American Horror Story: Asylum
I was not crazy about the debut season of “American Horror Story,” perhaps because I find ghost stories to be somewhat tiresome. Although there are elements of American Horror Story: Asylum” which I found less enjoyable than others, I found the intensity level and the mysteries far more compelling this time around. There are many elements or horror being utilized in this season, with a pilot that combines an alien abduction and a bloody serial killer into the storyline, with demonic possession and mad-scientist experiments to be folded into the fray as well.
While the main portion of the initial season of “American Horror Story” took place in the present with revealing flashbacks mixed in, “Asylum” places the majority of action in the past with the occasional flash-forward to frame the storyline. We open with a bookend present day segment in which a couple breaks into the abandoned mental institution for kinky sex and thrills, only to discover there remains something deadly within the hospital walls. The remainder of the storyline takes us back to the period in the early 1960s when an infamous serial killer was brought into the hospital for evaluation.
There are no narrative connections between the seasons of American Horror Story, but the one consistency through each of the three variations has been in the casting. Though a majority of the actors change from season to season, a few have remained predominantly present, with Jessica Lange being the greatest example. She was fantastically diabolical in “Murder House,” and I was not surprised to see her playing another type of villain in “Asylum,” but was blown away by her performance.
Too few opportunities have been given to actresses over the age of 40 onscreen, so thankfully there have been advances in the cinematic qualities of television in the last decade or so, a place where seasoned actresses have long been welcomed. Lange’s performance is astounding, to the point where one of her speech’s stopped me dead in my tracks at one point. With a perfect
accent and layers of personality and character development which make her far
more than a simple villain in this season, Lange gives one the best
performances of her career. Boston
The Blu-ray release includes all thirteen season two episodes on three discs, along with a handful of special features. There are deleted scenes, as well as four featurettes on the season’s creation. There is one of the creatures of the season’s mad scientist design, as well as features that delve into the story aspects of the mental hospital.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10
Historical Significance: 7.5/10
Disc Features: 7.5/10
Bones: The Complete Eighth Season
Genius comes with a price of social handicap, and while House MD had an insensitive cripple with emotional issues, “Bones” features Dr. Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan (Emily Deschanel), a brilliant forensic anthropologist who is completely disconnected with the outside world. She can read the bones of a corpse and know facts about their lives but lacks the knowledge to understand even the simplest pop culture reference. To make matter worse she was emotionally crippled by her parent’s unexplained death, and buries herself in work as a way of escaping living human contact. Brennan is partnered with F.B.I. agent Seeley Booth, played by David Boreanaz (Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The result is a show not unlike a cross between House and CSI, with just as much medical mumbo-jumbo as there are criminal investigations and romantic entanglement between the co-workers.
Each episode there is another mystery to solve inspired by the real-life forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs and actual criminal investigation procedures, but it is the relationships between the well developed characters that the show remains interesting. Each episode we are given a little more insight into the workings of these characters, including the bug expert who is actually an extremely wealthy man that just wants to work and be left alone, the young protégé without much of a social life, and the free-spirited artist who puts faces on the corpses. Each are given their moments, allowing for unique relationships in a particularly strange work environment.
The other half of the entertainment comes from the mysteries themselves, which are not unlike those fans of other medical or investigative shows might be used to, but I suppose one cannot get enough of a good thing. Season eight has elevated the drama to absurd new heights, opening with Bones in hiding after being framed for murder. It gets even more action-packed with a finale that has deaths and another unresolved mystery to wrap up in the next season. This series is still going strong, likely to last several additional seasons, though it requires a dedication to the characters and an increased suspension of disbelief.
The Blu-ray release of season eight includes all twenty-four episodes in a five-disc set. It also has the exclusive video of the cast answering fan questions, as well as an additional featurette about the fandom of the series. More traditional features include a gag reel, deleted scenes and a commentary for one episode.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 5/10
Disc Features: 7.5/10
Dixie: The Complete
Josh Schwartz has made shows that take place in a variety of extremely specific locations, from the beachside cities of
Orange County (“The O.C.”) to the upscale sections of Manhattan (“Gossip Girl”), and now there is “Hart of
Dixie,” which takes place in a fictional small town in called BlueBell. The one thing that
all of these shows have in common is the initial fish-out-of-water narrative,
which eventually fades away with additional seasons. The basic premise of a
city doctor attempting to fit in with the small-town routines and traditions is
somewhat lost by season two of “Hart of Dixie,” but there is still plenty of
the juvenile romantic entanglements from the first season. Alabama
In tradition of most CW shows, our leading character Dr. Zoe Hart is played by an unbelievably young and attractive looking actress, Rachel Bilson of “The O.C.” fame. Zoe spends less time convincingly acting like a doctor, and far more time gossiping and becoming involved in the romantic melodrama of the town’s over-sexed population. The first season dealt with the romantic affair between the mayor, Lavon Hayes (Cress Williams) and Lemon Breeland, who is engaged to lawyer George Tucker (Scott Porter). Zoe has feeling for George, but also has a sexual attracting to her bad-boy next-door neighbor, Wade Kinsella (Wilson Bethel). If it weren’t for the town’s other doctor, Dr. Brick Breeland (Tim Matheson), it would appear that only the extras aren’t in their 30s.
There are twenty-two episodes in season two of “Hart of Dixie,” all fit onto five discs in this set. There are no special features to speak of, or any reason that this DVD is superior to simply watching the episodes on television or Instant Netflix. Then again, I wouldn’t recommend this show to anyone over the age of seventeen.
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Disc Features: 0/10
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Robot Chicken: Season 6
Irreverence from the minds of people who clearly grew up in the 1980s, “Robot Chicken” is pop-culture spoofs in the perfect medium of the ten-minute Adult Swim episode. I don’t know of many stations that utilize the quarter-hour format, but it clearly is enough with a high energy series such as “Robot Chicken.” It never stops moving, allowing for an alarming amount of material to be fit into that ten minute spot. Sometimes it moves so fast that I don’t even realize what I have seen before the sketch is over and the series has moved on to the next bit, which could last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
Stop motion animation is used to create the effects in Robot Chicken, which ultimately looks like the series came from simply playing with action figures and making jokes up about the source material in the process. Though many action figure icons from the 80s seemed to be the inspiration, there are also many modern pop culture figures who make it into the series as well. This season pokes fun at everything with high-speed accuracy.
Season six on Blu-ray includes commentary tracks on every episode, as well as enough deleted animatics, scenes, channel flips and chicken nuggets to make up nearly another season. There are also featurettes on the making of specific episodes.
Entertainment Value: 8.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Disc Features: 8/10
White Collar: The Complete Fourth Season
The initial premise for “White Collar” showed a great deal of promise. Though highly unlikely, the escape of con man Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) from a maximum-security prison is a clever start to the series, also giving good reason for the premise. The series quickly slips into a predictable formula after this initial episode, however, and the creativity is drained away by the end of the first season. By season four we have reached the first real break from the formula that has encased this series in every episode since that pilot. Unfortunately, that break only lasts a few episodes, before our initial plot is crammed back into place and everything is business as usual in the crime-stopping business.
Neal Caffrey agrees to work with the FBI agent that caught him twice, eventually building a friendship of mutual respect and hesitant trust. Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) takes Caffrey under his wing as a consultant, while always remaining suspicious of his criminal ways. Tracked by an ankle bracelet and confined to a two-mile radius, Caffrey still manages to do a great deal of sneaking around. Each episode focuses on a criminal to bust, typically involved in some type of white collar crime, though not exclusively. This formula of standalone episodes is very common, but it ends up weighing the entire series down with predictability.
Season four begins with Caffrey in hiding on a tropical island after the threat of being owned by the FBI at the end of the third season. Burke must find a way to get him back while also making sure that the jail time is replaced with the convenient punishment which was the basis for the first three seasons of the series. The fourth season of this USA Network show has sixteen episodes, all included in this four-disc DVD set. Special features include a gag reel, deleted scenes, a featurette about Tim DeKay’s turn at directing, and select commentary track on episode “In the Wind,” with Bomer, DeKay, Jeff Eastin and Willie Garson.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 5.5/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Disc Features: 6/10