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Category:    Home > Reviews > Reality TV > Animals > Rock Music > Comedy > Hollywood > Show Business > Depression > Billy The Exterminator – Season One & Season Two (2009) + Gene Simmons Family Jewels – Complete Season Four & Five (2009/A&E DVD Sets) + I’m Still Here (2010/Magnolia Blu-ray)

Billy The Exterminator – Season One & Season Two (2009) + Gene Simmons Family Jewels – Complete Season Four & Five (2009/A&E DVD Sets) + I’m Still Here (2010/Magnolia Blu-ray)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Episodes/Main Program: B-/C+/C



Can all “reality TV” be bad?  Well, 99% of it is, in part because it pretends to be journalistically credible in its approach (says something about how sloppy some mainstream TV news is looking these days) and never tells you explicitly when anything is manipulated or scripted.  However, five new releases (from three sources) shows that sometimes, things come through (albeit rarely) that usually would not.


The first is a new show called Billy The Exterminator, following the work of professional animal, pest and other creature handler Billy Bretherton.  Since the situations here are usually very serious, there is not much need to pump up the editing or up the fake situations.  In his first two seasons (13 half-hours in the first season, 21 in the second), we get to see just how hard people like him work (that is, the ones that don’t secretly make the situation worse so they can get more money out of their clients) to resolve some bad situations.  Some are even deadly.


The creatures he encounters in this short space alone includes bees, raccoons, snakes, alligators, possums, spiders, rattlesnakes, bobcats, roaches, beavers, skunks, mice, yellowjackets, squirrels, bats and skunks.  With his family backing him, this former U.S. Air Sergeant takes on just about anything.  It can get gross, yet you also feel bad for the creatures who have simply lost their way as the constant line is redrawn (if possible) between civilization and nature.  This can be repetitious, but is interesting, though some people might not be able to handle certain creature footage.


In speaking of bats and creatures of the night, Gene Simmons Family Jewels has far surpassed the overrated Osbournes show as the best look at a Rock Music family, even if this can be as manipulative as its predecessor.  Entering their forth and fifth seasons, son Nick and daughter Sophie are getting older and tend to be comic naturals throughout the series.  Wife/Mother Shannon Tweed continues to be the moral center of the madness and Gene continues to do what he thinks will bets serve the KISS legacy and his bank account.


The sets have 18 and 17 half-hour shows that when you see through the noise and quick editing down points, is entertaining viewing for a little while.  In this case, there are things not being looked at or discussed about KISS or the early days of Gene and Shannon, but maybe they’ll get to that sometime.  I also think that Gene does not always understand the full extent of the KISS legacy in profound ways because it is always currently expanding.  Hmm.


Finally, there is Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here (2010), as supposed look at Joaquin Phoenix in trouble in a work that tries to say that the world has turned on him when he needed the world most or that if he showed he was in trouble, no one would care.  Well, though the program does not address this, it is said that Phoenix had trouble personally after playing Johnny Cash in the hit film Walk The Line.  Whether it was drug addiction, a nervous breakdown and/or just general burnout, here he is not well or happy.


From there, we go through his infamous appearances where he was out of it, the critiques that followed and then when he continued to make ill-advised such appearances, the cascade of satires, spoofs and mockeries of him throughout the media.  It was not a problem he decided he could do wrap music, just another action that caused further confusion.


You see, he is a very gifted actor, even more so that his also-talented director.  By responding to the work, I am likely playing along with this madness to some extent, but that will not be the case when I am done here.


For starters, this is about trashing the good will of audiences and Hollywood, not testing people to see how empathetic or pathetic they are.  People still miss Joaquin’s brother River Phoenix, who like Heath Ledger left us far too soon and with the awful quality of most films, their loss (among many) has profoundly hurt the quality of filmmaking and acting in ways no one wants to talk about.  Joaquin has proven over and over he is a good actor and is star was on the rise, but if this made him unhappy, he should have just quietly stepped aside until he had a good break from things.  Instead, we get this, which looks like a stunt, though he and Affleck claim no one contacted them to see if he was really sick or not.


If he was, people inside the business knew who he was with and if he was in trouble, Affleck should have checked him into a hospital (especially if Joaquin or his other friends did not) and he could have received help from there, but all this supposed documentary confirmed is that his troubles were more of a fiasco than any real trouble or danger to Joaquin, which only confirms the disbelief and general conclusion that this was more a senseless stunt than a real crisis.


If Joaquin was sick of being some kind of nice guy stereotype, there is a very long list of things he could have done to change that, including acting like an outright jerk.  No matter the degree of intention, this is an act of self-destruction and career suicide which creates nothing but bad will and makes all involved (especially Phoenix and Affleck) look like ingrates with too much money and success who could care less about themselves, the business or anyone else, so how they could be the least bit surprised at the backlash (which may extend to Ben Affleck’s The Town getting critical snubs all over the place, already happening as you read this) is the most stunning development of all.


Worst of all, they could not have done this at a worse time when so many people are hurting in real life and when they see this, those watching feel that they are being made fun of and mocked.  Maybe those upset with this whole fiasco should do a responsive documentary called We’re Still Here, Stop Hating Us.  I truly hope Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck and company are doing well because I like them (even outside of their solid on-screen work), but the whole thing is a perpetual insult to us all and slap in the face to us all, including those actors who are gone too soon.



The letterboxed 1.78 X 1 image on the A&E releases are a little weak and oddly not here in anamorphically enhanced versions, but they are passable and watchable, while the 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Here is mixed, composed of new HD footage (not shot in the best way or on the best HD cameras), plus edited with all kinds of other analog and digital video, so this is all over the place and inconsistent.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on the DVDs are just fine for location recordings and simple stereo where the music is usually the sonic highlight, which is typical of these type of A&E shows.  The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 on Here has more location audio issues, degraded audio (sometimes on purpose) from those locations and regarded along with video that can be second generation and worse, so making this 5.1 (and lossless for that matter) is really stretching it.


Extras on Billy includes behind the scenes featurettes (3 on the first set, six on the second) and Jewels has Additional Footage on both of its sets, while Here adds two feature length audio commentary tracks with Casey Affleck, one solo, the other joined by Phoenix and 8 others involved in the project, plus a tie-in interview from the Extra series (another very bad move for Joaquin Phoenix), two Audio Conversation pieces (one from Extra, the other from with Phoenix and Affleck joined by journalist Christine Spines and Alternate Ending Outtakes that include yet more commentary by Affleck, though this is optional.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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