The latest titles from TV series and TV specials range to hit the shelves and online stores

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The second season of L A Law is very much a continuation of the lively, entertaining and frequently thought-provoking drama-soap antics seen in the original box set. The principal changes are the introduction of two new employees at legal firm McKenzie Brackman. Blair Underwood (The Event, Fatherhood) plays hotshot young lawyer Jonathan Rollins, and Larry Drake (“Darkman”, Johnny Bravo) puts in a memorable turn as Benny Stulwicz, a mentally handicapped office assistant.

Jonathan causes quite a stir, firstly by commanding an initial salary greater than his peers and secondly owing to his rather gung-ho, self-assured approach to trials. He also feels he has to prove himself because he is black. Benny inspires some interesting new storylines to do with his condition, and catches quite a few people out when they expect him to be less capable than he is. You could have won one of three copies we had up for grabs in our prize competition.

Monday, 16 April 2012

A UFO shoots through the galaxy before depositing four unusual passengers on Earth via a telescopic fireman’s pole. The aliens are Rory the blue (yes blue) lion, Boots the tiger with an eye-patch, Kwang the monkey and Bongo the dog. Collectively they are a band called Animal Kwackers, and their mission on our planet is to play rock and tell colourful adventure stories. As you might have guessed by now, we are talking about a children’s series from the 1970s, the British answer if you will to the American Banana Splits.

Each ten-minute episode comprises an opening song, then a story told by Rory in large spectacles to the refrain of ‘Rory, Rory tell us a story’, interrupted mid-way through by a second song, and a closing song ties everything up. Then the Kwackers wave goodbye as they climb back up the pole and shoot off in their zippy spacecraft, leaving the audience slightly bewildered as to what they have just witnessed.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

You may think you have seen the messed-up comedy about an anthropomorphic dog called Wilfred before, but if your experience only encompasses the recent US remake starring Elijah Wood, you would definitely be missing out if you let this new release pass you by. My review relates to the Aussie original’s two seasons, freshly released as a pair of DVD box sets. Rarely has a series entertained, amused and disturbed me quite as much as Wilfred.

In common with the US version, viewers and the central male character witness Wilfred as a tall man in a ridiculous, floppy-eared dog suit. Jason Gann does the honours, and he obviously impressed the Americans as they kept him on, Australian accent and all. Other people appear to see Wilfred as a regular, 9-year-old mongrel, seemingly unaware of what a crude, crass and downright manipulative character he is.

Monday, 05 March 2012

These days if you said there’s a new series from combine the talents of Steven Bochco and David E Kelley, it would immediately be categorised as ‘must see TV’. However, if we transport you back to the cusp where the 1980s met the 1990s, and suggested a series where we have a child star at its heart... you can hear the noise of TV remote buttons being zapped to change channels.  Unfortunate, as this is a little gem of a show, which lives up to the later credentials of its production team.

So, do you remember Doogie Howser MD? A child prodigy, a fully qualified doctor by age fourteen, and a surgeon by age sixteen. Well, thanks to Revelation Films, he’s back thanks to DVD with their Season One release. Indeed, Revelation have been releasing much of David E Kelley’s back catalogue, having already begun working their way through L A Law and Chicago Hope. We had two copies of Doogie on DVD to give away in a prize competition.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Originally broadcast in 1977, Who Pays the Ferryman? is a dramatic and deeply tragic mini-series set on the picturesque island of Crete in the same decade. Jack Hedley (Colditz, “For Your Eyes Only”) stars as Alan Haldane, an ex-soldier who fought alongside the local resistance thirty years ago and is now returning to mourn the death of Melina, an old flame. Soon after his arrival, Alan bumps into Annika (Betty Arvaniti – The Dark Side of the Sun) and they instantly hit it off.

It is only later that Alan discovers that Annika is Melina’s sister, a fact he keeps secret because he fears she will blame him for deserting Melina, even though a meddling third party was to blame for their separation many years ago. To complicate matters further, Melina had a daughter, now grown up with a son of her own – Alan’s grandson. Standing between Haldane and his newly discovered family, and a successful relationship with Annika, is Katerina - matriarch of the family and a bitter opponent who will stop at nothing to be rid of him.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

George A Romero’s Tales from the Darkside returns to DVD for a 24-episode second season overflowing with murder, mystery and monsters. As with Season 1, each tale typically features a character or characters coming unstuck when tempted by riches, power or fame beyond their wildest dreams. This is a series that firmly believes in the mantra that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’, and the penalty for being duped is always extreme.

Some lessons have been learnt from Season 1, not least the episode sequence is much more varied. The producers successfully mix up scary, sci-fi and more goofy stories so that the tone of one episode is normally quite different from those surrounding it. The acting style and standard also varies dramatically, partly because of the demands of each script, but also it seems that some of the actors evidently prefer to go for a slightly exaggerated technique.

Thursday, 02 February 2012

In 1979, Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” became one of the most controversial films ever to be released in British cinemas, causing outrage amongst religious groups, members of the public and politicians, most of whom hadn’t even seen the film. Accusing it of being blasphemous, many called for the film to be banned.

On the back of this is a brand-new, critically acclaimed comedy-drama “Holy Flying Circus” revisits that period and delivers a witty, entertaining and affectionate homage to the Pythons and the film that, today, has become accepted as one of the greatest comedy movies of all time. As the controversy surrounding the cinema release of “Life Of Brian” raged around them, the Pythons found themselves not only fighting a war against censorship but also at the centre of a debate about what is an acceptable subject matter for comedy. And we had two copies to give away in a prize competition. It's worth noting that when this release featured on the new DVD and Blu-ray review show Behind The Sofa, 8.00pm Sundays on Sky channel 200, it walked off with the "Release of the Week" acolade.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Seeing Philip Glenister in a TV drama as anyone else but Gene Hunt from “Life on Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes” is very difficult. That was a larger than life iconic character, and consequently, the only way you can go as an actor is to be understated. So it is with the role of Harry Venn, a jobbing solicitor who gets involved in a conspiracy that will take him right into the middle of a fight for control of a coalition government. 

Very much an echo of the current situation we find ourselves in. As Venn, Glenister swaps the Quattro for a BMW, is estranged from his wife, bedhops with Lauren (Lisa Kay, formerly Carol Cassidy in Heartbeat), and then finds himself employed to find a key witness by Gina Hawkes (Thekla Reuten, a Dutch actress) - despite it being outside his remit, he agrees to take on the job, as £20,000 is difficult to refuse.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

LA Law is a glossy, glitzy US series that ran for eight seasons from 1986 to 1994. It is the brain child of Steven Bochco, David Kelly and Terry Louise Fisher, between them responsible for some of the very best TV including Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Ally McBeal and Boston Legal. Winner of an amazing six Emmys and five Golden Globes, the show concerns the trials and tribulations of employees at top law firm McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak.

Part court-room drama and part soap opera, the series follows the varied cases the lawyers undertake and their mixed fortunes both at work and after hours. The tone of the show shifts to match the seriousness of the cases, and whilst some more frivolous trials engender a lot of light-hearted comedy, others stir up tension, tough moral decisions and strong drama as issues such as racial and sexual discrimination, domestic violence, rape and murder are covered.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

King of the zombie genre, George A Romero turned his hand to TV with four seasons of Tales from the Darkside between 1984 and 1988. It is an anthology show like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, only with a more distinctive horror bent. The first season’s 24 episodes include all manner of chilling and occasionally whacky stories of human greed, murder, monsters and technology gone mad, and feature some great guest stars.

Thanks to the anthology format, the tales are told in a variety of different ways, including disconcerting, psychological horror, gory creature features, out-and-out (and often bizarre) comedy and highly suspenseful episodes. You never know what kind of story is coming up next, and that is part of the fun! Guest writers include horror legends such as Stephen King, Harlan Ellison and Clive Barker. Each episode opens with the same, initially creepy but also increasingly annoying narrated title sequence (which ultimately you will probably fast forwards through – I know I did!), voiced by Paul Sparer over the top of the cheesy theme tune.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Tour of Duty is a thrilling and thought-provoking American TV series along the lines of Band of Brothers and The Pacific. It concerns a fictional army company’s year-long stretch in the Vietnam War. The year is 1967, and Bravo Company is sent on an assortment of deadly missions to try to overcome the Viet Cong (VC), North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and allied Communist forces, who in turn are trying to defeat the government in South Vietnam.

Bravo Company is led by the inexperienced Lieutenant Goldman (Stephen Caffrey), under whom is Sergeant Zeke Anderson (Terence Knox – St Elsewhere), a rugged veteran with three tours already under his belt. The rest of the company is made up of seven or eight ‘cherries’, regular cast members with guest stars joining them on individual episodes. Their CO is Captain Wallace (Kevin Conroy – the voice of animated Batman since the early ‘90s). Over the course of 21 episodes in this, the first of three seasons, the soldiers are really put through the grinder, testing their physical and mental abilities to the very limit.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Between 1960 and 1963, ABC produced the Pathfinders in Space Trilogy and City Beneath the Sea Duology, a couple of ground-breaking children’s SF serials that pre-empted Doctor Who and took young viewers on incredible journeys into the furthest reaches of space and the murky, unexplored depths of the sea. Links to Who include Sydney Newman as producer and writers Malcolm Hulke (Pathfinders) and John Lucarotti (City). Pathfinders was also co-written by Eric Paice (The Avengers, Star Maidens).

The central concept of both black and white serials concerns a small but intrepid crew of adults and children venturing into the unknown and encountering all manner of technological, environmental and espionage-related disasters but somehow always managing to pull together, keep a positive attitude and survive. Prolific TV actor Gerald Flood (Kamelion in Peter Davison era Doctor Who) headlines in both serials, though as two slightly different characters.

Monday, 17 October 2011

In his mind, he is the greatest secret agent the world has ever known. He’s certainly one of Britain’s best loved animated characters is immortalised in Danger Mouse – The Complete Collection 30th Anniversary Edition, a 10-disc DVD set featuring every single episode and, for the first time ever, in the correct screening order. The collection also comes with a brand new extra feature exclusive to this release, the never-seen-before “Danger Mouse And Friends”.

First broadcast on 28th September 1981, David Jason voiced the intrepid hero. Terry Scott was his faithful but bumbling assistant Penfold. The series was an instant hit with children and adults alike, and has since become a national institution. Indeed, Danger Mouse joined the Hall of Fame Animated Character pantheon way back in the Cult TV Awards back in 2001. The show’s popularity was confirmed when it ranked third in Channel 4’s poll of the “100 Greatest Kids’ TV Shows”.

Sunday, 09 October 2011

There has been some, shall we say, ‘historical revisionism’ concerning Morecambe & Wise. Many forget that their first TV series was actually with the BBC, a disastrous format called Running Wild in 1954, which failed to build on their established live variety act, instead giving them material that simply just wasn’t them. They’d been a duo since 1941, and it took until 1962 for impresario Bernard Delfont to realise it was time to give them another chance on the telly.

Selling the idea to his brother Lew Grade, Delfont got the show made by ATV with the title Two of a Kind. Writers Dick Hills and Sid Green were brought in, fresh from having broken the mould with their work with Anthony Newley on The Strange World of Gurney Slade. The quartet hit it off, the writers even joining in with some of the sketches, and the portents of things to come were established in their first series, out now on DVD.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

We are transported back to 1890s London, where Sergeant Cork (John Barrie) works for Scotland Yard’s recently formed Criminal Investigation Department. Astute and years ahead of his time, he enthusiastically employs the pioneering techniques of modern forensic science to investigate crimes born of poverty and deprivation, passion, vengeance and greed, ably assisted by the youthful and equally dedicated Detective Bob Marriott (William Gaunt).

Devised by Ted Willis, also the creator of Dixon of Dock Green, it’s something of a miracle to see this entire second series made available on DVD.  For years, four of these eight episodes were believed to not exist, but it seems to be that they have been unearthed from somewhere. There’s certainly a change in quality from the known-of 16mm Telerecordings that were listed in the vaults, but it’s a delight to see all of them present and correct!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

It has always been the case that ITV was always considered the poor relation to the BBC in the realms of situation comedy.  Ever since the commercial station started up, the perceived wisdom was that the BBC would always have far more hits per broadcast half-hour than ITV.  This was definitely the way things were viewed back in 1960, when the two-channel landscape was to be subjected to a show that, even today, is rightly considered ahead of its time: The Strange World of Gurney Slade.

Crooning icon Anthony Newley was a risk-taker, and nothing illustrates this better than Gurney, where he chose to star. Whereas any comical ITV successes were more likely to have come across the Atlantic, home grown giggle-gurus were proving inept at finding a winning formula.  Unfortunately, the advertisers were not happy with Gurney at all, it was ceremoniously hauled off prime time before the conclusion of its run.  Don’t let that put you off – this is a unique show with class and style.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Doctor Who history is a long and winding road, full of coincidences. “Planet of the Spiders” is one of those major milestones of the series, marking the final story of the Jon Pertwee era, and in the last seconds we see the first glimpse of Tom Baker taking on the role. The late Elisabeth Sladen become one of only a few companion characters who bridged eras by staying with the series, and as Sarah Jane Smith became immortal, the character even getting her own series.

This story came out in its latest version for the home market on 18 April 2011, the day before Elisabeth’s death. The fact that she was ill had been a closely guarded secret; no-one ever guessed anything was wrong, and plans for more episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures were well advanced.  Of course, there was no way that series could survive without her – recasting was completely out of the question: Elisabeth Sladen WAS Sarah Jane Smith.

Monday, 25 July 2011

This is a DVD release that those who keep an eye on television archive holdings never really expected to see the light of day. Thirteen colour episodes and a short Christmas vignette were all that constituted Lollipop Loves Mr Mole, and now just two monochrome telerecordings, made for foreign markets, remain anywhere in the world. The news release makes note that the series was actually junked soon after transmission, a fact which on its own makes this series both a mystery and an enigma.

The title might suggest a children’s cartoon series from the early 1970s, but this is a by-the-numbers situation comedy from that era, composed with ratings in mind.  Peggy Mount was a huge star of the time, in every way you can imagine, so was the female lead, Maggie ‘Lollipop’ Robinson. ‘Mr Mole’ is her pet name for husband Reg, played by Hugh Lloyd. Both played the stereotypical roles they had crafted in previous TV shows, and Jimmy Perry was drafted in from Dad’s Army to provide the scripts.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Spyder’s Web was very much a show out of its time.  Broadcast in 1972, it felt more like a show that should have been made in 1967 – a dark humour, prevalent in that era’s episodes of The Avengers, permeates this mainly-videotaped show, for which the last forty years have not been kind. Only two of its 13 episodes exist in colour, the rest consigned to nostalgic monochrome. In some respects, this works in the show’s favour, as its tone almost benefits from a lack of vibrant hues.

Fans of Doctor Who will rejoice in seeing Anthony Ainley, one of the actors who brought life to ‘The Master’, getting centre stage as the male lead, Clive Hawksworth. Ex-military, pipe smoking, uncomfortable around women, and with a wicked turn of phrase, he finds himself working for an intelligence front called Arachnid Films, run by the positively matriarchal Lottie Dean (Patricia Cutts).

Monday, 30 May 2011

Tenko, meaning ‘roll call’, follows the lives of British, Australian and Dutch women held as prisoners of war by the Japanese after the invasion of Singapore in 1941. It is quite simply a great drama. One of the first series to feature a predominantly female cast, it was also one of the first to embrace many subjects that had been thought of as taboo before. Throughout the series, the prisoners are subjected to cruel and barbaric treatment at the hands of their captors but the women maintain a dignity and grace that seems almost impossible to comprehend.

The story begins by following the lives of Marion Jefferson and her husband, Clifford, a Brigadier in the Army.  Marion is missing her son, who is away at boarding school in England. She wants to return to him, but Clifford does not want her to take the long and dangerous journey home. The war in Europe is worsening and their son is relatively safe in the English countryside having been evacuated. We also meet Rose Millar and Bernard Webster, a journalist who is disheartened at not being able to report the news truthfully. He and Rose are fully aware of how dangerous the situation is in Singapore.

Monday, 30 May 2011

First aired on TV between 1987 and 1988, the first season of Beauty and the Beast finally makes its way to UK DVD. This tragedy-tinged, romantic drama series stars “Terminator” and Chuck hard-case Linda Hamilton and “Hellboy” himself, Ron Perlman. Hamilton is Catherine Chandler, a well-to-do New York lawyer who is savagely assaulted by thugs, and rescued in the nick of time by a mysterious cloaked figure. Catherine’s saviour is Vincent, a bizarre, towering being who is half cat, half man.

He lives in a secret sanctuary deep under the city along with his mentoring father, Jacob (Roy Dotrice – Space: 1999, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) and numerous other folk, all of whom favour the security and tranquillity of their strange subterranean abode rather than the dangerous ‘real world’ above. Scarred and nearly blinded by the attack, Catherine has a chance to become emotionally attached to Vincent before the bandages come off and she finally sees him for the first time.

Monday, 23 May 2011

They’ve been out on DVD before – “The Seeds of Death”, “Carnival of Monsters” and “Resurrection of the Daleks”, starring Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, and Peter Davison respectively, last hitting shop shelves between 2002 and 2003. That’s a long time ago in technology terms, and there is no denying the continuing appetite for all things Doctor Who.  With little being able to be enhanced by doing Blu-ray releases of such archive stories, it’s new content that is the key to repackaging.

Spruce up as much as can be done by newly remastering the episodes, utilising advances in technology and technique. Find new and interesting angles for the supporting features that will lure in the fans for a ‘double dip’. Price the packages keenly so that you make the purchase worthwhile even if the fans are only buying for the new DVD extras.  Niche marketing to a niche audience.

Monday, 09 May 2011

Recent space-faring sci-fi series have tended to be either stuffy or dark, gritty and grown-up. Lexx is different. It is a Canadian-German co-production that lasted four seasons between 1997 and 2002, and features a whole host of psychedelic, risqué, funny and thoroughly eccentric adventures. Widespread gore and sexual references mean it is not for kids, but rather for adults who want to let their hair down.

The Lexx of the title is a living, thinking insectoid spaceship grown by His Shadow, the evil, hooded ruler The Cluster, a league of 20,000 planets. It was supposed to a Death Star-style weapon for destroying entire worlds, but like The Liberator in Blake’s 7, it is stolen by a small band of miscreants searching for a new home and who encounter all manner of weird, wonderful and generally disturbing races and characters.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Anthology shows are, in retrospect, remembered entirely because of their plots.  Only having the one story to get familiar with the characters involved, it is the situation they find themselves in that is the key to any lasting memory. This is the reason that many such shows are never recalled – we might have vivid memories of what happened, but it’s another matter entirely trying to recall which series that plot nestled within.

And so it is with Shadows of Fear.  A Thames TV production from the early 1970s, it only ran for 11 episodes. These are all more like stage plays being televised rather than anything developed away from the confines of standing sets. There are some excellent stories here, with fine performances.  However, it has to be said that an overall assessment would have to file this show as ‘patchy’.

Monday, 21 March 2011

George Kitchener Bulman begins the series that would mark his final televisual escapades with the release of the first season of Bulman.  The character began in The XYY Man, was refined a little more with Strangers, before becoming one of the quirkiest characters in the detective business that has ever been seen on British television.  Don Henderson became one of our national treasures from breathing life into him.

It’s more by pressure from others that Bulman, just retired from the force, finds himself as an enquiry agent, with the strict limitation that he will not tackle divorce cases.  All he really wants to do is run a ‘clock hospital’, where time pieces of all descriptions can be brought back to life by his delicate touch.  That is until Lucy McGinty (Siobhan Redmond), the daughter of another legendary copper, bails from university and wants to use her interest in criminology to become Bulman’s assistant.

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