New 'Roots'-like series 'Underground,' 'X-Files' revival on video this week
Posted June 18
A new cable-TV series about slavery and the Underground Railroad is on DVD this week, and the revival of “The X-Files” is now on Blu-ray and DVD.
“Underground: Season One” (Sony, 2016, three discs, 10 episodes, audio commentaries, featurettes, bloopers). This tough, tension-filled look at life on 19th-century Southern plantations focuses on slaves who attempt to escape through the Underground Railroad, as well as those who assist them and those that vow to recapture their “property.”
The mix of action and melodrama is very well-acted, with a cast made up of both newcomers (Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge) and familiar faces (Christopher Meloni, Mykelti Williamson). Some concessions to 21st-century filmmaking (in particular the use of contemporary music) can be a bit jarring. It won’t make you forget “Roots,” but it’s worth a look. (Season two will be shown next year on WGN.)
“The X-Files: The Event Series” (aka “The X-Files: Season 10,” Fox, 2016, two-disc Blu-ray/three-disc DVD, six episodes, deleted scenes, audio commentaries, featurettes, bloopers). Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are back investigating the paranormal in this cult favorite, a reboot of the sci-fi/horror series some 14 years after the original show and eight years after the last theatrical film. It’s a bumpy ride, especially with the connected first and sixth episodes, but there’s plenty of satisfying weirdness for fans, and the stars’ chemistry remains intact.
“Birds of a Feather: Set 1” (Acorn, 2014, eight episodes). Here’s another unexpected reboot. Fans of the original British sitcom — which ran from 1989-98 and was about two dysfunctional sisters (Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson) forced to live together after their husbands are sent to prison — will love this reunion 15 years later with the stars (to include man-hungry neighbor Lesley Joseph) back in top form. Here, the sisters are estranged but must bury the hatchet and move in together again, with their lives constantly disrupted by kids and ex-husbands.
“Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle” (Warner, 1976, two discs, 16 episodes). Tarzan, raised by a “she-ape” in the jungle, acts as protector to the animals and battles those who encroach on various “lost cities” for personal gain. Those of a certain age will fondly remember this Saturday morning cartoon staple from the late 1970s, which ran for four seasons (and longer, if you count the follow-up show that alternated with “The Lone Ranger”). This long-lost Filmation animated series is surprisingly faithful to the original novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
“Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas” (Lionsgate, 2015, featurettes, bonus episodes: “Cheetah Cheater,” “Zebra Ducks of the Serengeti”). This special was televised last December, with the Farmer and Bitzer going to a country fair and Shaun tagging along, then deciding to bring home three exotic llamas. It features amusing stop-motion animation from the “Wallace & Gromit” folks.
“American Girl: Lea to the Rescue” (Universal, 2016, featurettes). Lea Clark (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) is an offshoot of the original “American Girl” series, with more of an action-hero “grrrl” vibe. Here, she travels to Brazil to find her brother, who has vanished in the rain forest.
“Suspects: Series One & Two” (Acorn, 2014, three discs, nine episodes). This unique British police procedural is filmed in semidocumentary style and employs improvised dialogue in stories of chilling crimes in London being investigated by a trio of detectives that includes two women. (Includes violence, coarse language, nudity and sex.)
“Grantchester: The Complete Second Season” (PBS, 2016, two discs, six episodes, featurettes). This British mystery show is set in 1954 Grantchester and follows an Anglican priest (James Norton) and an overworked police detective (Robson Green) as they team up to solve crimes, including one with Cold War implications.
“Toni Braxton: The Movie Event” (Lionsgate, 2016). Despite the misleading title on the box, this is neither a documentary nor a concert film, but rather the Lifetime cable biography that aired earlier this year, “Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart” (which remains the title on the screen). Lex Scott Davis stars as Braxton in this routine biopic that targets fans of the singer.
“Shark Week: Jawsome Encounters” (Lionsgate, 2014, three discs, 13 episodes). I'm not sure how Steven Spielberg will feel about that subtitle, but fans of the Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week” programs should get their fill with everything from tiger sharks in Hawaii to great whites near Australia to (no kidding!) zombie sharks in New Zealand.
“Alaskan Bush People: Seasons 1 & 2” (Lionsgate, 2014-16, three discs, 14 episodes). This “reality” series follows the Bush family — patriarch Billy; his wife, Ami; and their seven children — as they encounter wildlife around their small cabin in the Alaskan wilderness. The family has been mired in scandal of late, which has apparently been addressed in the current season on the Discovery Channel.
“Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape” (PBS, 2016). This hourlong documentary is about the 1962 escape from the (now abandoned) prison in the frigid San Francisco Bay, a cold case that has never been resolved. Here, three Dutch scientists use 3-D modeling technology to re-create events and demonstrate how the escapees may have survived.
“Nature: Animal Reunions” (PBS, 2016). Orphaned elephants and gorillas are cited as animals that have emotions and the ability to bond with humans in this hourlong documentary that includes visits with chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall and veterinarian Rebeca Atencia, who runs Goodall’s Congolese chimp sanctuary.
“The League: The Final Fantasy” (FX/Fox, 2015, two discs, 13 episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes, bloopers). As the subtitle suggests, this seventh season is the last for this raunchy basic-cable fantasy-football ensemble sitcom, with Mark Duplass, Jonathan Lajoie and Nick Kroll heading the group of man-child schemers.
“Ballers: The Complete First Season” (HBO, 2015, two discs, 10 episodes, featurettes). Dwayne Johnson stars as an ex-NFL player-turned-financial manager in this half-hour football comedy, with all the requisite sex and foul language that pay-cable channels include just because they can. (Season two begins July 17 on HBO.)
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.