Tag Archives: TV on DVD

The 2010 Cultural Catchup Project: Reader’s Choice Poll

The 2010 Cultural Catchup Project: Reader’s Choice

April 3rd, 2010

Over the past twelve months, I have been collecting various TV on DVD sets. This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon: I tend to impulse purchase a lot of television series on DVD due to various sales, and doing so has led me to discover shows like How I Met Your Mother, which I picked up for $22 one summer and led to the show becoming one of my personal favourites.

However, the sets I’ve been collecting as of late have been for a different purpose: rather than purchasing them to discover something new, the sets were purchased to “catch up” on something old. As I’ve written about in the past, I really only started watching television regularly in 2004, which meant that there were quite a large number of shows which started before that date which I never got around to watching.

This means that I have what I would call television blind spots, popular or critically-acclaimed series that I simply haven’t seen enough of in order to reference them. Now, it’s impossible to avoid having some blind spots, especially from a historical perspective; I know that I’m not going to be able to catch up on all of the sitcoms and police dramas from the 70s and 80s, so I will leave that to those more interested in those eras. However, as someone really interested in the more recent rise of the serial drama series and who feels like they missed out on some great television in the 1990s, there are certain blind spots that have proven problematic. I had to avoid reading Decade in Review pieces in order to evade spoilers, I’ve missed out on the true impact of certain guest acting gigs for former cast members, and I’ve had to deal with being a television critic and a television scholar who hasn’t watched these iconic (or at least “important”) television series. While I’m thankful that neither scholars or critics have ostracized me as a result of these unfortunate grievances – often because they too have embarrassing blind spots – I think it’s time I did something about it.

So in the next four months, as I transition from the end of my Master’s Degree at Acadia University to the beginning of my PhD at the University of Wisconsin Madison, I’m going to eliminate these blind spots. I’ve got five series on hand that I want to try to get through before August rolls around, and my plan is as follows:

  1. Focus on a single show at a time (with one exception).
  2. Watch the show(s) at whatever pace works with my schedule
  3. Write about the show(s) each weekend

Now, in terms of #3, I don’t intend on reviewing every episode – while I might review a single season if I’ve got enough to say about it, and I might even focus on a particular episode if it’s considered especially noteworthy, my goal is to make observations about the shows as a whole. Sometimes these could be analysis of how effective certain stories are or my opinion regarding certain characters, and other times they could focus on narrative form and structure or more “academic” subjects of analysis. Sometimes they might be observations about the show itself, and sometimes they might be observations about watching the show, or observations about watching the show after having evaded spoilers for so long. I want to keep things pretty open because there is some interesting diversity amongst and within these series, and I want to be able to respond to them contextually if at all possible. I’m even open to writing two pieces on a single weekend if it better reflects my viewing experience.

However, while my most recent catchup projects (Big Love, Breaking Bad, Fringe) were chosen due to their pending returns, I don’t particularly have an opinion on which show I watch first in this instance: all of the shows have already ended their seasons, and if I’ve managed to avoid substantial spoilers for this long I don’t think that a few more months is going to kill me. As a result, rather than picking one at random, I’ve decided to let my readers (and those who get to this piece through my attempts to widen the voting pool) choose what they want me to watch first.

The Contenders

The Sopranos (1999-2007)
Why I Haven’t Watched It: Too young when it premiered, too “late” when I really got into watching TV. For more, see this piece I wrote at the time of the finale.

Newsradio (1995-1999)
Why I Haven’t Watched It: I know almost nothing about the show, if we’re being honest: I knew it had Phil Hartman in it, but it was “before my time” television wise – picked up the Complete Series for $30 sometime last year, been collecting dust ever since.

The Shield (2002-2008)
Why I Haven’t Watched It: The show wasn’t airing in Canada when it began, and FX’s low profile kept it from my radar up until a few years ago. I’ve been slowly collecting DVD sets on the cheap, and just finished off the collection this past fall.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Why I Haven’t Watched It: Firefly was my first real experience with Whedon, and I don’t really know why – I’ve seen “Once More With Feeling,” and I’ve seen bits and pieces of other episodes, but I was always too cheap to buy the DVDs and catch up…until this Winter.

Angel (1999-2004)
Why I Haven’t Watched It: Considering that I haven’t watched Buffy, I always felt that watching Angel would probably be a bad move.

The Poll

Note: I am under the impression from previous discussions that it is best to watch Buffy and Angel chronologically, so I’m including them as a single poll option. However, otherwise, things are pretty straightforward: tell me what you think I should watch, and you might have the pleasure of reading analysis of that show every weekend for the foreseeable future. If you want to expand on your vote, I think PollDaddy has a comment option, but also feel free to expand on your choice (and try to influence others in the same direction, if you so choose) in the comments section on this post. Do make sure to vote in the poll as well, though, as I will not be taking comments into account when I make my decision – democracy rules.

The poll will be open until Thursday, April 8th, at 11:59pm Eastern Time – this will give me time to watch and write about the show’s Pilot for Saturday in order to kickstart the 2010 CCP (Cultural Catchup Project).

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“Those Stories Plus…” – Sports Night Season One

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Those Stories Plus…

Sports Night Season One

It’s no secret around these parts that Alan Sepinwall’s criticism is a fairly big influence on both what I do and how I do it, but what I find is his most influential contribution to the television watching community is his summer coverage of various shows. Last summer, I started watching The Wire when I did because of his detailed writeups of first season episodes; yes, I knew the show existed and had even purchased some DVD sets ahead of time, but Alan’s work was the motivating factor that made me commit to the series wholeheartedly. Alan’s devotion and commitment to these shows motivates people to watch TV, to buy TV on DVD, and more importantly to discuss that television within a community of like-minded surveyers of moving image.

It also means that this summer, as Alan turns his attention to three different projects (The Wire Season 2, Band of Brothers and Sports Night), many wallets are somewhat lighter, including my own: while I have already seen The Wire’s second season, his other two projects served as the right motivation to keep catching up on shows or miniseries that I missed in the days before my television addiction. It is as a result that I now own a copy of Band of Brothers and the complete series of Sport Night; I’d blame Alan for my dwindling bank account, but then I’d have to lie and say that they weren’t worth every penny.

Sports Night, which aired on ABC from 1998-2000, is something that I’ve always known about, but to be honest I really didn’t know much about its origin, or its format, or really anything to really recommend the series beyond its pedigree. Serving as the training ground for The West Wing for writer Aaron Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme, the show covers the behind the scenes goings-on at a cable news show (ala SportsCenter), and relies heavily on the dynamic of its cast, led by the show’s two anchors (Josh Charles and Peter Krause) and the show’s executive producer (Felicity Huffman).

I’m not going to go episode by episode, or really even offer any sort of constructive thoughts about the show’s storylines – it’s a damn good show, one that I suggest everyone watch, but there’s more important things to discuss. For now (I’m only done the first season), I want to talk about what works, what doesn’t, and how I’m absolutely fascinated that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip fell apart like it did when Sorkin had these lessons to fall back on.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: The Wire – “Complete Series”

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“Complete Series”

Release Date: December 9th, 2008

Yes, I know this is cheating, but I have my reasons for refusing to choose only one episode of The Wire’s fifth season to include within this set. Yes, only the show’s fifth season aired this year, but on a personal level I got to experience all five seasons of fantastic dramatic television in the past calendar year. Since this is my Television Time Capsule, and because the Complete Series boxset is both readily available and surprisingly compact, the entire series makes it into the Time Capsule.

When the season started airing, I posted to a message board about whether it would be possible for me to jump in without watching the previous four seasons. Almost immediately, I received the resounding response of an empathic no; jumping in at the end was entirely misguided. It was the first time I had seen such a passionate response about it, but over time I was able to discover many more such responses, and eventually the reason why.

Considering the three-hour long podcast, and the rather lengthy piece I wrote in conjunction with it, I won’t say much more on the show’s merits. What I will say is that its fifth season deserves it spot here just as much as the previous four, not quite as perfect but nonetheless one of the finest specimens of television which aired during the period.

One thing I will add is that I understand the frustrations with the fifth season’s newspaper storylines: while the political world was given a slow introduction in Seasons three and four that allowed it to integrate into this world, and the education system had a clear enough relationship with what we’d seen before it, the media had been surprisingly absent at every other stage of the series. It felt like the most “left field” argument, and many of the connections to the main narrative felt coincidental as opposed to consequential. I don’t think it was an irreparable concern, but it helped contribute to a sort of paradox of getting our final moments with these characters, at least partially, through a lens more unfamiliar to the series than the ones previous introduced.

So while saying goodbye to the show was no doubt difficult, it was kind of nice to be able to say Hello to it in the same year: the balance helps elevate the series’ impact on my year in television, and hopefully the years of many more people to come.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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Review: My Boys Season One (+ 2 Episodes of Season Two)

For anyone who has been following my Twitter feed (Located both on the sidebar and at the link), you’ll have noticed that I’ve been watching more TV than I’ve been blogging recently. With the television season over, and with the summer shows trickling more than pouring in, I’ve devoted more time watching rather than writing about my favourite pasttime. As of this week, I’m into the fifth season of Six Feet Under, five episodes into The Wire’s first season, and while I enjoying them to varying degrees, there was a serious problem: I was getting a tad bit depressed.

You see, there’s a lot of death and harsh reality in these shows; Six Feet Under is literally a weekly funeral for hope and love, and The Wire is a cold picture of a structurally corrupt organization and the drug trade on the streets of Baltimore. And so, when searching for my next show to catch up on, I decided to go with a killer combination: light-hearted comedy, a recent DVD release, and currently airing weekly episodes.

And thus, along came TBS’ comedy series My Boys. And while I certainly wouldn’t place it in upper echelon of current television comedies, the show is everything I needed: familiar, comfortable, clever and funny enough to overcome some of its less inspired moments.

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The Wire – “The Target” and “The Detail”

“The Target” & “The Detail”

Season One, Episodes One & Two

In my year and a half of television criticism here at Cultural Learnings, I have run into a number of roadblocks due to my lack of knowledge with a particular era of television. As I noted back when The Sopranos was finishing, I never got into the HBO drama – not only am I slightly too young, but my TV addiction is still a relatively recent phenomenon. I am a network television viewer of the Lost generation, and sometimes that hurts.

No better example of this than was earlier this year, when David Simon’s HBO series The Wire was entering its fifth season. I couldn’t go to any of my usual TV criticism sites without hearing about how amazing the series was, and how wonderful the fifth season would be, and how there was absolutely no way anyone could jump into this novel-like series in its fifth season. I, knee deep in thesis work, was unable to commit to watching four seasons in the spring, and as a result I had to be the odd man out when it came to the powerful conclusion to this epic Baltimore tale.

But I’ve come to make amends: just as the magic of DVD is allowing me to revisit Six Feet Under (Which I’ll probably save for when I complete the series), The Wire has officially entered into my rotation. Normally, I might keep such an old catalogue title to myself, but Alan Sepinwall is currently revisiting the first season as part of his summer blogging schedule. And while I’m going to have to stick to his “Newbies” posts in favour of keeping myself free of serious spoilers for what’s to come, I figured that the more people talk about what is (thus far, and by all accounts) a fantastic series the better for my readers, readers everywhere, and maybe even the show’s long-shot Emmy chances.

For now, however, time to dig into the first two episodes of the series like I’d dig into an order of Chicken McNuggets.
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