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. We’ve got you covered some complete series sets from CBS/Paramount/Showtime.
Dexter The Complete Series:
“Tonight’s the night, and it’s going to happen again and again. It has to happen …”
What is going to happen is that Dexter: The Complete Series has come to Blu-ray. I can’t think of a better cable show to make the leap onto high definition. More than any show, I think I’ve been looking forward to this release. Imagine what it would be like to visualize Dexter’s world in such wonderful detail. Imagine no longer. Dexter’s here, and he’s got something to show you. Now that the series has finally gotten a proper resolution with Dexter: New Blood, it’s time to have a complete collection on your shelf.
Man, has television come a long way in just over 50 years. There was once a pretty strict code that applied to television programs. Men and women, even when married, couldn’t be seen to have shared the same bed. Anything stronger than a “golly gee” was strictly forbidden. You couldn’t even show a woman’s belly button. And the good guys always had to win, while the bad guys got their comeuppance in the end. Alfred Hitchcock was one of the first to push those boundaries by telling mystery stories where the bad guys often appeared to get away with their evil deeds. Even Hitchcock wasn’t brazen enough to completely skirt these rules, and at the end of such immoral plays he would always add, in his spoken postscript, some terrible twist of fate that got the bad guys in the end. Those days seem long behind us now. We have mob bosses, crooked cops, and now a serial killer, not only getting away with their crimes but acting the hero, of sorts, for the show. Vic Mackey and Tony Soprano only helped pave the way. In Showtime’s groundbreaking series Dexter, Dexter Morgan is a serial killer who happens to kill other killers. The series is based on two novels by Jeff Lindsay. Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Dearly Devoted Dexter gave birth to the character and world of Dexter Morgan.
Dexter Morgan (Hall) is a forensic lab rat for the Miami-Dade police. He really knows blood splatter. He should, because he moonlights as a killer. It seems that poor old Dex just can’t help himself. His parents were criminals, and he witnessed his mother’s brutal slashing by a chainsaw gang when he was just a young boy. He was adopted by Harry Morgan (Remar), a police officer. Harry saw the killer instinct in Dexter and taught him how to channel the urges for the sake of good. Dexter adopted Harry’s Code, which means he only kills others that he’s able to prove were killers themselves. Working for the police with his officer sister, Debra (Carpenter), Dexter is constantly just on the verge of getting caught. He has to adapt and evolve to avoid capture. Dexter’s also trying to have a relationship, mostly because he knows it helps him blend in. Buffy and Angel’s Darla, Julie Benz, plays Rita. Dexter doesn’t really feel anything, but he’s trying to act the way he sees others act in the same environment.
The first thing that makes Dexter work is its star Michael C. Hall. You might remember Hall from his days on Six Feet Under, where he played the conflicted and very gay funeral director. His deadpan style and somewhat offbeat timing make him perfect for these rather quirky characters. If you thought he was good as David Fisher, you’re simply going to love him as Dexter. It amazes me how different he looks and sounds. It was at first very difficult for me to actually identify him, he gets so completely immersed in character. You’ll find yourself rooting that Dexter doesn’t get caught, if for no other reason than you don’t want the show to end. The other actors and characters are also quite good. You’ll particularly like Erik King, who plays Doakes, the only detective in the squad who senses the evil in Dexter. He’s a great adversary for Dexter.
In the first season we’re just getting to know ol’ Dex. We learn about “the code”, and we watch him deal out his own special brand of justice. He’s confident and sure of his mission. But as that season unfolds, we see Dexter become conflicted and even worried about getting caught. He discovers a brother who he must contend with; at the same time it brings out feelings for Harry that make him question “the code”. Of course, Dexter deals with the situation without getting caught, or we couldn’t have a second season.
As we begin the second season, Dexter’s run-in with his brother, as well as its ultimate solution, has again taken his confidence. He’s unable to kill. He must find a way to set his life straight. Rita thinks he’s an addict and makes him go to NA meetings, where he meets Lila (Murray), who is as messed up as Dexter. While she might not be a killer, she’s obsessive and is drawn to Dexter’s dark nature. Her antics to keep Dexter are straight out of the Fatal Attraction handbook. Doakes is also getting closer to finding out what Dexter really is, and that’s going to end badly for at least one of them. Dexter’s oceanic burial ground is discovered, and now he’s on the task force to bring in the Bay Harbor Butcher. Is this finally the end of the line for Dexter? You really need to take the ride and see for yourself. I guarantee you that these dozen episodes will just fly by. Jaime Murray is the best of the newcomers, and she’s simply fascinating to watch, as she appears more self destructive than even Dexter himself. Their relationship ends in one of the most chilling scenes of the series so far. Keith Carrradine also joins the cast this season as FBI agent Lundy, who is brought in to head the Bay Harbor Butcher task force. He’s also smitten with little sis Debra, making for some very awkward moments for everybody’s favorite serial killer. The Code of Harry takes some hits this season as Dexter uncovers some secrets of both his and Harry’s past lives. The series continues to evolve and never ceases to amaze. This is the best cable series since The Sopranos.
I have to tell you, each season I wonder how they’re going to top the one before. Season three has got some serious handicaps going in. First of all, it’s hard to even think about Dexter without the great cat-and-mouse game with Erik King’s Doakes character. For two seasons the two made for some brilliant tension in the precinct. Another character that’s going to be hard to replace is Jaime Murray’s Lila character, the closest person on the show to match Dexter’s deliciously dark nature. I found the season two finale to be one of the most shocking endings to a season of television in a long time. So where do we go from here?
With every goodbye, we welcome in new characters and this season is no exception.
Jimmy Smits returns to television to play District Attorney Miguel Prado. His brother becomes an accidental victim of Dexter’s. When he catches Dexter in the act of killing his originally intended victim, and the person the cops believe killed his brother, Miguel and Dexter find that they might be very much alike. Yes, Dexter might just have a partner. Apart from the turn of character here, Smits adds a lot to the show and is every bit a good match with Hall. There’s some really fine chemistry at work here. Fans of the show pretty much know going in there are going to be complications. The result is inevitable. Also joining the cast is Desmond Harrington as Detective Quinn. He’s being investigated by internal affairs, or it might just be a lover’s quarrel gotten out of hand. Either way Debra’s going to get stuck right in the middle. Debra also gets a new boyfriend when David Ramsey joins the cast as Quinn’s and later Debra’s snitch, Anton.
The Code of Harry has now evolved into the Code of Dexter. There will be some expansion of the code and a new deeper understanding about Harry and who he was. There’s also the pending nuptials of Dexter and Rita to contend with. Angel gets a gold shield. And finally, Dexter’s going to be a daddy.
Dexter has new playmates this season. Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks join the series as a couple of fun-loving religious freaks. Turns out they have a plan to bring about the Apocalypse, and it’s a rather bloody plan, much to Dexter’s glee. Dexter also has a new friend in killer-turned-good-guy Brother Sam, played by rapper Mos Def. It’s Dexter’s first friend who doesn’t share in his hobby.
Things change at the station house for our crew. Sister Deb has been promoted to the station command and given the rank of lieutenant. It’s really payback from the Chief to LaGuerta. She gets the job Angel expected to get. It’s a bit unrealistic, of course, but I’ve seen much worse. There’s also a new hire at the station. Billy Brown joins the cast as Chicago transplant detective Mike Anderson. There’s a rather amusing B story that has Masuka hire a number of interns in an attempt to be impressive. A few of the interns backfire, so there’s a string of them. Aimee Garcia also joins the cast as Angel’s little sister and Dexter’s nanny for Harrison. It frees Dexter up for those extracurricular activities.
Finally, I liked that there are a few really nice nods to previous seasons. It plays out like a final season, but of course it isn’t. Dexter makes a side trip to Nebraska to tie up a loose end from the Trinity killer, and his brother shows up as a “ghost” to taunt him once again.
Usually Dexter gets a playmate who learns his secret and plays along for a while. Something always goes horribly wrong, and before you know it Dexter has to put an end to the relationship as only he can. This year Dexter did indeed get his new playmate in the form of Chuck’s own Yvonne Strahovski as Hannah. This time things happen a little differently. Dexter starts out wanting to kill her and ends up falling in love. Maybe Dex has finally found someone he can relate to. Strahovski gets to show another side that we never really saw on Chuck. She’ll be back in the final season, and I expect there’ll be some chemistry fireworks yet to come.
The guest star power doesn’t end with the Hannah character. Ray Stevenson from Rome and Thor joins the season’s cast as Isaak Sirko. Isaak is out for revenge on Dexter because of one of the pieces of trash Dex dumped into the Atlantic. Stevenson looks and acts quite different from any role you’ve seen him in before. He’s a European mob leader with a little style and sophistication who also has a rather important secret himself. This is Dexter’s best nemesis ever, and the moments between the actors/characters are all golden. I’d have watched the season just for those interactions.
Of course most of the season is focused on the change in Dexter and Deb’s relationship. At first Dexter tries to continue to cover up who he really is, but we all know that just isn’t going to work this time. It’s the best work from show star Jennifer Carpenter. I usually saw her as the potty-mouthed diversion to the real story. Now she gets into the meat of the thing, and by the end of the season she’ll find herself in a situation you likely won’t see coming. The season allows this interplay to develop and change throughout so that we never fall into a comfortable zone. Deb’s feelings are going to change several times before the season’s over, and it’s the first time that I ever really regarded the character as essential to the storytelling.
It’s been six months since last we visited with Dexter (Hall) and his pals. Deb (Carpenter) had just shot and killed Lt. LaGuerta (Velez), and the blame went to another killer. It was LaGuerta or Dexter, and she made her choice. Now she’s suffering some post-traumatic consequences for her actions. She’s left the force, and no one has heard from her in weeks. She’s hanging out with lowlifes doing drugs and playing undercover cop as a private investigator with Jacob Elway, played by Sean Patrick Flanery. Dexter is trying to track her down and possibly save her life from a hitman. Needless to say, it’s going to be a long road for the siblings.
Enter Dr. Evelyn Vogel, played by Charlotte Rampling. She’s been called in to help catch this season’s serial killer guest star, The Brain Surgeon. He cuts open his victim’s heads and uses a melon baller to scoop out a section. We soon discover that Vogel has more than a passing interest in the killer. He’s been leaving those missing brain pieces on her doorstep. She seeks Dexter’s help and has a few surprises for him. She knew Harry, and she knows what he is. Turns out she helped create Harry’s Code. Now he needs to find The Brain Surgeon before he takes out Vogel. Along the way she convinces Dexter to take on a “student”. Much of the season has Dexter going from being disappointed enough to kill the kid to proud enough of him to help him out.
The most promising part of the season comes when Hannah (Strahovski) arrives back in Miami and into Dexter’s life once again. Her entrance never quite lives up to the expectations. Hannah is a bit needy suddenly, and she has absolutely lost that killer edge that made her such a compelling character and perfect match for Dexter. Still, the writers try to put them together with ongoing hopes of a perfect family that anyone who’s seen an episode previously knows is never going to happen. I love Yvonne Strahovski, have since her days on Chuck, but she’s not quite the powerful character she once was. Can’t blame the actress. This is all in the writing. What’s ironic is they changed the dynamic of their relationship to build a forced chemistry when there already was such powerful chemistry before. It’s gone this season.
Unfortunately, this has been a season for disappointment for fans. It’s gotten a lot of negative buzz. Some of it isn’t earned. A lot of it is. The season dangles characters and storylines that never get paid off. Vince Masuka (Lee) gets the most encouraging character development arc he could have. A hot chick who’s looking for him turns out to be his daughter. The writers dangle potential payoff here and end up taking the arc nowhere but a few good scenes that don’t ultimately move the story along.
The idea of an apprentice for Dexter isn’t exactly new. He’s had hopeful partners in the past, but this had the potential to be a game-changer for Dexter and the series. It was the first time he really had a complete student to work with and not just a mess he happens to relate to. For a while they play this out perfectly with Dexter’s emotions running back and forth. But the arc is eventually used as nothing more than a throwaway. It’s a perfect example that this show wasn’t finished. This particular arc should have carried over at least until another season. The end appears forced on us, and I can’t quite figure out why. The ratings were good, and I hadn’t heard Hall complaining about moving on. Never before was an ending forced upon us so unnecessarily.
The Vogel character was another place where potential was never fully developed. What we get here is, in fact, the cream of the season, but it needed to play out longer. There were questions I wanted answered. They seemed to hint that Vogel might have had more to do with Harry’s suicide than we know, but it was never explored. The most unrealistic part is that Dexter never even thought about the connection. True or not, our Dexter absolutely would have explored that idea to some degree.
The best development comes to the character of Angel Batista, played brilliantly by David Zayas. He’s taken over the squad since Deb left, and he gets to play a wide variety of situations and emotions here. He’s dealing with his sister dating Joey Quinn (Harrington), which unfortunately leads to another thread left dangling. He has to pick a sergeant, and it’s between Quinn and another woman who is more qualified. Once the choice is made, however, the woman seems to disappear from the series. He’s dealing with being a leader and seeing Deb’s life going terribly wrong. There’s a lot of untapped potential here. There’s talk of a spinoff. I hope he’s a strong part of any that come.
We don’t know why he left Washington, but we do know he’s learned to keep his “dark passenger” quiet and hasn’t killed in a decade. That all changes when a spoiled rich kid named Matt Caldwell (Robertson) enters the gun shop and his life. He’s an entitled little bugger who expects that rules don’t apply to him. He quickly gets on Dexter’s wrong side, but that’s not necessarily dangerous, because Dexter isn’t like other serial killers. He has a code bestowed upon him by his police officer father, and it doesn’t allow for killing just because someone gets on your nerves. But Dexter discovers that Matt was the cause of some deaths due to a DUI accident that he got someone else to cover for. Now Matt’s put himself in Dexter’s sights, and when Matt carelessly kills a protected white deer, it’s just the opening he was waiting for. Before the first episode ends, Dexter has fallen off the wagon, and we just so happened to be there for the relapse.
The search for Matt turns up nothing. Dexter meets Kurt Caldwell, played wonderfully by Clancy Brown. He muddies the water a bit when he claims his son is fine and has been in communication with him. Dexter doesn’t understand why Kurt’s not telling the truth, but all of that comes in time. Until then Dexter has to deal with a part of his past catching up to him when he finds a stranger in his cabin who turns out to be his son Harrison, played by Jack Alcott. At first he denies his identity but eventually succumbs to his feelings and brings his son into his life. If you’ve gotten caught up, you know that father and son have a few things in common. Both watched their mothers brutally killed as near-infants, and both sat in that blood until they were discovered. It doesn’t take long before Dexter starts to suspect that Harrison has his “dark passenger”. Could this lead to a father and son serial killer team? I’m not going to give that away, but the conflict causes Dexter to struggle even as his own old habits start to return.
If you remember the series, you recall that each season put Dexter in contact with another important killer. Those relationships ran the spectrum from friendly to nasty, but they all ended badly. This bonus season of Dexter is no different there. Clancy Brown’s Kurt is a killer as well, and we learn this very early, so no spoiler here. He also might know Dexter killed his son. These bad guys seem to recognize each other. That puts them in conflict, with Harrison used as a pawn in the middle of the two killers.
The series also gives us a few other returns from the series. My least favorite is the return of Jennifer Carpenter as Dexter’s sister Deb. Of course, she was killed in the final season of the show, but she takes over James Remar’s spot in Dexter’s life. Remar played Dexter’s deceased father Harry, who appeared to him from time to time as a vision that he could interact with. Deb is that “ghost” this time. I truly miss Remar, but I never really liked Carpenter, and she continues to be one of the most annoying actors in television history. In the extras one of the producers remarked that everyone loved Deb. Sorry. Not quite everyone. It is what it is and perhaps most fans will like that particular return. David Zayas was one of the best actors in the original series, and he gets a limited return as Detective Batista. Also look for a cameo by John Lithgow in a flashback to his Trinity Killer activities.
You’re going to get the major stuff you’ve tuned in for. Hall is still brilliant in the role, and I rather enjoyed the added features of being a father and in a serious relationship that could fall apart at any moment. The snowy mountains of Iron Lake are a wonderful contrast to the sunny climes of Miami that dominated the original series. It adds a nice cold and dark element to the mix that keeps this from becoming just another season of the show. Jack Alcott does a great job as his son, and there’s both a bit of a physical resemblance as well as in his mannerisms. Without revealing the ending, I think there is potential for the Harrison character to take over the reins and carry the franchise forward. I think I even have someone in mind for his “ghost” guide. There are no plans to return to the franchise any time soon.
All of the extras from each of the nine releases are found here. I’m not fond of these overlapping huge boxes. Honestly, I never keep my discs in these things, because I haven’t opened one yet where some discs didn’t fall out, and they keep falling out. Easily scratched. There are 28 discs in all.
You have to kind of look at this as the series ending you didn’t get the first time around. There is potential to continue, and one never really knows. I won’t tell you how it ends, because there are some deep surprises to come. “Surprising but inevitable.”
Ray Donovan The Complete Series
“It’s a different world out there.”
Ray Donovan: The Complete Series is out from CBS Home Entertainment, and it includes all 82 episodes and the television movie that was released to make up for the sudden cancelation without a proper sendoff for the Donovan clan. You get 29 DVD’s, and the set includes all of the extras from the individual season releases. You do have to deal with those large overlapped spindles, so I suggest you create another environment to store them.
Ray Donovan (Schreiber) is a Boston native who moved his entire family including his two brothers out to L.A. There he built an empire by being very good at what he does. What he does is fix problems, particularly for big-name celebrities and the lawyers who coddle represent them. His father has spent 20 years in jail for a crime he might not have actually committed. But Ray hates his father enough to have set him up and sent him to jail. Ray has a wife, Abby (Malcomson) whom he keeps at an arm’s length of his dubious business dealings. He also has a son and daughter who are somewhat conflicted in their feelings for their father.
Ray has two brothers. They run a boxing gym called Fite Club. Terry (Marsan) is pretty much a burned-out boxer himself. He works training other fighters. Bunchy (Mihok) has more serious issues. He has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old and can’t really take care of himself. He’s as challenged emotionally as he is mentally. Much of this is the result of his abuse at the hands of a parish priest when he was young. Ray tries to look after him, but Bunchy wants to be able to take care of himself, even when he can’t. It doesn’t help that he has a pretty bad drinking problem.
Ray’s old friend is Ezra (Gould). Ezra has lost his wife Ruth and finds himself in a constant state of fear and mental instability. There is a guilt eating away at him that we will uncover as the episodes progress.
Now Mickey Donovan (Voight) is out five years before anyone expected. He takes care of a family debt, or so he believes, and heads to L.A. to get his family back. Mickey is going to shake everything up. Ray wants nothing to do with him and forbids his family to see him. Of course they go behind his back, and bad things tend to be the result. He scares the hell out of Ezra, making his mental state worse. He’s a bad influence on Bunchy. What’s worse is that Mickey is aware of the damage he’s doing, and he loves every minute of the ride. The character of a father unwanted by a child might hit a little close to home for Voight. His daughter Angelina Jolie has wanted little to nothing to do with him, mostly because of her own radical political leanings.
It’s Jon Voight’s performance as Mickey that is the catalyst for everything that happens here. The writers throw material at Voight, and he dances through each episode like a court jester putting on a one-man play. The character rushes headlong through the series leaving all manner of carnage in his wake. Voight portrays him as a clown crashing into this already complicated web of relationships. He’s a very bad man who loves to stir the pot and then watch it explode. The problem is that no one else in this show is very likable with the possible exception of Terry, who tries but fails to be a “good” guy and Bunch who just doesn’t know any better. Ray makes a big deal of doing things “for his family”, but he’s completely self-absorbed and obsessed with Mickey to the point of a narrow vision that puts him in these terrible schemes that always backfire.
The real disappointment here is the episode arcs themselves. In the first episode we get a glimpse of potential that is never realized again. We see Ray come up with clever solutions to some of these celebrity problems, and I was looking forward to a show based on that premise. It never appeared. By the second episode Ray is solving these problems through intimidation and brute force. No more cleverness. Certainly, he continues to be a strong character, and you can’t say anything bad about Schreiber’s performance. But the originality is sucked dry by the end of the first hour. Someone had a great idea. They put good actors in the roles and coasted from then on.
What we end up with is a lesser version of The Sopranos. Abby constantly reminds me of Carmella. She tries to ignore where all the money comes from but finds herself having inner turmoil about it all. She’s looking for some kind of spiritual answer. There’s a scene where she’s yelling at Ray from the driveway as he leaves without a word. Straight out of The Sopranos writers’ room. Ray is Tony. Ezra is Hesh. Mickey is Uncle Junior. Ray has a Russian bodyguard/advisor who could be Silvio. There’s a movie star who passes for Christopher, and the brothers combine for a reserved version of Paulie Walnuts.
While the story really spends its time watching the train wreck that is Mickey, there are a few subplots that bring in some impressive guest stars. Pooch Hall plays fighter Daryl, who is Mickey’s illegitimate black son. Frank Whaley plays an awkward rogue FBI agent who has his hooks into Mickey. James Woods has a few episodes as a psychotic killer Ray tries to use to kill Mickey. Starsky himself, Paul Michael Glaser, plays the current husband to Mickey’s old lover and Daryl’s mom.
The production values are top-of-the-heap. The show continues the Showtime tradition of film-like quality on these shows. But it’s not enough to elevate the series beyond a Sopranos wannabe. It’s worth a look, if only for the performances. In the end this doesn’t rise to the kind of quality I’ve come to expect in storytelling from these kinds of shows. There are only eight episodes. Best to catch it in reruns from Showtime or Netflix.
The big news for Season 3 is the loss of Elliott Gould’s Ezra character. Ezra was a father-figure to Ray in every way Mickey (Voight) never was. The relationship between these characters was quite strong, and you will find yourself missing both Ezra and Elliott. With Ezra gone, the movement away from his “fixer” roots gets stronger on the show. Ray is spending more time fixing his own problems and those of his family than he does dealing with clients.
With Ezra gone, enter the character of Andrew Finney, played quite extraordinarily by Ian McShane. Finney is a super-rich and powerful man who manipulates Ray into working for him. It’s one of those Godfather favor deals that finds Ray needing help and Finney having the power to do it. He also ends up caught between the politics of Finney and his daughter Paige, played by Katie Holmes, the best I’ve ever seen her. She’s almost unrecognizable and has come a long way from the starry-eyed girl who once romanced Tom Cruise. She’s a powerful character who wants to own an NFL team and bring it to L.A. It’s a timely plot with three teams currently seeking to fill the decades-long gap of football in the nation’s second-largest market. Ray finds himself along for the ride as a 3% partner, but the path is anything but straight. McShane and Schreiber become the new dynamic to watch. This makes the leaving of Gould a bit more bearable. The two are dynamite together. It’s not just the surface stuff going on here. Both actors revel in the nuances of this relationship. There’s so much beneath the surface as they are actually playing a fascinating game of chess with each other. This is where the season is at its best.
Another great addition is the arrival of Hank Azaria as an obsessed FBI agent who wants to bring Mickey and Ray down. He ends up having to deal with them over the Sully killing. He wants to be the head of the agency, so he ends up taking credit for Sully’s murder as an FBI operation. That puts Mickey in a pinch, and unfortunately for Ray brings him out of his tropical hiding. Azaria plays a wonderfully wicked character here, and he steals a lot of scenes even next to Voight and Schreiber.
The killing of the abusive priest is also going to come back to haunt the Donovan family. The Vatican has sent an investigator priest, Father Romero, played by Leland Oser. He infiltrates Bunchy’s counseling group and passes himself off an abuse victim who also got revenge in order to get Bunchy to confess to him. This doesn’t end up going in the direction we suspect, and it turns out to be something of an emotional crisis for Ray, who must deal with his own abusive history. It all leads to an interesting confrontation during the season finale that I never saw coming.
Of course, John Voight’s Mickey is going to be causing his own trouble. He takes advantage of a situation to place himself as the head of a prostitution and drug ring. He’s fooled himself into believing he’s doing it for the girls. He ends up partnering with son Daryl (Hall). The last time he tried to partner with a son, he left Terry holding the bag when a robbery of a pot house goes pretty badly. Now he’s in bed with an Armenian mob and is soon in over his head. The only way to stop a bloody war is to begin to snitch for the FBI, but we know Mickey’s going to find a way to mess that up just as badly. It all ends with a bloody confrontation in the season finale.
Bunchy finds love in a Mexican wrestler with whom he develops a rather interesting dynamic. Teresa is played by Alyssa Diaz, and the two end up married before the end of the season. He also ends up almost missing said wedding because Mickey’s gotten him in trouble. Meanwhile Terry is almost killed while he wais in jail, and the effects of his experience and Parkinson’s are starting to take a huge toll on him and the family.
Finally, Bridget (Dorsey) has a lot to do this season. She starts the season as a witness to a bloodbath when her boyfriend is killed in a blood feud. She’s then attracted to her math teacher, which also leads to a big part of the dynamic season finale.
In the end Ray has to confront who he is and the damage he has done to his own family. Schreiber gets to explore a greater range with a character that is heading for a crossroads. Next season should be very interesting. Ray’s finding himself emotionally alone. He’s even put tremendous distance between himself and Avi (Bauer), who has to make a horrible choice to protect Ray, a choice that Ray may never forgive. These characters are certainly not standing still. Look for an explosive finale that puts these characters in a new place for Season 4.
The entire style of storytelling has changed for this season. It’s not a spoiler to reveal here that Abby dies of the cancer she discovers in the previous season. Not only isn’t it a spoiler, but it becomes the very event that changes how the show is presented. Ray is living two lives now. In one life he is haunted by the memories and ghost of Abby. That story shows us crucial moments in those final months of Abby’s life and allows her character to continue through the entire season even though she begins it already dead. Many of these moments are repeated, revealing slightly more of their meaning over the season. They are usually tied to events in the current time and most often associated with Ray’s guilt and loneliness.
There is a more current timeline that runs during these episodes that takes us along the lines of Ray’s first widower months and the evolution of the rest of the cast. Part of that guilt is connected to his relationship with actress Natalie James, played by Lili Simmons. She’s a young woman with a lot of trouble, much of it of her own making. Ray gets a little too close and is drawn in by a need to protect someone even as he couldn’t protect his wife. Not that he doesn’t try. We learn he attempted to rig a trial study to help Abby, but the one thing Ray learns this season is that he’s not really in control at all. So most of Ray’s time is spend sheltering Natalie and being a go-between for two Hollywood moguls going through a split.
Bunchy ends up taking care of the baby while his wife ends up on a wrestling tour. Dash Mihok is another strong performer, and he breaks your heart most of the time he’s on screen. He’s the most caring member of the family, and he always ends up in the most trouble by trying to do the right thing. This year he gets robbed of his $1.2 million settlement and also ends up running Abby’s bar when she’s gone. You just can’t help but be moved by this performance. A lot of it is in the eyes, and he doesn’t really have to say anything to deliver.
Terry has undergone a surgical implant procedure that allows him to cover the shakes of his Parkinson’s disease with a remote control. This is a milestone year for Terry, who ends up on Ray’s bad side by making a big decision that changes all of their lives. Terry’s about had it, and Eddie Marsan delivers another quietly powerful performance.
Finally, Bridget (Dorsey) has a lot to do this season. She’s had to take the emotional role that Abby filled for the family but has her own issues and guilt to deal with. She ends up in New York, hooking up with a guy who has the same cancer that killed her mother. The boy ends up being closer to what happened to her Mom than you will suspect. It’s a plotline that pushes Kerris Dorsey to step up big-time in the role.
Seldom has this series been so moving. Sure, there are always the tragic stories, and the things that happened to the Donovan brothers when they were kids were pretty heartbreaking. But this season we see a different side of everything. It’s a rather bold direction for the series and honestly would have made the perfect final season for the show. There is a 6th season on tap, and it will be quite interesting to see where they go from here. This was without a doubt Ray Donovan’s best season. For four years we’ve seen Ray and Mickey do some pretty messed up stuff.
One of the more interesting family members introduced this year is Aunt Sandy, played by Sandy Martin. She’s both huge trouble and some of the show’s best comic relief as she tries to rip off Mickey and Bunchy and ends up part of the season finale where everyone is pitching in for a massacre cleanup that has its dark humor moments, to be sure.
Finally, there’s daughter Bridget, who is played by Kerris Dorsey, and both actress and character have truly come into their own in this and the last season. She’s the new emotional center, and she’s trying to have her own life away from all of the family drama. She’s engaged and working hard, but like Michael Corleone is fond of pointing out, she gets pulled back in. Does her part. And proves herself a Donovan in the end.
This is a dark season and allows Liev Schreiber to evolve the character to a dark and dangerous place. We see a very different Ray here who doesn’t always have the answers any more, and his plans backfire more than they work this season. He can’t get out of his own way, and most of this is grief, but a lot of it is stubbornness. This season the family starts to close in on itself, and Ray’s “empire” is getting smaller. It’s a more intimate season, and while the stories aren’t as tight as they have been, the acting is at an all-time high for the series. I enjoyed these character moments more than any of this season’s plots. Credit the actors for being willing to spend a lot of time in these dark places. It’s the chance to breathe life into a show that was showing a creative void by the fourth season. It’s got to be tough on all concerned, but this was the only way to turn it all around.
For all intents and purposes, Season 7 is the final season of Ray Donovan. The end came rather suddenly and after it was too late to create and film some kind of satisfying finale for the series. The cast and crew were taken by surprise, so you can imagine how the fans of the show are taking this. To make matters worse, the last episode, while not a complete cliffhanger, leaves too many strands of thread that weren’t connected. There’s nothing satisfying about this finale, and that created waves in the world of fandom. Star Trek is famous as being the first television show that a network cancelled and then brought back because of a huge letter-writing campaign that flooded network executives and pushed them into an unprecedented action for that time. The show was brought back. Imagine what those rabid fans could have done today with the internet and social media. The call has gone out, and while Showtime has made no move to offer any kind of reversal or concession, the show’s star reached out with a somewhat cryptic message of hope. He assured fans that the Donovan family isn’t finished just yet. What that reprieve might be, there isn’t a clue offered, but it’s doubtful at this point that the show will return as an 8th season. The likely scenarios include a Showtime film like we saw recently for Deadwood. There’s a shot at a feature film at the theatres, which is where Star Trek’s original crew ended up. There’s always a chance of a revival mini-series like we’ve seen over at Fox for The X-Files and Prison Break. I don’t know what form it might take, but I do believe the characters will return in some way. Unfortunately new global circumstances have placed pretty much all television shows, films, and other outlets for entertainment in doubt, at least in the short term. Eventually we will get out of this, but I suspect Ray Donovan won’t be the first priority out of the gate. Fans are going to have to be patient here. I believe it will happen, but I’m as equally convinced that it won’t happen soon. So for now you’re going to have to savor these last 10 episodes for a while, and this DVD release gives you the means to do just that.
There are two events from the past that are driving the events of this season. Ray (Schreiber) and the family still feel the loss of Abby. That death from Season 5 hangs over everyone as if it had just happened. The other event deals with the circumstances from last season, the cops who waged war on the Donovans and took daughter Bridget (Dorsey) hostage. It ended with a bloody massacre that baptized Bridget’s fiancée Smitty (Rogers) into the family. Bodies were dismembered and heads disposed of … but not for long. Fishermen come up with a bowling ball bag containing one of those heads. Detective Perry (Bernstine) uses it to launch a full-scale investigation into the Donovan family, and it’s going to be brutal.
Mickey (Voight) is on his way to prison … again. He finds a four-leaf clover and begins to believe in some kind of lucky destiny when the image continues to show up. A fuel truck bearing the sign plows into the prison transport causing a huge explosion and incineration of the bodies within. With Mickey dead, the family gathers at a local bar to share their memories. It’s all rather sweet until Mickey crashes his own wake. Somehow he’s escaped, and his “death” is the perfect way to get out from under Detective Perry’s investigation. Mickey takes the blame, but he’s dead. Investigation ends. Mickey escapes to Europe never to be heard from again, and the family goes on as if it never happened. But Jon Voight’s Mickey just can’t help himself, and he gets in his own way once again, disrupting the lives he touches.
Once again Mickey draws son Daryll (Hall) back into his crap along with Aunt Sandy (Martin). Mickey stumbles on a gold coin from the heist that originally sent him to prison for twenty years. It leads him to believe that his partners ripped him off, and the three go off on a little road trip to get the money and/or give a little payback of their own. The trip leaves plenty of bodies in its wake and eventually gets into Ray’s way, making things a lot more bloody and complicated than they need to be, including his latest romantic interest, Molly (Condon). A lot of this season’s best moments can be found with these three and their own agenda.
Ray still can’t deal with the life he now has and seeks the help of a psychologist, played wonderfully by Alan Alda. Dr. Amiot also suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and is kind of phasing out his practice.
The brothers Terry and Bunch both have good stuff to play this year. Eddie Marson continues to be one of the best actors on the show. Each season seems to get darker and darker for Terry. This season he falls for a cult who claims he can be healed only to lead him to an elder woman with whom he feels empathy. Terry considers killing himself, but after having visions from the cult’s use of hallucinogens, he sees signs that turn him away each time at the last moment. He even unknowingly encounters Dr. Amiot when he returns to his medical treatments. Marson will bring tears to your eyes just sitting there, and this is some of his best stuff yet. Dash Mihok does almost as well as Bunch. This is a guy who wants to do right, but it just never works out the way he intended it to work. He goes to work for Ray this season, and the actor directs one of the season’s episodes.
The character of Bridget, played by Kerris Dorsey, continues to grow into the heir apparent to Ray’s skills if not his business. She ends up using those skills to help out some friends, and Ray is confronted with just how much like him she is. Her emotional issues are best found in her odd relationship with Smitty, who will make some bad choices with serious repercussions for the family. Again it’s the performances that make this show as good as it is.
The best part of the final season is the flashbacks. We get to see the Donovan siblings in their daily lives after their mother dies and Mickey walks out on them. We get to see how Ray started to become the man he is, and we even see some of what might drive Mickey.
The season is one of the show’s best, but not in the context of a series finale. Showtime really let these actors and characters down by deciding to end it where it is right now. I fully expect there will be something, but alas no one likely knows what, when, or where it might show up. For now, at least as far as the studio is concerned, it’s over and done with.
Then there is the final movie. Ray’s narrative includes a lot of flashbacks to his early days as a child. We get to see how the tension evolved with his father. We also learn how he became a Hollywood fixer, and we see the event that we have heard about for seven years. We learn how and why Ray set his father up for 20 years in prison. We’ve seen a couple of flashback scenes before, and the actor who played the younger version of Ray is Chris Gray. We discover is early encounters with both Abby, played here by AJ Michalka, and Ezra, played here by Danny Deferari. Of course, the reason for these flashbacks is to discover the origins of the Ray Donovan we’ve known for several years, and for the most part it’s an effective device. The problem is how confusing it all can be. There was enough material here for perhaps a mini-series, and the longer this movie plays out, the more I wish that’s what they had decided to do. There’s too much to pack in here.
The wonderful supporting cast that has served this series so well gets criminally little to do. I felt bad for fans of Eddie Marson as Terry, Dash Mihok as Bunchy, and Pooch Hall as Daryll. They are nothing more than window dressing here, and that’s really a shame. I love these guys and the wonderful chemistry they all had throughout the series run. Yes, they get some nice moments, particularly Terry, but those great moments don’t make up for how little of them we get in the end. In fact we don’t get to see Ray much when he’s not on the phone. Series stalwart Katherine Moennig gets less than a two-minute cameo. Most of the running time is filled with the flashback story. It’s a compelling story, to be sure, and it could have been its own film. Even Jon Voight’s Mickey doesn’t get enough to do, and he’s the most used and most crucial character in this goodbye story. Bill Heck does a … heck of a job playing the younger Mickey, and honestly, there’s a series right there.
I have such mixed feelings about the coda film. I will tell you that there are some terrific payoffs, and there’s no question this is the end of that story. You’ll get the ending you deserved in the series itself. But on the other hand, it’s all so rushed and incomplete. The show was running out of steam, and it couldn’t go on forever on just the strength of this mighty cast. I get that much. “It had to stop. It had to end.”
Charmed (2018) Complete Series
By Jeremy Butler
In 2006, the original Charmed series did its final curtain call, and since then fans have been calling for the series to resume. In this era of revitalizing old television series, it seemed like bringing back the popular witch series was a possibility. In 2018, fans got their wish, although perhaps not quite the way they were hoping to get it. Charmed would be brought back, but as a reboot, not a continuation. This means a brand new cast and a modern twist. As you expect, this decision was not completely popular, as fans of the original series called for the return of the original cast. As a fan of the original series, I was among those who felt a version of the series that did not feature Alyssa Milano, Holly Marie Combs, and Rose McGowan would be a waste of time and resources. Hell, I would have even taken a miraculous return of Shannon Doherty. Then again, may not. Anyhow, the decision to revamp the series was not a popular one, but in the end, I believe it was the right decision.
In this incarnation, the series moves from San Francisco to the fictional town of Hilltowne, The sisters are not Latin America, and the letter they all share is a “M” instead of a “P.” Those are the major changes. I gave them to you up front so that you can prepare yourself for everything else. In the opening episode, sisters Mel (Melonie Diaz) and Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) live with their mother, Marisol, and are unaware of their magical heritage until Marisol’s death, which is the incident that sparks the series. Following the death of Marisol, they are approached by Macy Vaughn (Madeleine Mantock), who tells them that she is their half-sister. The introduction of a half-sibling pays great homage to the original series, which as diehard fans recall, served as the introduction of Rose McGowan into the series in Season 4 following the departure of Shannon Doherty at the end of Season 3. Getting back on point, the sisters being united triggers the activation of their individual powers as well as the power of 3, their ultimate strength.
Going into their powers, I must prepare you for another change. As fans remember, the sisters possess one individual power, such as telekinesis, time manipulation, or premonition. Telekinesis and time manipulation are still present in the reboot with the characters based on Prue (Macy) and Piper (Mel) developing this power respectively. However, in the case of Maggie, premonition is not her power, but rather she is an empath. This is a deviation, but still within the realm of acceptable, because as you recall, Phoebe also became an empath in the later seasons. Ultimately, I feel empathy is more screen-friendly than premonition, which in the original series usually served as the way the Charmed Ones were alerted to an issue. The reboot focuses on news of suspicious deaths to alert the Charmed Ones, adding to the threat of discovery.
Modernization was this series’ friend in my opinion. Instead of clinging to the themes of the past, it attempts to establish its own story. It is a risky move, but ultimately the better option. It goes its own way, choosing to utilize a more ethnically diverse cast, as sisters are Latin American and Afro-Latinas. It also embraces different sexualities, as Mel is a lesbian. These modern changes allowed the series to fit perfectly into the changing landscape of the television.
The show features a monster-of-the-week format, but almost a sharper focus toward building story arcs. It is inventive in how it tackles the characters’ relationship; such is the case with Mel, who finds her relationship with her girlfriend Niko threatened by the recent discovery that she is a witch, which prompts her to take drastic action. Then there is Maggie, who like the counterpart she is based on has a thing for bad boys with a heart of gold. Shout out to Julian McMahon, who played my favorite character on the original series. I wonder what he thinks of the character who is clearly based on him. Back on topic: though these subplots have familiarity with the original series, there is one involving Macy and her origins that helps the reboot to break away from the established template. This plot is what ultimately leads to the explosive season finale, which serves as one of the season’s notable episode as the sisters find their lives once again changed.
Twilight Zone (2020) Complete Series
“You’re traveling through another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of the mind. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition. And it lies between the pit of one’s fears and the summit of one’s knowledge. You are now traveling through a dimension of imagination. You’ve just crossed over into The Twilight Zone.”
It would be very hard, indeed, to argue against the impact that The Twilight Zone has had on television. To say that the series was a milestone in that medium would be an understatement of the worst kind. When Rod Serling brought his landmark series to CBS in October of 1959, television was still very new. No one was quite sure what the future held for that magical box. But that box was part of an invasion. The television set would change the face of the world. It would become the social center of our homes. It would influence who we choose as our leaders. In 1959 those fortunate enough to already have television sets in their homes would become the first to see that future. They were given a glimpse of what life might or would be. It was a gift that has continued giving 50 years later. The franchise has been tackled often since Rod Serling’s original. There was the ill-fated anthology film where different directors delivered takes on different stories that was overshadowed by a tragic helicopter crash that killed two Vietnamese actors and veteran actor Vic Morrow. Two years later the series returned to television with a surprisingly solid two years. In 2002 there was yet another very brief television effort. Now the show returns in the world of streaming from CBS’s All Access network. Unfortunately, it might just be the least of the franchise’s incarnations.
CBS has released both seasons of the now finished series in a complete season set. You get all 20 episodes on seven discs with all of the extras from the original releases intact.
Taking over the narrator duties for this new version of The Twilight Zone is Jordan Peele. I was immediately excited when I heard he would be heading the project. He is one of the more brilliant horror filmmakers working in the last 20 years or more. He was the perfect guide through the iconic waters of The Twilight Zone. Imagine my disappointment in not only the new series but in his performance as the narrator/host. I’m not certain if it is some kind of conscious choice or just his take on the material, but he’s incredibly wooden in the role. His voice lacks any of the wonderful inflection that made Serling so great. It’s always so obvious that he’s reading, and when he gets to that “in the Twilight Zone” moment, he appears to fall completely flat. It’s such a huge disconnect from what I expected from him. In the various incarnations of the show we’ve had Burgess Meredith and Forest Whitaker take on these roles. Peele’s performance falls dead last in the group.
The first episode might feel a little familiar. In fact one of my biggest complaints is that all of this feels too familiar. But the first episode, entitled The Comedian stars Kumail Nanjiani as a struggling comedian who can’t seem to get a laugh. When he meets one of his idols at the bar, he’s given a power to change that with a warning that once you give something to the audience, it’s gone. It turns into the literal truth. All he has to do is talk about someone he knows and he gets gangbusters laughs. But the catch is they disappear from reality. They were never born, and no one else but him remembers them. Now this is a common kind of story in these supernatural anthologies. Someone makes a deal with some kind of “devil”, and the ramifications are always more than they expected. The original show did many of these. But what makes it almost too familiar is that Nanjiani just did a wonderful film that had to do with a struggling artist who can’t seem to get folks to like his material until a supernatural event wipes out The Beatles for everyone but him. A little too close, and this version isn’t near as compelling or clever as the film Yesterday.
That would be fine, except almost every episode calls back a classic episode. But this time the show doesn’t just deliver a social message, it bangs you over the head with it. Episodes take on many of the “woke” crowd’s issues and preach from the mountaintop. I know what you’re thinking. Rod Serling was a very socially aware dude. He placed a ton of social messages and observations in the original show. Yes, he did. But he did it with a subtle nuance that invited us to engage in conversations about what it means for us today. His goal was to get us thinking and talking. Today it’s all about insulting the people on the other side and calling them trendy names and showing a social superiority, and that’s nothing like what Rod Serling did. But it’s dripping in almost every minute of the first season of this show. What gets me is that in the extras they acknowledge you can’t just beat people over the head. But that’s exactly what happens here. You can’t engage a person in conversation about what’s important AFTER you just told them what a useless excuse for a human being they are.
I will have to admit I loved the final episode where they appear to put the preaching on hold and tell a very good supernatural story with a twist I won’t reveal here but which was the best moment of this entire season of episodes. There are also a ton of Easter eggs out there that will be nice callbacks to the classic moments of the original show. The big callback is the brand Whipple, which appears on everything from network news stations to toasters in this season. It’s a reference to a specific episode entitled The Brain Center At Whipples, and I feel like they are trying to go somewhere big with this.
As for season 2:
My favorite episode is “Among The Untrodden”. This is an episode I wish was its own film and honestly felt like a better sequel to the movie The Craft than the forgettable nonsense that released last year, and this didn’t even have witches. This episode is about Irene (Sophia Macy), who is a new student at an all-girls’ boarding school, and she has a lot of interest in psychic abilities. Irene wants to do a science project to prove or disprove whether the ability exists, and to her surprise she discovers one of her classmates may have these abilities. The writing in this episode is great; so much is executed in a short amount of time that it doesn’t feel rushed, and the characters have time to develop and have arcs that don’t feel rushed or used as a means to just move to point A to point B in the story. It was wise to place this towards the middle of the season, because having it sooner would have really messed with the expectations for the audience.
Another favorite episode of mine I noticed didn’t score so well on IMDB, but I felt it was a fun little romp. “8” takes us to what I believe is the Arctic Circle where a group of scientists discover a creature that can possibly help mankind, but this creature has plans of its own. This is the only episode that really has a straight-up horror vibe, and it comes across as a B-movie version of Alien, and I make this comparison with the most geek-filled respect. Sure, this could easily be expanded and watered down to be a SYFY movie original, but keeping this episode short, gruesome, and sweet is what made this work. Is it a bit convoluted when it comes to the creature’s intentions? Of course it is, but that’s part of the episode’s charm that really calls back to the alien panic that was around in sci-fi cinema during the 50’s. Joel McHale puts in a fun performance despite it being a more serious role.
When I mentioned that the episode “8” reminded me of Alien, well, that’s sort of a running problem in this season of The Twilight Zone, how episodes seem to be short remakes of past movies. Downtime seemed to be a boring take on Total Recall and The Matrix; Try, Try was like a dark take on Groundhog Day, and then The Who of You was like a crime-story take on the film Fallen. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was a deal breaker for my thoughts on the season, but it did make me wonder if they were struggling so much for genuine original stories and this is only Season 2, what will happen further down the line?
The last episode, You Might Also Like, is the only episode I can say I simply didn’t like. I mean, this one was a chore to sit through. Despite that it had a good idea about aliens using mankind’s obsession with consumer goods to control us, the episode just simply missed its mark.
Of course, the production values are very high, and there are some wonderful ideas here that would have made for more compelling television. If they could just get rid of that soapbox, this could be a wonderful revival of something classic. They do not appear to be heading in that direction, and “That’s not good.”