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. These first two are shows that are currently airing reboots. But these Blu-rays are the original shows.
MacGyver: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
MacGyver (v) to act in an extremely resourceful manner. To utilize everyday items in unconventional ways to achieve a difficult task. I predict it will not be long before you can open your trusty copy of Webster’s and find this character has officially entered our lexicon. There is little doubt but that it is an unofficial part of it now. Crossing over from the realm of pop culture and into our language is a phenomenal achievement for a television show.
Richard Dean Anderson really is MacGyver. OK, maybe he’s not quite so handy with a paperclip and matchbook, but his own acting ability and charm make MacGyver more enjoyable than the formula that has become so renowned. They share the love of hockey. Anderson was slated to be a hockey star before injuring both legs. Both men hail from the wilds of Minnesota. The two also share an environmental crusade. These traits also coincidentally apply to Jack O’Neil.
The shows often opened with an unrelated story very much like the traditional James Bond films have. They are merely chances for us to see MacGyver use his inventiveness without being bogged down with all of the traps of an actual story. They were often written and even directed by other folks than that week’s episode. The James Bond link would go even farther in the first season. The show often used film footage for shots of action and foreign places. The chase scene from the original The Italian Job was an example, as were several scenes from a couple of James Bond films. The first season had MacGyver all over the country, often hooked up with one attractive woman who happened to find herself in the middle of things. There’s another James Bond connection for you.
Episodes could take you anywhere from retrieving fallen satellites in hostile territory to fighting a swarm of killing ants in the South American jungles. He’s had to stop high tech bombs from going off on a cruise ship facing a hurricane. He’s protected a witness against his own brother who happens to run a mob family. He challenges a small country dictator, and he rescues scientist trapped in an underground secret lab after an explosion knocks out their escape and threatens to send hundreds of gallons of acid into the local water supply. Times like these he’s usually working against a clock. And while we do not yet meet his friend and troublemaker Frank Dalton, played by Bruce McGill, we do meet his grandfather for the first time, played by John Anderson (no real relationship). Unfortunately, he accidentally brings a group of killers to the old man’s remote cabin in Colorado. It’s a relationship that will be touched on from time to time in the show’s seven years. We get to see where MacGyver got his knack for cleverness.
When the series finally ended after seven years in 1992, fans were not so happy. As with many shows, there were efforts to bring the show back. The problem here is that the show wasn’t really cancelled, per se. It had run its course. Even fans like myself have to admit that things had pretty much gone as far as they could. At least that’s what we thought. Anderson returned for two made-for-television films that came out in 1994. Now there’s a rebooted series, and the character is back on our minds once again, albeit without its original star. But, make no mistake about it. This was the real stuff, and it’s so nice to see CBS making an effort to bring it out on Blu-ray now. Sales will determine how far these releases go. Pick them up now, or you may not get a chance to fill out your dusty old DVD collection with long-overdue Blu-ray discs. Is it now or never? “You could say that, yeah.”
Charmed: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
“We are the protectors of the innocent. We are The Charmed Ones.”
It’s no coincidence that both the original shows of Charmed and MacGyver are starting to be released on the Blu-ray format. Both shows have been rebooted for television, and that means they’re counting on fans of the original to become the foundation for a new base of fans. The best way to do that is to remind you why it is that you loved the shows in the first place. The best way to remind you is to dangle a little bait. That bait is the release of both shows on Blu-ray starting with their first seasons. Will it last? I don’t know. It will depend on a combination of sales of the releases and how long the new shows manage to stick around themselves. Neither of these reboots are setting the ratings on fire, but there appear to be enough viewers to keep them on the air for second seasons. Sure, it’s a bit of a marketing stunt, but that doesn’t make it a bad deal at all. Fans of the original Charmed have been asking me about Blu-ray releases for years. So it’s a win-win here.
Charmed graced our television screens for eight seasons and 179 episodes. It was a nice combination of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Sisters or Touched By An Angel. The pilot finds three sisters who have just lost their grandmother who took care of them for most of their lives. While cleaning out the attic, they discover an ancient book that is filled with odd pages of spells. It’s called The Book of Shadows, and now everything in their lives is about to change.
It appears the sisters are descended from a long line of witches. The family contained three powers that were prophesized to eventually come to power in three sisters who would join together to become The Charmed Ones and charged with the duty to protect the innocent and not use the powers for self-gain. Now they must deal with this discovery together but learn on the fly. It seems that there is an entire world of demons and other evil creatures out there that want the book, and even worse, want to take their powers. And while the new witches might love to give away the powers, it comes at their deaths.
Pru Halliwell is played by Shannen Doherty. She’s considered herself the responsible sister and is the oldest. She is telekinetic. The power is often triggered by anger and hand movements which she has to learn to control. In the first season she gets a job at an auction house where she evaluates items to auction. She has a background as an appraiser from a museum but quit when her boss was working her to death and stealing the credit. Unfortunately, the auction house was run by a couple of demons who were setting her up to take the powers and the book away from the sisters. She also starts dating a detective named Andy, played by Ted King. She’s trying to keep her secret, but he notices that she appears to show up on some of the oddest cases. Their storyline will be a somewhat tragic one.
Piper Halliwell is played by Holly Marie Combs and is the mellow, soft-spoken sister. She’s a trained chef and manages the bar and restaurant Quake, where the sisters often gather for business or fun. Her power is that she can freeze time in the room where she is. The sisters remain free while everyone else is frozen. Eventually she learns to control unfreezing the room, but often it happens when she least expects it. She’s the heart of the group and tries to keep the peace. She’s also a little too trusting, and that’s going to get her in trouble.
Phoebe Halliwell is played by Alyssa Milano and is the youngest of the sisters. She has recently rejoined the sisters in San Francisco from New York. Her power is that she can see visions of the future and eventually into the past. She’s the irresponsible sister who can’t stop acting on her impulses and blindly sails into trouble. She’s a bit guy-crazy and is a sucker for a cute guy in tight pants. It’s another thing that gets her in trouble. She’s the least prepared for her role, and while her heart’s in the right place, she doesn’t always do the right thing.
This is one of those cases of speak now or forever hold your peace. Fans might be tempted to hold out for a complete series deal or for prices to drop. That’s not going to work here. It’s a risk to bring this out on Blu-ray for CBS. They are going to gauge any future releases by the sales of this one. Future seasons are not guaranteed. I suggest you bite the bullet and lay out the cash now if you want the complete series in high definition. Who knows what the sales figures turn out to be. CBS will be paying attention. “This should be very interesting.”
NCIS: Season 15
This season is yet another changing of the guard for the show. It is the last season for Duane Henry as Clayton Reeves, the MI6 agent who has been working with the team. I have to admit that he never quite grew on me, and I’m not all that sad to see him go. He was too much James Bond and not enough…well…comfort. The same can’t be said for the departure of Pauley Perrette as Abby. She’s been a very important character for the show and a lot of the team’s emotional center. Paired with the fact that the actress left under terms that weren’t so friendly, this is a big blow to the series. She has publically claimed that she felt unsafe on the set and made some accusations that were a bit shrouded in a phrase “multiple physical assaults” that leave a huge question mark. The speculation turned to Mark Harmon’s dog being a potential menace on the set. Whatever the reason, it left a cloud and there had been a couple of years of feuding between her and Harmon. The lasting effect is that the characters don’t share a stage when they say goodbye. We meet her replacement for a couple of episodes this year, and the upcoming season just won’t be the same.
There is also a semi-departure that starts with Season 15. David McCallum is getting up there in years and actually commutes to the L.A. shot series from his home in New York. The grind was getting to the actor, and they worked out a deal for him to be in half the episodes each year, starting with this season. His willingness to go to such lengths to stay and Perrette’s issues appear to describe two different shows. Perrette has promised more will come out and sited a “big powerful machine” trying to silence her. Even with this stain, the show will continue.
With people leaving, there need to be new faces coming in. The big one this year is Maria Bello as Special Agent “Jack” Sloan. She’s not officially part of Gibbs’ team and answers to Vance (Carroll). She’s introduced in the second episode after the resolution of last year’s cliffhanger that found Gibbs (Harmon) and McGee (Murray) left behind in the Middle East. She’s a kind of foil for Gibbs this season. Her job is pretty much to help with profiles, and she has quite a lot of baggage that gets explored at a comfortable and slow pace that leads to the season finale when Sloan’s secret kind of explodes into another cliffhanger.
The show reached its 350th episode this season. You get all 24 episodes of season 15 on six discs. Extras include the requisite half-hour season wrap-up, a feature on the two-parter, a conversation with Harmon and Spano, and a profile on the Reeves character. There’s also a celebration feature of 15 years that focuses on the best moments in f/x and stunts over the years. Next year there will only be three characters that were with the show in its first season: Gibbs, McGee, and Ducky. It all started as a back-door pilot in the final season of JAG. “From there it spread like wildfire.”
Elementary Season 6
“This could get worse before it gets better.”
That’s the perfect storyline for the sixth and almost final season of CBS’s modern Sherlock Holmes take, Elementary. After the fifth season ended, CBS was one of the first networks to renew a great number of their dramas. They kept more returning shows than any other network last year. And for good reason. The NCIS franchise ranks among the most watched shows in the world. That’s not quite the case for Elementary. The fifth season showed declining viewership even though the series contains a very loyal core audience. It was most certainly on the bubble. Finally, the show was brought back for a limited 13-episode run but not at its traditional spot in the fall with all of the other returning major shows. It was held back until April and planned for a quick slot going into the summer. But the show proved to have a little more life than initially thought, and an additional eight episodes were added to bring the total to a pretty routine network show run of 21 episodes. Elementary fans got a lot to get excited about. Not only did they score eight episodes, but the show also earned its way to a seventh season, which will not begin until some time in 2019. For now you get the complete sixth and NOT final season. That’s 21 episodes on six discs.
Chemistry is exactly what saves the season in the form of a character known only as Michael, played by Desmond Harrington. Appropriately enough Miller and Harrington worked together on Dexter. Michael ends up becoming a huge part of Sherlock’s support for his addiction and disease issues. This relationship evolves into something delightfully dark as the season moves on. Michael’s a serial killer and believes he can actually help Holmes by providing him with a worthy nemesis. The crazy part about that is how true it actually happens to be. This evolution is constant, and the two actors do an absolutely incredible job of playing it out. It’s the thread that likely saved the season and perhaps the entire series. The ironic part about all of this is that the invention of Michael came because the season was going to be shorter and had the potential to be the end. The result was it added a much-needed new dynamic that made this season as compelling as anything that came before it in six years. The relationship reminded me somewhat of Clark and Lex in Smallville.
The season has that overwhelming feeling of finality throughout. It’s obvious that the cast and crew knew the odds were rather high that this was going to be the end. Even in the releases bonus features you have a 15-minute segment where writers tell us about their favorite case from the show’s entire run. Throughout these features cast and crew talk about being thankful for the experience and the relationships they forged during the show’s six years. They appeared ready for the ride to be over. Fans know by now that the ride has at least a few more miles to go. I don’t know how many episodes will make up the seventh season, and I suspect the odds continue to grow that it will likely be the last. But these fans have heard that a few times before, so they aren’t about to give up. Will it stay or will it go? “Far be it from me to think that I know everything.”
Blue Bloods Season 8
For eight years Blue Bloods has been a staple on CBS, giving Tom Selleck a chance to completely redefine his television career. The once cocky and carefree Magnum P.I. now has established himself as the wise patriarch. It’s a transition that a 1970’s audience would never have bought. But now he’s become a new kind of airwaves icon. The show has also managed to make it through eight years with very little change in the cast, and most of that coming from additions. This season is the first for the show to lose one of the major players and a rather beloved character on the show. Instead of making the season weaker, I think this might well be one of the strongest yet for the series.
Amy Carlson leaves the show, so the season begins with the Reagan family mourning the loss of her character, Linda. It turns into quite an emotional season for the cast. Of course, Danny (Wahlberg) is hit the hardest. Throughout the season he has to deal with a ton and anger over Linda’s death. He also starts to question his life as a police detective. He starts to second guess his decisions and be a bit gun-shy about dangerous positions. He’s dealing with having to be the single parent for his kids, both financially and for safety. He’s going to need the help of his family, and that’s what makes Blue Bloods the kind of show that it is. It’s a cop show, but it is more a series about this family. There’s always a lot of emotional stuff here, but this season goes above and beyond the call of duty.
In many ways Danny’s life has now become even more of a mirror to that of his father. Frank (Selleck) followed in his father’s footsteps to eventually be the Chief of Police. He also had to deal with the loss of his wife and raising kids as a single cop. Obviously, that kind of a story wasn’t planned, but since Carlson’s decision to leave it becomes a focal point for the show. Should the series stick around long enough, it’s not hard to see Danny taking over the department.
A lot of the best stuff from the season comes from the performances of the strong cast. But both Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg hit it out of the park every year. Wahlberg in particular gets to be the focus of the season and carries the huge emotional season arc with compelling strength. This is the best I’ve seen the actor to date.
This release gives you all 22 episodes on six discs. Extras include a gag reel, deleted scenes, and an f/x feature. You get pilot episodes of Bull and Navy Seals. It’s a solid season that absolutely leaves you wanting more. I expect that will be true for many years, and I’ll be watching these episodes for a long time to report back to you guys. You know what? “There’s no place I’d rather be.”
Scorpion The Complete Series
“My name is Walter O’Brien. I have the fourth highest IQ ever recorded: 197. Einstein’s was 160. When I was 11 the FBI arrested me for hacking into NASA to get their blueprints for my bedroom wall. Now I run a team of geniuses, tackling worldwide threats only we can solve…”
By now you are used to the geeky technical expert that is a requisite part of many television crime-solving teams. It’s become such a stereotype that it’s more formula than character by this point. So what if you had an entire team of these super-intellects, and there was only one normal person in the line-up. What would that look like? You don’t have to ask yourself that question any more. If you’re curious about the outcome, you might find this new procedural drama from CBS of interest.
“Toby (Thomas) is our behaviorist. Sylvester’s (Stidham) a human calculator. Happy (Wong), a mechanical prodigy. Agent Cabe Gallo’s (Patrick) our government handler. And Paige (McPhee)? Well, Paige isn’t like us. She’s normal, and she translates the world for us, while we help her understand her genius son. Together we are Scorpion.”
The quote from the show pretty much sums up the team here. This is all supposed to be based on a true story. Walter O’Brien (Gabel) is real enough. So is the Scorpion team he’s apparently assembled for the feds. In fact, Walter is one of the executive producers and writers on the show. I suppose that accounts for how arrogant and unlikable the character of Walter turns out on the screen. It’s a bad idea to write hero drama for oneself. Just look at anything written by William Shatner. It’s a huge weak link in the series and acts as too big of a distraction to truly appreciate the things that are being done here.
Most of the other performers are also relatively solid but are not given as much good stuff to do. I like the show most when it tries to dig deeper into a character, but the writers just don’t let us do that often enough to satisfy. Instead these characters get too rigidly defined and end up more than a little robotic in their performances. I suspect some of that is intentional, but smart doesn’t have to mean cold and calculated.
Toby is the psychiatrist or behavior scientist. He also has an addictive nature, particularly when it comes to gambling. Walter managed to save him from some loan sharks who wanted to kill him. Sylvester is the numbers guy who is also pretty much afraid of everything. He has to find some courage when his job requires him to be out in the field. He also has a crush on Walter’s sister, who is dying of MS. Happy is the short girl in the group, but she’s actually the one most likely to kick your butt. She’s cynical and not very good at positive emotions. Toby is trying to date her, but I’m not sure how that’s going to ever work out.
Of course, there’s Robert Patrick, and he manages to survive on his strong screen presence. He’s got that commanding kind of persona that works extra-well here. I haven’t been disappointed in the actor yet. I only wish he had better material to work with here. Cabe has history with Walter when he was 11. He got him to help with government projects. They had a falling out when Walter thought he was doing calculations to deliver supplies to refugees, but he was in reality working out a bombing pattern that killed 2000 civilians.
The pressure is always on to make bigger and more complicated solutions, and that’s going to backfire soon enough. At times this show is like the anti-McGyver who shows off true genius by being able to make simple solutions work for complicated problems. The opposite is going on here, and it can only work for so long. That’s the problem with Rube Goldberg devices. They are too top-heavy and will eventual collapse from their own weight. Smart people should take note. You have “a lot more to offer than just fixing routers”.