Ireland’s Wild River Is An Example Of A Wildlife Documentary Done Right

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Ireland’s Wild River is one of the most enjoyable episodes of PBS’ beloved wildlife series Nature to come along in quite a while. This episode of Nature is such a joy first and foremost because of its approach. There is quite a bit to note on that matter alone. Another reason that audiences will enjoy this episode of Nature thanks to the beautiful cinematography. That plays directly into the episode’s approach. One more reason that viewers will enjoy this episode of Nature is its editing. Much like the cinematography, the editing plays directly in to the episode’s overall approach. All three factors together make this episode of Nature one that any viewer should see at least once.

PBS’ Nature has been a hit with viewers for years. That is because of its general approach. It has typically stayed as far as possible from all of the wildlife shows that are based more on personalities (whether on camera or off) than on the animals. Because they focus more on personalities, those same shows take more of an intrusive approach than Nature for lack of better wording. While this episode of Nature actually does have a host of sorts in Colin Stafford-Johnson, he is not the center of attention. Nor does he show any interest in taking center stage. The only time that he is shown is occasionally as he paddles (yes, paddles) along the Shannon. Even his own narration is apart from that of hosts of other wildlife program. That makes this episode even more enjoyable for true nature lovers. His narration isn’t the same high energy approach of so many nature show hosts. Much like the cinematography and companion editing of this episode, Stafford-Johnson’s own narration is low-key and non-intrusive. He takes the angle more of a full-on observer than the standard host that goes in and grabs everything in sight, trying to stay in the camera. It’s one part of the episode’s approach that makes the episode such a joy.

Host Colin Stafford-Johnson’s hands off, observer style approach to Ireland’s Wild River is just one part of what makes this episode of Nature so enjoyable for lovers of any wildlife programming on television. Another, more subtle aspect of the episode’s approach that makes it so enjoyable is in how Stafford-Johnson made his way along the Shannon River. Whereas shows like River Monsters and others are so quick to use motorized boats because they make the show more “sexy” for viewers, Stafford-Johnson gently paddles along in a canoe. It’s a nice change of pace. It shows that Stafford-Johnson isn’t trying to present that same spit-shined, “sexy” appearance of those other shows. And it shows a true reverence for the wildlife along the river, too. He is showing that he doesn’t want to do anything to disturb the wildlife. This is such a welcome alternative to what audiences are accustomed to seeing from nature shows. It makes the episode’s overall approach all the more entertaining for audiences.

The approach taken by Stafford-Johnson and those responsible for the final product here resulted in what is one of the series’ best episodes so far in 2014. That work is not all that makes this episode so enjoyable. Just as important to the overall enjoyment factor is the combined cinematography and editing used for the final product. The shots of Stafford-Johnson paddling gently along the river, and sitting in his canoe among the reeds create such a sense of serenity. There are no overdone pans setting him against the backdrop of the river or other unnecessary flourishes. It’s just straight forward camera work. In terms of flourishes, audiences will like the high speed photography capturing in flight, the many birds that populate the Shannon. Even here, it isn’t overdone. This effect is used just enough to add a little extra “oomph” to the program. And the editing used to transition from one bird to the next adds even more of that feeling.   Just as worth noting is one specific moment in which a shot of a bird on a reed fades to a show of Stafford-Johnson’s silhouette against the setting sun in the sky. Given, it’s a standard edit effect. But it’s the only time that audiences see this effect used, too. Simply put the editing and cinematography are minimized just as much as Stafford-Johnson’s time on camera. There’s no over the top anything here. Everything is balanced just right throughout the course of the program. In the end it’s that balance makes Ireland’s Wild River one of the best episodes of PBS’ Nature yet.

Ireland’s Wild River is available now on DVD. It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at More information on this and other episodes of Nature is available online at and To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Downton Abbey Even “Richer” In Its Fourth Season

Courtesy: PBS/itv

Courtesy: PBS/itv

The fourth season of Downton Abbey is another success for the hit imported drama.  Yes, it is one more serial.  But unlike so many of the serials that dominate American television, this serial has actually stepped it up once again.  The show’s writers have made the series’ progression feel natural. Just as important in the success of Season Four is the work of those in the show’s costume department.  Just as the writing has helped the show progress, the costume design department has progressed with the writing.  The acting on the part of the cast continues to shine, too.  There is far more to consider than just the work of the actors, writers, and costume department in the success of Downton Abbey Season Four.  That would take far too much time and space than is available.  Needless to say, the three factors noted here collectively are more than enough reason to purchase or order this latest season of PBS’ hit imported drama.

Serials are all the rage on American television.  So it leaves one wondering why the “Big 4” have ignored Downton Abbey leaving it instead to PBS for four seasons now.  It’s the loss of the “Big 4” and the gain of PBS, proving once again the need and importance of public broadcasting.  Now in its fourth season, Downton Abbey is still just as enjoyable as it was in its first season.  The primary reason for that is the series’ writing.  The show’s writers have continued to make the show’s progression feel entirely natural now in its fourth season.  Put simply, the writers don’t make viewers feel like they absolutely must watch from week to week to keep up with everything going on even now in the show’s fourth season.  That’s what separates this drama from all of the serials that dominate American television.  Viewers can tune in and miss a week here or there and still be able to have a relatively good idea of what is going on.  By direct connection, those charged with keeping the series believable in terms of its look have helped the show‘s progression, too.

Audiences that have watched Downton Abbey since its very first season will recall the time and place in which the series began.  Those audiences will notice that those charged with maintaining the cast’s attire have gone to great lengths to keep the cast’s attire proper for the times.  From the women’s flapper attire to the men’s dresswear, it’s obvious that the costume department’s heads wanted to maintain viewers’ suspension of disbelief.  And considering just how few studio execs and moviemakers today care about maintaining the accuracy of their period pieces, it’s wonderful to see that at least someone cares.  It serves so well to help pull viewers into the series and make them feel like they are actually there and not just watching it on television.  It’s just one more part of why DA’s fans will appreciate this latest season.

The work of the costume department and the writers behind Downton Abbey work in tandem to make the series just as enjoyable in its fourth season as it was in its debut season.  As impressive as the writing and costuming are in Season Four, one would be remiss to ignore the acting on the part of the cast.  The cast has once again expertly interpreted the writers’ scripts.  Michelle Dockery instantly pulls at viewers’ heartstrings as the now widowed Lady Mary.  Lady Mary is now faced in Season Four, with raising a child alone as her husband has been killed.  And Maggie Smith’s return as Dowager Countess of Grantham is one of the season’s highest points.  She continues to prove why she is one of the leading actresses in the industry today.  Even the servants show their acting prowess.  From romance plot lines to a maid that has a serious attitude problem, they pull in viewers just as much as the rest of the cast that fills Highclere Castle.  Viewers will each find their favorite moments from the cast throughout Season Four when they order and purchase this box set for themselves.  Audiences will also see for themselves just why the costume department and the series’ staff of writers deserve their share of credit, too this season.  It can be ordered online direct from the PBS online store at  Fans can follow Downton Abbey online at and  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Spies Of Mississippi Is One Of PBS’ Most Important DVDs Of 2014

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Spies of Mississippi is one of the most important pieces that PBS will release this year.  The documentary, which is based on author Rick Bowers’ 2010 book by the same name, first aired on PBS in 2013.  It was just recently released on DVD last month.  The primary aspect of this story that makes it so important is that it lifts the veil on a piece of civil rights (and American) history that few people know about.  The second factor, in direct connection, is the story’s organization.  The real story doesn’t start until late in the near hour-long feature.  However, the setup toward that story is what makes it so important.  And last but definitely not least of the notable aspects of this documentary is the inclusion of first person interviews, vintage footage and newspaper articles to help illustrate the story and advance it.  All three aspects together make Spies of Mississippi an excellent starting point for what could lead to a much deeper investigation and documentary from PBS.

The primary aspect of Spies of Mississippi that makes it so important is that it lifts the veil on a piece of civil rights (and American) history that few people know about.  People know about cases such as Brown v. Board of Education and the famous Greensboro sit-in among many others.  But how many people can honestly say that they knew about the covert operations of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission?  This “secret society” of sorts had one and only one goal.  That goal was to prevent any possibility of blacks and whites from becoming integrated in America.  This included keeping blacks from being able to even vote.  Audiences that might be learning this story for the first time (much like this critic) will be amazed at the levels to which the MSSC would go to in order to achieve its goals.  As they will learn, the MSSC even stooped to killing two white men that were helping members of the black community in their fight for equality.  It even allegedly had African-Americans infiltrate groups such as the NAACP to keep track of what was going on so as to achieve its goals.  These are just some of the revelations that will shock viewers seeing this story for the first time.  One could almost compare the actions of the MSSC to the likes of what happened under McCarthy and the Red Scare.  And in a time when the country is getting ready to go through state and local elections again, this documentary becomes all the more important.

The story contained in this DVD is the key aspect of the program’s success.  By direct connection, the organization of the presentation adds to the program’s success.  There are those that have noted just how short the “most important” part of the story received so little time.  The part of the story in question was the portion outlining how the MSSC went to such great lengths to keep African-Americans from being able to vote.  What said individuals perhaps don’t quite understand is that the first half of the presentation was a necessary evil.  It was necessary in that it helped to set up the story in question.  That being the case, both halves of the presentation become one whole that is easy to follow.  In turn, the whole becomes a piece that any history buff, poly-sci buff or otherwise will appreciate.

The organization of Spies of Mississippi and its overall story work in conjunction to make this presentation an excellent starting point for what could be an even deeper examination of part of America’s hidden past.  Both aspects show why this is one of PBS’ most important home releases of 2014.  As impressive as they are, there is still one more piece of the whole to consider in this documentary.  That final piece is the material that makes up the program.  From one-on-one interviews with those closest to the MSSC to vintage footage and newspaper articles, Director Dawn Porter and her staff have included a number of items that help illustrate the story.  Those items show just how important the scandal surrounding the MSSC was then and even how it relates to certain voting issues going on in America today.  Viewers will be interested to hear from the supposed “Agent X” that was sent to infiltrate the civil rights movement among others.  There is much more that audiences will take away from this presentation in watching it for themselves.  And they can do so when they order the DVD direct from PBS’ online store at  More information on this and other programs from PBS is available online at and  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Kids And Parents Will Both Love The Latest Dinosaur Train DVD

Courtesy:  PBS/PBS Kids

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Kids

All aboard!  The Dinosaur Train is ready to roll again!  The latest compilation from PBS Kids’ hit series Dinosaur Train is a good fit for young audiences and teachers as Valentine’s Day nears once again.  Dinosaur Train: I Love Dinosaurs boasts four more episodes from the hit series.  Four episodes may not be much to some.  But the collective content of the included episodes is the primary factor in the overall enjoyment of this set.  Just as noteworthy as the episodes’ content is the collective bonus features included in the set.  Both of these factors work together to make Dinosaur Train’s latest DVD compilation a grouping of episodes that will have audiences of all ages saying they love dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Train: I Love Dinosaurs contains four more episodes from PBS’ hit series.  On the surface, four episodes doesn’t seem like that much.  But the collective content of each of the four episodes makes this latest DVD well worth ordering.  Love is in the air in this compilation.  Shiny has a crush on Mr. Conductor’s nephew, Gilbert in “Gilbert Visits The Nest.”  A Cryolophosaurus  named Crystal catches the eye of King Cryolophosaurus in “King Meets Crystal.”  And even Mr. Conductor has his own romantic interest in “Erma and the Conductor.”  With so much romance even in the dinosaur age, it makes this compilation a great fit for Valentine’s Day both in the classroom and the living room.  The romance factor of the included episodes is just one part of what makes Dinosaur Train: I Love Dinosaurs a fun addition to any classroom or home library.  The overall content of the episodes culled for the set is really what makes them enjoyable.

The overall content of each of the four episodes culled for this latest Dinosaur Train DVD is the…ahem…heart of what makes the presentation in whole so enjoyable.  One of the most interesting things to note of the episodes contained on the disc is that not every episode sees the Pteranadon family take the Dinosaur Train.  “Gilbert Visits The Nest” and “Don’s Collection” prove that the show’s writers can make a good episode without having to pull the characters into different time periods.  What’s more, the lessons taught in these two episodes make them all the richer.  “Don’s Collection” teaches young viewers that sometimes, the simple things can be just as entertaining as anything else.  That’s a lesson that can be applied in so many facets in life.  “Gilbert Visits The Nest” teaches viewers that one doesn’t have to go to extremes to impress others.  This doesn’t have to apply in a romantic setting, either.  It can apply in a setting as simple as making friends.  Even adults could learn a thing or two from this episode.  Speaking of learning things, kids get a mini-lesson of sorts on astronomy in “Erma and The Conductor.”  The Pteranodon family takes the Dinosaur Train to see a meteor shower.  Younger audiences learn what meteors are and what meteor showers are at that.  So along with the romance factor, the education factor is there, too.  If the episodes themselves aren’t enough for viewers, the bonus features included in the DVD will convince viewers.

The episodes included in Dinosaur Train: I Love Dinosaurs are by themselves a bonus for viewers.  That’s thanks to the mix of educational and entertaining content.  The episodes aren’t all that audiences get with this new set from PBS and PBS Kids.  The bonus features included with this DVD maintain the bar set by previous Dinosaur Train DVDs.  Dr. Scott The Paleontologist’s segments are included once again as are more coloring pages, an interactive DVD-Rom game and more.  The bonus features bring everything full circle and make this DVD complete.  Having gone through both the episodes and bonus features, every viewer will agree that they, too love dinosaurs.  Dinosaur Train: I Love Dinosaurs is available now on DVD.  It can be ordered online via the PBS online store at More information on this and other Dinosaur Train DVDs is available online at  More episodes and games are also available online at  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at