Robson Arms - Season 2
Video Watchdog // Unrated // $24.95 // February 19, 2008
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted March 23, 2008
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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"More of the same" is the operative word, in this case a good thing, with regard to Robson Arms - Season 2, a two-disc set that includes all 13 shows from the 2007 season, plus a bounty of extra features. As noted in this reviewer's comments on season one, this Canadian "dramedy" boasts clever writing, uniformly terrific performances and, best of all, refreshingly adult stories told in a frank and honest manner all but unknown on American network television. When your season-opener is titled "Ordinary Assholes" and early episodes amusingly grapple with unpleasant paraplegics, erections and masturbation, and ravenous workplace groping among sexually frustrated employees, you know this isn't the stuff of Full House.

Frankly, there's not a whole lot one can add to that Season 1 review, partly because this second set of 13 episodes pretty much play like what in American television 20 years ago would have been the second-half of a 26-episode season. For the uninitiated, Robson Arms (that's "Rob-son," as in Rob Petrie, as opposed to African-American icon Paul Robeson) has an unusual format. It's a resolutely ensemble show, basically weekly character vignettes, of the varied residents of a single Vancouver apartment building. Each show zeroes in on the goings-on within a single unit, though it's shot in such a way that the other residents (including otherwise one-off guest stars, like Margot Kidder last year and Leslie Nielsen here) will run into one another in the hallways, or maybe at the convenience store connected to the building.

Season Two picks right up where the first year had ended, in the months following a big earthquake that left the building even more dilapidated that it already was, and with the property for sale following the death of its owners. All this leaves Yuri (John Cassini), the building's sleazy, dishonest superintendent (he brings hookers home to his tenants' apartments, using their beds while they're away, among other crimes) to piece together the building until it can be sold. In the opening scene, he's shown duct-taping a stairwell railing that's come loose. He's about as close as the show gets to having a single focal point character.

Stylistically, the show is somewhat similar to the work of Wes Anderson, most notably its opening title montages performed by "the Troubadours" (Tom Saunders and Jason Dedrick), with original lyrics that ironically comment on the various goings-on in the building.

The opening show is typical of what follows. Guest star Leslie Nielsen (whom I suspect must be related in some way to co-creator Susin Nielsen) is Caldo Vasco, a minor former NHL player paralyzed after a car accident. An unpleasant man who uses his handicapped status to engender sympathy from the other tenants, he's eventually blackmailed by Yuri after the building manager learns the accident was self-inflicted: Caldo was DUI, and ran over a dog in the process. Nielsen's lost that agelessness he held onto for about five decades, but he still manages to give one of his best late-career performances, quite funny and sad but by design not especially sympathetic.

Shows this season include stories about gender confusion, loneliness, adultery, a sexual fetish for alopecia, alcoholism, etc., always with humor and perceptiveness, in teleplays by Karen McClellan, David Moses, Susin Nielsen (the show's co-creator with director Gary Harvey), Jesse McKeown, Daegan Fryklind, and Sioux Browning.

Video & Audio

Robson Arms - Season 2 once again presents the show's 13 episodes on two discs, with episodes 1-8 on Disc One and 9-13 (plus the extra features) on Disc Two. Episodes are in 16:9 enhanced widescreen accompanied by a strong surround stereo mix. There are no subtitle options, though the series is close-captioned; unlike the last set, these do not include an alternate French-dubbed track (for native French-Canadian speakers).

Extra Features

Supplements include a season two trailer, "Troubadour Teasers" (actually nothing more than each show's opening), a behind-the-scenes documentary (13 minutes), bloopers and 13 minutes of deleted scenes, and bonus "webisodes" (15 minutes).

Parting Thoughts

Unlike most American network sitcoms and "dramedies," Robson Arms doesn't insult its audience's intelligence nor does it forsake an honest depiction of human emotions and frailties in the name of political correctness. It's a great show and Season 2, more like a continuation of this great mosaic that's being slowly pieced together, comes Highly Recommended.

Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is due out in June.

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