Sunday, January 28, 2001

Seinfield | 9.0

I caught a few episodes of Seinfeld over it's final two seasons run on public channel, and made it a point to catch a lot more of Jerry and friends during it's reruns. I found it very amusing on first viewings, but as time wore on, I began to like it more and more, and to eagerly borrow taped episodes from friends, and to hunt for re-runs on syndicated channels.

Of the two comedy TV series in the history of television, I would choose both Seinfeld and Monty Python as the cultural landmarks of the medium. In Seinfeld, there is not a trace of sentimentality and glib moralizing that plagues the American sitcom genre. Characters do not hug each other on Christmas, fall in love, wax on and on about family and friends, there is no faux-cathartic season ender so favored by the writers of, say, "Friends".

Instead, we have the narcissistic Jerry, constantly mining the minutiae of everyday detail for every bit of situational comedy; we have the hyper-aggressive Elaine, whose strings of breakups with boyfriends are as impressive as her petty neuroses leading up to the breakups themselves; the ultimate schlub-loser George, who lies to every single woman he dates, sells faulty equipment to the handicapped and muscles off women and children when fleeing an apartment fire; and the impossibly inventive physical comedy of the entrepreneur cum schmooze Kramer.

Over and over again, week in and week out, the quartet discuss trivialities with unbridled zeal, as the non-descript narrative pings from one mundane setting to another. Seldom has such wit been generated by such gargantually pointless human endeavors. That is where the brilliance of Seinfeld lies, in the ability to go to the most bizarre ends to fulfill the potential of a less than hopeful comedic premise; and the endless, pointlessly smug and nihilistic banter that almost invariably escalates into some of TV's classic lines, such as when George shouts triumphantly after winning an argument that "there is no bigger loser than me!".

Sunday, January 21, 2001

Friends 9.0

There never has been a sitcom that truly pictures life among the singles (twenty-something) as good as this show does. It's not just comedy, it presents the episodes in such a way that one can truly identify with the situations they face so the audience has something to talk about in coffee shops too. The humor is universal. I feel like I'm part of the group every time I watch it because I feel the different emotions they go through. Plus, of course, it is so much fun because it's fast-paced. Every scene and every moment is relative to what is going to happen next so you don't feel like it is dragging you onto nothing. Just like how a sitcom should be. Funny!

Saturday, January 20, 2001

South Park review | 9.2

Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflowfski, Eric Cartman and (sometimes) the ill-fated Kenny McCormick are 8-year-old boys growing up amid an adult world in the backward, frozen-over mountain town of South Park, Colorado. Their adventures, that make up creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's animated comedy "South Park", include fending off everything from supernatural demons to the biggest names in the Hollywood intelligentsia. "South Park" is several things. It's rude, crude, shocking, smart, decidedly adult, completely original, and it is indulgent in the whims and imaginations of it's creators. It's also the very best political, pop culture and current event satire on television.

The show started as something of a fad - the new vulgar, don't-let-the-kids-watch show on the block. But as real world events changed, "Park" evolved along with them. Standing as the kings on top of a soap box they constructed out of swearing kids, talking poo, homosexual hand puppets and hermaphroditic parents; Parker and Stone where blessed with the freedom of a hit series, hip status and a network that gave them the freedom to do whatever they want. As the show aged, they matured in their storytelling abilities and the show went from shock value fad to a barbed satire of American culture.

"Park" is brought to life with oddly beautiful, vibrantly colored 2-dimensional cut-and-paste animation. The episodes are masterfully constructed. The writing a witty showcase of Parker and Stone's love for pop culture parody, graphic violence, pornography and a bold willingness to take on the hot button issues of the week. It is a free-for-all virtuoso where nothing and nobody is safe, every establishment media position gets flipped on it's head and every politically correct sacred cow gets eviscerated. Now that's comedy - if you can stomach a barrage of extreme scatological humor with your social satire. The vomit jokes and fat jokes on "Park" aren't there for the sake of it, but have substance behind them. And nobody does them better.

Eric Cartman, Mr. Garrison and more recently Randy Marsh (stepping up as a reliably hilarious scene-stealer) are classic characters, but Parker and Stone have gone further and developed an entire town of colorful caricatures. They aren't made to be as endearing as those in "The Simpsons", but aren't supposed to be. The characters aren't just vacuous idiots, and the laughs of the show come from a very socially conscious place.

Straight men Stan and Kyle are the show's most underdeveloped. They serve mostly as a mouthpiece for Parker and Stone's conservative libertarian philosophy, often literally giving a speech to a crowd in the show's finale. There is not a single other place on TV where you can see environmentalists, the anti-smoking lobby, illegal immigrants, trial lawyers, news media hysteria, elitist Hollywood liberals, abortion, sex ed in schools and every celebrity from Mel Gibson to Paris Hilton all get ripped to shreds. The show pulls it off because it has a unique ability to deconstruct and reconstruct current events better than anyone else (notably Comedy Central's overrated "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"), giving them a hilarious or supernatural explanation without moralizing getting in the way of the laughs. They take their own messages to such loony extremes it's impossible to take seriously.The cherry on top is the seemingly endless quality of the original songs provided by the creator's cover band, DVDA.

With a skeleton crew that writes, directs, animates, voices and scores the show, this is independent television in it's purest form. This means it often labors on Parker and Stone's geeky indulgences - episodes center around a full-length "Star Wars" parody, the class gerbil making it's way up a human bowel or Timmy, a handicapped student who can only say his name. Occasionally, their shock value execution creates a gagging reaction that obscures an otherwise brilliant point ("Fat Camp"). But I'd rather have a show that challenges me than one shackled to clichés and network mandates. When "South Park" goes for the shocking ending, you better believe it actually will shock.

Still, "South Park" is almost impossible to recommend in a casual sense. The show is truly an acquired taste, but one I have to come to support whole-heartedly through the years despite (and because) I have absolutely no idea what to expect when sitting down for a new episode. How rare is that? Where so many other shows cower in the corner, begging for our approval "South Park" is constantly taking risks and re-inventing itself. We've got terrific stunt episodes, episodes built around one joke or building to a single knock-out punch line. They use the smash-cut ending better than anyone ("There Goes the Neighborhood"). Sometimes the experiments are to it's own detriment and the episode is a 22 minute bore, but even then it's almost unheard of to find a show in it's 10th season that is still water cooler television.

"South Park" grabs us by the collar, shakes us around and dares even it's biggest fans to come back next week for more. The show is a monument of creative freedom with a wicked imagination, a true (and hilariously funny) sense of comic timing, and an insightful, socially conscious ear that smartly reflects a point of view starving for attention in mainstream television. It is a hugely entertaining, fiercely visceral, fire-breathing, red-blooded American satire made by, for (and most appreciated by) the most jaded and discriminating TV viewers. We just don't have shows like this on TV today. Anywhere.

Friday, January 19, 2001

Trailer Park Boys review | 9.0

While I respect the opinions of those who criticized the show (not surprisingly the comments rated "least useful"), it appears that their views are so concrete that they just don't get it.

This brilliant series is not intended to reflect the "reality" of trailer park life in Nova Scotia, but is instead a wonderful artistic compilation of many extreme, bizarre, and mundane experiences that are interesting on an entertaining and (feigned) voyeuristic basis. There are operas, soap operas, space operas, and now "park operas".

Consider how difficult it must be to act improv style not only on the set, but to act "in character" during all media interviews and public engagements, as is the expectation. Not many actors would have the commitment or stamina to carry this through for the benefit of the production image. Mike Smith, who plays the character Bubbles, apparently can only wear the thick glasses for 15 minutes at a time without extreme fatigue.

Let's consider the acting quality and skill. Would Deniro or Pacino make this a better series? No! The charm is in the rough edges, the improv, the humility, and the belief that these are low rung thugs. It is totally believable and a credit to the acting and direction.

How is Canada or Nova Scotia being insulted if we recognize that this series is a parody and that we should not take it so seriously. According to the on-line polls I have viewed for TPB of the episodes to date, the average rating has been 9 out of 10. Most of those voting were from Canada followed by participants from the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. We should be proud that we have had an impact on others, especially on those outside of our country.

The Simpsons review | 9.0

A television series that could probably be best described as "The Flintstones" gone stark-raving mad. "The Simpsons", everyone knows them. Some love the series and some could care less about it. Love it or hate it, it is near impossible to criticize the intelligence and creativity of this series. The titled animated family makes their home in Springfield, USA and gets into situations that are seemingly more outlandish and crazier than the previous adventure. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie are still going strong after nearly a dozen years of television life and with each passing moment it seems that the series sets some new precedent. For several years the show seemed to be the only attraction to the then obscure Fox Network. It was the first primetime animated show that was treated like a sitcom since "The Flintstones" quietly left the air in 1966. Many people feared the series when it first premiered in 1989 because they felt that it was hardcore adult material in a candied form that would appeal to younger audiences. Well for the most part this was true. However, "The Simpsons" would prove to be much more for all audiences. The great thing about the series is that it caters to all audiences. True there are usually situations that may not be suitable for all viewers, but then again that is true with everything on television this side of Disney Land and Sesame Street. "The Simpsons" works because of great comedy of course, but also great lessons that can be taken from most of the episodes. The people within the program may be animated, but they are just as complicated and vulnerable as the people watching them. All the regulars have their quirks, but in some episodes you can understand what certain characters are going through because the show is so life-like at times. Former President George Bush (the one from 1988-1992) once made a statement that families should be more like "The Waltons" and less like "The Simpsons". His opinion is somewhat old-fashioned and unrealistic. In other words, many topics dealt with in "The Simpsons" fit life for people in the 1990s and 2000s better than "The Waltons" did in the 1970s. A crowning achievement in television art.

Thursday, January 18, 2001

Monty Python's Flying Circus 9.0

With hindsight, it seems possible that we can praise the Pythons too much. But you have to look at what they did in the context of its time.

They blew a massive hole in the conventions of not only television comedy, but television itself. They used (and abused) the medium to what was then the limit of its potential: no thirty-second "blackout" skits, no contrived punchlines (except in the name of self-mocking irony), performers falling out of character and addressing the audience, skits being intruded by characters from a previous sketch, or even an entirely different episode (so you had to pay attention!), stream-of-consciousness animated links, absurd props (the 16 ton weight)... and they claim they merely threw it all together when the BBC approached them to make a "satirical sketch show" in the vein of "The Frost Report" or "TW3".

Not only that, but they have influenced probably every comedy writer and performer of note ever since.

The Pythons are either authentic, top-drawer geniuses, or the six luckiest opportunists who ever lived - probably a bit of both! They caught the BBC with its knickers down and took advantage.

OK, so the shows look their age, and much of the material is rambling, patchy, hit-and-miss stuff. But we only remember the good bits, and it is those good bits which will ensure the place in television history of Messrs Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Palin and Jones for many years to come.

Lavishing praise on a thirty-two-year-old television series? It all seems a bit silly to me...

Monday, January 15, 2001

Mad Men review | 9.8

There are many hilarious moments that are only funny if you've been paying attention and understand where the character is coming from. There are also many tragic moments that would pass you by if you didn't know what came before. Many lines have double or even triple meanings. Watch this from the beginning, with a friend. Believe me, you will want to discuss each episode afterward to figure out some of the nuances of what happened.

The main Mad Man is the confident womanizer Don Draper, who is head of the Creative department at a mid-sized ad agency in 1960s Madison Avenue. I admit, at first I kind of hated him, but as the viewer learns more about him and his past, I learned to - not love him exactly - but like him and want to watch him endlessly. He is a complicated character who can be a very good man, but also a very bad man.

Don Draper is joined by a rich cast of supporting characters, many of whom deserve a show of their own: The ambitious young Campbell who is utterly sleazy most of the time, but has occasional moments of growth and even cuteness.Peggy Olson starts out as Draper's secretary, but her growth into a strong, confident woman mirrors what is happening for Woman in the 60's. Silver fox Stirling - he may be morally bankrupt but gets some of the best lines. I could go on . . .

The 60's clothes, hairstyles, decor, and current events provide an interesting backdrop for what is essentially a character piece. The setting provides both the occasional laugh (cigarettes being advertised as "healthy") and the more than occasional cringe (how could dumping trash from a picnic in the park right on the grass ever seem okay?!).

If you need fast-paced action or a laugh track, this definitely isn't the show for you. But, if you like character development and subtlety in your television shows, rent the first seasons on DVD and settle in. You won't regret it.

Thursday, January 11, 2001

Battlestar Galatica review | 9.5

BSG is a wonderful sci-fi series! In the midst of the battles between the human kind and the robots, the dark sides of the people are exposed whereas the robots display in themselves what humanity should be. The desire to survive, the yearning for the Earth, and the hope for the future drive both the humans and the robots as the distinctions between them gradually disappear.

The casting was exceptional and the performances were more than convincing. The actors did excellent jobs in expressing the emotional struggles within and without. The dynamic and unpredictable story lines demanded feats of acting skills and they all performed to high standards. There were a lot of breath-halting cliffhangers, palm-sweating suspense, and eye-widening surprises.

At times, some of the narrations seemed to be a bit preachy. There were times when the decisions of the people on the ship were too predictable and childish. I had an impression that the ending was rather rushed.

BSG kept asking us the same question "What makes us human?" In this regards, this TV series reminded me of a book called 'Somewhere carnal over 40 winks'.

I hope for more of realistic sci-fi series like BSG in the future.

Friday, January 05, 2001

Star Trek Deep Space 9 review | 8.0

I won't say much about "Deep Space Nine" other than that it is the most well written, off-beat, and truly suspenseful of the Star Trek series. It is the series for everyone else... those who don't enjoy happy Star Trek (ie- "Next Generation), weird Star Trek (ie- "The Original"), or dumb Star Trek (ie- "Voyager").


It has a much darker tone, with a story-line that, if anyone watched from the beginning of the story arc to what is on currently, could understand and enjoy. It doesn't have the traditional "We are the Champions and can solve any problem in an hour". It features low-life, people making mistakes in judgement, conflicts over spirituality, and a much more human and less superficial look at one of pop culture's little universes. It features war-torn individuals and petty conflicts over land. Problems with culture-clash, government conspiracy and corruption, etc... This list could go on and on.


The main thing that makes "Deep Space Nine" different is that it is a Star Trek series for folks who don't want a lot of technobabble (not that there isn't any) Star Trek, where problems just go away or perfect people on a perfect ship that always win. It makes it more interesting for the watcher, almost like reading a novel. Most people, especially non-Trek fans, who had watched the series from its conception or jo

X-Files Complete Series review | 85%

The X Files Collection is a worthy hobby and next to Star Trek is certainly one of largest of the television series DVD collections, running an extra two seasons longer than the maximum seven season Star Trek series. Although The X Files is not the longest running television media franchise, it can boast being one of the longest running SF series airing for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002. At around 1100 minutes per box, you are looking at approx. 9 boxes with 165 hours of viewing. That is nearly 1 full week of non-stop X Files. Very few DVD series can come even remotely close to that. Get going collecting right now and you could build up the series collection in no time. By the end you will have a television paranormal anthology that defines the word awe. This is the kind of item that requires 1 hour a day of your time over the course of a year. The X Files creator Chris Carter nails a powerful television series premise, setting up a fringe paranormal bureau of investigation that is at odds with its own department, the government, the military and just about everyone else, with the immortal tagline "The truth is out there". Fox "Spooky" Mulder (David Duchovny) is the workaholic basement-dwelling good-looking nerd with a heart of gold and a mind for the criminal macabre, all things supernatural and who runs the X Files department. He is teamed with Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), the rational doctor turned FBI agent who is asked to write reports on the X Files cases by her cynical boss. Most episodes play along with the theme of Mulder witnessing a paranormal event while Dana gradually arrives on the scene only after it is over, missing it all, or discovering something odd at best. This kind of regular plot occurrence bonds the characters and is what makes The X Files so enjoyable. The inside DVD case is nothing special and even has some failings with some editions coming with a seventh bonus disc that is just sitting in a slot in a piece of card and falls out easily, bouncing around the box. However not all boxes have this bonus seventh disc item. The more important six discs with episodes are firmly in place in a plastic flip case inside a thick season box that slides into a wider cardboard presentation holder for the shelf and looks quite good. Although the inside is slightly flimsy, these DVDs are presented on the cheap and so economically The X Files seasons are sound value for money but the presentation is nothing to brag about and when we get around to seeing what is on the discs we will not be so blown away either. There are 4 episodes per disc, and 6 discs in total for a grand total of 24 episodes. Some discs have a few deleted scenes... and that is about it. On the episode discs there are sometimes commentaries and not much in the way of bonus material for most seasons except for some international clips with Mulder and Scully speaking in Japanese for a scene. Other seasons have more bonus material. The actual presentation is not short of shoddy work. They could have at least provided us with the X Files remastered in 5:1 Dolby Digital but have instead just presented the series as it was aired in 2:1 surround. Again, everything here is on the cheap... but it is still the X Files. The transfer quality however is very good for most of it. Since the show was shot in full frame, these dimensions are retained. It is not until season 5 that the X Files go Widescreen 1.78:1

Season 1:
(*****/5)
The Paranormal Anthology of a Lifetime starts right here
The X Files: Season one, delivers as a fine example of how such a simple premise can land like a bombshell on the international television scene. There are no real cheap budget restrictions evident either, as what is on display is mostly quality acting and storytelling using natural American environments. Most of the characters in the X Files series are found in the pilot episode `pilot' on disc 1, however Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) doesn't show up until near the end half of the Season in episode 20 - `Tooms'. Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) does not appear in the Pilot show, but is in the first episode. `The Lone Gumen' John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Richard 'Ringo' Langly (Dean Haglund) appear in episode 16 - `EBE'. The Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) makes quite a few appearances. The series gels from the word go with some enthralling SF thought and implementation. Not since Star Trek had the world seen a series like it before. Apart from a lot of episodes borrowing from films like `Wolften' and `The Thing' the X Files was doing wholly new stuff that even movies like `Good Will Hunting' have borrowed from. Season one of the X Files is mostly about alien abductions, government conspiracies, shape shifters, wild men, poltergeists, artificial intelligence, body snatching parasites, the face on Mars, UFO crashes, eugenics, psychics, hermaphrodites, possession, aging, faith healing, werewolves, alien insects, alien bacteria, reincarnation and alien DNA. Although many of shows might not be completely logically and even have some serious plot holes, the general weirdness going on still makes the show one of the best ever. `EBE' is the most popular show in Season One, next to the cliff-hanger last episode `The Erlenmeyer Flask'. `Fallen Angel' is a classic UFO crash X Files episode, `Shapes' is scary and `Darkness Falls' is a great original alien story. The bottom line for The X Files: season one is that it is a classic. It is not necessarily the most conspiracy orientated X Files season because it covers a lot of paranormal ground. The real bonus is seeing Mulder and Scully looking really young.

Season 2:
(*****/5)
The Critically Acclaimed Season II
Although X Files: Season one landed like a bombshell on the international television scene, it was Season two that sent it flying up the rankings with Mulder and Scully on every magazine cover from the bottom to the top shelf. Season two kicks off from the cliff-hanger ending of Season one where the X Files has been shutdown, Mulder and Scully have been reassigned to separate bureau departments and Deep throat has been murdered. Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) is in from the start, this time with a more active role in the field along with the Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) and `The Lone Gumen' John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Richard 'Ringo' Langly (Dean Haglund), who are all reoccurring characters from Season one. Deep Throat has been replaced by a new Deep Throat character, the mysterious Mr X (Steven Williams) and Mulder has been teamed up with a new agent named Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) who may be working for the Cigarette-Smoking Man. There are also more revelations about Mulder's missing sister and some strange history about his dad. So the season starts very differently, upping the paranoia levels with a stronger focus on government conspiracy and developing this theme throughout most of the episodes. There is also much more hard-hitting action and gets very violent in parts with Scully even getting beaten-up badly in most episodes. Season one was more about delivering individual episodes covering a broad general range of paranormal topics whereas Season two links more episodes together by homing in on a unified underlying cause that the government is trying to protect. Still though there is plenty of room for the separate paranormal episodes that are just as good as the unified ones (known as "the mythology" or "mytharc" episodes). Season two has a greater mix with much more original ideas than Season one did. It also boasts a lot of recognizable supporting actors you have seen in the movies. Season two of the X Files is mostly about - SETI projects and the Wow Signal, mutants, toxins, military experiments, sleep deprivation, alien abductions, vampires, NDEs (near death experiences), ancient life forms, alien human hybridization, ghosts, fetishes, the devil, Wicca, voodoo, alien bounty hunters, alien abduction of animals, rapid aging, circus freaks, demonic possession, viruses, dark matter and cannibalism. In Season two the episodes are more logical than Season one, less general weirdness, and more explanation, but still has some rough edges, and questionable moves by the main characters at times, but that is only cribbing. `The Anasazi' is the most popular show in Season Two and also the cliff-hanger last episode, but `Duane Barry' `Ascension' and `One Breath' are all classic episodes about Scully's abduction. `The Host' is a great monster story and `The Calusari' is very freaky. `Our Town' is downright horrific. In fact `The Calusari' caused the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) to give the whole Season box an 18 certificate (strictly for adults only) because of scenes involving children committing murder (the BBFC has banned these types of films before, so the UK was lucky to even get the 18 cert). The episode also had strong themes of child murder and violence towards children. There are a number of episodes that contain totally gross content that is hard to stomach. `3' could be the worst X-File episode of all time. It really stands out as a poor episode among the rest. The bottom line for The X Files: season two is that it is widely considered by fans to be the best season of them all. The last episode is a great way to finish off the season with lots of revelations and some more exposure of what the truth might be. There are quite a few `to be continued' double episodes in this season also. This season has 25 episodes!, the most any X Files season has to offer but as a note, watch out for the last episode "The Anasazi" which may not be on the last episode disc but is on the seventh bonus disc (the only episode on that disc)!

Season 3:
(*****/5)
Alien Black Oil
X Files: Season two, widely considered the best X Files season by fans, sent the show flying up the rankings with the season finishing in a cliff-hanger `to be continued' ending with the possibility that Mulder had been blown up by the Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis). The first episode of X Files season three is also another `to be continued' which in the second episode results with Mulder and Scully back as a team with an X Files mandate directly instigated by Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner (Mitch Pileggi). `The Lone Gumen' John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Richard 'Ringo' Langly (Dean Haglund), the mysterious Mr X (Steven Williams) are also back. The Well-Manicured Man (John Neville from "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen") is introduced. Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) also makes a return. Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) appears in a dream sequence and in a special effect. A lot of characters in the previous seasons episodes almost make surprise apperances towards the end. Between Season Two and the start of Season Three there is a whopping three-part X Files episode. The X Files is firmly reinstated at the FBI. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is having a hard time pleasing his bosses. There is lots of double-crossing. There is more history and revelation about Mulder's dad. However instead of making every other episode conspiracy orientated, Season Three decides to bulk the conspiracy right at the start and middle, with a little at the end for a low-intensity cliff-hanger, but leaves room for lots of sequential individual episodes with some that may actually be better than the mythology episodes, which is a change from Season Two that has better mythology ones. Season Three is less violent than Season Two and the hard-hitting action has been toned down (Scully doesn't get beaten-up as much this time). Season Three writers go back across the same grounds as Season One covering a broad general range of paranormal topics. Still though there is plenty of room for dealing with the unified underlying causes that the government is trying to protect and there is a greater revelation about a `date' for a threat that faces the Earth. Season Three also boasts a lot of recognizable supporting actors you have seen in the movies. It has also redone the opening theme. Season three of the X Files is mostly about - Majestic 12, human experiments, lightening, clairvoyance, reincarnation, fat-sucking vampires, phantom limbs, empathy, alien autopsies, stigmata, alien robots, astrology, gargoyles, alien black oil, willpower, shaman, organ theft, eye witness testimony, succubus, lake monsters, mind control and colonization. In Season three the episodes are much more logical, with very few episodes going for general weirdness, with more explanation and hardly any rough edges, with the characters doing more believable things. `Piper Maru' is the most popular show in Season Three because it contains our first images of the mysterious Alien Black Oil that became synonymous with the X Files. However the individual shows `Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose' about psychics, `Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'' about eye-witness testimony are great episodes and very memorable. So are `Quagmire' about lake monsters, `The Walk' about astral projecting serial killers, the `Nisei' about alien autopsies and the `Grotesque' about demons is scary. `Talitha Cumiare', the low-intensity cliff-hanger episode is an interesting mythology episode. Although not as gross as Season Two, all of the episodes are highly enjoyable. There are a lot more murder orientated stories so it feels a little bit like the other `Millennium' series that X Files creator Chris Carter produced. The X Files: Season Two it is widely considered by fans to be the best season of them all but Season Three can hold its own. There are quite a few `to be continued' double or triple episodes in this season.

Season 4
(*****/5)
Alien colonization or lies?
X Files: Season four follows in the steps of Season three, produces a virtually unstoppable series of great episodes, now that it has been firmly established as mainstream TV series viewing, finished with the `to be continued ending' of Mulder getting caught between a shape-shifter alien and a miracle-working alien battling it out, revealed that there is a possibility that the truth he is searching for has something to do with hegemony and the alien colonization of planet Earth. The Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is back along with Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner (Mitch Pileggi). The mysterious Mr X (Steven Williams) is here, but also introduces us to the new mystery deep throat type contact, Marita Covarrubias (Laurie Holden). Back are `The Lone Gumen' John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Richard 'Ringo' Langly (Dean Haglund). The Well-Manicured Man (John Neville from "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen") is here. Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) has a surprise. Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) even turns up again even though he has been dead for over three seasons. The X Files season four goes for the formula of giving us the conclusion to the previous season's cliffhanger but immediately spins right back into the individual episodes about various supernatural things that is more like season one, however this only lasts for half the season and the remaining half has some of the best X Files the series has had to offer so far. There is more mythology however there is lots of revelation to suggest that the X Files is being misled to believe that Aliens exist. This season also boasts a lot of recognizable supporting actors you have seen in the movies. Season four of the X Files is mostly about - alien colonization, inbreeding, mutant albinos, past lives, demonic surgery, the cigarette smoking man's past, serial killers, deadly cargo, El Chupacabra, Jewish mysticism, deadly tattoos, resurrection, dying, stealth assassins, UFO crashes, time travel, reproducing shape shifters, Skinner's crime, mind control and aliens in the ice. Episodes ``Tempus Fugit' Unrequited', `Tunguska', `Synchrony' stand out the most but the best episode is Skinner's cover-up of a crime in the episode `Zero Sum'. Ending sets the scene for Season five.

Season 5
(*****/5)
The Critically Acclaimed Season V (This season goes Widescreen)
X Files: Season five follows in the steps of Season two, produces a virtually unstoppable series of great episodes, now that it has been firmly established as mainstream TV series viewing. Although the `to be continued ending' of Season four is not the best beginnings to a season, and the first few episodes are a bit dodgy, this is all forgiven when the screenwriters decide to go back and follow in the steps of Season 2's acclaim. There is a crazy role reversal. Mulder believes that the hegemony and the alien colonization of planet Earth is a con to detract from what is simply a series of government experiments on the citizens of planet Earth and the alien agenda just subterfuge. Scully however is absolutely convinced that Mulder was right all long and so takes the lead role as the paranormal investigator while Mulder turns sceptic. This character switch works wonders and kudos to the screenwriters for doing it. The Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is dead as is Mr X (Steven Williams), however packs of Morleys turn up from time to time. Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) is more aware that something paranormal is going on and even sides with Scully when Mulder lambastes both for being delusional. Marita Covarrubias (Laurie Holden) has a secret. `The Lone Gumen' John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Richard 'Ringo' Langly (Dean Haglund) are back and even have their own private episode of how they came to be together. The Well-Manicured Man (John Neville from "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen") is back and Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) has another surprise in store. Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin) is gone, long since dead, however Section Chief Scott Blevins (Charles Cioffi) from Season 1 (and a bit of Season 4) is back for a very important double episode. There is also the introduction of Special Agent Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens) who also plays a significant role. Robert Modell (Robert Wisden) from Season Two's Pusher is back.

The X Files season five is some of the best X Files to date. More mythology and more major revelations, means that you will be hooked from disc 2 onwards, right to the staggering finale. There are also a few supporting actors you have seen in movies. And yes, thankfully after 3 seasons of Scully's overrun cancer suffering, this is about to come to an end. Season five of the X Files is mostly about - pre-X files back stories, Scully's cancer, mothman, mystery offspring, Frankenstein, Modell the pusher, psychotherapy, witchcraft, AI, vampires, extraterrestrial wars, hoasting alien experiments, blind psychics, Angels and Demons, government toxins, monsters and ESP. Episodes "Kitsunegari", "Kill Switch", "Bad Blood" and "All Souls" stand out as great non-conspiracy episodes, but the final episode is one of the best mythology episodes to date. The best episode is "Folie À Deux" which has a terrific monster story and some really mad special effects for a television episode. Season 5 is all top stuff.

NOTE: Remember before moving onto Season 6, you are supposed to watch X Files the movie first (sold separately to the box set).

Season 6:
(*****/5)
Picking up where the Movie left off... and this season has Bruce Campbell!
X Files: Season six has Mulder reconstructing a private X Files after the destruction of his affairs at the end of Season five. This is very much a mythological alien invasion packed season. Mulder is back and believing that the hegemony and the alien colonization of planet Earth is not a con but a real threat and no longer sees it as just being a government propaganda vehicle. Scully is back to her critical ways. The Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) shows up again. Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) is here for more of his director of FBI lecturing the bizarre duo. `The Lone Gumen' John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Richard 'Ringo' Langly (Dean Haglund) are back. Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) makes a return. Special Agent Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens) has more screentime who alongside Agent Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers) have been assigned the X Files which they ignore and censor. Apart from the main theme of an alien conspiracy the single episodes stand out as some of the funniest of the X Files seasons. Season six of the X Files is mostly about - Alien hegemony, sonic death, time travel, altered states, demons, weather, ghosts, photography, poisons, astral projections, leviathans, killer dogs, fantasies, the lone gunmen, baseball playing aliens, hallucinogens and alien artefacts. The episodes are so good it is hard to pick out the best of the lot. The episode "Rain Man" is absolutely hilarious. "Terms of Endearment" features Bruce Campbell who is excellent in everything and it is a pity they didn't keep his character on for more. "Tithonus", about a crime scene photographer, is quite creepy. "SR 819" is like the movie DOA featuring Skinner dying from a mystery illness. "Arcadia" is about a strict neighbourhood that hides a secret monstrosity. "Agua Mala" is one of the best monster hunting episodes to date. "The Unnatural" is the classic episode where a baseball player is really an alien. Season 6 is worth every penny. If you thought the X Files couldn't get better then this one puts the X back in the files.

Season 7:
(*****/5)
The Mulder Abduction (where David Duchovny leaves the show)
X Files: Season seven is full of Special Agent Mulder but effectively he leaves the X Files at the end of this season only to make guest star appearances in the next two seasons, so this is the last season to see Mulder full-time. Season seven begins with Mulder facing a problem of an extraterrestrial telepathy that threatens his life. Scully is off trying to discover the meaning of life in terms of new facts that have presented themselves in religion and biology. A whole pile of questions concerning the alien agenda are answered in the first few episodes and what happened to Mulder's sister. The Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is back along with Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner (Mitch Pileggi). `The Lone Gumen' John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Richard 'Ringo' Langly (Dean Haglund) make a few shows. Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) makes a return. Special Agent Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens) is dead as is Agent Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers). Season six of the X Files is mostly about - Alien hegemony, telepathy, mutants, luck, Millennium's Frank Black, speed, demons, magicians, Christian snake handling, Mulder's sister, reality TV, computer games, celtic voodoo, a cure for cancer, wild women, love, Hollywood, tobacoo, fighting, genies and Mulder's abduction. This Season changes to try and provide a new type of humour halfway through and so the style varies along with the X files / Cops hybrid show and the mixing in of Millennium (You may want to see all of Millennium before you watch this Season as it ended before Season 7). Season 7 has a lot to offer. Of course it really all hinges on the two episodes `Closer' about Mulder's Sister and Mulder's finale in `Requiem'. Season 7 is probably the oddest of the traditional Seasons (1-7) because of the pace changes and David Duchovny resigning himself for only guest star roles in the last two Seasons (apparently he wanted to do other things like film). It is sad to think that this is the end to Spooky and we have enjoyed being with him now for a run of 7 Seasons which lasted 7 years.

Note: effectively this season is the end of the X Files for many fans. Duchovny is practically gone and the producers reduce Scully's role. Instead they try to lead the show with Dogget and Reyes who appear in Season 8 and 9 which happen to be also the worst seasons of the X Files. There are only a handful of good episodes (could even fit on 2 discs) and Season 9 doesn't even contain a deserved wrap up of the traditional Mulder/Scully storyline and even ends with a cliff-hanger. The much tooted `the truth' double episode ending in Season 9 doesn't contain anything new you haven't learned already. You may just as well stop here.

Season 8:
(***/5)
They are replacing Mulder and Scully with Dogget and Reyes,
X Files: Season eight is the one where Mulder leaves the show (in order to pursue a career in film) only to appear part time. You may even be in for Mulder's death. The show begins with a brand new introductory credit sequence which actually looks very good and there are two versions, one containing Mulder leading and one without Mulder with Scully leading. This way you know if Mulder will make an appearance or not. The new agent Dogget (Robert Patrick) is set to replace Mulder as Scully's partner. The Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is gone from the show. Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) has more of a lead role. `The Lone Gumen' John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Richard 'Ringo' Langly (Dean Haglund) are back as is Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea). Special Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) is also a brand new addition. FBI Deputy Director Alvin Kersh (James Pickens Jr.) is really playing the bad guy this season along with the new mysterious insider Knowle Rohrer (Adam Baldwin).

Season eight of the X Files is mostly about - Agent Dogget, Gibson Praise, time travel, monster bats, religious cults, ghosts, drugs, alien pregnancy, x-ray vision, metal man, pain, Indian mystics, viruses, Mulder, alien black oil, Doggett's son, alien colonisation, mutants and Scully's child. Dogget is essentially the new sceptic so he and Scully have a lot of fun in the single episodes. Also thankfully Season eight completely omits the slapstick humour change that Season seven tried out towards the end.

The major problem however is not with this season but what the producers are hiding from us. You don't see this until season nine. Essentially Special Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) is here to replace Scully. Yeah the producers are going to be moving in the direction of Special Agent Monica Reyes and Agent Dogget leading the X Files for Season nine and possibly more. However Season nine killed the X Files. It is easy to give this series 4 to 5 stars without knowing what the producers are planning (I originally gave it 5) but when you know the truth! you can easily dock down. So Mulder essentially did leave the show in season 7 and Scully is leading for the time being but doing bit parts in season nine

Season 9:
(*/5)
Deceptive and misleading train wreck with little Scully and practically zero Mulder
X Files: Season 9 is a problem. The way to solve this problem is easy. Stop with Season 7. If you enjoy watching good TV seasons then stop at 7. If you are an X Files fan and want to complete things then fine but you know what is happening and if not here goes. Duchovny has left the show but appears for only a few episodes between Seasons 8 and 9 and when he does turn up it's not worth it. Now we know that Dogget is the Mulder replacement, but what Season 8 didn't tell you was that Reyes was the Scully replacement. So Season 9 is mostly Dogget and Reyes investigating something. The stories are all mostly terrible and a chore to sit through. It is like the writers and producers have lost all heart. In fact X Files Season 8 should never have been called the X Files. A better title for this would be Dogget and Reyes Season 2.

The show develops the new introductory credit sequence. There are a few versions, one containing Mulder leading and one without Mulder with Scully leading. Some have Skinner, others don't. It is mostly Scully, Dogget and Reyes but looks can be deceiving... and they are because Scully is in like 5% of the show if she is in the credits.

So Agent Dogget (Robert Patrick) replaces Mulder. Special Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) practically replaces Scully. Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) leaves his lead role from Season 8 and virtually vanishes from this Season. `The Lone Gumen' John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood), Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) and Richard 'Ringo' Langly (Dean Haglund) are back for one or two episodes. FBI Deputy Director Alvin Kersh (James Pickens Jr.) isn't really heard of. Knowle Rohrer (Adam Baldwin) has a episode or two but make no mistake about it, this is all Dogget and Reyes.

Season 9 of the X Files is mostly about - water, satanic murders, skinning, serial killers, flies, Mexico, looking for Mulder, more serial killers, crashed saucers, kid's imaginations, near death experiences, numerology, the Lone Gunmen, profiling, disfigurement, psychokinesis and finally... the truth .

Season 9 is bad. I cannot see how anyone who has sat through the amazing stories that were Seasons 1 to 7 could like, let alone recommend, it. What is there good to say about it? Duchovny was the X Files. They don't even try to tie loose ends up. Even the double episode `The truth' doesn't reveal anything you haven't already heard before and ends in a cliff-hanger that has never been answered and probably never will. The producers are trying to sell us a different show under the banner of the X Files and didn't even have the courtesy to give us a decent Mulder/Scully ending. To top it off the episodes are a slog to get through and lots of them will insult your intelligence. This isn't just a bad season of the X Files... this is a catastrophe that many wish they never sat through, including me. It may well be the worst TV season for any series that I own. I think anyone who throws out boxes 8 and 9 from their X Files collection is rightly justified in doing so.

However the traditional X Files seasons 1 to 7 are excellent shows and is one of the reasons why the X Files manages to get into the Top 10 TV series of all time. Having this collection is worth every penny and you will watch it over and over again. It is an amazing journey and one well worth taking.

Pros:
- One of the best TV series of all time.
- Huge story arcs throughout the seasons.
- The dialogue and classic Mulder one-liners.
- Repeated viewing

Cons:
- You might be able to get Seasons 1 - 7 cheaper than the whole collection boxed.
- No remastering.
- Seasons 8 and 9 are terrible.

Wednesday, January 03, 2001

Star Trek: The Next Generation

NOTE: This review is of the ORIGINAL, 2002-2004 *collection* of boxed sets of each of the show's 7 seasons, NOT the *newer*, "all-in-one-green-green-box" 2007-released set. That NEWER set is said to be of *significantly* INFERIOR quality, both in packaging and in dvd quality. Also - for technical reasons, THIS TELEVISION SERIES MAY *NEVER* BE RELEASED IN A *GENUINELY* HIGH-DEFINITION, BLU RAY FORMAT (although Paramount has been engaging a variety of companies' expertise to *investigate* if it can be accomplished in an affordable and technically achievable manner, SO far Paramount's answer is "NO").

As anyone considering buying this set (obviously) already knows that they enjoy watching Star Trek The Next Generation, I won't bother to review the show itself but rather this particular collection of DVD boxed sets. As far as the show itself goes, suffice it to say that even though the original airing of the last episode in the last (7th) season occurred in 1994, at least as of 2009 it was *still* rated as the most-watched science fiction television series even in RERUN syndication. Star Trek The Next Generation is arguably not only the best of all of the Star Trek television series, but is also considered by many to be the finest science fiction television series IN GENERAL produced to date.

First, the packaging of this set - it's absolutely FABULOUS! I cannot POSSIBLY overstate how GOOD the packaging is. Each season is packaged in its own box. Within each box is a well-crafted dvd "holding case" that FOLDS OUT to display all of that season's dvd's. Each dvd is held tightly in place, and when the set's folded up it fits PERFECTLY into the season's larger box. The boxes are of TREMENDOUSLY high quality, clearly manufactured to the highest standards. The boxes are made of VERY heavy-weight, well-fitting paper/cardboard but with some sort of polished and plasticized exterior finish to ensure exceptionally long life. The graphics and color scheme reflect the original design schemes of the tv series itself. Imprinted on the interior of each box's front cover is a listing of that season's/set's dvd's and the title of each episode on each dvd (including special/bonus features). Between the quality of each season's exterior box and the interior dvd holding case, the packaging will protect the dvd's - and the packaging's printing - pretty much FOREVER.

Also - Within EACH season's box is a fold-out brochure that lists each episode of that season's set by title, original airdate, "Stardate" (!), and disc/dvd number, as well as a brief description of that season's special/bonus features. The first season's brochure also includes an introduction to the collection by Executive Producer Rick Berman and a photo and brief description of the show's regular characters. Subsequent seasons' brochures include brief but interesting notes on that particular season, and a few little-known but interesting facts about the show and/or its characters. The final season's boxed set brochure includes a message from Mr. Berman thanking all fans for their continued loyalty to the series. Each season's fold-out disc case has a special sleeve for long-term safe storage of that season's brochure, and the sleeve can also accommodate that season's boxed set's external packaging information sheet if you wish to safely store it there.

The physical dvd's - Again, EXCELLENT manufacturing quality. The imprinted label of each dvd is graphically matched to the series' design, and color-matched to that season's dvd color scheme. Each has imprinted on it the season number, disc number, and the title and official episode number (!) of each episode on that disc. Each disc is held tightly in its place in the dvd holder and is appropriately *thick* so that it will not bend excessively when pulled off of its holder. Each disc's holder has a plastic push-button "spindle" that when pushed in makes releasing the disc very easy, and each spindle's "prongs" are thick enough that they will not break off upon repeated use.

The series' AUDIO quality - Each dvd has both a regular, 2-channel stereo track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track, selectable from each EPISODE'S main title screen OR your dvd player's audio control buttons/menus, whichever you prefer. The audio quality is EXCELLENT in EITHER format. If your a/v setup doesn't include Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround capability but your dvd player and/or tv has a "simulated" surround setting and/or an enhanced "stereo separation" setting (sometimes referred to as "SRS" or the like) you'll still get EXCELLENT audio quality out of the 2-channel audio track with no audible background "hiss" or distortion; the musical and audio effects' soundtracks consistently sound clear and distinct, with very good frequency distribution and dynamic range. There is no "audio commentary" track for any of the episodes.

The series' VIDEO quality - Is generally EXCELLENT, particularly given the manner in which the television series was filmed, composited and transferred from film to video to begin with. The episodes were apparently given a "lite" restoration. The episodes are presented in their original standard-definition "full-screen" aspect ratio. As such, picture quality is best when you have your dvd player set to "up-convert" to 420p and connected to a high-definition tv (preferably a plasma or an lcd that has full-array LED backlighting with local dimming, due to the importance of black level depth and retention in this particular television series). When you have such a tv set and dvd player, color balance from scene to scene and episode to episode is generally very good, as are the collection's inherent contrast and black levels. When your set's color, contrast, brightness and sharpness settings are set correctly, many of the scenes and shots actually look as if they're in high definition - no kidding! BUT - there are also many (brief) moments when the series' age and *original* manner of film-to-video transfer are evident with momentary shots that appear more blurred and slightly grainier. But overall, video quality is very good to excellent.

Overall, *this particular* set's video and audio quality is CONSIDERABLY better than anything you're likely to get from any OTA, cable or satellite channel for sure!

DVD program structure -

When you first load a dvd, once you get past Paramount Home Video's copyright screen you're presented with a brief but BEAUTIFULLY-presented video collage of the series' main characters set against a stunning starfield background, the Enterprise then dashes across the screen, while the series' musical theme plays. You're then taken directly to the dvd's main title ("root menu") screen while the musical theme continues (in a loop, of course). Each dvd's main title screen has colorful, animated graphics that are beautifully rendered and consistent with the series' general graphic design scheme; it also includes a rotating sequence or collage of brief scenes from each of the episodes on that dvd. Episode titles and their original episode numbers (!) are presented for playback selection, but their is no option to have all episodes on the disc automatically play sequentially. Once an episode is selected you can then choose from "Engage" (play), "Communications" (selection of which version of stereo audio you want, and whether or not you want subtitles - English is the only language available), "Chapter Log" (the episode's chapter markers), or "Return" (to the dvd's root menu).

Each season's set has its bonus features on its last disk; most are quite good, informative, and add value to the set.

And each episode on each and every disc plays back PERFECTLY, without ANY skips, stalls, freezes or breakups.

In summary, in spite of this being an older dvd set without a few of the more "advanced" features that most newer dvd's in general offer (such as multiple language subtitles and sequential autoplay of all episodes on a dvd), *this particular*, older studio release is an INCREDIBLE and the BEST collection of all 7 seasons of Star Trek The Next Generation, FAR superior to the newer single boxed set in virtually ALL respects. Given that the (albeit inferior) newer boxed set has been out now for awhile, in all likelihood this older yet SUPERIOR "boxed-by-season" set will continue to be available ONLY until distributor warehouse and retailer supplies are exhausted. Consequently, some retailers are offering this particular complete set for over $1,000!!! Here on Amazon you can get it, as of this writing, new for $249.99 - with free Super Saver shipping - via newbury_comics (a very reputable retailer) with "Fulfillment By Amazon" but as of this writing they have only 12 of these sets left available... Oops! Make the 10 now (although they may be able to get more that's not really likely, and other retailers have stock left but at significantly higher prices due to its declining availability).

This TRULY is a SPECTACULARLY BEAUTIFUL "Collector's Edition" set that *NO* STNG fan will want to be without. I have a number of "Collector's Edition" TV series dvd sets, but THIS one is BY FAR the most STRIKINGLY beautiful set of them all - if I had a locked vault to store it in, believe me I'd do so - it's THAT beautiful of a set.

Given the VERY real likelihood that a Blu Ray set will not be forthcoming in at least the foreseeable future if ever at all, and that this OLDER collection is a FAR superior set and package than the newer one, if you want the BEST STNG collection and DON'T order this one VERY soon you *WILL* regret it. So order it, and order it NOW!!!

5 STARS ALL THE WAY!!!

6/16/2011 UPDATE: Be sure to read the COMMENTS posted to this review for the latest on this series' anticipated Blu Ray release!

Tuesday, January 02, 2001

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia | 9.4

Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Mac (Rob McElhenney), and Charlie (Charlie Day) are all the owners of an Irish bar in Philadelphia, and "Sunny" essentially follows their awkward lives - each episode revolving around some type of political or social issue such as gun control, abortion, steroids, underage drinking, health care, and the handicapped (just to touch on a few issues already addressed in the show).

It begs comparison with "Arrested Development," "The Office," "Seinfeld" and "South Park" in its broad humor and wit, but it is completely original in its own right. The pilot was filmed on a low budget by a few friends and was picked up by FX after wards, so the show retains its low-budget feel - giving it a gritty, down-to-earth edge.

"Sunny" does border on the edge of bad taste sometimes (hell, what am I saying - it crosses the line every time) but it contains enough satire and wit to get away with it. For example: in one episode Mac and Dennis decide to pick up girls at an abortion rally. Mac pretends to be pro-life just so he can be around an attractive woman, whom he ends up sleeping with. Later, she tells him she's pregnant. "You need to get an abortion," he says. This type of irony runs throughout every episode.

The banter between the characters in the show is what tends to be particularly funny. The actors - although novices - are all great. Charlie Day in particular has me laughing like crazy every episode. And his interaction with Danny DeVito (who's been brought in for season two) is hilarious. Season two is more polished so far in terms of the mechanics of the show - the characters have all been setup now and they know what they're doing - and in that regard it is seeming to get better and better with every episode.

You do have to have a very sick sense of humor to like some of this - DeVito's character, Frank, is the father of Dennis and Dee, and his reason for being in the show is that he is getting a divorce and wants to relive his glory days as a youth. He tries to re-ignite a relationship with an old girlfriend of his from high school - but when he finds out she's a grandmother and not interested in doing anything wild, his attention instantly turns to the waitress and he tunes her out. It's cruel, sick and hilarious. DeVito is playing another ruthless character (same as in "Taxi" all those years ago) and it works splendidly.

Overall this was a delightful blast of fresh air - after seeing so many stale sitcoms, this proved to me that FX really is becoming the new lead in character-driven comedy-dramas (such as the equally superb "Rescue Me" which isn't quite as funny, however).

My only hope is that "Sunny" doesn't become so popular that it attracts controversy and sells out and dumbs down its humor. Right now it's on par with the early episodes of "South Park" and "SNL" in terms of how irreverent its humor is - and personally, in my opinion, its plots are better than most comedy films I've seen within the last few years.