It's not the most long-awaited import to Region 1 DVD, but Bob Mills and Jeff Pope's Northern Lights (2004-2008) is a decent little slice of British comedy. The eventual series premiered on ITV as a feature-length movie (Christmas Lights), followed by a six-episode run called Northern Lights. The series carried on with the six-episode City Lights and came full-circle with another Christmas-themed movie, Clash of the Santas. All four chunks of comedy feature Robson Green and Mark Benton as Colin Armstrong and Howard Scott, two chummy neighbors and co-workers who usually act like overgrown kids rather than mature adults. More often than not, the series chugs along nicely...but in typical TV fashion, things eventually change direction and not always for the better.
Colin and Howard are engaged in a never-ending battle of one-upmanship. Friends since childhood, these two likable chaps once argued over typical things: girls, sports and the like. As adults, their friendly competition has extended to cars, houses, jobs and even Christmas lights. Their reluctant spouses, Pauline and Jackie, regularly practice tolerance without necessarily encouraging the two. It's an all-too-familiar tale of "keeping up with the Joneses"...and in the wrong hands, such a premise could feel mean-spirited or, even worse, fall completely flat. But the performances and natural charisma of Green and Benton keep things lively and entertaining during the bulk of Christmas Lights and Northern Lights. This full-length premiere movie and six-episode run offer a solid balance of comedy with a few well-timed bits of drama to keep viewers on their toes.
Unfortunately, this balance is not maintained...and although I've got to give credit to the series for attempting a change, it just feels like an odd distortion. City Lights takes things in a darker direction as Colin and Howard witness a murder and their families are placed in a witness protection program. Surprisingly, this plot device doesn't change the series' feel as drastically as one might think, yet the introduction of a few overly-dramatic story elements pushes City Lights into quasi-soap opera territory. As a counterpoint to Northern Lights, the six-episode City Lights is a vaguely interesting yet ill-timed venture.
Our final chapter is Clash of the Santas, which amps up the goofiness but still serves as a decent epilogue. Originally aired over a year after City Lights wrapped, Clash of the Santas sends our heroes to a Santa convention in northern Europe, but an unfortunate decision puts Colin and Howard in a bit of a role-reversal. As a whole, Northern Lights (the default name of this two-movie, 12-episode package) has the ability to surprise and amuse curious newcomers, though it's perhaps best experienced in limited doses.
Acorn Media's DVD package herds together the whole shebang in a compact but pricey four-disc package. Only one genuine extra has been included and the technical presentation is a bit disappointing, though, which makes Northern Lights: The Complete Collection more of a curious diversion than a no-brainer for fans of British television.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, this four-disc collection looks good but not great. Everything appears to have been shot on video; as such, the image isn't particularly sharp and shadow detail barely even registers. Additionally, the content has not been flagged correctly for progressive playback, so there's a modest amount of digital combing on display. I've definitely seen better-looking imports, but Northern Lights is still a watchable endeavor on the whole.
The source audio doesn't aim very high either, so the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix replicates these low-key productions fairly well. Dialogue is generally clear and easy to understand, while occasional music cues rarely fight for attention. If you're not used to British accents and slang, the optional English SDH subtitles will be of some use.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the static menus are simply designed and easy to navigate. Each 50-minute episode and both movies have been divided into roughly half a dozen chapters and selection sub-menus are present for each. These DVDs are dual-layered and the four-disc set is housed in a standard-width, hinged keepcase with a slipcover and promotional insert. It's a practical and efficient packaging job that doesn't hog much shelf space.
Disc 2 includes the lone extra: a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
, which runs about 45 minutes in length and originally aired before the City Lights
premiere in April 2007. It's a modestly entertaining effort with plenty of cast/crew input, production footage and highlight clips. Fairly standard stuff for the most part, but this is a thoughtful inclusion nonetheless. Unlike the main features, however, optional subtitles are not offered.
It's a situation that sounds more like an American series than a British one: Northern Lights is great at first, but falls a bit flat halfway through. Still, Bob Mills and Jeff Pope's popular series contains genuine laughs, fine performances and touching moments. Acorn Media's DVD package doesn't hit all the marks, pairing a shaky technical presentation with only one real bonus feature. Fans of the series will get their money's worth, but anyone new to Northern Lights should dip their toes in the water first. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. He also enjoys slacking off and writing stuff in third person.