The Midnight Special’s Re-Issues Will Have Audiences Singing, Dancing Well Past Midnight

Courtesy:  StarVista Entertainment/Time Life Entertainment/NBC

Courtesy: StarVista Entertainment/Time Life Entertainment/NBC

StarVista Entertainment and Time Life Entertainment have made quite the name for themselves over the course of recent years.  Releases of classic series such as The Carol Burnett Show, Mama’s Family, The Dean Martin Show, China Beach, and most recently The Wonder Years have taken a company that for years was the butt of many people’s jokes to a place in the upper echelons of home entertainment companies.  For years, Time Life was known mainly for the not-so-well-known products that it pushed through extended advertisements on television.  Now it has carved out even more of a comfortable place in that upper echelon with the release of The Midnight Special on DVD.  The classic late night live concert series was released in a number of formats last month, resurrecting one more important piece of television and music history.  The show’s six-disc collector’s edition is one of the best of the sets that any fan of classic television and music can add to their own home library.  That is because it is one of the best examples of what made this series so great during its nine-year run on NBC.  It presents ninety-six total performances from bands, artists and groups across the music industry’s spectrum.  The acts that make appearances throughout the set’s six discs are the center of this box set’s enjoyment and success.  Just as important to note is the quality of the footage.  More than four decades have passed since the Midnight Special first debuted in 1972.  In that time, the footage presented in these performances has stood the test of time quite well.  And last but not least worth noting in the set’s success is its companion booklet.  The booklet serves as an episode guide for viewers.  That is the central point of its importance.  It also features personal insight from the series’ creator Burt Sugarman. Sugarman’s retrospection on the series and its importance adds one more layer of appreciation for this series.  Together with the acts that appear on each set and the quality of the footage, all three factors together make The Midnight Train another wonderful release from Time  Life Entertainment and StarVista Entertainment.

The Midnight Special was one of the most famed and beloved series on television during its day.  Unlike so many other series of the time, acts that came on the series in its heydey actually sang instead of lip synching.  What’s more, unlike American Bandstand, The Midnight Special focused on more than just the big pop acts of its day.  The acts that came to perform on NBC’s live overnight concert series spanned the music world’s ranks.  That is the most important aspect of this recently released classic series.  The acts that performed on The Midnight Special included the likes of John Denver performing alongside Linda Rondstadt and Aerosmith performing alongside Barry White, The Stylistics, and ELO.  It also featured acts the likes of: B.B. King, Frankie Vallie, Sammy Hagar, The O’Jays, BeeGees, and so many other greats that are still remembered today.  Even the show’s host himself, radio host Wolfman Jack was a celebrity in his own right.  Even today, he and those acts noted here are just as beloved as they were decades ago.  In an era when so many musical acts are little more than flash-in-the-pan pop acts and rarely radio worthy rock bands, musicaians and audiences alike need to be reminded of what once made music great and could again–originality and real talent.  That in mind, it makes sense that the list of performers that came on The Midnight Special is the central point of this series’ success whether in its six-disc box set or its other formats.

The list of artists, bands, and groups that graced The Midnight Special’s stage during its nine-year run on NBC is the most important aspect of this series’ recent re-issue.  More than four decades have passed since it first debuted on NBC in 1972.  That makes for plenty of reason to be concerned about the quality of the show’s footage in its transfer from tape to disc.  Luckily for audiences of all ages, painstaking efforts were taken to present the performances as they appeared in their original broadcasts. Those efforts paid off in spades as both the audio and video of each performance have been well-balanced.  Any impurities in the quality of the footage whether in the audio or video are so minute that they are unnoticable.  The end result is a product that for the show’s original audiences will generate a much-welcomed sense of nostalgia.  Both for those same audiences and the show’s much younger audiences, it also serves to show just how far music has come (both in a good and bad way) and how far recording technology has come, too.  So in the end, the quality of the footage in these performances makes Time Life and StarVista’s new re-issue of The Midnight Special even more enjoyable for audiences of all ages.

The efforts taken to transfter The Midnight Special’s master tapes to disc have definitely not been for nothing.  The show looks and sounds just as good as it did in its original run all those years ago in its rencet re-issue.  The acts that appeared on the show (and that are featured on the new six-disc compilation) are just as important to the overall presentation.  Both aspects together more than make the series worth a watch or two in any of its three re-issue formats.  The last aspect of the series’ re-issue (at least in its six-disc compilation format) that makes it a success and so enjoyable is the set’s companion booklet.  The booklet serves primarily as an episode guide, pointing out disc-by-disc and episode-by-episode each artist, band, and group that appears.  That listing even includes the songs performed by said acts.  By itself, the episode listing more than helps the enjoyment of the series’ re-issue.  The added insight from series creator Burt Sugarman adds one more layer of enjoyment to the series’ various presentations.  In terms of the six-disc box set, Sugarman recalls how so few people had faith in the show and how great it felt to prove those naysayers wrong.  That insight along with other comments from Sugarman make for even more interest and enjoyment in watching the performances culled for the show’s different re-issues.  While being the last of the noteworthy factors that make The MIdnight Special so…well…special, it is hardly the least important of the factors that make the series’ sets such a joy.  This aspect, along with the quality production values and the performances culled for the releases, makes The Midnight Special a truly special experience for viewers of all ages.

The Midnight Special is available online now.  Its eleven-disc and sixteen disc sets can be ordered online direct from Time Life’s online store at http://timelife.com/products/the-midnight-special-collector-s-edition.  The six-disc collector’s edition can be ordered via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Midnight-Special-6DVD-Amaray/dp/B00L9OPJ5C/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1414009549&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Midnight+Special.  More information on this and other releases from Time Life Entertainment and StarVista Entertainment is available online at:

Website: http://www.timelife.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TimeLifeUS

Twitter: http://twitter.com/TimeLifeUS

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ATK Still Television’s Top Cooking Show In Its Fourteenth Season

Courtesy: PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS released the fourteenth season of its hit cooking series America’s Test Kitchen to DVD this summer.  For those that might not be familiar with the long-running series, it is the on-air companion to Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.  It is also the only series on television today worth watching by anyone that has a love of food and the culinary arts.  In comparison to all of the celebrity-based cooking shows that pollute today’s television spectrum, America’s Test Kitchen has always focused on the food and not the familiar faces.  This latest release continues that long-held tradition from the hit series.  It’s just one reason that makes this season just as enjoyable as its previous thirteen seasons.  Another reason that audiences will enjoy this season is its list of dishes presented throughout the season’s episodes.  From fine dining to even the simplest dishes, host Christopher Kimball and company bring audiences lots and delectable dishes.  And instead of just saying do this or that, they actually discuss how each dish is made.  They even add educational content, explaining the significance of the processes and ingredients in each dish.  For those wanting to try the dishes out for themselves, a number of printable recipes have been included as PDF files complete with fully outlined directions, ingredients and a picture of the finished product.  That bonus rounds out the box set, completing what is even more proof of why PBS truly is the last bastion of worthwhile programming on television.

America’s Test Kitchen has proven for years to be in this critic’s view the single greatest cooking series on television.  The only real contender to that title is its “sister series” Cook’s Country.  It just so happens that Cook’s Country is hosted by Christopher Kimball, who also hosts America’s Test Kitchen.  And go figure, both series are run by PBS, which is really the last true bastion of worthwhile programming on television.  Anyone that might not be familiar with America’s Test Kitchen will see instantly in the DVD release of the series’ fourteenth season why it has remained a hit for such a long time.  The central reason for its continued success fourteen seasons in is the fact that it is not celebrity driven.  That goes completely against the standard used on the shows that make up most of Food Network’s programming and that of the cooking shows on Fox, NBC, and ABC.  It actually makes the food the star, not the people.  It’s such a welcome change in comparison to those other shows.

The downplaying of the host as the star of the show is the cornerstone of what has made America’s Test Kitchen a hit among true foodies and lovers of the culinary arts for fourteen seasons now.  Audiences will appreciate that unlike all those commercially-based cooking shows, the food and cooking equipment are the stars, not the hosts.  Just as worth noting is the variety of dishes that are presented and the manner in which they are presented.  Unlike all of the commercially-based cooking shows, Kimball and company don’t just say “this is what you do”, flying through each dish along the way.  Rather, they take their time.  They explain the significance of the ingredients and the processes that the dishes undergo as each ingredient is added to the various dishes.  That extra educational content shows the importance of cooking not just as some random activity but a science of sorts.  There are so many chemical reactions that go on in preparing and cooking different dishes.  It is really something interesting to consider.  Speaking of the dishes in question, the dishes featured this season range from something one might see on the menu at a four-star restaurant to an update on something as classic and simple as a grilled cheese sandwich.  There is even an easy meals made with pasta, seafood, and corn (yes, corn).  And what’s more audiences can pick and choose which dishes to check out.  They don’t have to sit through episode after episode to get to their dish of interest.  That makes the whole experience even better for any foodie and lover of the culinary arts when watching Season 14 of America’s Test Kitchen.  The positives don’t end here, either.  PBS has once again included a number of printable recipes to complement the dishes presented in Season 14. That inclusion rounds out the set, proving once more why this is the only cooking show worth watching on television today and why PBS is the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming on television today, too.

America’s Test Kitchen: Season 14 brings with it every one of the traditions that have made it a hit with viewers ever since its premiere season.  It includes once again explanations of each dish’s ingredients and the processes that occur in prep and cooking.  This proves that cooking isn’t just cooking.  It proves cooking is a science of sorts.  This is something that no commercially-based cooking show does.  It also makes the food and the cooking equipment the star, not the show’s hosts.  This has been a tradition since the show’s beginning so many years ago, too.  One more tradition that is carried into this season is the inclusion of printable recipes lifted right from the season’s episodes.  Obviously not every dish could receive its own printable recipe.  Sure it would nice to have the recipe for every single dish presented throughout each season.  But that just isn’t possible.  However, the dishes presented in this season’s selection of printable recipes  is delectable in its own right.  There’s a recipe for grilled corn with basil and lemon butter complete with recipe for the basil and lemon butter baste.  For those looking for something *ahem* meatier, there are recipes for grilled chicken, baby back ribs, and even grilled glazed pork loin.  Those viewers with a bit of a sweet tooth will enjoy the recipes for peach pie, lemon chiffon pie, and marbled blueberry bundt cake among other dishes.  There are plenty of other recipes included on the set that audiences will find their own favorite from the extensive selection offered.  That diverse selection perfectly rounds out the set and is sure to leave any viewer’s mouth watering in anticipation of trying these dishes themselves.  It proves once more why even now in its fourteenth season, America’s Test Kitchen remains the only cooking show worth watching on television and why PBS in whole is the last bastion of true worthwhile programming on television.

There is so much that can be noted of America’s Test Kitchen that makes it so enjoyable even now in its fourteenth season.  From the printable recipes to its in-depth episodes to the very fact that it continues to focus on the food and not the hosts, it continues to do so much right.  Any lover of the culinary arts and any foodie that has yet to see why this show continues to be so successful should order this four-disc box set now.  After watching through it, those viewers will join the ranks of those (like this critic) that already know why it is indeed the best cooking show on television today.  It is available now and can be ordered direct online via PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=35446656&cp=&sr=1&kw=americas+test+kitchen&origkw=America%27s+Test+Kitchen&parentPage=search.  More information on America’s Test Kitchen is available online at:

Website: http://americastestkitchen.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/americastestkitchen

Twitter: http://twitter.com/testkitchen

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NYPD Blue’s Seventh Season Is The Series’ Best So Far

Courtesy:  Shout! Factory

Courtesy: Shout! Factory

Shout! Factory will release the seventh season of ABC’s former hit crime drama NYPD: Blue next Tuesday, September 30th.  The series’ complete seventh season is one more example of just why it remained so popular for so many years.  Regardless of whether one is new to the series or is more familiar with it, all audiences will agree in watching these episodes that the main reason it remained so popular in its seventh season is its writing.  Unlike Dick Wolf’s now mostly defunct Law & Order franchise, the writers behind NYPD: Blue continued to craft wholly original stories that didn’t have to be “ripped from the headlines.”  At the same time, the series’ writers managed to balance that with continued focus on character development and storylines within the department.  And in this season, there are most definitely some interesting developments among the show’s characters.  The ability of the show’s writers to balance these aspects so expertly is key to its continued success in its seventh season.  Just as important to the series’ success in its seventh season is its trademark look.  Even years after it started, audiences will see that it still maintained a certain gritty look that helped to set it apart from its counterpart over on NBC.  Where the season’s writing left off, that look picked up and continued to make suspension of disbelief even easier and in turn the show’s enjoyment all the greater.  The series’ writing and its look both play pivotal roles in the success of NYPD: Blue’s seventh season.  Last but hardly least worth noting is the show’s camera work.  That, too is something that had been established early on in the series’ run.  And much like the writing and look of the series, it too continued to set the series apart from the likes of Law & Order and other crime dramas.  All these factors taken into consideration, NYPD: Blue’s seventh season is one more must have for any fan of this modern classic crime drama.

The seventh season of NYPD: Blue has what proves to be some of the best writing that the series had seen up to this point.  That writing is the core of what makes NYPD Blue just as successful at this point as when the series kicked off so many years ago.  The stories presented throughout the series’ seventh season continued to separate NYPD: Blue apart from its crime drama counterpart on NBC as it didn’t use stories “ripped right from the headlines.”  Rather the stories continued to be wholly original.  Ironically enough, as original as the stories prove to be, the fact that they weren’t just adapted from actual headlines makes them all the more believable.  Case in point is the season premiere episode, “Loogie Nights.”  This episode sees Sipowicz and Sorenson handling a case of a fatal police beating.  Considering recent headlines and the focus today on criminal cops, it’s proof positive as to why the series’ writers didn’t need to take stories from the news and adapt them for their “own” works.  There is also a case of a young woman being gang-raped in another episode.  And a close examination of this season also reveals that while the series’ writers continued to craft wholly original and gripping stories in each episode, it also reflected the real world as there seemed to be more focus on and acceptance of the gay community throughout this season.  That is just this critic’s thought.  But it seems to be more prevalent than in previous seasons of the series.  That in itself is a starting point in another discussion, proving once more just how important the writing is to this series.

The work put into the episodes that make up Season Seven is by itself a major reason for the show’s continued success.  The stories themselves though are just part of what makes the writing work so well.  Audiences that are familiar with this series see even more development among the characters both by themselves and within their daily interactions.  Audiences will especially enjoy seeing Sipowicz’s personal growth as a father and a person after his wife’s death in the series’ sixth season.  He hasn’t lost any of his edge while on the job.  But while spending time with his son, he exhibits so much humanity.  He encourages his son and actually acts like a father should.  It’s enough to make even the hardest person smile and tear up.  Sipowicz’s personal relationship with Sorenson matures, too.  While their working relationship continues to appear as dysfunctional as ever, those that know Sipowicz’s history and personality know that things have actually gotten between the two detectives.  Even more impressive about this is that the writers didn’t let either of these character development factors overtake the rest of the show.  They balanced the character developments expertly with the stories with the end result being another group of stories that by themselves prove once more why the writing by itself makes Season Seven well NYPD: Blue’s best season yet.

The work of the writers behind NYPD: Blue shows exactly why this crime drama remained a hit among viewers even well into its seventh season.  Their work was just part of why the series continued to be so successful seven seasons in.  The work of those responsible for the show’s look deserve their own applause, too in this season.  The gritty, more realistic look of NYPD: Blue established early on in the series’ run is maintained even here in its seventh season.  Much like the show’s writing, that look helped to maintain the series’ separate identity from the other crime dramas that were on television at the time; more specifically from NBC’s Law & Order franchise.  It’s one more element that continued to help maintain suspension of disbelief, and in turn, enjoyment of the series.  It’s one more way in which the series continued to shine even in its seventh season.

The writing behind Season Seven’s episodes goes a long way toward making this season another hit for the series’ fans.  The continued realistic, gritty look and feel of the show also helps in its own way.  Last but not least of all is the series’ camera work.  To some, camera work is something minor.  But those that are more production minded will take note of the show’s short, fast paced shots throughout each episode.  Again, this is something that other crime dramas on TV at the time were not doing.  Such use of the cameras helped to heighten the tension within each episode.   It also helped with the scene transitions, too. Those scene transitions set NYPD: Blue apart from its counterparts just as much as the series writing and its look.  The fact that the series’ heads and those behind the cameras maintained this aspect of the series, too only serves to make Season Seven all the richer and more enjoyable for audiences.  Together with the noted writing and gritty look, it makes Season Seven just as much of a must have for fans of the show as the show’s previous full season sets.

The camera work incorporated into the seventh season of NYPD: Blue is one aspect of the show that had been there from the series’ first season.  It’s nice to see this element of the show maintained so far into the show’s run. The same can be said of the show’s gritty look.  The two elements, along with the wholly original stories and character development come together in this season to make it another collection that any fan of the series will welcome in their collections just as much as the series’ previous season sets.  NYPD: Blue Season Seven will be available next Tuesday, September 30th on DVD.  It can be ordered online via Shout! Factory’s online store at https://www.shoutfactory.com/tv/crime/nypd-blue-season-seven.  More information on this and other releases from Shout! Factory is available online at:

Website: http://www.shoutfactory.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/shoutfactoryofficial

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Motown 25 Is A Musical Diamond In The Rough

Courtesy:  StarVista Entertainment/Time Life Entertainment

Courtesy: StarVista Entertainment/Time Life Entertainment

Television in America possesses a rich history in its modern era.  The moon landing, JFK’s assassination, The Korean and Vietnam wars, presidential elections, 9/11 and so many other events fill the history of television in its modern era.  While it would seem that many of the most important events broadcast on television in its modern history are memorable because they are tragic, there are positive events recorded in television’s modern history, too.  Some of the most memorable of those more positive events are concerts that have brought people together from all walks of life.  Live Aid, The Concert For New York, and the Beatles’ first ever live performance on American television each make the list of television’s top live broadcast draws.  Next Tuesday, September 30th, Time Life Entertainment and StarVista Entertainment will add another concert to that list of television’s greatest live concerts when they release Motown 25Yesterday-Today-Forever.  Motown 25: Yesterday-Today-Forever was originally broadcast on NBC on May 16th, 1983.  This new three-disc DVD presentation marks the first time since its original VHS release in 1983 that the concert has seen the light of day.  Being that this is the first time in just over three decades that it has been released to the public, this edition of Motown 25YesterdayToday.-Forever is well worth the price and the watch.  The central reason for that is the sheer magnitude of material included in the overall presentation.  Audiences don’t just get the original broadcast.  They get to hear from the concert’s original heads and some of the artists that performed on that night.  Audiences also get a brief yet still insightful history on the famed “Hitsville USA” as a bonus.  Another reason that audiences will enjoy this recording is the overall audio and video mix.  The painstaking efforts undertaken by those charged with restoring the concert’s footage paid off in spades.  Both the audio and video presented here sound and look just as good as the concert’s original broadcast if not better.  Completing the set is its companion booklet.  The booklet includes a brief yet thorough history on the concert and its lasting impact by author Nelson George and Motown 25 EP Suzanne De Passe.  Also included in the companion booklet is a complete guide to the concert’s lineup and bonus material along with full credits listing those behind the show.  The booklet is the final touch to a package that any old school r&b fan and lover of music and music history will appreciate.

Motown 25Yesterday-Today-Forever is one of the most enjoyable live recorded concerts in the modern history of television.  As enjoyable as it proves to be even today, it sadly is not one that most people think of when they think of major broadcast concerts.  That view will hopefully change though, after watching this presentation.  The amount of material included in this three-disc set alone is more than enough reason for viewers to change their view of Motown 25Yesterday-Today-Forever.  That vast amount of material includes not just the original concert recording, but a number of bonuses to go along with it.  Those bonuses include roundtable interviews with both the show’s heads and some of the performers, a brief but still thorough history of Hitsville, USA, and even an in-depth look at the very creation of the concert from pre-production to the finished product.  Audiences will be moved to hear the emotion as the show’s heads discuss their favorite memories from the concert.  There are plenty of laughs along the way.  And there are some tears, too.  The history lesson on Hitsville, USA is especially enjoyable for those that might not be so familiar with the history of the label that started it all for so many legends.  And the insight into the concert’s creation will interest anyone with any interest in television production.  Collectively, those bonuses along with the concert itself more than make Motown 25Yesterday-Today-Forever worth the watch whether one is a lover of old school lover of r&B, a music lover in general or even an individual with a love for music history.  And it is just part of what makes the collection worth the watch, too.  There is far more worth nothing that audiences will appreciate and enjoy just as much.  Another aspect worth noting is the overall quality of the concert’s footage (I.E. its audio and video mix).

The vast amount of material that makes up the body of Motown 25 is by itself more than enough reason for every lover of music.  It is just one part of the whole that makes the viewing experience a joy for audiences within this presentation.  The presentation’s collective audio and video mix adds to the presentation’s enjoyment.  StarVista Entertainment and Time Life Entertainment included a disclaimer before Motown 25’s central concert presentation begins stating the footage may have some minor discrepancies at various points throughout the concert.  But audiences will see that if there are any such discrepancies, they are too minute to see with the naked eye.  Those charged with restoring the footage for its presentation in this set are to be commended for their painstaking efforts as they paid off in spades.  That applies both to the audio and video mix.  Every note comes through crystal clear as does every single camera shot.  Again, kudos go out to those responsible for bringing the footage back to life as it most definitely looks and sounds as good as it must have in its original broadcast.

The work that went into restoring the footage from the Motown 25 concert and the amount of material included in the new upcoming box set collectively makes it such an enjoyable experience for anyone that has any love for the classics and for music history in general.  As enjoyable as they make the experience together, the people at Star Vista and Time Life didn’t stop there.  They also included a companion booklet with the set that adds even more depth to the presentation.  The companion booklet included with this three-disc set features its own look back at the Motown 25 concert from the show’s EP, Suzanne De Passe as well as one from author Nelson George, who wrote The Hippest Trip in America: Soul Train and the Evolution of Dance and Style.  Their shared insights offer a look at the concert that echoes the sentiments shared in the round table discussions that were included as bonus features.  Along with the additional insight and background on the concert, the set’s companion booklet also includes a complete song-by-song guide to the concert and bonus features.  And closing it out is a full listing of the names of those responsible for both the original concert and its re-working for its presentation here.  It finishes off a set that is arguably one more of this year’s best new archived live recordings.

Motown 25: Yesterday-Today-Forever is a diamond in the rough. With its full concert experience, bonus interviews and retrospective roundtable discussions, it offers audiences a concert experience unlike most others released so far this year.  The painstaking efforts on the part of those charged with re-mastering the concert’s original footage make the concert even more enjoyable for audiences.  And the bonus booklet added as a companion to the concert adds even more depth and insight to the show and its importance to the history of both r&b and the music world in whole.  All three factors together make Motown 25: Yesterday-Today-Forever one of this year’s best new archived live recordings and one that every lover of music will enjoy.  It will be available next Tuesday, September 30th and can be ordered online via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Motown-25-Yesterday-Today-Forever/dp/B00L9OPA56/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1411671053&sr=1-1&keywords=motown+25th+anniversary+television+special.  A special limited edition six-disc set and an expanded limited edition six-DVD/eight-CD set online via the Time Life online store at http://timelife.com/products/motown-25-yesterday-today-forever.  More information on these and other releases from Time Life and StarVista is available online at

Website: http://timelife.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TimeLifeUS

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Yankees Fans And Baseball Fans Alike Will Enjoy MLB Productions’ Latest Release

Courtesy:  Lionsgate/MLB Productions/A&E/A&E Home Video

Courtesy: Lionsgate/MLB Productions/A&E/A&E Home Video

The New York Yankees are in the waning days of the team’s 2014 season.  And along with the end of that season is the end of an era as Yankees great Derek Jeter is set to close out his Major League Baseball career, too.  While this season has not exactly proven to be everything that Yankees loyalists had hoped for MLB Productions has given Yankees nation reason to look back after this season’s end and still have plenty to smile about thanks to the recent release of Baseball’s Greatest Games: New York Yankees® Postseason Heroics.  This latest release continues a long-held tradition of excellence from Major League Baseball Productions as is evidenced throughout all four games contained in this set.  The inclusion of four full games is central to the enjoyment of the presentation.  That each game celebrates Jeter’s various accomplishments makes things even sweeter for fans.  As with previous MLB Productions releases, audiences are given the option to start at the top or bottom of any of the games’ innings.  They are not forced to sit through the whole game or even fast forward through to their key moments.  It adds even more enjoyment to the overall presentation.  And last but not least of all worth noting in this set is the collective video and audio mix in each episode.  MLB productions includes a disclaimer before the game, noting that there may be some discrepancies at given points.  But those discrepancies are few and far between.  If anything, seeing the games as they were originally broadcast adds to a certain sense of nostalgia among viewers, whether or not they be Yankees loyalists.  Each factor noted by itself is important to the whole in its own right.  All three together make Baseball’s Greatest Games: New York Yankees® Postseason Heroics another welcome addition to the library of any Yankees loyalist and any true-blooded MLB fan Yankees loyalist or not.

Baseball’s Greatest Games: Yankees® Postseason Heroics is a welcome addition to the library of any Yankees loyalist and any true-blooded MLB fan Yankees loyalist or not.  It is especially welcome being that New York’s season hasn’t exactly lived up to the hopes and expectations of the team or its fans.  Luckily for fans, this four-disc set features four past Yankees games on which fans can look back and smile after the season’s end.  The first of the games is Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS in which the Yankees faced off against the Baltimore Orioles.  The second game takes fans forward four years to Game 4 of the 2000 World Series.  The Yankees faced off against the Mets that year.  The key moment of this game was Jeter’s leadoff home run against the Mets.  The third game takes audiences another year forward to Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.  That year, the Yankees faced off against Oakland.  After taking down Oakland, the Yankees moved on in 2001 to the World Series, in which the team took on Arizona for the championship. MLB Productions features Game 4 of that year’s World Series as the set’s closing game.  As with the set’s other games, Jeter’s accomplishments are highlighted here, too.  Of course it doesn’t focus solely on his achievements.  Rather, the entire game is presented from the first pitch to the last.  The commercials have been cleanly cut, again displaying that commitment to quality from MLB Productions.  Simply put, with each game, audiences get the full game experience sans the commercial limitations.  They can pause the game at any point that they choose so as to use the bathroom, get a couple cold ones, or anything else.  All things considered here, it all proves just why the inclusion of the games and their inclusion in full at that is the central point of the set’s success.

The inclusion of four important recent Yankees games is central to the success of Baseball’s Greatest Games: Yankees® Postseason Heroics is central to the success of the set.  Their inclusion in full and the fact that they are meant to highlight the accomplishments of the soon-to-be-retired Yankee great Derek Jeter makes it even more of a solid center to the set.  Adding to the set’s success is the fact that once again, audiences are able to choose the inning at which they start each game.  To be even more precise, audiences can choose whether they start at the top of an inning within a given game or at the top of said inning.  So rather than be forced to sit through the whole game or fast forward through so much baseball, audiences can pick precisely where the game starts.  So if viewers have to stop for any reason, they can just pop in the DVD, pick the inning (and its top or bottom) and go from there.  If fast forwarding is still necessary, it won’t have to be but so much as a result of this inclusion.  This is a standard that those at MLB Productions have maintained for years.  So it is wonderful to see this standard maintained even here.  It serves to make the set’s overall presentation even more enjoyable and a success.

MLB fans and Yankees fans alike will appreciate that those with MLB Productions took painstaking efforts to maintain the tradition of excellence established by the company with every one of its releases up to this point including this set.  The games included in this set are presented in full. Audiences can once again choose the point at which they start giving games, whether the top or bottom of said inning(s).  All of this taken into consideration, Baseball’s Greatest Games: Yankees® Postseason Heroics proves to offer plenty of enjoyment for MLB fans regardless of their team loyalty.  There is still one more aspect of this set that makes it a joy for audiences.  That last aspect is the fact that the games in this set are presented exactly as they were seen in their original broadcast(s).  Game 1 of the team’s 1996 ALCS matchup against the Orioles was originally broadcast on NBC while the other three games were each broadcast on FOX.  MLB Productions’ people covered their bases, including a disclaimer noting the potential issues with the games’ video.  But the reality is the video looks just fine.  As a matter of fact, seeing the games as they looked in their original airings brings back a wonderful sense of nostalgia for fans. Considering that this season hasn’t lived to the hopes and expectations of the team and its fans, that sense of nostalgia is especially welcome for the members of the Yankees nation.  Together with the aforementioned aspects of the set, the presentation of each game from its original broadcast rounds out Baseball’s Greatest Games: Yankees® Postseason Heroics and makes it complete.  It is one more reason that audiences, regardless of allegiance, will welcome this latest collection of games from MLB Productions and A&E Home Video.

MLB Productions and A&E Home Video have a long history together, releasing wonderful pieces of baseball’s history every year.  Baseball’s Greatest Games: Yankees® Postseason Heroics is one more wonderful piece of that history.  The inclusion of four games in their entirety proves that right off the top.  That audiences can once more choose where they start viewing each game makes it even more of an enjoyable experience.  And the still quality video and audio mix of all four games rounds out the entire set.  All things considered, Baseball’s Greatest Games: Yankees® Postseason Heroics proves to be its own home run for any Yankees loyalist and any true-blooded baseball fan in general.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct from The Lionsgate online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/product.asp?Id=31220&TitleParentId=9945.  More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate and A&E Home Video is available online at:

 

Lionsgate

Website: http://www.lionsgate.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate
Twitter: http://twitter.com/linosgatemovies

A&E Home Video

Website: http://www.aetv.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AETV
Twitter: http://twitter.com/AEHomeEnt

MLB Productions

Website: http://mlbproductions.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mlbprod

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IFC’s Portlandia is As Solid As Ever Now In Its Fourth Season

Courtesy:  IFC

Courtesy: IFC

When it first debuted on IFC almost four years ago in 2011, Portlandia was little more than an unknown sketch comedy show.  Now three years later, it has gone on to quite the unexpected success.  It has garnered itself a nomination for an Emmy award and even a Peabody award win; this despite the show still being largely a cult favorite.  Now with the recent release of the show’s fourth season on DVD, audiences that might still be unfamiliar with Portlandia will be able to see for themselves just what has made this little show that could a fan favorite for four seasons now.  The first and most obvious reason that Portlandia has garnered such a fan following over the course of its run is its writing.  The writing behind this show is the sort of writing that will impress any fan of The Kids in the Hall and The Upright Citizens Brigade.  Also worth noting of this season is the acting on the part of lead stars Fred Armisen (Saturday Night Live) and Carrie Brownstein along with their co-stars and guest stars.  Speaking of the guest stars, the guest stars lined up for Season Four add their own comedic element that audiences will appreciate, rounding out the whole presentation.  All three factors together make the fourth season of IFC’s Portlandia a presentation that audiences new and not so new to the show will enjoy from start to finish.

The central point in the enjoyment of Portlandia Season Four is the show’s writing.  This season’s writing is a laugh riot.  Armisen and Brownstein take no prisoners with co-writer Jonathan Krisel throughout this season.  From social media to organized religion to horror movies, pet adoption agencies and so much more, nothing is off limits this season.  There’s even a spoof of the classic 1993 Robert Redford/Demi Moore drama Indecent Proposal in one episode.  The episode in question features none other than the star of HBO’s hit drama Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi.  The pokes at all things pop culture alone make Season Four well worth the watch.  They’re just the tip of the proverbial iceberg in what makes this season’s writing work.  As with the series’ previous three seasons, each episode is split into multiple segments with one skit serving as the hub of each episode.  That hub is sandwiched by a group of other stand-alone sketches.  This aspect of the writing is likely thanks in large part to SNL head Lorne Michaels also playing a role in this series, too.  And it proves to work quite well surprisingly enough even here.

Directly related to the writing behind Portlandia’s fourth season is the acting on the part of the both Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein.  The characters that have become so familiar and beloved by fans throughout the show’s first three seasons are back once again.  And the way that Armisen and Brownstein handle their portrayals makes for more than its share of laughs.  Those that might not be so familiar with the duo’s brand of comedy might see the duo’s acting as being aimed at a very specific audience.  The reality is that their acting is meant entirely to poke fun at certain groups of people.  They do so by going completely over the top in their stereotypical presentation of said characters.  It works perfectly with the scripts in general to make each of the sketches even more of a laugh riot.  Armisen and Brownstein’s acting combines with the season’s writing to make each of this season even more entertaining, regardless of audiences’ familiarity with the series.

Both the writing and acting that went into the fourth season of Portlandia play their own part in the overall enjoyment of this cult hit series.  Adding even more enjoyment to the overall presentation that is the series’ fourth season is the inclusion of a who’s who of guest stars.  It has already been noted that Boardwalk Empire star Steve Buscemi is on board this season.  Joining him are the likes of Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman 1,23), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic ParkIndependence DayHoly Man), and singer k.d. Lang among others.  Goldblum actually makes multiple appearances throughout this season’s sketches.  And Dunst opens the season in a hilarious episode that pokes fun at all of the really bad horror movies polluting theaters, store shelves and online retailers.  It is certain to leave any viewer laughing so hard that they cry.  k.d. Lang’s appearance later in the season is just as funny.  She appears in a skit about a group of lesbians on a nature retreat.  The retreat just happens to be led by an older man.  Needless to say that things turn rather interesting for him and Lang’s character.  These are just some of the laughs offered by the guest stars throughout Portlandia’s fourth season.  Audiences will find their own favorite moments when they pick up this season’s box set.

The guest stars tapped to appear in Portlandia’s fourth season make for plenty of laughs.  The same can be said of the acting both on their part and that of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (as well as their cat mates).  And the writing in general makes a solid cornerstone on which rests the equally solid acting and A-list guest list.  All things considered, Porlandia Season 4 proves in the end to be a collection of episodes that anyone looking for a good laugh will enjoy.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on Portlandia is available online at http://www.facebook.com/portlandia and http://www.ifc.com/portlandia.  More information on this and other releases from IFC is available online at http://www.facebook.com/IFC and http://ifc.com.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 DVD Set Is Fun But Flawed Re-Issue Set

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Television today is a virtual wasteland of programming.  If one takes the time to examine the current programming lineup for the “Big 4” and even the cable spectrum reveals that dramas and reality shows are the biggest draw for most of those networks right now.  The comedies that are there sadly lack the heart of the comedies crafted from television’s golden era up until about the mid to late 90s.  They have all become oversexed and dumbed down.  And the news magazines all seem to be dominated by stories about murders.  Taking into consideration what has happened to television today, Mill Creek Entertainment’s re-issue of Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 early this year becomes quite the welcome box set.  Seasons 3 and 4 offer plenty more laughs for viewers.  For all of the enjoyment offered in the box set’s five discs, the set isn’t without one glaring fault.  It is the same fault that has hindered each of Mill Creek’s box sets.  Luckily, that one fault isn’t enough to take away from the one other positive to this season, which is the inclusion of a young Tony Shaloub to the show’s cast as well as celebrity appearances from members of the Cheers cast and other well-known figures.  The good and the bad taken together here, Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 proves to be an easy candidate for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets for grown-ups.

Mill Creek Entertainment’s release of Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 is an easy candidate for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets for grown-ups.  The main reason for that is the show’s writing.  The series, which was co-created and produced by Cheers staffers David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee, proves in its third and fourth seasons to still have more heart than any of the sitcoms currently on television today.  A look at the writing in these two seasons proves that.  The series’ writers managed to do something in these two seasons that few if any writers have managed to do in recent years.  They managed to balance the series’ story lines so as to not let its serial side overpower its standalone side.  That balance is just as visible in Cheers.  So it should come as no surprise that it is just as stable here.  In terms of the show’s more serial-centered side, the relationship between Helen and Joe will keep viewers laughing through every episode.  ‘Ladies Who Lunch” is one of the best of those episodes.  Helen and Gail, Joe’s ex and his current girlfriend hang out and end up becoming friends.  Ironically, Gail ends up breaking up with Joe in the process.  On the other side of things, there is the two-part story arc that sees Antonio trying to get his green card.  That arc is made up of the episodes “Marriage, Italian Style” and “Divorce, American Style.” The two episodes together make up what is a time honored storyline used in so many sitcoms before and after. As many times as it has been used even before this case, these two episodes are just as funny as those of any of those noted series. The ability of the show’s writers to balance the series’ serial elements with its standalone elements is just one part of what audiences will appreciate in its third and fourth seasons. Audiences will appreciate the writing itself in terms of its jokes and story lines.

The jokes and story lines incorporated in the third and fourth seasons of Wings should not be omitted in examining what makes these seasons work so well. Audiences will enjoy the writers’ homage to I Love Lucy in Season 4’s episode “I Love Brian.” Brian badmouths I Love Lucy because of the show’s writing. Yet he ends up taking part in an equally bird brained scheme in order to meet country singer Clint Black (who makes a guest appearance for the episode) and impress a woman. In “Goodbye, Old Friend,” Lowell loses a dear friend. Even in his grief, he provides his own share of laughs as he goes through the five stages of grieving in a matter of a minute if that. The timing of that moment along with Brian’s (Steven Weber) statement that Lowell would go through the stages over months makes it an especially lighthearted moment. At the same time though, Lowell is still struggling with his feelings at having lost such a friend. His final gesture for his friend makes the episode whole and will warm any viewer’s heart. These are just a couple examples of how the actual writing in Seasons 3 & 4 makes these two seasons even more welcome additions to the library of anyone looking for a break from all of the over sexed and overly violent programming out there today. Together with the writers’ ability to balance the show’s serial elements with its standalone elements, it is even more a welcome respite from those shows.

So much was done right with Wings in its third and fourth season n terms of its writing. For all of those positives, this recently released box set is not without one glaring fault. That glaring fault is the box set’s packaging. All five of this set’s discs are set one on top of the other on a single spindle inside the case. This creates a certain amount of difficulty in pulling the disc of choice by viewers. It also increases greatly the likelihood of the discs scratching themselves. This is a major issue that Mill Creek has yet to address even to this day. And until it fixes the problem, that poor manner of packaging is going to continue to cause Mill Creek to trail its “big brothers.” Luckily, it isn’t enough to take away too much from the overall enjoyment taken from the series’ writing or the last factor worth noting in this set. That last factor is the celebrity guest appearances made throughout Seasons 3 and 4.

The celebrity guest appearances made throughout the third and fourth seasons of Wings round out the package in whole and make these two seasons all the more worth the watch. Seasons 3 and 4 see some of the cast members from Cheers make appearances along with other celebs. Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth make an onscreen appearance as Dr. Frasier Crane and his wife Lilith in one episode, while fellow Cheers alumnus Kirstie Alley also makes an appearance alongside country superstar Clint Black in “I Love Brian.” Oliver North and William Hickey (Prizzi’s Honor, The Nightmare Before Christmas) also make appearances. The fact that the series could garner such star power was by itself a major statement of faith. It was a statement of faith in the series. That faith combined with the series’ solid writing to make it just as much a fan favorite then as it will be now in its latest re-issue by Mill Creek. And audiences will agree to all of that when they purchase this five-disc set themselves.

Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 is available in stores and online now. It can be ordered now direct from Mill Creek’s online store here. More information on this and other releases from Mill Creek Entertainment is available online through the official Mill Creek Entertainment website and Mill Creek Entertainment Facebook page. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to the Phil’s Picks Facebook page and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog.