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Action Packed: T.V. Sets DVD Review

Buy Action Packed: T.V. Sets Special DVD Collection from Amazon.com Action Packed (1966-2003)
Series & DVD Details

Featured Series: "Walker, Texas Ranger", "NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service", "MacGyver", "Mission: Impossible"

Directors: Virgil W. Vogel, Donald P. Bellisario, Alan Smithee, Bernard L. Kowalski / Writers and Creators: Louise McCarn, Albert S. Ruddy, Leslie Grief, Paul Haggis, Christopher Canaan, Donald P. Bellisario, Don McGill, Thackary Pallor, Bruce Geller

Cast: Chuck Norris (Cordell Walker), Clarence Gilyard (Jimmy Trivette), Gailard Sartain (C.D. Parker), Sheree J. Wilson (Alex Cahill), Floyd Red Crow Westerman (Uncle Ray), Marshall Teague (Orson Wade), Elya Baskin (Misha), Rhoda Gemignani (Yelena), James Drury (Captain Tom Price), Mark Harmon (Jethro Gibbs), Sasha Alexander (Kate Todd), Michael Weatherly (Anthony DiNozzo), Pauley Perrette (Abby Sciuto), David McCallum (Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard), Joe Spano (T.C. Fornell), Alan Dale (NCIS Director Tom Morrow), Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver), Michael Lerner (Ed Gantner), Dana Elcar (Andy Colson), Paul Stewart (Dr. Carl Steubens), Michael C. Gwynne (Dr. Burke), Michael Fairman (General Relkwin), Shavar Ross (Reggie), Darlanne Fluegel (Barbara Spencer), Steven Hill (Daniel Briggs), Barbara Bain (Cinnamon Carter), Greg Morris (Barney Collier), Peter Lupus (Willy Armitage), Martin Landau (Rollin Hand), Wally Cox (Terry Targo), Harry Davis (Alisio), Paul Micale (Desk Clerk), Patrick Campbell (Day Vault Clerk), Fredric Villani (Night Vault Clerk)

Running Time: 237 Minutes (4 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen, 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono/Stereo/Surround (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Airdates: September 1966 - September 2003
DVD Release Date: May 26, 2009; Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
Black Keepcase; Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)

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There are literally thousands of television series that have been treated to DVD releases. Most of these DVDs have been complete season sets. Such releases work great for fervent fans, who of course will want to own all the episodes of their favorite programs. Beyond them, you would think an industry so hellbent on keeping their long-growing profits up would see a lucrative potential market in the less devoted. Those who like shows enough to sit through commercials for reruns and who may very well want to own a taste,
but don't feel like spending $20-$40 on a single season. "Best Of" collections might work for these people, but few studios have tried them. Even fewer have put together multi-show samplers, although that seems like a great way to deliver content and variety at a low cost. I'm pretty sure you can count the number of such retail-released compilations on two hands.

In possession of the rich CBS television library, Paramount Home Entertainment already tried its hand at such a beast in Holiday Treats: T.V. Sets, a disc gathering Christmas episodes of eight popular sitcoms. Originally a Best Buy exclusive, it came to all stores and e-tailers last fall. Amazon's current sales ranking for that DVD (a lowly 45,572nd) suggests it didn't generate enormous profits. (In fairness, though, how many people are going to buy a $10 holiday DVD online in May?) Nevertheless, the studio drums up two more similar releases at the end of this month. Instead of a holiday theme, these new discs simply gather series' debut episodes.

Action Packed: T.V. Sets collects the premieres of four hour-long drama series known for their mystery, suspense, and thrills.

We get our very first close-up of Cordell Walker (Chuck Norris) looking tough in the double-length pilot "One Riot, One Ranger." Original "Mission: Impossible" protagonist Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) seeks the codes to unlock the Santa Costa dictator's illegal nuclear warheads.

Playing first is "Walker, Texas Ranger." Headlined and produced by Chuck Norris, that law enforcement series spent eight seasons (1993-2001) airing Saturday nights on CBS. It's the show most evoked by the DVD's cover art, which features shattered glass in front of a clenched fist. (Fun fact: Did you know that the quickest way to a man's heart is with Chuck Norris's fist?) Walker's first outing ran two hours (counting commercials), amounting to half of the show's short Season 1.

Slightly older but as ripe for satirizing is "MacGyver." Now parodied in the uninspired "MacGruber" sketches of "Saturday Night Live" and Pepsi commercials, this series spent all but one of its seven seasons in ABC's 8 PM Monday timeslot. It starred Richard Dean Anderson as a practical problem solver who defied death with his perfect blend of brain and brawn.

In between those two, we get the only active show featured. "NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service" debuted in the fall of 2003, having been introduced the previous spring in back-to-back episodes of "JAG." The Mark Harmon-topped military series has consistently ranked among the 20 or 30 most-watched primetime network shows. More than halfway to its origin's final 227 episode tally, "NCIS" will soon conclude its sixth season, having recently launched a spin-off of its own ("NCIS: Legend").

The disc closes with the pilot to "Mission: Impossible", the 1966-73 CBS espionage drama that is now less familiar to the public than the three Tom Cruise action flicks it inspired.

Walker, Texas Ranger always gets what he wants, even if arms have to be twisted. NCIS veteran Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) suspiciously eyes Secret Service agent Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander) on their first time working together.

1. Walker, Texas Ranger: "One Riot, One Ranger" (1:34:14) (Originally aired April 21, 1993)

Cordell Walker (Chuck Norris) makes a real hero's entrance, turning up in a Mexico bar to single-handedly dispense of four bad guys technically out of his jurisdiction.
Nonchalantly telling the border guard of the "dirty laundry" in his pickup truck's bed, he returns to Dallas to have a governor friend give him a pass with the DA (Alex Cahill).

After his innocent partner is killed by bank robbers (whose guns make security cameras bleed), Walker gets a new-fashioned new partner in former NFL player Jimmy Trivette (Clarence Gilyard Jr.). Their first job together -- trying to thwart those explosive robbers before they strike again -- forms the bulk of this pilot. Also, Walker and his Native American Uncle Ray (Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman) open up their home to a trio of circus performers to protect a trapeze artist rape victim (who seems to have posed for "before" and "after" evidence photos).

Like the two hundred that would follow, much of this double-length episode is plot and procedure. But we do get backstories on Walker (who recounts watching his parents stabbed to death) and Trivette (who credits "The Lone Ranger" as an inspiration growing up in Baltimore). The episode title refers to the Texas Ranger motto.

In the closing tag, Walker rides a bull for a homeless children's charity, something bar owner/retired ranger C.D. ropes him into. Though he sounds and acts the same as always, C.D. is played here by Gailard Sartain; Noble Willingham would assume the role in the following fall's season premiere.

2. NCIS: "Yankee White" (44:13) (Originally aired September 23, 2003)

When a healthy rookie Navy commander suddenly dies after eating lunch with President Bush on Air Force One, various law enforcement agencies compete for jurisdiction over the case. Leading the charge are experienced NCIS agent Leroy Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and Secret Servicewoman Kate Todd (Sasha Alexander), whose methods clash in playful ways. The puzzle grows more confounding when other soldiers start experiencing fatal strokes.

This feels like a mix of "JAG" with "CSI", something I say without having seen much of either show. "NCIS" is another CBS drama with which I'm unfamiliar. While it's technically more polished than its older company on this disc, it seems a bit hokey with its banter and quirky forensic specialists. Maybe it gets better, but at least it's pretty watchable in its start.

Triple your nicotine, triple your fun? MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) smokes three cigarettes but only to illuminate the lasers that stand in his way. Whether he's playing the Caribbean dictator or master of disguises Rollin Hand impersonating him, one thing is certain: Martin Landau looks scary in his "Mission: Impossible" pilot makeup.

3. MacGyver: "Pilot" (48:09) (Originally aired September 29, 1985)

MacGyver's story begins in present-day Asia, where through voiceover he tells a golden palomino story while boldly rescuing a prisoner of war. After that disjointed prologue (once a regular feature of the show), the episode enlists MacGyver to rescue trapped workers from highly-secured science lab whose explosion has severe consequences for the entire state.

This setup is just what we need to admire MacGyver's resourcefulness, as he uses cigarettes, chocolate bars, and a homemade bomb to beat the clock, odds, and deadly gas fumes. Our hero is accompanied by research student Barbara Spencer (Darlanne Fluegel) who doubles as love interest number one. Near the end, a red graphic counts down what little time MacGyver has (and, of course, needs) to save the day.

The episode was directed by Alan Smithee, the pseudonym used for decades by dissatisfied directors. Come on, it's not that bad.

4. Mission: Impossible: "Pilot" (50:13) (Originally aired September 17, 1966)

Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) and his team of IMF (Impossible Mission Forces) agents travel to the Caribbean nation of Santa Costa (read "Cuba"), where they aim to seize two illegal nuclear warheads from an impenetrable hotel vault. The original series regulars -- attention-grabbing model Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), electronics expert Barney Collier (Greg Morris), and strongman Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus) -- are joined by two skilled allies. Regular-to-be Martin Landau (Bain's husband at the time) guest stars as both master of disguise Rollin Hand and the country's feared dictator, donning ghastly make-up much of the time. One-time guest Wally Cox plays expert safecracker Terry Targo.

The initial cast of "Mission: Impossible" is not the most familiar one. Steven Hill's Orthodox religious observances would prove to be a challenge to production. After one season, Peter Graves would take over the lead as Jim Phelps, a role at the foreground of Seasons 2-7, ABC's 1988-1990 revival (again played by Graves), and in the 1996 Cruise film (portrayed by Jon Voight). While the cast would change, Lalo Schifrin's theme music was in place from the start and it's heard multiple times here.

Bespectacled new partner Jimmy Trivette (Clarence Gilyard Jr.) quickly explains the tense climactic situation to Walker on a street in downtown Dallas. Action Packed: T.V. Sets ensures there's no chance you'll end up confused on a strange menu; this static screen is its only one.

VIDEO and AUDIO

I would guess that the presentations here match the ones found on their respective season sets. "Walker" looks quite good; you'll find the occasional flaw only if you're looking for it, but it's slightly soft and grainy like most '90s TV drama. The only widescreen-enhanced item on the disc, "NCIS" is also probably the strongest visually, aside from a few grainy stock clips of the real-life President and a dark, orangey palette.
"MacGyver" is less presentable, its aged picture being most marred by artifacts, scratches, and specks. Though twenty years older, "Mission: Impossible" is more attractive, its age revealed in its colorful palette and rare flaw, but its clean, bold images holding up nicely. On the whole, video is satisfactory per each show's period expectations.

Like the picture, the adequate audio reflects the shows' production eras. "Walker" gives us slight music reinforcement in its Dolby Surround track. The Surround mix on "NCIS" is a bit sharper, aptly supplying effects and some atmosphere. "MacGyver" sounds like basic stereo and it's a little flat, despite its dynamic peaks and valleys. In two-channel mono, "Mission: Impossible" has the air and consistency of 1960s television, but requires no ear-straining. Unfortunately but usual for the studio, no subtitles or foreign dubs are offered.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

There are no bonus features of any kind, but that's perfect understandable with nearly four hours of featured content on the disc.

Static, silent, and simple, the DVD's main/only menu gives you the ability to play any or all of the four episodes, which are identified by title and official show logo.

Although there are no inserts in the standard keepcase, the DVD's back cover renders that forgivable with its succinct overview of episode synopses, titles, and airdates.

Chuck Norris holds up a feather in the name of those who didn't have what it takes to make it to the bottom of this review. Our first look at MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) finds him scaling a mountain somewhere in Central Asia. Oh, MacGyver and your unrelated openings!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Action Packed succeeds more in theory than in actual viewing pleasure. The disc brings a much-welcomed dose of variety to the TV DVD genre. That fundamental principle definitely lends itself to many exciting possibilities. Maybe a second disc with additional drama debuts would have helped. As it is, "Walker" and "MacGyver" are best enjoyed recognizing their camp and nostalgic value, two things which are reduced with the emphasis placed on their establishing stories. "NCIS" goes without those features but isn't really better. "Mission: Impossible" likely provides the best combination of fun and quality, although it seems dated among this company.

This DVD is recommended as a cheap way to own four pilots and to preserve a high-quality taste of the series. But if you're not a big enough fan to own more of these series, there might not be the highest replay value to this lineup.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed May 14, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1966 Desilu, 1985 Henry Winkler/John Rich Productions, 1993 Cannon Television, Inc., 2003 Belisarius Productions,
1966-2003 CBS Studios, Inc., Paramount Television, and 2009 Paramount Home Entertainment/CBS DVD. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.