MOD TV: 'Mr. Sunshine' and 'Tarzan'
Plus the Canadian medical military drama 'Combat Hospital' and more animation
"Mr. Sunshine: The Complete Series" (Sony Pictures Choice Collection) is the short-lived sitcom starring Matthew Perry as the acerbic manager of a San Diego sports and events arena called The Sunshine Center. You see, it's ironic because he's flinty and sour, but really kind of a softy underneath it all, because…
Well, because that's what sitcoms do and Perry is a TV pro. He nails the part, as do most of the cast members, notably Andrea Anders as the co-worker and sometime lover who moves on to former basketball star turned philanthropist James Lesure, and Allison Janney as the eccentric owner whose ruffled feathers Perry is constantly trying to soothe. They all click and so does the show, but audiences didn't and the show was cancelled before its midseason run was over.
The set features all 13 episodes produced, including four that were never broadcast, on two discs in a standard case with a hinged tray.
"Tarzan: The First Season – Part One" (Warner Archive) features the first 15 episodes and "Tarzan: The First Season – Part Two" (Warner Archive) the final 16 episodes of the debut season of the first television incarnation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs jungle hero. Produced by Sy Weintraub, who made the Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney and Mike Henry features between 1959-1967, and starring Ron Ely as the well-toned Lord of the Jungle, the show ignored the "Me Tarzan, you Jane" sensibility of the Weismuller films for a take closer to the original novels. Ely's Tarzan is European educated and erudite, a man who chose to leave civilization and return to protect his jungle home, not just from poachers and mercenaries. As the series progresses, Tarzan confronts and challenges the "paternal" protection of the French colonial government, which believes it knows best for the local natives.
Not to make the show out any better than it is. The first few episodes are a mess, with a credits sequence that relates the basic premise (just to remind folks that Burroughs wrote Tarzan as an educated man) in the most plodding manner and adventures that are almost as plodding. There's no Jane here, but he has a cute kid sidekick, Jai, played by Manuel Padilla Jr. of the film series, and of course Cheetah, and the episodes (at first shot in Brazil, then in Mexico) are filled with wild animals for spectacle.
But jump ahead to "Part Two" and you get better stories, guest stars, and direction. My favorite is the two-part "The Perils of Charity Jones," with guest star Julie Harris as a pious spinster of a missionary who proves to have the courage of her convictions when she and Jai are caught in the middle of a civil war. When Jai goes missing, he jovial friend-to-all Tarzan is ruthless in his response—not something you expect from a family show—and his final showdown is with Woody Strode. That alone earns it a spot in my collection.
Each set is four discs in a standard case with no supplements.
"Combat Hospital: The Complete First Season" (Sony Pictures Choice Collection), a Canadian-produced drama that showed in ABC (temporarily under the title "The Hot Zone) in summer 2011, is set in a military hospital in Afghanistan manned by American, Canadian, British, Australian and other military personnel. You know, "M*A*S*H" for the modern age, with a multinational cast and without a laugh track. Elias Koteas takes command as the tough but sensitive veteran combat surgeon juggling patients, supply shortages, and sometimes troublesome medical personnel, notably headstrong Canadian surgeon Rebecca Gordon (Michelle Borth), an operating table hotshot who thinks she has all the answers.
Curiously, the issues haven't changed much since "M*A*S*H" and the show covers familiar ground—medicine under fire, combat fatigue, civilian philosophies colliding with military reality, romance in war, regulations versus necessity—but does it well, thanks to a good cast (which includes Deborah Kara Unger as the team psychiatrist) and directing staff. But unfortunately the First Season is the only season: ABC did not pick it up and the Canadian producers shuttered the show without a partner.
13 episodes on three discs
Also new is a pair of animated shows. From the nostalgia file comes "Shazzan: The Complete Series" (Warner Archive). Not to be confused with "Shazam!," the superhero show with Captain Marvel, this 1967 series features two American kids with a pair of magic rings that can send them to the ancient worlds of the Arabian Nights with a genie buddy who accompanies them on their adventures and then sends then safely home at the end of each episode. There are 36 episodes (under 12 minutes apiece) plus the featurette "The Power of Shazzan."
And "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest: Season One, Volume Two" (Warner Archive) features 13 episodes from the 1996 reboot of the classic sixties series.
Available exclusively from Warner Archive:
"Mr. Sunshine: The Complete Series" (Sony Pictures Choice Collection)
"Combat Hospital: The Complete First Season" (Sony Pictures Choice Collection)