Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Wonder Pets: The First Rescue

Nickelodeon’s lovable superhero pets are back with another round of all-new adventures, this time celebrating a couple of key milestones. The leadoff episode is a double-length tale that recounts how the Wonder Pets met, came up with their gear and theme songs, and rescued their first animal, while a subsequent episode is a celebration of their 100th animal rescue. In between episodes zero and 100 are a handful of other charming adventures sure to captivate the younger viewers as well as their parental units.

As we learn in “How It All Began”, Linny the guinea pig was the founder of the group, meeting turtle Tuck and Ming-Ming duckling upon their arrival in her school classroom home. The three worked together to build and name their flyboat vehicle, and came up with the idea of helping other animals in trouble when they were accosted by recurring obnoxious guest star Ollie the rabbit. As if the Pets weren’t cute enough already, this episode shows them as younger, smaller, even cuter versions, and it’s great fun to see them come up with their theme song, telephone hot line, and costumes as they embark on their ongoing mission.

The 100th episode is mostly a rehash clip show with a brief rescue of a mouse, and as such is a fairly weak outing. There’s also a Mother’s Day-themed episode with no actual rescue, although the Pets visit a few other animal mothers on their way to Linny’s grandma’s house.

The Pets venture outside the animal kingdom with their assistance as well, helping out with entertainment at their returning space alien friend The Visitor’s birthday party and counseling a mermaid with an identity crisis. That leaves only two fully traditional animal assistance efforts: a sun bear and a rhino. The rhino episode is one of the strongest thematically as it explores shyness in kids as the young rhino struggles to reach out to make friends with an elephant.

Wonder Pets isn’t the most educational of shows when it comes to readin’, writin’, or ‘rithmetic basics, but as an introduction to manners, teamwork, and interpersonal relationships it’s hard to beat. It’s also got some of the strongest and catchiest songwriting of any show, with each episode operating as a mini-musical.

Of special note, this DVD is actually a DVD-R, and although I received no documentation about this change in format with my review copy, it appears to be an environmentally-conscious effort to burn on demand rather than oversupply the marketplace. That’s fine for most people, but if you have an older DVD player or PC drive, you may be unable to play this release. There are also no bonus features, trailers, or even copyright warnings before the title screen, making this disc feel even more like a bootleg. I’m happy to get right into the episode action when I load the disc, but a disclaimer may be warranted next time around to assuage any parental anxiety about this diversion from the Nickelodeon norm.

Wonder Pets: The First Rescue is now available.

Article first published as DVD Review: Wonder Pets: The First Rescue on

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Monday, May 03, 2010

True Blood: The Complete Second Season

The sleepy, swampy town of Bon Temps, LA, gets a fresh infusion of weirdness in season two of True Blood. Sure, the vampires and werewolf are still there, but this time around a fanatical church has set up shop with the aim of eliminating the vampire threat by any means necessary. That doesn’t mean the humans are any safer, since the town also get visited by a near-immortal succubus-type creature who works her way into the community as a brainwashing party starter coercing the citizens to do her bidding while also throwing all of their inhibitions and clothes out the window.

The second season also continues its exploration of the central romance between Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) and Vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer), but the subplots and supporting character focuses completely change from season one, making the show feel entirely new. Where season one got lots of mileage out of flamboyantly gay cook Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) and Sookie’s brassy, sassy best friend Tara (Rutina Wesley), season two finds both of them almost completely toothless, with Lafayette captive, unglamorous and scared in the early episodes and Tara brainwashed in love all season. While it’s really a shame to see them so underutilized and out of character, it opens the show to fresh directions rather than falling into a total rut.

Sookie’s dimwit brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) still gets to burn up screen time with his comedic antics, this time in service to the church, while Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) continues his shape-shifting second life, but there’s a void in the previous supporting framework that gets filled by the arrival of prime baddie Maryann Forrester (Michelle Forbes) and the towering emergence of returning season one character Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard), a vampire rival for Sookie’s affections. Out of all the characters and subplots fighting for attention in this heady gumbo, Skarsgard’s Eric rises to the top as the most fascinating of all, making this season a truly star-making turn for him.

The True Blood DVD box set includes all 12 season two episodes along with a couple of bonus features that expand on the mythology of the show. “Fellowship of the Sun: Reflections of Light” gives viewers more insight into rules to live by from the fictional church leaders Steve and Sarah Newlin, while “The Vampire Report: Special Edition” is a faux news magazine that spotlights the year’s top stories in vampire culture. The box set also includes audio commentaries with cast and crew including creator Alan Ball, Paquin, Moyer, and Skarsgard.

True Blood: The Complete Second Season is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download on May 25th, 2010.

Article first published as DVD Review: True Blood: The Complete Second Season on

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