A very exciting year, with new and continuing shows going from strength to strength
4,205It’s been another very exciting time in terms of TV Blu-ray releases with a number of top shows either coming to the format for the first time, or continuing on from strength to strength. It's impossible to list everything that has been released this year, so below are my personal top choices for TV shows released on Blu-ray in 2013. There is no particular order between them.
First hitting our TV screens back in 2008 but remaining elusive on Blu-ray until June of this year, we were fortunate enough for every season to land within five months; and that is just as well because Breaking Bad is like the drug it's about - addictive! It is utterly compelling and totally compulsive viewing. Telling the story of a chemistry teacher who finds out he is dying of cancer and uses his superior knowledge and techniques to produce the purest crystal meth on the market, the show has transcended the genre, going from cult to mainstream and then back again. Uniformly well-acted, with a continuing story arc and realistic and believable characters, the show has the uncanny ability to get under your skin, having you second guessing how you would react to the situations the characters find themselves in. Comes with the highest recommendation.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Towards the latter end of last year TNG fans were treated to the first two seasons of the beloved show. Though they garnered a huge fan base and spearheaded the Star Trek resurgence that saw multiple films and TV franchises being released, Seasons 1 and 2 aren’t actually that good – a few great episodes can’t make up for two 'OK' seasons. However all that was to change with Season 3, with the show building on its own success and really finding its stride and audience. 2013 has seen Seasons 3, 4 and 5 hit the Blu-ray shelves and with excellent transfers, a wealth of extras and updated effects, the sets are gloriously presented. They showcase why Star Trek manages to be so endearing to so many people. Well worth your time and investment.
Game of Thrones
It was a year long wait (and another for Season 3!) between the first and second seasons, but March saw the luxurious Season 2 set hit the shelves. George R.R. Martin’s epic saga gets the HBO lavish treatment and the series is simply going from strength to strength. With the main protagonists split to the far reaches of the Seven Realms, the story threads are far more complex and intricate for this season, but it is no less compelling viewing and it demands your attention. The writing is awesome, the direction sublime and the whole show screams production value. You are simply immersed into the world and are drawn along with the trials and tribulations that affect the poor souls of Westeros. The show keeps you gripped from the off and holds you on tender hooks as you never know where it’s going or who will survive. There have been some stellar looking releases this year, but GoT is possibly the best of the bunch.
Sophisticated, sexy and sinister. The story of criminal analyst Will Graham and psychotic serial killer Dr Hannibal Lecter before they were made famous in Manhunter, makes for a seriously compelling watch in this brand new series that hit our screens (and Blu-ray shelves) this year. An immensely satisfying show that delves into the thoughts and desires of a serial killer through the eyes of the person tasked to find him - an empathetic analyst who tends to lose himself in the depravity he’s investigating. With a rich tapestry to draw from, shedding light on already established characters and a series of events that spiral out of control, Hannibal is as compelling as any TV series there is. It holds your attention even if the set itself, whilst having excellent picture and sound pales somewhat compared to the US counterpart in terms of extras. Nevertheless it’s well worth the investment and is another series that will have you chomping at the bit for future instalments.
American Horror Story
Season 2, subtitled Asylum, continues in the vein of the first season by being weird, wild and wonderful, never taking its audience for granted and taking you places that other TV shows fear to tread. Whilst all the characters and the setting have changed the anthology show continues to enthral, excite, entertain and eviscerate. Following the staff of the Briarcliff Mental Institution in 1964, events move backwards and forwards in time to tell the sadistic and sinister stories of everyone involved in or around this insane asylum and it will keep you guessing until the very end. Somewhat of an acquired taste, this second season has lost none of its verve or lustre and is another series that is going from strength to strength.
The Walking Dead
After the ‘talking’ dead of the second season, this year’s offering ramped up the tension, the action, the gore and the body count to give us the best season yet (well, we can’t count season 4 can we). With our band of bedraggled refugees hold up in a state penitentiary, it’s not just the ‘biters’ they have to be wary of. The walled town of Woodbury with its nefarious and unpredictable leader, the Governor, sees our worn out band as a threat and a standoff seems to be the only way to settle the differences. With multiple story arcs, characters changing ‘sides’ and an inscrutable (until the end) new menace this third season opens with a bang and rides the shockwave until its denouement, leaving plenty of room for more. No one is safe and with the death of more than one recurring character, the series has you guessing who is going to live to the next episode. It’s compelling, exciting and difficult to watch - the making of a classic!
After the triumphant return of season 5 following an unscheduled sabbatical, Mad Men is truly a series to be reckoned with and it is something of shame that it was not able to maintain that impetus for this latest season. That's not to say that its bad, it is still stylish, sassy and sexy, probably the best there is of its type, but with such a reputation to live up to it’s not surprising that this particular season started off a little slow. Continuing to follow each of the main characters stories against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the advertising agency goes through mergers, clients and money without losing its stride. Don is still the undisputed king of the hill, but there is some lustre missing as he juggles affairs, jobs and his own personal demons. The season hots up towards the latter half and ends typically with you wanting more; there’s nothing quite like it on TV and just for that, it demands to be seen.
Season two follows straight on from last year’s cliff hanger and never comes up for air. It gained higher ratings, more streamlined stories, a faster pace (if that’s possible) and thus works even better because whilst you know who is doing what, you don't know their motives. Winning many awards for its production values and acting, it is easy to see why and by drawing on current events and juxtaposing ideas about freedom, religion, faith and loyalty, you end up wondering how you would react or asking yourself what would your actions be in such compelling situations. It is edge of the seat viewing and yet another series that is going from strength to strength; long may it continue.
House of Cards
Made by Netflix rather than a major studio, the first season of House of Cards introduces us to American senator Francis Underwood who is slighted in the very first episode and vows to use his influence and power to punish those that have wronged him, whilst building up his own base to further his ambitions and agenda. And you know what, it’s incredible viewing. It’s always a risky bet, siding with the anti-hero but Kevin Spacey’s manner, much like the character he’s playing, is utterly convincing. You are with him all the way to the bank. His manipulation of people and events, even those nearest to him, is nothing short of abuse but the outcome is always the same; more power for him and more affection from those around him. The nuances of American politics may cause some lose sight of the goal, but stick with it and you will be richly rewarded; a second season is in the making!
Moving further from the truth in an attempt to tell a better story the third season sees ‘Nucky' facing off against a troublesome, ambitious but psychotic new player in the bootleg running department, one Gyp Rosetti. The season takes place over a year and sees Gyp nearly single-handedly stop the booze flow, manufacture a blood feud and bring all-out war between the main gangsters in what amounts to an incredibly compelling season. However, the series continues to explore all facets of the characters, even the less recurring ones, giving them motivation and drive for their actions. Of particular note is the blossoming romance between war veteran Richard Harrow, his new love, and his compassion for his adopted son which climaxes in one of the bloodiest shootouts ever seen on television. Continuing in the trend of siding with the bad guys, Boardwalk Empire ups the stakes even further than before and, like most of the series’ I’ve discussed above, keeps you guessing about where the show is heading and who will survive once it gets there - although history does help in some respects. Another lavish package by HBO tops off what has been an incredible year for TV Blu-ray sets, I can’t wait for 2014 and all the goodies that will come with it.
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