Background: Television on DVD remains one of the most popular uses for the format as well as a pretty cool way of revisiting shows without commercials, editing, and in order. Having watched a great deal of television over the years, I've also noticed that when a show moves from network television over to cable (the first time being with the later season of Airwolf though La Femme Nikita and Babylon Five/Crusade come to mind in a sense too), the budgets get slashed, many of the cast and crew leave the series, and the writing gets decidedly weaker. Still, if done properly, a show can live on; especially if it's a labor of love. This time though, I'm not looking at such a show because it was a vampire detective show (not Angel either) known as Forever Knight: Complete Season Three.
Series: Forever Knight was a weekly cop show pushed as a mid-season replacement on CBS during the 1992 broadcast season. The show was eventually pushed back to the end of the season and started airing in May, typically when all the ratings sweeps have finished up, in a late night slot, previously reserved for syndicated shows. The network cancelled the show at the end of its first run (I think the David Letterman Show moved it out of the slot) but it came back with a new season in syndication about 18 months after the show nearly died a premature death. Over the course of the first season, fans became familiar with the ages old vampire Nicholas "Nick" Knight (Geraint Wyn Davies), a vampire who was converted in 1228 by a master vampire Lucien Lacroix (played ably by veteran television actor Nigel Bennett-from LEXX fame). Having experienced many lifetimes of pain, suffering, loss and man's inhumanity to man, Nick has finally decided to reclaim his long lost humanity. To that end, he searches for a cure with the help of a doctor, Natalie Lambert (Catherine Disher), as he protects the streets of Toronto, Canada working as a police detective partly in order to pay back some of his karmic debt. In years past, I took a look at Forever Knight Season One and Forever Knight Season Two, noting the changes that took place each year as the cast evolved. The dynamic of the show was that each week, Nick would encounter a mystery that would remind him of one of his past experiences and he would approach it as such (like the Highlander series). More often than not, Nick would actually end up facing someone related or turned (into a vampire) that he dealt with before and he would have to deal with them as part of the set up. That was the biggest weakness of the series for me outside of the acting and writing since it required the audience to relive the same basic plot every week, albeit with the usual supernatural connections. Given how fans have fought long and hard for this release though, I have to hand it to them for their success (a full page advertisement in a trade magazine earlier this year seems to have helped their efforts).
Forever Knight: Complete Season Three started out on something of a downbeat with his partner, Don "Skank" Schanke (John Kapelos) and Captain Cohen (Natsuko Ohama), dying off screen when a terrorist bombs a plane that Nick would have been on. This leads to his being assigned a new partner, Tracy Vetter (Lisa Ryder of Andromeda and other genre shows), who immediately gets in his way as the police commissioner's daughter. She sees a man in the wreckage of the conveniently crashed airplane that moves, later proving to be a vampire himself and a leading character of the season as Vachon. The kicker was that she learns that he's a vampire and seeks to keep the information secret from Nick, quite a turnabout on the series premise that Nick is the one with the secret. In general though, the series had a few decent episodes that relied heavily on Nigel Bennett's LaCroix character but most of the them were too lacking in the comedic flair the previous seasons used to lighten the mood and the tragic endings for the majority of characters by season's end seemed designed to silence the very vocal fans that had kept the show afloat until that point.
The LaCroix and Janette scenes were always the best of the lot; LaCroix having survived his previous "death" in order to keep the interest alive. His role throughout the series was as a foil for Nick more than a mentor since Nick's main goal was to return to a mortal state by redeeming his soul in one way or another. LaCroix had turned him 800 years prior and they shared a great many adventures together throughout the ages but Nick always had a wanderlust about living with humans; not a great idea considering they were food to his kind and would turn on him in a second were they to find out (with rare exceptions). Natalie then was Nick's guardian angel in the sense that she wanted him to become human against LaCroix's wishes; the two battling it out right up until the final episode in one form or another.
The season highlights for me were Hearts of Darkness, where Nick and Tracy are spending as much time protecting their respective secrets as solving the case; Night in Question, where Nick gets amnesia which endangers him and his associates for a variety of reasons; Ashes to Ashes where LaCroix's past comes back to haunt the cast; and The Human Factor with the return of Janette as a primary focal point in a murder mystery. There were plenty of really weak episodes this time though (too many to name) and seemed to cater largely to the hardcore fans of the show with writing that could've been handed in on the back of a napkin. Here's a look at the episodes in order along with their original air dates:
1) Black Buddha Part 1 (September 16, 1995)
2) Black Buddha Part 2 (September 23, 1995)
3) Outside the Lines (September 30, 1995)
4) Blackwing (October 7, 1995)
5) Blind Faith (October 14, 1995)
6) My Boyfriend is a Vampire (October 21, 1995)
7) Hearts of Darkness (October 28, 1995)
8) Trophy Girl (November 4, 1995)
9) Let No Man Tear Asunder (November 11, 1995)
10) Night in Question (November 18, 1995)
11) Sons of Belial (November 25, 1995)
12) Strings (January 13, 1996)
13) Fever (January 20, 1996)
14) Dead of Night (January 27, 1996)
15) The Games Vampires Play (February 3, 1996)
16) The Human Factor (February 10, 1996)
17) Avenging Angel (February 17, 1996)
18) Fallen Idol (February 24, 1996)
19) Jane Doe (April 27, 1996)
20) Francesca (May 4, 1996)
21) Ashes to Ashes (May 11, 1996)
22) Last Knight (May 18, 1996)
Okay, the value of the DVD set will vary greatly depending on your personal taste in the show. If you're one of those fans that contributed to placing the advertisement in Sci-Fi Magazine, you'll be all over yourself trying to get an early copy of the set. If, on the other hand, you never really got into the show, the series will be closer to one you'll pass up as indicative of genre based syndicated television gone bad. I liked the show enough in principle to rate it as a Rent It but the third season was the weakest of the three by a wide margin due to the loss of the humanizing characters (Skank in particular) and what appeared to be efforts to spin off some of the younger characters (who must not have tested too well with audiences). The way so many plot devices had to be explained away in expository moments and continued failing of the writers to account for major gaps in how Nick acted (not to mention the other characters) also left a bad taste in my mouth at times but I like the Highlander styled episode set up in general so it was worth checking out for me (especially since I had only watched a handful of episodes when it originally aired).
Picture: Forever Knight: Complete Season Three was presented in the same 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in for airing on the USA Network. I know that the mere mention of that network as the primary location for this shot-in-Canada series will bring tears to your eyes but as a cost cutting measure, it might have helped keep the series alive (it had been cancelled several times, always being saved by the fans who hung on until the end). The good news is that the show only looked kind of bad; with video noise, grain and some pattern noise. The edge enhancement and bleeding colors weren't a huge factor with the set but it looked low budget in almost all cases (not helped by the majority of scenes being at night in dark locations). There were 22 episodes without commentaries, alternate versions, or other extras to use up space on the 5 single sided, dual layer discs and if you remember what Forever Knight Season One and Forever Knight Season Two looked like, this was something of a mixed blessing too.
Sound: The audio for the Forever Knight: Complete Season Three set was in 2.0 Dolby Digital English stereo with what sounded like all of the original music kept intact. The vocals were slightly on the hollow side and the music was as dark (if not darker) than ever, but it sounded better than I recall it on cable with some minor separation between the channels at times. If any of you reading this has specific instances where anything was altered, by all means feel free to write me but in general, it was a decent version of the show's audio properties.
Extras: The only extras included this time were three music videos that used footage from the show and combined it to some rather pleasant music with romantic overtones. They were assembled by fellow Texan, Kristin Harris, a talented young lady in school to become a professional in the field but that's all there was outside of a skimpy four page insert. The DVD case was the book shaped, fold out style with cardboard box cover for those who care.
Final Thoughts: Forever Knight: Complete Season Three finally completed the trilogy of seasons for the show (I reviewed Forever Knight Season One almost exactly three years ago and Forever Knight Season Two back in January of 2005 so this was a long time coming) and fans will be happy with it finally making it to stores next month (okay, next week). The lack of substantial extras, especially when such a wealth of them are archived online, the lack of the longer Canadian versions of the episodes, and the relatively low end DVD mastering that Forever Knight: Complete Season Three received might put off some fair weather friends of the show (who will probably hope that future HD versions will do better by the series) but it held up well compared to the versions you'll find airing on cable (and much better than the scores of weak looking bootlegs some idiots were selling). Check it out based on your love of vampires, the characters, and the highlights of the series but don't expect much more than the basics. Kudos to Kristin's three music videos (Black Rose, The Hunger, and Touch the Night) for being better produced then many of the episodes were, though still not enough to really satiate my undying thirst for lots of quality extras.