Paramount, Nickelodeon’s ‘Rugrats: Complete Series’ Presentation Is Entertaining, But Imperfect

Courtesy: Nickelodeon/Paramount

Almost fifteen years have passed since Rugrats finally ended its run on Nickelodeon.  The timeless, beloved series has remained a favorite among its viewers since that time.  The thing is that until 2009, audiences had been left waiting and wondering if this series would ever receive an official release on DVD.  The constant questions and requests were finally answered in 2017 when Paramount and Nickelodeon released the series’ debut season in a two-disc set in stores.  Seasons 2-4 followed later in 2017 and 2018 respectively.  That is where the official releases ended.  More than three years later, audiences’ pleas were finally heard again though, as Paramount and Nickelodeon released the series’ full nine season run on a 26-disc DVD set May 18, complete with the series’ hour-long specials.  Those extras are their own positive to discuss and will be addressed later.  The fact that audiences finally get the full series in an official release is itself a positive.  Now, staying on the topic of the number of discs, the packaging of those discs proves somewhat problematic.  This will be discussed a little later.  When this negative is considered along with the positives of the set’s very presentation and its bonus content, the whole still keeps the collection as one of the year’s top new family DVD/BD box sets.

Paramount and Nickelodeon’s brand new release of Rugrats: The Complete Series is a presentation that longtime Rugrats fans will find mostly positive.  The appeal begins with the presentation of the series in full, just as advertised.  This is important to note because some of the on-demand standalone season sets that Nickelodeon released in partnership with Amazon allegedly were not full seasons.  Rather they were allegedly portions of seasons assembled on-demand on DVD in many cases.  In the case of this set though, audiences get the whole of all nine seasons of the show in precise chronological order within the precise confines of their seasons.  What’s more, the most commonly occurring price listing for the set is $49.95 through Amazon and Walmart while Best Buy barely tops that number at $49.99.  Barnes & Noble Booksellers far exceeds each of those prices, listing the set at $79.99.  So even with tax and (thankfully) no added shipping & handling, audiences pay just over $50 for the set at its more economic prices.  Considering audiences are getting the series’ full run here, and in quite good quality, that price is well worth it.

While the series’ full run and relatively affordable price are clearly positives that audiences will appreciate, the set is not perfect.  That is evidenced through the set’s packaging.  The clamshell case that is used to house the set saves space on audiences’ DVD/BD racks.  At the same time though, that he discs are stacked as much as three high from one season to the next is anything but positive.  What’s more, that the stacks overlap one another throughout the case makes the packaging even less appealing.  That is because this packaging method greatly increases the odds that the discs will damage one another at some point by scratching one another.  Again, yes, it is ergonomic in its design.  At the same time though, true, longtime audiences will agree that a long box format with each standalone season would have made more sense and been more acceptable despite the less ergonomic packaging.  That is because it would have better protected the discs.  Maybe somewhere down the line, Paramount and Nickelodeon will take this into account and re-issue the set in such packaging.  In the meantime though, audiences are left to be so gentle with the discs in hopes that they do not inadvertently damage them as they have to constantly move them.  Keeping this in mind, anyone who owns the series’ first four seasons in their standalone sets (like this critic) are recommended to keep those sets just so they can avoid having to constantly move the discs around in this bigger set, and instead just worry about Seasons Five through Nine.

This is just one of the problems posed by the packaging.  Along with the concerns raised about the discs’ packaging, there is no note as to which discs contain the aforementioned bonus specials.  As a result, audiences will be left having to go through each season to find them.  This goes right back to the discussion on the discs being stacked and risking damage as a result.  So this is in itself another insult to longtime Rugrats fans.  To save audiences that trouble, here is a guide to follow:  “Runaway Reptar” is located on the third disc of Season 6.  The All Grown Up pilot, “All Growed Up” is located on the third disc of Season Eight.  The ‘Tales from the Crib” specials are located on the fourth disc of Season Nine along with the holiday special, “Babies in Toyland.”  Now, keeping the bonus content in mind, it rounds out the most important of the set’s elements.


As noted, all of the Rugrats specials are featured here.  The “Tales from the Crib” specials are available on a standalone DVD at a relatively low price while “Runaway Reptar” is available as part of another standalone Rugrats DVD.  “Babies in Toyland” is also featured in the Rugrats holiday DVD box set.  Until now, those DVDs were the only way to own those stories.  So in essence, audiences get for the first time here, the entirety of the Rugrats series from beginning to end.  While the musical numbers in the “Tales from the Crib” specials are forgettable, the stories themselves are entertaining.  Audiences will love the breaking down of the fourth wall in “Snow White” as Queen Angelica tries to figure out how to get rid of Snow White (played in this case by Susie Carmichael).  The reminder from the announcer that what was done in the original story cannot be done in this story because it is family friendly will have plenty of audiences laughing.  The jokes about three jacks in the Rugrats take on Jack and the Beanstalk makes for its own laughs, too.  In the case of “Runaway Reptar,” Tommy and company’s use of their imaginations as they try to figure out why Reptar has gone bad in a movie is itself moving.  Classic sci-fi fans will love the spoof of the original Godzilla vs. Kong and Godzilla vs. Mecha Godzilla here, too. The babies’ wonderings about what the future will be like for them in the All Grown Up pilot is entertaining in its own right, considering that the series had shown them as babies for so many years up to the point at which it originally aired.  All things considered here, the bonus specials add their own enjoyment to the presentation of the series here.  They and the full run of episodes make for plenty of reason to own this set.  That is even considering the highly problematic issue of the set’s packaging.  Even with that in mind, the set still proves itself among the best of this year’s new family DVD and BD box sets.

Paramount and Nickelodeon’s recently released official full series presentation of Rugrats is an entertaining but imperfect presentation.  That audiences finally get the full series in one, official set will appeal to any of the series’ longtime fans.  That is because up until its release May 18, audiences only had the series’ first four seasons available in official box sets.  It shows that someone(s) at Paramount and Nickelodeon finally listened to audiences’ pleas.  While the presentation of the series in full is positive, the packaging thereof detracts considerably from its appeal.  The packaging presents all nine seasons in a clamshell package with each season’s discs stacked as many as three high.  This greatly increases the chances of damage to the discs, especially considering each stack overlaps another in each season.  This means the discs have to be moved far more than necessary.  That increased movement of the discs increases, again, the odds of the discs getting invariably scratched.  A long box presentation with each standalone season therein would have been far more proper here.  Time will tell if the people at Paramount and Nickelodeon heed that advice and eventually re-issue the collection in that more proper setting.

The lack of a guide for the bonus content makes the set’s packaging even more problematic.  That is because it will lead audiences to have to otherwise search through the discs, moving them just as much, just to find the extras.  That they are so spread out across the set’s seasons makes things even more problematic.

On the opposite hand, the fact that the bonus content is collected here together for the first time ever adds to the appeal again.  That is because the specials have only been available separate of one another up until now.  So to have them culled here along with the series’ run puts the finishing touch to this presentation.  The collective content’s presentation makes the set at least one of the year’s top new family DVD and BD box sets, but not its best.  It is available now.  More information on all things Rugrats is available online at https://www.facebook.com/Rugrats.  

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Paramount’s Not-So-New ‘Peanuts’ Movie Collection Is A Disappointing Presentation

Courtesy: Paramount

It goes without saying that Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang are among the most beloved figures in America’s pop culture history.  Their adventures on the printed page and on screen have brought together generations of audiences and have been seen around the world.  Now this week, four classic Peanuts feature-length films were re-issued yet again by Paramount on Blu-ray in what the studio has dubbed the Snoopy Collection.  That title for the collection is the starting point for what is otherwise a very problematic presentation from Paramount.  It will be discussed shortly.  The collection of the movies in this platform makes for its own share of problems and will be discussed a little later.  The average price point of this collection rounds out its most important elements and will be discussed later, too.  Each item noted is key in its own way to the whole of Paramount’s latest Peanuts movie collection re-issue.  All things considered, they make this re-issued set a dishonor to the legacy of Charles Schulz and to Peanuts fans.

Paramount’s newly re-issued Peanuts 4-Movie Collection is a disappointing presentation from the famed movie studio.  The concern comes right off the top in the set’s titling.  Paramount is marketing the re-issued collection as the Snoopy Collection instead of simply using the original title of the Peanuts 4-Movie Collection.  Such a title infers that all four movies in the collection focus on Snoopy, rather than the whole Peanuts gang.  The reality is that only one movie in the collection – Snoopy, Come Home – centers mainly on Snoopy.  The other three movies – A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, And Don’t Come Back –focus on the whole group.  So in using the new title, Paramount is essentially lying to audiences.  That is, in itself very disappointing.  It is as if someone at Paramount set out to intentionally mislead consumers, expecting them to buy the set just because it has Snoopy on the cover and title; this even though audiences might already own the movies featured in the set.  Speaking of the movies featured in the set, they make up another concern surrounding the collection.

The movies featured in Paramount’s Snoopy Collection were already released together on DVD in 2016, also through Paramount.  What’s more, that single-disc collection is also widely available to purchase online and in stores.  The quality of the footage between the two collections is roughly the same.  There was no re-mastering in this latest case.  So to that end, audiences who might already own that single-disc collection have no reason to purchase this not-so-new collection.  As if that is not enough, all four movies are available by themselves.  A Boy Named Charlie Brown and Snoopy Come Home were re-issued by themselves in September 2016 on Blu-ray.  They were also re-issued in 2015 on DVD alongside this set’s other two movies.  So audiences who already own the aforementioned Blu-ray releases would essentially be buying those same two movies on Blu-ray again along with the DVD movies, except this time on BD, too.  Maybe audiences don’t own any of the movies or some mix and match, then sure, the set will be worth the purchase.  Those audiences who perhaps (like this critic) already own all four movies have zero reason to buy, though.  That applies whether audiences own the movies in their collection or in their standalone platforms.  Simply put, the presentation of all four movies here is just as little reason for most audiences to buy the set as the deceptive titling for the collection. 

Continuing from the set’s general presentation, its average price point is one more reason that audiences should leave this one on the shelves (physical and digital).  The average price point for the new BD presentation of the Peanuts 4-Movie Collection is $42.  That price was obtained by averaging prices at Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and Books-A-Million.  Amazon, Walmart, Target each list the set below that price, at $36.97, $38.99, and $29.96 respectively.  Audiences will note that Walmart’s listing is the lowest of that group, while the other two noted retailers’ prices are just below that point.  That is telling in itself.  Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and Books-A-Million meanwhile list the set at an extraordinary $57.99 and $44.99 respectively.  Keep in mind here that each set spreads the movies across four discs, so Paramount cannot use the excuse of extra material used to make the set for the exorbitantly high pricing.

By comparison, the average price point for the noted single-disc DVD collection is $11.19. That price was obtained by averaging prices at the same retailers used to get the average price point for the collection’s BD presentation.  Keeping this in mind, the average price point for the collection’s BD set is more than three times that of the collection’s DVD set.  Barnes & Noble Booksellers once again far exceeds the average, this time at $21.99.  Target and Amazon actually present the least expensive of the set’s listings in this case, at $7.59.  The short and simple of everything here is that the comparison of the DVD collection’s pricing to that of the collection’s new BD re-issue is stark and all the more reason for audiences to lean more toward the DVD collection than the BD set.  When this aspect is considered along with everything else noted here and the fact that both sets spread the movies across four discs, it all makes the not-so-new presentation among the most disappointing of this year’s new family DVD and BD box sets.

Paramount’s new Blu-ray re-issue of the Peanuts 4-Movie Collection is a disappointing presentation.  It does nothing but disrespect fans of the timeless franchise and the legacy of Charles Chulz, the creator of Good Ol’ Charlie Brown and company.  The problems with this set start before audiences even place any of the discs in the Blu-ray player’s tray.  Instead of just going with the same name as that used in the set’s 2016 DVD presentation, someone at Paramount instead tried to deceive audiences and change the set’s title to Snoopy Collection.  This is even considering the fact that the set features the same movies as those in the DVD set.  Only one of the set’s movies centers mainly on Snoopy, while the other three focus on the whole Peanuts gang.  So again, here is proof that someone at Paramount thought it smart to act like this set is something new when clearly it isn’t.  Speaking of the featured movies, they have – again – been presented together in a four-disc DVD set that is still widely available to this day.  Those movies are also available as standalone presentations, with two – A Boy Named Charlie Brown and Snoopy, Come Home – already available on Blu-ray by themselves.  The other two movies are available mainly on DVD.  Simply put, what all of this adds up to (no pun intended) is that Paramount is trying to pressure audiences to put that aside and let their fandom control them.  Audiences should not give in to this pressure if they already have these movies in their collective or standalone presentations.  The exorbitant price for this set is just one more reason that audiences should leave this set on the shelves if they already own its featured movies.  This set’s average price point is more than three times that of the set’s DVD presentation.  The separate listings are just as stark in their comparisons.  Keeping that in mind along with everything else noted, the people at Paramount should be ashamed for having dishonored Peanuts’ fans and the legacy of Peanuts’ creator, Charles Schulz with this set.  It all combines to paint Paramount as a company that (like Disney and Warner Home Entertainment) cares more about its bottom line than about actually entertaining audiences.  More simply put, it is a presentation that makes it look like Paramount cares more about quantity (how much money it can make) than about quality (actually offering content worth buying).

More information on these and other Peanuts releases is available online now along with all of the latest Peanuts news and more at:

Websitehttp://www.PEANUTS.com

Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/snoopy

Twitterhttp://twitter.com/snoopy

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‘Star Trek: Lower Decks’ Neither Succeeds Nor Fails In Its Debut Season’s Home Release

Courtesy: Paramount/Paramount+/CBS Studios/CBS All Access

Paramount+’s latest addition to the ever-expanding Star Trek universe, Star Trek: Lower Decks, is scheduled to launch its second season this summer, roughly a year after the series saw its debut season premiere.  As audiences wait for the series’ second season to air, they can take in the show’s first season on DVD and Blu-ray beginning Tuesday.  The debut season of this newest addition to the Star Trek universe is an intriguing presentation even in its new home release.  While Lower Decks is not a complete disappointment or failure in its debut season, it also is not a total success.  That is proven in part through its writing, which is itself both a positive and negative.  It will be discussed shortly.  For all that the writing does to both benefit and detract from the series’ presentation, it is just one of the elements to examine in addressing the home release of the series’ debut season.  The bonus content featured in the home release of the show’s lead season is a positive in its own way.  It will be discussed a little later.  The two-disc set’s packaging rounds out its most important elements and will also be discussed later.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the home release of the series’ lead season.  All things considered, they make the presentation such that Star Trek fans will find it worth watching at least once.

Paramount+’s home presentation of Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 presents the series as neither an improvement on nor a lessening of the long-running franchise that is Star Trek.  That is proven in large part through its writing.  The writing benefits the show first and foremost in the fact that each episode is only half an hour instead of a full hour.  What’s more, the writing brings the franchise back to the episodic presentation style that was once the franchise’s norm.  Every episode finds the crew of the U.S.S. Cerritos going from planet to planet facing all kinds of adventures.  The whole thing opens with a zombie plague overcoming the Cerritos in “Second Contact” and Ensign Boimler inadvertently being the one to save the day.  “Moist Vessel” keeps the action on board entertaining as Captain Freeman (who is revealed early on to be Ensign Mariner’s mother) teachers Mariner a lesson about maturity as she continues to cause trouble for her mother and much of the ship’ senior staff.  “Veritas” meanwhile presents audiences with a familiar twice-told tale type plot element that is so common to sitcoms.  It’s a surprisingly funny story that, as with the other noted episodes and the rest of the season’s stories, boast a certain stylistic similarity to the writing used in Futurama.  To that point, the writing does a lot to make the debut season of Lower Decks worth at least a chance.  At the same time, the writing also suffers from one major downfall, that being that it takes itself too seriously in trying to not be serious.

Yes, the stories featured throughout the first season of Lower Decks are original and funny, the dialogue that is used therein proves very problematic.  The snarkiness and the amount of foul language that is used throughout each episode proves very problematic.  Considering that the series is the creation of Rick & Morty writer Mike McMahan, that should come as no surprise.  Things like Mariner getting drunk, Captain Freeman essentially cussing out lower ranking officers, and the overtly over the top silliness as the ensigns testify before a court for something that happened, and more, the writing just suffers in terms of its general content.  That against the enjoyment brought by the less serious nature of the stories and that the episodes are standalone presentations offsets one another.  It works together to once more show why the writing makes this season worth watching at least once.  While the writing featured in the first season of Lower Decks proves both good and bad, the bonus content is featured in Season 1’s home release proves positive, somewhat offsetting the  concerns raised in the writing.

The bonus content presented in the home release of Lower Decks Season 1 is positive in that it gives audiences a look behind the show’s scenes.  The most notable of the bonuses comes in “Hiding in Plain Sight.”  This roughly six minute bonus featurette presents just some of the items used in past Star Trek series that are tossed in here.  The shows’ creative heads point out in this segment that the inclusion of the classic items was intentional as a means to add to appeal for fans of those shows.  Any diehard Star Trek fan will agree that there is something special in seeing this generation of Star Trek so lovingly throwing back to the franchise’s early days.  As with the writing, this follows in the shoes of the writing of Futurama.  It is interesting to see the tasteful way in which so many classic Star Trek items and characters were thrown into this series, not just to generate nostalgia, but to use them as story elements, too.

“Hiding in Plain Sight” is just one of the set’s notable bonuses.  The “Lower Decktionary” segments give even more insight into the show’s creative process.  From the animation, to the title credits (which themselves throw back to the look of TNG’s credits), to the show’s music, audiences get brief but in-depth discussions on so much of the show’s “secondary” content.  Those discussions, along with the talks on the throwbacks to classic Star Trek will add its own level of engagement and entertainment for audiences in this presentation.  Together with the more positive side of the show’s writing, the two aspects collectively make the show slightly more worth watching.

The bonus and content and writing featured in the home release of Lower Decks Season 1 does well to make this debut season of the Star Trek universe’s latest addition worth watching at least once.  They are just a portion of what works to the presentation’s positive.  The set’s packaging rounds out its most important elements.  Audiences will note that a brief but concise episode summary list is printed inside the case’s front and rear box art.  This inclusion allows audiences to make a quick decision as to which episode they want to watch.  Making this aspect even more appealing is the fact that the episodes are aligned specifically with each of the set’s two discs.  This means that audiences immediately know which episodes are on which disc, and in the process, will be that much more capable of deciding which episode to watch.  Those behind the presentation in this aspect are to be commended for this move.

Making the packaging even more of a positive is the fact that the set’s discs are wisely presented inside the case.  Disc one is placed on a leaf inside the case by itself while Disc Two is placed on its own spindle on the box’s rear inside.  This protects the discs from marring one another.  On yet another level, the smart placement of the discs also makes the packaging ergonomic.  This will appeal to any viewer who prefers the physical object to streaming.  Keeping this in mind along with the positive impact of the packaging’s episode listing, there is no doubt that the packaging proves important in its own way to the whole of the set’s presentation.  When this element is considered along with the positive impact of the set’s bonus content, and the mixed impact of the writing, all three elements make the home release of Lower Decks’s debut season somewhat engaging and entertaining, but still neither an improvement nor lessening of the Star Trek universe’s overall legacy.

Paramount+’s new home release of Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is an intriguing first outing for the latest addition to the ever-growing Star Trek universe.  The show is neither an outright win nor a total failure.  That is proven in part through the season’s writing.  The writing brings together the best elements of Star Trek and Futurama, but the worst elements of shows, such as Rick & Morty and Family Guy at the same time.  That whole makes the writing somewhat entertaining, but also equally lacking.  The bonus content that accompanies the season in its new home release makes up for the writing’s concerns.  That is because of the background that it offers on the show in its lead season.  The packaging of Season 1 in its home release rounds out the set’s most important elements.  It enhances the viewing experience because it makes choosing an episode easy for viewers while also protecting each of the set’s two discs.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of this set’s presentation.  All things considered, they make the debut season of Star Trek: Lower Decks worth watching at least occasionally, but not much more.  Star Trek Lower Decks Season 1 is scheduled for release Tuesday through Paramount, Paramount+, CBS Studios and CBS All Access.

More information on this and other content from CBS All Access is available online at:

Websitehttps://www.cbs.com/all-acess

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/CBSAllAccess

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/cbsallaccess

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‘Under The Pepper Tree’ Is A Successful First Family Music Outing For Sara Watkins

Courtesy: New West

Singer-songwriter Sara Watkins has made quite the name for herself over the years as a member of the bluegrass group Nickel Creek and as part of the Watkins Family Hour and I’m With Her.  Now this Friday, Watkins will take her first step into another phase of her career with her debut family music album, Under the Pepper Tree.  The 15-song first outing is a presentation that will appeal to her fans and those of one Diana Panton.  That is due in part to the song’s that make up the album’s body.  They will be discussed shortly.  The musical arrangements that Watkins employs throughout the album add to its appeal and will be discussed a little later.  The sequencing of that overall content puts the finishing touch to the record and will also be discussed later.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the album.  All things considered, Sarah Watkins’ debut family music album is a successful offering that the whole family will indeed enjoy.

Sara Watkins’ debut family music album is a work that the whole family truly will enjoy.  That is due in part to its featured songs.  The songs in question are a selection of songs from various classic movies.  Bob Nolan’s ‘Tumblin’ Tumbleweed,’ from Gene Autry’s 1935 movie by the same name is featured here along with the likes of ‘Edelweiss’ from 20th Century Fox’s adaptation of Rodgers &  Hammerstein’s musical, The Sound of Music (1965), and ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ from Disney’s classic Pinocchio (1940).  Also represented here is ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from 20th Century Fox’s adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical, Carousel (1956); ‘La la Lu’ from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (1955) and even ‘Moon River’ from Paramount Pictures’ 1961 movie, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  There is even an original tune in the form of the album’s title track along with everything else.  The songs will relate to listeners of all ages because they are all timeless works that the noted audiences will remember.  Given, parents will recognize some of the songs more than children, but that aside, those songs will still entertain younger listeners.

On another level, that some of the songs (and their related movies) will connect more with older audiences than with children. That in itself serves as a starting point for older audiences to offer younger listeners the most basic introduction to so many classic musicals and movies.  That early introduction could help lead to a lifelong love for said presentations.  So while on the surface, the songs make up a collective of soundtrack works, they actually can and do serve an even greater purpose, bringing families together while building a foundation and love for the great timeless works of stage and screen from entertainment’s golden age.  To that end, the songs featured in this compilation form a solid foundation for the record itself.  It is just one part of what makes the recording so enjoyable.  The arrangements that Watkins chose for these songs adds to the record’s overall appeal.

Watkins largely stays true to the source material in each song that she features in her new record, from one to the next.  For all of that honor that Watkins pays to the original works, she still gives them her own nice touch.  Case in point is her take on ‘Stay Awake.’  Originally featured as one of the songs from Disney’s 1964 musical adaptation of author P.L. Travers’ novel Mary Poppins, the song was a gentle lullabye crafted by  the famed Sherman Brothers, Richard and Robert.  It featured Julie Andrews’ absolutely stunning vocal control alongside some even more subtle strings.  Watkins’ take on the song would have fit just as well into that movie.  It is just as moving with its piano line joining with the strings to make the song even richer.  Watkins’ over vocal delivery is so powerful in its simplicity here, too.  Ironically though being a lullaby, Watkins’ take on the song is enough to make even the most emotionally strong man blubber like a baby.  That is a telling statement. 

On a different note, Watkins’ take on Bob Nolan’s ‘Tumbling Tumblewood’ stays even truer to its source material, complete with fiddle and the slightest touch of a slide guitar.  Of course, gone are the clip-clop of the horse hoofs and the string arrangement featured in the original song performed by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.  Instead, Watkins has opted here for the more spit-shined take that even what with everything in mind, the song still sounds quite a bit like something that one might hear playing in the old honky tonk joints of country music’s golden era.  To that point, it is still its own unique arrangement.

‘Moon River’ is another example of the importance of the musical arrangements featured in Watkins’ new record.  Her take on the song does stay true to its source material for the most part, stylistically.  Though there are some subtle differences between the original version composed by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, and sung by Audrey Hepburn, and Watkins’ take.  Right off the bat, the string arrangements and the harmonica featured in the original are absent in Watkins’ rendition.  They are replaced here by the subtle addition of a Hammond organ.  Watkins’ own vocal delivery bears its own identity here.  Her delivery is just as soft and gentle as that of Hepburn and almost as airy.  That whole set against the whole of the original makes Watkins’ take here just as interesting as the other covers featured in the compilation.  When those other songs are considered with this arrangement and the others examined here, the whole leaves no doubt as to the importance of the recording’s overall musical content.  When that content is considered along with the featured songs themselves, that whole gives listeners even more to like.  When all of that is considered along with the record’s sequencing, the record is rounded out and completed.

The sequencing of Under the Pepper Tree keeps the album’s energy light from beginning to end of its 36-minute run time, starting off relaxed in her take of ‘Blue Shadows on the Trail.’  The energy really does not pick back up until late in the album’s run in Watkin’s take of ‘Blanket for a Sail.’  Up until that point, the energy remains relatively reserved.  It pulls back again from there right up to the album’s finale, ‘Good Night.’  So basically what audiences get overall due to the sequencing here, is a record that will serve to relax any listener.  As a matter of fact, one might even be able to use the record to help get to sleep being that the record’s energy is so gentle.  Between that, the unique takes on the songs and the very selection of songs, the whole makes the record in whole a work that is a truly successful family music album.

Sara Watkins’ debut family music album Under the Pepper Tree is a positive new offering that the whole family will indeed enjoy.  That is due in part to the record’s featured songs, the majority of which are timeless songs that are themselves featured in some of the most famous and beloved movies of all time.  The arrangements that Watkins presents here are themselves important to the record’s presentation.  They stay largely true to their source material but also give the songs the slightest of updates, making for even more appeal.  The sequencing of this overall content keeps the record’s energy relatively light and reserved throughout the record’s nearly 40-minute run time.  That means the record’s overall energy will keep listeners relaxed.  That will result in a positive mindset for any listener.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of this record.  All things considered, they make the record in whole a successful first family music outing for Sarah Watkins.  Under the Pepper Tree is scheduled for release Friday through New West Records.  More information on the album is available along with all of Watkins’ latest news at:

Websitehttps://sarawatkins.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarawatkins

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/SaraWatkins

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

CBS All Access’ ‘The Twilight Zone’ Reboot Takes Another Step Back In Its Second Season

Courtesy: CBS All Access/PAramount

Remembering the past is critical to the present.  If one does not know one’s past, then how can one appreciate the present. This is noted as one takes into consideration the forthcoming home release of The Twilight Zone: Season 2.  The second season of CBS All Access’ latest iteration of the classic series is scheduled for release Tuesday exclusively on DVD.  For those who have not yet seen this season of the timeless series’ latest reboot, it sadly does little to improve from the first season of the series’ latest take.  That is proven in part through its stories.  The overt explicit content within the episodes is just as prevalent as in the first season.  It detracts even more from this season.  The general lack of bonus content is the final nail in the coffin of this season in its home release.  When it is considered with all of the set’s primary content, the collection in whole proves worth watching at most once, but sadly no more.

The second season of CBS All Access’ latest reboot of The Twilight Zone does little if anything to improve on the series from its debut season.  In other words, it does little if anything to make this reboot of Rod Serling’s timeless original series worth watching.  That is proven in part through this season’s featured stories.  Ten more episodes are featured in this season.  The stories themselves are new in comparison to the stories in the original series (and even its 1980s reboot).  The problem is that while the stories are new, they are not necessarily original in content.  Audiences can link at least nine of the season’s stories to those in the original series.  Right from the season’s outset, “Meet in the Middle,” longtime audiences will recognize that all the show’s writers have done is re-imagine the classic episode “Penny For Your Thoughts.”  The difference between the two stories is their execution.  In the original story, Hector Poole (played by Bewitched star Dick York) develops telepathic ability and uses them for what he thinks is good, though things don’t go exactly as planned.  It is a warning about knowing whether what we are doing is really for the betterment of others.  On another level, it takes on the equally timeless topic of whether the “super power” of telepathy is really a good thing.

In the case of “Meet in the Middle,” what audiences get is lonely bachelor Phil (Jimmi Simpson – Date Night, Westworld, Psych 2: Lassie Come Home) developing a telepathic link with a woman in another town hundreds of miles away.  Yes, he gets ahead of himself in his own way, but in this case, the result is far worse, and the topic is more centered on the dangers of social media.  How the story ends will be left for audiences to discover for themselves.  The comparison between the two episodes is important in that where the message in the original episode is timeless, that of the latter episode is more timely.  Yes, being aware of the dangers of social media is important, but people should still be just as aware of simply getting ahead of themselves in any aspect in life.  That is where the original episode wins and this one falls short.  Simply put, this episode lifted liberally from a classic episode and basically just re-imagined it for the 21st century.  It, again, is an example of how this season’s stories are new but not necessarily original.

“Ovation,” which comes almost halfway through Season 2, is yet another story that while new is itself not original.  This episode is a direct lifting of the classic episode “A Nice Place to Visit.”  “A Nice Place to Visit” starred Larry Blyden (Cain’s Hundred, The Witness, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) as “Rocky,” a career criminal who ends up in what he thinks of a paradise of sorts after he is killed by police in an effort to flee the scene of a crime.  As things progress, he realizes that his paradise is anything but.

“Ovation,” which spoofs all of the karaoke singing competitions on television today, stars (Jurnee Smolllett – Underground, The Great Debaters, Lovecraft Country) as struggling singer-songwriter Jasmine.  Jasmine is given a coin one day by another famous young starlet (who then proceeds to commit suicide – happy thought, eh?) only to gain all the fame and fortune that she wanted and more.  That nonstop fame and fortune eventually leads jasmine to realize her heaven had in fact become her own hell.  Again here is that similarity.  What happens from there will be left for viewers to find out for themselves, but that personal hell becomes even more shocking as star Mynx’s fame increases while her own fades.  The ultimate outcome is Jasmine’s final punishment.  It will also be left for viewers to learn for themselves.  The overarching story here is one that is a direct lifting of the noted classic episode.  Yes the matter is timeless, in that desire that people have for fame and fortune, but it still is not necessarily original, once again.  Just as “Rocky” got all that he wanted in the original story, but ended up despising it, so did the same thing happen with Jasmine in the latter episode.  So again, this is yet another example of how the primary content featured in the second season of CBS All Access’ The Twilight Zone reboot comes up short.

“A Small Town,” the eighth of Season 2’s 10 total episodes is just one more example of how the reboot of The Twilight Zone continues to fall short o expectations in its primary content.  The very title “A Small Town” is a blatant rip-off of the title of the classic TZ episode “Stopover in a Quiet Town.”  That is just the tip of the iceberg here.  The story finds Jason (Damon Wayans, Jr. – The Other Guys, Big Hero 6, Let’s Be Cops) discovering the model of his town, Littleton, in the attic of the church that he attends.  He soon discovers that the changes he makes to the model also happen to the town itself.  This is a direct lifting of the little girl in the earlier episode as she played with the couple in her own model town.  The little girl was, of course an alien and the couple humans that were kidnapped by the girl and kept as pets.  That aside, Jason is still kind of the same way as he tries to improve the town. 

“Stopover in a Quiet Town” is not the only classic TZ episode that is featured in this episode.  The writers also incorporated an element of the equally classic episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” as mayor Conley (David Krumholtz – The Santa Claus 1-3, Numb3rs, The Deuce) accuses Emilio (Andrew Alvarez) of causing the unexplained events to happen.  This is a direct mirror image of the Maple Street residents accusing each other of being aliens and communists.  Keeping that in mind along with the direct lifting of the story’s primary story line, yet again here is another example of how the story might be new but still not necessarily original.  It is hardly the last example of how this season directly lifts from the original series, too, making for even more disappointment.

Even the one “original” story “8” is not entirely original.  In the case of this story, it focuses on a team of scientists in the Antarctic who face off against a killer octopus with the sentience of a human.  The very concept of a killer octopus feels like a direct lifting not of anything from The Twilight Zone, but the 1955 creature feature It Came From Beneath The Sea.  That movie centered on efforts to stop a giant mutant octopus that rises from the depths to try and take over the city of San Francisco.  What does throw back to the original Twilight Zone run is the discussion between two of the team members (one American and one Chinese) about using knowledge gained for good or for military use (I.E. democracy versus communism).  This was a classic theme from the original series.  Even while this episode is maybe slightly original at best in comparison to the original series, it also leads to another problem posed by this season, its overtly explicit general content.

The general content featured within Season 2 of CBS All Access’ reboot of The Twilight Zone is just as concerning as the general lack of originality in the episodes.  Once again, the episodes are rife with excessive foul language and violence.  One of the lowest moments when this happens comes halfway through the season in “Among the Untrodden.”  This episode, which itself can be likened somewhat to the classic episode “Mute,” and to a slightly lesser degree to “The Lonely,” features f-bombs and s-bombs in almost every line.  What’s more, hearing one of the characters talking about one of her friends performing oral sex on a 30-year old man, and another girl watching her own father pleasure himself is just disturbing to say the very least.  There is also the explicit drug and alcohol use by the teens.  This just is collectively not necessary.  On another note, “8” features one character’s eyeball popped out by the killer octopus.  Yeah, that really was not necessary.  “Ovation” features a scene in which a man undergoing open heart surgery starts clapping as he lays on the operating table.  Audiences can see all the blood and gore there.  This was just as unnecessary.  As if all of that is not enough, the way in which the girl commits suicide in the story’s opening is pretty harsh to say the least, as if the very act of suicide itself was not explicit enough.  Going all the way back to the season premiere “Meet in the Middle,” the final act features its own share of blatant explicit content.  It won’t be fully revealed, but it involves lots of blood and a very unsettling scene.  Along the way there are plenty of f-bombs and general cuss words to boot.  It’s just one more way in which the general content featured in these episodes hurts the season even more.  The rest of the season’s content is problematic in this aspect, too.  Yes, art is said to be a reflection of the times, but audiences who are familiar with the original run of The Twilight Zone will agree that said series remains timeless today more than 60 years after its premiere in part because it did not rely on that content in order to be so memorable.  It just relied on good writing, originality and accessibility.  To that end, why the writers behind the series’ latest reboot think that so much explicit content continues to be necessary (they used just as much explicit content in the reboot’s debut season) remains a mystery.  This aspect paired with the general lack of originality in the season’s stories weakens this season’s presentation even more.  The final nail in the coffin for this season’s presentation is its lack of bonus content.

The first season of CBS All Access’ reboot of The Twilight Zone offered audiences at least something to appreciate in its home release thanks to its bonus content.  This season is the polar opposite.  All audiences get in this season is a very small handful of deleted/extended scenes and a “gag reel” as bonus content.  The extra footage is not companion to every episode.  It is at the most, featured along with about three episodes.  One of those episodes is the blatant re-imagining of “The After Hours,” “Downtime.”  The scene that is featured is all of maybe three seconds at best.  Yes, it is that short.  It features star Morena Baccarin – Deadpool, Deadpool 2, Serenity – running to the rooftop of the hotel that she manages.  That is it.  There is nothing else.  When audiences watch the episode in whole, the overall scene is long that the shortness of the extra footage is largely forgotten.  To that end, that “bonus” footage proves more inconsequential than any bonus.  The other notable “bonus footage” comes with “Ovation.”  It shows Jasmine losing her cool so to speak when she discovers that Mynx had taken her fame.  Watching the episode in whole, it is understood that the story could have kept the footage or left it out.  It did not really matter.  Other than those two episodes, audiences really will not find much more bonus footage.  The only other extra content is the noted gag reel, which is short in its own right.  Keeping this in mind, this general lack of any redeeming bonus content works with the concerning general content and unoriginal stories to make the second season of The Twilight Zone’s latest reboot another disappointing offering from CBS All Access.  It is more proof that some things are just better left as they were.  It proves not everything needs to be rebooted.

The second season of CBS All Access’ latest reboot of The Twilight Zone is a step backward for this series.  Where the reboot’s debut season offered at least some positives, this season fails to provide audiences much if anything to appreciate.  The stories that are featured in this season are new, but not necessarily original.  Like the episodes featured in Season 1, the stories in these episodes  once again lift liberally from the original, timeless series launched more than six decades ago by Rod Serling and CBS.  They just re-imagine so many of the original series’ episodes for their own presentations, rather than offering audiences anything truly original.  The general content featured within the stories is problematic, too.  The original series continues to be timeless today in part because it relied on good writing and acting, rather than a bunch of explicit foul language, blood and gore.  The lack of any worthwhile bonus content in the season’s forthcoming home release puts the final nail in this season’s coffin.  All things considered, this season falls even shorter than the rebooted season’s debut season.  It is worth at the most one watch if only for its stories, but sadly little more if at all.  The Twilight Zone: Season 2 is scheduled for release Tuesday on DVD.

More information on this and other content from CBS All Access is available online at:

Websitehttp://www.cbs.com/all-acess

Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/CBSAllAccess

Twitterhttp://twitter.com/cbsallaccess

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

Re-issues Saved Movie, TV Studios During Pandemic

Courtesy: Arrow Video

This year was another rough one for television and movie studios alike.  Movie studios were forced to postpone the release of so many new movies until either 2021 or beyond and TV studios were forced to shut down production all as they faced the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  On top of all of that, the movies and TV shows that did release this year and that were announced for release were largely another massive batch of prequels, sequels, reboots, and movies based on actual events.  That, again, made for very little for audiences to really appreciate.  Thankfully, there were a lot of worthwhile box sets for families and grown-ups alike.  There were also lots of enjoyable re-issues.  That is why Phil’s Picks once again is presenting a list of the year’s top new DVD and Blu-ray re-issues.  MVD Entertainment Group and Arrow Video released some of the best of this year’s re-issues, with re-releases of classics, such as Black Angel, Flash Gordon, and The Last Starfighter.  Shout! Factory meanwhile produced its own interesting re-issues in the form of Thomas and the Magic Railroad, The Spider, and Attack of the Crab People.  CBS DVD and Paramount even had their share of interesting re-issues in the form of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series, Police Squad: The Complete Series, and Gunsmoke: The Complete Series 65th Anniversary Edition.  Audiences were even treated to re-issues of more classics, such as Roman Holiday, To Catch a Thief, and The Flintstones: The Complete Series.  All of these titles and others are on Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 New DVD and Blu-ray re-issues.

As with each other list from Phil’s Picks, this final list of 2020 features the Top 10 New titles for the year along with five additional honorable mention titles for a total of 15 titles.  Without any further ado, here is Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 New DVD & Blu-ray Re-Issues.

PHIL’S PICKS 2020 TOP 10 NEW DVD & BLU-RAY RE-ISSUES

  1. Black Angel
  2. Flash Gordon
  3. Mission: Impossible: The Original TV Series
  4. The Last Starfighter
  5. Thomas & The Magic Railroad
  6. The Spider
  7. The Flintstones: The Complete Series
  8. Warning From Space
  9. Mallrats
  10. War of the Colossal Beast
  11. Attack of the Crab People
  12. To Catch A Thief
  13. Roman Holiday
  14. Police Squad: The Complete Series
  15. Transformers: The Complete Series

That’s it for this year’s year-ender lists.  With 2021 already coming fast, plans are already in the works for lots more new music, movies, and TV shows.

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

Grown-Ups Got Plenty Of TV To Enjoy In 2020

Courtesy: itv/PBS Distribution/PBS

Families nationwide got a lot of worthwhile ways to spend time together during the COVID-19 pandemic this year, thanks to all of the new DVDs, Blu-rays and box sets.  Of course while families got plenty to watch together, grown-ups also needed something of their own to enjoy.  Thankfully this year produced just as much for grown-ups to enjoy as children.  That is why Phil’s Picks is taking a look at what were among the best of this year’s new DVD and Blu-ray box sets for grown-ups.  This year saw a bunch of new content from Warner Brothers and DC, some better than others (E.g. the new Swamp Thing reboot and new seasons of Black LightningBlack Lightning proved better this year than Swamp Thing, but the latter still proved worth watching at least once.  Itv and PBS presented a rather intriguing new season of itv’s crime drama Endeavour.  The season was okay but left something to be wanted.  The short-lived deep comedy The Good Place finally met its end this year and also received its only full-series release on Blu-ray thanks to the folks at Shout! Factory.  In an even more surprising move, ABC’s hit comedy Modern Family got a full series release this month exclusively through Target.  While not inexpensive, it is a presentation that devotees will appreciate.  It is just one more entry in Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 New DVD & Blu-ray Box Sets For Grown-ups category. 

As with every other list from Phil’s Picks, this list features the Top 10 titles in the category along with five honorable mentions for a total of 15 titles.  Without further ado, here is Phil’s Picks 2020 Top 10 new DVD & Blu-ray Box Sets for Grown-Ups.

PHIL’S PICKS 2020 TOP 10 NEW DVD & BLU-RAY BOX SETS FOR GROWN-UPS

  1. Endeavour: Season Seven
  2. The Good Place: The Complete Series
  3. Modern Family: The Complete Series
  4. Doctor Who: Season 12
  5. The Expanse: Season 4
  6. Black Lightning: The Complete Second Season
  7. Black Lightning: The Complete Third Season
  8. Stargirl: The Complete First Season
  9. Mission: Impossible: The Complete Series
  10. Gunsmoke: The Complete Series 65th Anniversary Set
  11. Gunsmoke: The Movies
  12. Penny Dreadful: City of Angels Season 1
  13. Swamp Thing: The Complete Series
  14. Star Trek Picard: Season 1
  15. The Twilight Zone: Season 1

One more list is up to finish up this year’s lists.  That list is the year’s top new re-issues.  Stay tuned for that.

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

‘Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels’ Is Not Dreadful, But Tough To Watch

Courtesy: CBS DVD/Paramount/Showtime/Sky

Showtime and Sky’s Penny Dreadful spin-off City of Angels is an interesting addition to the franchise.  The 10-episode series, which ran for approximately two months this year from April 26 to June 28, is an interesting presentation.  While it only ran for one season, it is a presentation that will find its specific audiences.  That is due in part to the story featured in the program.  This element will be discussed shortly.  While the story does give audiences reason to watch, the general content that accompanies the story unarguably detracts from the show’s presentation to a point.  This will be addressed a little later.  The work of the series’ cast puts the finishing touch to the show’s program.  Together with the story, those two elements are enough to make up for the show’s somewhat overly gritty content and make it worth watching at least once.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is an interesting addition to Showtime and Sky’s original Penny Dreadful franchise, which originally launched in 2014 and ran for three seasons. It is a presentation that fans of hard boiled crime dramas will find at least somewhat appealing.  That is proven in part through its expansive story line, which spans the show’s 10-episode run.  Unlike the original series, which is based on a series of Victorian-era monsters and their experiences, City of Angels is centered more on the real world.  The gritty, hard-boiled crime drama takes place in pre-World War II Los Angeles, California.  It follows the murder of a well-to-do white family in Los Angeles.  The murder is initially blamed on members of the city’s Hispanic community, but of course the truth is eventually revealed at the series’ end, not to give away too much.  This frame-up highlights the racial tensions that did in fact exist between the white members of the city’s citizenry and its immigrant population, especially in the interactions between the city’s all-white police force and the members of the city’s Hispanic population.  Adding to the mix is the impact of the Nazi party in the region at the time.  As if that is not enough, Magda, in all of her various forms, keeps the tension high throughout each of the story lines that interweave throughout the series, adding even more intrigue to the story.  Her actions add to the never-ending discussion on whether human behavior and thoughts are innate or are influenced by external factors (I.E. the sociological discussion of nature versus nurture).  This is discussed in the bonus content that accompanies the series’ home release.  That overarching aspect makes for so much interest in this series.  Of course it cannot be denied that through it all, there are moments when all of the story lines do cause the series to get bogged down in itself.  Each of the story lines do ultimately tie together, but because there is so much going on, it was clearly easy for the writers to get lost in their project.  As a result, audiences end up getting a little lost, too.  Luckily that is not enough to completely ruin the series’ presentation, but it also cannot be ignored.  The fact that the story occasionally gets bogged down in itself is just one of the problems from which this series suffers.  Its general content creates its own problem for the its presentation.

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels was intentionally presented as a gritty, hard boiled crime drama.  There is no denying that.  This brand of crime story is nothing new to audiences.  It has been around since at least the early to mid 1920s and 30s.  The thing is that this series takes the general elements of hard boiled crime to a new and somewhat controversial level.  The gruesome fate of the family that was killed is explicit to say the least.  It is reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s look of the Joker in The Dark Knight only far more extreme, complete with blood and gore, oh and nudity.  This is just one over-the-top element of the show’s content.  The overt displays of homosexual (and bi-sexual) intercourse are completely unnecessary, and another way in which the show’s content goes way too far over the top.  As if that is not enough, a moment, such as that in which a police officer’s neck is slashed with a razor and his body left naked and covered in blood (yes, this really is shown) is far too explicit, too.  Between these moments and all of the unnecessary foul language that is used throughout, the general content featured in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels proves to be anything but angelic.  Maybe that is because the show’s heads could get away with it, being on Showtime after all.  Regardless, the noted content (and more) does a great deal to detract from what could have otherwise been a great classic crime hard boiled style crime drama.

For all that the content displayed in Penny Dreadful: City of Angels does to detract from the series’ presentation, it is not enough to make the series completely unwatchable.  The work of the series’ cast on camera works with the story to help save it at least somewhat.  Most notable of the cast is star Nathan Lane.  The veteran actor, Lane serves as a supporting cast member here.  Even as a supporting cast member, he still shines both by himself and alongside fellow cast member Daniel Zovatto (It Follows, Lady Bird, Don’t Breathe).  Lane is known typically as a comedic actor, but his dramatic turn here is so powerful.  When he’s by himself, he stands out so much because he takes the full chance to let Michener’s personality develop.  His years of experience on stage and screen comes through fully and fully entertaining.  When he is working alongside Zovatto, who shines in his own right as Tiago, he never tries to outdo the younger actor.  Rather, the duo works so well together, sort of building their characters’ personalities together.  Natalie Dormer meanwhile shines in her own way as Magda as she takes on her various roles.  Among the best of her moments comes as she portrays Alex, clerk to Councilman Townsend.  The way in which she basically plays him is classic clerk to an evil business.  At the same time, she makes her evil intentions just barely noticeable enough really balance things out and make her character so wonderfully despicable.  Going back to Zovatto, the way he presents Tiago’s personal identity struggles as he works with the police and tries to balance that with his identity as a Latino is moving in its own right.  There are moments when he hams it up a little too much, but for the most part, he takes on his portrayal quite well.  In the same vein, the way in which Tiago’s police counterparts take on their roles is fully believable, too.  There is no way that doing and saying what they did could have possibly been easy, but sadly there is a lot of reality about those racial tensions even in that era.  To that point, the actors made it easy to have a strong dislike for their characters and their awful behavior.  That means that they did a good job of showing the vile nature of how horribly they treated minorities even back then, so they are to be commended for that, as difficult as it must have been, morally.  Taking in the performances noted here, that of Lane’s fellow veteran actor Brent Spiner (who does well in a rare non-Star Trek role), and those of all others involved, it can be said easily that the work of the series’ cast plays well into the overall presentation of Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.  Together with the story, they do just enough to counter the questionable content featured within the story, and make the series worth watching at least once.

Showtime and Sky Network’s short-lived series Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is an interesting addition to the franchise, which started six years ago as a fantasy type series.  Its overall story, which incorporates multiple story lines does relatively well to engage audiences.  Given those story lines do bog the series down at times, but not enough to make the series a failure.  The content that is displayed throughout the series does quite a bit to make it difficult to watch, as has been noted here.  It goes way above and beyond the content presented in classic hard boiled detective novels and movies, basically throwing it all out the window just for the sake of having something shocking.  It really is the series’ biggest detractor and makes the series difficult to watch more than once.  The work of the series’ cast works with the story to make up for the problems created by the content at least somewhat.  Those two elements are positives, and do make up for the problems posed through the content to a point.  Taking everything noted here collectively, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels is a powerful addition to Showtime and Sky Network’s franchise that crime drama fans will find worth watching at least once.  Hopefully if another addition to the franchise comes along, it will not be as explicit as this series and worth far more.  If not, then the franchise has closed out on a difficult note.  It is available now.

More information on this and other programs from Showtime is available online at:

Website: http://www.sho.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/Showtime


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

‘Mission: Impossible’ BD Re-issue Will Appeal To Series’ Most Devoted Fans

Courtesy: CBS DVD/Paramount

Retro television networks are among the greatest networks out there today.  They are free and they offer audiences who grew up during television’s golden age (which ended, sadly in the late 90s) a great, safe alternative to all of the garbage that currently pollutes the airwaves.  From the likes of The Munsters and Emergency! to Betwitched, Black Sheep Squadron, and The Flintstones, networks, such as Me-TV, CoziTV, H&I, and Antenna TV have grown in popularity as worthwhile viewing options steadily decline on broadcast television (and even streaming outlets).  While the retro networks that are out there offer so much great programming, there are still some shows from TV’s golden age that are still not on any of those networks.  One of those shows is the timeless action/adventure series Mission: Impossible.  Luckily though, the series has gotten new life on Blu-ray thanks to the folks at Paramount and CBS DVD.  The series was re-issued Dec. 1 on Blu-ray marking the first time that the series has ever received the Blu-ray treatment.  Its release last week comes more than seven years after the series’ most recent DVD release in 2012.  This latest presentation is as good as the series’ most recent DVD release if not a little better.  That is proven in part through the presentation’s collective audio and video quality, which will be discussed shortly.  The one negative to the set is its lack of any bonus content.  This does detract from the set’s presentation at least to a point.  It will be discussed a little later.  The collection’s packaging is a slight positive that deserves its own examination.  It will be addressed later, too.  All things considered, the new Blu-ray presentation of Mission: Impossible The Original TV Series a presentation that every vintage television fan will appreciate.

Paramount and CBS DVD’s new Blu-ray re-issue of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series is a mostly positive presentation that will appeal easily to fans of real television.  That is proven in part through its production values; its audio and video.  Considering the age of the footage (the show ran from 1966 – 1973 over seven seasons), the audio and video is largely impressive.  There are a few moments here and there in which audiences will find themselves having to adjust the volume as the episodes progress, but those moments are so few that it cannot be said that they really detract from the series’ presentation.  The explosions, car chases and everything else are well-balanced with the dialogue throughout the series.  Adding to the pleasure brought by the audio is the largely high quality in the video.  The colors that were used in the scenery are so rich.  The explosions (everyone’s favorite part of the show) are bright and fully capturing for viewers.  Even ordinary scenes, such as jail cells, hotel rooms in which the team stays on its missions, and car scenes look full.  This is a tribute to those who transferred the footage from the series’ previous standalone season sets and its most recent full-series set.  The full impact of the set’s production sets a strong foundation for this re-issue.  Considering the strength of this aspect and the award-winning series’ equally enjoyable writing, those aesthetic elements collectively give this classic series’ fans plenty to appreciate. 

While the audio and video presentation in Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series (and the series’ writing) goes a long way toward making the series’ re-issue a success, the set is not perfect.  It is missing any bonus content.  Considering the series’ legacy and impact in America’s pop culture realm, it would have been common sense to have at least discussions on the writing (E.g. how did the writers develop the ideas for the Impossible Missions Force’s adventures).  On another note, the series saw cast changes as it progressed, along with a variety of guest stars.  The series’ first season saw guest appearances from at least two actors who appeared in timeless episodes of The Twilight Zone.  Discussions by the series’ creative heads and/or writers would have enriched this aspect even more for the series’ most devoted fans.  Considering that Mission: Impossible was yet another product of Desilu Productions (which was also responsible for other timeless series, such as The Untouuchables, Star Trek, and of course I Love Lucy) a discussion on those shows and the overall legacy of Desilu Productions would have enhanced the viewing experience even more.  All things considered here, there is so much extra content that could have been included for audiences in this latest iteration of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series.  The lack thereof does not make the series’ re-issue a failure, but there is no denying how much it does detract from the series.  Without that content, the re-issue is essentially a bare bones presentation.  Thankfully though, the content in the episodes does manage to make up for that lack of still keep viewers fully engaged and entertained.  Keeping all of this in mind, there is still one more aspect of the set to examine.  That aspect is its packaging.

The packaging for the new Blu-ray re-issue of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series is another interesting aspect of the set.  That is because while it is an improvement over that of the series’ DVD release, it is still imperfect.  The previous set contained all of the series’ discs on their own discs inside cans that are themselves inside a bigger package shaped like a stick of dynamite.  The overall packaging was bulky and anything but ergonomic.  What’s more, getting the discs in and out of the inner cases was problematic in its own right.  By comparison, this set’s packaging uses gatefold style packaging for each season.  The slim cases open up to reveal the discs placed inside in their own spots.  This does make the overall packaging less bulky and more space conservative.  The problem here is that while the packaging is more ergonomic, there is nothing securing the discs inside their respective season “cases.”  The result is that the discs can easily slide right out of the “cases.”  That, in turn, increases the chances that the discs can be damaged by scratching.  Yes, it is – again – something of an improvement over the packaging for the series’ DVD set, but still does leave something to be wanted. 

Keeping everything noted here in mind, this latest presentation of Mission: Impossible proves to be such that the most devoted of the series’ fans will enjoy regardless of whether they own the previous DVD set.  That is especially considering the average price point of $118.37.  That price was obtained by taking prices from Amazon, Target, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers.  It was not listed at Walmart or Books-A-Million at the time of this posting.  Amazon’s price listing of $99.99 is the least expensive while Target’s listing of $132.99 easily topped that average price.  Best Buy was able to join Amazon in staying below the average price point, listing the set at $109.99.  Barnes & Noble Booksellers meanwhile was well above the average, listing the set at $130.49.  That low price of $99.99 is a welcome aspect considering, again, the aesthetic value of the primary content and the lack of bonus content.  The series did run, after all, for 171 episodes over seven seasons.  So even without bonus content, audiences will still get their money’s worth at that lowest price.  What’s more considering the series’ long run, there likely will be no perfect answer to the packaging issue.  It will always be there.  All things considered here, Paramount and CBS DVD’s latest presentation of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series proves itself to be, again, a welcome presentation for the series’ most devoted fans. 

CBS DVD and Paramount’s new Blu-ray re-issue of Mission: ImpossibleThe Original TV Series is an interesting new presentation. Audiences will assuredly appreciate the high quality of the show’s audio and video in this presentation. The lack of any bonus content does detract from the series’ presentation in this iteration, but does not ruin the set’s presentation. At the same time, that needed bonus content definitely would have benefited the set’s appeal. The packaging of this set is a step up from that of the series’ DVD set, but still poses its own problem. Keeping all of this in mind, the set’s average price point and separate listings play (primarily those at Best Buy and Amazon) make for some more appeal. Hopefully when and if the series gets its next re-issue, there will be bonus content and more improved packaging.  Regardless, it is not *ahem* impossible (yes, that awful pun was intended) to appreciate this latest presentation of a timeless series that still is not on any of the major retro TV networks.

More information on this and other titles from CBS Home Entertainment is available online at:

Website: http://www.viacomcbsexpress.com/cbs-home-entertainment

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/CBSHE

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

There’s Nothing To Fear About The New ‘Are You Afraid Of The Dark?’ DVD

Courtesy: Nickelodeon/Paramount/Viacom

Do you like scary stories?  That simple question, posed nearly a year go, heralded the long-awaited return of what is one of the most beloved series in Nickelodeon’s history – Are You Afraid of the Dark?  The series’ reboot (and for others its “eighth” season) was met largely with applause from audiences new and old alike.  Now almost a year removed from the mini-series event’s premiere, audiences are able to watch it anytime on DVD, as it was released Friday through Nickelodeon and Paramount at Target stores nationwide.  The DVD is a positive addition to the home library of any fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark?  That is due primarily to the actual episode, which will be discussed shortly.  It is just one of the DVD’s positives.  Its bonus content adds to its appeal and will be discussed a little later.  The DVD’s average price range rounds out its most important elements.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the DVD.  All things considered, they make this latest installment of Are You Afraid of the Dark? scary good.

Nickelodeon and Paramount’s newly released DVD presentation of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is a welcome addition to the home library of any of the series’ fans.  That includes fans of the original series and those of this latest reboot.  That is due in no small part to the DVD’s primary content.  The primary content in question is the central three-part story that finds a story told by the Midnight Society’s newest member Rachel coming to life.  Rachel’s story is about a Carnival of Terror that has haunted  her dreams for years.  The carnival and its creepy ringmaster Mr. Tophat (Rafael Casal – Blindspotting, bad Education, Def Poetry) first manifested in Rachel’s dreams when she was a child.  Now that she is living in a new town with her parents and joins the Midnight Society, those nightmares have become reality following her telling of the story.  Things start going bad from here, especially after Rachel and her new friends visit the carnival.  Gavin, Rachel’s crush (played here by Sam Ashe Arnold – Best. Worst. Weekend. Ever., Brotherhood, Winter Hymns), ends up going missing. At the same time, a mystery is revealed about another young man’s disappearance.  As it turns out, that boy’s disappearance is also linked to the carnival. This is just some of the trouble that happens when the carnival comes to town.  Akiko’s brother Hideo falls victim to the forces of evil, so its up to the Midnight Society to save him and everyone in town as they work to defeat Mr. Tophat once and for all.  There are other twists and turns tied into the story that add to the story’s interest.  Viewers who have not yet seen this story will be left to discover those twists and turns for themselves.  While Nickeldeon spaced out the story over the course of three weeks back in October, the new DVD release allows audiences to choose between watching the same way or just watching the movie all the way through.  In other words, viewers are free to watch the story at their own pace, rather than be tied down by any time constraints.  This works together with the story’s content to make this aspect a strong foundation for the DVD.  While the story and its presentation on the DVD clearly help its appeal, it is just one part of what makes the DVD a positive new presentation.  Its bonus content adds to its appeal.

The bonus content featured with the new home release of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is three episodes from the original series.  Specifically, hey are the episodes, “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark,” “The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner” and “The Tale of Dead Man’s Float.”  The episodes in question are considered by many fans to be among some of the series’ best stories.  “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark” is taken from Season 1, “The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner” from Season 4, and “The Tale of Dead Man’s Float” from Season 5.  Considering that the original series ran for seven seasons, this alone makes for a good representation of that series.  The first episode focuses on a young man named Josh (Christian Tessier – Fear The Walking Dead, The Day After Tomorrow, Real Detective) who stole the nose from a clown named Zeebo.  According to the legend told in the tale, Zeebo was believed to be the ghost of a clown also named Zeebo, who died in a fire after trying to steal money from a carnival.  Josh learns an invaluable lesson when Zeebo come after Josh in a scenario that will appeal to fans of Scream and pretty much any slasher flick.  On another level, one could also argue that the classic Appalachian story of the Tailypo played an influence in this story.  For those who have never heard the story of the Tailypo, it is a timeless, chill-inducing tale in its own right.  It centers on a hermit who is being stalked by a creature whose tail he took after shooting the creature.  The primary story there has a pretty dark ending.  That aside, it’s easy to see how that timeless tale might have influenced this story.

“The Tale of the Ghastly Grinner” will appeal to comic book fans.  It centers on young hopeful comic book artist Ethan (Amos Crawley – Billy Madison, The Virgin Suicides,  Night of the Twisters) as he is given a comic book by the owner of a new shop in his town.  Ethan unwittingly unleashes the comic book’s villain, The Ghastly Grinner when he puts the comic book into a microwave to dry the document.  It ends up being up to him and his friend Hooper (Heidi Burbela – Adam, Great Canadian Cookbook, Big Brother Canada) to stop the Ghastly Grinner and return it to its comic book world.  The story has a happy ending, just like every other episode of the classic series.

The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float is considered by many audiences to be the series best episode.  This story focuses on Zeke Matthews (Kaj-Erik Eriksen – The 4400, The Commish, 88 Minutes) as he and his classmate Clorice (Margot Finley – D3: The Mighty Ducks, Opposite Sex, First Wave) fight to stop an evil being (played by Marcel Jeannin – 300, Wicker Park, Taking Lives) that haunts the swimming pool in the students’ school.  Zeke has to overcome his fear of the water in order to help defeat the monster.  The story has a happy ending, with Zeke and Clorice becoming a couple.  That little secondary story line will appeal to certain audiences while the overarching horror story at the center of the tale will appeal more widely.  Between that, the episode’s production values and cinematography, this episode leaves little doubt why it remains such a memorable addition to the original run of Are You Afraid of the Dark?  When it is considered alongside the other bonus classic episodes, the trio goes a long way toward adding to the DVD’s appeal.

Staying on the topic of the classic episodes, it is known that all seven seasons of the original series are available exclusively through Amazon.  The problem is that those box sets are not official releases.  They are DVR sets that are essentially created on demand.  On another note, PlutoTV is streaming episodes from the original series, but the selection right now is limited.  To that end, having these three episodes featured in this DVD leaves one hoping that eventually Nickelodeon, Viacom and Paramount will finally take the steps to release all seven seasons in official sets complete with bonus content.  It’s one more series that will undoubtedly sell very well should officials with each company come to their senses and make that move.  Time will tell.

Getting back on track, the primary and secondary content featured in Nickelodeon and Paramount’s new home release of Are You Afraid of the Dark? go a long way toward making the DVD entertaining and engaging.  For all the value that they present, it should be noted that they make the DVD’s average price range appealing in its own way.  The DVD’s average price range is $14.45.  That price was obtained by averaging prices listed at Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and Books-A-Million.  Amazon and Best Buy offer the least expensive listings at $11.99 each.  Walmart, Books-a-Million, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers all broke that price point with listings at $16.99, $15.76, and $16.99 respectively.  Target’s listing of $12.99 is the only listing below the average price point — $12.99 – other than those of Amazon and Best Buy.  As an additional note, research has shown that Target is the only one of the noted retailers that offers the DVD in store.  The other retailers force audiences to order online.  This is important to note because some people prefer to shop in person instead of online.  In other words, audiences wanting the lowest price (even including shipping and handling) will have to order the DVD through Amazon and Best Buy.  Otherwise, audiences who prefer to shop in store will have to pay a dollar more at Target.  The other retailers are just too expensive, in comparing the listings.  That those key listings are all under the $15 mark for a DVD that has just over two hours of content old and new alike, makes that average price point appealing, without question.  What’s more the noted less expensive listings are affordable for audiences, too.  That is the most important thing here.  When this is considered along with the DVD’s primary and secondary content, the whole of this DVD becomes a welcome addition to the library of any Are You Afraid of the Dark? fan.

Nickelodeon and Paramount’s newly released DVD presentation of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is a positive presentation for new and old fans alike of this unforgettable series.  That is due in part to the DVD’s primary content, the three-part episode that originally aired in 2019.  It is a gripping story that will haunt audiences in all of the best ways.  The trio of classic episodes that accompany the new story as bonus content adds even more appeal to the DVD.  It will take fans of the original series back to another time while also introducing a new generation of audiences to that great series.  The DVD’s average price point is relatively affordable.  That is especially the case with its least expensive listings.  All three noted elements are important in their own way to the whole of this DVD.  All things considered they make Are You Afraid of the Dark? one of this year’s top new family DVDs/BDs.  More information on the DVD and the forthcoming second (technically ninth) season of Are You Afraid of the Dark? is available along with all of the series’ latest news at http://www.facebook.com/AreYouAfraidOfTheDark.

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