Hugh’s Scandimania – With Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

ScandimaniadvdI’ve never been a fan of cooking shows but one day my mum made me watch an episode of a Nigella show. She was just so exquisite and had such a warm personality and her show seemed more interesting than the crappy 10 minute morning news show style cooking segments I was used to. I’ve heard my mum rave about River Cottage / Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and I’m obsessed with just about everything Nordic so that made the DVD even more appealing. At least if was shit I’d get to see some cool scenery and learn a bit about my cultural heritage.

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Cartoon Network Holiday Collection

Cartoon

Ugh… it’s that time of year again. I wish I could love Christmas like John Waters does but for some reason I just hate the holiday season. I hate Christmas carols, I hate bands outside supermarkets, I hate the decorations and I really, really hate the fact that there’s no mail for six days. I am a total Grinch. I also have a two year old who is going to love Christmas so watching a Christmas themed DVD is a great way to start accepting that I have to get into the spirit and smile and stop being a Grinch.

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Picket Fences [Season One]

PicketFences

Picket Fences is a TV drama set in the small fictional town of Rome, Wisconsin, centered around Sheriff Jimmy Brock, his wife and town doctor Jill, and their three children. When family emergencies such as bed wetting, bullying and teen sex aren’t playing out there’s a bunch of bizarre crimes of some sort. From serial bathers, midgets riding on elephants to serial killers called “The Green Bay Chopper” and “Cupid”. Another element of the show is the ethical/political/philosophical quandaries presented in the courtroom. It’s unique how it blends police drama, medical drama and legal drama into one show.

Let’s get the Twin Peaks comparisons out of the way. It’s clearly inspired by Twin Peaks. It references the show many times and even to an extent Northern Exposure as well (Cicely Alaska/Rome Wisconsin), also the philosophical debates remind one of Chris in the Morning‘s spiels). Like Twin Peaks the first episode is centered around a murder. While Northern Exposures first few episodes are filled with TP references and similarities it carved out its own identity and maybe it’s because I have only watched one season but Picket Fences never really has a strong and unique identity. It kinda feels like a mishmash of Step-By-Step, some cop/legal drama and Twin Peaks.

Although known for “quirkiness”, it’s not in the same way as Twin Peaks, it’s more of a wholesome quirkiness. Sure strange events happen, but it all comes off so light-heartedly. Twin Peaks is wholesome too, but it is extremely dark, and even though Picket Fences tackles issues such as incest, child sexuality, serial killers etc,  it’s just so damn quaint.

But the main weakness of the show is that there’s not many interesting characters, just interesting stories. This might be due to its episodic nature but none of the characters grew on me. By far my favourite would be the cavalier lawyer Douglas Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkel) who is hilarious and takes on the role of lawyer for local criminals and those on trial. He remarks of a statutory rape case: “I’m very good with penile cases. My brother-in-law is a moyle. He makes circumcisions. He has malpractice insurance. He has a two inch deductible.” Kathy Baker was brilliant in her role but her character was a little too moralistic. A credit to the show is that virtually every character is flawed and they explore those flaws so just when you think “ughh who is that tender and wonderful in real life” things get a little bit real again.

The show deals with a lot of polemical issues HIV, incest, polygamy, abortion, fetal transplants, teenage sex and other such taboo issues that would rarely be touched on in TV today. The show has children discussing and addressing sexuality and saying things that today would have raised alarms, makes me sad that we live in such a frightened climate. This is one of the stronger elements of the show as the topical events it portray affect everyone from those in uniform to their families and the greater community. The show also forces the viewer to consider their values and subject matter they may not be so familiar with which is a pretty clever thing for a mainstream show to get away with.

The show is worth watching but it’s not a show that I can be fanatical about. I watch Twin Peaks at least 3-4 times a year, I own the Twin Peaks board game which no one will play with me because it goes on forever. And I LOVE making cherry pie. Perhaps I came into the show looking for the wrong things, above all it’s a good study of family life in a small town, people navigating life with all its ups and downs.

If Twin Peaks wasn’t your type of show then you’ll probably love this show and if you were a fan of it back in the day you’ll be wanting to make sure you pick up a copy . Awesome to see some older shows not being forgotten about. I will be checking out the rest of the seasons as they get released as I have read a lot of online comments that the show comes into its own during the second season. Worth checking out if you’ve never seen it before.

Extras:

A 14 minute featurette called  ‘All Roads Lead to Rome’ with interviews David E. Kelley, Kathy Baker, Tom Skerrit, Holy Marie Combs, Lauren Holly, Fyvush Finkel, etc, interspersed with clips from the show.

Picket Fences Season One is a 22 episode six-disc box-set with a run-time for 1055 minutes. Recommended.

Picket Fences [Season One] is available on DVD from Madman Entertainment.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – Ponies on the Move

MyLittlePony

If it weren’t for my two-year-old daughter I wouldn’t volunteer to review any modern kids DVDs but alas here I am. Even the documentary Bronies couldn’t interest me (prior to the sprog). I am more of the school of live action (Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Lidsville, Adams Family,  Pee Wee’s Playhouse), and apart from a few shows am not a huge fan of animated shows or movies.

I was the right age for the original series but I don’t have any recollection of watching it. I even brought an ex-rental of the original series and watched a bit and had no memories whatsoever. It looked terribly washed out and dated and didn’t hold my attention, or my kid’s at all. When I popped this on she was hooked the moment she heard the music.

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Usavich [The Collection]

usavich_collection

Usavich (created by Kanaban Graphics for MTV Asia) is an animated short-film series about two rabbits (Putin and Kirenenko) and their adventures in a Russian Gulag. Tagging alongside the rabbits are a transvestite/hermaphrodite? chick (a chicken that makes the most disturbing noise) and Leningrad the frog who eats and poops things back out.

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Adventure Time: It Came From the Nightosphere

Adventure-TimeAdventure Time is like nothing you have seen before. Yet, it is like MANY things you have seen before. Adventure Time is the chronicle of the misadventures of Finn (The Human) and Jake (The Dog) as they traverse the inexplicable happenings of their homeland of “Ooo”. Comedy ensues at every possible angle. Including 0 and 360 degrees, which means that comedy ensues at one angle twice. Righteous. This is one of those particular achievements in animation that I hold in pretty high regard. Admittedly before getting this set to review I had never heard of the show before. Yes, for shame, for shame on me indeed.

First to describe the series. Well, Adventure Time is a many layered beast. It is one of those shows that appeals across the board. There is a visual and straight forward aspect that appeals to a younger audience, with the upfront comedy being simple (nut not plain). Though I would advise parents to see the show first before passing it onto their young’uns, as I wouldn’t say it was for all ages. Then there is this complete other side that is dry, dark, and slightly creepy that appeals to us older audiences. It’s weird for some to imagine that this show sports a G rating. But it replaces dick and fart jokes and crude humour, with something a bit ‘smarter’ and widely more acceptable to the audience.

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Adventure Time: The Suitor

The-SuitorFirst off, if you’ve been under a rock for the last 4 years or so and need a quick rundown on Adventure Time, here goes: in the mystical land of Ooo (broadly hinted to be a post-apocalyptic far-future Earth) a 12 year-old boy called Finn the Human (there aren’t many others) lives in a tree-house with his adoptive brother, a shape-shifting dog called Jake. Finn and Jake (and large cast of friends and/or antagonists) go on various adventures inspired by creator Pendleton Ward’s love of Dungeons & Dragons, video games, comics, kids’ movies, and genre fiction. To say it is incredibly popular would be something of an understatement.

There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. The show has no real overarching plot, so you can jump in at any point and get what’s going on fairly quickly. This is balanced by the surprisingly deep and complex history of Ooo, but this is doled out sparingly as background details across a range of episodes. This means that Adventure Time rewards watching lots of episodes, but it’s not at all necessary to watch them all in order or all at once.

Ward and his team also do a really great job balancing their various influences and inspirations. Fans of D&D and the other various media they reference will get a lot out of the show, but the references are all sufficiently impressionistic and passing that they don’t feel smart-alecy or intrusive. It helps that individual episodes are fairly short (11 minutes each) so ideas are introduced, developed. and discarded before you have a chance to get tired of them.

Finally, this is a really beautiful show. Pendleton Ward has claimed to be influenced by Hayao Miyazaki to create “beautiful moments”, and the various environments that Jake, Finn, and their friends adventure in certainly have that Miyazaki quality of beauty for their own sake as well as service to the greater show.

The relationships between the various characters are also really nicely done – particularly the relationship between Finn and Jake, and the weirder more dangerous relationship between Finn and Marceline (the Vampire Queen). There’s a surprising level of depth and pathos to even the most unpleasant characters, and (refreshingly for an American animated show) there’s very little of the shallow world-weary sarcasm that young teenagers think is amazing but everyone else finds painful. Instead, everyone speaks in a sort of future-slangy patois that reminds me more than anything of Achewood.

There are two kinds of Adventure Time DVDs. There are straight-up season-by-season collections, and there are grab-bag releases of episodes from various seasons. The Suitor (Collection 6) falls in the latter camp – fortunately because of the nature of continuity across the series, this doesn’t really matter. This is as good a place as any to dive into Adventure Time if you’re new to it, and even if you’re a fan the patchy nature of DVD releases and TV screening here in New Zealand means it might well be worth your while anyway. Solidly recommended.

EXTRA FEATURES:

  • “Little Did You Know” – character bios.

Available on DVD from Madman Entertainment

Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series

Freaks-and-Geeks

It’s crazy that I am old enough (well I’m only 28) to say things like “I remember the days when DVD was new on the scene… and I couldn’t wait for *insert TV show/film here* to be released”. Twin Peaks season 1 (and then the horribly long wait for season 2), Lone Wolf and Cub, John Waters films, one by one they got released and I added them to my collection. But two releases that never seemed to get a release were Freaks and Geeks and the ’60s Batman TV series. Now there’s a  six-disc Region 4 release thanks to Madman, and finally the amazing news that finally the ’60s Batman series will see a release it so badly needs and deserves.

Freaks and Geeks is centered around a group of dorks and a group of dropouts at McKinley High School, in Nowhereseville Michigan in 1980. The main characters are the Weir siblings, Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) a former Mathlete turned rebel and her brother Sam (John Francis Daley) a geek with a crush on a cheerleader. Lindsay winds up entering the world of the slacker/stoner kids and distances herself from her Mathelete past and her best friend/Christian do-gooder Millie, while Sam and his two dorky sidekicks (one of whom is Martin Starr) navigate their way through boyhood, girls, and constant bullying.

Although it came after That 70s Show and only ran for one season I think it’s a better quality show and it deals with a lot stronger and interesting themes such as substance abuse, gender, bullies, fitting in, religion, identity and infidelity. Freaks totally shatters typical high-school tropes. It has such an authenticity about it and this is probably due to the fact that most of the things that happen in the show really happened. The producers made the writers answer questions such as “what was the best/worst/most humiliating thing to happen to you during high-school”. There is one fairly obvious sub-plot inspired by the Howard Stern Show but I won’t spoil it.

It’s been 14 years since I had seen the show and I was in for a total shock, that cute stoner guy I thought was hot is JAMES FRANCO. Bleughh. Starring a cast of then little known upcoming comedy actors you could turn it into a drinking game “Spot the Gawky Celebrity”. Without using IMDb I spotted Martin Starr (Party Down, Silicon Valley), Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jeff Who Lives at Home), Lizzy Caplan (Masters of SexMean Girls), Rashida Jones (The Office, Parks and Recreation),  Jason Schwartzman (Bored to Death) and Ben Foster (The Messenger).

For me re-watching Freaks and Geeks was so nostalgic, it took me back to a time where I was fearless and innocent, it reminded me of how I idolized  the bad kids and of my intense hatred of school, authority and rules. It also kinda freaked me out that I could possibly be dealing with a teenager like one of these in characters in 13 years or so.  Freaks reminds one of a time before cellphones, the internet and digital cameras, a time I am bummed out my two-year-old will never know. We had fun and social lives but actually lived them in the real world and not on a computer or cellphone. Did I really just type that? I sound like a total nana.

If you haven’t seen this show it’s worth checking out. I’m going to show this to my 13 year old sister-in-law the next time she stays as we’ve watched teen/high-school shows like Awkward and Suburgatory together so am interested to see how well it holds up to the cellphone addled/YOLO/ #swagfag/I watch films and shows on my Ipod generation.

Madman’s release comes loaded with lots of extras from behind the scenes, commentaries (29 of them!), bloopers and more so there’s lots of stuff here for the hardcore fans. An excellent release that is long overdue and definitely a must own. Madman you rule, now please release a region 4 set of Batman.

Extras

  • 29 Commentary Tracks
  • Audition Footage
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Outtakes, Bloopers and Alternate Takes
  • Behind the Scenes Footage
  • Original Promotional Footage

Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series is available on DVD from Viavision & Madman Entertainment

 

Doomsday Preppers [Season One]

preppersORDER DVD

Doomsday Preppers is a reality TV series that takes a look at different doomsday scenarios that preppers/survivalists fear. There were a few that I had never heard of but it seems that the likelihood of them happening is very rare. Some of the scenarios people prep for in this series are: nuclear war, pandemics, EMPs (electro magnetic pulses), polar shifts, Chinese financial takeovers/economic collapse, electrical grid failures and more.

If you suffer from anxiety or have intrusive thoughts then this is one TV show you should NEVER watch. Although the show freaked me out and played on some anxieties (viruses, bleuggh!), I didn’t run out to the shops and start prepping… I did however start a first aid kit and buy another smoke alarm as those items are more likely to be of use to me. If there really is any chance of ANY of these nightmarish things happening I really don’t want to be living Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome every single day so maybe I should look into cyanide pills.

Each episode has two sets of preppers and they’re rated on how ready/self sufficient they are to deal with a catastrophic event. From banking seeds, making Faraday cages, hoarding food and guns it’s quite impressive the stockpiles these guys have but it’s scary when they’re told that they need to make improvements, if these guys aren’t prepared enough then the rest of really are screwed.

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River Cottage Australia

River-Cottage

In 1997, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall moved into the River cottage in Dorset, England and began his long experiment living as a largely self-sufficient smallholder. It’s certainly paid off for him – more than 15 years, 7 books and 10 TV series later he’s a household name around the world. In this series, Hugh passes the baton to Paul West, a Tasmanian chef who wants to set up his own River Cottage in an old dairy farm on the Tilba Downs in New South Wales, Australia.

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