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Case Number 27111: Small Claims Court

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Roman Catacomb Mystery

PBS // 2014 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 21st, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas wants to be buried in a giant honeycomb.

The Charge

Who were these people?

The Case

Dear NOVA,

Come over here for a minute. No, no, you're not in trouble, I just want to talk.

How's it going? Wow, it's hard to believe that you've been on the air for forty years now. Forty years! That's a pretty incredible run, and honestly, you've earned it. For decades, you've been delivering some of the most compelling science-themed programming on television. You've taught us about so many different corners of the universe, illuminating the mysteries of planets, elements, scientific innovations and professions with long names. I've learned so much from you, and I'm sure that I will learn much more in the years ahead. At least, I hope I will. Uh, that sort of brings me to what I was wanting to talk to you about. No, I already said you're not in trouble. Honestly.

It's just…I mean…could you…uh, what's the deal with some of these specials you're doing lately? Sorry, I'm not being very clear. What I'm really wondering is why some of your recent specials have felt dumbed-down, as if you're trying to compete with the more sensationalistic programming offered up by History or A&E. Listen, I know that everybody needs to find a way to put bread on the table, but you're on PBS. You shouldn't have to compete with the rest of those shows. You're funded by foundations with prestigious names and noble taglines, and by viewers like me who are willing to pay an absurd amount of money for a tote bag. So much of the networks's programming is still so classy and informative—Frontline remains one of the best investigative journalism shows on TV, and American Experience is frequently tremendous. NOVA, I used to include you in that group without question, but lately…I dunno.

Take this Roman Catacomb Mystery special, for instance. It's not a bad subject, honestly. In 2002, maintenance workers accidentally discovered a massive burial site, and your host Michael Scott (no relation to the fictional character on The Office) is determined to figure where these corpses came from and who these people were. Christian martyrs? Plague victims? Something else? The actual info that is included is fairly compelling, but it's the delivery that gets a little obnoxious—the needless X-ray filters flashing on and off, the jittery cuts, the pounding music that sounds like something from a Tony Scott film. Honestly, it feels like the program is talking down to the audience, whereas once upon a time you asked us to meet you halfway. The show isn't bad. You still have some excellent episodes now and then, and you're obviously much better than a lot of other stuff about there. But, seriously, you're NOVA, and I expect more from you.

Hey, at least you've provided Roman Catacomb Mystery with a sturdy 1.78:1 transfer. It's a pretty typical standard-def presentation of an hour-long TV broadcast, but it gets the job done. As always, HD might have permitted a bit more detail, but you don't lose a whole lot considering that talking heads dominate a fair portion of the proceedings. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is sturdy, too, finding a solid balance between the narration and the aggressive score (seriously, the soundtrack needs to settle down). As usual, you've neglected to provide any supplements, but that's typical for this sort of release.

I'm not going to recommend that people stop watching you, NOVA, but I'm going to keep hoping that you return to your former glory.

The Verdict

Not guilty, I guess.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2014
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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