Panton’s New LP Is “A Cheerful Little Earful” For Listeners Of All Ages

Courtesy: Little Things

Diana Panton will release her latest album next month.  The album – A Cheerful Little Earful – is scheduled for release Oct. 18 through Little Things Records.  The 15-song, 53-minute album is Panton’s second family music album — coming four years after her debut family album 2015’s I Believe in Little Things — and her 12th overall album.  This latest offering from Panton is fittingly titled.  That is because it will leave listeners of all ages feeling cheerful after they get an earful of the record.  The album’s featured songs plays directly into that effect.  They will be addressed shortly.  The musical aspect of the album also plays into that positive impact, and will be addressed a little later.  The same can be said of the album’s sequencing by connection.  Each item noted is key in its own way to the whole of the album’s presentation.  All things considered, they make A Cheerful Little Earful a work that will leave every listener feeling cheerful.

Diana Panton’s latest full-length studio recording is a presentation that fits its title quite well.  That is because it does in fact prove itself A Cheerful Little Earful of music.  The record’s featured songs play their own part in that impact.  The record opens with Panton’s own take on the classic Rogers & Hammerstein song ‘Happy Talk,’ which is featured in the duo’s beloved musical ‘South Pacific.’  It is followed up by the song ‘It’s A Most Unusual Day,’ which was written and arranged by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHughes, and made famous by Jane Powell in the 1948 MGM movie A Date With Judy.  Harry Woods’ 1926 hit song ‘Red, Red Robin’ – made famous by actress Lilian Roth – is also featured in the album, along with works from Perry Como (‘A, You’re Adorable’), Jimmy Van Huesen and Sammy Cahn (‘Pocket Full Of Miracles’ – taken from the 1961 movie of the same name), Sammy Fain, Bob Hilliard and Fr. Louis Sauvat (‘All In The Golden Afternoon’ – From Walt Disney’s 1951 classic animated movie Alice in Wonderland) just to name some more songs.  As if that isn’t enough, Panton once again offers at least one work for children in the form of the timeless Sesame Street tune ‘I Don’t Want To Live on the Moon.’  Of course likely just as many grown-ups know that song as do children, so to that end, that song will appeal to lots of adults as well as children.  Along with all of this, there is a Cole Porter work featured in the album in the form of ‘Experiment’ and even a cover of the Michael Jackson hit ‘Music and Me.’  That song was written by Michael Cannon, Don Fenceton, Mel Larson and Jerry Marcellino.  Simply put, Panton once again runs the proverbial gamut with this album’s featured songs.  That is just as evident in the other songs not noted here.  What is truly interesting here is that while the variety of songs is plentiful, they defy the standard definition of “Family Music.”  Most of the music here is jazz, and jazz is music for everyone, like with bluegrass (E.g. The Okee Dokee Brothers).  So it is a family music album, but also an album of music for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.  To that end, the songs featured in this album gives it a strong foundation.

That foundation is strengthened even more thanks to the songs’ arrangements.  The arrangements will appeal just as much to Panton’s longtime fans as they will to those who might be less familiar with her work.  From the light, easygoing piano-driven arrangement at the center of the album’s opener, ‘Happy Talk,’ to the more gentle, reserved arrangement at the center of ‘I Don’t Want To Live on The Moon’ (which is also centered around Don Thompson’s gentle, flowing piano line), to the equally reserved, guitar-centered arrangement of ‘If You Feel Like Singing, Sing’ to the more light hearted (and also guitar-centered) ‘Aren’t You Glad You’re You’ – which was used in the soundtrack to the 1945 Bing Crosby classic The Bells of St. Mary’s – and beyond, the arrangements featured throughout the album are really what make the featured works so easy on the ears.  Thompson’s work on the vibes from  point to point conjures thoughts of the one and only Lionel Hampton while Panton’s own vocal delivery once again is comparable to that of Diana Krall.  The arrangements are easy on the ears not just because of the instrumentation, but also because of their simplicity.  There are no over-the-top performances and solos at any point.  Rather, each song is simple and straight forward from beginning to end.  That adds even more appeal to each composition.  All things considered here, the arrangements presented in each song do just as much to make this record appealing as the songs themselves.  They still are not the last of the album’s most important element.  When the arrangements and songs are considered along with the record’s sequencing, all three elements work together to make the record that much more enjoyable and entertaining.

The sequencing of Cheerful Little Earful is important to note because it ensures listeners’ engagement and entertainment by keeping the record’s energy stable throughout its run.  As already notes, the album opens on a high, light hearted note in ‘Happy Talk.’  From there, the album’s energy gradually changes with the tempos gradually slowing until it reaches that famed Sesame Street classic tune.  Things pick back up a little after that in the album’s title track before pulling back again in ‘If You Feel Like Singing, Sing’ and ‘Music and Me.’  The change in the energies are subtle though the next few songs before picking up again more noticeably in ‘Aren’t You Glad You’re You.’  The album ends with two more gentle arrangements that take listeners out on a soft note.  Again, the album’s sequencing keeps the album’s energy just right from beginning to end, not changing too much from one song to the next.  That stability in the songs’ energies means listeners are more apt to remain engaged throughout as the variety in the arrangements and the songs.  When all of those elements are noted together, the end result is a record that truly is a cheerful little earful for listeners of all ages.

Diana Panton’s forthcoming album Cheerful Little Earful is a fittingly titled-album, especially for jazz and cinema fans.  That is because so many of the songs featured in this album are classic jazz tunes that are featured in some great classic major motion pictures.  They are not the album’s only songs, though.  As noted, there is at least one song taken from PBS’ long-running series Sesame Street and even a Michael Jackson cover.  That variety of songs and associated backgrounds means a wide ranging appeal in itself.  The songs’ arrangements add even more appeal to the record.  The album’s sequencing ensures the energies in those arrangements remains stable from the album’s opening to its end.  Each noted item is important in its own way to the whole of the album.  All things considered, they make Cheerful Little Earful an earful that will leave every listener cheerful.  More information on the album is available online now along with all of Diana Panton’s latest news and more at:










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CBS All Access’ New ‘Star Trek’ Series Fails In Its First Season

Courtesy: CBS Television Studios/Paramount

In a little more than a month, CBS All Access’ latest entry into the Star Trek universe – Star Trek: Discovery — returns for its second season.  While audiences count the days until the fledgling series returns, they have its debut season to take in on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of CBS Television Studios and Paramount Home Entertainment.  Released in stores Nov. 13 on separate DVD and Blu-ray sets, Season One’s home release offers both pros and cons to note, beginning with the series’ very writing.  It will be discussed shortly.  The set’s bonus content is its own positive, and will be discussed a little later.  The set’s average price point is also important to discuss, and will be addressed later.  Each item noted here is important in its own right to the whole of the season’s presentation.  All things considered, the debut season of Star Trek: Discovery proves to be a new start for the Star Trek universe that is worth at least one watch, but sadly not much more.

The debut season of CBS All Access’ new Star Trek offering, Star Trek: Discovery is a rough new start for the Star Trek universe’s latest offering.  It is not the franchise’s worst entry, but definitely is not the franchise’s best entry, either.  That is due in part to the writing, which like Paramount’s 2009 big screen Star Trek reboot, is little more than just another revisiting of the Star Trek universe’s past.  It takes audiences into the past, attempting to show what led to the never-ending tensions between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.  The result is a presentation that conjures thoughts more of SyFy Channel’s most recent Battlestar Galactica reboot than any Star Trek entry, either on the big or small screen.  This is just the beginning of the problems with the writing, because the set-off is actually somewhat ambiguous.  Were the Klingons already planning to rise up before the incident with Michael Bernham and the Klingon warrior, or did it only happen after that incident?  Audiences know that said incident played at least in part to the conflict, but because of the dialogue featured throughout the early episodes of Season One, audiences will be left scratching their heads to a point as to that setup.

As season one progresses, it resurrects some ST story elements that are all too familiar to longtime ST fans.  One of those elements is a time loop arc. Another is the alternate universe story arc.  The time loop has been done already in Star Trek: The Next Generation while the alternate universe arc was used in Star Trek: TOS.  This series’ writers try to freshen up the time loop arc by setting it off through a character that fans of TOS will recognize, and while it does work to a point, the story starts to plod along after a while, getting lost in itself along the way.  The alternate universe arc proves even more problematic not only because it’s already been done, but also because it creates its own share of plot holes.  Not to give away too much for the sake of those who haven’t yet seen Season One, but if the alternate universe has the evil twins of the Discovery “prime” universe – the term “prime” is actually used by Berham in this arc – then where is the “good” twin of Capt. Lorca and the “evil” twin of Bernham?  Bernham’s doppelganger is mentioned by the “evil” Phillipa, but the writers never address where she is in a bigger sense.  Nor is it mentioned where the “good” Capt. Lorca is or if there even is a “good Capt. Lorca.  The writers try to explain it away in an early scene in the arc between Discovery’s Bernham and Lorca, but it is still ultimately left up in the air.  Even Paul Stamets’ double is introduced as he sits in a coma.  This is its own problem as one can’t help but make comparison to so many soap operas, as every major soap opera has done the coma “dream sequence” way too many times.  Getting back on track, even as Discovery gets back to its own universe, the whereabouts of the “evil” Discovery ship is not addressed, either.  Where is it?  Did it go back to its universe when Discovery jumped back to its universe?  Again, here audiences have a plot hole that is left wide open even as the writers struggle to address the situation in the story arc’s finale.

Another plot hole that is left wide open involves Bernham’s adoptive father, (who also proves to be the father of another even more well-known Star Trek character) Sarek.  Again, not to give away too much, but Sarek is rescued after his ship is sabotaged (in a moment that makes one think of something from Iron Man 3), but after his rescue, his character is ignored until the season’s final two episodes.  Audiences don’t hear from him after Bernham leaves him laying in sick bay, recovering from his wounds.  Next time he’s seen, he’s in full health.  This is problematic as it doesn’t take long after that instance for the problems to start again for Discovery.  Was Sarek still on the ship at that point?  When did he leave the ship?  Again, this is a plot hole that simply cannot be ignored.  It proves the writing that much more problematic.  This still is not the last of the issues raised through an examination of the writing.  The introduction of Lt. Tyler creates its own issue.

The introduction of Lt. Tyler is a direct comparison to Battlestar Galactica.  This critic will attempt to not give away too much information here, but the revelation about who and what Tyler is makes that comparison far too easy.  The recent reboot of Battlestar Galactica saw the Cylons infiltrate the humans’ ranks by making them look like the humans.  This in itself was a lifting from Terminator 2 (if not other previous movies and TV shows).  What the writers did here with Tyler is very similar, but instead of making him a robot, they made him something else.  Audiences who have yet to see this season will be left to make that discovery themselves, but it goes without saying that it has been done before.  In this case, it is the same thing, just altered slightly and in more gory fashion.

As if the general story elements, the plot holes and that they create, and the rehashing of another element are not enough, the smaller items of the writing prove just as problematic for this presentation.  There is lots of overt bloodshed, gore, sexual content and foul language.  Given, maybe her and there, there has been some mildly suggestive material in previous Star Trek incarnations, but never was it to the point that it is here.  There are flashes of a sex scene between one of the lead Klingon characters and another character late in the season’s run.  There is also enough bloodshed and overt violence to appease the most bloodthirsty person.  It’s a disappointment because none of the Star Trek universe’s other series’ needed any of that in order to be even mildly entertaining.  So, why did the writers think it was needed here?  Have audiences really become that dependent on violence and sexuality?  If so, then that is in itself is a troubling statement.

While the writing exhibited in the debut season of Star Trek: Discovery does a lot to detract from its presentation, the set is not a total loss.  That is thanks to the bonus content featured throughout the set.  Throughout the set, audiences are treated to featurettes, which focus on the series’ sets, costumes, makeup and even the philosophical aspects of the storylines as well as other items.  The discussions on the stories’ deeper ruminations are interesting, and do create at least a little bit of appreciation for the work that the writers put in.  After all, this is not the only Star Trek entry that has striverd to use its stories to create dialogues on certain deep topics.  However, it sadly is not enough to make up for the bigger problems posed through the writing.  The discussions on the sets and costumes make for fun glances behind the cameras,  Audiences will be interested to see how the costume and makeup departments used modern 3D printing technology alongside more traditional methodology to create the look of the Klingons.  In the same vein, the thought and effort put into the sets is just as interesting.  This feature will appeal just as much to theater production specialists as it will to general audiences.

As the season comes to an end, audiences are treated to another, different type of feature in the season retrospective, “The Journey of Season 1.”  This roughly 20-minute featurette features discussions from the show’s cast and creative heads about their favorite episodes and the importance of those episodes to the season’s overall presentation.  This brings everything full circle in regards to the bonuses.  It brings back those discussions on the season’s philosophical elements while also letting more people offer their own perspective on those themes.  Of course it is just one more of the bonus features worth watching.  The bonuses, including deleted scenes (at least one of which gives a hint about Season 2), are spread throughout the season’s discs.  This is important in that it shows Paramount and CBS Television Studios did not try to just cram a bunch of random featuerettes onto the last disc, unlike what so many other studios do.  It shows the companies wanted to give audiences the biggest bang for their buck.  They succeeded at that, too.

Speaking of bang for the buck, the set’s average price point is respectable.  The average price point for the season’s Blu-ray presentation – using prices listed at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million – comes to $39.86.  In other words it comes in at just under $40.  The DVD set’s average price – using those same outlets – comes to $32.14.  Both sets feature the same bonus content and the same episodes.  There is no real difference between the two platforms in terms of content.  Considering this, the pricing here is on part with other DVD and Blu-ray sets for other TV series, so there is that to appreciate.  Considering the entertainment that the bonus material (and to a slightly lesser degree, the primary content) offers, that makes both platforms’ average pricing respectable.  When this is considered alongside the noted bonus and primary content, the whole of Discovery: Season One proves worth at least one watch, but sadly, no more.

CBS All Access’ latest journey into the Star Trek universe, Star Trek: DiscoverySeason 1 is a presentation that is nothing like its predecessors.  More akin to Syfy’s most recent Battlestar Galactica reboot and Disney’s most recent Star Wars movies, this latest revisiting of the Star Trek universe history’s past (it has already been done in 2009 with Paramount’s big screen Star Trek reboot) suffers severely from writing problems, such as lagging story arcs that are often times overflowing with plot holes and general lack of creativity.  Additionally, the overall cinematic nature of the season, and the knowledge that the series is a serial (unlike its predecessors) makes this season feel more like one big movie than a general TV series.  Some people will like it, but others – like this critic – will very much dislike these aspects.  The bonus content spread across the set’s discs does at least a little bit to make up for the problems posed by the writing.  The average price point for the set’s separate DVD and Blu-ray platforms lets audiences know that their money spent was not entirely wasted.  Despite that affordable price point and the positives in the bonus material, the problems posed by the writing are just too much to overcome.  In general, the positives of the pricing and secondary content makes this set worth at least one watch, but sadly no more than that.  Star Trek: DiscoverySeason 1 is available now in stores and online.  More information on Star Trek: Discovery is available online now at:










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‘The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth Season’ Is Another Welcome Addition To Fans’ Collections

Courtesy: Paramount/CBS/CBS Home Entertainment

The 1960s is one of the greatest eras of the television industry.  It was during this great age that American audiences were treated to what has since become some of the most memorable television series of all time over just three networks.  ABC had Bewitched, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Batman.  NBC had Star Trek, Bonanza and Get Smart.  CBS meanwhile was the real powerhouse, turning out The Andy Griffith Show, Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies and so many other major hit series.  Thanks to a partnership between Paramount and CBS Home Video, many of those classic series have recently been released and re-issued on DVD and Blu-ray, either in part or in whole in recent years.  Nearly 40 years after the series was canceled as part of what has since become known as “the rural purge,” fans of The Beverly Hillbillies finally started getting proper, official releases of that award-winning series with the release of the series’ second season.  Almost five months after its release, Season Three got its first-ever official release.  Seasons Four and One would follow in 2014 and 16 respectively, and now on Oct. 2, Season Five finally will make its DVD debut thanks to that partnership between CBS and Paramount.  The fifth season of The Beverly Hillbillies is another enjoyable offering for audiences.  That is due in part to the work of the series’ writers.  This will be discussed shortly.  The work of the series’ cast is just as notable as that of the show’s writers, and will be discussed a little bit later.  The set’s average price rounds out its most important elements.  Each element is important in its own way to the set’s presentation, as will be pointed out here.  All things considered, they make The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth Season another welcome addition to the home library of any of this classic series’ fans.

The first-ever release of The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth Season is a welcome addition to the home library of any of the classic series’ fans.  That is even with the release being a bare-bones set lacking any bonus features.  Even with that lack, it still proves a success overall.  That is due in no small part to the work of the series’ writers, as is evidenced throughout the season’s 30-episode run.  Right from the season’s outset, audiences get a nonstop laugh riot as Jethro tries to install a party line for Granny, so that she can be nosy.  It’s obvious in watching this episode, that it played a distinct influence in so many telephone jokes used in another of series creator Paul Henning’s series, Green Acres.  What makes this episode so entertaining is that it is still just as relevant today as it was way back in its debut on Sept. 14, 1966.  Every neighborhood, whether rich or not, has that one person who is a busybody and thinks that he or she just has to be all up in everybody’s business except for their own.  The result offers plenty of laughs.  The season’s Christmas episode, “The Christmas Present” is another wonderful example of why the writers’ work is still deserving of kudos to this day.  The Clampetts turn Christmas on its ear this time as they end up selling Mrs. Drysdale’s clothes; clothes that she was going to donate.  Of course, the Clampetts don’t know that she was going to donate the clothes.  Their whole purpose is to use the money to buy a present for her, so obviously, the comedy of errors (of sorts) that happens as a result offers its own share of laughs.  “Super Hawg,” which comes late in the season’s run, is yet another fun, original offering from the series’ writers this season.  This time out, the Clampetts discover a hippo for the first time and mistake it for a giant pig.  Of course, it just so happens that it’s in the Drysdales’ back yard because they are using it for another of Mr. Drysdale’s many schemes.  On a side note, one can’t help but think many of the same people who wrote for The Beverly Hillbillies must have written for Bewitched considering that Darrin’s boss, Larry Tate always had some scheme up his sleeve, and was very much like Mr. Drysdale in terms of his personality.  Getting back on track, the episodes noted here are just a few examples of what makes this season’s writing so enjoyable.  Even among the seemingly endless stream of stories centered on Granny trying to marry off Ellie May, Jethro trying to get a girl, and Jed having to play peacemaker in it all, there is still some originality this time.  One could cite the laugh riot episodes, “The Flying Saucer,” (which played on the B-movies of the time, and was also very similar to a certain episode of another hit CBS show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.) “Jed in Politics” and “Granny Retires” as three more examples of that continued originality.  When all of the episodes noted here are coupled with the rest of the season’s episodes, it becomes clear why the writers behind The Beverly Hillbillies deserve their own share of credit in this season.  Of course their work is only some of the work that deserves praise.  The cast’s work on screen deserves its own share of credit, too.

The cast’s work on camera, even despite some of the recurring story lines, shows why the series continued to be a leader on television even five seasons in.  Case in point here is Buddy Ebsen’s handling of Jed in ‘The Indians Are Coming.’  This episode, which came about halfway through Season Five, is one that clearly was so politically incorrect that there’s no way it would ever be on television today.  The episode sees Granny concerned that Native Americans want to take over the Clampett’s land back in the Ozarks, when in reality the issue is just a minor land dispute.  Jed, always having to play peace keeper, has to try to convince Granny that there is nothing to be concerned about.  His straight-man persona, set against Granny’s manic, close-minded character, makes for one of those classic odd-couple performances that makes classic television in general so beloved.  As the episode progresses, Mr. Drysdale, in his own uneducated mindset, dresses up as a Native American Chief to greet the two Native Americans who have come to Beverly Hills to discuss the land boundary issue.  Raymond Bailey (Vertigo, Tarantula, Picnic) does a spectacular job here displaying how close-minded and uneducated Americans of European descent were about Native Americans and their culture.  Sadly, many Americans are still somewhat uneducated and close-minded about Native Americans to this day.  To that end, Drysdale’s presence in this moment is another of those moments that is just as relevant today as it was in its original presentation.

A little earlier in the season’s run, a marketing scheme from Mr. Drysdale in “The Flying Saucer” leads to another outstanding performance from the series’ cast.  This time, Drysdale has hired a group of height-challenged (is that the correct term to use?) Italians to pose as aliens for yet another of his marketing schemes to promote his band.  Of course, being that the scheme is under wraps, Granny and Jethro (Irene Ryan – The Woman on the Beach, Petticoat Junction, Will You Stop! and Max Baer, Jr. – Macon County Line, The Wild McCullochs, Ode To Billy Joe) believe that the trio really is from another world.  Baer’s reaction, taking his suitcase out to the front of the Clampett mansion, waiting to be “picked up” is another of those classic moments because he really believes that other aliens are on the way to Earth.  Ryan’s take on Daisy/Grandma is equally entertaining as she is rather scared.  Again, there is that contrast of personalities.  The juxtaposition of Jethro and Granny’s reactions ensures audiences’ engagement, and again shows the continued talent of the series’ cast, give seasons into the show’s run.  It’s just one more example of the cast’s talent this season.  “Jed in Politics” is yet another example of that continued talent, as is “The Soup Contest” and “The Dahlia Feud.”  Between all of these noted episodes and those not noted here, it is clear from the season’s premiere to its finale, that the cast offers audiences just as much to appreciate as the show’s writers.  When the two elements are coupled, they form a solid foundation for The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth Season.  When one takes into consideration this season’s average price point, it proves to be money well-spent.

Using prices from Walmart, Best Buy, Target and Amazon, the set’s average price point comes to $21.48.  The most affordable price seems (at the time of this posting) to be from Amazon, at $20.59.  Considering that the set is a bare-bones presentation that lacks any bonus features, one might think that even $21.48 is a little expensive.  But taking into consideration the enjoyment that all 30 episodes offer audiences, that lack of bonus material can actually be overlooked.  What’s more, the very fact that audiences are presented with 30 episodes (instead of the current standard of 12-13 episodes presented in today’s shows), that leads to nearly 12 hours of enjoyment for audiences of all ages.  That enjoyment will lead audiences to agree that even without any bonus material to compliment the episodes, that noted average price of almost $22 is in fact actually quite affordable and worth paying in the end.  Keeping all of this in mind, that affordable price point, set alongside the entertaining writing and acting, makes The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Fifth Season another enjoyable addition to the home library of any of this classic series’ fans.  More information on this and other titles from CBS Home Entertainment is available online now at:






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2017 World Series Box Set Hits It Out Of The Park On Phil’s Picks’ 2017 Top 10 New Family Box Sets List

Courtesy: Major League Baseball/Shout! Factory

Family programming.  What does one think of when one hears the term?  One probably thinks of stuff that appeals more to kids than it does grown-ups, right?  I.E. cartoons and other programming aimed at younger viewers.  The reality of family programming is that it can include programs that grown-ups can watch with their younger counterparts, whether it is something new or perhaps even something older such as the classic television shows that today’s grown-ups watched when they were children.

Keeping all of this in mind, one might ask what does that have to do with anything.  It is important to note in setting up Phil’s Picks 2017 Top 10 New Family DVD/BD Box Sets.  This year’s list features titles that will appeal to children and grown-ups alike.  Some of the material might even appeal to both audiences at the same time (E.g. Cook’s Kitchen Season 10 and America’s Test KitchenSeason 17).  Both titles are included in this list alongside the ninth season of Nickelodeon’s Spongebob Squarepants and even the 2017 World Series Collector’s Edition, which the whole family can watch together.  For those families who already enjoy baseball, it’s a great watch.  For those parents perhaps hoping to connect with their children over a common interest, it’s just as critical.  Add in everything in its presentation, and it proves an important release all the way around.

Also included in this year’s list are new Peanuts collections from Warner Home Video as well as the “new” Real Ghosbuters DVD set, which was released this past October.  It features “over 100 episodes” of the series.  That still is not the entire series, but it is more cost efficient than buying each of the standalone collections separately.  Originally aired in France, the programs included in those box sets definitely stand out from their American counterparts, but could still be entertaining for the whole family.  For older youths, this list also features recent releases from Saban’s Power Rangers universe.  Even Green AcresThe Complete Series has been pulled over as it might not wholly appeal to younger viewers, its content is appropriate for the whole family.  It is a family friendly sitcom — something that is sadly missing from television today.

Between the titles noted here and the others that make up the rest of this list, audiences will see that there is plenty out there for the whole family — just as much as there is solely for grown-ups.  As with every previous list, this list features this critic’s Top 10 new Family DVD/BD Box Sets alongside five additional titles for a total of 15 titles.  Without any further ado, here for your consideration is Phil’s Picks 2017 Top 10 new Family DVD/BD Box Sets.


  1. 2017 World Series Collector’s EditionHouston Astros
  2. Green AcresThe Complete Series
  3. C.O.P.S.The Animated Series
  4. Cook’s CountrySeason 10
  5. America’s Test KitchenSeason 17
  6. Spongebob SquarepantsThe Complete Ninth Season
  7. Sports DetectivesSeason 1
  8. PeanutsSnoopy Tales
  9. PeanutsGo Team Go
  10. PeanutsSchool Daze
  11. Power Rangers SPDThe Complete Series
  12. Power Rangers Mystic ForceThe Complete Series
  13. Power Rangers Jungle FuryThe Complete Series
  14. The Secret World of Alex MackThe Complete Series
  15. The Real GhostbustersVol. 1 – 10

That’s it for this list.  Now we’ve got the top new box sets for grown-ups and for families.  Again, some of the grown-up sets are just as viable as family entertainment as they are for grown-up audiences.  That is a testament to the ability of their content to reach a wide range of viewers.

While this list is now done, there’s still work to be done.  There is still a list of the year’s top new Children’s DVDs as well as potentially the year’s top new independent movies, theatrical releases and overall movies to wind down the year.  It can’t all be guaranteed before the year ends tomorrow, but this critic will try nonetheless.  So stay tuned!

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Nickelodeon, Paramount’s ‘Spongebob Squarepants’ 5-Season Set Re-Issue Is Imperfect, But Fun

Courtesy: Nickelodeon/Paramount

This past May, Nickelodeon and Paramount brought the first five seasons of Nickelodeon’s hit animated series Spongebob Squarepants home once again in a massive 14-disc, 100 episode collection simply titled Spongebob Squarepants: The First 100 Episodes.  It marked the first time the collection had been re-issued, and came a little more than a month ahead of the premiere of the series’ 11th (yes, eleventh) season.  Not even the network’s classic Nicktoons – as wonderful as so many of them still are today – lasted that long, with most running their course at four or five seasons.  That is an aside.  Getting back on track, this recent reissue of the box set, which was originally released to the masses in 2009 as part of the celebration of the series’ 100th episode’s airing, is a largely impressive reissue, albeit not perfect.  The set’s episode listing is its most obvious positive, and will be discussed shortly.  The set’s one negative, its packaging, will be discussed later.  Last but most definitely not least of note here is the bonus material included in the set.  Each element is important in its own right to the set’s overall presentation this time out.  All things considered, they make the first re-issue of Spongebob Squarepants: The First 100 Episodes one of this year’s top new DVD & BD Re-Issues.

Nickelodeon and Paramount’s recent reissue of Spongebob Squarepants: The First 100 Episodes is a surprisingly enjoyable presentation for true hardcore fans of the beloved Nicktoon.  That is due in part to the set’s episode listing.  The 100 episodes presented in this collection make up the series’ first five seasons. Not a single episode from that first half of the series’ current run is missing either.  Even the roughly 2:30 short “Reef Blower,” which was part of the series’ very first episode is included here.  This is something important to note due to its tie to the set’s average price point.  Stores nationwide right now are carrying nearly every one of the series’ current seasons either in single-season sets and in some cases as bundle packs, that include single season sets together at a set price.  The cost of those sets eventually adds up.  In the case of the series’ first five seasons, the average cost of the sets runs approximately $50 both by themselves and in standalone form regardless of the outlet.  In the case of this set, its average price point is $34.73, with most of the major retailers – Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Amazon – selling it at a price point of 32.96.  Target is the only standout with a price point of $39.99.  Add in the fact that most of the noted retailers sold the set at roughly $38 in its 2009 release, that indicates a noticeable price drop this time around.  Considering all of this, audiences will see that this collection is, for the relation between its primary content and average price point, a welcome addition to their collections.  While this is clearly a positive for the set, it is not without at least one glaring problem.  That problem is its packaging.

The packaging in this set is problematic in that its 14 discs overlap each other, two to each side of the set’s plates.  While this may be a positive ergonomically speaking, the size of the set has not been reduced that much in comparison to the set’s previous release.  What’s more, by making the discs overlap in that effort to save space, it also greatly increases the odds of the discs being scratched both when they are taken out for play and when they are replaced.  To that end, this is just not smart packaging.  Audiences would probably settle for bulkier packaging if only for the reduced chance of the discs being damaged.  Even worse, this is not the first time that Paramount has gone this route in recent memory.  The company has used the same packaging method for its recent re-issues of Star Trek The Original Series: The Complete Series, The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete Series, I Love Lucy: The Complete Series, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.: The Complete Series, Hogan’s Heroes: The Complete Series and The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series.  Considering this, one would have thought the people at Paramount would have learned their lesson by now, but apparently not, and that is disappointing.  Maybe if Nickelodeon and Paramount release a “mega-set” for the series’ second half, they will take this issue into consideration.  Again, while another method might be bulkier, it would be worth it if it meant decreased odds of discs being damaged.  Luckily, it is the set’s only negative and doesn’t completely ruin the collection.  The bonus material included in the set rounds out its most important elements.

The bonus material included in this presentation of Spongebob Squarepants: The First 100 Episodes is important to note because it is the same material presented in the set’s 2009 presentation.  The nearly hour-long VH1 special Square Roots: The Story of Spongebob Squarepants is the most important of that bonus material. It takes audiences through the series’ history up through its fifth season from its unlikely roots in series creator Seth Hillenburg’s early career at an aquarium to the religious right’s attempt to slander Spongebob to Hillenburg’s eventual departure from the series.  The 40-minute-plus doc presents the series’ humble roots on Nickelodeon to its surprising rise to worldwide fame all while looking ahead to its future, which obviously has proven to be quite bright.

As if that extensive history lesson isn’t enough, the set also includes a multi-lingual presentation of the series’ debut episode ‘Help Wanted’ as a bonus.  The episode includes the series’ theme song being sung in Spanish, Chinese, French, German and other languages for the opening segment.  The episode itself continues in a variety of languages, showing even more Spongebob Squarepants’ far-reaching popularity.

The “Life Lessons From Bikini Bottom” brings its own entertainment as it is in reality just a character profile of Bikini Bottom’s most beloved (and not so beloved) inhabitants. It’s a relatively short segment, running about five minutes, but is still entertaining thanks to the work of the editors who pieced the program together.  The timing of the profiles and the show clips makes for plenty of laughs even in this short presentation.

The short “Kick-Wham-Pow-Bob” music video, which crosses music from Pantera and video from the series, adds its own enjoyment to the set’s presentation.  No worries about hearing from the band’s former front man either.  The musical portion of the video is all instrumental.  Audiences will recognize the music as the same musical base used in the episode “Prehibernation Week.”

Each of the bonus elements discussed here is an important piece of this set’s presentation in its own way.  All things considered, they show in whole why the set’s bonus material is so important to its overall presentation.  When that material is joined with the set’s episode listing, its related price point, and even that one negative that is the set’s packaging, the whole proves to be a collection that while not perfect, is still enjoyable in its own right.  That packaging prevents it from being the year’s top new DVD or Blu-ray re-issue, but also doesn’t keep it from being one of the year’s best in that category.

Nickelodeon and Paramount’s recent re-issue of Spongebob Squarepants: The First 100 Episodes is one of this year’s top new DVD and Blu-ray re-issues.  That is the case even when one takes into account the set’s problematic packaging.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on this set, other Spongebob Squarepants collections and all of the series’ latest news and more is available online now at:









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Paramount, Nickeldeon’s ‘Rugrats’ Season Sets Honor The Series And Its Fans

Courtesy: Nickelodeon/Paramount

The long wait is finally over…well…sort of.  More than a decade after it ended its run on Nickleodeon, Rugrats finally started getting a proper in-store release courtesy of Paramount and Nickelodeon.  The companies partnered to release the series’ first two seasons in store this week. This week is not the first time the series has been released.  All nine seasons have previously been released via Amazon on Made-On-Demand DVD-R discs.  Even with this in mind, this first true official release for the series’ first two seasons proves to be an impressive start for fans waiting years for the series to get any proper release.  The seasons’ episodes largely support that statement despite one lingering problem.  This will be discussed shortly.  The sets’ packaging is another important element to discuss in examining these new releases.  It will be discussed later.  The sets’ average price point may seem insignificant to discuss, but in reality, it plays its own important part in their overall presentation, too.  Each element noted here is important in its own right to the sets’ presentations.  All things considered, these sets prove to be collections for which every Rugrats fan has waited and hoped.

Paramount and Nickelodeon’s newly released full season sets of Rugrats: Season 1 and Rugrats: Season 2 are everything that the series’ fans have hoped for in a long-awaited proper release.  That is proven first and foremost through the seasons’ episodes.  Audiences will be happy to know that both seasons are presented here in the same chronological order in which they were presented in their original broadcasts.  The only episode that is not included here is the series’ original pilot episode “Tommy Pickles and the Great White Thing.”  Why this episode was omitted from Season 1 is anyone’s guess.  In defense of Paramount and Nickelodeon, the Season 1 set released by Amazon and Nickelodeon back in 2009 faced the same issue.  Considering this, one has to think the omission is linked to someone at Nickelodeon more so than Paramount or even Amazon.  Keeping that in mind, the episodes presented in the first and second season of Rugrats in their new home release builds a solid foundation for these sets’ presentations.

Courtesy: Nickelodeon/Paramount

The episodes presented in the first true official home release of Rugrats: Season 1 and Rugrats: Season 2 are in themselves more than enough reason for audiences to own these collections.  The episodes’ actual presentations are just as important to note in examining the sets’ overall presentations.  Audiences (and especially true fans) will appreciate the fact that the episodes are presented exactly the same way as they were in their original broadcasts.  The opening sequence is presented before every episode in both seasons along with each episode’s title sequence.  The end credits are there, too along with the post credits sequence, too.  Simply put, between the full episode listing in each season and the full presentation of each episode, these episodic elements build a strong, solid foundation for the first official home release of Rugrats’ first two seasons.  They are not the only elements to consider.  The sets’ packaging is important to discuss in examining their presentations, too.

The episodic elements incorporated into the first official home release of Rugrats’ first two seasons form a strong, solid foundation for the sets’ presentations.  They are not, however, the sets’ only key elements to discuss.  The sets’ packaging is important to discuss, too.  That is because of the obvious attention to detail here, too.  The sets’ packaging once again places each set’s discs on their own plates inside the ergonomic cases, which in turn protects the discs from scratching damage and saves space on DVD racks.  Even more interesting to note is that this time out, Season 1 is spread across only two discs instead of the apparent three that were used in its Amazon release.  Season Four is still spread across four discs, just as in its Amazon release.  So overall what audiences get in the sets’ packaging is the same attention to disc safety and space saving as was used in their Amazon releases.  Considering this, the sets’ packaging proves to be just as critical to their presentations in their new home releases as their episodes.  It still is not the last of the sets’ most important elements.  The sets’ average price point rounds out its most important elements.

The episodes presented in Nickelodeon and Paramount’s new home release of Rugrats: Season 1 and Rugrats: Season 2 and their very presentations are unquestionably critical to the sets’ presentations.  Collectively, they form a solid foundation for the sets’ presentations.  The sets’ packaging builds on that foundation, strengthening it even more.  While both elements are clearly critical both solely and collectively, they are not the sets’ only important elements.  Their average price point rounds out their most important elements.  The average price point of the series’ first season between Target, Wal-Mart, Amazon and Best Buy is $9.21.  Season 2’s average price point is $13.65 when averaged between those same retailers.  Considering that Season 2 is longer than Season 1, it is expected that its price would be a little bit higher than that of Season 1.  Regardless, the fact that Season 1 averages below the $20 mark and Season 2 averages under the same price with four discs, it goes without saying that both sets are relatively affordable.  For this critic in particular, buying both sets through Wal-Mart online proved the most economical.  Luckily, having ordered them on a free-shipping weekend, their total price together was just over $20.  Keeping in mind this relative affordability of Rugrats’ first two seasons in their first proper home release, the sets’ packaging, their episodes and related items, the whole of these sets’ presentations proves each season to be a must have for any longtime Rugrats fan.  It leaves one hoping that the wait for the series’ remaining seven seasons won’t be as long as it was for these two seasons.

Paramount and Nickelodeon’s first-ever proper home release of Rugrats: Season 1 and Rugrats: Season 2 are collections that are musts for any longtime fans of the beloved series.  Each season’s full episodic run is presented in its respective season save for the series’ pilot episode.  That episode was missing from Amazon’s Season 1 release in 2009, too.  The episodes are presented in these sets exactly as they were in the series’ original run on Nickelodeon, too, complete with opening and title sequences, end credits and even end slate sequence.  It all collectively gives audiences the full experience that they got in the series’ original run.  The sets’ packaging and average price point round out its most important elements, proving even more why every longtime Rugrats fan should own these sets whether they consider them re-issues or new releases.  They are available now in stores and online.  More information on these sets is available online.

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Acting, Production Save ‘Monster Trucks’ From Being A Monster Failure

Courtesy: Nickelodeon Movies/Paramount

Paramount and Nickelodeon’s latest effort at a family friendly action flick, Monster Trucks is a work that while not a monster failure, is anything but a monster success.  Originally released in theaters this past January, it was just recently released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 11.  It fails to run on all eight cylinders in part because of its story, which suffers from some major writing issues.  While the story does suffer from some undeniable issues, it isn’t a total loss.  That is thanks to the work of the movie’s cast.  This will be discussed later.  The movie’s balance of special effects and live action elements is another notable element worth discussing.  Together with the work of the movie’s cast (which clearly is not a group of teenagers, save perhaps for one cast member), the two elements are just enough to keep Monster Trucks’ engine running, albeit not on all cylinders.

Paramount and Nickelodeon Films’ new high-octane family action flick Monster Trucks is an entertaining watch.  However, it is a movie that clearly does not run on all eight cylinders.  That is due in large part to a story that is marred by a plot hole *ahem* large enough to drive a truck through and a story that is anything but original in its setup.  The plot follows high school student Tripp as he fights to save a friendly mutant half shark/half octopus from the clutches of an evil oil drilling company and get it back home.  The problem with this story is that he does this while driving a late-model truck that normally would be a gas guzzler.  The movie’s defenders might try to argue that putting the creature in place of the truck’s engine was a subtle way to argue in favor of alternative energy.  Odds are though, that the movie’s writing team did not exactly have that message in mind when they came up with the movie’s script.  Odds are they didn’t even begin to think about this plot hole at all and just thought it would make for a good way to bring in young audiences because it had monsters and trucks.  That is just one of the problems from which this movie’s story suffers.  It also suffers from a setup that is anything but original.

The setup for this movie’s story sees a young person (or at least what is supposed to be a young person—obviously played by someone who is not a teenager in this case) saving a harmless creature from an evil heartless corporation.  In case that doesn’t sound familiar to anyone out there, similar story lines have been put forth in E.T., Free Willy, Pete’s Dragon, Super 8, and so many other movies.  Given the plots are not mirror images.  They are close enough though, that the comparisons are undeniable.  Considering this and the problem posed by the movie’s massive plot hole, the movie’s story is a major problem for its overall presentation.  Even with the problems posed by its plot hole and its setup, the movie is not a total loss.  It just takes a big hit.  The work of the movie’s cast is a saving grace in examining its overall presentation.

Monster Trucks’ cast is obviously supposed to be made up of characters who are teenagers.  However, it is clear in watching this movie that save for maybe one of the supporting cast, none of the other young cast members are teenagers.  On the surface that seems like a bad thing.  However on a deeper level, it may account for why each cast member’s performance is, while slightly over-the-top, at least entertaining to a point.  None of the performances necessarily pulls audiences into the movie or is award-winning by any means.  It is however entertaining enough that collectively, it is just enough to keep audiences watching through to the movie’s finale.  Case in point, lead star Lucas Till’s interaction with his CG-rendered co-star.  Till is to be applauded for the exemplary job he does of imagining the shark/octopus hybrid is actually in the scene alongside him.  That is exhibited in happier and more high-energy moments.  Co-star Thomas Lennon (Reno 9-1-1, Night at the Museum 1 & 2) is just as entertaining when he is on camera as geologist Jim Dowd.  Audiences will find themselves rooting for Dowd thanks to Lennon’s performance of the reluctant oil company employee who turns out to not be so bad (not to give away too much).  Lennon shows through each moment on camera that he understands Dowd is a supporting character and still makes the most of each moment without taking over said scenes.  His is just one more way in which the cast’s performance proves to be so important to the movie’s overall presentation.  If not for their work (and that of the rest of the cast), the movie’s plot hole and equally problematic setup would be unbearable and would otherwise not make the movie worth watching even for five minutes.  The cast’s work on camera, while important is not the movie’s only important element.  The balance of the movie’s special effects and live action elements rounds out its most important elements.

The balance of live action and computer generated effects used throughout Monster Trucks is the last of its most important elements.  As with the work of the movie’s cast, the lack of this element would make the movie’s story even more unbearable, and in turn, the movie overall even less worth the watch.  The CG is limited to Tripp’s subterranean pal and its family (or at least they seem like family) members.  Audiences will be impressed by this minimalism and the effect of said minimalism on the movie’s look.  In a weird way that expert balance actually serves to add to audiences’ ability to suspend their disbelief.  That leads to even more ease in watching the movie.  When the work put into making the movie look believable is set alongside the work of the movie’s cast, the two elements do just enough to keep the movie’s batteries charged along with those of its audiences.  Keeping that in mind, Monster Trucks proves to be an entertaining watch even though it proves to be a movie on which hopefully future models will improve.

Nickelodeon and Paramount’s high-speed family flick Monster Trucks is a work that would benefit greatly from a tune-up.  That is the case even taking into consideration the positives of the cast’s work and that of those responsible for balancing its CG and live action elements.  The movie’s story keeps it from running on all eight cylinders.  That is because of its massive plot hole and the unoriginal setup exhibited in its setup.  Even with the problems posed through its negatives, its positives are, thankfully, just enough to keep its batteries (and audiences’ batteries) charged from start to finish.  In other words, it proves to be another movie that is fun but ultimately forgettable.  More information on Monster Trucks is available online now at:










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