A star isn't born.
Smash: Season One
NBC's behind-the-scenes of Broadway series debuted to lofty expectations last winter, boasting the involvement of some of the Great White Way's best and brightest (including Megan Hilty, Christian Borle and Tony-award winning songwriter Marc Shaiman), a murderer's row of behind-the-scenes Hollywood talent (including executive producer Steven Spielberg) and a host of big-name film and TV stars (including Anjelica Huston and Debra Messing). And the show was pretty great... for the first four episodes at least. After that, it rapidly devolved into campy silliness, rife with the kind implausibilities (as well as flat-out stupidity) that made it our favorite show to hate-watch. Perhaps the chief implausibility is the idea that any experienced Broadway creative team would pick Katherine McPhee's winsome out-of-towner to headline a new musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe over Hilty's more seasoned performer, who is clearly the better singer -- not to mention actress -- of the pair. That this unlikely scenario happens to be the very premise of the show explains why Smash ran off the rails so quickly. Still, the network is bringing the series back for a second season redemption tour, kicking off on February 5. We'll be there, if only to see how much worse it'll be this time around.
Extras: Even when the storylines stunk, Smash's razzle-dazzle fueled song-and-dance numbers were worth tuning in for and the extended musical sequences are the highlights of the bonus features as well. There's also a batch of deleted scenes, a gag reel and various featurettes.
Click here to read our full weecaps of Smash's first season
Dallas: The Complete First Season
In the proud tradition of The CW's 90210 and Melrose Place updates, TNT dragged the '80s primetime soap staple Dallas kicking and screaming into the 21st century. All of your favorite unscrupulous oil barons are back -- starting with J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman, whose recent passing will be dealt with on the show's second season, beginning January 28) and his brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) -- alongside a new generation led by J.R. and Sue Ellen's son John (Josh Henderson) and Bobby's adopted kid, Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe). Even with these familiar elements in place, the new Dallas still plays like a pale shadow of its predecessor. Some successes simply can't be repeated... just ask the folks behind the quickly axed Melrose Place 2.0.
Extras: A commentary track on the pilot, deleted scenes and six featurettes.
Click here to read our full weecaps of Dallas's first season
The creative team behind HBO's heralded telefilm Recount, director Jay Roach and screenwriter Danny Strong, re-teamed to tell another real-life political story, the notoriously troubled 2008 presidential campaign waged by John McCain and Sarah Palin. And, much like its predecessor, Game Change plays like a dull highlights reel of recent history, half-heartedly dramatized by the filmmaking team and a cast of well-regarded actors impersonating their assigned real-world counterparts with varying degrees of success. Although she's no substitute for Tina Fey, Julianne Moore does an acceptable Palin; Ed Harris, on the other hand, is a complete washout as McCain. (By far the film's strongest performance is delivered by Woody Harrelson as put upon campaign manager, Steve Schmidt.) There's an interesting, nuanced movie to be made about the 2008 election... but this one isn't it.
Extras: Interviews with the authors of the book the movie is based on and a roundtable of pundits weighing in on what it takes to build the perfect presidential candidate.
Click here to read our original review
Episodes: Seasons 1 & 2
Showtime's answer to Entourage -- minus the obnoxious celebration of bromance and not-at-all casual misogyny -- Episodes follows a pair of married British screenwriters (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig) who are brought to Hollywood to adapt their hit homegrown show for a major American television network. Needless to say, the process doesn't go as smoothly as they expect; seemingly overnight, their smart send-up of life at an English prep school, becomes a broad sitcom called Pucks! starring Matt LeBlanc (playing a heightened version of himself) as a dimwitted high-school hockey coach. During their prolonged stint in La-La-Land, their relationship is tested both by professional concerns and private temptations. During the course of its two-season (so far) run, Episodes demonstrated flashes of brilliance, but has yet to truly become first-rate television, despite appealing performances by the three leads. (LeBlanc is especially entertaining and more than happy to spoof his image as a washed-up TV star.) But hey -- at least it ain't Entourage.
Extas: A photo gallery and cast biographies.
Click here to see what Episodes's second season taught us about the business of show
Enlightened: Season One
Girls and Veep got the bulk of the buzz when they joined HBO's original series line-up last year, but the network's most interesting new show may just be this under the radar collaboration between writer/director Mike White and actress Laura Dern. The series opens on the tear-streaked face of Amy Jellicoe (Dern), a pushed-too-far corporate drone who suffers a full-on nervous breakdown when she's passed over for a promotion by her adulterous boss. Taking a prolonged leave of absence, Amy achieves serenity thanks to a stint with a Hawaii-based holistic health group. When she returns to her former life, she tries to bring some of that enlightenment with her... but keeps running into obstacles -- including her ex-husband (Luke Wilson), her busybody mother (Diane Ladd, Dern's real-life mom) and the terrible new job her former employers have saddled her with -- that threaten to break her cool. Essentially a series of ten half-hour indie movies, Enlightened has a unique pace and tone that's halfway between dark comedy and wrenching drama. And Dern is an absolute marvel throughout; much like David Lynch, White understands her distinct skill set and writes for her accordingly. Season 2 premieres on January 13 post Girls; by all means, watch Lena Dunham's show, but stick around for Enlightened afterwards.
Extras: Cast and crew commentary tracks on four episodes and inside the episode summaries.
The Goode Family: The Complete Series
Archer: Season Three
Lightning struck twice for Mike Judge when his animated series Beavis & Butt-head and King of the Hill both found success. But he didn't have the same luck with The Goode Family, the 2009 ABC series that ran for a mere 13 episodes (all of which are included on this two-disc set) before disappearing into the ether. Like King, Goode follows the exploits of an oddball family -- in this case, a clan of eco-conscious liberal in the vein of Elyse and Steven Keaton. Maybe The Goode Family would have lasted longer if it had been on FX, which has kept the hilarious spy spoof Archer running for three seasons now despite it not being a ratings giant. That's good news for us, because we're not sure what we'd do without Archer Sterling and the rest of the ISIS team in our lives. Catch up on his junior year adventures thanks to this DVD set and tune in for Season 4 on January 17.
Extras: The Goode Family includes cast and crew commentaries, never-produced scripts and original promotional material. Archer comes with three commentary tracks, an extended episode and three featurettes.
Also on DVD:
Even though nobody demanded it, Charlie Sheen returned to television with FX's Anger Management: Season One, a witless TV series based on the equally witless Adam Sandler movie of the same name. In case you missed its recent run on BBC America, Britain's acclaimed answer to Mad Men, The Hour: Season Two is now available to mainline on DVD. For the dance fanatics -- and fans of epic meltdowns caught on tape -- out there, Dance Moms Season 2, Vol. 1 and Dance Moms Season 2, Vol. 2 collected on disc. And finally, Tiny Toon Adventures: Crazy Crew Rescues collects the second season of the early '90s baby Looney Tunes series that most of us (okay... maybe just me) watched every day after coming home from school. This two-disc set contains such nostalgic cartoon classics as "The Potty Years," "One Beer" and "ACME Cable TV."
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