Bullz-Eye’s 2015 TV Power Rankings

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It’s another clean sweep for cable and streaming outlets for our annual list of the best shows on television. Netflix alone has four shows on our list, despite “House of Cards” dropping off. With so many outlets battling to create original content, the old TV networks just can’t compete when it comes to producing the best of the best.

Fortunately, in today’s world, if you’ve been missing out on some of the best shows, you can always find a way to binge watch and catch up.

We’ve kept the spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to skip over some of the write-ups if you’re behind on a particular series, as we naturally refer to recent events.

1. “The Walking Dead”

After the gruesome confrontation with the Terminus cannibals, Rick and the gang were tired and ragged without an obvious destination, so the introduction of the Alexandria safe zone offered an interesting twist to the story. Here the group suddenly found some much-needed normalcy in terms of their surroundings, while it was just a matter of time before the awkward interaction between Rick’s battle-tested crew and the clueless and sheltered inhabitants of Alexandria would lead to real conflicts. This year offered some interesting character developments as they got a much-needed though temporary reprieve from the daily battles with the walkers. “The Walking Dead” seems to get more interesting each year as the writers explore how humans deal with a post-apocalyptic world both on an individual and tribal level, so it remains our choice as the best show on television for 2015.

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Blu Tuesday: Fear the Walking Dead, Mississippi Grind and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: When a mysterious outbreak causes Los Angeles to go into complete meltdown, a dysfunctional blended family led by high school guidance counselor Madison (Kim Dickens) and her boyfriend Travis (Cliff Curtis) is forced to band together in order to survive the chaos.

WHY: Why: It’s easy to understand why AMC would be attracted to the idea of producing a companion series to “The Walking Dead” (after all, it’s the most-watched show in cable TV history), but there was always the risk that it would have an adverse effect on their flagship drama. Thankfully, the poorly titled “Fear the Walking Dead” distances itself enough from the original series that it doesn’t tarnish the brand, even if the new show pales in comparison. Not only is the writing heavy-handed, but the characters and their various relationships just aren’t as interesting. Though it makes sense that Madison and Co. wouldn’t be as savvy as anyone on “The Walking Dead” due to the story taking place during the early stages of the zombie outbreak, the characters come across as being especially whiny and foolish. Additionally, although the first season only contains six episodes, it’s a very slow burn that doesn’t hit its stride until the penultimate hour. If there’s any reason to stick around, it’s for Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis, both of whom are such good actors that they manage to hold your interest even when you’ve given up hope that the show will improve. But while Season Two promises bigger and better things, whether anyone will still be watching is another matter entirely.

EXTRAS: There are two brief featurettes about the series and the characters.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Mississippi Grind”

WHAT: Down-on-his-luck gambling addict Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) owes everybody in town, and instead of paying off his debts, he continues to dig himself further into a hole. But his fortune begins to change when he meets a charismatic drifter named Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), who agrees to accompany Gerry on a road trip down the Mississippi River to play in a high stakes poker game in New Orleans.

WHY: After making a splash with the emotional one-two punch of “Half Nelson” and “Sugar,” writers/directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden were unable to replicate that success with their first studio project, the lackluster “It’s Kind of a Funny Story.” It’s been five years since Fleck or Boden did anything of significance, but the duo has bounced back nicely with their latest movie, a character-driven drama that plays like a gritty mash-up of “Rounders” and “Sideways” and is bolstered by a pair of fantastic performances. This is arguably the best that Ryan Reynolds has ever been, showcasing a subtler, more mature side that’s been missing in his previous work, while Ben Mendelsohn proves that he’s not just an amazing character actor, but a viable leading man as well. Both of their characters are deeply flawed, and it’s to their credit (as well as the script, which crackles with wit and heart) that you care about them even when they seem beyond all help. “Mississippi Grind” starts to drag in the final act, exposing its barebones plot in the process, but Reynolds and Mendelsohn have such great chemistry that it’s rarely boring.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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2015 Holiday Gift Guide: Television

Television fans must love the holidays, because it’s the one time of year when studios unleash a host of massive box sets collecting their favorite dramas and comedies. This year is no different, with several critically acclaimed shows getting the complete series treatment. But while we like to devour an entire TV show just as quickly as the next person, sometimes a little self-discipline is required, which is why we’ve also included some less time-consuming (and more affordable) suggestions as well.

Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Justified: The Complete Series

Justified” is one of those shows that never really got the credit (or the audience) it deserved, because it’s a sharply written and well-acted neo-Western that managed to pull off what most series have failed to do: stick the landing. Though it started out as a more formulaic, crime of the week-type drama, “Justified” evolved into something much richer over the years by focusing on the relationship between U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens and smooth-talking outlaw Boyd Crowder, two men who grew up in the same poor, coal-mining town in Kentucky, but ended up on different sides of the law. Both Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins deliver strong, well-rounded performances in their respective roles, but while it would be difficult to imagine the show without either of them, the supporting cast is just as important, especially Nick Searcy as Givens’ crusty boss, Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel as fellow Marshalls, and Joelle Carter as Boyd’s fiancée/partner in crime. The rotating cast of guest stars is also impressive, adding to the series’ rich tapestry of down-and-dirty hillbillies, criminals and lawmen to create a lived-in world that feels more genuine than just about anything else on television. The fact that “Justified” was able to maintain its high quality throughout all six seasons is pretty extraordinary, but it’s also one of the few shows to produce a satisfying series finale, and that definitely earns it a spot among the TV drama elite.

Californication: The Complete Series

With Hank Moody, David Duchovny created a character that ranks as one of the greatest hedonists in television history. “Californication” was loaded with great characters and it thrived on introducing countless examples of the bizarre and interesting people you’ll find in L.A., but everything revolved around Hank and all of his crazy exploits. He could be arrogant and often self-destructive, but watching his endless exploits with the flaky but often beautiful women of La La Land made you want to hop on a plane and rent an apartment in Venice Beach. The best part was that Hank always found a way to enjoy the ride, even as things got a little rough. Through it all he was still crazy in love with his ex, Karen, played by the lovely Natascha McElhone, and Evan Handler was excellent as Charlie Runkle, his dopey but ever-loyal agent and sidekick who had his own ups and down with his hilarious and nutty wife Marcy. Now you can enjoy all 84 episodes on 14 discs in this new box set. Give it to someone who needs to learn how to enjoy life again, or at least can use a vehicle to live vicariously through someone else’s crazy adventures.

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Blu Tuesday: Justified, Tomorrowland and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Justified: The Complete Series”

WHAT: U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) is reassigned from Miami to his childhood home – the poor, coal-mining town of Harlan, Kentucky – where he faces off against a group of backwoods criminals, including Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), a smooth-talking outlaw who will lie, steal and cheat his way to the top of the food chain.

WHY: “Justified” is one of those shows that never really got the credit (or the audience) it deserved, because it’s a sharply written and well-acted neo-Western that managed to pull off what most series have failed to do: stick the landing. Though it started out as a more formulaic, crime of the week-type drama, “Justified” evolved into something much richer over the years by focusing on the relationship between Raylan and Boyd, two men who grew up under similar circumstances but ended up on different sides of the law. Both Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins deliver strong, well-rounded performances in their respective roles, but while it would be difficult to imagine the show without either of them, the supporting cast is just as important, especially Nick Searcy as Givens’ crusty boss, Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel as fellow Marshalls, and Joelle Carter as Boyd’s fiancée/partner in crime. The rotating cast of guest stars is also impressive, adding to the series’ rich tapestry of down-and-dirty hillbillies, criminals and lawmen to create a lived-in world that feels more genuine than just about anything else on television. The fact that “Justified” was able to maintain its high quality throughout all six seasons is pretty extraordinary, but it’s also one of the few shows to produce a satisfying series finale, and that definitely earns it a spot among the TV drama elite.

EXTRAS: In addition to the previously released bonus material (consisting of audio commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes and outtakes), there’s an additional disc of all-new extras that includes a look at making the final season, a tour of the writer’s room with creator Graham Yost, the cast and crew’s favorite moments and a gag reel. The box set also comes packaged with a branded flask to carry around your own personal supply of (hopefully not poisoned) apple pie moonshine.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Tomorrowland”

WHAT: After discovering a pin that magically transports her to a futuristic world called Tomorrowland, science prodigy Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) teams up with cranky inventor Frank Weller (George Clooney) – who was exiled from there as a young boy – to return to Tomorrowland in order to save Earth from its impending destruction.

WHY: Director Brad Bird certainly didn’t do himself any favors by shrouding “Tomorrowland” in so much secrecy, although it’s easy to see why, because the movie doesn’t really appeal to any particular audience. It’s too grown-up for kids, while most adults will have a difficult time buying into its childlike idealism. The film also happens to be incredibly boring, bogged down by a bloated runtime and unnecessary opening sequence that could have easily been addressed with a few lines of dialogue. It feels like Bird and co-writer Damon Lindelof created the titular world first, and then tried to build a story around it, because “Tomorrowland” doesn’t always make sense. In fact, while the movie features several flashbacks and large chunks of exposition designed to do exactly that, the purpose of Casey and Frank’s adventure is never totally clear. There are some fun set pieces along the way, and youngsters Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy make up for George Clooney’s lifeless performance, but there’s very little payoff. After all, for a film that generates so much excitement and mystery around Tomorrowland, you’d think the audience would get to spend more time there.

EXTRAS: There’s a trio of featurettes on production, casting and the score, as well as director Brad Bird’s video diaries, deleted scenes, a faux children’s TV program hosted by Hugh Laurie’s character, an animated short about Tomorrowland and more.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Blu Tuesday: The Flash, Arrow and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Flash: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: When Central City forensic investigator Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) gains super-human speed after he’s struck by electricity during a failed science experiment, he teams up with Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh) and his two assistants – Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) – to stop criminals and other “metahumans” created from the explosion who don’t use their powers for good.

WHY: The idea of a “Flash” TV series didn’t sound very promising when the Barry Allen character was initially introduced in the second season of “Arrow,” but co-creator Greg Bertlanti quickly proved me wrong by delivering an immensely enjoyable (and much lighter) superhero drama that only got better as the season progressed. Much like its sister show, “The Flash” thrives primarily due to its awesome ensemble; everyone has a purpose, and they all bounce off one another incredibly well. Grant Gustin is perfectly cast as the titular hero, Tom Cavanagh handles the dual role of mentor and villain with ease, and Carlos Valdes provides great comic relief as the Q-like inventor/superhero expert of the group. Even the villains aren’t nearly as cheesy as they could have been, with Cavanagh’s Reverse-Flash, Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold and Mark Hamill’s return as the Trickster among the standouts. The romantic subplot between Barry and childhood friend Iris West (Candice Patton) suffers from the same problems that plagued the first season of “Arrow” (namely, it’s just not as interesting as the superhero stuff), but “Flash” makes up for it with some sci-fi heavy mythology that isn’t afraid of alienating viewers by leaning on its comic book roots.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary by executive producers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg on the pilot episode, four production featurettes, footage from DC Comics Night at Comic-Con 2014, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Arrow: The Complete Third Season”

WHAT: After defeating Slade Wilson and being accepted as a hero by the citizens of Starling City, Oliver Queen/The Arrow (Stephen Amell) struggles to keep his family together while facing off against a terrible new threat in the form of Ra’s al Ghul (Matthew Nable). Meanwhile, Laurel (Katie Cassidy) assumes the mantle of Black Canary after Sara is brutally murdered, Thea (Willa Holland) begins her training under Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), and Queen Consolidated is taken over by wealthy businessman/aspiring hero Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh).

WHY: Despite making some huge strides in its sophomore year, “Arrow” suffered a bit of a slump during Season Three due to a number of factors. Though the superhero drama has had a problem maintaining the same level of energy and quality over the course of each 22-episode season, it’s especially noticeable here, in large part because the accompanying flashback storyline (which trades the deserted island setting for Hong Kong) isn’t very compelling. Additionally, the show’s insistence on making nearly everyone in Oliver’s life a crime-fighting member of Team Arrow not only defies logic (there’s no way Laurel, Roy and Thea got that good in such a short amount of time), but gives Oliver less to do as a result. Laurel, in particular, is so lame as the new Black Canary that it’s almost as if the writers were trying to find ways to make her character even more annoying. Thankfully, Season Three isn’t a complete disaster. The group dynamic remains one of its best assets, the crossover episodes with the Flash are a lot of fun, and both Brandon Routh and Matthew Nable prove strong additions to the cast. “Arrow” doesn’t play to its strengths as often as it should, but when it does, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better comic book show on TV, other than “The Flash,” of course.

EXTRAS: The four-disc set includes a pair of audio commentaries by executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle, featurettes on costume and production design, a behind-the-scenes look at the Atom’s first fight, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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