DOME SWEET DOME — CBS’ popular adaptation of the epic Stephen King novel Under The Dome instantly sucked me in, even despite its predictably TV-ish structure. A small town spontaneously encased by a clear dome that allows no way out or in has denizens and visitors engaging in power struggles, backstabbing, and keeping deadly secrets. But how long will that fragile piece hold? And how long can the troublemakers in their midst stay under the radar? I haven’t read King’s original sci-fi tale, but it makes for a fun ride during its first season. He’s reportedly writing the pilot for the forthcoming second season.
TEMPTING FATE — While Lucky 7 tanked after two episodes, the British original The Syndicate is way better. Five employees of a supermarket store collectively win the lottery, but their good fortune is overshadowed by loads of personal problems, the worst being that prior to the big win, one of them helped rob the store and unintentionally put their boss in the hospital, but he doesn’t know it. Series One is well acted, well written, and engrossing. Interestingly, the next season deals with a whole new set of lottery winners. I like how British TV programmers try not to milk a lot of good ideas to death.
BARBARIC BEAUTY — The History Channel series Vikings is a study in contrasts: gorgeous natural landscapes provide sanctuary to violent Scandinavians who occasionally litter it with blood and corpses. But what keeps the grim series compelling in The Complete First Season is how an insecure, power hungry chieftain (Gabriel Byrne) clashes with local subjects who defy his annual order to raid the eastern lands during summer and instead head into uncharted waters to the west. When they succeed, it sets up an even worse showdown. The big lesson here seems to be that, metal odes to them be damned, Vikings were petty, warmongering jerks. But they make good TV.
LOST IN SPACE — Syfy’s early cult hit Farscape actually lasted for four seasons (back when the channel was called Sci Fi), combining elements of Star Wars, Star Trek and great puppet work from Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop to depict its tale of American astronaut John Crichton, whose experimental flight sends him through a wormhole into a distant galaxy. He becomes involved with escaped prisoners and a belligerent Peacekeeper within a living spaceship called a leviathan. They are on the run from a maniacal general who seeks to recapture them and who also blames Crichton for his brother’s death, which was an accident. The thoughtful, multilayered show holds up very well on the HD transfer of Farscape: The Complete Series 15th Anniversary Collection, even many of the now dated ’90s CGI effects. All the past DVD extras are here, including commentaries, deleted scenes, and much more. However, fans will have still have to wait for The Peacekeeper Wars mini-series that came later. Syfy needs to return to making shows like this.
BAD MEN DOING BAD THINGS — We all knew that school chemistry teacher-cum-drug manufacturer Walter White’s trajectory on Breaking Bad would slide into depths that most of us wouldn’t want to sink to, but it was mesmerizing watching that desperate drop even though it placed most viewers in a moral quagmire. The final episode was the perfect way to cap off the entire show, with surprising twists and heartfelt if disturbing revelations. Now you can relive the whole story with Breaking Bad: The Complete Series on Blu-ray, which includes a new two-hour documentary charting the final season from the first table read to the final shot.
ETERNAL CROONER — His last album, Olympia, was fantastic, and Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry captured the tour for posterity on the video release Live In Lyon. One of the great things about being a stylish, elegant crooner when you’re younger is you can keep it up when you’re older and retain your aura. This live show, featuring his usual bevy of alluring back-up singers and dancing girls, covers new and classic tunes and numerous covers, including songs by Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jon Lennon. Ferry and his bandmates look and sound great. The package includes a bonus audio CD, and it’s all bound in a 72-page color book that offers biographies of his live entourage and reviews of all of his solo albums. This is how a live DVD/BD package should be done.
REUNION BLISS — I feel guilty that (admittedly due to health issues) I did not get my interview with Saga frontman Michael Sadler into the Aquarian last fall. The reunited Canadian prog group released the excellent 20/20 last year, and the Spin It Again – Live In Munich concert DVD/Blu-ray captures their concert magic. Saga is one of my favorite rock bands, marrying prog chops, mainstream songwriting, and thoughtful lyrics into a distinct brew that has been flavorful for nearly 40 years. It is apparent from watching this energetic show that Sadler is happy to be back with his bandmates after five years, and the audience clearly appreciates it. Also included is a 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette with the band and crew.
FINAL MISSION — The rock world lost a legendary figure last year when legendary Deep Purple/Whitesnake keyboardist Jon Lord passed away. Luckily he managed to complete one final goal: the recording of his Concerto For Group And Orchestra. Unlike other rock gods who have dabbled in classical, Lord had the chops and the pedigree to make this work. The multifaceted Concerto itself has that late ’60s/early ’70s rock vibe (with some vocal passages) meshing with symphonic grandeur and even a little shred guitar. Participants in the project include Joe Bonamassa, Steve Morse, and Bruce Dickinson, among others. The new release includes the DVD of the recording as well as DVD/Blu-ray featuring an hour-long making of documentary, 80 minutes of bonus footage, a 5.1 audio mix of the album and a 16-page color booklet. Like the Ferry release, this is the way you put together a nice package for fans.
STORMING SOUTH AMERICA — Dream Theater have consistently and successfully championed prog metal for nearly 25 years, and their new Live At Luna Park DVD/Blu-ray, shot last year in Buenos Aires, Argentina, shows them whipping their fans into a frenzy with over two hours of technical wizardry and musical passion. Newer drummer Mike Mangini fits right in, smiling with often maniacal glee, as the quintet maintains a rapid fire pace through a setlist that embraces a mix of recent and classic albums. There are cameras everywhere—on, around and above the stage—and the bonus behind-the-scenes featurette is fun and unpretentious. (That’s a little prog humor.)
GROENING GALORE — I have to admit that I have not watched many new episodes of The Simpsons in the last decade (25 seasons is a lot by anyone’s standards), but now some of us can catch up with Season 16. Guests that year included Amy Poehler, Michelle Kwan and Eric Idle, and it featured a papal parody that was delayed due to the death of People John Paul II. Another Groening gem, Futurama, ended its run this year after four years on Comedy Central, the end of which is collected in Futurama Vol. 8. It’s a shame that such a witty sci-fi spoof will leave us again, but considering it got an extra four years and four full-length movies over its original four-year run on Fox, we have 140 episodes to watch over and over. Not bad.
MONSTERS IN TRAINING — Want to find out how Mike and Sulley got their monster mojo going? Pixar’s first-ever prequel, Monsters University, answers those questions as we joyfully journey back to their rowdy college years. Available in 3D and 2D deluxe packaging, the movie comes loaded with extensive bonus features that dive deep into the exhaustive process of making this movie as well as what it’s like to work at Pixar. I’ve been to their campus, and believe me, a lot of machines (not just people) are slaving away to render and animate everything. They also seem to have a sense of fun to balance out their hard work. I love those hidden bars in the workplace.