Based on the fourth novel in Lynda La Plante’s series, the penultimate story arc in this terrific UK series follows Detective Inspector Anna Travis (Kelly Reilly, aka Mrs. Watson of the Sherlock Holmes franchise) as she investigates the fatal shooting of a former police officer. However, because she’s working with a new CI (played by The Young Victoria’s Shawn Dingwall), the awkward relationship with her elder (a wonderfully gruff Ciarán Hinds, John Carter) moves away from the forefront. That’s really the only thing I disliked about these three episodes of Above Suspicion; seeing Anna no longer a neophyte is especially nice. While she’s more headstrong and confident, she’s still imperfect (not so for Reilly, still amazing), and the subplot of facial surgery is deliciously creepy. As with the earlier seasons, Acorn Media brings this one to the U.S., and hopefully, it’ll do the same with the remaining. Straight police dramas rarely come this compelling.
Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season
All right, I’m going to be the jerk who says it: Breaking Bad just isn’t as good as it used to be. (Oh, it’s still good; no need to order my assassination.) And without spoiling anything among these eight episodes, I no longer find Walter White (Bryan Cranston) to be a sympathetic character; my enjoyment inversely wanes with his ascent. The plus side to this is that Walt’s wife (Anna Gunn, who deserves all the award recognition Cranston and Aaron Paul earn) gets more to do. As with previous seasons of the AMC meth-fueled hit, this two-disc set contains a rush of extras, but this one offers something new in an exclusive, eight-minute scene — not deleted, but made specially for home video — that shows what the series might look like uncensored (read: strippers). Another must-watch: Four cast members join Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick and his fellow comedians for 10 smack-talkin’, beer-drinkin’ minutes of All-Star Celebrity Bowling.
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: The Complete Series
Nah, nah, nah, gonna have a good time ... with Shout! Factory’s complete set of Bill Cosby’s classic Fat Albert cartoon series. You’ll find all 110 episodes collected on 15 DVDs, plus a nostalgia-filled one-hour documentary on the show’s history. This was a Saturday-morning staple for me growing up, and neither me nor family members or friends who watched it seemed to care that the junkyard-gang characters were a different color than we were. That’s a testament to Cosby’s universal humor and storytelling skills, as is that each episode’s lesson didn’t feel like a forced feeding. For a show that had several incarnations, it stands fairly consistent today. The biggest giveaway of a shift is the sudden inclusion of the sci-fi superhero The Brown Hornet. But hell — I always liked The Brown Hornet. Hey hey hey!
Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes
There are eight million stories in the Naked City. Only 138 got around to being told in the 1958-63 TV series. Of those, 20 combine for this five-disc set. For those unfamiliar with the quasi-anthology of crime stories, this Image Entertainment release represents the best way to take a bite. Gritty and bleak with noir leanings — and thankfully, in black and white — it helped spark the docudrama style so prevalent today, not to mention giving some big stars a launching pad. Early roles for future Oscar winners Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken and Robert Duvall appear here, as does Dustin Hoffman, most notably because he fronts the “Sweet Prince of Delancy Street” episode, singled out as not only the series’ finest, but one of television’s finest. A little Naked City can go a long way, so binge-watching is not the best way to consume this one; The Wire, it ain’t.
The Newsroom: The Complete First Season
I quite like HBO’s The Newsroom, but even if I loved it with all my aortas, I still would not come close to loving it as much as it loves itself. Self-aggrandizing is par for the course for many an Aaron Sorkin project, yet this one’s setting — the second highest-rated cable news program — gives him a political platform to rally against conservative causes. Never mind that I agree with him — I just detest having my face shoved in it. If Jeff Daniels’ lonely, angry anchor Will McAvoy weren’t such a wonderfully flawed, multilayered character, I’m not certain I could tolerate the drama, whether at one episode or 10. As is, he’s Emmy-worthy. As his ex-lover and new producer, Emily Mortimer (Hugo) is root-for tough, and Sam Waterson (TV’s Law & Order) gets what may be the role of his long and distinguished career as their boss. As for the next level down of characters ... well, let’s just say I’d like to punch them and leave it at that. Retooling The Newsroom, as it’s reportedly doing for the about-to-begin sophomore season, is more likely to make this good show great.
Poirot and Marple: Fan Favorites Collection
I swear I’m not 82 years old. I don’t crochet, live with cats or take afternoon tea. And yet, there’s something really comforting about the cozy adaptations of Agatha Christie mysteries. Acorn Media’s Fan Favorites Collection of the separate Poirot and Marple ITV/PBS series rounds up some of the better outings of each. On the Poirot side, our mustachioed detective (David Suchet) has a very deadly Christmas, takes a ride on the Orient Express (most outstanding), ventures to Egypt and learns his ABCs via corpses. On the Marple side, the spinster sleuth (Geraldine McEwan in the first three eps, Julia McKenzie in the other two) solves crimes at a vicarage and a hotel, among the more usual spots. While both shows are delightful in their quaint, no-nonsense nature, Poirot takes the cake for me. There’s just something about his snooty shout of “Balderdash!” It’s like Mom calling you from the kitchen, saying she just baked chocolate-chip cookies.
Portlandia: Season Three
With its first episode containing both a poop joke and a pee joke, the third season of Portlandia seemed as if it might already be out of ideas. No worries; it isn’t! 21st-century comedy titans Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen return to make fun of their beloved Portland and its beloved hipsters ... and food trucks and wedding party dances and kiddie rock and steampunk conventions and boutique hotels and other things that take themselves far too seriously, no matter the geography. While a few sketches among these four hours are bound to fall flat (that means you, animated rats and foreign film/Bastille Day parody with Chloe Sevigny), a few others qualify as the series’ all-time greats, including a newspaper that gets bought out by a blog (much to editor George Wendt’s dismay) and one man’s years-too-late discovery that MTV no longer plays music videos. Memorable cameos include Rose Byrne, Jim Gaffigan, Juliette Lewis, Roseanne (whatever her last name is nowadays) and comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who hosts some choice tours of real-life Portland places (i.e. a vegan strip club) in the extras. —Rod Lott
Hey! Read This:
• Above Suspicion: Set 1 DVD review
• Agatha Christie: Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express Blu-ray review
• Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Movie Collection — Set 6 Blu-ray review
• Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season Blu-ray review
• Hugo film review
• Portlandia: Season Two Blu-ray review
• Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Blu-ray review