It may be a country music show, but Nashville's uneven first season left Connie Britton fans singing the blues.
Nashville: The Complete First Season
In case you needed further proof that a great pilot doesn't always equal a great series, ABC's country-fried, country music soap Nashville launched last fall with what was arguably the strongest first episode of any of the new shows. The premiere seemed to promise that the Callie Khouri-created drama would offer lots of great music, great characters and juicy drama, driven primarily by the rivalry between veteran singer/songwriter Rayna James (Connie Britton) and upstart hot young thing, Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the Taylor Swift to Rayna's Shania Twain. But problems set in by the second episode, with Juliette and Rayna being spun off into separate, lesser story lines involving alcoholic moms, duplicitous managers and a rushed engagement to a virginal football star in Juliette's case and a bland husband with dull political ambitions, declining record sales and a shady daddy for Rayna. Too much screen time was also wasted on the rise of waitress/poet/fledgling performer Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen), niece of Rayna's former on and offstage partner (and secret baby daddy to one of her kids), Deacon. By the time Khouri finally but the central duo back together on a hastily-arranged tour, Nashville was floundering creatively and in the ratings, though ABC wound up renewing it anyway, with Season 2 premiering on September 25. Here's hoping they figured out to fix what wasn't working… which was almost everything apart from the music.
Extras: Deleted scenes, bloopers, a postcard-as-featurette advertising the benefits of shooting on location in Nashville, another mini-doc covering the musicians who penned the show's original tunes, and a video tour diary starring the Stella siblings -- the sister act who play Rayna's daughters on the series and are country stars in real life.
Click here to read our full recaps of Nashville
Click here to see our grades for Nashville's various scandals
Arrow: The Complete First Season
Marvel may currently be kicking DC's posterior in the movie world, but their Distinguished Competition remains well in the lead in the television realm… though the impending arrival of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. may shift the balance of power. Looking for a hero to step into Superman's shoes after the ten-year run of Smallville, The CW turned to none other than the Emerald Archer and he repaid them for their trust by becoming one of last fall's most reliable ratings performers. Rather than port over Smallville's version of Green Arrow, the network rebooted the character from the ground-up, casting Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen, the wealthy playboy who gets shipwrecked on a deserted (or is it… ?) island and returns to civilization an ace archer with a vigilante streak. Settling back in his hometown of Starling City, Queen sets about trying to right the town's various wrongs, while interacting with such comics-derived allies and enemies as Slade Wilson, Laurel Lance and Roy Harper. Arrow may not be great television, but at least it demonstrates a better understanding of its hero than, say, Man of Steel.
Extras: A pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes, footage from the cast and crew's appearance at the 2013 edition of Paleyfest, unaired scenes and a gag reel.
Click here to read our full Arrow recaps
Click here to see which other Smallville characters deserve their own shows
Bates Motel: Season One
In case you thought a Green Arrow show sounded like a dicey proposition, the idea of a prequel series to Alfred Hitchcock's classic chiller Psycho that would focus on the early years of Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore, no longer the pint-sized Charlie Bucket exploring Willy Wonka's chocolate factory) and his mother, Norma (Vera Farmiga) seemed downright foolhardy. But against the odds, A&E's gamble wound up paying off, largely because showrunners Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin avoided aping Psycho. Cuse has frequently said they won't be following the movie's timeline, a choice that's most apparent in the decision to set the characters down in the present day and instead modeled Bates Motel after moody small town mysteries like Twin Peaks. It also helps that Highmore and Farmiga are aces in their respective roles, with the Oscar-nominated actress deservedly adding a long-shot Emmy nomination to her roll call of honors. It's still fair to ask just how long the writers can milk this prequel premise before catching up to Norman's transformation into full-on psycho; indeed, the middle chunk of the 10-episode season at times struggled to manufacture compelling original material. Nevertheless, we'll be extending our stay at the Bates Motel and we encourage you to do the same.
Extras: Deleted scenes and footage from a Paley Center-hosted conversation with the cast and crew.
Click here to see our full recaps of Bates Motel
Click here to see which other Hitchcock movies we think should be TV shows
Click here to see Season 1's most and least Hitchcockian moments
Vegas: The DVD Edition
CSI: The 13th Season
One of our most anticipated shows of last fall, Vegas offered the seemingly can't-miss premise of lawman Dennis Quaid pursuing gangster Michael Chiklis along the famous Las Vegas Strip in the '60s when Sin City was still in the process of becoming a Sin Empire. In other words, it was Mad Men meets Boardwalk Empire with the stars of The Rookie and The Shield butting heads and back-up support from Carrie-Anne Moss and Jason O'Mara. Despite that star wattage and great production values, Vegas remained inert dramatically, unable to decide if it was a period procedural (thus keeping with the CBS brand) or an ongoing crime saga. And like so many divided houses, Vegas was unable to remain standing for long, eventually banished from its Tuesday night berth to the Friday night death slot as it ran out the clock on its first and only season. Any chance the same premise, with the same stars, can be revived as a cable show? 'Cause that's where Vegas really belonged all along. On the other hand, the present-day Vegas series CSI (the sole remaining series from the once-dominant franchise now that CSI: NY has been officially cancelled) appears in little danger of closing up shop now that they've got an injection of fresh blood in the form of new leads Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue. Season 13 murder victims include a sex slave, a police dog handler and a pastor. On second thought, maybe the show is nearing the end of its lifespan… after all, there can't be that many more people in Vegas left to kill.
Exras: Vegas comes with commentary tracks on specific episodes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, five featurettes and a profile of the real-life Sheriff Lamb, the character Quaid plays in the show. CSI offers deleted scenes, a Black Sabbath music video, several featurettes and a crossover episode with CSI: NY.
Click here to see our full recaps of Vegas
Behind the Candelabra
Steven Soderbergh's final* feature film bypassed theaters and had its premiere on HBO a few months ago. Unlike most theatrical distributors, they correctly realized that there was an audience interested in seeing Michael Douglas portray Liberace, the flamboyant piano man, who hid his homosexuality in public even as he acquired and shed a steady stream of boy toys behind closed doors. One of those boys was Scott Thorson (Matt Damon, about a decade too old for the part, but quite good all the same), who was wooed into Liberace's home and heart until the inevitable end of their affair. Those Soderbergh fans who delight in the creative risks he regularly takes (even when they don't pay off, as in The Good German) may be disappointed by how traditional a biopic Candelabra turns out to be, certainly from a narrative standpoint, which follows a typical rise-and-fall arc that's applied to Thorson and Liberace's romance as opposed to the latter's career (although we do catch a brief glimpse of his final years as an ignored pop culture relic). What distinguishes Candelabra are the performances (particularly by Douglas and Rob Lowe in a small, but memorable turn as a '70s health "professional") and some of the flourishes that Soderbergh inserts into the edges of the frame, like his fascination with the glittering opulence of Liberace's lifestyle. While it's a shame that the director's "final" film isn't one of his most memorable, it does retain his trademark craft.
Extras: A lone making-of featurette.
Click here to read our original review
(*Yeah… like that's a promise he'll be likely to keep.)
How do you get young viewers to sit still and take their necessary does of Shakespeare? Easy -- just cast Loki as Henry V! Tom Hiddleston is just one of the charismatic bearded actors in this four-movie series that adapts Richard II (with Ben Whinshaw in the title role), Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and (starring Jeremy Irons) and, finally, Henry V. Surrounding the leads are equally distinguished actors, including Patrick Stewart, Michelle Dockery, John Hurt and Simon Russell Beale. With all the betrayal and intrigue going on amongst these kings, it's like you're watching Game of Thrones with fancier language and fewer dragons.
Extras: Two making-of featurettes.
Also on DVD:
NBC's fantastical procedural Grimm: Season Two continues to carve out a solid fanbase who appreciate its darker version of fairy tale theater compared to ABC's soapier Once Upon a Time. The standalone single-disc Blu-ray Star Trek: Origins collects five episodes from Star Trek: The Original Series that provide backstories on key characters, from Khan to Tribbles. The well-liked TNT heist series Leverage: Season 5 pulled its last con after its fifth and final season. On the other hand, expect Simon Baker to continue solving crimes for many years beyond The Mentalist: The Complete Fifth Season.
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