Wolverine & the X-Men: The Complete Series

It’s hard to imagine another “X-Men” series ever eclipsing the popular cartoon from the 90s, but “Wolverine & the X-Men” comes pretty close thanks to some great storytelling and gorgeous character design. The season-long story arc is especially impressive considering it manages to connect several different subplots in a way that doesn’t feel too forced. The main story follows Wolverine as he takes control of the X-Men after a mysterious explosion leaves Professor Xavier in a coma, all while Xavier speaks to him telepathically from the future to help prevent the doomsday event that’s about to occur in the present. Meanwhile, a brooding Cyclops spends his days searching for Jean Grey after she suddenly goes missing during the attack on the X-Mansion, and Magneto forms an army of mutants on Genosha to fight against the impending threat of Senator Kelly’s Sentinel Project.

Some of the other X-Men get their time to shine as well – like Rogue’s early arc involving her defection to the Brotherhood of Mutants, and Nightcrawler’s romance with the Scarlet Witch – but this is still first and foremost Wolverine’s show. And though I understand why the creators would want to thrust him into the spotlight (he is, after all, one of Marvel’s most popular characters), it’s a bit much. There are even some episodes that include him when he’s not needed, and it’s one of the reasons why the series starts to drag towards the end of the season. Still, the writers have done a nice job of integrating classic stories from all eras of the X-Men comics into the show, and the Age of Apocalypse cliffhanger in the season finale would have made for a great sophomore year. Unfortunately, Season Two got scrapped due to some financier problems, which is why this set is being called The Complete Series. It’s a shame someone else didn’t swoop in to save it from cancellation, because while “Wolverine & the X-Men” certainly had its problems (namely, Wolverine’s overbearing presence), it’s a show that was clearly made with comic book fans in mind.

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Family Guy: Partial Terms of Endearment

Between the piecemeal volume sets and the “Star Wars” parody episodes, Fox has made a mint screwing over the fans of “Family Guy.” You know, the ones that helped bring it back from cancellation? And apparently, they’re not afraid to admit it, because it takes pretty big balls to release a 23-minute episode on DVD just because it never aired on TV. The episode in question, “Partial Terms of Endearment,” was supposedly deemed too controversial by Fox and pulled from their schedule. But after watching the episode – which finds Lois agreeing to be a surrogate mother for a couple, only to consider abortion after they’re killed in a car accident days after conception – it’s really not as bad as you’d think. In fact, I wouldn’t put it past Fox to have created the media frenzy themselves just so they could put out a DVD.

It’s hard to imagine anyone paying $10 for a single episode (especially when they could have easily included it in the next volume set as a bonus), which is too bad, because it’s one of the funnier episodes in years, with an awesome Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote gag and lines like “Wow, thanks a lot for 9/11, abortion enthusiasts!” The addition of extras like an audio commentary, a live table read, and “Seth & Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show” is supposed to make you feel better about the high price tag, but it won’t. Rent it from Netflix or, if you absolutely must, find it online for free.

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Wonders of the Solar System

Those who basked in the wonders of “Planet Earth” and its follow-up “Life” would do well to delve into this frequently mind-blowing five hour series from the Beeb, hosted by physicist (and ex-rock star) Professor Brian Cox. “Wonders of the Solar System” is a triumph of both education and entertainment. On solar eclipses, Cox explains: “The sun is 400 times the diameter of the moon. And by sheer coincidence, it’s 400 times further away from the Earth. There’s something like between 145 and 167 moons in the solar system, depending on how you’re counting, but none of them produces such perfect eclipses as the Earth’s moon.” He then goes to India to partake in a breathtaking total solar eclipse in the presence of a massive, fervent crowd. Cox marvels, “That’s the solar system comin’ down and grabbin’ you by the throat!”

The youthful professor trots all over the globe, using locations and incidents on Earth such as volcanoes, the Grand Canyon, tornadoes and the Northern Lights to practically explain what the rest of the planets in our solar system are actually like. The series also mixes satellite photography and gorgeous CGI that give plenty of insight into our neighboring worlds. When it really comes down to it, though, it’s Cox’s enthusiasm, intelligence, and unexpected bursts of humor that give “Wonders of the Solar System” an edge over other, similar documentary series. It’s a pleasure to have this man as a living, breathing guide as opposed to an unseen narrator. The only area where the series comes up a little short is in the aforementioned CGI department, as a fair amount of it manages to be recycled perhaps a few too many times. There are two extra programs (presented in SD) entitled “What on Earth is Wrong with Gravity?” and “Do You Know What Time It Is?,” which brings the total running time of the set up to almost seven hours. While watching this material, I kept thinking, “If I’d been able to see this kind of stuff in high school, I probably wouldn’t have fallen asleep in science class.”

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Titan Maximum: Season One

Very few shows cram as many laughs into as few minutes as “Robot Chicken” manages on a weekly basis, so when Adult Swim announced the latest stop-motion project from two of the show’s creators – Matt Senreich and Tom Root – it looked like the late-night network had another hit on its hands. But despite pooling the talent of several “Robot Chicken” all-stars (including Seth Green and Breckin Meyer), “Titan Maximum” falls flat on its embarrassingly unfunny face. Unlike the sketch comedy format of its predecessor, “Titan Maximum” features a contained narrative about a group of heroes called the Titan Force Five that pilot the titular robot in order to protect Earth from a never-ending onslaught of danger. It’s essentially a parody of every giant robot show ever made – although as a child of the 80s, it’s hard to compare it to anything other than “Voltron” due to the color-coded cast of characters.

But while the show shares the same comedic flavor of “Robot Chicken,” it’s just not as funny in an extended format. Unable to draw on decades of pop culture, the writers are forced to rely on the interactions between its characters, which are pretty one-dimensional. Heck, one of the newest recruits is a monkey who doesn’t even speak, and although it’s funny the first couple times they cut to him for a reaction shot, the gag get old really quick. Meyer and Green both have fun in their respective roles as the narcissistic team leader of Titan Force Five and his former right-hand man turned adversary, but the rest of the cast is more annoying than anything else. At least Warner Bros. was kind enough to load up the DVD release with lots of extras – including commentaries on all nine episodes, cast and crew interviews, production featurettes and more – because it would have been hard to even recommend to fans of the show if they hadn’t.

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Saturday Night Live: The Best of Will Ferrell, Volume III

Considering that even the biggest stars “SNL” has ever produced only have one ‘Best of’ collection to their names, it’s a testament to Will Ferrell’s versatility that Universal is giving him his third compilation (well, that and the fact that Ferrell is bar none the biggest star “SNL” has produced in 20 years). From the looks of “The Best of Will Ferrell, Vol. III,” however, it’s starting to look like they may be coming close to the bottom of the well. The set is funny, mind you – it includes arguably the best cheerleader skit of all, at the chess match – and you can never go wrong with a “Celebrity Jeopardy” skit. They even include the oddball “Do You Like Luxury?” skit, which only Ferrell could make funny. However, the inclusion of a “Lawrence Welk” skit is a big minus (that should have been saved for a “Best of Kristen Wiig” DVD, God help us), and the “Inside the Actor’s Studio” skits are only as good as the honoree, and while Abby Elliott has her good points, her Drew Barrymore impression does not leave much of a…well, you know. The warm-up performance of Green Day singing “East Jesus Nowhere,” with Ferrell rocking the cowbell and even taunting Billie Joe (“Does this song ever end?”), is a great extra, though. Pity they couldn’t get him to do an audio commentary; those have always been as entertaining on the other best-of DVDs as the skits themselves.

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