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Warner Home Video presents
Marco: Commissar, I have rehabilitated another group of the party's enemies!
DVD ReviewCartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block has seen its share of successes and failures, and generally speaking, Sealab 2021 would have to be considered a success, given its dedicated fanbase and five-season run. This new set, which collects 13 episodes from midway through the show's run, sees the quality begin to dip. These shows also see the loss of Harry Goz's hysterical Captain Murphy, due to Goz's death in 2003. The character of Murphy was the lynchpin of the show, and the removal of that character saw a scattershot approach to stories that wasn't always successful.
Captain Murphy appears in only the first four episodes, and Goz sounds noticeably worse in the final two. The set opener, Tourist Season, throws in some Love Boat jokes and some swipes at Ain't It Cool News hype merchant Harry Knowles (consisting mainly of fat jokes). It's fairly decent. Next is Red Dawn, in which Murphy suddenly decides to install himself as the Commissar of a Communist dictatorship on the station. It starts off well, and goes downhill fast, with appearances by JFK and Bobby Kennedy, and an ending parodying Dr. Strangelove, but not well. The next two episodes pick up, with Meet Beck Bristow and I, Robot, Really. In the former, a self-absorbed Hollywood actor comes to the station to research a role. In the latter, Harry Goz's final appearance, Murphy blackmails Quinn into giving him a robot body (not just a robot though, he's a Barbeau-bot), which of course makes everyone else want one. It's completely nuts and was my favorite episode of the set.
The rest of the episodes veer wildly, often within each episode, between extremes of humor and utter worthlessness. This unevenness makes for frustrating viewing, but there are some good moments to be had. Craptastic Voyage is pretty funny, as is ASHDTV, but the bad generally outweighs the good. The material they poke fun at is often either already beaten into the ground (like making fun of British dental health) or already dated (Matrix jokes). Murphy's replacement, redneck football coach Tornado Shanks, was a bad idea from the start, but he is generally tolerable if nothing else.
Otherwise, if you've seen the previous sets or watched the show on Cartoon Network, then you'll know what to expect: a distinct lack of continuity between episodes, heavy abuse of drugs and alcohol, frequent sexual references, and plenty of bloody violence. Done well, it can be pretty funny. The problem here is that too often, lazy writing sabotages what good material there is. The cast are all game for whatever the writers can throw at them, with the main core of Brett Butler (Quinn), Kate Miller (Debbie), Ellis Hennican (Stormy), and Bill Lobley (Sparks) giving the show what quality it has. In any event, the converted will no doubt love this set, and everyone else is probably going to wonder how it made it this far.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: The first disc features a mix of interlaced and progressive video, and there is frequent combing, resulting in a distracting viewing experience. The second disc is interlaced only and does have the combing effect. Given the cheap, bargain basement nature of the animation, the video quality is not first rate, but the colors are crisp and the picture is good enough.
Image Transfer Grade: C+
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 2.0 track doesn't do anything special, and it isn't really required to. It gets the dialogue and occasional sound effects across well enough.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by anonymous staffers
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Next up is Stormy Waters, Pundit, (06m:49s) which is exactly what it says; the crew's resident bonehead discusses issues of the day, quite seriously, in a variety of locations, with little jokes in the background. Nothing especially humorous happens in any of the segments, except perhaps the creators laughing at us for actually watching it. The final two segments of most interest to fans will be the unseen episodes Dearly Beloved and Quinnmas. The former is merely an earlier version of the broadcast episode, Dearly Beloved Seed, and it's not especially better or worse in the original format. Onscreen text gives brief background information before each of the two unseen shows. In Quinnmas, (11m:32s) it tells us that this episode was dropped because it didn't really go anywhere, and they're right. It doesn't. Yet another Christmas Carol rehash, this time seeing Quinn visited by the three ghosts during an epic bender. The episode is only partially animated, and Brett Butler is the only one of the regular cast to voice his character.
Finally, there are the commentaries for four of the episodes on the first disc: Tourist Season, Red Dawn, Frozen Dinner, and Tornado Shanks. The first three are fairly pointless, unfunny gag commentaries. The Red Dawn commentary features a guy reading from The Communist Manifesto until the very end, when, running out of time, he tells us that it goes on like that for a while, and we know how it all ended anyway. Right. The other two feature discussion of members of the fictional Drabble family, for reasons I can't even remember. Both commentaries are pointless and intended to waste your time. The final commentary, on Tornado Shanks, is by "Carl Olsen," purportedly from an animation web site whose name is bleeped out. He's there to discuss how terrible the episode in question is, and this was by far the funniest extra of the bunch, indicating that the producers do not perhaps have total contempt for their audience. And, to be honest, I agreed with most of it. All in all, a fairly dismal collection of extras, but certainly a decent quantity of them, and there will no doubt be people out there who find them humorous. I was not one of them. Kudos to the package designers, who did at least provide a slick-looking product, this time using Murphy's Communist regime as an inspiration.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsUneven, but with enough quality to please fans both ardent and casual. Newcomers would be well advised to rent first. The two-disc set has extras to please the diehard, but others won't find them of much worth.
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