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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Drugs > Police Procedural > Crime > Western > Detective > Canadian TV > British > TV > Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season (2011/Sony DVD Set)/Hell On Wheels: The Complete First Season (2011/E1 Blu-ray set)/Monroe: Series One (2011/Acorn DVD Set)/Murdoch Mysteries: Season Four (201

Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season (2011/Sony DVD Set)/Hell On Wheels: The Complete First Season (2011/E1 Blu-ray set)/Monroe: Series One (2011/Acorn DVD Set)/Murdoch Mysteries: Season Four (2011/Acorn Blu-ray + DVD Sets)


Picture: C+/B/C+/B- & C+     Sound: C+/B/B-/B & B-     Extras: C+/C+/D/C     Episodes: C+/B-/B/C+



If you have been looking for intelligent TV shows to catch, here are four to consider…




I am a little surprised it has made it this far, but first we have Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season (2011), a comedy about a one-time chemistry teacher who has become so immersed in illegal substance creation and distribution that he likely at this point of the series sees the rest of his life as far behind him.  He is played by Bryan Cranston, who is one of the main reasons the show continues, proving to be a very talented actor who has propelled the show even when it has not always worked.  This set has 13 hour-long shows over four DVDs.


Especially in this case, it is best you start with the first season, but it is a show that I have thought could break out and be great, but is in a steady holding pattern that is good for its fans at least.  Aaron Paul, Giancarlo Esposito, Anna Gunn and Dean Norris are among the fine supporting cast at this point and it is at least a quality show telling a story, which seems more rare every time I turn around and turn the HDTV.  Extras include FACE OFF – inside the explosive finale, Gag Reel, Gale’s Karaoke Video, 13 cast/crew commentaries, 8 featurettes on the making of this season, Deleted Scenes, Extended Version of the Season Finale, “Better Call Saul” commercials, 21 episodes of Inside Breaking Bad, 5 Uncensored Episodes and Extended & Alternate Scenes, which is a huge, nice number of extras.


For more on the show, start with this link, which will take you to all of our additional coverage as well:





Faring even a little better is a new Western series that also happens to air on the AMC cable network, Hell On Wheels: The Complete First Season (2011), which is actually shot in Canada and on film (as seen in the behind the scenes footage despite claims this is only an HD shoot) and is the first such production since Deadwood on HBO, showing how rare the genre shows up as a series on TV anymore.  The good news is that the series, which is essentially a Revenge Western show, is pretty good and has some archetypes and even clichés, but also some edge to it which helps make it work.  The man seeking revenge this time is Anson Mount as Cullen Bohannan, who wants to avenge the death of his wife in the 10 hour-long shows that make up this debut season.


It does not do much new with the genre, but being made in Canada gives it an unusual look and supporting actors like Colm Meaney and Tom Noonan are a plus, though music’s Common seems out of place as a liberated African American at a time with much uglier racism and people acting out their hatreds more readily.  An even odder item is that a railroad is being built here, but we do not see many Chinamen and they often did the labor without getting credit or even being photographed.  This is where the show gets into authenticity trouble.  Otherwise, it is worth a look, especially if you like Westerns.


The extras are often low definition and editing (including sound editing) can be sloppy, but they include a promo trailer for the series, Crashing A Train piece running about 3.5 minutes, a Making Of piece on Recreating The Past running about 17 minutes and three sets of other featurettes: Character (seven running about 13 minutes), Episode (on all 10 running about 53 minutes) and more Making Of (seven running just over 33 minutes)




The biggest surprise here however is one fans of the recently cancelled House might want to see.  Monroe: Series One (2011) is the latest show starring James Nesbitt, this time as a brain surgeon who is also joking all the time, but I was very impressed and pleased with the writing, realism, wit and pace of the show like no medical show in a while.  He has a family, tries to deal with egos at work including his own and with realistic cases.  There are only six hour-long shows here, but they are exceptional and I think it is sad no U.S. network has been smart enough to grab this one.


Nesbitt has already proved he can more than carry a series (see Murphy’s Law) and he is an actor with longtime experience, all of which pays off here.  The look and feel of the show work, the supporting cast works and this is Nesbitt’s best work yet.  I hope this is the start of a long series.  There are no extras in this set, but this is a strong debut season, something we do not see much, so know it is worth going out of your way for.



Finally we have Murdoch Mysteries: Season Four (2011), which continues the detective series with the twist that it is set over 100 years ago, making the technology, circumstances and means very different that a show set today or even 30 years ago.  Like Breaking Bad, it is in a holding pattern, is a high quality production, has 13 episodes for the season (the same number of season at that) and is a hit.  I like the show, but again, I was always hoping this could breakout into something more, but it has its audience and is sticking with what works.


Released on both Blu-ray (three discs) and DVD (four discs), extras are the same with Alternative Love Letters (2 minutes) and a Behind The Scenes featurette (15 minutes) which should be watched after seeing the episodes so nothing is ruined.  The mysteries are set up nicely enough, but the show can still be very pat and maybe too safe.  Otherwise, I like the actors and production design, so it does look good.


For more on the show, try these links for previous seasons:


One Blu-ray





Three Blu-ray





The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on all three DVD presentations are a little softer than I would have liked with some motion blur and a lack of detail that holds back what was shot.  This is evident on the 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer for Murdoch on Blu-ray which might still have some softness, but color, depth and detail improve over the DVD and it is the preferred way to watch.  Best of all is the 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Wheels, which may be styled down to sometimes being almost monochromatic, but has very little blur and much better detail, depth and range than anything else here.


The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on Breaking should be the best audio here at least on the DVDs, but by being too much towards the center channel, is the poorest performer with the most restrictions.  Why it is designed this way, I don’t know, but it is disappointing.  The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on the Acorn DVDs has healthy Pro Logic surrounds in both cases and more than expected.  However, the PCM 2.0 Stereo on the Murdoch Blu-ray is even richer and warmer than expected, whether you play it as stereo or in Pro Logic.  That leaves the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Wheels as narrowly the best here with a nice soundfield throughout and a fine match for its picture playback performance.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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