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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

T.V. SETS: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT -- DVD review by porfle

I think these first-episode collections from CBS/Paramount are a pretty cool idea. Not only are they useful for helping prospective buyers decide which shows to collect in season sets, but they're fun samplers on their own. T.V. SETS: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, featuring the first episodes of "Dexter", "Hawaii Five-O", "The Streets of San Francisco", and "CSI: NY", is a good example--I blew through it in one sitting and it left me wanting more.

I was never a big fan of the "CSI" shows--that is, I never watched any of them. But "Blink", the first episode of "CSI: NY", is a gripping serial killer whodunnit that not only offers an absorbing forensic procedural but also gets into the emotional heart of the story. It seems someone is killing women and dumping their bodies (so what else is new?), but the reasons behind the dastardly acts are strange indeed.

Gary Sinise is the strong silent type as lead detective Mac Taylor, whose sober exterior hides a deeply feeling, empathetic man. His scenes with the killer's sole surviving victim, a woman whose entire body is paralyzed except for her eyes, are moving. Sinise's supporting cast, led by Melina Kanakaredes ("The Guiding Light", "Providence") as Detective Stella Bonasera and featuring DEATH PROOF's Vanessa Ferlito, doesn't get to do much in the way of character development here, though this will surely change in subsequent episodes.

The main draw here, of course, is watching the team make deductions and follow leads based on the tiniest of clues. This is well done for the most part although at times the killer is a bit too accomodating. At one crime scene he leaves behind a camera full of exposed film, for Pete's sake! Anyway, the show looks great, is well-written, and has a fine cast, so it's worth watching.

"The Thirty-Year Pin", which is the 1972 pilot for "The Streets of San Francisco", is your typical 70s-era Quinn Martin cop show. It offers a well-known star (in this case, the great Karl Malden as Detective Mike Stone), a host of familiar guest stars (Edmond O'Brien, Tim O'Connor, Eileen Heckart, David Opatoshu, Rex Holman, Leo Gordon, Ed Lauter), a hokey story that could be altered to fit any number of similar shows, screeching tires, frenetic foot chases, shootouts, and really cheesy production values. In other words, fun stuff!

Of course, this show also had an embryonic Michael Douglas as Stone's young partner Steve Keller. (At this point in his budding career we still weren't sure whether or not Mike would ever get any farther than just being Kirk Douglas' son, which thank goodness he did.) Here, Steve must try to rein in his hotheaded older partner after his best friend, a beat cop from the old days (O'Brien), is gunned down while trying to foil a jewelry store robbery. It's the usual 70s cop show melodrama, but Malden's earnestly over-the-top performance plus lots of action make this an entertaining episode.

The best is yet to come, starting with the 1968 premiere of the classic "Hawaii Five-O", entitled "Full Fathom Five." With one of the greatest musical themes and opening titles sequences in TV history, the story gets off to a rousing start as heartless "lonely hearts" killer Kevin McCarthy and his accomplice-wife knock off a rich widow for her money and dump her body in the ocean in a barrel. Enter tall, dark, and gruesome Detective Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) and his crack detective squad, who enlist the help of an undercover policewoman (Patricia Smith) to pose as the killer's prospective next victim.

Aside from the often grim plots, "Hawaii Five-O" always benefitted from its great use of Hawaiian locations and the charisma of its stars. Lord's "McGarrett" is a TV icon with his huge, jet-black hairdo and droll demeanor. A somber James MacArthur is more impressive than I remembered as Detective Danny "Danno" Williams, reminding me somewhat of Rick Shroeder's character on "NYPD Blue."

Rounding out the good guys are the relatively jovial Kam Fong as Detective Chin Ho Kelly and the barrel-chested Zulu as "Kono." B-movie stalwart Richard Denning (CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) makes the first of many appearances as the governor and character actor Phillip Pine pops up in a subplot that has hippies in it.

And, finally--as a recent convert to the fandom of Showtime's "Dexter", that series' pilot is my favorite part of this collection. This fills in a lot of Dexter's backstory that I wondered about while watching the third season set, such as how his policeman stepfather Harry (James Remar) channeled the young Dexter's innate killer tendencies into a more constructive purpose, namely the elimination of bad guys who have slipped through the legal system.

We learn about how the emotionless Dexter (Michael C. Hall) forms an odd romantic relationship with Rita (Julie Benz), whose horrific abuse by a former husband has left her emotionally damaged and leery of sexual contact. And we meet Dexter's foulmouthed, impulsive, and very likable adoptive sister Deb (Hall's real-life wife Jennifer Carpenter), a young policewoman who yearns to rise above posing as hookers to become a detective.

Dexter himself is a blood-splatter analyst for the Miami police, giving him access to lots of bloody crime scenes which fascinate him. But none more so than the work of a killer who is apparently able to neatly dismember his victims and drain them of their blood without leaving a single drop behind. ("I'd never seen such clean, dry, neat-looking dead flesh," he marvels during his voiceover narration. "Wonderful.") Right before the fadeout, we discover that this killer has made contact with Dexter in a strange, perhaps threatening way.

Unfortunately, we only see the beginning of this potentially fascinating storyline (making me want to purchase the season one set, thus fulfilling the main purpose of these sampler sets!) although we do get to see Dexter engage in the stalking and grisly killing of two particularly deserving individuals. I'm just plain captivated by this series, and having the first episode to watch here is a real treat.

I've always been interested in seeing the first episodes of long-running TV shows, and T.V. SETS: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT is a colorful assortment of them which is well worth having.

Buy it at Amazon.com

Dexter:
Third Season Review

Fifth Season Review

Sixth Season Review







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