Smithsonian Channel’s African-American Aviation History Doc Is A “Soaring” Success

Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel/Public Media Distribution

African-Americans have made so many great contributions to this nation throughout the course of its now 242 years. They have also made great accomplishments over that time both for themselves and that have opened roads for those who have come after them. From agriculture to business and even to politics and beyond, those contributions and accomplishments are innumerable. Now thanks to Public Media Distribution and Smithsonian Channel, yet another area in which African-Americans have made great (or in this case soaring) accomplishments has been brought to light as we mark Black History Month in the form of the documentary program Black Wings. This program is an important addition to the ongoing study of African-Americans’ contributions and accomplishments because of its story first and foremost. This will be discussed shortly. Its pacing is just as important to discuss in examining its whole, and will be touched on later. The companion interviews and vintage material used to help tell the story rounds out the doc’s most important elements. Each element is important in its own way to the program’s overall presentation. All things considered, they make Black Wings a welcome addition to the ongoing celebration of African-Americans’ contributions to America and their accomplishments throughout its history.

Smithsonian Channel’s new documentary Black Wings is a high-flying success for Smithsonian Channel. That is because the almost hour-long program brings to light a part of African-American history that doesn’t seem to be typically addressed when discussing African-American history — the contributions to and accomplishments within the aviation industry. This applies both during Black History Month and at other times of the year. Yes, it is addressed, but not to the extent of African-Americans’ role in the nation’s business industry, education system and other major areas. The story presented here presents African-Americans’ accomplishments and contributions not just through one aspect of the aviation industry, but in general. From their role in World War I and World War II to the commercial flight industry and even the private industry, the story covers as much ground as possible without allowing itself to get bogged down. What’s really impressive here is the fact that those who helped tell the story are largely everyday people, save for perhaps one well-known female astronaut. Other famed figures such as James Banning and Thomas Allen — The Flying Hobos — and Marlon Green –Continental Airlines’ first African-American pilot — get the recognition that they deserve, hopefully setting the ground to make them the celebrities that they should be. Green’s hiring by Continental would also make him the first African-American to be hired as a pilot for a major American airline. His story, and that of the “Flying Hobos,” couples with the stories of the everyday figures who themselves have done such great things for African-American (and American history in whole) to make the story overall one that will appeal to any aviation history buff. While the story forms a solid foundation for the program’s overall presentation, it is only one of the doc’s most important elements. Its pacing is just as important to discuss as the story itself.

The pacing of Black Wings‘ story is so important to its presentation because of the amount of ground that is covered over its nearly hour-long run time. There are discussions on African-American accomplishments within and contributions to the nation’s aviation history in regards to the military, commercial, private and even governmental (NASA). That being the case, it would be so easy for the program to get lost in itself and in turn to get bogged down. Luckily that was not the case here. From one story to the next, those behind the doc’s creation keep the transitions smooth and the story moving fluidly. Just enough time is given to each smaller story within the program’s bigger story to ensure viewers’ maintained engagement. From one to the next, this makes each smaller story memorable and impactful. Even up to the program’s end, the pacing is so solid, audiences won’t even have realized that roughly 51 minutes have elapsed. That is a tribute to the work put in to this aspect, and in turn proves why the pacing is so important to the program’s whole. It still is not the last of the program’s most important elements. The vintage footage and pictures and the interviews used to tell the overall story are collectively just as important as anything else to this story’s whole.

The visual and audio elements used to help tell Black Wings‘ story are so important because of the depth that they add to the doc’s presentation. The pics and footage of the “Flying Hobos'” cross country journey couple with the narration and stories from those familiar with the story, to make this a story that could so easily be made into a major blockbuster, or at least the subject of their own documentary. This critic personally would like to see them receive their own doc more so than an over embellished biopic based on actual events so as to properly pay tribute to them.

Much the same can be said of Thomas Hudner Jr.’s first hand account of Jesse Brown’s death in Korea. His personal account of Brown being shot down and the efforts taken to try to save Brown couples with footage of the air war over the continent to make it just as hard-hitting a story. That can even be said of the footage, pictures and interviews used to tell Marlon Green’s story. Audiences get to hear firsthand from Green’s daughter and other family and friends about his efforts to move from a military aviation career to a commercial career. Hearing his daughter speak of how proud she was of Green breaking the racial barrier that had for so long been held is itself moving. Seeing the applications that were discussed in his story adds even more depth to the words of those who told his story, making his story just as interesting as all of the others shared throughout the story.

Considering how much material is presented within Green’s story, that of Brown and of the Flying Hobos, one can easily go back to the program’s pacing and see again in hindsight how easy it would have been for the pacing to be problematic in this program. That’s especially considering that the program clocks in at just under an hour. Luckily though, that was — again — not the case. Taking all of this into consideration, not only does the pacing once again prove pivotal to the program, but so do the interviews, footage and pictures used to tell each of the program’s many stories. They are collectively what really make the stories and make them interesting. The pacing serves to keep them interesting. When this is all considered alongside the very selection of stories featured in this collection, the whole of these elements makes Black Wings a *ahem* “soaring” success (yes, that awful pun was intended) for Smithsonian Channel.

Smithsonian Channel’s new tribute to African-Americans’ accomplishments within and contributions to America’s aviation industry is a high-flying success of a program that succeeds during Black History Month and other times of the year. As has been noted already, that is due in part to its very focus and stories. African-American aviation history is one of those areas that has for decades been largely ignored when talking about African-American history. So, it is nice to see a presentation that covers not just the specific topic, but the topic in whole from one avenue to another. The program’s pacing insures viewers’ maintained engagement, especially with how much ground is covered here. The interviews, vintage footage and pictures that are used to tell the stories are the finishing touch to the program. They bring everything full circle. Each element is obviously important to the program’s whole. All things considered, they make Black Wings a work that will appeal to aviation history buffs, black history buffs and history buffs in general. In other words, it is a profile that deserves as much attention as any other African-American history profile. It is available now. It can be purchased direct online via Smithsonian Channel’s website and via PBS’ online store.

More information on this and other titles from Smithsonian Channel is available online now at:

Website: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SmithsonianChan

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‘AmEx: Into The Amazon’ Is A Gripping Real-Life Adventure For All Audiences

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

Theodore Roosevelt is known to Americans as one of the most polarizing figures in the nation’s history. Two terms as the nation’s head resulted in the Square Deal, the construction of the Panama Canal, protection of America’s national parks and so much more. While Roosevelt accomplished so many great deeds during his time in office, his time away from office produced its own share of intriguing accomplishments and stories. One of the most notable of those stories is his journey down the River of Doubt in the Amazon jungle, which would eventually go on to be called the Rio Roosevelt. The river is a tributary of the Amazon, and hundreds of miles long. Now thanks to PBS and Public Media Distribution, the story of Roosevelt’s harrowing journey along the river is finally being told in the form of the new American Experience episode Into The Amazon. Released just last week of DVD and Digital HD, the two-hour program tells the story, which forms the foundation of the program’s presentation. That story will be discussed shortly. The story’s pacing is just as important to note considering its length and how much content is shared throughout. It will be discussed later. Its pictures, footage and cinematography — its aesthetic elements — round out its most important elements. Each element is important in its own right to the program’s whole. All things considered, they make American Experience: Into The Amazon a story that is just as gripping as any major Hollywood blockbuster.

American Experience: Into The Amazon, one of the first episodes of PBS’ hit history-based series to be released so far this new year, is a wonderful start to the year for the network. It is just as wonderful for audiences. That is because this program proves over the course of its two-hour run time to be just as gripping as anything that could be (and has been) churned out by Hollywood’s “Big Six.” That is proven in no small part through the program’s central story. The story follows Theodore Roosevelt’s journey down the River of Doubt, which would go on to be dubbed the Rio Roosevelt in the course of that journey. What makes the story so interesting is that it proves to be fraught with all of the dangers and tensions that one would find, again, in any major Hollywood blockbuster. From hostile natives to the dangers of the river (and the jungle itself) to Roosevelt and Rondon never fully seeing eye to eye — causing plenty of tensions throughout — the story of Roosevelt’s journey offers all of the action and drama that one would ever want. Even more interesting is the revelation that Roosevelt’s desire to travel the river’s length was just because he wanted to escape the emotion of losing out in his bid for a third term as President of the United States. As narrator Oliver Platt points out early on, that decision was not an isolated event. He notes through his narration that Roosevelt made such decisions even earlier in his life. That means it was all part of a pattern of behavior for him. This alone would make this journey a wonderful case study for any psychology student, especially considering that three men — and even Rondon’s dog — died along the way. Roosevelt survived the perilous journey, which is why famed actor Alec Baldwin was able to read his writings an why Platt shared the story. Keeping all of this in mind, this program’s story alone is more than enough reason for audiences to watch this presentation. It has all of the elements of a major Hollywood Blockbuster without all of the falsehoods and over embellishments. It is only one of the elements that makes this episode of American Experience so powerful. The program’s pacing is directly connected to the story, and in turn just as important to note as the story itself.

Into The Amazon‘s pacing is so important to consider in examining this program because there is so much information to take in throughout the course of the story. Considering how much material is shared from start to finish, those behind the program’s creation are to be commended for the manner in which everything was balanced. That includes Roosevelt’s back story and that of Rondon. Even as the group’s journey progresses, the program never allows itself to get too sidetracked by those moments. Instead, it balances them with the rest of the story, maintaining its fluidity. This, again, is one of those areas where far too many fictional Hollywood blockbusters get it wrong, and in turn bog themselves down. No one part of the story or another ever gets too much time here. The result is a story that insures audiences’ engagement from start to end. Keeping that in mind, the pairing of the program’s story with its solid pacing gives audiences plenty to appreciate. Even with this in mind, there is still one more item to discuss in examining the program’s presentation. That item is its collective aesthetic elements (I.E. its pictures, footage, cinematography and even journal readings).

The collective footage, pictures, cinematography and journal readings incorporated into Into The Amazon are so important to its whole because of the fine touch that they add to the program’s viewing experience. The vintage footage and pictures serve to illustrate the story shared by Platt while Baldwin’s readings from Roosevelt’s notes pull viewers even deeper into the story. The modern cinematography that rests alongside the other noted elements makes the story even more engaging because of its sharp look and its angles. The aerials and the water level shots more than prove this. As Platt discusses one member of the party killing another and running away, the camera points at the ground as the man, who is supposed to be the killer, flees. This simple moment adds its own tension (and in turn engagement) to the story, making it that much more enthralling. It is just one of the so many moments when the cinematography shines, too. From one moment to another, the cinematography alone rivals that of so many blockbuster man v. nature movies that have ever been created. When this impressive cinematography couples with the program’s equally important footage, pictures and readings, the whole of these aesthetic elements makes the program’s presentation all the stronger. When they are joined with the story itself and the story’s pacing, the whole of everything proves Into The Amazon this year’s first great documentary, and a work that easily rivals any major Hollywood blockbuster.

American Experience: Into The Amazon is an impressive start for PBS’ already growing list of new home releases this year. Over the course of its two-hour run time, this gripping man versus nature/man versus man story is the first great documentary of the year, and proves once more why PBS remains today the last bastion of truly worthwhile programming on television. It also proves that it is just as good (if not better than) any major Hollywood blockbuster that has ever been crafted. As noted already, that is due in no small part to the program’s story. The story proves it doesn’t need embellishments and half-truths to be engaging and entertaining. The story’s pacing insures even more the program’s strength as do its collective aesthetic elements (cinematography, vintage photos and footage, journal readings). Each element is important in its own right to the program’s whole. All things considered, they make American Experience: Into the Amazon a journey that history buffs and action flick fans alike will appreciate, and that rivals its blockbuster counterparts. It is available now and can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store. More information on this and other episodes of American Experience is available online now at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/AmExperiencePBS

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Smithsonian Channel Celebrates Black History Month With New Doc, ‘Black Wings’

Courtesy: Smithsonian Channel/Public Media Distribution

African-Americans have made so many great contributions to America throughout history.  From technology to food to sports and more, African-Americans have done so much for this great nation.  Later this month, Smithsonian Channel will release a new documentary outlining the contributions that African-Americans have made in aviation in the form of Black Wings.

Black Wings will be released Tuesday, January 30 exclusively on DVD, right as African-American History Month prepares to start.  The nearly hour-long program outlines how African-Americans overcame not just gravity but also racist views to accomplish their feats.  From bi-planes to jet planes, from commercial airlines to the military and beyond, those accomplishments were as high as the sky itself.  Audiences can get a sneak peek at the program online now here.

Black Wings will retail for MSRP of $19.99, but can be pre-ordered now at a reduced price of $14.99 via PBS’ online store.  It can also be downloaded digitally via Smithsonian Channel’s website.

More information on this and other Smithsonian Channel programs is available online now at:

 

Website: http://www.smithsonianchannel.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SmithsonianChan

 

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Public Media Distribution Announces ‘Milk Street: Season 1’ Home Release Date

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

Christopher Kimball, former host of PBS’ America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country recently made his return to television with his own new television series Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street.  That series’ debut season will make its way home later this month.

Christopher Kimball’s Milk StreetSeason 1 is currently scheduled to be released Jan. 30 on DVD and Feb. 12 on Digital HD.  The series’ debut season will be spread across three discs at a total run time of 390 minutes.  It will retail for MSRP of $34.99, but can be pre-ordered now at a reduced price of $29.99 via PBS’ online store.

Season One of Kimball’s new program features cooking lesson segments taped in-studio, tips and techniques that everyday cooks can use in the kitchen, and product test segments, just as in Kimball’s previous series.  Season One also takes viewers around the globe to learn about various dishes and more.

More information on Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street is available online now along with all of the series’ latest news at:

 

Website: http://www.177milkstreet.com

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/177MilkStreet

 

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Public Media Distribution To Release New Adaptation Of Author’s Classic Book Next Month

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

PBS will take families on a special trip next month with its new DVD We’re Going On A Bear Hunt.

Based on author Michael Rosen’s book by the same name, the DVD will be released Feb. 13.  The story presented in the new DVD follows siblings Stan, Katie, Rosie, Max, the baby, and their dog Rufus as the group goes in search of bears. The journey is not without incident as the group has to go through snowstorms, mud and even dark forests in that search.

The 25-minute program features the voices of Olivia Coleman (BroadchurchThe Night ManagerHot Fuzz), Pam Ferris (MatildaCall The MidwifeHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and Mark Williams (Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsHarry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceHarry Potter and the Goblet of FireHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and will retail for $9.99.  It can be pre-ordered online now via PBS’ online store.

We’re Going On A Bear Hunt has sold more than 11 million copies since its original publication in 1989.  It was illustrated by Helen Oxenbury and published in the UK by Walker Books.  Simon & Schuster published the book in the United States.

More information on We’re Going On A Bear Hunt and other titles from PBS is available online now at:

 

Website: http://www.pbs.org

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/pbs

 

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PBS Releases ‘Great Performances: Havana Time Machine’ On DVD

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

PBS is taking audiences on a musical trip through Cuba’s capital this winter with a new episode of its fan favorite cultural arts series.

Great PerformancesHavana Time Machine is available now on DVD.  Released Dec. 12, 2017, the roughly hour-long program follows musician Raul Malo as he walks Havana’s streets, examining the city’s (and nation’s) cultural history.  Along the way, there are performances with well-known Cuban musicians such as Eliades Ochoa (Buena Vista Social Club), Sweet Lizzie Project, Ivette Cepeda, Roberto Fonseca, The Mavericks and others.

Born to Cuban parents in Miami, Malo said of his journey that it held a special importance in a recent interview about the experience.

“Like most Americans, Cuba seems like a dream, a land of rhythm and rum, of Ricky Ricardo and revolutionaries, baseball greats, gangsters, casinos, classic cars and cigars…But for me, it’s the home I’ve never known, the place that my parents were formed, who in turn formed me,” Malo said.  “The roots of my musical soul have been reaching for Cuban soil my entire life, and now…the reality is beyond my wildest dream.”

Great PerformancesHavana Time Machine was produced by Todd Jarrell and Todd Mayo (co-producers of PBS’ acclaimed series Bluegrass Underground).  It was directed and edited by Randy Hale and James Burton Yockey, and co-produced in Cuba by Josue Lopez Lozano. It is retailing for MSRP of $24.99, but can be ordered at a reduced price of $19.99 online direct via PBS’ online store.

More information on this and other episodes of Great Performances is available online at:

 

Website: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/GPerfPBS

 

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PBS Asks Are There “Killer Volcanoes” Around The World Today In New ‘NOVA’ Episode

Courtesy: Public Media Distribution/PBS

With the recent news of a volcano in Bali threatening the nation, a lot of talk has come about the impact that volcanoes have not only locally and regionally, but worldwide. Next month, Public Media Distribution will release a new episode of NOVA that examines the global impact of volcanoes in the form of NOVA: Killer Volcanoes.

NOVA: Killer Volcanoes will be released Tuesday, Dec. 19 the hour-long episode follows a group of researchers as they search for a “mega-eruption” believed to have turned the world deadly cold. The discovery of a mass grave in London containing some 4,000 men, women and children is where the story starts. Initially, the researchers think the remains were of plague victims, but further research disproved that theory.

The researchers’ investigation leads to the revelation that their deaths may have in fact been related to global impacts of an unidentified volcano’s “mega-eruption” within the time frame of their deaths. Their digging (both literal and figurative) led them to find that the eruption blew ash and sulfuric acid into the air, which then spread from Greenland to the Antarctic, turning much of the planet cold and leading to death around the globe from famine and other related causes.

NOVA: Killer Volcanoes is a timely program considering the potentially impending eruption in Bali and the constant watch at one of America’s most well-known parks and at volcanoes around the world. It will retail for MSRP of $24.99, but can be pre-ordered online now at a reduced price of $19.99 via PBS’ online store. More information on this and other episodes of NOVA is available online now at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/novapbs

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PBS Taking Viewers Back To Stonehenge Next Month

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution/WGBH

PBS is taking audiences back to Stonehenge this winter.

Public media Distribution will release a new episode of PBS’ hit series NOVA on Tuesday, Dec. 19 focused on the site titled NOVA: Ghosts of Stonehenge. It will come almost a year after the network released Secrets of the Dead: After Stonehenge on DVD.

This latest look into the ancient site follows archaeologists as they examine bones, remnants of meals and other material in an attempt to figure out the exact purpose of Stonehenge.It also attempts to explain, through its discussions, what led to the site’s downfall not long after it was established.

The one-hour program will retail for MSRP of $24.99, but can be pre-ordered now at a reduced price of $19.99 via PBS’ online store. More information on this and other episodes of NOVA is available online now at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova

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

Twitter: http://twitter.com/novapbs

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

New ‘Odd Squad’ DVD Shows Again Why Series Is One Of PBS Kids’ Best Series To Date

Courtesy: PBS/PBS Kids/Public Media Distribution

PBS Kids’ hit series Odd Squad recently got a new home DVD release, and this latest 4-episode collection of episodes from the Fred Rogers Company-run series is yet another enjoyable presentation that any family will welcome into its home.  That is due in part to the episodes that make up the DVD’s body.  They will be discussed shortly.  The stories presented within the episodes play their own crucial part in the DVD’s overall presentation.  They will be discussed later.  The lessons taught in each of the episodes put the final touch to the DVD and will be discussed later, too.  Each element noted here is important in its own right to the DVD’s whole.  All things considered, they make Odd Squad: Villains The Best Of The Worst yet another enjoyable offering from a series that is one of PBS Kids’ most standout series to date.

Odd Squad is one of PBS Kids’ most standout series to date.  Along with the likes of Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, The Magic School Bus, Curious George and so many others throughout PBS’ history, this series makes learning fun while also entertaining with its original adventures.  The series’ latest DVD release VillainsThe Best of the Worst­ is takes four of those adventures – ‘Now You Don’t See Me,’ ‘The Briefcase,’ ‘Flatastrophe’ and ‘Puppet Show’ — and compiles them for a nearly hour-long experience that proves just as much as its predecessors why this series is so beloved.  The episodes are all lifted from the series’ first season, and while not presented in the same chronological order as they were in their original broadcasts, still give audiences a clear look at the show’s growth over time in terms of its writing.  Speaking of the show’s writing, the stories at the episodes’ centers play their own important part in the DVD’s overall presentation.

The stories at the center of this collection’s episodes are critical to the DVD’s presentation because of their originality and the balance of their educational and entertaining elements.  From one episode to the next, neither the stories’ educational nor its entertaining material ever overpowers the other.  Audiences never feel at any point that the show is forcing education down their throats.  At the same time, the agents’ adventures are never so outlandish (even as interesting as they can be) that they make themselves beyond watching.  There are programs out there on other networks that are in fact that outlandish, not to name any in particular.  However, they are there.  Luckily, this show’s adventures are not at that level.  Keeping this in mind, the educational and entertaining elements that combine to form each episode prove collectively form the cornerstone for the DVD’s foundation.  Building on that cornerstone are the lessons tied into each episode.

The lessons tied into each of the DVD’s episodes all center on basic math skills.  From telling time in ‘Puppet Show’ and ‘Now You Don’t See me’ to basic, elementary level geometry in ‘Flatastrophe’ to understanding weight balances in ‘The Briefcase,’ the lessons taught in these episodes are easily accessible for Odd Squad’s target audiences.  This is thanks, again, to the work of the series’ writers.  Case in point is the method that Olive and her partner use to find Ms. O’s hidden briefcase in ‘The Briefcase’ after The Shapeshifter steals and hides it in a warehouse.  The agents have to balance items to figure out which object is Ms. O’s briefcase in disguise.  In ‘Flatastrophe’ the agents teach young audiences about cubes and squares while trying to stop the villain Fladam from flattening every cube in the city.  It’s a simple story that makes teaching the story’s basic geometry lesson just as easy.  It’s one more example of the importance of the lessons incorporated into the episodes’ stories.  The writers make the lessons the crux of each story, thus making it feel more like audiences are being entertained than educated.  Kudos are in order for the writers here just as much as for the stories’ originality.  Considering this and the importance of the episodes all being culled from one season, it becomes clear in examining all of these elements that there is plenty to appreciate in the DVD.  That appreciation also leads audiences to agree that this new Odd Squad DVD another enjoyable offering from what is one of PBS Kids’ best series to date.

PBS Kids’ latest Odd Squad DVD Villains The Best of the Worst is not the first of the series’ DVDs to see a home release.  It is however yet another enjoyable addition to the already long list of the series’ DVDs that proves once again why the series is one of the network’s best series to date.  That is due in part to an episode list that pulls entirely from the series’ lead season.  While not in the same chronological order as in their original broadcasts, the episodes still go a long way in showing the show’s growth over the course of that season.  The stories at the center of the featured episodes are entertaining without being overly outlandish, unlike is the case with so many children’s programs out there today.  The lessons tied into the stories are not only part of the stories, but are easily accessible because of how they are tied into the stories.  Each element is important in its own way to the DVD’s whole.  All things considered, the noted elements make Odd Squad: VillainsThe Best of the Worst another enjoyable offering from what is one of PBS Kids’ best series to date.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store.  More information on Odd Squad is available online along with games, activities, printables and more at:

 

 

 

Website: http://pbskids.org/oddsquad

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

 

 

 

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‘Endeavour: Season 4′ Lives Up To PBS’ “Masterpiece” Moniker

Courtesy: itv/Public Media Distribution/PBS

Early this past September, Public Media Distribution released to American audiences the fourth season of PBS’ hit British import Endeavour.  The latest season of the phenomenal crime drama is yet another successful release for both itv and PBS that shows once again why this series easily bests any American crime drama on television today.  That is proven in part to the writing in more than one way.  This will be discussed shortly.  The work of the series’ cast cannot be ignored in examining this latest of the series’ installments.  It will be discussed later.  Last but definitely not least of note in examining this season’s recent home release is its bonus material.  It, like the season’s writing and acting, plays its own important part to the whole of the season’s presentation.  All things considered, the fourth season of Endeavour proves to be yet another entertaining offering from one of the U.K.’s top crime dramas.

Endeavour: The Complete Fourth Season has been available to American audiences for almost two months, having been released Sept. 5 via Public Media Distribution.  For those who perhaps have not yet had the opportunity to view this latest installment in the ongoing series, it goes without saying that it is another enjoyable effort for the series.  That is due in no small part to the work of the series’ writers.  This applies both to the stories featured in this season and to the series’ interweaving subplots.  All four of this season’s episodes give something totally different from one to the next.  The season premiere, for instance, is easily comparable to the story at the center of the hit 19999 Denzel Washington/Angelina Jolie crime blockbuster The Bone Collector.  At the same time, a comparison to author Dianne Setterfield’s novel The 13th Tale in the story, too (not to give away too much of the plot).  The second episode, ‘Canticle’ plays directly off of the summer of love for its central story.  Even with this in mind, it still manages to make itself an intriguing story nonetheless.  ‘Lazaretto,’ the season’s penultimate episode, changes things up yet again by taking place almost entirely in a hospital ward as Morse tries to find out why occupants of one bed keep dying.  The answer plays out almost like something right out of today’s headlines (again, not to give away too much).  There is even a nice, action packed police foot chase complete with gunfire for action fans.  The season finale, ‘Harvest’ centers around a body found during an archaeological dig. The killer may or may not be connected to a pagan ritual held near a power station.  It is yet another story that stands easily on its own feet separate from its counterparts in this season.  That distinct identity of the season’s stories is but one part of what makes the season’s writing stand out so much.  The writers’ ability to balance the stories with their underlying, interweaving subplots strengthens the writing even more.

Audiences will note in watching this season that while the central stories are solidly entertaining in their own right, they are not the only stories featured throughout the episodes.  From one episode to the next, the writers make sure to not forget the Thursdays’ anxiousness over their daughter Joan as well as Endeavour’s personal struggle with himself over his feelings for her.  Given, it is a serial element, but the writers at no point ever allow this element to overpower the season’s central standalone stories.  That balance gives fans of serials and standalone series alike something to anticipate and appreciate.

As if the stories presented within each of this season’s episodes are not enough for audiences (and their balance with the episodes’ secondary stories), the writers’ ability to keep audiences guessing right up until the end of each episode proves to be yet another way in which the writing proves so critical.  The stories put in just enough red herrings and twists to keep viewers completely engaged right to each story’s end without leaving viewers confused.  When this is considered along with the already discussed elements in the season’s writing, it becomes wholly clear why the writing is so critical to the season’s overall presentation.  It is only one part of what makes this season so engaging.  The work of the series’ cast is once again just as notable as the work of the show’s writers.

The series’ cast – most notably lead stars Shaun Evans and Roger Allum – is top-notch once more in this season. This especially the case as Endeavour and Thursday raise personal matters in each story.  Thursday becomes a powerfully sympathetic character as he tries to cope his daughter’s disappearance. Allum’s handling of Thursday’s emotional struggle makes these moments so powerful, even in their simplicity.  In the same breath, his stress at trying to fill in for Chief Superintendent Bright late in the season is just as engaging.  It is another way in which the writers develop Thursday’s character even more this season and another example of Allum’s expert acting chops.

Evans’ acting chops are just as notable as those of Allum this time around.  The way in which he handles’ Morse’s continued dedication to his job alone will keep audiences engaged.  His reaction at discovering the result of his Sergeant’s exam clearly exemplifies this.  His reaction at finally locating Joan (there again is that secondary story aspect) is just as moving and will keep viewers just as engaged as his handling of Morse’s casework.  When the work of the series’ supporting cast and extras is added alongside the work of Allum and Evans, the whole of the cast’s work does plenty to add its own share of engagement and entertainment to this season, showing in whole why the cast’s work is just as important as the work of the series’ writers.  It is not the last of the season’s most notable elements.  The bonus material that is included in the season’s home release is the last of those elements.

The bonus material included in Season 4’s home release includes a group of behind-the-scenes featurettes that discuss a handful of items.  From the series’ look as it applies to the era in which the season is set (the late 1960s) to Evans discussing his take on his character and on Morse’s relationship with Joan Thursday to Evans even taking a shot at being a cameraman behind the scenes, audiences are given quite the insight into how this season came to life.  Viewers will appreciate the discussion on the sets and costumes in “Making Endeavour in Oxford” because it shows the efforts taken to recreate 1960s Oxford.  Evans’ discussions on Morse and Morse’s relationship with Joan adds even more to that one underlying subplot that runs throughout all four episodes, adding even more interest to this season.  When that interest is joined with the interest created through the cast’s work and that of the series’ writers, the whole of those elements makes this season of Endeavour some of the show’s best work to date.

The fourth season of itv’s Endeavour is some of the series’ best work to date.  Even at only four episodes, this season offers audiences plenty to appreciate including the extensive work by the series’ writers.  The ast’s work adds even more interest to this season.  The bonus material included in the season’s home release outs the finishing touch to the season.  Each element is important in its own right to the season’s home presentation. All things considered, they make the season in whole another fully engaging offering from what is one of the U.K.’s best crime dramas.  It is available now and can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store.  More information on this and other PBS Masterpiece series is available online at:

 

 

 

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