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Foreign Correspondunce

October 28, 2009
DVD Review:  On the Glory that is the Boxed Set

By Jenna

When did television shows get ‘smart’?  You certainly wouldn’t have slung that adjective around in the 80s or for most of the 90s (but then again, not having owned a television for the last decade of the late, great 20th Century, I can’t be sure about what the hell was going on with small screen viewing at that time), although my 12 year old mind would defend to the death the ‘genius’ of Night Court.  Smart?  Try Mensa.  Be that as it may, somewhere around the early double aughts the phenomenon of episodic television being released in boxed sets came into my line of vision and it has yet to exit stage left.

It is truly intoxicating to dissolve one’s petty, everyday problems in the pool of elaborate story arcs, richly drawn characters and detailed set design that are now available via rental, purchase, or prolonged borrowing.  My ever-present debt?  Bah, I couldn’t possibly be bothered with it when Tony Soprano’s dispatch of the giggle-inducing ‘Pussy’ is playing out before my very eyes.  What’s that?  Heartbreak besets me?  Easily remedied by throwing myself completely and utterly into the trials and tribulations of Carrie and her well-shod girlfriends.  Feeling down and directionless?  Right, a little time with Battlestar Galactica will cure what ails me…Cylons mean business, dammit!  No time to mope when you’re outmanoeuvring a threat to all of humanity as we know it!

Unlike films, which generally only give me 2 hours of their time, and then leave me devastated, bereft, wanting more, so much more…unless of course it sucked….the boxed set wends it way slowly and seductively into my heart, even after I initially resist.  How many times has this been played out upon cracking open a new series:

Episode 1:  “This sucks”

Episode 2:  “This sucks”

Episode 3:  “This sucks”

Episode 4:  “They are SO gonna hook up and he did NOT just kill that guy! Man, this is some SMART television!”

In an effort to hone my list making skills (a skill that I am oddly lacking, odd in that for an age that dotes upon ‘The List’, be it year-end, all-time favourite, desert island, etc., I have never quite got the hang of it.  I describe it as the birthday feeling, meaning, when someone asks me what I want for my birthday I suddenly come up dry, when only ten minutes before I was thinking of some article of material joy which would be perfect to throw into the gift-asking hat of possibilities.  The same holds true for lists.  “Hey, Jenna, what are your top 5 films?”  “Uh….The Private Eyes, wait, NO!  I didn’t mean that…lemme get back to you.”) I hereby submit my list of top five DVD boxed sets, inclusive of all the ones I can remember watching.  In no particular order they are:

The Wire:  First off, the Irish love them some David Simon.  His reputation for The Wire, as well as Homicide: Life on the Streets, preceded him so when he spoke two years ago at The Irish Film Institute he sold the place out in no time flat.  That said, I’ve come across many an Irish soul who tried desperately to watch this Baltimore epic only to be completely put off by the inner-city vernacular.  “Wot da feck are dey on about?”  Well, the same might very well be asked of you, Sir.  In any case, I never thought I’d get so completely caught up in the ups and downs of dealing low-level drugs on the seriously scarred streets of Balmer.  This is some gripping shit, yo.

Six Feet Under:  It must be hard to conclude a multi-season series.  Most famously, The Sopranos pissed off a lot of viewers with their ambiguous ending after six tumultuous seasons, on and off the set.  However, if there was ever a perfect ending to a flat out fantastic series, this is the one.  Five seasons of masterfully written family dysfunction covering everything from the mundane to the believably bizarre were tied up with a bow.  It took me weeks to get over the final episode.  What could have easily dissolved into maudlin schlock was instead an inspired bit of flash-forward montage that left me weeping for hours afterward.

Firefly: Oh, so that’s what’s so great about Joss Whedon.  Never having been a Buffy devotee (although my love for Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog is boundless), I never quite got what was so great about Whedon’s universe, then I saw Firefly…okay, now I get it.  Sadly, only one season long, this punchy series of renegade cowboys in space is fast-paced, witty and entirely engaging.  This one is well worth a viewing if you aren’t interested in devoting weeks of your life to a 5-6 season show.  Fourteen episodes here to edify and entertain.

The Office (BBC version):  Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a fair few chuckles out of the U.S. version.  However, for seamless integration of hysterical comedy and soul-crushing pathos, Ricky Gervais’ original effort doesn’t get any better.  And by the way, Thank God for the two-part Christmas Special.  Without it, that could have been the single most depressing ending to a series ever.  Cringingly awkward and touchingly gentle, The Office gets my vote for best television in the last 10 years.  I can’t remember anything before that…except of course, Night Court.

Battlestar Galactica: I felt a bit embarrassed about including this one, but then I thought, fuck it, my list, my picks.  That said, this is some seriously engrossing sci-fi what what.  Like I said before, HUMANITY IS AT STAKE!!!  There are Cylons disguised as people, but which people?  An’ an’ everyone has got some crazy back story from before their home planet was BLOWN TO APOCOLYPTIC SHIT!  An’ an’ there’s all this intrigue and double-dealing and love and adventure and dogfights in space and CYLONS!!!  Well, I think I’ve pretty much made the case for this one.  You’d be smart, just like television, to check it out.


4 Responses to “ Foreign Correspondunce ”

  1. pancake on October 28, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Tre Magnifique, Jenna.

    When the opportunity presents itself for you to get your hands on True Blood, DO IT. You may have to struggle through the first four episodes, but after that you will be hooked on it’s crack-cocaine tv-goodness.

  2. Nat on October 28, 2009 at 8:52 am

    Interesting question. I think much of it came about due to the rise of cable’s original programming. We’ll just skip over Arli$$ and go straight to The Larry Sanders Show. Though, love it or hate it, the FOX Network should get credit for breaking down a lot of barriers. NBC, CBS, and ABC would have never touched COPS or Married…with Children, and Rupert Murdoch personally greenlit both The Simpsons and The X-Files, which likely played a big part in making television “smarter.”

    I need my Kristen Bell fix? Mmmm: Veronica Mars.

  3. pancake on October 28, 2009 at 11:15 am

    I love Veronica Mars. I am going to rewatch season 1 tonight, I think….mmmmm….Bell….(she is my imaginary girlfriend)

  4. Shannon on October 28, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I will have you know that I began sobbing just searching for the link to that Six Feet Under montage. Kills me!