strike-three_v02

GOT BLUGame of Thrones: The Complete Fifth Season on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD (HBO)

I hope that Jon Snow isn’t dead. I hope that his hero journey doesn’t end on the ice with his blood oozing out of him and his betrayers watching him die. For all of the stories that have been told in the five seasons of Game of Thrones, Snow’s is the story that has compelled me the most. There are other strong characters, Arya (Maisie Williams) and Tyrion (series MVP Peter Dinklage) immediately come to mind, but Jon Snow, so beautifully played by Kit Harington, has made as many mistakes as he has heroic choices and his heart has always been on the side of good. This made him the true heir to the late Ned Stark, his father (we think). Unlike the rest of the Stark children – self-righteous Rob (now dead), self-absorbed Sansa (Sophie Turner), vengeful Arya, and the missing in action Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) – Snow was never out to make friends or win people over, he was out to do the right thing, even if it meant taking on new enemies.

After five seasons of watching Snow become a natural born leader, one whose actions could save the world, to see him snuffed out makes me weary for season 6. The fifth season of HBO’s critically acclaimed rating blockbuster was its weakest and the producers need to regain my confidence in them. There were many times throughout the course of these episodes that I rolled my eyes at Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), cringed at Sansa’s obtuseness, and simply left the room because Ramsey (Iwan Rheon) bored me with their gratuitous behavior. The saving graces were the union of Tyrion and Jorah (Iain Glen) and Jon Snow’s struggles.

True, episode eight, “Hardhome,” ranks as one of the series’ best, with Tyrion and Daberys finally meeting each other, plus that epic battle between Snow’s army of men and the undead wights (that revealing moment of Valyrian steel ranks as one of my favorite moments from last year). And yes, the season finale was brutally good. But I feel that the rest of season 5 was hit and miss. All eyes are on Game of Thrones when it returns in April. If Snow is truly gone for good, the writers need to come up with someone else to step up and become the series true hero. I’m not sure season 5 really did that.

F&G BLUFreaks and Geeks Blu-ray Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory)

The crown jewel of Shout! Factory’s catalog of television releases used to be their 2004 DVD production of Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series. This collection of the seminal 1999 NBC dramedy from Paul Feig (who would go on to direct Bridesmaids and Spy) and Judd Apatow was a six-disc masterpiece. It contained all 18 episodes of Freaks and Geeks, intact with the original classic rock, punk and disco songs that had scored the show in its short run, as well as commentaries on each episode from the cast and crew made up of future stars in front of and behind the camera, including Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco, John Francis Daley, Busy Phillips, Martin Starr and Jake Kasdan. This was the “TV on DVD” box set that I measured all others, and few matched it.

When it was announced that Shout! Factory would release Freaks and Geeks on Blu-ray, I wondered, “Could they top themselves?”

The answer is most definitely, “Yes.”

Shout! Factory went back to the original film negatives that the series was shot on, scanned them in 4K, cleaned up the images, then painstakingly matched the new prints to each cut, dissolve and fade out from the original airings. The digital magicians soon discovered that even though Freaks and Geeks was broadcast in standard definition (4×3), the full 1.78:1 film image looked just as good as the original. Thus, Shout! Factory opted to release the series formatted to fit your HDTV. Fear not, the Blu-ray Collection also includes the entire series in standard definition. All you purists still pissed about The Wire high definition release can cool your jets.

What should you expect? The best image possible, that’s for sure, as well as the finest sound quality. All of the original commentaries are included, as are table reads, auditions, NBC promos, and behind the scenes footage. This release also includes a brand new Q&A between L.A. Times television critic Robert Lloyd and Feig and Apatow.  Without a doubt, this is another brilliant release from Shout! Factory, far outshining the 2004 release. It is the company’s new crown jewel and definitely worth every penny, even if you already own the previous release.

Freaks and Geeks not only captures the era of the early 80s with perfection, you don’t have to be a child of the 80s to relate to the characters; their universal stories ring true whether you’re 16 or 60. It remains one of the most vital TV shows ever to air and is an important institution in our popular culture. Thanks to the wealth of talent to emerge from Freaks and Geeks, the series’ influence on television and film continues to be felt. I question if we’ll ever see another one like it on network TV ever again.

GS_HEADSHOTOne final note, as this may be my last TV review for awhile. When Garry Shandling died suddenly on March 24th, the world not only lost one of the greatest comedians ever to grace a stage or a talk show couch, but also a true innovator of television. Shandling co-created not one, but two of the most groundbreaking and influential TV comedies in the latter half of the 20th Century.

It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show challenged the way we watch television comedy and took the format to new heights. It’s hard to imagine a Seinfeld or Louie if It’s Garry Shandling’s Show hadn’t paved the way first. And without The Larry Sanders Show, I doubt there would have been a Mr. Show or The Office. Furthermore, the lessons that Judd Apatow learned from working with Shandling on the Larry Sanders led him to become one of the most important writer, director and producers working today. That’s right, without Shandling, we probably wouldn’t have Freaks and Geeks and everything that sprang from it.

His name might not have been as recognizable as Leno, Letterman or Seinfeld, but Garry Shandling was a giant and his passing has left a huge void in the world of television and comedy. Rest in peace, sir