As Seen on TV!

Your Tivo won't tell you who shot J.R. — DVDs will!

Or when the singer from Moist (I don't remember them, either) is overemoting and Butt-Head comments, "I think that's the way they talk in, like, Wussylvania." To which Beavis responds, as only Beavis could, "Oh yeah. And I was, like, thinking he was from California." —Bridgette Reinsmoen

Dallas: The Complete Third Season

Warner Home Video

When I was a child, Dallas was forbidden fruit. The highlight of each Friday night was watching The Dukes of Hazzard. Then it was off to bed. My parents would not let me stay up late enough to catch the tawdry shenanigans of the Ewing clan.

So last month I set about rectifying this gap in my cultural knowledge. I purchased the complete third season. The show was reaching its cultural zenith then, culminating in the legendary "Who Shot J.R.?" episode.

What did I miss back in the day? Well, the theme song is tremendous, with its funky wah-wah guitar as the camera pans over downtown Dallas. Larry Hagman is also primo, channeling wickedness through his dog-kicker grin and drunkard's paunch. The season finale is executed to perfection: Pretty much everyone but J.R.'s mama has a motive to take him out.

But the show, especially in the concentrated form that DVDs allow, can be terribly dull. The true villains for the modern viewer are Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Pam (Victoria Principal). Lacking the venality that makes Dallas tick, they engage in endless petty dramas. Will they ever have a baby? Will Pam locate her mother? Will Hagman please return and piss on their cowboy casual-wear?

I don't think I'm in for season four, due out next month. But then how will I ever find out: Who shot J.R.? —Paul Demko

The L Word: The Complete Second Season

Showtime

This is a season in hell, a Sapphic Magnolia that's all meltdowns all the time. Poised in sleek suits, Bette (Jennifer Beals, with the world's saddest smile) separates from the lover she cheated on and her life goes from bad to worse. She loses her ex to a millionaire harpy, loses her job, and loses her cold, withholding father (a majestic Ossie Davis) to prostate cancer. Meanwhile, Shane, the flabbergastingly sexy fuck-and-run alpha chick, has her Don Juan persona pierced by the affections of Carmen (Sarah Shahi). And she comes to address her terror of intimacy in a dizzying Catholic-confessional scene: "Everybody I know wants to take something from me, and I don't have anything left to give." Set in a West Hollywood that's powdered in soft, honeyed light, Season 2 is unusually daring: This first mainstream lesbian TV show becomes a symphony of frailty and self-deception. Series creator Ilene Chaikin is shrewd about love as a state of grace to which sinning partners have to earn their way back. Their stumbles and wrong turns leave you harrowed, wrung-out, and grateful for the L-Worlders' 11th-hour victories over their own flawed natures. —Matthew Wilder

MI-5

BBC

MI-5 is the British FBI. (MI-6, their CIA, is James Bond's agency.) MI-5 is the British 24, but with a conscience and consequences. Rife with crackerjack Le Carré plotting and with yet another of those dour dark-haired gents the Brits do so well (Matthew MacFadyen), this series got the chop treatment when it ran on A&E. These DVDs, then, give you the entire episodes for the first time. (Season 3, which started slowly but ended with the shocking onscreen death of a major character, comes out at the end of January.)

Americans loom here as simple-minded forces of nature: "our cousins," hissed with resigned venom. And unlike the Cheneyesque 24, this show's politics are hard to parse. The themes are more ambitious, as the writers take up pro-life terrorism, anti-globalization activism, Kurdish separatism, and, of course, the IRA.

Watch for Hugh Laurie, now talking real Amurrican in House, M.D., chewing the drapes and looking far down his nose in a recurring cameo as supercilious MI-6 bigwig Jools Siviter. The regulars have a shorter life span: By the end of season three, not a single one of the first season's protagonists remains. —Jesse Berrett

Point Pleasant: The Complete Series

20th Century Fox

In my book, the only thing worse than teenybopper crap is "smart" teenybopper crap. And if anything puts my teeth on edge more than the winky smart-assery of Kevin Williamson, it's the painfully tongue-in-cheek universe of Joss Whedon. Here, Whedon protégé Marti Noxon and co-creator John McLaughlin spawn a diabolically high concept: The O.C. with Satan. Pert-nosed teen cutie Christina (Elisabeth Harnois) washes up on the shore of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, but as there are no cheese steaks or fat cops in sight, it looks a lot more like Laguna Beach to me. Once there, this half-devil-half-human desperado starts triggering nasty thoughts that would make the daffodils wither on Wisteria Lane. Supernatural pyrotechnics evoking late Chuck Norris vehicles begin to erupt. As in the Buffy/Firefly formula, the Pleasant creators tap all existing supplies of '80s genre kitsch while sending secret signals to the grown-ups in the audience: "We're really above this schlock!" The ickiest aspect of Pleasant is the by-now-rote fetishization of cheekbony WASP moms, washboard-ab hunks, and bitchy Denise Richards-esque queen bees. It's this slavish adulation of dumb rich kids, I will posit, that has led us to our current crummy world-historical fate. —Matthew Wilder

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