New Paramount Blu-rays: Cosby's comedy for curmudgeons and new Trek TV
By Jim Bray
A couple of new titles that should appeal to baby boomers this week, one a classic comedy bit from a classic comedian, and another season of the Star Trek sequel series coupled with yet another two parter made into a feature.
"Bill Cosby…far from finished" shows the famed comic is still in good form in a concert that's billed on the Blu-ray's box as his first comedy special in 30 years. The box also says the old yukmeister leaves the audience "asking once again 'how did he get inside our house?'," which is a surprisingly accurate account of how my wife and I felt while watching Cos opine during an hour and a half that absolutely flew by.
According to the supplementary interview on the disc, this was only one of two shows he did during the session, both of which had completely different content. Makes one wonder if there's another date coming to home video, and I certainly would love to see what other observations on everyday life Cosby has.
He tackles love, marriage, raising the kids, friends as opposed to spouses, and more - all from his perch atop a cheap-looking chair that was actually the result of the concert's opening joke - before he's even on stage! His delivery is chatty and done with the same impish charm that became his hallmark and undoubtedly contributed to his success as Dr. Huxtable on his much-revered sitcom.
Many people undoubtedly remember Bill Cosby mostly, if not exclusively, from his role as the patriarch in the Cosby Show, which was a phenomenon when it ran. But Cosby predates that sitcom by decades, as a standup comedian and in his dramatic turn on the 1960's TV spy show I Spy, with Robert Culp.
I never saw I Spy, but I'm quite familiar with Cosby's comedy from that era. My family used to own a copy of his "Bill Cosby is a very funny fellow RIGHT!" 33.3 rpm vinyl album and I remember laughing very hard when we played it, though I only remember one of the bits on it now: Noah.
Noah was Cos' comedic take on God talking to Noah and ordering him to build the ark. I've forgotten most of it now, but still remember the incredulous "Right…" comments and God's "How long can you tread water?" question to a skeptical Noah. It was funny stuff.
Unlike some of his peers, and a lot of today's so-called comics, Cosby was never blue. He'd hint at things, and you never missed his point, but he never lowered himself to cussing or crude bathroom humor. And though the nearly hour long interview with him that accompanies this concert shows him clearly reminiscing about using racial humor in his work back in the early days, my memories of him were that he talked about everyday stuff to which anyone of any race or background could relate - true equality of the races. So while he may have been a comic of color, (or a "Negro," as he remembers in the interview with director Robert Townsend ), his comic wasn't "off-colored" nor aimed at any particular ethnic or designated victim group.
He didn't go for cheap jokes, either. And he mostly stayed out of politics, at least in his work.
My wife of 40 years and I watched "Bill Cosby…far from finished" together, and while we didn't laugh out loud much (it takes a lot to make us do that!) we chuckled and smiled knowingly at each other many times as Cos recounted stuff like how the battle of the sexes never really goes away, despite the closeness of the marital bond. It's funny material because - other than the comedic twists Cosby employs - it's true, it's real life. It's us.
Extras include the abovementioned interview, which is interesting but a tad plodding.
If you want to see an old master who still has it, this Blu-ray is worth a view.
Going boldly where season four just went…
Star Trek the Next Generation continues to ooze onto Blu-ray, with season five now hitting stores just in time for Christmas. In many, if not most, ways, this season is quite a bit better than the good but more spotty fourth year, and it has been given Paramount's typically great treatment.
There's some stretching of credulity, which is nothing new for Star Trek, and there are some times when you're best not thinking too hard about it, but that, again, is "Star Trek." For example, in "Darmok," Paul Winfield (returning to Trek after his turn in Star Trek II) guest stars as an alien whose race speaks only in metaphors. It's pretty neat seeing how Picard and his merry band learn to communicate with the aliens, but if you really think about it you might wonder why their metaphors are always translate well to English. Not the words - the Universal Translator would take care of that - but the concepts.
Picky, picky, but a legitimate point that doesn't really detract from the enjoyment of a pretty decent episode.
The season opens with Redemption, part 2, which concludes the season four cliffhanger (both episodes are available separately as well, edited together into one feature length production) about humans and Klingons and Romulans (oh, my!).
Season five also introduces Ensign Ro Laren and the Bajoran people, who we'll get to know a lot better when the series is spun off into Star Trek Deep Space Nine. "Disaster" has some great moments as Troi finds herself in charge while Worf helps Chief O'Brien and his wife, Keiko, usher their daughter into the Federation.
"The Game" is a particularly cool episode as well as a cautionary tale. Here, Riker gets introduced to a game that turns out to be addictive - and that's the least of its diabolical problems! Fortunately, Ensign Crusher is back to bail out the grownups!
"Unification," a two parter that is also available now separately, edited together as a single feature, is a really neat episode. In it, Leonard Nimoy (the Energizer Bunny of the Star Trek universe) is back again as Ambassador Spock, trying to talk some sense to those Romulan bastards. Or something like that.
"Cause and Effect" sees the crew trapped in a time loop that makes them repeat events over and over again, always ending with them being killed when the ship explodes (well, until they figure it out!). Watch for Kelsey Grammer in a brief but cameo.
Wesley's back again - and in hot water - in "The First Duty." He's part of a Starfleet Academy team whose attempt at pulling off something really cool went badly wrong, putting them in extremely hot water. Will he "person up" or will he protect his teammates?
"The Perfect Mate" guest stars Famke Janssen as a metamorph who is bound to matrimony until she gets a load of the sexy bald guy occupying the center seat. And "The Inner Light" in an emotional episode that sees an alien probe glom onto the Enterprise, then force Picard to live the rest of this life vicariously (though not to him!) with the aliens who sent the probe. A heartwarming and heart breaking episode.
Season five also ends with a cliffhanger: "Time's Arrow part I." It isn't the series' best cliffhanger (that still goes to "The best of both worlds") but it's an interesting time travel tale in which Guinan takes a more prominent role than her usual "Troi-lite" bartender/counsellor position. It's probably safe to assume this will also come out as a one part feature when Season six is released.
These re-edits may seem like painting a moustache onto the Mona Lisa, but they're a nice way to get the whole story at once - and it isn't as if the original two parters are being mothballed in favor of the feature.
Speaking of features, the Season five special features are pretty much like the other seasons', and that's not a bad thing. Here, you get a mission overview of the season, Production & Visual Effects, Memorable Missions, a Tribute to Gene Roddenberry and more.
Audio and video quality (DTS-HD Master Audio and 1080p) are also comparable to other seasons, which is very good news indeed. These are the definitive versions, especially when it comes to the many special effects - both visual and aural (the noise when the Enterprise passes by during the opening credits is great for a Trekkie's heart). This, like the rest of the seasons so far, is definitely the definitive version.
Copyright 2013 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.