A Couch Potato's Guide to TV On DVD

We see the VHS tapes on our shelves and we want to smash them! Or, the brighter side of planned obsolescence in the field of home entertainment

By the time you first found yourself in possession of a single album in four or five formats, it had probably already crossed your mind that the real point of technological revolutions in entertainment media is to sell you things you already own and make you pay a premium for the privilege. Yes, CDs and DVDs are great. More to the point, as far as their makers are concerned, they are less expensive to produce than the formats they replaced. Starting with the introduction of the compact disc in the mid-1980s, that lower-cost, higher-price-point formula has spelled windfall profits. The CD's astonishing success posed the two main questions with which entertainment-industry philosophers have wrestled ever since: How many times can we sell them the same thing? And how often dare we try?

The DVD business in its infancy has already outstripped the music industry in the brazenness of its hustle. Think of any popular movie from two to five years back, and chances are it has already been released in two or three packagings, including the now-obligatory "collector's edition" (who were the others for? friends and family?) or the near-obligatory "director's cut." Other common bonus features include interviews with anyone who happened to spend time on the set, blooper reels featuring fabulous-looking, fabulously paid morons, and lengthy compendia of scenes even shittier than the ones that made the movie.

But there is one saving grace to the DVD age. We speak of television, glorious television. Back in the before-time, when VHS walked the earth, it was impractical to produce sets containing entire seasons of TV shows; only Quality Television (think--blech--Ken Burns) and cult hits like The X-Files and Twin Peaks got the tape treatment on a regular basis. Since DVD sets are so relatively compact, lightweight, and cheap to produce--and because, God knows, there's a lot of product in the can--TV on DVD suddenly abounds, and there is a fresh glow round the electronic hearth. Old trivia disputes can be settled once and for all; families may be drawn together in hypnagogic bliss once more. Gather near.

21 JUMP STREET, THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Welcome back to 1987. High schools are dangerous places filled with felons who are intent on corrupting their peers: junior loan sharks, scary drug dealers, and the muscle to back them up. To the rescue come four young cops of ethnically diverse backgrounds who work out of an old church. Thank you, fledgling Fox network!

Nostalgic fondness is easy to muster here. The look of the show is oh-so-'80s, with Holly Robinson sporting huge hair and a bejeweled jean jacket, and Dustin Nguyen representing the epitome of high style in pastel blazers, bright shiny shirts, and ear cuffs. It doesn't matter what Johnny Depp is wearing in the role that made him famous. He's Johnny Depp! That said, of the four, Peter DeLuise seems like the only actor who would go on to something better. (Do SeaQuest DSV and Stargate SG-1 count?)

The young cops/homeroom infiltrators are originally led by Captain Jenko, a hippie with a fondness for Jimi Hendrix. But then the seventh episode begins with a funeral and we learn that Jenko has been killed by a drunk driver. His hard-assed opposite, Captain Fuller (Steven Williams), takes over and almost immediately has to face down an entire high school held hostage by teenage gangstas armed with guns--and with jeans tightly rolled at the ankles.

This is one of the four or five episodes worth viewing. Otherwise, you may want to cut a few of these classes. Seen today, the show has obvious flaws: The cops, though supposedly undercover, have a habit of discussing police business in hallways filled with students. That said, class clowns should find plenty to appreciate, and honor-roll types may yet write an A+ term paper on the treatment of Serious Social Issues--sexual molestation, addiction, underage prostitution--in the late-'80s popular media. This is a show that made narcs seem cool, just as the D.A.R.E. program was beginning to blanket the nation's youth with heavy-handed lectures--and T-shirts.

The extra dialogue tracks find Stephen Williams sounding stuck in those years. The actor is quite boastful in his interview, repeatedly extolling his own experience and leadership amid a cast of newbies: "Any time I'm on the set, morale is going to be excellent." I'm sure it was, Captain. Now can I have a hall pass? --Bridgette Reinsmoen

FARSCAPE
ADV Films
Could Farscape be the sexiest television program ever created to regularly feature muppets? The plot of this Sci-Fi Channel cult hit is basic Buck Rogers: Earthling astronaut John Crichton shoots into uncharted realms of the universe and tries to find his way home. This being sci-fi, the bad guys come with latex f/x faces and the ladies know how to handle a pulse rifle and don't mind getting it on with aliens. But the show, which lasted four seasons before its cancellation, is something that most sci-fi programming isn't: a soap opera.

The usual tumult of space travel--running out of food cubes, spiraling into wormholes--affects the characters on an emotional level, and changes what they want and how they act. When our hero endures torture at the hands of the skeletal, lisping military commander Scorpius, he emerges shaken and damaged...right into the next episode and even the next season. Show by show, season one's naive scientist in a NASA flight suit becomes season four's black-leather-clad intergalactic hottie.

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