A round-up of the best 5 TV series available on Blu-ray in 2012.
125Television and cinema have been vying for our attention since the fifties when TV became a mass market medium.The appeal of TV is obvious, ‘free’ entertainment piped direct into our homes against that of the cinema which requires us to go out and hand over money. Cinema has hit back several times with bigger screens, better sound and 3D to name but a few, but the home entertainment industry has always been right there nipping at its heels because we can already reproduce everything listed above.
However, irrespective of the delivery method, the mediums themselves are fundamentally different in their constructions. Cinema delivers a concise story within a limited amount of time; it has to give a credible beginning, middle and end, provide a journey for the characters, be believable and above all entertaining. On the face of it, it seems an impossible task, but as we know it is probably the best art form there is, able to engage both our visual and aural senses, as well as our imaginations. TV, on the other hand, takes a different approach, specifically TV series have time to develop characters, stories and ideas. Whilst the scope may be smaller, the idea to hold peoples interest not only for the duration of the show, but for an entire season means that TV has to think bold. In recent years there have been some incredible advances in the way TV shows are presented, they have become more cinematic in their delivery and now, more than ever, have redefined TV as an independent art form that keeps bringing us back for more.
This year has seen some of the best TV released on Blu-ray, with shows that draw millions on their original airing and capture even more on the physical media. The fact that a show can do this is probably due to being able to watch it without any interruptions or breaks between episodes, and many also prefer the quality of a disc as well. Listed below are our top five choices for the Best TV Show releases of 2012, they are not in any particular order being as they are very different styles, but they are shows that have entertained us and are in sets that are excellent in their presentation for picture, sound and extra features.Game of Thrones.Released back in March, Game of Thrones is HBO’s interpretation of George R.R. Martin’s fantastical world filled with sword, sorcery, political back-stabbing, intrigue, power struggles and lashings of sex and violence. HBO is well known for producing some of the best TV series’ ever and the reason is very simple: they apply plenty of production values to create a cinematic experience in each episode, and take the time to expand upon the story creating a very believable world – even in this fantasy incarnation. There is a cast to die for and everyone takes the series seriously; acting is top notch, with each character given time to breathe and their own story arc’s within the overall tale.
Indeed the story is so good that even if you are not into ‘sword and sorcery’ there is enough to it that you will be drawn in and taken along for the ride. There are plenty of upsets within this first season, nothing can be taken for granted, and it is this edge of the seat filming (taken direct from the books incidentally) that hooks you right from the beginning and keeps you coming back for more. The set itself is amazing, boasting reference picture and sound with an extras package that is incredible. This first series demands multiple viewings and ends with enough vigour that the second season has been a long time coming. If we had to pick the top TV show release, this would be it.
Boardwalk Empire.Another series from the power-house that is HBO. Taking the same cinematic approach that they do to all their releases, the pilot episode was actually championed and directed by Martin Scorsese and with it he set the tone for the series so far. In fact this year has seen both the first and second season released on disc which weaves a fictional tale around the real life events and characters in Atlantic City during the 1920’s prohibition era and the gangsters that proliferated during that insane time.
Using their customary production values and cinematic story telling along with another exceptional cast the first two seasons are vastly entertaining viewing; the first concentrating on the lead character’s rise to power and second on the resentment that it caused and the ensuing power struggle. In taking real life characters and events the line between truth and fiction is very blurred indeed and much like Game of Thrones it demands repeat viewings to get the most out of the series. Once again the set is exemplary in is presentation of the picture, sound and extras package, for both sets, and like every great series leaves you wanting more. Highly recommended viewing.
Mad Men.During the fifties, if you were in advertising then the only place to be is on Madison Avenue in New York, the setting for the fictional series Mad Men. Now into its fifth season and after a two year unscheduled hiatus, the series is back with its best so far. Don Draper is still the man of the show but having freed itself from his hidden backstory this fifth season is free to explore much more of the other character dynamics and uses the fictional story interweaved with real life events as a platform to examine everyday happenings in what is a seamless integration of story elements. The series has the reputation for being highly historically accurate, in both its depiction of the characters and the setting they are in, but more than that is it effortlessly cool and damn sexy to boot.
It never panders to the audience and the characters have real lives, there are multiple story lines that run concurrently both throughout episodes and the series whole which makes for compulsive viewing. The set is once again presented with excellent picture, sound and extras. Whist to get the most out of it watching the previous four seasons will undoubtedly be recommended, this fifth set plays out in such a way as you don’t need to have seen anything beforehand, which is quite surprising, but makes it a fresh start and extremely entertaining viewing – especially the LSD episode which is structured and edited to perfection. Yet another high recommended show.Spartacus: Vengeance.Listed as the second season, but chronologically the third to be released (the second was a prequel), this season follows directly on from the first season telling the story of the Roman slave Spartacus who incited insurrection and waged a war against his oppressors. Much like Boardwalk and Mad Men, Spartacus takes historical events and weaves a (very) fictional story about them, not least because very little is actually known about the man himself. However, the series is ball-bustingly good and upon its initial release pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable for a TV viewing audience with copious amounts of blood, full frontal nudity and graphic depictions of sex and violence, all in a 300 stylised look that tells a very engaging story.
The characters are believable and their stories are what draw us as an audience into the show, the fact that it looks great and has lashings of the ‘good stuff’ is a bonus. The second season sees Spartacus and his gladiator army on the run after the slaughter of his slave master, fighting gruella warfare whist trying to keep his ranks intact, all the while the political backstabbing amongst the Romans (what have they ever done for us?) is just as enthralling. The set, again, contains excellent picture and sound though the extras package is slightly lacking this time around – but what is does have is every episode in its uncut form (meaning there is more material than was broadcast) so there is even more sex and violence! With the third season set to be the last, it seems the old adage is true - the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and Spartacus burnt very brightly indeed; not for the faint-hearted but compulsory viewing nonetheless.Sherlock.Right back at the beginning of the year the second season of the BBC’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes brought to life in a modern day setting was released to terrific acclaim. Only containing three episodes, though each is a feature length film in itself, the series picks up directly after the first season cliff hanger and proceeds to entrance and enthral for its continuing run time. Written and produced with the BBC’s customary excellence with drama, each episode is a wonderful story that leads on from each other to give an overall story arc that is sublime.
The character of Holmes was so well written by Conan Doyle that his recasting from his Victorian roots to contemporary London makes no difference; indeed, one could argue that it enhances him with his use of technology being of less importance than his own deductive reasoning. In fact Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character is so damn good that I believe him to be the best interpretation thus far. The set this time around is a typical British TV presentation with a 1080i picture and ‘standard’ Dolby Digital sound, which is a shame considering the technical excellence of the series, extras are a little limited as well – however don’t let that put you off, it is still an outstanding series and comes with our highest recommendation.
So there you have it, our top five TV shows released in 2012. But, you know, we can’t leave it there – 2012 has seen some stellar TV shows released so we'll add a few honourable mentions here. There was the eighth and final season of House M.D., which ends on a particularly high note; Fringe season four, which has gone a little off the rails as all J. J. Abrams series’ are wont to do; Downton Abbey saw its third season released following the trials and tribulations of the household, which, along with Being Human and Torchwood both reaching a fourth release keeps the British end up.
On the other side of the pond there was the complete Friends box set released, for those of an age when that show was king of the airwaves, but for those into something a bit newer The Big Bang Theory released season five this year. For those after something a bit more scary, American Horror Story has its first season out, another show that has me chomping at the bit to get the second season (less than a year now!) and The Walking Dead was in its second season, albeit a somewhat slow continuation leading to the moniker The Talking Dead! There are many more that we haven’t mentioned, but for now that’ll do. Enjoy, there’s plenty more to come in 2013 - including of course Game of Thrones season two!
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