TV Box Set Round-Up

Set on a New York comedy sketch show, the whipsmart 30 Rock (Universal) •••• deservedly won Golden Globes for Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. Former Saturday Night Live scribe Fey plays Liz Lemon, the chief writer struggling to save her baby from the best intentions of corporate-minded boss Jack (a career highlight from Baldwin) and mentally unstable star Tracy (Tracy Morgan). The writing is brilliant and the situations lunatic, yet recognisable enough to remain satirical. Liz and Jack’s mutually respectful loggerheads afford it real warmth, while studio dogsbody Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) is truly one of God’s special creatures, prompting Baldwin to observe: ‘In five years, he’ll either be our boss or we’ll all be dead by his hand.’

You can’t choose your family. But as the calculated yet entertaining Brothers and Sisters (Walt Disney) ••• demonstrates, you can cast squabbling Californian siblings from familiar small screen faces and make every scene a minor Greek tragedy. When he died, William Walker left a corrupt business, political divisions and endless secrets to plague his offspring, most notably Calista Flockhart as a Republican PR spinner who fights tooth and claw with her liberal mother (Sally Field), and Rachel Griffiths as the working mom heading up the family firm. A Republican brother, gay lawyer brother, recovering junkie brother, Daddy’s lovechild, corrupt Uncle Saul and their various partners and kids provide more than enough conflict for a compelling drama with all the subtlety of soap opera.

On to an even more dysfunctional family. If you like the idea of a naked man having a condom bitten from his brass eye by a rattlesnake, then you’ll adore Jackass 2.5 Uncut (Paramount) •••, which the certifiable Steve-O summarises as ‘trying to make anal penetration sexy again!’ As the outtakes from the second Jackass movies, Johnny Knoxville and his fellow asses’ failed stunts are frequently more imaginative than their successes and some of it is horrifically funny, or at least jaw-droppingly sick. Water pistols are loaded with urine, beards are made from pubic hair and dangerous animals are unforgivably baited. Extras include a mini-doc on the making of the Jackass computer game and outtakes of the outtakes, which is really scraping the barrel. Then rolling it down a hill with a gleeful midget inside.

Finally, Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers Conquer the Universe (Delta) ••••, is far too many shades of ace. Years before Freddie Mercury cried ‘Flash! A-ahhh!’ and Brian Blessed was squeezed into a flying leather codpiece, this 1930s serial was wowing successive generations of American kids right into the 70s. With episodes like ‘Action Flashing’ and ‘Flash on Ice’, it’s an unintentionally camp delight, with Larry ‘Buster’ Crabbe as the dashing, lantern-jawed hero, Charles Middleton as a genuinely repellent Ming and Carol Hughes and later Jean Rogers as the hilariously imperilled Dale Arden. Badly synched and haphazardly edited, with continuity an afterthought, plots yoinked wholesale from Buck Rogers and establishing shots from documentaries, it’s nevertheless tremendous fun and madly ambitious in the scope of Flash’s adventures, with Ming’s fascist tendencies reflecting the chief concern of the age.

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