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HBO’s
Big Love: The Complete Third Season
DVD

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

What began as a bit of a head-scratching novelty show two seasons ago has turned into one of the most engrossing, well-acted and densely fascinating dramas on television. And, of course, it’s HBO!

Season Three of Big Love does not disappoint. It actually catapults the series into the HBO pantheon where The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and True Blood reign supreme.

Those unfamiliar with the show could easily get hooked by watching this mesmerizing season.

Mormon Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) is a polygamist married to three wives: matriarch Barb (the always fantastic Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicolette (the brilliantly irritating Chloë Sevigny) and Margene (the hilarious Ginnifer Goodwin) but he’s on the prowl for a fourth, Ana (a feisty Branka Katic).

Bill is looking to also branch out business-wise. He’s partnered with a Native American group to get a casino off the ground.

Bill and his family live “The Principle,” which means the more family you have on Earth, the more you honor God. And you will all be reunited in heaven.

Bill is a native of the Juniper Creek compound where the “prophet,” Roman Grant (nasty and mean Harry Dean Stanton) --who also happens to be Bill’s father in law--ruled until he was arrested on various counts. Roman’s closeted gay son, Alby (a creepily splendid Matt Ross) has taken over while his father is behind bars.

So much of the first few episodes are devoted to secrets—being kept and revealed. Nicolette, and her machinations, is the focal point of a lot of these secrets as she works to free her father by taking a job in the DA’s office—only to fall for the DA.

As the deceptions, threats and betrayals mount, the series grips you and never lets go. Midway through, “The Trial” sets the stage for so many delicious surprises to come.

In Episode 6, "Come, Ye Saints," Bill realizes just how far astray his family has gone. And in Episode 8, “Rough Edges,” Nicolette finally gets her comeuppance. It’s a moment viewers have been waiting for but the genius of the show is that by the end of the season, once another secret is revealed, we actually feel sorry for Nicolette.

So much good work is done by the Big Love ensemble. Worth noting are many of the fabulous female actors, in particular: Grace Zabriskie, Ellen Burstyn, Melora Walters, Mary Kay Place, Daveigh Chase and Mireille Enos.

All the leads are wonderful. Golden Globe winner Chloë Sevigny does extraordinary work showing us a woman who is feeling love for the very first time—and it’s not for her husband. The scene in Episode 9 where Nicolette and Alby discuss different ways they could kill their parents is an instant classic TV moment.

Big Love manages to take the subject of polygamy and, instead of condemning it and/or making fun of it, actually shows all sides of the hot button issue. These are deeply religious people who feel they are doing the work of Heavenly Father. The writers, Mark V. Olsen and Will Sheffer, do an impressive job of keeping things interesting—even when what is being presented onscreen is difficult to swallow.

The anamorphic transfer looks just like the show does on HBO High-Def with strong colors. The 5.1 sound mix is clear and crisp.

The most disappointing thing about the package is the paltry Extras. We get four VERY short promos called: “Their Stories So Far,” which are simply recaps. “Three Past Midnight” are three scenes that depict how three sets of characters react to the compound raid. And that’s really it. No “Making-Of” documentary, no deleted scenes. Nada!

Regardless, Big Love: The Complete Third Season is an exciting and extremely fulfilling continuation of a story I definitely want to see more of. On to Season Four…

 



Damages - Season Two
DVD

 

Review by Frank J. Avella

Glenn Close justly won her second consecutive Emmy for Season Two of Damages. She has never been this good in anything and I have seen her onstage, most of her films and her other TV work. Here, she’s fortunate enough to be involved in a series, created by Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman, that is smart, dense, riveting and as suspenseful as they come. But what she brings to the seemingly overconfident yet terrifically enigmatic Patty Hewes is nothing short of astonishing. She allows the viewers to peel away at the character’s layers until we are flabbergasted by what is revealed.

Of course, the show’s direction, writing, ensemble acting and captivatingly non-linear format must be praised as well. And while Season One laid some terrific groundwork, Season Two raises the stakes.

Rattled by the battle scars of Season One which included the suicide of Ray Fisk and placing a hit on Ellen Parsons, Patty Hewes (who, frankly and frighteningly, I would like to be when I grow up) is reunited with a man from her past, Daniel Parcell (William Hurt) and takes on his case which involves a big energy corporation doing no good. Taking on a corrupt corporate giant is right up Patty’s alley but Parcell and Patty share a deeper secret.

Meanwhile, Ellen is now working with the FBI to try and get the goods on Patty when she meets Wes (sexy and mysterious Timothy Olyphant) a man who seemingly wants to help her over her neuroses but, of course, has his own ulterior motives.

Besides the marvelous Close, Hurt does some fantastic work and Marcia Gay Harden is refreshingly sassy and a bit loony as the attorney for the energy corporation Patty is trying to take down.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Damages in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is sharp and the graininess enhances the viewing enjoyment.

The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds just right—especially since the show tends to mostly be driven by dialogue.

There are some wonderful Special Features included a slew of Deleted Scenes on each corresponding disc. It’s fun to watch an episode and then tune in to these moments that really do add to the enjoyment of the show.

Also featured are four audio commentaries by the creators and Close, Rose Byrne, Ted Danson and Tate Donovan respectively.

In addition, there are 17 minutes of “Character Profiles” which include brief interviews with the cast as well as a “Season 2: Post-Mortem” which is basically a wrap up.

Damages continues to be one of the best dramas on television and this package is a must for fans.


 


 


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