Sunday, March 31, 2013

March 2013 End Of The Month Report!

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What a weird month this was! First, with no major releases for preview screenings, I was shocked when - after a very slow month - the one preview I did have, for Tyler Perry's Temptation EXPLODED and we managed to pull our second best month on the blog ever. Given how slow the rest of the month was, this was quite a shock for me! The other big news was that I took some regular work, so my time to blog has been severely cut. The result is dramatically fewer reviews written in March than I would have liked. That said, it was not a bad month here at W.L. Swarts Reviews The Universe!

This month at W.L. Swarts Reviews The Universe, there was one addition to the Top Ten Of All Time and a lot of movement in some of the others in the Top Ten! This month, we put special emphasis on trading and gaming card reviews, in addition to the new cinematic releases! Thanks for all the "likes" for those posts!

We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe, so if you enjoy what you're reading, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the blog to get updates with each posting. As well, if you read a review that really affects you, be sure to "share" it! PLEASE share a link to the blog, not the content of the article; this keeps people coming to the site and, hopefully, liking what they find once they are here! We're really looking to grow our readership in this new year, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In March, we were able to keep the Index Pages up and updated most of the time (real work cut into that for sure!). The primary Index Page, which is now updated daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. Thank you so much! By purchasing items through the links on the blog, you sponsor my ability to continue reviewing. Thank you so much for that support!

At the end of March, I have reviewed the following:
444 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
765 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2211 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Oscar Winner Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
192 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Trek Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Wars Gaming Cards Reviews
The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game Reviews
Other Gaming Cards Reviews
Trading Cards Reviews
647 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
with specialized pages for:
Ornament Reviews
Star Trek Toys
Star Wars Toys
Lord Of The Rings Toys
Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel Toys
Comic Book, Movie, Television Toys
Plush and Other Toys
658 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
183 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
107 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
141 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
151 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
86 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
25 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews Of The Month for March are: Janis Ian In Concert - East Lansing, MI - March 8, 2013 and Star Trek Heroes & Villains trading cards!
Check it out!

The month of March had a lot of movement within the month and from some interesting prior reviews (The Big Bang Theory Season 5 was one hit away from making this list!). For March, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Finish Quantum Powerball Dishwashing Blocks
9. 21 And Over
8. Warm Bodies
7. Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Lamb & Brown Rice Formula Dog Food
6. Les Miserables
5. Identity Thief
4. The World Of Flashpoint Featuring The Flash
3. Jack The Giant Slayer
2. Oz The Great And Powerful
1. Tyler Perry's Temptation

I pride myself on being an exceptionally fair reviewer, but one who is very discriminating. I believe that most reviewers are far too biased toward both what is current and toward unduly praising things. I tend to believe most things actually are average and they ought to follows something around a Bell Curve. Mine is a little lopsided, but not as lopsided as most reviewers I know (who would probably have peak numbers between ten and seven!

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 274 reviews
9s - 393 reviews
8s - 707 reviews
7s - 790 reviews
6s - 708 reviews
5s - 938 reviews
4s - 662 reviews
3s - 541 reviews
2s - 240 reviews
1s - 164 reviews
0s - 81 reviews
No rating - 39 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, despite only one new entry into the Top Ten, and at the end of March, the most popular reviews/articles I have written are:
10. The Hunger Games
9. Star Trek: Machinations Of Doomsday
8. Won't Back Down
7. Jack The Giant Slayer
6. Prometheus
5. Beautiful Creatures
4. Oz The Great And Powerful
3. Safe Haven
2. Tyler Perry's Temptation
1. Warm Bodies

Thank you again, so much, for reading! Please share links to the blog with friends and spread the word!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission. | | |

Visually Unimpressive, Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert Is Only For The Die-hard Fans.

The Good: Amazing vocals, Great songs, Moments of performance
The Bad: Utterly uninspired direction, Poor visual presentation
The Basics: Musically amazing, the Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert is a visually unimpressive experience for fans to pick up on DVD or Blu-Ray.

For Easter, my wife and I had a little French day. I made her French toast for breakfast, we kissed a lot, and I presented her with a gift: Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert on DVD. As I understand it, this 1985 performance from the Royal Albert Hall was part of the BBC’s (and PBS in the United States) Great Performances television series. It is presented on DVD as a single concert experience and it is the closest I could come to fulfilling one of my wife’s lifelong dreams. As a young person, my wife, who was already a Les Miserables fan was denied inclusion in a family trip to see Les Miserables at a local college. It absolutely stymied me that the original cast, including Colm Wilkinson and Philip Quast came to the backwoods of Michigan where we now reside, yet it did and my wife was not allowed to go with her siblings to the production and that just left me steamed. So, I – lacking a time machine – decided to do the next best thing to taking her to Les Miserables, which was I picked her up the DVD of Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert. She may not be able to see Les Miserables with her dream cast in person, but now she can see it any time she wants at home.

Watching Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert now was a somewhat ironic experience for me. Since I met the woman who would eventually become my wife, we have listened to the soundtrack to the Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert (reviewed here!) in pretty high rotation on road trips. So, I was pretty intimately familiar with this soundtrack from years of listening to it. Between that and seeing the new version of Les Miserables (reviewed here!) together multiple times, I figured that the benefit to picking up Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert was that we would get a very different presentation of the musical play.

Unfortunately, we did . . . and we didn’t.

It is worth noting upfront that my wife, an absolute die-hard fan, had the transcendental experience I hoped she would when we watched this together today.

I, however, did not.

Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert is, as its name implies and I lived in denial of almost the entire film, a concert, not a play. The difference is all the difference. For more than 95% of the film, the performers on stage are not interacting. In fact, most of them are not even physically emoting with their performances. Instead, this is, for the bulk of the production, individuals standing in front of microphones singing to an audience (not to camera). While there are moments where that is fine, for the bulk of the film, it is tragically dull and at moments when characters are supposed to be presenting dialogue through song back and forth to one another, that they are not looking at one another and interacting is utterly droll.

For those not familiar with Les Miserables, the story spans more than thirty years, climaxing in the French Revolution. The play, based upon the classic Victor Hugo novel, tells the story of Jean Valjean, a man convicted of stealing a loaf of bread and running from the law. Paroled after decades in prison, Valjean finds life on the outside too difficult and steals silver from a Bishop, who lies and exonerates him to the law (in fact, he gives him silver candlesticks on top of the silver he stole). Seeing this as an opportunity to reform, Valjean throws his papers away and changes his name to start a new life.

After becoming mayor and factory owner of a small town, Valjean (under his assumed name), lets his foreman deal with a fight at his factory, which results in his worker, Fantine, turning to prostitution. When Fantine finds herself in trouble, she is defended in an unlikely way from the police officer, Javert, who has been hunting Valjean for breaking parole. Exposed, Valjean runs again after Fantine dies, but this time to make good to Fantine by rescuing her child, Cosette, from the family she stays with. Years later, with revolution upon France, Javert continues to hunt Valjean and he aids the conservatives against the rebels in Paris. But there, among the revolutionaries, Cosette falls in love with the rebel leader, Marius.

Les Miserables is a great story with vibrant and compelling characters, but one would not know it by watching Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert. Sadly, because the performers are rooted in front of their microphones for most of the film, they do not interact. Javert’s death, for example, is left entirely up to the imagination of the viewer. This is not to say that Philip Quast, who sings the role of Javert, is not wonderful – he is. But the death of Javert is Quast singing the part and looking up, before the spotlight on him fades.

Before my head gets bitten off, all of the vocalists are absolutely amazing. Colm Wilkinson is predictably great presenting Jean Valjean and he and Quast have voices that play off one another masterfully. Ruthie Henshall is impressive as Fantine and Lea Salonga’s Eponine actually made me care about the lovelorn character in a way few other actresses in the role have made me. All of the music is incredible . . .

. . .But I got that from the soundtrack. For a video, I wanted some element of performance and Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert is stunningly low on that. The director, Gavin Taylor, does not even use footage at the beginning of the actors singing – in other words, the opening chain gang is on screen, but the singers singing are seldom on screen actually presenting their song, which is weird. Throughout Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert, I noted issues where the direction was just off like that. To Taylor’s credit, there are music-only numbers where there are actions happening on stage, like the slaughter of the rebels at the barricade.

At this point in my reviewing the concert, my wife is getting pissed off with me. She tells me I am being far too hard on the performance because it is a concert, not a play. I just find the piece to be visually underwhelming and I expected more from the performance, concert or play. Given that the greatest amount of physical performance in Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert comes from the Thenardiers in one of the latest numbers, I felt this was not the ideal medium for the presentation – the soundtrack presentation was. But, because I value my marriage, I am mentioning that my rigid standards might not be ideal for this. My wife, who is at least as discriminating as I am, tells me she would rate it a ten out of ten. While I think the soundtrack is up there, the stage performance, which is a true concert, not a play, fell short for me.

On DVD, Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert features two featurettes on the making of the play and DVD. They are a nice added value for the fans, though I think my wife and I geeked out more over the replica of the ticket that was included in the DVD than the bonus features. That said, the presentation of all the Valjeans from around the world singing “When Tomorrow Comes” it is an experience that is undeniably compelling. For fans, Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert will undeniably satisfy. However, for those who have never seen, heard, or read Les Miserables, Les Miserables – 10th Anniversary Concert is presented in a way where it will not be self-explanatory. That, for me, makes it far less compelling than many other presentations of the work.


For other DVD and Blu-Ray reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Another Soft Treat Gollum Enjoys: Salmon Formula Natural Balance Perfect Bites Are All Right!

The Good: Gollum absolutely loved them!
The Bad: Comparatively pricey, No dental benefits
The Basics: Gollum was very happy to have Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Perfect Bites Salmon Formula treats which did nothing for his teeth, but made his breath smell very meaty (which he loved . . . until Myah came after him for it!)!

Gollum seems to be on a disappointing binge where he is getting more and more soft treats of late. As one who has had almost no soft treats his entire life, Gollum – my ten year-old little black cat – seems to be eagerly eating such treats up when I get them. I think it is because they smell and taste like real meat and he does love meat! I’ve avoided letting him have soft treats most his life because they do nothing to scrape off plaque and prevent tartar build-up on his teeth. Given that I’m not a big fan of paying high vet bills, I have been very protective of Gollum’s teeth and if I am shelling out for treats at an average price of $1/ounce, I want the treats to help protect his teeth!

For all my complaining about such things, though, Gollum seems to really get a kick out of Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Perfect Bites Salmon Formula Cat Treats. If only they had more of a dental benefit, I would eagerly recommend these all-natural, corn, wheat, and soy-free cat treats.


Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Perfect Bites Salmon Formula Flavored cat treats are soft little treats that come shaped like little dark brown hexagon-shaped cylinders. They are very soft and actually smell like a Terayaki sauce. These treats are pretty much bite sized for a cat, though they require Gollum to chew them. Each one is a cylinder 5/16” wide and 5/16” tall.

Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Perfect Bites Salmon Formula Flavored treats are the only Natural Balance cat treats I have given Gollum and the 3 oz. plastic bag has lasted about a month, which is not terrible as far as value goes.

Ease Of Preparation

Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Perfect Bites plays off classic conditioning, by having pet owners who use Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Perfect Bites to crinkle the stiff plastic bag to bring cats to the owner for their treats. Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Perfect Bites Salmon Formula treats are available in a stiff plastic bag that Gollum has recognized since he was young and had other cat treats in similar bags.

The truth is, though, I'm a somewhat lazy cat owner. Gollum keeps me moving around to play fetch and keep the litter box immaculately cleaned, I'm often too busy (or forgetful) to give him the treats he claims to deserve (he’s not always the good cat he declares himself to be!). As such, more often than not, Gollum gets the treats like Lucky Charms marshmallows in his dinner.

Gollum’s Reaction

The package emphasizes that these treats are supposed to be no more than 10% of a cat’s caloric intake for the day and that the treats are only a calorie a piece. Because I don’t have equally informative notes on the cat food I feed Gollum, I have limited him to about five treats per day. Given how eagerly he eats the treats he gets, Gollum would like more than five of the Salmon Formula treats per day. Even five of the treats make his breath smell like Teriyaki.

The thing is, after eating only five treats, Gollum’s breath smells so distinctive that if he walks near our Siberian Husky, Myah perks up and starts chasing Gollum, thinking that the cat has something to eat in his mouth! Poor Gollum; he goes from such bliss to such terror whenever he wants to get a drink after eating these treats!


Unlike hard cat treats, the Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Perfect Bites Salmon Formula cat treats have no dental benefits for cats. On the nutrition front, they are not bad, probably owing to the fact that the primary ingredients are: Salmon, rice flour, and barley flour. The ingredients are all natural and Gollum responds to that with a voracious appetite he does not have for lesser snacks.

With a minimum of 8% crude protein and 5% fat, but no more than 3% crude fiber and 30% moisture, there is nothing truly bad in these treats. It is always recommended to have adequate water supplies available for your cat when giving them treats.


Gollum’s teeth have shown no ill-effects since he started eating these Natural Balance Perfect Bites treats, but because they do not have an explicit dental benefit, I am not so keen on continuing to get them for him. Still, Gollum would love it if I did; in fact, like a kid with candy, he would eat these all the time if only he could!

For other cat treats, please check out my reviews of:
Cloud Star Buddy Biscuits Savory Turkey & Cheddar Flavor cat treats
Zukes Natural Purrz Tender Chicken cat treats
Hartz Crunch ‘N Clean Fish & Farm cat treats


For other pet product reviews, please visit my Pet Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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An Amazing Cast And Well-Executed Concept Make The Ten Worth Watching!

The Good: Interesting concept, well executed, Decent performances, Very funny.
The Bad: No real character development, Somewhat limited concept, Does not replay as well.
The Basics: A cleverly-executed comedy, The Ten explores a series of situations that remind viewers (ironically) of the importance of the Ten Commandments.

Given how limited many horror movies can be, it is unsurprising that the antithesis – comedies – can be similarly basic in their concept. If Seven was a horror film focused on a killer who is motivated by the seven deadly sins, it is equally ambitious or simple to have a comedy like The Ten. The Ten has the very simple concept of creating vignettes on the Ten Commandments that overlap in minimal ways. Several of the characters recur from sequence to sequence, with “character development” taking the form of them experiencing more variations of violations of the Ten Commandments.

In other words, The Ten has far less in the way of memorable characters and much more in the way of memorable gags or plot twists that disturb while they amuse. More than the characters, much of the joy for viewers comes from how the actors are utilized and how they pop back into the narrative in initially clever ways. After watching the film twice, I can honestly say there are none of the characters I particularly care about, but I enjoyed the movie and enjoyed how the actors were utilized to serve the fairly clever plot concept.

After a beleaguered narrator (who is on the fast track to have an affair himself) explains the concept of the film, the story begins with Stephen Montgomery. Stephen accidentally jumps out of a plane and miraculously survives the fall. However, Stephen is embedded in the ground where he becomes an overnight star. Even though his fiancé Kelly sticks by him, the superstardom that he achieves for the television show based around him goes to his head. Others begin treating him like a god and he arrogantly lets it go to his head, until he loses everything. This is followed by the story of Gloria, who goes to Mexico, meets Jesus there and has a torrid affair with him. When she returns home and has sex with her boyfriend, she calls out “Jesus!” and ruins their relationship, illustrating the importance of not taking the lord’s name in vain. Dr. Glenn Richie (who essentially had a cameo in the first vignette) pops back up in the “Thou Shall Not Murder” sequence where he kills a woman by leaving medical scissors in her body after surgery. While he did the medical malpractice “as a goof,” he is quickly prosecuted, found guilty and goes to prison where he is pretty constantly ass-raped.

After a woman who has two black children who denies (for decades) that they have a father other than the white man who raised them comes clean about her affair with Arnold Schwarzenegger, her children realize that the actor she hired to impersonate Schwarzenegger is more a father than they ever had before, illustrating that it is important to honor one’s father and mother. A convoluted series of events leads to the death of a whole fieldtrip worth of children when they cannot get CAT scans they need when competing neighbors buy truckloads of scanners and go out together to bury the hatchet. In prison, Duane Rosenblum covets Dr. Richie leading to a very dark exchange that results in Richie being horribly violated by Rosenblum (instead of his regular prison rapist!). The story of the drug-dealing Lying Rhino becomes the less for not bearing false witness and men getting together for naked Sundays is the premise for honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy.

The Tenreally goes out of its way to create convoluted situations to make its points. The prison ass rape concept for not coveting your neighbor’s wife is so over-the-top that it avoids the minor discomfort of rape jokes and leaps into the area of taste that actually addresses what bad taste simple rape jokes have. It’s risqué, but the film makes it work. In explaining “Thou Shall Not Steal,” The Ten reaches its highest level of meta-conscious humor: it is Winona Ryder’s Kelly who steals a ventriloquist dummy to have an affair with who illustrates that commandment! In other words, The Ten is not for the comically faint of heart. The humor is ballsy and pushes the envelope, but the movie makes its point well.

And The Ten has a pretty amazing cast, especially for a movie I had never heard of. Led by Paul Rudd, The Ten features established talents like Oliver Platt, Ron Silver, Winona Ryder, Famke Janssen, Jason Sudeikis, Live Schreiber, Justin Theroux, and Jessica Alba. Some have little more than a brief cameo, like Janeane Garofalo (who is in a single sequence for a single scene). Newer talents like Rob Corddry, Rashida Jones, Joe Lo Truglio, Gretchen Mol, and Adam Brody all have good outings in their respective segments.

But more than a cohesive movie, The Ten is a concept film and the concept is quickly established and then beaten to death. It is not unpleasant – though the film has somewhat low replayability – and the star power overshadows the characters many of the performers play , but The Ten is well worth watching for anyone who wants a comedy that is beyond the ordinary.

For other works with Jo Lo Truglio, please visit my reviews of:
Wreck-It Ralph
Pitch Perfect
I Love You, Man
Pineapple Express


Check out how this movie stacks up against other movies I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews from best to worst!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Short Tenure Of Artemis As Wonder Woman Is Encapsulated In Wonder Woman The Challenge Of Artemis

The Good: Engaging plot, Much of the artwork
The Bad: Very fractured storytelling/lack of transitions, No real character development
The Basics: The short tenure of Artemis as Wonder Woman is made more problematic by the writing which features very abrupt shifts in the story throughout Wonder Woman: The Challenge Of Artemis.

As a fan of Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman graphic novels, it always pains me when something fails to live up to my expectations. In learning about the larger arcs in Wonder Woman’s story, I was psyched about two phases: her blind phase and the period when Artemis replaced her as Wonder Woman. The blind phase actually managed to live up (for the most part) to my expectations. Unfortunately, her deposed phase, as presented in Wonder Woman: The Challenge Of Artemis, did not.

The fundamental problem with Wonder Woman: The Challenge Of Artemis is that the book feels rushed and like it is trying to fit into too many DC Universe crossover events while still struggling to be its own thing. So, most of Artemis’s story is diluted by Diana fighting Batman villains, most notably the Joker. I know from my Flash Year that the Joker’s attacks using Joker gas was a major event in the DC Universe in the mid-1990s and Wonder Woman: The Challenge Of Artemis is written to fit in with that event. As a result, much of Artemis’s tenure as Wonder Woman is spent without focusing on her character at all. In fact, Artemis has no real character development in the book.

While Artemis fends off the forces of the White Magician, most notably the Chauvanist (a hulking brute of a man whom she easily puts down), Diana starts working to clean up the local mob. Unfortunately, the woman who has inherited the Boston mob decides to employ Poison Ivy, Cheshire, and the Cheetah to stop Diana. The deposed Wonder Woman finds herself in the unenviable position of trying to keep a rival gang boss alive long enough to thwart the supernatural and mundane forces of Julianna Sazia. When she tracks Sazia down and finds her in the company of the Joker, Diana does the unthinkable: apparently blowing the Joker up with his own bomb!

That draws the attention of Artemis who moves in to pound Diana and put Sazia down once and for all, which results in Diana returning to Themyscira to confront her mother about why the second contest had to occur at all. In the process, Diana learns a key idea about Circe and she works to find the sorceress in her new, mortal form. But the White Magicians forces are not so easily stopped and he lures Artemis and Diana into a final showdown which will once again change the balance of power between the sisters!

While all of this might sound like it is intriguing and fun, the writing does not support it. One page, Diana is tracking down the White Magician and realizes his latest victim is the Cheetah, the next, she is in the hospital visiting friends. “Oh no, my temporary ally may be dead somewhere at the mercy of a great evil! Eh, I think I’ll take a breather and visit my wounded friend in the hospital.” And once there, she lets loose the whole Circe plotline which seems to pretty much come out of nowhere! Similarly, Artemis in one frame is conversing with two people and in the next she and Diana are kicking the crap out of one another and it is not that the reader is not keeping up, it is that the writer keeps dropping incongruent elements into the frames.

The artwork in Wonder Woman: The Challenge Of Artemis is good. Artemis looks pretty fabulous as Wonder Woman, even if her tenure as the heroine is incredibly underwhelming and underdeveloped. Diana and Artemis have distinctly different looks and until Diana’s namesake enters the book in a dream, all of the characters are instantly clear when reading this volume.

But, for those hoping for Artemis to learn a long, slow lesson or Diana to truly wrestle with not being Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman: The Challenge Of Artemis is a surprising letdown. Artemis is, predictably, arrogant and brutish and Diana seems to be pretty much the same as ever, save that she wears a different costume and does not have the lasso to use.

The end result is that Wonder Woman: The Challenge Of Artemis is a lot of hype for a non-event and serious fans of Wonder Woman are likely to recall this as one of the biggest missed opportunities of the franchise.

For other Wonder Woman volumes in this incarnation of the Amazon Princess, please check out my reviews of:
Gods And Mortals by George Perez
Wonder Woman: Challenge Of The Gods by George Perez
Beauty And The Beasts By George Perez
Destiny Calling By George Perez
The Contest By William Messner-Loebs
Wonder Woman: Lifelines By John Byrne
Paradise Lost By Phil Jimenez
Paradise Found By Phil Jimenez
Down To Earth By Greg Rucka
Eyes Of The Gorgon By Greg Rucka
Land Of The Dead By Greg Rucka
Mission's End By Greg Rucka
The Hiketeia


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Menace To Enterprise Grows In “Cold Front”

The Good: Good plot development, Sense of tension
The Bad: Low on character development, Scott Bakula’s performance, Costume/effects issues.
The Basics: “Cold Front” puts the Enterprise in a Stellar Nursery and at the mercy of Silik, who may be working for the crew!

For all of my complaints about Brannon Braga and Rick Berman’s decimation of the Star Trek franchise, otherwise known as Star Trek: Enterprise, when the pair followed their own agenda, they actually did some stories that had good internal continuity. In other words, their own stories may have not been a natural precursor to the familiar Star Trek, but the episodes that they used to recreate the Star Trek universe in their own image fit together fairly well. Following “Broken Bow” (reviewed here!), the next Temporal Cold War episode – which illustrated the producer’s willingness to do serialized television – was “Cold Front.”

“Cold Front,” I discovered after very little research, is exceptionally low on continuity problems. I could have sworn that the “stellar nursery” mentioned in the episode was not the first mention of one of those phenomenon, which would have made the study of one in Star Trek: The Next Generation or the detour in Star Trek: Voyager utterly pointless, but to the credit of the writers, this is a new to the franchise stellar phenomenon, so it works conflict-free. In fact, the main issue in “Cold Front” is that the episode is so plot-heavy, it provides little room for genuine character development and Scott Bakula’s performance rather suddenly takes on a Shatner-esque quality that is unsettling.

When Silik, the villainous Suliban who tried to incite a war between the various Klingon houses a few months ago, has the modifications to his eyes removed under the direction of his taskmasters from the future, he is assigned to another mission to thwart the Enterprise. The Enterprise, for its part, is exploring near a stellar nursery when it encounters an alien ship, commanded by the reticent Captain Fraddock. Fraddock is ferrying a group of alien pilgrims to witness a cyclical energy discharge they know as the Great Plume Of Agosoria. Archer invites the pilgrims to visit and tour Enterprise, unwittingly bringing Silik aboard his ship. Silik appears to sabotage the Enterprise, but when a plasma discharge hits the ship, it is only the broken connection Silik created that saves the starship from a warp core breach.

The nearly-averted disaster brings Crewman Daniels out of the woodwork to Archer’s attention. Outing himself as a Temporal Agent, Daniels alerts Archer to some of the principles of the Temporal Cold War. While Daniels, Archer, T’Pol, and Tucker work to find Silik aboard Enterprise, Silik squares off against Archer and tries to enlist him in hunting down the human Temporal Agent. While Archer and his crew wonder whom to trust, Silik makes his move, attempting to take a piece of technology Daniels brought back in order to aid his mysterious benefactors from the future.

“Cold Front” is a decent conspiracy story that forces Archer to ask who is really on his side and it accomplishes that goal in a generally engaging way. As far as the plot development goes, the most severe issue with “Cold Front” is that Silik never truly lands it; he is utterly unconvincing as a potential ally. I thought it would be pretty cool if there was an X-Men-esque reversal where Silik was not after anything to do with Enterprise (i.e. he needed Enterprise to survive the plasma discharge in order to keep one of the pilgrims alive, etc.), but alas, there is nothing quite so clever in the episode. Moreover, from a temporal mechanics perspective, “Cold Front” makes no real sense. Silik’s mission has to do with determining who on board is the Temporal Agent, so the moment that is accomplished, there is no rational reason why his handlers would not simply send another agent back to an earlier point. After all, at any moment when Daniels is bringing Archer his food, the technology in his quarters is vulnerable. Or, better yet, go back to an earlier point and replace Daniels’ roommate. But, alas, the episode is not so clever with that either.

Instead, Archer is put in a pseudo moral quandary with two sides who have unconvincing evidence as to their trustworthiness. Also odd in “Cold Front” are the special effects. One of the pilgrims who visits Enterprise is clearly wearing a Bajoran Vedek’s robes, which is a bit distracting to fans of the overall franchise. And for the great stellar phenomenon that the pilgrims are visiting, director Robert Duncan McNeill cheats the effects and goes for an underwhelming effect with a greater emphasis on the reaction shot, making for something of an anticlimax.

While “Cold Front” tries to play Archer as in a moral quandary, the episode’s primary character elements come from Dr. Phlox. Phlox is once more characterized as an inquisitive, highly intelligent alien who embodies in a very pure way Enterprise’s mission. He embraces a cultural exchange with the aliens and proves himself to be a true explorer. T’Pol, on the other hand, is used as an instrument to discount the concept of the Temporal Cold War, but her bland assertions that time travel is not possible do not even come across as a Scully-esque need for empirical evidence.

But, for a change, it is not Jolene Blalock’s performance that might unsettle the viewer, it is Scott Bakula. It is virtually impossible not to watch the way he, as Archer, invites the alien pilgrims to the mess hall for “. . . something” to not feel like he is simply channeling William Shatner’s over-the-top performances in “Cold Front.” In fact, actor John Fleck seems more grounded and menacing underneath his extensive make-up for Silik than Bakula does without any. Fleck is slowly building Silik into one of the more interesting Star Trek adversaries and in “Cold Front,” he plays Silik as a compelling pawn.

“Cold Front” is necessary to understanding the Temporal Cold War plot of Enterprise, but it does little more than advance that plotline.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the premiere season here!

For other works with John Fleck, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Weeds - Season 6
"Alice" - Star Trek: Voyager
"Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“The Search, Part 1” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“The Homecoming” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Babylon 5 - “The Gathering”
Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Mind’s Eye”


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Concept Set That Can Really Beef Up Your Deck Enhanced Cloud City Satisfies!

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The Good: Easy-to-play, Collectible value, Images, Concepts
The Bad: Still has a load of recycled cards!
The Basics: Arguably the first truly worthwhile deluxe draft deck product from Decipher, Enhanced Cloud City does more than simply recycle crap for the fans!.

When a company tries something new, it is always interesting to me to see how the fans of that company’s product will take the change. With so many companies, especially food companies, new products are simply a way to prevent the company from stagnating in a market because having a single successful product is hard to continue marketing to the people who already like it. This is why we have eight flavors of Doritos on the shelves at any given time, but only the regular and cool ranch flavors endure – Frito Lay had a good idea, made a good product, but because they can’t count on people to remember to buy Doritos or Cool Ranch Doritos each time they go out, they keep churning out crap that fails. With gaming cards, the strategy was slightly different. Decipher, the premiere gaming card company after Wizards Of The Coast during the huge boom of CCGs in the late 1990s, sought to clear their warehouses. To that end, they just repackaged their packs of cards with a few inexpensive-to-make premiums to lure fans into paying for (mostly) what they already owned (which, comparatively, is like when Doritos added lenticular cards to their packs of chips and Pepsi made limited edition cans with Star Wars characters on them for the Special Edition releases of the films!). They called the re-releases “deluxe draft decks” and the first one, Enhanced Premiere (reviewed here!), did not really take off in the marketplace. Enhanced Cloud City was part of their "deluxe draft deck" scheme and it did what Decipher needed it to do; it blew out old product with the promise of twelve new cards. The unique aspects of Enhanced Cloud City have remained popular to this day.

To be sure, Enhanced Cloud City is not just "Cloud City" (reviewed here!): it includes packs from that set, but was essentially the twelve unique cards found in one of four Deluxe Draft Packs.

Basics/Set Composition

The Star Wars Customizable Card Game Enhanced Cloud City set was not a true expansion and was the second of the "Enhanced" sets Decipher did. The Enhanced "Cloud City" set is a 12 card set focusing on characters, ships, weapons and scenarios presented in The Empire Strikes Back, as well as concepts implied in the heroic and criminal elements of the Star Wars universe. This set is centered on the events on Cloud City where Lando and Chewbacca work to flee Bespin and bounty hunters ruthlessly hunt Han Solo. The set consists of 5 Light Side and 7 Dark Side cards which are all premium cards.

The 12 card set features 4 Characters with weapons (Droids, Rebels and Aliens who make up the primary characters for playing with and come already armed and ready to do battle, like Chewie With Blaster Rifle and IG-88 With Riot Gun), 3 Characters with ships (Primary characters already in their space vehicles for the instant ability to do battles along the spaceline, like Boba Fett In Slave I or Lando In Millennium Falcon), 1 Effect (long-term changes to gameplay, in this case Vader’s quest to Crush The Rebellion), 2 Epic Effects (Changes to the situations which allow for movement during the game, like Lando Calrissian asserting that he runs a "Quiet Mining Colony / Independent Operation"), 1 Interrupt (cards that make instant changes to keep gameplay fresh, in this case “Any Methods Necessary”), and 1 Ship (cards representing space transport, like the Z-95 Bespin Defense Fighter). This set is heavily balanced to the Dark Side and finally offers a new, powerful rogue Dark Side characters for players to play with.

The deluxe draft pack comes with four packs of Cloud City cards and one special packet of three of the exclusive enhanced cards. Thus, in order to collect the full set, one has to buy four draft boxes to get all of the exclusive cards.


At its most basic level, this is a board game where one constructs the board and pieces out of a selection of cards. The starting purpose of the game is to drain your opponent of Force without depleting your own Force and to survive the trip around the Star Wars Universe with whatever your player throws at you. The basic idea is to assemble a sixty card deck (for beginners), lay out the board (spaceline) and play against an opponent. In laying out the board, players get the power from the Force they need to play other cards.

Locations form the board for the game and almost all of them have an indicator which puts into play Light Side and Dark Side Force points, which the player may then tap into to "buy" characters, ships, weapons and tactical cards to thwart their opponent. Events represent the obstacles that opponents can use to make the game more than just a basic search and kill game. The rulebook clearly defines what each deck must possess in terms of numbers of the card types. But basically, one starts by laying out a board, assembling a starship and its crew and traveling along the planets and through space to either crush the Empire or put down the Rebellion.

This is a very complex customizable card game, but it represents a level of gaming sophistication designed to appeal to younger adults and actually challenge them, which is a decent idea given the thematic complexity of the Star Wars universe. The problem, of course, is that most people who would be most stimulated by this game do not have the time or effort/interest to learn to play it. As a result, the late-teens that basically run the CCG players world seem to have had mixed impressions about this game.

The twelve cards in Enhanced Cloud City are not enough to actually play the game with, though they may enhance one's game quite nicely.

Rules/Rule Changes

There is no rulebook in this set of cards. Instead, one has to get a revised rulebook from the Special Edition set (reviewed here!). In this set, there are no new card types or rules.


Players, collectors and fans of Star Wars will appreciate the image quality and concept cards based upon The Empire Strikes Back and the expanded Star Wars universe in Cloud City, especially because this fleshes out the popular bounty hunters in the Star Wars universe very well and adds a lot of menace to the Light Side player's experience. Most fans geeked out over having another Boba Fett and getting an armed Chewie, but for my money, they are not the best cards in the Enhanced Cloud City selection.

For a highlight, I go with IG-88 With Riot Gun. IG-88 is a powerful droid and his armor makes him resistant to a number of attacks while his native weapon makes him a cool killer. With an armor of 5 this IG-88 is strong and while it deploys for 5 Force, it is worth it as its riot gun targets for free. Unlike many of the droids, IG-88 With Riot Gun is immune to both Restraining Bolt and Purchase, so it cannot be taken out of the game that easily! The picture is cool and a concept shot, not one which appeared in The Empire Strikes Back.


The Enhanced Cloud City set has good collectability. Because it was only released in one printing (though later some of the cards were made into Reflections foils), the Enhanced Cloud City set is one of the sets which was rare enough to retain its value, so most collectors are likely to be pleased with it.


Despite the fact that to get the exclusive cards, one is saddled with extra packs of "Cloud City" cards, the Enhanced Cloud City cards are a surprisingly good investment and fun to play with, making it an enduring winner for Star Wars fans, card collectors and the Star Wars CCG players.

This set culls material from The Empire Strikes Back, which is reviewed here!

This set was preceded by Death Star II (reviewed here!) and followed by the Star Wars CCG expansion "Tatooine," reviewed here!

This is a set of gaming cards I proudly sell in my online store! For my current inventory, please visit the Star Wars CCG Category!


For other card reviews, please visit my Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Long After I Stopped Caring About Long After Dark

The Good: Decent instrumentals and music, One or two lyrics
The Bad: SHORT, most of the lyrics simply do not pop, SHORT! Vocals are unimpressive
The Basics: Without any lyrics that are impressive, the best Long After Dark achieves is enjoyable instrumentals and irony.

Classic rock albums are often, at least in my experience, a real mixed bag. There are some I've found recently that I truly am blown away by, like Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (reviewed here!). But more often than that, I find albums that were originally records to be short, unengaging and limited. When I reviewed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers's Let Me Up (I've Had Enough), I found myself seriously disappointed. As I have a copy of the greatest hits from this band, though, I was eager to find another album by them that I enjoyed. I picked up Long After Dark. And after seven listens, I'm equally disappointed with this endeavor as with the other one.

With only ten tracks, spanning a meager 37 minutes, 44 seconds, Long After Dark was the fifth studio album from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the only track from it to make it onto the Greatest Hits album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was "You Got Lucky," a weird turn-of-phrase rock song about how lucky the singer's partner is to be loved by him. This is a simple pop-rock album with little to recommend it.

First off, this is not Tom Petty's best written endeavor. Unlike his later songs where he is original and an able and interesting poet, Long After Dark has some of the least inspired lyrics of any of Petty's works. Perhaps that's why the songs are so short; Petty might not have had enough to say, so he kept it short. What he does say is somewhat dull. Long After Dark is an album about endings ("A One Story Town," "Deliver Me," and "Change of Heart"), finding love ("Finding Out" and "We Stand A Chance"), being cocky in a relationship ("You Got Lucky") and general apathy ("Between Two Worlds").

More than just the themes, Long After Dark is lyrically unsophisticated as well. Petty's well seems dry when he opens the album with the terribly predictable rhyme schemes of "Oh, I'm lost in a one story town / Where everything's close to the ground / Yeah the same sh*t goes down / Nothing turns around / It's a one story town" ("A One Story Town"). In "Between Two Worlds," he rhymes "bone" with itself, which is a pet peeve of mine. Closing on '"A Wasted Life," an uncertain love song, ends the album on a somewhat anticlimactic and unresolved note. In short, none of the lyrics pop, outside the irony of "You Got Lucky."

What does work is the instrumentals. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers manage to make something intriguing and easily listenable with their combination of guitars, keyboards, drums and bass. Instead of being simply a guitar/bass/drums group or a piano-driven ensemble, Long After Dark effectively combines the sounds of both styles to make a solid rock and roll sound that is consistent and interesting.

Moreover, while the lyrics might not be anything to shout about, the melodies created on the tracks of Long After Dark are distinctive and memorable. While all of the tracks rock, they sound completely different from one another and different from tracks on other Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers's works (at least the ones I've heard). So, the combination - for example - of electric guitar and keyboards on "We Stand A Chance" completely overwhelm the uninspired lyrics and make the listener want to hear the song again, just for the instrumentals.

Perhaps this would be a better album as elevator music, without the lyrics.

I write this because the vocals are fairly uninspired as well as the lyrics. Tom Petty falls well within his usual range with his somewhat scratchy vocals, whining through the short poems he wrote. There is nothing that one does not expect from Petty with his vocals here. Instead, he is exactly within range, unchallenged and unchallenging.

This might be worth a spin just to hear the music, but it's impossible to recommend it, even for that. If only the lyrics were there to justify the drums, guitars and keyboards that make the album an instrumental success and a decent rock experience then this would be something. But it's not. Impossible to recommend, even to fans of classic rock.

The best track is "You Got Lucky." The low point is "Between Two Worlds."

For other Tom Petty And The Heartbreaker reviews, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)
Greatest Hits
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (Single)


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my relativistic Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best to worst!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Delicious, Subtle, But Not Quite Worth The Price, Haagen-Dazs Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato Is So Good!

The Good: Delicious, Great ingredients
The Bad: More expensive than other Gelatos and ice creams, Not terribly healthy!
The Basics: Haagen-Dazs Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato is absolutely delightful and different, but hard to justify at full price.

One of the nice things about being married certainly has to be the joy that comes in sharing things we love with the person we love most. I was astonished, for example, to learn that my wife had never had a Haagen-Dazs ice cream before tonight! I don’t think that’s entirely strange as Haagen-Dazs products are so very expensive, but she and I both love frozen desserts, so the idea that she had never had one was a little surprising to me. Tonight, though, we rectified that and she had her first Gelato when I picked us up a 14 oz. container of Haagen-Dazs Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato!

And it was an excellent first experience for her with a Gelato and I certainly enjoyed it as well.

However, Haagen-Dazs Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato is an unfortunately expensive product and that made it a bit harder for me to recommend than it otherwise would have been.


Haagen-Dazs Gelato comes in a 14 oz. (almost) pint container. The Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato is a smooth Gelato with chunks of black cherries. Black Cherry Amaretto is mostly smooth with chunks in every two to three bites. This Gelato is basically the two flavors, with nothing else mixed in.

At (locally) $5.99 a pint, the Haagen-Dazs Gelato is an expensive frozen dairy dessert. That I found it on clearance for $2.99 was the primary reason I bought the pint of Gelato!

Ease Of Preparation

The Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato is a simple Gelato with only one additive. As a Gelato, preparation is ridiculously simple: one need only open the top of the container, remove the safety seal from the top, scoop out a half cup and consume! There is no trick to preparing or eating the Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato!


Haagen-Dazs Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato is surprisingly aromatic with an amaretto scent. The scent of this Gelato took me back to my drinking days and made me long for some actual amaretto, the smell was so vivid and pleasantly potent!

As far as the taste, the Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato is instantly emblematic of an amaretto – my wife likened it to eating frozen coffee creamer – with the black cherry flavor asserting itself only near the actual chunks of cherry. The sweet, flavorful black cherries are somewhat muted – they do not possess a distracting over-sweetness (like one might expect from bing or maraschino cherries), but they make themselves known! The sweet cherry flavor and the creamier, heavier amaretto flavor complements each other in a stunningly delicious way.

This Gelato has no aftertaste to it.


The Haagen-Dazs Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato is a comparatively light Gelato with a chewy, obvious additive. The 14 oz. container represents three and a half half-cup servings. In the half-cup serving, there are 240 calories, 80 of which are from fat. The nine grams of fat represent 14% of the RDA of fat, with 25% of one’s RDA of saturated fat coming in the 5 grams of saturated fat in this Gelato. One serving has 80 mg of cholesterol (that’s 27% of the RDA!) and 40 mg of Sodium (2% RDA). The only other real nutrients are four grams of protein 8% of the RDA of Calcium and Vitamin A in the Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato.

Haagen-Dazs has decent ingredients, too. Made primarily of Skim milk, cream and sugar, Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato is surprisingly natural! There is nothing unpronounceable in the ingredients list. The Black Cherry Amaretto Haagen-Dazs is Kosher, but not marked as gluten free. There are no allergy warnings on the package. It does, however, contain milk and egg ingredients, so it is very much not Vegan compliant.


Haagen-Dazs Gelato is both a frozen and a dairy product, so it is pretty obvious that it must be kept frozen in order to remain viable. Kept frozen it remains fresh for months (my pint had an expiration date of November 17, 2013, which made it even more baffling why it would be clearanced now).

The Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato is fairly light, but the cherry chunks are sticky and will stain if they come closer to room temperature. As well, when the Gelato melts and gets onto fabrics, it will require one to wash it right out. On nonporous surfaces, the Gelato wipes off exceptionally easily.


The Haagen-Dazs Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato is a wonderful once-in-a-while treat, but for anyone who has never had a Haagen-Dazs product or a Gelato, it is a great place to start!

For other frozen desserts, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Breyers Blasts Banana Split Ice Cream
Edy’s Peppermint Limited Edition Ice Cream
Marie Callender's Seasonal Peppermint Pie


For other food reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Steadily Improving, Volume 2 Of American Dad! Finally Has The Series Stepping Out On Its Own!

The Good: Funny, Has actual character development, Decent guest vocals, Serialized elements
The Bad: Still seems somewhat derivative at points of Family Guy.
The Basics: While Seth MacFarlane’s second FOX show finally steps out of the shadows of Family Guy, it does not get quite far enough to feel like it is truly standing on its own with the Volume 2 DVD set.

Not long ago, my wife and I did a huge marathon of American Dad!. We picked up the DVDs cheap and we started watching the series that we had (largely) given up on back in the day after the first few episodes. But, as Family Guy has stagnated and become repetitive, we decided to give the show another chance. After getting American Dad! Volume 1 (reviewed here!) and finding it to be better than we remembered, we decided to soldier on with American Dad! Volume 2.

Volume 2 of American Dad! finishes off the first season American Dad! and presents the first ten episodes of the second season for an eighteen episode DVD set. To enhance the value of the episodes, the DVD set includes commentary tracks on all of the episodes and in watching them, we found that the humor held up well over multiple viewings of these eighteen episodes. Though the second season episodes had marginally better animation, more consistent humor, and actual character development, American Dad! Volume 2 continues the irksome trend in Seth MacFarlane’s works of not providing a complete season of television, but rather a vague association of episodes that pick up where the last (incomplete) boxed set left off.

Opening with Stan having a meeting of the National Gun Association in the house, Hayley becomes obsessed with guns at the same time Roger and Steve get in a revenge war over Steve eating a cookie. Forced together by Francine, Hayley and Stan try to bond, while Steve searches for the biological parents Roger claims he was adopted. Steve writes an unflattering expose on Roger and Francine struggles because she can’t get her hair done. She joins up with the Ladybugs, the evil housewife snobs who all have affairs. Roger, upset over the destruction of his television and his state as a shut-in, swaps places with Stan and goes out and gets a job.

Klaus is briefly given a human body again while Francine follows her dream of opening a kiosk at the mall. Stan learns he is not married to a homecoming queen when he and Francine visit her high school reunion and he briefly leaves her for Betty Sue, the actual homecoming queen (who no longer looks like the stereotypical homecoming queen). Stan and Francine spend from her 39th to her 40th birthday in Europe trying to ruin George Clooney and Stan tries to give Steve the summer camp romance he never had in Africa. Stan develops an eating disorder after Steve begins dating a larger girl. This batch of episodes ends with a Christmas episode where Stan runs off on the Ghost of Christmas Past and rewrites history, with the intent of restoring Christmas, but ultimately leading to the United States surrendering itself to the Chinese!

The animated series that focuses on CIA Agent Stan Smith is in a state of growth with Volume 2. American Dad! actually includes more humor for the type of geeks who made Family Guy into a phenomenon. To wit, the second season premiere opens with a wonderful Terminator 2: Judgment Day gag that is delightful. The episode where Debbie is first introduced quickly becomes something more than just an assemblage of fat jokes. And even some of the off-colored humor (like Snot suggesting that now that he has a Russian mail-order bride, the gym teacher might let him shower himself off) plays better and replays better than similar jokes from the first season.

What actually impressed me most about the second volume of American Dad! was that the characters actually develop! In the second volume, the primary characters are:

Stan Smith – After he is forced to spend the day with Hayley, he actually becomes a gun industry spokesman, after he stages a prank on Hayley and she shoots him, paralyzing him! He becomes Steve’s manager in order to sell his son’s book, despite having 10,000 rejection slips for his children’s books! He adopts a dog that Francine brings home from a murder scene at the grocery store. He gets drunk and is put under house arrest when Roger crashes the car. He blows most of his bonus from the CIA on useless swag and briefly leaves Francine for her competition for homecoming queen. He and Roger have a strangely intimate experience when Roger tries to bond with him and become his best friend. After he gets Barry off his pills, Barry becomes a diabolical psychopath! He spends a year trying to help Francine ruin George Clooney for her 39th birthday and then spends summer with Steve in Africa battling it out with a neighboring rebel military camp. He becomes anorexic, despite Hayley and Francine trying to fatten him up. He loses his self confidence when a car dealer manages to break his willpower. After becoming obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, he explores the Lincoln Republicans and discovers the gay Republicans! After despising Steve’s new girlfriend, he begins to bond with her over their mutual love of guns. He finally “comes out” to Francine about his love of figure skating after years together. On a time travel adventure to save Christmas, he becomes the one who shoots President Reagan!

Francine Smith – She forces Stan and Hayley together when she tires of their bickering. She has a crisis when her hairdresser goes straight and her roots begin to show. She becomes obsessed with the snobbish, unfaithful housewives, the Ladybugs, to her detriment. She realizes her lifelong dream of opening a kiosk at the mall, in this case, a muffin stand. After Hayley makes a movie that makes her look bad and mundane, she gets a fake medical degree and becomes a doctor for the handicapped mafia. She works to ruin George Clooney and gets in a battle with Stan when Stan actually befriends him! She has an uncommon bonding experience with Roger playacting while Stan is out of the country. She and Hayley begin working as housecleaners after Stan goes rogue after losing his self confidence. She becomes tired of the rut she and Stan are in and starts fantasizing about the street racer the two see while out on a date! When Steve and Debbie break up, she becomes obsessed with having another child!

Hayley Smith – Begins to bond with Stan over the guns she abhors being in the house. Returning with Stan to Sugar Mountain, she discovers a gun-themed amusement park which horrifies her, until she stages a protest and eventually paralyzes him with a gun! She locks Steve in the closet when she catches him reading her journal. She takes in some monkeys who have been over-groomed, who then take over the basement. She falls in with an ecoterrorist who potted himself in a planter in order to protest the new mall expansion. She makes a movie that embarrasses Francine. She tries to fight the local fraternity when her Eskimo studies courses are cut from the budget to support the frat. She nearly dies of a rare disease while Stan and Francine are out ruining George Clooney. She dumps Jeff, but is surprised how much she wants him back when he starts playing an online video game with Steve!

Steve Smith – Is horrified to think he might be adopted when he cannot find any pictures of himself! He is failing English because he is unable to write creatively, so he writes all about Roger. He cultivates a bad boy image to sell his new book. He is bullied at school and meets a Jesus-like pizza delivery guy who shows him how bullies are usually bullied themselves. He is forced into trying to interact with the cool kids by his father, which has the effect of illustrating that he can’t swim or be popular. In taking Stan’s experimental steroids, he develops manboobs. He is deported to an oil rig when Barry frames him for destroying Stan’s collectible plate collection! He joins Stan in Africa and has a summer fling with one of the girls at the refugee camp. He begins dating Debbie, a larger geek.

Klaus – He is locked in a closet with Steve when Steve reads Hayley’s diary! When is obsession for Francine reaches a new high, Stan puts him into the body of a man the CIA has had on ice (who happens to be black) and he tries yet again to seduce Francine. He and Hayley bond briefly over weed. Otherwise, he pops up and delivers wisecracks.

and Roger The Alien – He begins an elaborate plan to make Steve insecure by claiming he is adopted after Steve eats his cookie. He burns all of the pictures of baby Steve and sends him to the home of a family whose kid disappeared years prior as revenge! He starts leaving the house in wigs and disguises when he drunkenly destroys his television and goes out to be Stan’s designated driver. He discovers life as a used car salesman is harder than he would have guessed. He creates a bond with Stan and is disappointed when Stan still doesn’t like him! While Francine becomes a mob doctor, he starts taking care of the housecleaning. He discovers the unlimited drinking that comes from fraternities and joins one! He uses foster children as slave labor to try to make his own wine. He and Francine pose as a couple while Stan and Steve are in Africa . . . with destructive results.

Guest vocals in the second volume are less obvious in many cases, though Patrick Steward recurs as Stan’s CIA boss. Lisa Kudrow closes the set well as the Ghost Of Christmas Past, though there are few other vocal performances of those caliber in this boxed set (whatwith George Clooney being voiced by Andre Sogliuzzo in “Tears Of A Clooney” – though Bruce Boxleitner and Kate Jackson voiced themselves in the same episode!).

For other animated works by Seth MacFarlane, please check out my reviews of:
Family Guy Volume 1
Family Guy Volume 2
Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story
Family Guy: Live In Vegas
Family Guy Volume 3
Family Guy Volume 4
Family Guy Volume 5
Family Guy Presents Blue Harvest
Family Guy Volume 6
Family Guy Volume 7
Family Guy Presents Something, Something, Something Dark Side
Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy
Family Guy Volume 8
Family Guy Presents Partial Terms Of Endearment
Family Guy Presents It's A Trap!
Family Guy Volume 9
Family Guy Volume 10


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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