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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Greg Brobeck of The Digital Bits

Count Duckula: The Complete First Season

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Count Duckula
The Complete First Season - 1988-1989 (2005) - Cosgrove Hall/Thames (Capital Entertainment)

Program Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/B+

Killed by a wooden stake, Count Duckula was dead for many years. However, he has been resurrected with a once-a-century ritual that can only happen when the planets are aligned just right. Unfortunately, the ritual called for blood and only tomato ketchup was available... therefore producing the world's only vegetarian vampire duck. His servants Igor and Nanny are also along for the ride. A spin-off of the popular Danger Mouse, this series is quite funny. I remember enjoying it on cable channel Nickelodeon as a child. I never thought it would ever be available on DVD, but here it is.

Count Duckula was a co-production of Cosgrove-Hall and Thames Television in London and it aired on Nickelodeon here in the States. Nick also provided some financial backing. The 1988-1993 series was quite popular both in America and in Britain. 65 episodes were produced in all before its untimely cancellation.

The full frame video quality on this DVD isn't bad, but in my opinion isn't that great either. The image is very grainy and shows a lot of film artifacts (dust, dirt, etc). Colors are vibrant and the image remains very watchable, but the series isn't that old, so the quality shouldn't have degraded as much as it has.

The Dolby Digital mono audio isn't bad either, but it lacks the clarity heard on the Danger Mouse set. The audio is clear and all dialogue is audible, but there's more background noise here than there should be. Thankfully, it doesn't detract from the enjoyability of the episodes. I had no problem watching.

The third disc of this set features a few extras. Brian Cosgrove (co-founder of Cosgrove Hall) and John Doyle (producer and artist) give some very fascinating interviews about the series. There's a feature on how to draw Count Duckula that's cute for anyone out there with the artist bug who wants to learn how to draw cartoon characters. A photo gallery includes some promotional stills and shots of the model sheets for the characters. The final feature is Restoring Count Duckula, which is a split screen video showing the episodes before and after being restored. Personally, I can't see much difference between the two. Perhaps future seasons can be restored a little more clearly.

The packaging is somewhat annoying. The Digipak containing the three discs slides in and out of a cardboard sleeve that's perhaps a hair too small. It takes a little more effort than it should to remove the Digipak from the sleeve, and it's even harder to get it back on. The packaging is attractive, just not that functional.

Overall, this is a good set and I would recommend it to any animation fan. Count Duckula is surprisingly high class comedy and it's good for the whole family. I enjoyed the show as a child and I still enjoy it today, so I think that says something about its endurance through the years. I can't wait to see future seasons on DVD.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Second Season

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The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Complete Second Season - 1971-1972 (2005) - MTM/CBS (20th Century-Fox)

Program Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A-

Small town girl Mary Richards (Moore) has come to Minneapolis to try to make it on her own. She's renting a wonderful apartment with wacky neighbors Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman). She's landed a job as an associate news producer at WJM-TV. Her gruff boss, Lou Grant (Ed Asner), lovable writer Murray (Gavin MacLeod) and bumbling newsman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) round out the ensemble cast at the station.

The show's second season, which aired on CBS, proved to be even more successful than the first. The already great writing was just getting better, and the characters were developing more fully. Mary really has made it after all.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show has always been one of my favorite comedy series and after watching a few episodes on DVD recently it's easy to see why. The show is hilarious not just because of the crazy situations, but also because of characterization. Exploring these characters makes for hilarious plots. I heartily recommend watching every episode here.

The video quality on this set is simply stunning. I can't get over how good the transfers look. The show definitely does not look over 30 years old. I can remember watching cable reruns years ago, when the show had been off the air for less than 20 years, and recall how faded and murky the show already looked. If you're buying this set expecting video quality like that, forget it. This is just beautiful. I don't know any other way to put it. Obviously, the set is in full screen because of its age, but don't let that scare you away from buying it.

The Dolby Digital mono audio is stunning as well. Music and voices come out crystal clear and sound just great. I also remember from those same cable reruns how murky audio the broadcast was. Again, murkiness isn't an issue here. Clarity is the key word and that's what you get. The audio is also available in Spanish, but unlike the first season set, there is no French audio track.

In addition to highly interesting commentary on a few selected episodes, the second side of the final disc (the only one that's double sided) features a wealth of bonus materials. First up is a new documentary, 8 Characters in Search of a Sitcom, in which the characters themselves are explored - their personalities, what made them work on the show, etc. - along with the actors who played them. For a series that really was character comedy, this is a fascinating bonus feature. Next, there's the news feature show Moore on Sunday produced for WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. The documentary goes into detail on the location shooting the MTM crew did in Minneapolis for the opening titles for the fourth season. While this feature really should have been held for the fourth season set, it's still nice to see it here. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Also available on the disc are clips of Ed Asner and Valerie Harper accepting their Emmy awards for their performances that season. This is fascinating, as Emmy broadcasts are never rerun and many broadcasts have no existing record on tape. The DVD includes a karaoke segment for both versions of the theme song. You can choose the first season version or the season 2-7 version (with the season 4-7 opening titles). The opening sequence plays while words appear on the screen that you can sing along with. It's a little cheesy, if you ask me. There's a fake news story here as well, in which a reporter shows different sites around Minneapolis that were featured on the show. This gets very annoying and I honestly couldn't finish it. Watch the real documentaries instead. Also on the disc is a photo gallery, mostly of actual script pages, and the entire Mad Magazine comic The Mary Tailor-Made show. I've always loved Mad's parodies and this one is quite good. The only problem is that at times the dialogue is hard to read. Finally, there's a fun trivia game featuring the cast of the show.

Overall, this is a great set. It's just too bad we had to wait for three years between the first and second seasons. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is perfect for every DVD library and is a prime example of what situation comedy really should be. I can't wait for the third season set and hope the rest of the series (as well as its spin-offs) gets released soon too.

Dragnet 1967: Season 1

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Dragnet 1967
Season 1 - 1967 (2005) - NBC/Universal (Universal)

Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B-

"The story you're about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent." How often is a series revival more memorable than the original? This is definitely the case here. The original radio and television Dragnet of the 1950s was created by Jack Webb, and was simply a straightforward detective show. Each week's episode would be based on a real case from the files of the Los Angeles Police Department. Webb (as Joe Friday) and his partner would solve a crime. Flash forward to 1967: Friday's partner is Bill Gannon (played by M*A*S*H's Harry Morgan). No longer are murders and robberies the only focus. Now the problems of the 60s - drugs, war protests and the like - are the main crimes.

Dragnet 1967, which premiered mid-season on NBC, was an instant success. A pilot movie was produced in 1966 (not included on this set) and NBC loved it so much they decided to go ahead with the series and save the movie for later broadcast. I love watching this show, and while it can be viewed as a period piece, it often has a message that still holds up as true today. The stories are gripping and are interesting no matter how many times you see them.

I was very impressed by the video quality on Universal's DVD release. The image is full frame, of course, and looks it awesome. The colors are bright and vibrant, and the film prints are without flaw. I was used to seeing faded versions on cable television, so this is a welcome change. The episodes appear to be uncut, which is also a good thing. While the audio is only mono (what do you expect for a 1967 television show?), it still sounds as good as anyone could possibly want - perfectly clear with no distortion. Universal has been doing a great job restoring their television titles and this is just another fine example.

There is only one bonus feature with this set, but it's a really nice one. Universal was able to get with Radio Spirits to release an episode of the original radio Dragnet from 1954. Personally, I found it fascinating to listen to. Old radio programming has always been interesting to me and this was no exception. Radio really forces you to use your imagination to get into the story. What you can't see, you have to make up for yourself and it's a lot of fun.

Overall, this is really a decent release. I hope Universal doesn't wait long to issue future seasons. Jack Webb shows have always been great television and this is the granddaddy of them all. Don't miss it.

Remington Steele: Season One

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Remington Steele
Season One - 1982-1983 (2005) - MTM/NBC (20th Century Fox)

Program Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B

Work for a female private investigator is scarce. No matter what Laura Holt (Stephanie Zimbalist) tries, she just can't find any work... that is until she invents a fictitious boss named Remington Steele. Clients respond to a man's name, so now Laura's got more work than she could ever want. Everything is going great... until a con man (a pre-James Bond Pierce Brosnan) shows up claiming to be the real Remington Steele! While Laura does all the work, "Remington" takes all the credit. But things are still going alone fine, so the situation works. There's drama, action... why not a little romance too?

Produced by Mary Tyler Moore's MTM Productions, Remington Steele was a success for a struggling NBC and made stars out of Zimbalist and Brosnan. I found the show to be interesting... a great mix of romance, intrigue and comedy. Not only do you try to solve the mystery along with the duo, you're pulling for them to fall in love, and laughing at the great blend of comedy as well.

The DVD contains the entire first season including the pilot episode, which I actually found to be one of the best of the season. But then again, I have a thing for pilot episodes.

The quality of the full frame video is nothing short of outstanding. Admittedly the series is only a little over 20 years old, but it's been well preserved and restored. The episodes appear to be uncut. Colors are vibrant and the prints are very clean looking. If I didn't know better, I'd say these were filmed recently. It's very good. The same goes for the audio. It's a solid mono mix that serves the picture well. Admittedly, later seasons were broadcast in stereo, but the original mono is the right choice for this season.

Fortunately, there are some decent special features on this set too. The first is an interesting audio commentary on the pilot episode, License to Steele. On Disc One, there's a brief featurette on the development of the series. Brosnan appears in a new interview, but Zimbalist is nowhere to be found. Disc Two features some character profiles, which are interesting, including profiles of Bernice and Murphy (who were let go at the end of the season). Finally, Disc Three offers a featurette on the comedy in the series. All in all, Fox did a good job on the bonus features. It's just too bad they couldn't get Stephanie Zimbalist to participate.

If you enjoy this DVD release, Remington Steele: Season Two has already been announced for November. As far as detective shows go, Remington Steele is definitely near the top of my favorites list.

Greg Brobeck

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