Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What I Watch, or Unearthing 2 TV DVD Reviews I Wrote 6 1/2 Years Ago



In the midst of all the excited chatter regarding the impending return of VERONICA MARS, I was driving myself to the point of blind insanity searching for something I had written eons ago. It was for a website/message board I frequent from time to time (CriticalMess.net).  Over the years, I'd submit the occasional article, mostly reviews of films or TV shows. I was POSITIVE I had written one about VERONICA MARS, but sadly -- due to some glitch from years ago -- I discovered the article had been erased from from this temporal plane.  It now resides in in the faraway reaches of File Not Found-land.

However, I'm a bit of a pack rat hoarder lunatic when it comes to e-mails, having archived the past eight years worth of messages both minor and meaningful.  So I was able to track down the column as I wrote it back in September of 2006.

What I DIDN'T remember is the article was actually about TWO TV seasons on DVD: the 2nd season of VERONICA MARS...AND the 2nd season of LOST!  Needless to say, this amused me to no end.  So, in lieu of the fact I have been delinquent for the past several days with my blog writing...I am presenting this EXACTLY as I wrote it six and a half years ago. SO I'm not checking for typos, editing for length (yeah yeah, shut up) or any assumptions I might have made back then that were later proven wrong. 


DVD Review: Lost: The Complete Second Season & Veronica Mars: Season Two



Watching television is generally considered the most passive of "activities".  For years, people would turn on the TV, turn off their brain, and simply "veg out", as generations of couch potatoes were born.  Rare was the network program that actually caused the viewer to really think, to put down that chimichanga and really pay attention.  Sixteen years ago, a little show called TWIN PEAKS proved two things.  One, audiences could get obsessively involved with a television show that dropped tantalizing clues along the way to solve an eventual mystery.  Two: you can only string an audience along so long without taxing the patience of all but the most fanatical viewer.  Over the past couple years, two shows with characters brimming with secrets, with plot lines that snake and bend backwards on a nearly episodic basis have reinvigorated this sub-genre: LOST and VERONICA MARS.

Both shows built upon their critically successful debut seasons by expanding upon the initial mysteries and increasing the intrigue level exponentially.  Both shows also received some negative feedback (particularly LOST) for extended story arcs that were perhaps TOO convoluted for the more casual viewer --- that ONLY the fanatically obsessed could follow these shows.  LOST was especially knocked due to some less than stellar episodes that felt more like filler than forwarding the actual story-line along.  

Both shows suffered from what at times seemed like several weeks of reruns before a new episode turned up again.  As a result, viewer-ship levels dropped for both programs (both being up against the "results" episode of AMERICAN IDOL every Wednesday night didn't help matters).  Well, speaking of fanatically obsessive. I've spent the past two weeks watching all 22 episodes of VERONICA MARS as well as all 23 episodes of LOST (not to mention all the special features and so on), and I can tell you - it's shows like these that DVD box sets were truly made for.

The ability to watch one episode after the other eliminates the extended periods of reruns that plagued viewers of LOST (which has been recognized by the show's producers - the show will return on October 4th and run for six weeks, then be taken off the schedule for a few months to return in 2007 with 17 episodes running week after week in a similar fashion to what the Fox network now does with "24").  Being able to watch the episodes back-to-back makes it that much easier to recall and keep track of the details in the various mysteries that ran throughout VERONICA MARS.  As many people nowadays actually wait UNTIL a show is on DVD before viewing them, I am somewhat reluctant to give away any details about the plot-lines of either show, as it is hard to do so and remain "spoiler-free".  

The second season of LOST continues the saga of television's favorite castaways since the S.S. Minnow ran aground.  For the uninitiated, LOST revolves around the survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island.  Each episode builds one layer of mystery after the other, while at the same time giving us a flash-back-story of one of the central characters that more often than not - reveals secrets, lies and even links to a fellow passenger.  

When last we left LOST, one survivor had been snatched by a heretofore unseen enemy, and another contingent of the crash-landing party had finally found a way to open a hatch that had been discovered earlier in the season.  From the opening moments all the way till the final minutes of the last episode, one could easily say the second season is "all about the hatch".  Several new recurring and regular characters are added to the mix as well (which is amazing when you consider the show is about people stranded on an island - shades of Gilligan again?).   

For a show that is SO plot heavy, with so many questions still waiting to be answered, there was a considerable amount of character development during the second season.  In particular, Terry O'Quinn's Locke (the zen-master of Season One) undergoes a slow burn of a transformation as the second season progresses, and it's interesting to note that where his obsession leads him --- is in its own way an eerie parallel to what his life was shortly before arriving on the mysterious isle.  

Also noteworthy is Jorge Garcia's performance as Hurley, who becomes less of the island's comic relief and more into a fully realized character with a well of sadness stored within his generous frame as we see the tragedies of his past and present life.  And yes, there ARE some weaker episodes, but when a new key character is introduced into the mix (and it's an Emmy worthy performance by Michael Emerson) during the last third of the season, the show really takes off right up until the finale, which --- for my money --- tops Season One's last episode by far.

There are audio commentaries on five episodes (but oddly, not the final episode).  When the writers and producers are talking about decisions that were made due to fan reaction to season 1, or how they conceived of certain plot-lines and characters --- it's great and valuable insight.  When the commentary feels like it's more about patting each other on the back --- it's pretty boring.  There is a font of bonus features that give several minutes worth of behind the scenes footage of nearly every episode, including one that details an entire episode from the initial writers meeting to the last day of shooting.  

Additional extras also delve into the various theories espoused by fans and even cast members and crew, a feature dedicated to "The World According to Sawyer", an interactive feature that shows all the links between the main, supporting and incidental characters (although this can be quite maddening to go through after a while), as well as a gag reel (get ready for more Brokeback jokes) and a dance promo that was shot by David LaChapelle for the UK.  There are also a few deleted scenes, but they're pretty negligible and forgettable.



VERONICA MARS centers around the titular modern day Nancy Drew who --- while she's the proverbial outsider between the two main segments of high school society -- being a whip-smart upstart whose dad is a former sheriff turned private eye --- she's always working on a case for one of her classmates.  Beyond those mini-mysteries, the two core questions from the previous season of VERONICA MARS were "Who Killed Lilly Kane" (Veronica's best friend, Duncan's sister & Logan's girlfriend) and who drugged and raped Veronica.  Those questions, while seemingly answered, still have major repercussions during the course of Season Two.  

This time around, the riddles to be unraveled revolve around "who caused a school bus accident that killed eight people", as well as "who stabbed and killed one of Weevil's gang members during a confrontation with Logan".  This past season may indeed be a rung below the first season (the new major mysteries aren't QUITE as compelling as the first season), but it's still several notches higher than most anything else on network television.

Whereas one would think the "high school drama" genre had been milked for all it was worth, the dynamic between the "haves" and the "have-nots" at Neptune High (the 09-ers and everyone else), and the sharp and smart writing for all the characters still make this a truly unique show.  But more than any of the twists and turns of the plots, more than the comedic and caustic dialogue that keeps every episode fun and crackling...it's the performances of Kristen Bell (Veronica) and Enrico Colantoni (Keith Mars) that standout as the best part of VERONICA MARS for two seasons running.  Sarcasm with love may be a staple on most sitcoms, but on a dramatic show, the emotions feel genuine - and that's a credit to both performers.  It's the best father-daughter relationship on TV since My So Called Life, and possibly the most enjoyable of all time.  Also, beyond two former Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast members appearing in recurring roles such as Charisma Carpenter (formerly known to geeks as Cordelia) & Allyson Hannigan (f-k-t-g-a Willow), Joss Whedon (the creator of "Buffy") also makes a cameo (as does Kevin Smith, but one can't really miss him).

There are several deleted scenes sprinkled throughout the box set of varying interest, two featurettes (one follows Kristen Bell during a day of shooting an episode - but is more cute than anything else, and the other is just a basic overview of the show), and a gag reel.  Surprisingly, no commentaries - and this is a show one would expect such a feature.  On a more minor point, the second season does not feature an English language subtitle option (whereas the first season set did).

If you're a fan of these shows and like the idea of building up your DVD library, they're both well worth the money.  If you haven't seen them before, I'd recommend renting them via Netflix - but you should probably track down the first season of each show beforehand - especially LOST (otherwise you may be "lost" yourself trying to figure out what the heck is going on).

1 comment: