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.
Warner Brothers continues to lead the industry with television on Blu-ray. Other studios have experimented with some of their shows but no one puts more TV out in HD than Warner Brothers. Here are some of my favorite titles from 2018. Any of them would look great under the tree this season. Warner also has a nice collection of DC films out on Blu-ray.
The Flash Season 4:
“There’ll be no beating the Big Bad this year, Mr. Allen.”
Actions have consequences, and the same ends up true for the rescue of Barry Allen. Cisco’s rescue ends up bringing a cloud of dark matter back to Central City, where a city bus is exposed. That creates 10 new metas to deal with and gets our season off to a running start. But Barry isn’t quite himself at first. He’s obsessed with writing strange symbols and repeating gibberish. He’ll have to get back in shape soon so that Team Flash can stop the new powered villains. Caitlin rejoins the team, and before you know it the plot thickens.
We soon meet this season’s big bad. He’s Clifford DeVoe (Sandilands). He’s another big pull from the comics as The Thinker. He’s a professor who decides that technology has become bad for humans and this planet. His plot is to wipe all humanity’s memories clean of technology so that we’ll be forced to live without it. It turns out he has manipulated the team the entire time. He wanted Cisco to free Barry so that the new metas would be created, and he’s out to absorb all of the powers to turn himself into a terrible force and bring an end to technology. He is assisted by his wife Marlize (Engelbrecht). It’s the first husband-and-wife team in the DCTV Universe, and the first time in four seasons that the show’s villain isn’t a speedster. He’s actually one of the more compelling villains in the TV Universe, and the story has enough elements going for it to keep the pace going without the feeling that it has to be padded.
There’s a B villain this season, played by the recent Battlestar Galactica’s gender-bent Starbuck, Kattee Sackhoff. She’s Amunet and a has a direct link to Caitlin and what she had been up to when she wasn’t with the team. Amunent can manipulate a certain kind of metal that she forms into a gauntlet and flings sharp shards at her enemies. Unfortunately, she’s played with this distorted British accent that Sackhoff says is from Clearwater, Florida. Well, I live just across the Bay from Clearwater, and nobody there talks that way. It’s actually a nice B villain, but the accent keeps me from totally embracing her story. She’s kind of an underworld kingpin, but quick to run away and fight another day.
We live in a very exciting age, particularly if you are old enough to have been reading these classic comics back in the 60’s and 70’s when the modern hero was coming of age. Now the material dominates our movie screens and our televisions. And still some of us can’t get enough. The Flash is one of the better hero shows out there, and it continues to impress. He might have been in charge of “the other guys”, but Stan Lee often expressed it best: “Excelsior. ‘Nuff said.”
Supernatural Season 13:
“We’ve got a whole new game of tiddlywinks.”
It’s the unlucky 13th season of Supernatural, and it might be the most loaded season ever. We have a basket full of bad guys and gals, and the Winchester Brothers have got their work cut out for them, as if last season wasn’t busy enough. The Winchesters found and then lost their Mom. Crowley has finally bit the dust, and he will be greatly missed at least by this fan. Lucifer’s son has finally been born, and there are going to be a lot of bad folks wanting to get their hands on that little guy. Of course, he isn’t such a little guy any more. He’s now the appearance of an older teenager, and he has some mad wicked power. The question is whether Sam and Dean can influence that power for good. Or will he go the way of his Pops and be the poster child for evil?
Of course, there are still some standalone stories that do make a big contribution to the show’s run. In one episode they go to Tombstone to track down a resurrected old gunslinger, and you can imagine the party that’s going to be for Dean.
But the best episode of the season is the anticipated crossover with Scooby Doo. It starts with the boys wrestling a cursed giant stuffed dinosaur and leads to a cursed television that zaps Sam, Dean and Castiel into an episode of Scooby Doo. The animation is spot-on and drawn by people who do actually animate that show. All of the current Scooby Doo voices are here, so that we get a real Scooby Doo episode built in. That includes Frank Welker, who has been voicing Fred since the 1960’s show origins and who has been voicing Scooby since the 90’s. The episode was actually a real 1969 episode of the show which goes off the rails. Dean’s hitting on Daphne, while Thelma thinks Sam’s cute. This is the kind of playful episode that is also true to both shows. It will likely go down in history as a milestone episode in television history. It’s worth picking up the set just for this.
I liked Season 13 a lot. There is less of a single threat, which can get exhausting on this show. But you’ll find a nice mix of standalone episodes with several bads that have a place in the year’s mythology arc. After 13 years this series has a remarkable bit of life left, and this year was a chance through an alternate reality to revisit the rich collection of stories and characters that have been a part of these 13 years. I think I’ll be spending a lot of time over the years reviewing this show. “When something’s important you make the time.”
The Big Bang Theory Season 11:
The 11th season picks up exactly where the previous season left off, I mean right down to the second. Sheldon (Parsons) flew to Princeton to propose to Amy (Bialik). And that sets the mood and theme for the entire year. The season builds up to the actual wedding, which appropriately finishes the season. Along the way the preparations make for much of the year’s fodder. Sheldon and Amy aren’t the only characters in for big changes. Howard (Helberg) and Bernadette are having a second baby, thanks to the real-life pregnancy of actress Melissa Rauch. Raj (Nayyar) finally gets work as the presenter at the local planetarium. He also finds out the job attracts women. Actor Nayyar finally gets to wear his hair in its naturally curled state. Raj also has a run-in with The Shield’s bad boy Walter Goggins as a jealous husband of one of those women he’s been getting from the job. For Penny (Cuoco) and Leonard (Galecki), things are pretty much status quo.
There are a few notable events this season. Bon Newhart returns as the Obi-Wan ghost of his deceased character Professor Proton. He reprises the role on Young Sheldon as well. This time Sheldon is dreaming him because the network has decided to bring the show back with a new Professor Proton. Sheldon auditions for the part, but it falls to his rival, Wil Wheaton, who also ends up competing with Mark Hamill to officiate the finale wedding event. Comics superstar Neil Gaiman appears as himself at the comic book store. When he mentions his visit in an article, the store is suddenly jumping. But the guys aren’t happy with its new-found popularity, and Gaiman isn’t happy because no one actually recognizes him, and they ignore his comic knowledge.
A sad moment for the show is the final appearance by Stephen Hawking, who appeared in the season premiere and passed away shortly after that show aired. There’s a deleted scene in the season finale where Sheldon learns that Hawking sent him a wedding present before he died.
The new season is about to start, and it will be interesting to see how they decide to end the series. Series finales can be quite tricky. Some have been classic, like the final episode of Newhart that revealed the entire series was a dream by Newhart’s character in the earlier Bob Newhart series. Finales can be dramatic and impactful, as was the final episode of M*A*S*H. Endings can be bittersweet, like the strong finale of Six Feet Under. Endings can also be disappointing, like the finale for Enterprise, or lead to frustration and anger, like the infamous Sopranos finale. Don’t ask me how The Big Bang Theory will end. “I can’t tell you; it’s top secret.”
Gotham Season 4:
“There will always be crime. What I’m offering is crime in the hands of professionals, held to agreed-upon terms. No license. No crimes.”
The season starts with Penguin (Taylor) issuing licenses to commit crimes. He’s extorted the city leaders into going along with the scheme, and all of the police force…except Jim Gordon (McKenzie). He’s given the term organized crime a whole new meaning. A cut goes to the city, and Penguin delivers low crime stats. It all sounds like a pretty good idea. But you just know that things are going to get ugly. The corruption leads to the emergence of a new villain, Professor Pyg (Cerveris), who is killing dirty cops and putting decapitated pig heads on them. Everything is soon thrown into anarchy, and a long list of big bads team up to rain terror on the city. Gordon makes a deal with the devil to try and bring Penguin down, but it backfires badly when he tries to get Falcone to come back to Gotham. He gets his daughter Sophie (Reed) instead, and she turns out to be worse than the devil he knew.
If there is a theme to the season, it’s rebirth. Many of our villains return from the dead to assume new roles. Butch (Powell) ends up dumped in a swamp and regenerates into the Batman villain Solomon Grundy. Barbara Kean (Richards) is resurrected by Ra’s al Ghul to become the new demon’s head. And she’s put together her own all-girl’s crime squad called The Sirens with Selena Kyle (Bicondova) and Tabitha (Lucas). Selena is moving another step closer to Catwoman with her trademark whip and leather tights becoming part of Selena’s new style. Poison Ivy is literally reborn in a toxic membrane and emerges as yet a third actress playing the role. This time up she’s Peyton List. Scarecrow re-emerges as Crane’s son Jonathan (Thompson) uses his father’s fear gas and burlap mask to become a much more frightening version of the character. Ed Nigma/Riddler (Smith) is reborn from that block of ice and has lost his mojo. He forgot how to riddle. He turns to Dr. Thompkins (Baccarin) for help while she takes over as the underground queen of the Narrows. A lot of characters get new leases on life this season.
I think that’s what I found the most compelling this season. Somehow the show has grown to a very large cast of known characters, and we get a lot of depth to so many of them that it hardly seems possible. But Gotham manages to provide very rich histories and emotions from a lot of characters at the same time. The relationships are incredibly complicated without ever seeming convoluted. You expect there to be a lot of contrived circumstances, and there certainly are, but it never feels that way. In just four years this show has one of the richest list of regulars or recurring characters of any series I can think of.
We are moving closer to Batman than I expected in only four years. I’m not sure how much longer the tease can last at this point. The season finale takes a bit of plot out of the last Dark Knight film and leaves Gotham firmly in the hands of the bad guys. I’m not really sure how they can up the action any more than they already have. This is a crowded show that still has a lot of untapped classic characters to mine. “Oh, we’re going to need a lot more of this.”
DC Legends of Tomorrow Season 3:
“How will we be remembered? Will it be for saving the world…Twice? Nope. We’re the team who broke time. That’s right. History has been torn to shreds, which means it’s up to us to put it back together again, piece by piece, finding these so-called anachronisms before we get torn to shreds. So please, don’t call us heroes. We’re legends.”
At the end of the second season the team broke one of the cardinal rules of time travel. You can’t revisit a time and place that you already visited. The result is that you break time, and that’s exactly what the Legends of Tomorrow have done. The result is that they have been recalled and dismissed from service by the newly-formed Bureau of Time. Now our legends are back in the mundane world, where Sara (Lotz) is working as a clerk at a bed and shower store, having fantasies of killing her boss. Ray Palmer (Routh) went from owning the world’s largest tech company to working for a kid at a dating app… eh, make that a holistic social networking program. Professor Stein (Garber) is enjoying his new family with a grandchild on the way. Jackson (Drameh) is just bored to death with a normal life. And Mick (Purcell) is chilling on a beach in Aruba when his chill is interrupted by Caesar (Merrells). That’s Julius, and not the salad, hotel, or talking ape. Of course, he’s an anachronism who happened to arrive in Aruba for the annual Aruba-con celebration. It looks like the team is going to have to get together, but the powers that be don’t quite see it that way. So they steal back the Waverunner, which was retired to a training simulator, and it’s off fighting the problem that they created.
Rip (Darvill) is back as the guy who created the new organization, and he’s fighting the directors, who aren’t as forgiving about the Legends. Their biggest threat there is Director Ava Sharp (Macallan), who ends up becoming somewhat of a love interest for Sara down the road. The season ends up being a series of uneasy alliances with the new organization to fix time. While the anachronisms might be a problem for the good guys, the event leads to the return of Damien Darhk, once again played by Neal McDonough. He’s been raised from the dead by a cult and is taking advantage of the anachronisms themselves to empower his daughter Nora (Ford), who has been invaded by a demon thanks to daddy dearest. His focus is a collection of talismans that are scattered over time. Vixen (Sellers) rejoins the cast from 1942, because her powers are derived from one of the talismans. They represent various natural elements like fire, water, and spiritualism. Before the season is over, you’ll see these artifacts pass from good guy to bad guy to good guy several times. It’s like watching a science fiction version of tennis.
Of course, there is another traditional crossover even across the four shows. I have to offer HUGE kudos to Warner Brothers this year. Every year I have complained that you only got that show’s episode on each set. The problem with that was they didn’t necessarily release the sets in crossover order, and you had to buy all four titles to have the entire story. This year Warner listened to the fans. You get the ENTIRE crossover event, and in the proper order. I can’t emphasize enough how big of a give this is to the fans who can save money not having to buy the sets they might not want or be able to afford. It’s also the best way to see the event. Whoever made that decision at Warner deserves a big raise and the thanks of the fans of these shows. Good job! “Sometimes we screw things up for the better.”