the mythology arc to keep things interesting. The stories are usually standalone, and you will enjoy this slightly different take on the cop show.
A couple of Sopranos stars guest on this season. It starts with the first episode and Michael Imperioli as a lawyer who pushes Danny hard on the shooting case from last season. Danny has to relive the nightmare, and all the while Frank is torn because a mother wants him to talk her son out of joining the police. That brings back hard memories for Frank about losing his own son. We also have Steve Schirripa as pretty much a regular this season. He plays Anthony Abetemarco, an investigator for the DA’s office who is a tough guy working for Erin.
It’s a tough emotional season for Frank, who has to deal with a cheating scandal at the academy. He has to deal with unfortunate favor requests like the aforementioned mother and even friends, one played nicely by guest star Saul Rubinek. He has to deal with a potential whistleblower who accuses the department of corruption. Danny gets targeted, and his home is firebombed because of a case. This is the kind of both drama and family moment that makes this show something special. The mayor finishes the season by announcing his retirement. You know that’s going to bring a political storm to the show’s 8th season, to be sure. It’s a relationship on the show that will be missed.
Hawaii Five-O Season 7
They don’t waste any time getting you into the action in this 7th season. There is a single story arc that will drive many of the season’s episodes. There’s a serial killer on the islands who appears to be taking out other killers. It’s not Dexter, but coincidentally enough Dexter star Julie Benz gets a bit more work this season in her recurring role of Inspector Abby Dunn. The killer’s signature is to put chess pieces from an ancient set in the mouths of the victims. The story arc brings us two recurring characters, both playing psychologists. Claire Forlani plays Dr. Alicia Brown. She is a retired profiler who is brought on the case reluctantly by Steve. She also serves as a bit of a love interest for him this season. The other is Law & Order veteran Elisabeth Rohm, who could be connected to the case in some way. Of course Steve ends up right in the thick of it and is targeted by the killer.
There are some bittersweet finishes on the show this season. The truth is there will be big changes coming in the future. Masi Oka, the f/x technician turned actor on Heroes wraps up his time on the show as a medical examiner. Dr. Max Bergman is leaving to do work in Africa and has a rather tearful goodbye mid-season. We’ll see the actor next in the decades-long-in-development shark film Meg. This departure was planned. But this will also be the last season for both Daniel Dae Kim, who plays Chin Ho Kelly, and for Grace Park, who plays his cousin and fellow team member Kono. The two made demands to be paid the same as series leads Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan. While this is certainly very much an ensemble cast, there isn’t much doubt that those are the show’s leads. Someone has to lead the call sheet, and there isn’t going to be enough money to give them all equal shares. There were rumblings of racism because the leads were white and these actors were Asian. I think it’s likely a stretch, and Kim made out just fine almost immediately landing a role in the new ABC drama The Good Doctor. I suspect he had that offer in his back pocket the entire time. I just hope that Grace Park didn’t end up losing her gig in a sense of solidarity that might have been misplaced. Whatever the internal politics, the series will not be the same without them.
The character chemistry is why this show continues to work as well as it does. Television show reboots have a high failure rate, but this one might last longer than the 12 seasons of the original show. If it does, it’s going to be those character moments that make it happen. There was a crossover with another rebooted series. Kono and Kim leave the islands to have an adventure with the new MacGyver, but that episode is not included here. There’s no real reason, as it does not spill over into any events of this show. It’s referenced and nothing more.
Criminal Minds Season 12
The 12th season of Criminal Minds would be one of great change. Some were expected and some were not. There had been incidents behind the scenes that had drawn red flags among the cast. Thomas Gibson was known to have a temper and had been reprimanded for it in the past. But as the Season 12 shooting began, he crossed the line again by allegedly kicking a writer. It was the last straw, and he was quickly fired from the series. So while the season begins with his character, it only lasts a short time. This is also the first season without Shemar Moore as Derek. That exit was planned and dealt with at the end of the previous season. And while everyone else returned, there was an unexpected return to the cast. Paget Brewster returned as Prentiss in what was originally intended as a short run. The sudden loss of Gibson created an opportunity to promote the character into his spot. Of course Brewster isn’t the first to leave and return later. Jennifer Jareau had left for a while and returned to the fold. And while Moore does make a cameo this season and could return, don’t expect to see Thomas Gibson on the show again.
As some doors close, others open. Adam Rodriquez from CSI: Miami joins the cast as Agent Luke Alves. The character comes over from a fugitive task force and has a bit more of an aggressive style than the team is used to. He’s a loner who lives alone with his dog. So we also get a rather pretty dark German shepherd in a recurring role this season. His addition certainly shakes things up in the character front. Another new face is Damon Gupton, who plays Agent Stephen Walker. He’s the direct opposite of Luke. Stephen has a wife and kids and winds down by playing the trombone. To say he jazzes up the cast would be an understatement.
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 for 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 to make sure these talents are never wasted.
You get all 22 episodes on six discs with a few extras that include deleted scenes, season summary, gag reel, director journals, and new characters. While not one of the strongest seasons to date, I’m left with the thought that there might be “a glimmer of hope”.