Action: The Complete Series Uncut & Unbleeped US Theatrical Release: 1999-2000 Television season (Sony Pictures Television) US DVD Release: February 21, 2006 Running Time: 13 episodes of approximately 22 minutes each; approximately 299 minutes total (5 chapter stops per episode) Rating: None (consider it PG-13 for foul language and mature subject matter) Video: 1.33:1 non-anamorphic (Extra Features: 1.33:1 non-anamorphic) Audio: English DD2.0 (Extra Features: English DD2.0) Subtitles: None (Extra Features: None) TV-Generated Closed Captions: English (Extra Features: None) Menus: Some brief transition animation. Packaging: Standard 2-disc keepcase; 8-page insert with ads for other Sony TV on DVD titles and a 2-page insert with plot synopses and credit listings for each Action episode. MSRP: $24.96 THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 4/5 The recent explosion in popularity of TV programming on DVD has led to a number of surprising releases. In addition to bringing back old favorites that used to live for years in reruns, studios are digging deep into their vaults for short-lived series that may not be remembered by many people, but that have enough cult caché to sell a few copies. One of these is the extremely edgy 1999 black comedy Action, which stands as a classic example of programming that may have been too clever to survive on network TV. Action traces the pre-production and production of a movie with the poetically ridiculous title Beverly Hills Gun Club through the eyes of its producer, Peter Dragon (Jay Mohr). Its 13 half-hour episodes play out like a miniseries, with a single story arc supported by a number of running subplots. Dragon is a stereotypical soulless Hollywood bastard, although he does display just enough humanity to keep the audience interested in him. Many of the situations that come up, and his brutal reactions to them, are based directly on real events in the lives of the producers and writers of the show. It's a definite case of truth being stranger than fiction! In the first episode, Peter hires Wendy Ward (Ileana Douglas), a former child star turned call girl, as his assistant. She's the only person in the business who tells him what she really thinks, as opposed to telling him what she thinks he might want to hear. Her transition from whore to movie executive is disturbingly smooth. She maintains a role as the female lead for about half the series, then unfortunately drops mostly out of sight until the last episode (comments in the extra features imply that Douglas wasn’t terribly happy playing a prostitute). The other key players in Peter’s moviemaking adventure include nebbishy screenwriter Adam Rafkin (Jarrad Paul), Peter’s put-upon assistant Stuart Glazer, and Uncle Lonnie (Buddy Hackett), Peter’s driver and security guy. A good portion of the show revolves around writer abuse, which is highly entertaining for us writers in the same way that teenagers get off on watching Freddie Krueger slice up their peers. Stuart endures his share of torture at Peter’s tyrannical hands as well. Only Uncle Lonnie, who carries a firearm, is spared Peter’s rapier wit (whether that's due to Lonnie being family or Lonnie being armed is up for debate). Action manages to sympathize with its appropriately named protagonist by virtue of the simple fact that what goes around comes around. Peter is besieged at every turn by only-in-Hollywood impediments and all sorts of lunatic characters, from his gold-digging ex-wife Jane (Cindy Ambuehl) to absurdly difficult stars to a sadistic studio executive, Bobby G (Lee Arenberg), who has a habit of exposing himself during negotiations. Peter's abrasive personality is the only way to survive in this town – which, in the end, is the message of the show. Action really pushed the envelope for network television. Originally conceived as a replacement for The Larry Sanders Show on HBO, it ended up on Fox in a watered-down but still way-over-the-top format. The language and subject matter aren’t anything you're likely to see this side of NYPD Blue. But this isn’t raunchiness for its own sake. Every insult and curse is a razor-sharp barb aimed squarely at some absurd element of the Hollywood process. In the same way, Action is aimed squarely at viewers with an interest in the movie business and a penchant for edgy humor, and it’s a direct hit. THE WAY I SEE IT: 2.5/5 All things considered, the image is pretty decent. It has its share of little glitches and artifacts, it’s a bit soft, and the colors are mostly a little oversaturated, but I doubt that Sony did much with the source materials on this minor release. It probably looks better than it did on cable when it was originally broadcast. THE WAY I HEAR IT: 3.5/5 The audio, mainly center-channel dialogue, sounds very good. The sound is clear and basically noise-free. There are a few stereo effects and a hint of Pro Logic surround in the music mix that give the soundtrack a little color. THE SWAG: 1.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity) Disc 1 & 2 Commentary with Writers, Producers & Cast Three episodes feature commentary from various members of the Action cast and crew. These should be required listening for anyone going into the studio to do a commentary for the first time – as an example of how not to do it! You, dear reader, owe this writer much gratitude for actually forcing himself to sit all the way through two of the three (and half of the other) to make sure that the boredom wasn’t just a lull. These are more like laugh tracks than commentaries, with looooooong periods of silence punctuated by the writers laughing hysterically at each other’s jokes (the ones in the script, that is, not anything funny being said in the commentary). These guys have set commentary tracks back by a decade. Disc 2 Getting Into The Action (26:07) This hysterical featurette, which traces the development and production of the series, suggests that perhaps the commentaries were recorded on an off day. The guys who did this show are milk-snortingly hilarious in what amounts to an extra episode worth of laughter on top of an interesting look behind the scenes. Trust Me: Useful Words And Phrases Every Producer Must Know A list of twelve common Hollywood terms, like “A-List” and “Creative Differences,” each humorously defined by a scene from the series. This basically amounts to a brief clip show that revisits a few choice gags. Trailers An Evening With Kevin Smith (0:47) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 non-anamorphic) Laurel Canyon (2:07) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic) Living In Oblivion (2:20) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic) NewsRadio Seasons 1 & 2 (1:54) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic) Spaceballs: Collector’s Edition (1:07) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 non-anamorphic) Stripes: Extended Cut (1:39) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic) SUMMING IT ALL UP The Way I Feel About It: 4/5 The Way I See It: 2.5/5 The Way I Hear It: 3.5/5 The Swag: 1.5/5 Action is a dark, mean-spirited attack on the foibles of Tinseltown, and it’s an absolute riot. Not everyone is going to appreciate all (or even most) of the jokes, but those who do, which probably includes most HTF members, are in for a real treat. Fox originally only broadcast eight of the thirteen episodes (I understand that the others eventually made it onto FX), and those out of order, which rendered the continuing serial unintelligible. It's wonderful to be able to experience the story in its logical chronological order, as it was intended to be seen. The only disappointment is that there is no second season to look forward to. The A/V quality is just acceptable, and the special features worth checking out amount to one solid half-hour featurette, but the material is truly clever. It may not have mass appeal, but if it sounds like your sort of thing, then Action is definitely RECOMMENDED.