In the world of show business, there is a lot of material for comedy. And The Office (the British television show) creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant use every last one of the opportunities for humor until the well is dry and until the audience is laughing so hard they cannot get off the couch to put the next disc in. Again, Gervais acts in the series also, as he did in The Office and his comic timing is just brilliant. He plays a struggling actor who makes a living as an extra in movies and TV. Unlike most extras, his character sees all of his “extra” roles as small, bit parts which will lead to larger and better roles. Naturally, this is not always the case, which adds to much of the humor. A series of “real” famous actors as guest stars helps make this comedy series a real winner.

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Dexter is one of those GREAT stories that you just cannot seem to stop watching. Even when it gets a little too gory for my taste, I find myself unable to turn the TV off. Most of this, I would say, could be attributed to the writing. All of the characters are VERY well-structured. Not that this show is realistic…which is really is not…but at least the characters (for the most part) are. Dexter himself, played by Michael C. Hall, is a loveable loser kind of guy…at first. And even when he shows us his darker (MUCH darker) side, we still see him as the perfect underdog. I mean, the guy kills people…yes, only BAD people…but still. He’s a killer. He’s serial murderer. And I still find myself drawn to him. Go figure. Season two seemed even sharper (no “knife” pun intended) than the first…so I have high hopes the remaining seasons of this show will continue to be top-notch.

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It took me a little while to get into my first season of Cracker Mysteries but once I did, I couldn’t stop. Robbie Coltrane is simply perfect as the highly-flawed psychologist, Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald. I mean, he’s smart and good at “seeing” into people’s minds and souls to help solve cases, but this guy really has a messed up life. He drinks too much, he gambles uncontrollably and his marriage is usually on the rocks (because of the gambling and drinking). But, somehow, someone that is that messed up can really pull it together when it comes to solving crimes. And he not only is able to help the police find the right man or woman, but he also helps the criminals themselves by being able to help them work out their demons. After all, Fitz knows a lot about inner demons…he has more than his fair share himself.

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Before you assume that this review is about that silly American television show that came and went in 2003, think again. This is the British BBC show that gave us silly Americans the idea for our paltry version. My guess on the reason the American version didn’t fly (aside from the fact that it just was not good): prime time network television. Like HBO’s raunchy and sexual Sex and the City, Coupling revolves around what 30-somethings do or don’t do in the bedroom. American TV is not ready for something like this to be shown on a major network in prime time. Thankfully, Americans now have the chance to see the BBC comedy on DVD. Coupling is a smart, risqué, show that challenges any viewer to think about her or his own relationship(s). There are six major players, all of whom deal with their own battles of lack of sex, volume of sex, fears of commitment, worries about never finding their soul mate…etc. The men have one view and, of course, the women another. Together, they clash sometimes and get it right others. Unlike Sex and the City, this show is more about talking about sex, rather than showing it. But, the conversations alone, given how sharp and witty the dialogue is, provide for enough humor to go around…with some left over to spare.

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For a British police show with a female main character, comparisons will always be made to Prime Suspect, the Helen Mirren series that has won over audiences all over the world, in addition to accolade after accolade for Ms. Mirren. In Blue Murder, DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) Janine Lewis is tough (like Mirren), has problems with her supervisors because she’s a woman (like Mirren), and also has issues controlling and getting respect from her staff because she’s a woman (like Mirren). What makes Lewis stand out above the other detective shows, including Mirren, is that this female detective is a single mother, which gives her even more complications and more of an edge than Mirren’s character. A great series that is for anyone who likes cop shows…with either male or female leads.

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Edina and Patsy, the two main characters of Ab Fab are two of the funniest, rudest, crudest, most vulgar ladies ever to hit the TV screen. And, I love every second of it. Somehow, they both convey a sweet, sensitive side…mostly because of their tight, though highly dysfunctional, friendship. They are former Hippies who never really “out grew” the 1960s…they still think they are flower children, yet somehow they woke up in 40-50-year-old bodies (in Patsy’s case, we don’t know how old she REALLY is). Ab Fab is a British institution. It has been trying to become an American one as well, almost since it started in 1992, but it has never gotten off the ground. And if you don’t mind my two cents on why… The British, though considered stuffy and aloof (wrongly, most times), have a sense of humor (or humour) that is unexcelled in its weirdness, raunchiness and general chaotic cleverness. When The Office show appeared here, I was nervous, because the British counterpart that was such a success was nasty…really, really nasty. It made me feel uncomfortable with its unabashed humor. But, the American version has changed into a lighter comic romp…more of a skit show than a dark, devilish one. Changing Ab Fab under those same guidelines would ruin it. No question about it. You soften the characters, take the edge away, not to mention the chain smoking, drinking and harsh dialogue, and what do you have left…Roseanne? Or some similar lame sitcom that has nothing to do with the British show? Americans are not ready for Edina and Patsy. We would want to tone it down…people would not allow the smoking…and the sex talk, well “let’s put it on cable.” Even on cable, shows with certain edges have hard times finding their audience. Basically, what you and I will have to keep doing is watch the DVDs or find it on BBC America. Trust me, it’s worth all of that work.

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An excellent movie about the methodicalness and determination of the police in a small town in the Soviet Union in the 1980s in trying to track and catch a serial killer. Based on a true life case, this film shows the brutality of the USSR at the time and how, because of limited resources, detectives often found themselves undermanned and overworked. An excellent cast rounds out this fabulous film about hunting down a killer and how slow and frustrating a process it could be.

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Another Newman/Richard Russo collaboration stems, this time, from Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a dying Maine town and its sad, depressed townspeople. Set in a former mill town, once the mill closed, the people of Empire Falls had nothing to do but be unemployed and desperate. Ed Harris plays main character Miles Roby, who is one of the stronger citizens of Empire Falls, considering he runs the local Empire Grill. But, this life is far from idyllic. Filled, like the novel, with an array of fun, colorful characters, this mini-series is not from one of Russo’s best works, in my opinion, but it still is a strong story that lends itself flawlessly to the screen.

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The only way Dustin Hoffman can get work as an actor is to become a woman, which he does to get a role on a soap opera. At first, it is only temporary, but after his character improves the show greatly, they sign him on for a longer stint. When he falls for co-star Jessica Lange (who won a supporting Oscar for her role as a lonely single-mother and actress), he needs to stop the charade…but can he? Directed by Sidney Pollack, who has a small role in the film, as well as a young Bill Murray, who steals his scenes with his dry, deadpan humor.

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I know the point of this blog is to highlight films on DVD — and the 2009 version of State of Play is still in theaters, as of today (May 6, 2009). But, the 2003 BBC production of this story is on DVD — and Niles owns it. So, in the meantime, while you’re waiting for the 2009 version to hit Niles’ shelves on DVD, do yourself a favor and check out the 2003 version. I’m not saying it’s better than the new version — it’s just different. More intense and more gripping — mostly because it’s 6 hours — compared the the new version’s 2 hour running time.

A well-done, intense political thriller that delves deep into the heart of British politics and journalism. Two friends…one a writer at a major London newspaper and the other a member of Parliament…get entwined in a series of twists and turns that do not let up until the very end. Extremely well-acted, this series will keep you guessing until the final scene…literally. In addition to the great performances, the writing is top-notch…fast and intense — the fast-paced script crackles with wit and is chocked filled with details about politics and insights on the “rag” trade. For anyone who likes thrillers, this one is a must see!

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