November 2014 Television Reviews
Portlandia Season 4
I am a shameless Portlandia fan, and in Season 4, Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen have only sharpened their satirical wit. One of the many strengths of the hipster-gutting series is the recurring characters, which has allowed for some surprisingly layered building on fan favorites. In particular, I am in love with Nina and Lance, the grown-up punk couple Armisen and Brownstein gender-swapped roles on; watching all the antics of their relationship is charming as hell. This season is lousy with guest stars, including Steve Buscemi as the poor sap responsible for making celery popular, Olivia Wilde as part of a group of failed ecoterrorists, and Jeff Goldblum as the Pull Out King (a sofa salesman, of course). The thing that makes Portlandia work on such a high level is the love from which the biting commentary is born. It’s not a cold look by outsiders, it’s a love poem from within. While the DVD set doesn’t have any extra features, fans can rest easy dropping 15 bucks on it; the show is as strong as ever. –Megan Kennedy
The Sopranos: The Complete Series
Enough vaunting praise has been printed and spoken in support of The Sopranos that it hardly needs an introduction. Though this was my first time watching the series, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the great writing, acting and cinematography that give this series its panache. This box set is a weighty piece of work, brimming with special features and commentary tracks that illuminate the series’ most important moments. If you’ve got the cash and really want to take your love of The Sopranos to the next level, this collection is about as comprehensive as it gets. Alec Baldwin’s two interviews with creator David Chase dive deep into the origin of the show, covering Chase’s own family and home life. However, some of these features felt a little awkward and self-aggrandizing. Specifically, the “The Real Deal” featurette serves as an excuse to have a series of old white cops nod their heads and agree that yessir, real mafia things happen in The Sopranos. Despite a few flops, most of the features succeed in bringing out the sources and subtext behind a series that spawned a whole new era of dark, gritty television. Who could ask for more? –Henry Glasheen
Top Gear: Season 21
BBC Home Entertainment
Maybe it was all of that time I spent indoors watching movies and playing video games, but I’ve never really been able to engage in discussion about cars. For me, talking about cars has always been associated with talking about things like sports and hunting rifles—areas which don’t really capture my attention for long. However, when I watch Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May offer their poetic analyses of automobiles like the Caterham 620R and the Alfa Romeo Touring Disco Volante, I’ve found that my stereotypes of so-called “car guys” gets completely destroyed. This season, guests included Tom Hiddleston, James Blunt, Aaron Paul and comedian Jack Whitehall—all of whom were subjected to a lap around the Top Gear racetrack. Aaron Paul’s fastest time made me think he wasn’t just acting during the Need for Speed film, and Whitehall—who did not know how to drive when he came on the show—offered a self-deprecating and hilarious look back at Driver’s Ed. This season featured a two-part special that took place in Burma, but I found myself missing the show’s usual format of gorgeous visual essays and guest stars, which is when the show really shines. –Alex Springer
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