Serial killers, homely executive assistants and the only wizard in the Chicago Yellow Pages are all available on the video shelves to delight and amaze. Dexter: The Complete First Season introduces the world’s first serial killer of other serial killers, spinning a deeply entertaining but disturbing series of novels into a deliciously macabre TV series. The Bettyfied Edition of Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season spins a charmingly goofy and more than occasionally entertainment that’s based on a Latin American telenovela. The Dresden Files: The Complete First Season [now cancelled] introduces a man who can advertise himself to be a wizard because he is one!
Dexter: The First Season
Dexter Morgan is a serial killer with two unique aspects to him – he only kills serial killers [and only ones whom he has proved to his satisfaction actually are serial killers], and he is a blood spatter expert for the Miami Police Service [so his professional expertise actually plays into proving his targets should be his targets].
From the almost circus-like theme that plays over the beginning of Dexter’s day [preparing breakfast, shaving – the violence of the normal day] to the charming façade that Dexter presents as he begins his day, the opening sequence tells us that we are definitely not in a world we’re used to. Indeed, Dexter’s world is more than a little askew.
Dexter works with a set of characters both odd and mundane. There’s probably no one on the force that’s more normal than his adoptive sister, Debra [Jennifer Carpenter] – following in the footsteps of her father and ambitious enough to have made detective during season one. Dexter’s boss, the media savvy Lt. Maria Laguerta [Lauren Velez] seems to have a soft spot for him, but is always on Debra’s case.
Sgt. Doakes [Erik King] seems like a walking powder keg, and suspects there’s more to Dexter than a mild-mannered blood spatter expert – and isn’t particularly subtle about letting Dex know. Angel Batista [David Zayas] is the cool guy in the room, with his snappy hats and laid back attitude [that masks domestic strife], while Vince Masuka [C.S. Lee] is the kind of police scientist whose ubergeekiness can cause one to grind one’s teeth – but he’s incredibly good at his job and thinks Dex is the best.
The twelve-episode first season deals with the police’s pursuit of a serial killer who chops his victims into specific pieces and leaves them laid out for the police to find. When Dexter first sees one of his victims, instead of going, “Eeeeeewww!” he mentally notes “No blood. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Because he claims not to have feelings, he puts on a front. He’s learned charm and other basic survival skills, thanks to his late father, Harry Morgan [James Remar], who noticed he was different and helped him to deal with that difference. In order to not stand out, he’s in a relationship with an other-than-normal woman, Rita Bennett [Julie Benz]. Because her ex-husband was abusive, she doesn’t care if they never have sex – all she really wants is company and a little positive reinforcement. Curiously enough, the allegedly soulless Dexter gets along fabulously with her two children.
If ever there was a TV series that deserved to become a [you should pardon the expression] monster hit, it’s this delightfully macabre mystery series. Showtime has definitely got something unique and brilliant on its hands.
Features: Audio Commentaries on two episodes [Return to Sender and Born Free]; The Academy of blood – A Killer Course [pretty much what it says, but more fun than you’d think – but note that it’s DVD-ROM]; Witnessed In Blood – A True Murder Investigation [see how blood spatter experts work in real life – Dexter gets it right!], and a DVD-ROM excerpt of the latest Dexter novel, Dexter in the Dark.
The set also includes a couple of noteworthy promotional pieces: two episodes of Showtime’s series Brotherhood, and two chapters of The Tudors.
There are also inserts promoting Dexter in the Dark and the Dexter Soundtrack, and a $25 rebate on a Showtime subscription.
Grade: Dexter: The First Season – A
Grade: Features – B+
Final Grade: A
Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season – The Bettyfied Edition
Ugly Betty was one of the few breakout hits of last season. This American take on the Colombian telenovela, Yo soy, Betty la fea, is a charmingly odd series that revolves around Betty Suarez [America Ferrara]. Betty finds work at Mode, the acme of fashion magazines, even though she seems to have no clue about fashion. In fact, she gets the job because his father figures that she’s the only assistant that editor-in-chief Daniel Meade won’t sleep with.
And that’s only the beginning of the shenanigans on the show. At work, there’s the conniving Wilhelmina Slater [Vanessa Williams], who covets Daniel’s job; her assistant, the flamboyantly gay [and fine with it] Marc St. James [Michael Urie], who knows all the gossip – but not the identity of the woman who is helping Willy gain her objective; Amanda Tanen [Becki Newton], receptionist and madly in love with Daniel; Christina McKinney [Ashley Jensen] a Scot-out-of-water seamstress who wants to get her own designs into production, and Bradford Meade [Alan Dale], Daniel’s father and possessor of both ambition and dark secrets.
At home, Betty has to contend with her aggressive, single mother sister, Hilda [Ana Ortiz]; her flamboyant, fashion conscious nephew, Justin [Mark Indelicato]; her wishy-washy boyfriend, Walter [Kevin Sussman] and her down-to-earth father, Ignacio [Tony Plana].
Ugly Betty revels in wild plot twists [the identity of the mystery woman] and peculiar humor [the trials Daniel puts Betty through as he tries to get her to quit – before realizing that she’s the best assistant he’s ever had]. There’s a fake telenovela that the Suarez family watches that has generated its own fans!
Of course, even with a ridiculously talented supporting cast, the outrageous Ugly Betty wouldn’t work if the main character weren’t exactly right. America Ferrara [who is definitely not ugly!] brings a depth and solidity to Betty that really allows all the craziness to work. Her Betty is intelligent, resourceful and determined – and completely happy with who she is [unlike virtually everyone she works with, with the possible exception of Marc].
Is Betty a role model? Probably. Does that get in the way of good storytelling [and some very inventive situations]? Not at all. The vibrant, colorful and frequently campy world of Betty Suarez is tempered by her conviction that she is a terrific person and that she can handle any trials that Mode and her family can throw at her. And no other show from last season was as much pure fun as Ugly Betty.
Features include: Audio Commentary on four episodes [Pilot, Fey’s Sleigh Ride, Sofia’s choice, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell]; Becoming Ugly [adapting the telenovela for America, and what it means to be “Bettyfied”]; A La Mode [Behind the elegance of Mode Magazine]; Green is the New Black [how CG impact a series you’d think wouldn’t need it]; Deleted Scenes, and Ugly Bloopers [one of the funniest gag reels I’ve seen].
Unfortunately, the first season set is housed in the unwieldy foldout format. Please, Touchstone, thin-paks are the way to go! Also noted, the accompanying booklet lists episodes without saying which have accompanying commentaries and the phrase, “Deleted Scenes, Audio Commentaries and More” is for promotion – please list all the features in these booklets! The idea to use an issue of Mode as the design is clever – but these other issues should be addressed for the season two set.
Grade: Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season – A
Grade: Features – A
Final Grade: A
The Dresden Files: The Complete First Season
You’d think that being a wizard would make life easier. You’d be wrong. Just ask Harry Dresden. Harry [Paul Blackthorne] is the only wizard in the Chicago Yellow Pages and occasional consultant to Lt. Connie Murphy [Valerie Cruz] on cases that aren’t quite kosher. When things get weird, Harry is the only guy who might be able to help.
Based on an increasingly excellent series of novels by Jim Butcher, The Dresden Files is a series that took a bit of time to get it right. The first three episodes were lacking some of the things that made the novels great [like Harry’s cat, Mister, who serves as a vehicle for his dead assistant Bob to ride around in search of information]. By the fourth ep, though, Harry had his staff [in the books, a real staff; here, a hockey stick], his cat and interesting plots.
Harry, himself, is the sort of person who tends to not look for trouble. He’s one of those guys who wind up in the midst of chaos because, generally speaking, he’s the only guy there at the time and someone had to do something. Of course, setting himself up as an investigator of the bizarre – in a storefront whose doors bear the legend, “Harry Dresden, Wizard” – probably helps trouble find him, but he really doesn’t seek it out.
If you need someone to show how someone who died this morning is alive this afternoon, though, Harry’s definitely your guy. Likewise if you’re a werewolf targeted by assassins, or a young demon who wants to be free to live with his mortal love. Let’s face it – if your home is surrounded by blackness, you want Harry Dresden in the same room with you.
There are some drawbacks for Harry, though. The White Council [Harry’s not the only wizard – he’s the only one who advertises] keeps tabs on him because he killed his uncle with black magic – it was self-defence, but you never know. One of the Council’s Wardens, Morgan [Conrad Coates], has made Harry’s demise a priority. Then there are the various outside threats – skinwalkers [Birds of a Feather], restless spirits [The Boone Identity], a trio of university students turned wraith-like crooks [Walls] and Murphy’s retired cop father [Second City].
The Dresden Files may have started out slowly, but it picked up steam with every episode and wound up being a show that rated as one of the best fantasy series on TV. The Sci Fi channel may have cancelled the series [Bad Sci Fi! Bad Sci Fi!!], but they haven’t replaced it with anything better [either in terms of quality or ratings]. Fortunately, Lionsgate has released the series on DVD. It’s a small gem. Buy it.
Features include two Audio Commentaries [Rules of Engagement and Things That Go Bump] and Inside The Dresden Files [making of featurette].
Grade: The Dresden Files: The Complete First Season – B
Grade: Features – B
Final Grade: B
Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted on 08/30/07
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