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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Tru Calling - The Complete First Season
Tru Calling - The Complete First Season
Fox // Unrated // November 30, 2004
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by das Monkey | posted November 21, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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P R I N T
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"You know what I think is unfair? When life is prolonged beyond its usefulness." - Jack Harper

INTRODUCTION:

After the grant sponsoring her internship loses funding, an aspiring medical student (Tru Davies) takes a job at the local morgue. On her first day of work, incidentally the 10th anniversary of her mother's death, one of the bodies from the crypt springs to life for a brief moment and asks her for help. Instantly, her day "rewinds" and she quickly realizes that it's her responsibility to try and save the woman who called out to her from a death that should not have happened, all the while trying to repair the lives of her immature brother and drug-addicted sister. With the help of her clumsy but loveable boss at the morgue, Tru strives to put right what once when wrong and hoping each time that her next leap will be the leap home.

CONTENT:

Eliza Dushku played prominent characters in a few popular films before Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it was her portrayal of Faith in the 3rd season of the popular television show that helped set her on the path to becoming a star. It's understandable, then, that fans of the show were not particularly happy with her when she turned down a chance for a television series based around the Faith character in favor of Tru Calling. However, it's equally understandable that as an actor, she would want to try new things, and carrying an unproven series with a new character offered her that opportunity.

On the surface, Tru Calling is a formula show. Borrowing elements from Quantum Leap, Early Edition and Goundhog Day, each episode follows a similar pattern. A body arrives in the morgue and asks for help tiggering a rewind before the opening titles, and Tru spends the rest of the episode trying to piece together what caused the death and how to prevent it. The premise sounds interesting enough, but without clever writing and entertaining characters, such a concept could get stale very quickly, especially over an entire television season. Thankfully, the show's creators appear to recognize this early on and make efforts to tweak the formula just enough to keep the stories fresh and interesting.

As with any show that hopes to build an audience, Tru Calling is not just about the "Death of the Week." While it is the focus of each episode, not every day is a rewind, and Tru still has a life of her own and a family she cares about. The death of their mother and subsequent remarriage and general absence of their father has made things difficult on the Davies family, and Tru is struggling to keep them together. This is not an easy task as her sister Meredith (Jessica Collins) is a fast-paced businesswoman in denial over her drug habit, and her brother Harrison (Shawn Reaves) has a bit of a responsibility problem ... among other things. And what superhero story would be complete without the lead character's romantic relationships suffering from the strains of a secret double-life? Certainly not this one. All the pieces are there, including the loveable but awkward mentor (Zach Galifianakis) who always seems to know just a little more than he lets on.

For most of the first half of the season, the series walks a very fine line between quality and cliché, and without strong performances from the leads, it likely would have run itself into the ground and off the air. The way the episodes are structured, Dushku bears the bulk of the responsibility as she is in nearly every scene, and she carries it relatively well. The character of Tru is likeable and well meaning, and as she comes to empathize with those she is trying to help, the audience cannot help but do the same. Offsetting much of the dramatic tension is quite a bit of humor with Shawn Reaves's performance as Harrison. He's a complete screw-up, but he's so charming and creative (not to mention very loyal to Tru) that his misadventures are a continuing source of entertainment. Equally effective is Davis who, although clumsy in his interactions with others, serves as a surrogate older brother and sounding board for Tru, something she desperately needs considering the double burden she carries. As the show is stumbling about in the early episodes trying to find its way, it's the performances of these actors that keep the show entertaining even when some of the plots are a bit laughable.

Few series hit the ground running with great episodes at the start, especially with more creative "genre" television that dares to journey outside the proverbial box. What's important, then, is that these shows adapt and learn from their mistakes, and Tru Calling does this very well. Characters that prove to not be all that interesting are slowly phased out of the show, and the writers make significant efforts to keep the rewind formula from being the same every week. Sometimes these efforts are a bit too forced, and the audience can feel the writers manipulating them, but enough of it succeeds to keep the formula from stalling. And just when it feels that the concept is starting to wear thin, the overall story arc starts to get surprisingly good with the introduction of Jack Harper (Jason Priestley) and revelations about Tru's mother and her untimely death. By the season finale, the series has found its legs and has created a story worth telling, and more importantly, worth watching.

Included in this DVD set is the entire first season and is spread across 6 discs (standout episodes in bold):

    Disc #1
  • 1.01 - Pilot (10.30.03)
    • Commentary by Series Creator/Executive Producer Jon Harmon Feldman, Executive Producer Dawn Parouse, and Actors Eliza Dushku and Shawn Reaves
  • 1.02 - Putting Out Fires (11.06.03)
  • 1.03 - Brother's Keeper (11.13.03)
  • 1.04 - Past Tense (11.20.03)
    Disc #2
  • 1.05 - Haunted (12.04.03)
  • 1.06 - Star Crossed (12.11.03)
    • Commentary by Series Creator/Executive Producer Jon Harmon Feldman
  • 1.07 - Morning After (12.18.03)
  • 1.08 - Closure (01.08.04)
    Disc #3
  • 1.09 - Murder in the Morgue (01.15.04)
  • 1.10 - Reunion (01.22.04)
  • 1.11 - The Longest Day (02.05.04)
    • Commentary by Series Creator/Executive Producer Jon Harmon Feldman, Executive Producer Dawn Parouse, and Actors Eliza Dushku and Shawn Reaves
  • 1.12 - Valentine (02.12.04)
    Disc #4
  • 1.13 - Drop Dead Gorgeous (03.18.04)
  • 1.14 - Daddy's Girl (03.25.04)
    • Commentary by Series Creator/Executive Producer Jon Harmon Feldman and Actors Eliza Dushku and Zach Galifianakis
  • 1.15 - The Getaway (04.01.04)
    Disc #5
  • 1.16 - Two Pair (04.08.04)
    • Commentary by Series Creator/Executive Producer Jon Harmon Feldman and Actor Jason Priestley
  • 1.17 - Death Becomes Her (04.15.04)
  • 1.18 - Rear Window (04.22.04)
    Disc #6
  • 1.19 - D.O.A (04.29.04)
  • 1.20 - Two Weddings and a Funeral (04.29.04)
    • Commentary by Series Creator/Executive Producer Jon Harmon Feldman and Actors Eliza Dushku and Zach Galifianakis
  • Featurette: "Finding the Calling"
  • Featurette: "The Tru Path: Season One"
  • Featurette: "Evil Comes Calling: A Late Season Twist"
  • Music Video: "Somebody Help Me" by Full Blown Rose

    1.02 - Putting Out Fires (11.06.03)

    While the subplot with Tru falling in love with the body who asks for help is a bit contrived, this early episode is the first indication that the creators of this show are not going to rest on the formula every week and there is potential for solid storytelling ahead. Throughout the course of the episode, we learn that the reason for Tru's "rewind" may not always be as clear as we may think.

    1.11 - The Longest Day (02.05.04)

    Alec Newman gives a powerful guest performance as a man killed while robbing a convenient store. His motives are understandable if not commendable, but when Tru tries to help him, someone else dies. Considering the airdate, it's pretty likely what inspired this story, as Tru relives the same day multiple times, each time with a different consequence. The main plot for this episode is pretty creative, and Newman's performance is so strong that it is both an effective and genuinely emotional hour of television that is arguably the best of this season.

    1.14 - Daddy's Girl (03.25.04)

    The turning point. While much is hinted at earlier in the season, the back-story really comes into focus in this episode. On his birthday, Tru's father comes into town and brings his new wife with him. Events take an unfortunate turn, though, when a mugging victim arrives in the morgue, and Tru's attempts to save her uncover disturbing revelations about her mother's death. Adding to the drama and elevating the overall quality of the show is the first appearance of Jason Priestley as Jack Harper. The chemistry between Dushku and Priestley is instant, and his character is unique and intriguing. It's clear that his addition to the cast is going to be the catalyst for many interesting episodes to come.

    1.16 - Two Pair (04.08.04)

    Building on momentum in the home stretch, "Two Pair" is an exercise in duality. Keeping the "formula" fresh once again, a body arrives in the morgue and asks for help ... but for the first time, Tru's day does not rewind. Confused, she tries to gather some information about the victim anyway until a second body arrives ... and asks for help. This time her day does rewind, but all the way back to before the first victim. Attempting to save two people is too much for her to handle, so she enlists the help of Harrison. What makes this episode so strong is the continued evolution of Harrison's character. He's still a screw-up, but he's trying to be more than that, and here he really shines. This episode also fleshes out even more information about Jack's character in some creative ways, and it sets up what will prove to be a very strong finale.

    1.19 - D.O.A (04.29.04)

    Although two distinct plots, the final two episodes of the season were aired on the same night promoted as a two-hour "finale". The DVD appropriately separates the two and treats them as individual episodes. Tru is asked for help by a man who died in the middle of the street from a heart attack. Unable to prevent the heart attack itself, she must figure out whom she is supposed to save. This is a major episode for Jack, who up until this point was on the fringe just lurking about, but now he gets in on the action and works alongside Tru as she attempts to save the day. This is also yet another strong episode for Harrison whose character becomes even more likeable with each story.

    1.20 - Two Weddings and a Funeral (04.29.04)

    The season finale. It's difficult to say too much about this episode without giving away information that new viewers may not want to know, so I'll simply say that it's exactly what a season finale should be. Storylines that have been building all season come to a head, and new details are hinted at setting up what will likely be the over arcing story for the second season. Each character has some great scenes, and it's clear that the show -- writers and actors alike -- has really found its footing and is worthy of another season.

PRESENTATION:

The complete first season of Tru Calling is housed in a standard side-opening cardboard box containing 3 slender plastic cases of 2 DVDs each. While there is some room for the DVDs to come loose inside the individual mini-cases during shipping, overall it's a competently packaged release. Each disc features the face of a different character, and their respective cases contain brief summary information of the contained episodes. Wasting no space on bulky cases or cumbersome packaging, this release is not only functional but aesthetically pleasing, and its standard proportions make it easy to position on most any DVD shelf.

Each episode is presented in a widescreen (1.78:1) aspect ratio as shown on Fox's original "High Resolution Digital" broadcasts. The opening titles look fantastic, and the transfer does a solid job capturing the beautiful scenery of the Vancouver locations. The picture has a slight grain to it, but it's not distracting except for one episode, which is strangely lower quality than the others, and the final product is relatively free of any unnecessary post production "enhancements." Some of the scenes in the morgue are a tad dark, but that's more about the style of the show than the DVD itself. On the whole, the video presentation is of appropriate quality and looks pretty good blown up to 65 inches.

The Dolby Digital soundtrack is 5.1, but for the most part it's unnecessary. Vocals are sometimes a bit low compared to the background effects when the director is trying to create tension, but most of the scenes are appropriately mixed, and the minor flaws are only noticeable if you're overanalyzing the audio for an online review. Most viewers will find the audio and video presentation more than acceptable.

WHISTLES & BELLS:

Promoting television series currently on the air through DVD sales seems to be an obvious evolution, but many studios still haven't grasped the concept. Fox, however, has done very well in this area, and if the network has the faith (har har, try the veal ..) to give this series a second season (something that seems very unlikely at this point), this release could help its success. Instead of just dumping the episodes to disc and rushing them into stores, they've taken some time to make this set worth purchasing, including 6 episode commentaries with producers and cast, deleted scenes (with and without commentary) from most of the episodes, and 3 featurettes covering the genesis of the show and its evolution throughout the season. For some of the episodes, the deleted scenes are simply longer versions of those that made the final product; for others, notably "Daddy's Girl" with over 8 minutes of material, they reveal entire storylines that were removed and are well worth the time to check out.

The audio commentaries represent a nice cross-section of the show's major characters and are spread out nicely among the 6 discs ... with one exception. Disc #2 really doesn't have any standout episodes on it, but there's a commentary with Executive Producer and Creator Jon Harmon Feldman anyway. He's all by himself and clearly uncomfortable with it, and it's a waste of time. Fortunately, he realizes it and jokes about how terrible it was in another of the commentaries for a different episode. The other 5 commentaries, however, are very entertaining. On the "Pilot" and "The Longest Day", Feldman along with Executive Producer Dawn Parouse, Eliza Dushku (Tru) and Shawn Reaves (Harrison) share stories about the show's beginning and what it was like filming in Vancouver.

Parouse and Reaves are replaced with Zach Galifianakis (Davis) on the commentaries for "Daddy's Girl" and "Two Weddings and a Funeral", and Galifianakis' great sarcastic sense of humor really shines. Both of these commentaries are very funny, but personally I would have enjoyed some more insight on the production. Thankfully, the commentary on "Two Pair" is fascinating. Feldman and Priestley spend the entire 40+ minutes talking about Jason's acting style, the way the episodes were directed, how television is different from film, and they share the thought process behind much of the show's mythology. I loved this commentary track, and while the others were enjoyable, I would have been very happy to hear even more from Priestley.

On the 6th disc are three featurettes, the complete music video for the title song "Somebody Help Me" by Full Blown Rose, and a oddly placed 30 second promo for Arrested Development. Arrested Development is one of the funniest shows on television, but I'm not sure I see the cross-promotional appeal of linking these two shows. The music video is pretty standard soundtrack video fare. Scenes from the show are intercut with scenes of the band dressed in costumes and placed in settings that are reminiscent of the series. It's nothing special and is probably only of interest to die hard fans of the show or the band.

The "three" featurettes are all compiled from the same interview footage and, while divided by theme, could easily be a single 30-minute piece instead. Marketing at work. "Finding the Calling: The Pilot" focuses on pilot season, how the actors were cast, and why they were interested in the project. Parouse mentions the uncertainty over trying to get Dushku for the project because of rumors surrounding a possible Faith series, and Eliza herself talks a bit about what intrigued her about the project and why she accepted the role. Feldman also discusses why he felt it was necessary to cast a comedian for the role of Davis.

"The Tru Path: Season One" blends interview footage about the learning curve the producers and actors faced trying to find which stories work and which do not. Eliza talks about her favorite episodes, and the other actors discuss what it was like when they found out the pilot had been picked up, but there's not much material here. It's as if the editors took whatever interesting interview footage was left over from the first and third featurette and dropped it in here. Still, the anecdotes are entertaining, so it's worth watching.

The final featurette "Evil Comes Calling: A Late Season Twist" focuses specifically on the overall mythology of the series. Parouse and Feldman discuss how the concept was planned from the beginning and how it evolved over time. Networks are often criticized for meddling with the creative process, but Fox's contribution in this area may be one of the best parts of the entire series. It's the most revealing of the three featurettes and gives a lot of insight into why many of the creative decisions were made.

An easter egg can be found on the 6th disc in the Featurette menu of the Special Features section. By pressing up and selecting the electrocardiogram, you can see an early screen test of Zach Galifianakis for the "Pilot" episode. It's a short piece, but it's very interesting to watch.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

Tru Calling is an excellent example of a television series that can flourish if given time to grow. Many of the early episodes aren't anything special. They're a bit predictable and formulaic, but underneath them is a level of quality worth exploring. As they find their rhythm and tweak the show a bit, everything falls into place, and by the season finale, it's a pretty darn good show. While Eliza Dushku is a capable actress and portrays Tru very well, much of the show's quality can be attributed to outstanding performances by the supporting cast, most notably Zach Galifianakis and Shawn Reaves, as well as the addition of Jason Priestley, who elevates the show to another level. What he brings to the character and the show is both nuanced and compelling, and it's fascinating to watch him on screen. I am right on the edge of highly recommending this title, because I think many people would really enjoy it, and I find myself increasingly annoyed that there likely will not be a second season. However, the featurettes aren't as thorough as I would have hoped, and while entertaining, the commentaries (with the exception of "Two Pair") do not delve deeply enough into the creative process. Still, this is a very entertaining show with many layers, and I think the coolness of the easter egg nudges it just over the edge. Highly Recommended.

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