The Cleaner: The First Season
Directed by David Semel et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1anamorphic
Running Time: 589 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English; 2.0 stereo surround English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, Portuguese
MSRP: $ 54.99
Release Date: June 9, 2009
Review Date: May 31, 2009
An absorbing albeit somewhat harrowing excursion into addictions and interventions forms the basis of the drama in A&E’s newest series The Cleaner. Part procedural and part domestic drama featuring the return to series television of Benjamin Bratt abetted with a brace of fresh faces as members of his team, The Cleaner is not always a very easy show to watch. Seeing people in the throes of their addictions and watching generally their resistance to help of any kind (avoidance of blame or denial of a problem is much easier) doesn’t make for a lighthearted hour of television. But many of the stories seem real, and there is some really terrific acting on display from some excellent actors.
Recovering addict William Banks (Benjamin Bratt) has made a pledge to God that he’ll move heaven and earth to rescue as many souls as he can who have succumbed to the rigors of drugs, alcohol, sex, or gambling addictions. Calling themselves “cleaners” since it’s their job to get their clients clean through any means necessary, Banks’ team also includes team muscle Darnell McDowell (Kevin Michael Richardson) who replaced the team’s original strong man (Gil Bellows) after the pilot episode, Akani Cuesta (Grace Park) who shared some personal time with Banks when he was going through a separation with his wife, and Arnie Swenton (Esteban Powell) whose bluntness is a mask of some deep-seated insecurity. On the personal side, William has uneasily reconciled with wife Melissa (Amy Price-Francis), and his two children, perfect daughter Lula (Liliana Mumy) and tortured teen Ben (Brett Delbuono), often take time away from the team’s cases when William must deal with his own family’s problems.
Most of the episodes take on a familiar formula: a family having suspicions about a certain member contacts Banks needing an intervention. Usually the team then stakes out the person in question and must mark time until the person hits rock bottom where the team’s help is the only hope the troubled soul has for any chance of survival. The writers have covered the entire social gamut of lost souls: FBI agents, bikers, soccer moms, jockeys, teen athletes, college professors. Some dramatic license naturally comes into play with these episodes as the people in question get strung out very quickly, not the usually slow, steady path to severe addiction. In any event, the stories do hold one’s attention though the personal domestic Banks drama that takes up a good portion of each episode rarely qualifies as worthy of interrupting the week’s addiction case.
It’s a pleasure to find Benjamin Bratt as compelling here as he was all the way back to his four seasons on Law & Order. His chatty asides to God, sometimes humorous, sometimes hauntingly tortured, are well delivered and most effective. Grace Park’s role seems very different from her work on Battlestar Galactica and is a welcome change of pace for her. Gil Bellows’ exit from the show after the first episode is keenly felt though the writers have worked overtime to establish an interesting persona for Kevin Michael Richardson’s gentle giant Darnell. Esteban Powell still seemed to be finding his character through the first thirteen episodes of the series. Amy Price-Francis grounds the domestic drama sequences for the Banks family though the rebellious Ben Banks is monotonously irritating in the hands of Brett Delbuono through the first two-thirds of the season. Liliana Mumy shows promise as the daughter trying to be perfect to ease the tensions of the fractured family dynamic.
The show uses a layered split-screen technique to keep the show’s often multiple plotlines going, but the stories are easy enough to follow despite the overly busy graphic overlays, and sometimes the split screen sets up some nice parallels or stunning contrasts to various events that are transpiring. At times like those, the multiple image panels are justified, but at other times, they seem to be just artificially sophisticated graphic window dressing.
Here is a list of the thirteen episodes that made up the show’s first season. They have been divided onto four discs:
1 - Pilot
2 - Rag Dolls
3 - Meet the Joneses
4 - Chaos Theory
5 - Here Comes the Boom
6 - To Catch a Fed (most exciting of the season’s cases)
7 - House of Pain
8 - Let It Ride
9 - The Eleventh Hour
10 - Rebecca
11 - Back to One
12 - Five Little Words
13 - Lie With Me
The 1.78:1 aspect ratio of the high definition television broadcasts is replicated here in a down converted 480p set of transfers anamorphically enhanced. Color is quite rich in these images though varying contrast might cause flesh tones to run a little hot on occasion. The transfers are solid in terms of no compression artifacts and outstanding sharpness, and blacks are well represented (the series overall is quite dark). Each episode (with one exception) has been divided into 7 chapters.
Each episode offers two English language choices: Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo surround (which is the default). The stereo surround track has its volume adjusted slightly higher than the 5.1 track, but either makes an excellent audio mix. Score and songs play an integral part in establishing mood in each episode, and they’re well placed throughout the soundfield. Occasional use is made of the rear channels for ambient sounds and offscreen voices, but more could have been done in fleshing out the soundfield.
There are audio commentaries available for two of the episodes: the pilot and episode 5 (“Here Comes the Boom”). In both, star Benjamin Bratt is joined by producer-writers Robert Munic and Jonathan Prince, all of whom are proud of season one of their series. The commentaries are chatty affairs as the two producers especially recount favorite scenes and actors in the two episodes and expound lavish praise on their star who takes it all in stride.
Each of the discs contains bonus features. All featurettes are presented in nonanamorphic letterbox.
Disc One contains two versions of the pilot. The revised pilot episode is the one in the first position on the disk. The original broadcast pilot is only available as a special feature, and this is the one that contains the first commentary.
“The Mystery of William Banks” is a 4 ¼-minute featurette with the featured cast in character describing the main character of William Banks.
A 4-minute international promo features the cast selling the show to foreign markets and features clips from later episodes of the show meant as teasers after buyers have watched the pilot.
Trailers for CBS/Paramount television series on DVD such as NCIS, Dexter, Ghost Whisperer, Medium, Jericho, Californication, and the movie Echelon Conspiracy are presented in nonanamorphic letterbox.
Ten deleted scenes from two different episodes are available for viewing. They must be selected as a group. The scenes for “Chaos Theory” run 12 ½ minutes while the “Here Comes the Boom” scenes run 5 ¾ minutes.
The complete performance of the song “Follow That Sound” by Sharon Little featured in “Chaos Theory” runs 3 ½ minutes.
Three deleted scenes from “House of Pain” may be watched in a 4 ¼-minute group.
The complete performance of the song “Walk You Home” by Karmina featured in “House of Pain” runs 3 ¾ minutes.
Four deleted scenes are available viewing. The three scenes in “Five Little Words” run 3 minutes while the scene from “Lie With Me” runs 1 minute.
There is a 3-minute gag reel which is available for viewing.
“On Set with Esteban Powell” is a series of behind-the-scenes shots taped during various episodes with the actor showing the sets, introducing guest stars, having his tattoos applied in the make-up trailer, learning to ride a motorcycle, and looping lines in the dubbing theater. This lasts 14 ¾ minutes.
A 10-minute montage of cast and crew interviews features each member of the regular cast describing his character along with show creators Jonathan Prince and Robert Munic discussing the series.
The Cleaner is an absorbing if not always comforting series focusing on the dangers of addiction and the grueling journeys to rescue victims from their own destructive urges, not always successfully. If disturbing images of strung out junkies and worried loved ones aren’t a turn-off, you might want to give this series a try.