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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Tru Calling: The Complete First Season (2003)

"Me, of all people. Why do they come to me?"
- Tru (Eliza Dushku)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: November 30, 2004

Stars: Eliza Dushku
Other Stars: Shawn Reaves, Jessica Collins, Zach Galifianakis, A.J. Cook, Benjamin Benítez, Jason Priestley
Director: Bryan Spicer, Thomas J. Wright, Jeff Woolnough, Jesús Salvador Treviño, David Solomon, Paul Shapiro, Rick Rosenthal, Phillip Noyce, Allan Kroeker, Michael Katleman, David Grossman, Sanford Bookstaver, Guy Norman Bee, David Barrett

Manufacturer: PDMC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 15h:00m:00s
Release Date: November 30, 2004
UPC: 024543147053
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BBB B

DVD Review

With elements borrowed liberally from Groundhog Day and Quantum Leap, a dash of Run, Lola, Run, and a sprinkling of The Sixth Sense thrown in for good measure, Tru Calling debuted in October 2003, offering a starring role to one-time bad girl slayer Eliza Dushku. Coming off a recurring role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Faith, Dushku squashed the rumors of a "Faith the slayer" television series (something I was secretly wishing for at the time, and still do) by stepping into the role of Tru Davies, a med school student who takes a gig on the midnight shift at the city morgue. It is here in what is lovingly referred to as The Crypt—a holding place for "every unnatural death in the city"—that Tru discovers that sometimes the dead talk back, and it seems that she's the only one that can hear them.

But naturally that's not the half of it.

It is usually an impassioned and whispered "Help me!" from one of the stiffs—generally delivered by a corpse (or in some cases plural) that suddenly pops its eyes open—that inexplicably propels Tru back in time to relive the same day all over again, giving her the opportunity to try and prevent that particular unnatural death or deaths from occurring. So instead of kicking undead ass like Faith would have done, Dushku's Tru provides a reluctant service to certain newly departed, and in the process gets to change a rerun of the present day in order to impact the future by preventing an unnatural death.

While a sometimes logically spotty concept if you really were to think about it, I imagine that considering it is not exactly time travel that the usual rules of engagement (such as the time-honored chestnut that changing one thing in the past will affect all manner of future events) don't always have to apply, except of course when it is convenient for the storytelling. But as a regular one-hour series, the inconsistencies are largely glossed over in favor of Tru having to play amateur detective to try and save a life by piecing together vague clues, or poking her pretty nose into the lives of others.

The pilot episode was directed by feature film vet Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, The Bone Collector, Rabbit-Proof Fence), and quickly sets up the premise of Tru's unwelcome gift by introducing the recurring backstory of her dead mother, who was murdered in front of her when Tru was only 12. It is also here that we first meet the siblings—Harrison (Shawn Reaves), a cocky, street-smart type, and Meredith (Jessica Collins), Tru's coke-addicted lawyer sis, who each are struggling with their set of issues; there is also the quasi-tragicomic relief role of Davis (Zach Galifianakis), Tru's boss at the morgue who alternates between bouts of frustrated puppy-eyed woo and dry, sardonic wit. It's an interesting mix of supporting players for Tru to interact with, and though the show has the added plus of introducing a whole round of new characters each week, the strongest moments are between the regulars, with Zach Galifianakis, he of the bitterly sarcastic wit, the one I enjoy seeing the most. Plus, after seeing Jessica Collins free-flowing nudity in The Ranch, I now have a difficult time focusing on what's coming out of her mouth. But that's my problem.

I can tolerate intermittent structural flaws and logic gaffes—I did regularly watch Buffy for seven seasons, after all—and series television is generally ripe with it. Sometimes it smacks of simply shoddy writing, and sometimes it is probably just easier to more or less ignore the obvious for the sake of keeping the show buoyant, and hoping that no one notices. Such is the case with Tru Calling, where a few of the weaker episodes tend to highlight some of the looser story elements (why don't all unnatural deaths call out to her?) that just don't seem as glaring during some of the stronger installments, like those that come in the tail end of the 20-episode run on this first season set.

Most of the "mysteries" that Tru encounters along the way are not especially difficult to figure out before she does, and the red herrings that pop up are usually quite apparent as such. But believe it or not, that doesn't diminish the enjoyment of Tru Calling, and as long as we all know that this is empty calorie entertainment about a woman who can relive a day to save a dead person, then there's no harm in it.

The series is fun in that mindless kind of way that network television can sometimes deliver when it wants to, and as much as I generally detest any show that tries to work a main character's name in as some kind of clever play on words in the title, I do happen to really like this show.

It's far from perfect, but when it's good, it's very good.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Kudos to Fox for issuing the first season of Tru Calling in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are strong throughout, but there are some minor grain issues to contend with from time to time, with image detail being generally sharp. Black levels are fair, save for the intentionally shadowy morgue scenes.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in an above average 2.0 surround mix, one that utilizes the rear channels often enough to add a bit of depth periodically, especially during the morgue sequences when Tru hears the whispering dead. Dialogue is relatively clean, though not as crisp as a feature film, but certainly on par with most television series issued on DVD.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 240 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Arrested Development
22 Deleted Scenes
3 Featurette(s)
6 Feature/Episode commentaries by John Harmon Feldman, Dawn Parouse, Eliza Dushku, Shawn Reaves, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Priestly
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
6 Discs
6-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. music video
Extras Review: Fox has issued Tru Calling as a slim-lined boxed set, with each of three thin NexPak-style cases housing two discs, all housed in a sturdy cardboard slipcase. The end result is a six-disc set that is deceptively narrow, which is a plus for those with growing DVD collections and progressively limited shelf space.

As for the extras, there are six separate episode commentary tracks, all featuring creator/executive producer Jon Harmon Feldman, who is joined by assorted combinations of executive producer Dawn Parouse, along with cast members Eliza Dushku, Shawn Reaves, Jason Priestly and Zach Galifianakis. Depending on the track, and who's participating, the content varies from discussing location shooting in Canada to story origins, and little details like Dushku pointing out earrings she bought on Amazon will either seem interesting or simply dull trivia, your mileage may vary. For me, Feldman has the most to offer overall, and he does bring the most to the table, even if the accompanying featurettes cover a lot of the same ground in less time. I'll admit to being broadly surprised at the genuine likeability of Jason Priestly—an actor I've never really thought twice about—who helps out admirably with the commentary on the late season episode Two Pair.

There are also a trio of light, fluffy and moderately interesting behind-the-scenes featurettes, each detailing a separate element of the show. Finding the Calling: The Pilot (10m:52s) goes into the development and casting of the series, The Tru Path: Season One (08m:01s) is a quick snapshot at the way the show morphed during its freshman season, while Evil Comes Calling: A Late Season Twist (07m:52s) digs into the moment when Tru Calling rose above simply being another "dead body of the week" series and firmed up a continuing story arc that played out during the final eps. The commentaries are interesting in bits and pieces, but these three quick featurettes deliver much of the same material in a shorter span.

A total of 22 deleted scenes, all available with an optional commentary from creator/executive producer Jon Harmon Feldman, are included on select episodes. None of the excised clips, or Feldman's comments for that matter, are really particularly enlightening, except for the six scenes cut from the pivotal story arc introduced in the Daddy's Girl episode. It's a shame Feldman had to trim where he did, but the time constraints of network television left him little choice. These six are definitely worth a look, and I'm extremely pleased they were included here.

Disc 6 also contains a fairly easy to spot easter egg (02m:39s), featuring the screen test of Zach Galifianakis, as well as a promo for Arrested Development and a music video for the Tru Calling theme song, Somebody Help Me, (02m:59s) by the Evanescence-esque Full Blown Rose.

Each episode is cut into 12 chapters, and feature optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

She's not quite as grim and ass-kicking as Faith the slayer once was, but Eliza Dushku seems to have made the transition from recurring character to lead player pretty easily and without much fuss.

This three-disc set of the first season of Tru Calling—her "I hear dead people" series—builds a bit unevenly as it develops the whole "reliving a day" concept with a set of generally watchable standalone episodes on through a strong second-half-of-the-season story arc concerning more backstory on Tru's murdered mother, as well as the introduction of Jason Priestly to the cast.

This is not consistently great television (meaning it is far from being in the Twin Peaks/Dead Like Me realm) but it is entertaining video junk food, nonetheless, and I like it. With season two still in jeopardy as of this writing, I hope this release spurs a renewed interest that can salvage this show from an unnecessary early grave.

Recommended.

 


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