Chris Hicks: U.S. and British miniseries lead TV shows making their DVD debuts this week
In the 1970s, big, ratings-grabbing TV miniseries were all the rage, including “Testimony of Two Men,” arriving on DVD for the first time this week, along with the English trilogy “House of Cards.”
“Testimony of Two Men” (Acorn, 1977, three discs, $59.99, three episodes, promos). Fairly typical but very well made, this lavishly produced soap-opera miniseries boasts a large cast filled with familiar faces and is based on a Taylor Caldwell best-seller.
This is an ensemble melodrama that covers some 36 years during the post-Civil War era, with the central character very well played by David Birney. Doomed romances, vindictive relatives, duplicitous friends and acquaintances, they’re all here.
Birney is a doctor trying to make up for the sins of his father (William Shatner) but finding himself caught up in one scrape after another, despite his best, mostly altruistic efforts. Others on hand include Linda Purl, Ralph Bellamy, Tom Bosley, Joan Van Ark, Barbara Parkins and Steve Forrest.
“House of Cards Trilogy” (BBC, 1990, four discs, $39.98, three seasons, 12 episodes, audio commentary, featurettes). This is an excellent if exceptionally cynical British miniseries whose central character (the riveting Ian Richardson) is a reprehensible leader in the House of Commons, manipulating and backstabbing his way to higher power. His endgame is to become prime minister, which he accomplishes in the third season, though a Shakespearean conclusion is inevitable. Based on Michael Dobbs’ novel (and newly adapted in an Americanized version for Netflix, starring Kevin Spacey). (Also on Blu-ray, $49.99)
“Gunsmoke: the Seventh Season, Volume 2” (CBS/Paramount, 1962, b/w, five discs, $39.99, 17 episodes, trailers). Marshall Dillon (James Arness), Chester (Dennis Weaver) and the rest of the Dodge City gang continue to keep the peace during the final half of Season 7 with half-hour episodes centering on various characters who come to town, among them Ellen Burstyn, Joan Hackett, George Kennedy, Harry Dean Stanton, Michael Parks, Sue Ane Langdon, Joyce Jameson and future “Smokey and the Bandit” filmmaker Hal Needham.
“Above Suspicion: Set 2” (Acorn, 2011, $29.99, three episodes, featurette, photo gallery). This British police procedural is engrossing but also quite gruesome and laced with foul language. The main characters are Det. Anna Travis (Kelly Reilly) and her boss, CDI James Langton (Ciaran Hinds). Both are excellent. This set is actually the third series (the first two were in “Set 1”) as they investigate the murder of a former cop and friend of Langton’s, and discover it takes them where they don’t want to go.
“She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens” (Athena, 2012, $34.99, three episodes, $34.99, text biography; 16-page booklet). BBC documentary miniseries about seven medieval queens of England, including Lady Jane Grey and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Hosted by Cambridge professor Dr. Helen Castor and based on her book.
“Joseph Campbell: The Power of Myth With Bill Moyers” (Athena, 1988, three discs, $59.99, six episodes, new introductions by Moyers, excerpts from “Bill Moyers Journal,” interview with George Lucas; 12-page booklet). Moyers sat down with Campbell 25 years ago for this collection of interviews that brought Campbell’s theories into the popular culture.
“R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Series: Volume Three” (Shout! 2011, $14.97, five episodes, featurette, promos).
“R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Series: Volume Four” (Shout! 2011, $14.97, five episodes, featurette, promos). These discs each contain episodes of The Hub cable anthology series that offers up scary/fantastic stories for children, some based on books by Stine (best known for “Goosebumps”).
“Monster High Double Feature: Friday Night Frights/Why Do Ghouls Fall in Love?” (Universal, 2013, $19.98, two episodes). These two animated 45-minute webisodes take the characters based on the Mattel doll line and follow them to the Skultimate Roller Maze Championships and Draculara’s sweet 1,600th birthday bash.
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