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 2019. Here’s a look at my recommendations. Part Two will deal with the current hits you can get on DVD this year:
NCIS: Season 16
“Don’t stop me now. I’m in the zone.”
Every year at this time, I end up having to binge-watch a ton of television. A lot of previous seasons get released on disc in anticipation of the new seasons about to get underway. It’s a daunting task that often makes me feel a little silly when I complain to friends that I have to watch so much television. You kind of have to get yourself on a roll and immerse yourselves in these fictional television worlds. More and more I find so much of my time is taken by the NCIS franchise, which has just completed 30 seasons of episodes and is about to rack up three more very soon. Add that to the fact that this has been going on for the better part of the last decade, and NCIS has accounted for a fair amount of my waking hours. And while it does appear that the L.A. version of the show might be pulling up to its final destination, the New Orleans show is just getting its legs and looks to be here for the better part of the next decade. But it’s the mother ship, originally spun off from JAG, that has just completed its 16th season with no signs of slowing down. Sometimes it feels just like a runaway train. The cast has changed over almost completely since that first season, with only a handful of actors and characters still on board. But wherever this train stops, and whoever happens to be on board at various stretches of the journey, I don’t see us getting to a station anytime soon. And if Season 16 is any indication of what’s yet to come, I’ve got my ticket in my hand, ready for the ride to continue.
“Look alive, Team Gibbs.”
The team has changed faces over the years. Few of the original members remain, but as long as Mark Harmon remains in the staring role of Gibbs, there’s life in this show yet. This season sees no real change in the characters of the show, but it does allow for even more growth for those still on the train. Of course, the biggest news is the loss of Pauley Perrette as the tech lady extraordinaire, Abby. Perrette left the show claiming a concern for the cast and crew’s safety from Mark Harmon as what drove her from the show. The story involved some unattended dogs and a building personal hostility between Harmon and Perrette. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else raising the same concerns, so I think Gibbs is safe for now. Perrette is replaced by Diona Reasonover as Kasie Hines, the new tech for the group. I know I said there weren’t any cast changes this season, and this would appear a huge one and a contradiction. That’s because the switch really happened toward the last half of the previous season so that the switch could appear a bit more like the passing of a baton, so we already knew the character and were already aware it was permanent since last season. Kasie isn’t as eccentric as Abby, but she’s also not quite full of confidence yet. Her interactions are still awkward, and I think that’s intentional, and far more realistic, to be honest. I don’t think we’ve seen this character in her final form yet. While Reasonover does have some acting credits, she actually came over from the writing staff. It’s a rather unusual move, but I’m rooting for the character to do well, because there’s a lot of heart there, and it’s been too long since a new character was fresh enough to be our stand-in with the team. I got that feeling this year from Reasonover, and I kind of liked it.
Gibbs gets my favorite episodes of the season. In one episode he’s pulled into a star chamber situation with one of the local judges, played by M*A*S*H alumnus Mike Farrell. It’s a two-part episode that forces Gibbs to confront his own dark secret. He killed the man who murdered his family, and now that secret is out to the team. It will certainly change the dynamic somewhat, and the season finds Gibbs questioning everything to the point where he actually burns one of his rules. The second great Gibbs episode has him taking time off to contemplate the situation by being alone at his secluded cabin in the woods. Except he ends up having uninvited guests in Agent Fornell, played by Hill Street Blues great Joe Spano. Fornell thinks he’s Gibbs’ best friend until he discovers Gibbs has another well-meaning cabin-crasher in Navy Captain Philip Brooks, played by Don Lake. It’s an abrupt discovery for Fornell, but double trouble for Gibbs, who wants to ditch them both. It doesn’t help that they start competing to see who is the better friend, and when a heist suspect ends up in the same woods, it’s a bit of a misadventure for all involved. Spano also gets to appear later in a very emotional episode that finds his daughter involved with a drug dealer and victim of an OD. Gibbs starts to see the ghost of the wife he and Fornell shared and the mother of the troubled girl. It’s certainly true that Gibbs is taken through the wringer this season.
This year sees a huge conspiracy lining up against the team. Vance continues to have a bad year when he meets a woman who turns out to be a spy. Who is spying and why I wouldn’t dream of revealing here, but it leads to a much broader case that will involve Team Gibbs. It also brings in X-Files Assistant Director Skinner in the guise of Mitch Pileggi as the Secretary of Defense, and we’re not sure if he’s a good guy or a bad guy.
It’s been one of the show’s better years, and CBS has released the entire 24 episode season on six discs. You get the usual CBS summary, a profile on the Kasie character, and a Q&A with the cast gathered in Gibbs’ basement sans the boat. Here comes Season 17. “I’m wound up.”
Hawaii Five-O: Season 9
“Look. There ain’t gonna be any cryin’.”
Just a couple of years ago the reincarnation of Hawaii Five-O looked to be in a bit of a controversy with some of the cast members who have been with the show from its start. Daniel Dae Kim played Chin Ho Kelly, a character from the original series. Grace Park played Kono Kalakua. They were important characters on the show, but the actors didn’t think they were getting paid enough. They believed they should have gotten the same pay as the two actors at the top of the call sheet. CBS declined their requests, and suddenly it became about race, because both actors are Asian. The only trouble with that theory is there are many Asian actors on the series, and this was the wrong show to play the race card against. Both are gone now. New cast members have moved in, and now the show appears to be at its best. The current cast is a strong blend of actors and characters. By the time I was halfway through this ninth season, I was asking myself, “Chin and Kono who?”
For those who have been living under a rock since the 1960’s, I’ll give you a quick rundown on what this series is about. The governor of Hawaii created a special task force that operates around the regular police department. They handle the tough cases and are given “means and immunity” from bending the law a bit in order to take on the tougher cases. The team is headed up by a former Navy Seal whose father also served in law enforcement. He’s Steve McGarrett, originally played by Jack Lord, and here played by Alex O’Loughlin. His partner is an ex-New Jersey detective named Danny Williams, another original character played once by James MacArthur and now played by Scott Caan. If you recognize the last name, that’s because he’s the son of Sonny Corleone, James Caan. If the name doesn’t give you any hints, his speech patterns are a dead giveaway. The character is also the source of the show’s famous line: “Book ’em, Danno”. The two pretty much act like a bitter married couple, and their interactions are one of the strengths of the series. They love each other but constantly argue. The chemistry between these two is priceless and alone worth the price of any season collection. This season, however, Caan has taken a step back on the show to spend more time with his real family. He doesn’t get near as much screen time this season, and I hope it isn’t the beginning of the end of his participation on the show.
Steve and Danny don’t do all of this alone. Over the years new cast members have been added along the way. Chi McBride is Lou Grover. He used to be a police captain in Chicago before his family got threatened because Grover exposed some bad cops. McBride is a big guy and can be quite intimidating, but he’s a huge teddy bear inside. Fans of the old Boston Public will fondly remember him as the school’s principal. Chi actually writes and produces an episode. It deals with his family coming for Thanksgiving. Mom is played by the Soul Queen Gladys Knight, dad is played by the great Louis Gossett, Jr., and his brother by Clifton Powell, who will continue on as a recurring character from this point. It’s a really nice hour, and I can’t wait to see him get this involved again. Jerry Ortega is played by Lost’s Jorge Garcia. He started the show for a few years as a recurring character who got the team mixed up in his conspiracy plots. He’s the island’s version of the Lone Gunmen of X-Files fame. He’s now the team tech and expert on lore and history. Ian Anthony Dale plays ex-mob family heir Adam Noshimuri. Adam married Kono, but of course with her being gone, they’ve split the characters up this season, and Adam is invited to join the team. He has contacts in the mob world on the island because his father was one of the bosses. He’s been trying to get out from under his family tradition, and now he’s on the team.
The two newest members of the team joined last season with the departure of the two regulars. Beulah Koale is Junior Reigns. He was a Navy Seal who had lost direction in his life until Steve reached out to give him purpose on the team. He’s the young, optimistic guy and somewhat of a puppy dog. For a Seal he can be quite naive. This season he has to help his father deal with the memories of his sister Maya, who was killed years ago by a drunk driver who is now looking for parole. Meaghan Rath is the sister of Supergirl’s brainiac Jesse Rath, and plays Tani Rey. She’s also a tough cookie looking for direction and had Steve reach out to her. These two new characters are partnered, and they have found some terrifically easy chemistry. They’ve become another duo that keeps the show interesting and fresh.
The team has some folks outside of the group who usually play a part in the stories. Taylor Wiley was a UFC wrestler now turned actor. He plays Kamekona, an island business wiz who runs a shrimp company and this season takes over the restaurant that Steve and Danny started last season. He’s the team’s number one informant. He used to be a thug and has a lot of connections in the underworld. Kimee Balmilero is the medical examiner, Dr. Noelani. She gets to have some action this season when a mobster kidnaps her to save the life of his father. Finally, you have Dennis Chun as police Sgt. Duke Lukela. He’s the team’s main contact within the local police department.
This season marked the 50th anniversary of the airing of the original series. To help celebrate that milestone, you’ll find two episodes of this season are remakes of original show episodes. It’s not the first time the show has done this. The season opens with a remake of the original show’s pilot that involves brainwashing and a nod to the James Bond vibe that was particularly alive in the late 1960’s. The second involves an episode that doesn’t follow the original exactly. The first show had an episode that won an Emmy. It followed the “life” of a gun as it passed through various hands over a 24-hour period. This time we follow a gun through several years of being passed around. The kicker is that it ends up having touched many of the team’s lives over those years without them ever knowing the connection until now.
Of course, you don’t really have to use your imagination, because it’s all available on DVD from CBS Home Entertainment. You get all 25 episodes on six discs with a few extras that include deleted scenes, the traditional CBS season summary, a celebration of the 200th episode, and an hour-long sit-down with Chi McBride sipping wine and talking about his episode. It’s also a year of looking back for the show and honoring what came before it. “Nothing wrong with a little fun for old time’s sake.”
NCIS: Los Angeles: Season 10
“Sam Hannah without a bomb is like Aquaman without… I got nothing.”
This is absolutely an explosive year for NCIS: LA which just finished its 10th year, and now those episodes are together in one place thanks to CBS Home Entertainment. The series has become one of the most successful spin-off shows in the history of television. Only CSI and the Law & Order franchises have brought more episodes to our television screens, and next season the NCIS franchise will have passed CSI. The truth is, if you go all the way back to the original JAG series, this is hands down the most prolific one-hour series in television history. What is even more amazing is that the NCIS shows continue to be the most-watched franchise in the entire world, a position they have held for over a decade. No one has come close to this kind of television domination. If this collection of episodes is any indication, the ride isn’t anywhere near reaching the end. All three shows have been renewed, with NCIS getting a new two-year commitment at CBS. If you haven’t already caught up on all of those earlier episodes, you don’t necessarily need to do that, but why wouldn’t you?
Season 10 picks up exactly where we left the show in the previous season’s cliffhanger. The team has gone to Mexico where they are attempting to assist Assistant Director Mosley (Long) to rescue her son who was kidnapped by his criminal gun-running father. The last season ended with their SUV taking a direct hit from a rocket and leaving the people at home to assume they’re dead. This is about as close as this team’s gotten to getting killed, and the episode teases that possibility, to be sure. But it’s not much of a spoiler by this time to reveal that our team arrives home alive if somewhat battered. Welcome to Season 10.
In the last few years the show has had to find ways to lower Linda Hunt’s workload. I suspect she never thought the show would last so long. So there’s been an almost annual “where is Hetty” story that goes on. Hetty makes an appearance at some point in the season, and she goes back to running the team, but this season is a little different. Hunt was involved in a car accident that left her injured and unable to put in much of an appearance at all this season. She ends up providing quite a dramatic entrance, but she doesn’t really return to active duty throughout the season. That meant someone has to be in charge. The show gave us a parade of various people giving the orders, and I get the sense these were tryouts for Hunt’s eventual permanent replacement. The first of these was Gerald McRaney as retired Navy Admiral Hollace Kilbride. He comes across as a drill sergeant at first, but we learn he’s an ally of Hetty’s and was sent to disband the team. Yeah, that’s another well this franchise goes to too often. He’s replaced by NYPD Blue’s Esai Morales, who plays Deputy Director Louis Ochoa. He’s more a mystery, and his actions lead to mistrust within the team. Finally the team is placed under the supervision of the very man who came to nail them for their trip to Mexico. That would be Special Prosecutor John Rogers, played by Peter Jacobson. There’s little question that the show fell into a good beat with this choice, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him settle into the role in the upcoming season.
There are a few blasts from the past this season. The story of G’s father is finally brought to an end, and it’s a bit sad to see Hill Street‘s Daniel J. Travanti leave the show. It’s always a joy when we get Vyto Ruginis as Arkady. He’s a wonderfully nuanced character who often brings the comic relief. But it’s his sense of timing and willingness to just lose himself in the part that really makes him so endearing. This year we get to see a little of his bad side when his daughter Anna (Parly) ends up in prison because G wouldn’t lie for her. The story ends up a wonderful romp through a world of hit men and international intrigue and became my favorite episode of the season.
You get 24 episodes on six discs with a few of the usual extras. There’s the half hour traditional CBS wrap-up, a feature on the revolving door of leaders, and one on heroics. The season ends with a cliffhanger, and it will definitely return soon. How much longer after that is very much up in the air. I get a sense the actors might be getting tired of the grind. Life intrudes. “This is where things get real.”
Elementary: The Complete Series
In 1887, readers of the popular periodical Beeton’s Christmas Annual were to receive quite a special treat. There wasn’t much fanfare or hype to the event. Inside the pages of the magazine was a story called A Study In Scarlet. It was a detective story, perhaps like many published before, except for the detective himself, a certain Mr. Sherlock Holmes. Together with his faithful companion and chronicler Dr. Watson, Holmes would win the hearts of those holiday readers. It might have been an ordinary day, but the world was about to change. Sherlock Holmes would become the most famous detective in the world. His stories would remain in print nearly 130 years later. Over 100 films would be made featuring the character. There would be television shows and cartoon spoofs. No other character has appeared in more productions. When his creator dared to kill the beloved detective in order to move on to newer stories, his very life was threatened. It would seem that Doyle was on the verge of becoming a victim much like those in his stories. There was only one man who could save him from such a grim fate, and he did just that. It was Sherlock Holmes himself.
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.
Now, after six full seasons and a shortened seventh and final season, it all comes to an end. We were lucky to make it this far. The show has been on the bubble since its first year, and it’s nothing short of remarkable that we got 153 episodes. Now CBS has gathered all of those episodes and the extras from each of the seasons into one collection. You 39 discs with all of the episodes and tons of extras. Will we ever see these characters again? “There is a vast gulf between ‘impossible’ and ‘impossible to imagine’.”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2
“Make a little noise. Ruffle a few feathers.”
The season starts with the anticipated reveal of Discovery’s encounter with the USS Enterprise. Kirk isn’t there yet. It’s still Captain Christopher Pike’s ship, and he’s played by Anson Mount. His ship has undergone severe damage and will need considerable time in dry-dock before he can assume command there. He ends up taking over the captain-less Discovery when a new emergency confronts Star Fleet Command. There have been seven mysterious signals discovered spread out across the galaxy. They need to be explored. The Klingon War is now over with the houses united under L’Rell (Chieffo). The Klingon-made-human Ash Tyler/Voog (Latif) has brought her a son, but their existence is a threat to the empire she is building. During the turmoil the Enterprise was deliberately kept far away from the conflict so that her “big guns” and “big brains” could help pick up the pieces if the war went horribly wrong. Now Captain Pike will command Discovery. Because of her Spoor drive, she’s the only ship with a chance of reaching the source of these red signals. With each arrival we find they have coincidentally been brought to a milestone moment with the lives of entire civilizations on the line. At the crucial moments people see a bright red “angel” that appears to be guiding these moments in time.
That’s when we meet Spock (Peck). Burnham (Martin-Green) is the adopted child of Spock’s family, and they have been estranged for many years. Of course, we’ll eventually find out what caused the rift, and their relationship will be key to the signals and angels. It seems they appeared to Spock when he was very young, and many drawings of that encounter survive from his childhood. Spock has been changed and hurt by it all, and now he teams up with Discovery to solve the mystery. You won’t see answers until great battles are fought and we get more background on our players.
Flashbacks give us more of the story between Burnham and Spock, but it’s all so contrived that I believe it takes away from the drama. We go behind the scenes with Starfleet’s Section 31, where Ash has now found a home, and you never quite know if these are good guys or bad guys. They have been corrupted by an AI who wants to take over all life in the galaxy. Time travel has players from both sides of that future conflict fight it out in the here and now. Turns out a Terminator machine was sent back in time to kill Sarah Conner so the savior of mankind will never be born. OK, I made that last part up, but damned if the stories don’t collide quite a bit this season.
Some of the best stuff involved Doug Jones’ character Saru, who gets a good bit of background this season. We visit his home world following one of the signals. There are two sentient species on his world. Saru’s people are the subspecies who live in fear because the dominant warp-capable species hunt and cultivate them. When Discovery encounters a dying entity with millions of years of exploration data, we learn that the circle of life on Saru’s world isn’t what they were all led to believe. We meet his sister and learn a ton about the culture. It’s a highlight of the season.
Spock and Burnham are connected to these events, and it isn’t until the very end that we find out why and it leads to a sacrifice by the Discovery crew that gives the series the reset it so desperately needs. The result is tighter writing and a much better story arc. The show is improving, and I am hopeful that upward trend will continue.
Anson Mount already had a Trek connection. He played the lead on Hell on Wheels, where his adversary was played by Colm Meany, who played Chief Miles O’Brian in Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. He is absolutely perfect for Pike. I hardly recognized the look, but he might well be one of the best captains to ever appear on the show. It’s disappointing that he will go his own way and we are not going to follow his adventures. I would be so much more compelled by that story than the one we’re on. I hope we see Pike again.
There are some extras to go along here. I was very disappointed that CBS opted to send us the DVD instead of the Blu-ray. I can’t really recommend it. This show requires the better resolution to truly appreciate. It’s the first time we were sent a Trek DVD when a Blu-ray was available. Hopefully it’s not going to be a trend. I can’t give you the kind of in-depth look you expect from our Trek coverage, “And if you ask me any more questions, I’m going to start crying like a baby tribble in the kill zone.”