DVDs I’ve known and, er, watched. Part One.


Ah, TV.

In the old days, not many TV shows had continuous plots unless it was a soap opera. On the popular shows, nothing really changed and people would all watch at a set time, with everybody else.

Nowadays, things are a little different. Even for those who aren’t lucky enough to own Sky+ (now it takes a lot longer to realise how little there is worth watching) there are brilliant DVD box sets that make gulping down the sometimes convoluted plots of your favourite shows even easier. Perfect for going ‘ohh, so that’s when he figured that out’ on repeat viewings. Addictive as crack, to be honest. Well, not really…

Of course I’ve generalised a bit there about the total change it’s made. There always were programmes that had a continual plot. They just tended to be mini-series, or historical serials from the UK, which meant that they only lasted a maximum of 13 episodes.

Now the American shows have really caught up, paving a new smooth path into ongoing stories and characters who grow up and move on. These hours and hours of narrative make perfect fodder for multiple DVD sales – and the holy grail of the boxset ensures a captive audience even when it’s off the air.

I’m going to try and briefly review some of the things I’ve watched recently that will inevitably end up on a glossy 8-disc spread, with the hope of working out if they’re actually worth spending £60 on!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: This show deserves a complete blog all to itself. In the shortest possible terms, from its debut in 1997 to its climax in 2003, I’ve grown up with this series and it’s among the finest pieces of television out there. The quality never quite matches its first three seasons, but it’s an insightful ride full of vampires, demons and cute blonde girls kicking ass.

Here’s my review of the box set published in the Hampshire Chronicle in 2005:

Buffy (Sarah Michelle Geller) is an all-American high school girl with a big
secret – she’s the Slayer, a girl possessing super-strength with which to kill
the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. Hoping for a quiet life
after getting expelled from her old school (for burning down a gym full of
vampires) she moves with her mum to Sunnydale, California. To her dismay she
discovers that the town is a hub for all things evil, and her new school is
right in itscentre.

Despite her super-powers, Buffy wouldn’t survive her hellish high school without her ‘Scooby Gang’. There’s the geeky but lovable Xander (Nicholas Brendon), and shy genius Willow (Alyson Hannigan). With Giles (Anthony Head), Buffy’s stuffy British guardian and the school librarian, the gang form the core of the show and it is around them that weird events tend to unfold. In each episode they face new dangers from witches, demons and the undead. Defeating each evil usually involves magic and some spectacular fights.
This gets tougher every season. One of the important themes of the show is that
nothing good is ever easy.

The TV series ran from 1997 until 2003,
and picked up legions of devoted fans. Managing to balance self-aware humour
with serious drama, Buffy has some of the best writing around, and many strong,
interesting characters. Despite epic story arcs, most individual episodes stand
up brilliantly and this complete boxset is a fantastic way to see a scarily good
series its best.

Special Features: On various episodes – shooting
scripts, commentary, featurettes

As you can see, worth getting and most excitingly, Buffy Series 8 is now being released by Joss Whedon in comic format. But there’s time for that later.

Angel: Sadly this got canned before its time. It started in conjunction with Buffy’s 4th Season, and chronicled the adventures of her main love interest. Angel is a vampire with a soul looking for redemption in the cruel streets of LA. It gave us a new look at the Buffy universe and felt like a big brother to Buffy. It had its ups and downs too, but it was painful to see it cut down in Series 5 just as so much was about to change again. I’m currently anxious to learn more about the cliffhangar’s resolution by the end of the Buffy: Season 8 comics. Eventually.

Firefly: Very very short Joss Whedon show that found its lifeblood on DVD. Thanks to enormous sales, this series about a rag-tag bunch of smugglers in the wild west of space gained a film, Serenity, a few years after its untimely cancellation. I don’t love it as much as Buffy and Angel, but it’s very charming.

The Sopranos: Goodfellas is a damn good film, and this echoed all of its best parts whilst turning the gangster genre into something even more operatic. Tony Soprano is a charismatic monster, a beast of a man with serious emotional problems. Requiring much concentration over the slow release dates, it repays the attention with a sense that you’ll never see anything quite like it again. And, okay, series 5 is pretty dire, but the drawn-out finale of Season 6 (to be continued in April 2007) will be worth the long wait!

Sex and the City: A tricky one. I don’t actually own the box sets, nor have I recorded them all on Sky+ or watched them in order religiously. I’m catching some of the repeats on Paramount Comedy, though. Overall, I love the first 3 seasons. By the fourth one, cracks were showing and the last two – possibly due to their proximity to 9/11, are perhaps justifiably a less-snarky, more emotional affair. It looks beautiful, and is endearingly filthy, but I don’t think it’s actually as daring as it thinks it is. It never tacitly approved any of the characters lifestyles. Tying it all up in a neat bow made it far too much like the end of Friends than the snarky New York satire it began as. At least the series collection is in a pretty pink pretend shoebox. Next time it’s on offer and I have money, I might indulge myself. Or maybe not.

Moving onto more modern shows, you’ll be grateful to hear, in Part 2.

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