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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Military > Spy > TV > Mail Call - Best of Season One (A&E DVD)

Mail Call - Best of Season One


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Episodes: B+



In one of TV’s big surprises, and few bright spots of late, The History Channel has come up with a real winner with Mail Call.  The title refers to the traditional distribution of mail to troops, but here, it is a series that answers questions about how the various branches of the military operate and with what.  Besides being extremely well-written, the real coup of the series is host R. Lee Ermey.


The actor forever immortalized in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 masterpiece Full Metal Jacket as an uncompromising drill sergeant, Ermey has been appearing in feature films since Francis Coppola’s equally brilliant Apocalypse Now (both versions) and in Sidney J. Furie’s less-seen The Boys from Company C (1978) among others.  As a matter of fact, he is so recognizable; a majority of people who recognize him at the time of this writing still cannot tell you his name.


That may be slowly changing, because this exceptional show has quickly become the highest-rated series in The History Channel.  Ermey is perfect as a host because he has a great sense of humor, presence, knowledge beyond the write-ups, and is the epitome of success in having a military career.  He makes for a great contrast to the long, rich, and ever-remarkable history of how technology and operations have been constantly improved and refined.  The fall and retirement of great gadgets is just as impressive and makes for a great tribute to unsung successes that may now finally be declassified.


In this respect, it is nearly like watching a show about spies and espionage, and it liberally crosses over into that territory often enough.  However, it is an expansive record of how far the U.S. Military has gone in doing what it takes to be the best in the world.  We hear so many bad stories about what goes wrong, that it is terrific (9/11/01 attacks, Vietnam, or not) to see all the things that have worked.  The best part is how very experimental that various military branches have been willing to be in coming up with new things that might be useful and could (or could not) catch on.


This DVD includes the following installments by subject:


1)     Grenade Launchers to Jet Packs

2)     Bazookas to the 21 Gun Salute

3)     Grenades to Tunnel Rats

4)     Cannoneers to Clearing Minefields

5)     Body Armor to WWI Pilots

6)     Knights’ Armor to Land Mines

7)     Coast Guard Ships to WWII V-Mail



The full screen, color images are from analog videotape with the usual varying image quality due to the documentary nature of the series.  The transfer is a tad less sharp than expected otherwise, for being a recent analog videotape production, but looks good enough just the same.  The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, but it is simple and clear stereo.  There is not really any surround activity either.  Extras on this first DVD are few, but include a brief biography of Ermey and “Larger Than Life” promo spots that launched the show so well.


There is always something interesting, fun, and even exciting to learn from this show.  It is one of the few hits today that truly deserves its success.  Once again, Cable/Satellite has outdone Network TV, while I doubt we would see this show on PBS for reasons too numerous to go into at this time.


Either way, this is a winner and is bound to become a TV classic, so be sure to catch it.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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