Judge Eric Profancik is sad to say that "dead" is an appropriate adjective for this season of the eerie television drama.
Our reviews of The Dead Zone (published October 2nd, 2000), Dead Zone: The Complete First Season (published August 4th, 2003), The Dead Zone: The Complete Second Season (published July 19th, 2004), The Dead Zone: The Complete Fourth Season (published July 12th, 2006), The Dead Zone: The Complete Fifth Season (published July 11th, 2007), The Dead Zone (2002) (published January 14th, 2003), and The Dead Zone: The Final Season (published June 18th, 2008) are also available.
"What would you do if you had the perfect life and ended up with this?"
Somewhere in the shuffle, I missed a few episodes and I didn't even know it. You'd figure that if you set your VCR to record the USA Network every Sunday night at 10:00 p.m., you'd tape every show. That's what I thought, yet imagine my surprise when I received this set that I'd missed one-third of the entire third season. Granted, we're only talking about four shows, but how did I miss four shows?
I really enjoy The Dead Zone. I've made a valiant attempt to catch it every week because it is one of the better, more engrossing shows on television these days, especially in the barren wasteland of summer. Yet when I made my way through all twelve episodes of this season, I came away with a different response that caused me to pause for three weeks before writing up this review. That is a first for me, for with every previous review I've done for the site (the count is currently at 201 reviews), I have written up my review the same week I finished watching all the materials on the disc. What's going on here?
Facts of the Case
Johnny Smith (Anthony Michael Hall, Weird Science) is wrestling over the demons of visions of an apocalyptic future. Is congressional candidate Greg Stillson (Sean Patrick Flannery, The Boondock Saints) going to one day become president of the United States and lead this country to a nuclear holocaust? Is he truly able to speak with people from the future via his cane, or is his "dead zone" simply causing permanent, potentially mortal, brain damage? And if Johnny can put these big problems to the side, his personal life isn't faring much better. Johnny's unusual relationships with his ex-girlfriend Sarah (Nicole deBoer, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Sheriff Bannerman, his son JJ, and Reverend Purdy (David Ogden Stiers, M*A*S*H) are getting more complicated and precarious by the day.
Presented on this three-disc set are the twelve episodes of the third season of The Dead Zone:
• "Finding Rachel, Part 1"
Do twelve episodes truly make up a season, especially when you have a two-parter? I know the studios want us to believe that, but do you believe a show has the right to call twelve stories a full season? I don't buy into that concept, for I'm accustomed to twenty-four episodes comprising a true, complete season of a show. It rubs me the wrong way to have something half the size give itself the same label. Why aren't the producers making more than twelve episodes? This show is doing pretty well for USA, so why limit yourself? Give yourself an opportunity to spread your wings and tackle more stories, more intricate plots. Grab your viewers and don't let them go. Why settle for mediocrity?
My little rant there brings up two additional points about the third season of The Dead Zone. First is that this year continues the series-long "arc"—if you can call it that—of Johnny versus Greg Stillson. We get the idea that everything is coming to a head. What took one book and one two-hour movie with Christopher Walken might finally see resolution in the third "season" of this show. Will Johnny find a way to avert his horrible vision of an annihilated Washington D.C.? Tune in and find out. To further enhance—and stretch out—the arc, two new characters come into the fold, sisters Rachel and Rebecca Caldwell (Sarah Wynter, 24). In the opening two-parter, Rachel goes missing and it's up to Johnny to find her—and more. The additional twist is that she's a worker in Stillson's campaign, so it's possible Stillson did something bad to her. With Rachel missing, we meet Rebecca. As she reluctantly teams up with Johnny to find her missing sister, eventually the two develop a relationship—and it's a good one. The two are a great match. With Rebecca in a good portion of the season, her presence ties things back to Stillson, even when he isn't a character in that story. But he doesn't stay away long, and the season finale reminds us that Stillson and Armageddon may go hand in hand.
While we do have this arc stretching into the third season, it does not dominate every episode. In fact, the majority of the year is made of stand-alone episodes fleshing out more of Johnny's powers, his past, and other dark situations in problem-stricken Maine. Unfortunately, that brings us to point two: "blah." That ugly little word perfectly summarizes my thoughts on the third season. It's boring; it's average; it's just there. The wonder and charm of the first two (and a half) seasons is missing from most of this year. Nothing feels particularly fresh or exciting, regardless of the entire Stillson situation. It's this reaction to the season that kept me from doing this review for so long. I had nothing to say, and what came to mind felt too harsh for a show that is not bad. The Dead Zone has slightly wandered off the path this season, yet it's still a show worth watching. If you can stomach Richard Lewis as a shock jock in "Cold Hard Truth," then you can manage anything.
Moving on to the discs, it appears that this third season is the third release with a significant problem. With Season One, the studio offered a mail-in bonus disc but ran out of them after receiving unexpectedly high demand. Fans were not happy with that development. For Season Two, apparently one of the discs was defective, making the same fans mad again. And with Season Three, every disc appears to be defective, depending on your player; that really irritated the fans! Simply put, if you have a non-widescreen television, it's possible you will see a one-pixel-tall white line at the top and bottom of the image. There was a pressing defect that some players can read, causing this line. Please click on the "Faulty Discs" link provided in the sidebar for an official statement from Lions Gate on which players are affected and how you can get replacement discs. Luckily, I did not experience any problems with my discs, as I have a widescreen television.
With most television on DVD these days, the phrase "television average" is becoming all too commonplace, but it yet again fits perfectly for this release. While we are fortunately treated to a 1.85:1 anamorphic print, it's just average in the color, sharpness, and detail departments. Everything looks good enough, but it's missing that depth and clarity we crave from our favorite digital medium; fortunately, you won't find any errors (aside from the one mentioned above). For the audio track it's a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that won't blow your socks off. The Dead Zone has moments where it could transcend its dialogue-intensive soundtrack—most notably in Johnny's visions—but it doesn't. Nevertheless, you'll be able to hear and understand all the dialogue without any problems or distortions.
Lions Gate did put some extra effort into the special features, but they did not all work for me either. The biggie is an audio commentary track on every episode, and, to be completely honest, I did not listen to every second of every track. With the "blah" factor hanging over me, I really had difficulty wanting to revisit every episode. Judging from what I did hear, fans will lap them up, as they contain lots of great information and stories. I greatly appreciate the commentary for every episode and believe that a commentary track (audio or text) should be standard for every episode of TV on DVD. Something else you'll find scattered across all the discs is a handful of deleted scenes for a few of the episodes. Now onto disc specific features, and this is where things get odd. On disc one, there are two quick features, "Making the Leap to HD" (8 minutes) and a short film, Five Minutes 'Til Mitch (6.5 minutes). Neither is particularly exciting, with the former talking about cutting costs and HD cameras, while the latter is an odd inclusion: the directing debut of John Adams, who plays Johnny's friend Bruce. "Mitch" has nothing to do with The Dead Zone, nor is it a particularly strong directorial debut. Disc two contains only one featurette, "Cooking Verité" (12 minutes). This one talks about the caterers on the set. You'd never imagine these two guys (who are brothers) are cooks, but they are, and their food made my mouth water. Sadly, I think, this is my favorite bonus item. Moving to disc three, the first item you'll find is "Quiet Confidence" (7 minutes). This piece follows Chris Bruno's (Walt Bannerman) unusual workout routine. Um, okay. Rounding things out are a gag reel (4 minutes) and some text biographies for the cast and production team.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As briefly mentioned, most of this season's episodes delve outside of the Stillson arc. Some of these don't work and some do. The two best things that came out of this are Johnny's new relationship with Rebecca and a resurgence for the good Reverend Purdy. I really like Rebecca; she and Johnny make a great couple, and it's nice to see him have a strong, positive relationship with a woman. While Purdy has been one of my favorite characters, he hasn't had enough screen time and has wallowed in the land of lack-of-development, so it was nice to see the writers give Purdy something to do.
The Dead Zone is an interesting and fun show to watch, and I make an effort to view it every week. Unfortunately the third season is the weakest so far, but you still have to stay tuned to see what's going to happen with Johnny and all those he loves. I cannot recommend purchasing this set, because while it's adequate on its transfers and bonus features, the episodes give me pause—not to mention the "third strike" problem in season releases for Lions Gate. Catch the show in reruns, maybe buy a used copy of one of the other seasons, but hold off on buying this set. It just doesn't have any lasting value.
It is hereby ruled that The Dead Zone: The Complete Third Season is found guilty of misinterpreting a vision. A proper reading would have averted such a lackluster season.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary on All Episodes
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