"Monk: The Premiere Episode" (Universal, 2002, not rated, $19.98). Tony Shalhoub has long been one of our best character actors, but with the TV series "Monk," he's really found the role of a lifetime. Shalhoub plays obsessive-compulsive homicide "consultant" Adrian Monk, who was forced to leave the San Francisco Police Department four years earlier after a nervous breakdown when his wife was killed by a car bomb.
Now, with his nurse/aide Sharona (the wonderful Bitty Schram) to help him stay on track, Monk uses his remarkable powers of deduction and observation to solve murders in the Bay Area. Picture Columbo crossed with Sherlock Holmes by way of "Rainman."
And this pilot episode is good enough to be a theatrical film; in fact, it's better than most features funny, warm, character-driven and loaded with hilarious vignettes. (The sequence where Monk drops his car keys into a casket during a funeral is priceless.) Plus, there's a murder mystery!
"Mystery! The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries: Speedy Death" (WGBH, 1998, not rated, $19.95). Mrs. Bradley is a hoot, and Diana Rigg is perfect in the role as an early 20th century Englishwoman, a strong, no-nonsense feminist before her time, with a saucy tongue and a knack for solving murders.
Here, she is at the estate of her god-daughter's father, where a death occurs, and in the process reveals a startling secret. But, of course, it is soon discovered to be murder and the game is afoot, to use another great English detective's favorite line. Mrs. Bradley and her loyal chauffeur George (Neil Dudgeon, who is also terrific) investigate and find answers they'd rather not know.
This is a wonderful first effort in the series, with snappy dialogue, interesting characters and a clever mystery.
"La Femme Nikita: The Complete First Season" (Warner, 1997, not rated, $99.98, six discs). This series, which had a five-year run on basic cable, relies heavily on star Peta Wilson. And she brings charisma as well as toughness to the title role of a homeless woman who is wrongly convicted of murder before being taken into training for two years as an anti-terrorist assassin with a secret government organization. (She's on probation until Episode 7!)
The pilot more or less re-creates (in compressed form) the 1990 French film of the same title, although, here, Nikita is street-smart and not a drugged-out gang member. (The movie was Americanized in 1993 as "Point of No Return," with Bridget Fonda). Subsequent episodes send Nikita on missions, but the series also builds on her character in a gradual way, as well as that of her mentor Michael (Roy Dupuis).
Some of the talent behind this show went on to develop "24," and "La Femme Nikita" has some of the same intensity, although its propensity for slow-motion fights gets old after awhile. In all, highly entertaining and the season-ending cliffhanger will have fans anxious for the next set.
"The Jeffersons: The Complete Second Season" (Columbia/TriStar, 1976, not rated, $29.95, three discs). More hilarity from George, Weezy and friends, with their son now played by Damon Evans (Mike Evans left after the first season, but returned to the role three years later).
Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford grew into the roles during the years their characters appeared on "All in the Family," and by the time they started this series, they were demonstrating remarkable chemistry. This second season set is a delight, with many very funny episodes. Fans should be in heaven.
"Soul Food: The Series: The Complete First Season on DVD" (Paramount, 2000, not rated, $89.99, six discs). I'm of two minds about this Showtime pay-cable series. I enjoyed it and got caught up with the stories of three sisters whose loyalty to family is often tested but unflinching. But the R-rated elements language, sex, nudity are unnecessary distractions.
The performances, especially by the women who lead the cast Nicole Ari Parker, Malinda Williams and Vanessa Williams are excellent, and the stories are often compelling. Too bad the producers didn't have enough confidence in the stories to forego the excessive sex. (By the way, the Vanessa Williams here is not Vanessa L. Williams, who starred in the movie version; and she plays a different sister.)
"The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Vol 1: The Empty House/The Abbey Grange" (MPI, 1986, not rated, $14.98).
"The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 2: The Second Stain/The Six Napoleons" (MPI, 1986, not rated, $14.98).
"The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 3: The Priory School/Wisteria Lodge" (MPI, 1986, not rated, $14.98).
These discs are from the third Holmes series that starred Jeremy Brett, with Edward Hardwicke making his bow as Dr. Watson. Each has two episodes, and they include some great mysteries and character interaction.
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