Tru Calling: The Complete Series Review
Time travel is a tricky business. Ray Bradbury’s classic short story A Sound of Thunder is most memorable for its treatment of the subject; particularly its theories on cause and effect. Changing an event in history - no matter how small - could have serious ramifications in the present. In most respects, the idea has been done to death, yet filmmakers strive to add new elements to the mix. Recent examples include the grossly underrated The Butterfly Effect, and Bill Murray’s comedic classic Groundhog Dog (granted, the latter was simply the same day on repeat, yet Murray’s character took the opportunity to change his fortunes). Or how about Marty McFly’s stint in Back to the Future? If anything, the Delorean caused more woe than joy!
No matter what the subject, time travel = problems…
But Tru Calling takes a much-more positive look at the concept. If travelling into the past was at all possible, would you choose to help others, or run down to the bookies to make a few bets? The heroine of this series (in the comely-shape of Eliza Dushku) chooses the former - yet her time-travelling is not through her own means. As the title may imply, there’s an otherworldly force sending her into the past. It’s her destiny to help others from nasty ends, and her meddling in the universe appears to be beneficial. Or is it?
Dushku plays Tru Davies, a college graduate, who is trying to put her turbulent youth to rest. At age 12, she witnessed the murder of her mother. At the funeral, the poor girl was convinced that her mother’s corpse spoke to her. Later, her father left, leaving Tru and her siblings - Meredith (Jessica Collins), and Harrison (Shawn Reaves) - to rely on each other. Now, Tru looks forward to her dream of medical school, but her internship falls through; forcing her to take a job at the city morgue, for the mysterious Davis (Zach Galifianakis). She thinks the work experience will provide her with a decent resume, but there’s something else in store for Miss. Davies…
On her first night, Tru is disturbed by strange sounds in the mortuary. Going for a closer look, she finds a corpse, which springs miraculously to life; asking Tru for help! Somehow, time rewinds and the day restarts - allowing her to save the life of that unfortunate who crossed her path. Tru takes this divine intervention in her stride, and with each new body she is sent through time to change the future. After harnessing her “gift”, she soon confides in Harrison and Davis, who are hesitant to believe her at first, but later become entangled in her endeavours. This forms the backbone of the entire series, making Tru the most altruistic person in the world, never using her power to attain wealth or success! In other words, it’s Quantum Leap with death (with a dash of Early Edition too).
It’s hardly an “original” series, but creator Jon Harmon Feldman treats these well-worn conventions with affection, forming an intriguing mix of fantasy and drama. But it wasn’t enough to snare American audiences, with Fox cancelling Tru Calling early in its second season. The reason was probably due to ratings, and a lack of widespread support. That said, the show possesses a small and devoted fan base, and despite its numerous flaws, Tru Calling is an entertaining diversion; treating its leading lady to several engaging stories.
The most notable fault with Harmon’s series is how repetitive the formula is. The show sticks doggedly to its concept for much of the first season, with few surprises as far as the plotting goes. There’s a body in the morgue; it asks for help; Tru goes back a day and investigates; she finds the cause of death, and finally saves the day. It’s a formula that works very well indeed, but when you view multiple episodes in one sitting, it can become a little tiresome. The same problem followed Quantum Leap, but at least the Scott Bakula series had the novelty of a new period and new location every week. Tru Calling is mostly predictable. That is, until the latter half of Season 1. The writers - acknowledging the gimmicky nature of the material - begin tweaking the formula slightly; tossing in more red herrings and problems for Tru to face. They also concentrate on developing the characters accordingly. Harrison often complicates matters for Tru, with his gambling ways. Yet, the biggest revelation comes pretty late in the game…
Entering the series with a few episodes to spare, is Jason Priestly, as the enigmatic Jack. Usually, the notion of Priestly “acting” would be enough to make me give up on a series, but he was exactly what Tru Calling needed. He allows the show to branch out in other areas, and Feldman develops the character well, as it slowly dawns on the audience that Jack isn’t a force for good. Priestly is great in the role, matching his talented co-stars. In fact, the acting helps to make the sloppy writing seem better than it actually is (a shame, considering Buffy the Vampire Slayer veterans Jane Espenson and Doug Petrie penned several episodes). Reaves is great as Harrison, adding some much-needed comic relief to the series; even if he’s only a foil for Tru. Also great, is Galifianakis, who is immensely likeable as Davis. He also has many layers that are slowly peeled away, and the actor runs the gamut from mysterious to sympathetic. However, the rest of the supporting cast are given little to do, with A.J. Cook (Final Destination 2) and Matthew Bomer (as Tru’s sometime-boyfriend) merely there to get in our heroine’s way.
As Tru, Dushku reveals why so many adolescent boys fell in love with her during her stint as “Faith the Vampire Slayer”. She convinces as a self-sacrificing woman who really cares for those around her, and she has the athletic grace to carry the shows frequent bursts of action-drama. More importantly, she is a gifted actress, who is able to project many emotions (most of which are shown throughout Tru Calling's run). Unfortunately, it seems her efforts were all for nought when the show bit the dust; making the prospect of a Faith television series more tempting, I bet. Still, her performance is certainly worth noting, especially with this DVD release. And British fans should certainly be interested, as the set includes those six Season 2 episodes that were produced prior to the series’ cancellation. They weren’t broadcast over here, and the American’s don’t have them on disc yet.
Thankfully, the “new” episodes are worth seeing. Unfortunately, they show what Tru Calling could have become - a gripping and very dramatic series, which was willing to move beyond the formula established by its first year. Each of the six episodes are a step above what came before, and the various storylines that closed Season 1 are continued in an intriguing manner. Revealing more would probably enter spoiler territory, but most of it involves Tru battling with Jack, and the sinister secrets of her family. Of course, none of this gets a resolution, which is a crushing disappointment after the exciting events of the last episode. We’re left hanging, with so many plot threads spinning; making the end of the show something to get upset about (which I never expected, to be brutally honest). Tru Calling is pretty far from perfect, but it boasted plenty of entertainment value while it lasted…
The Box Set
For once, the US have drawn the short straw. While they received a first season package, we Region 2 users have been given “The Complete Series”; an eight-disc set, including those final Season 2 episodes. It’s a good effort by Fox, packaged in a sleek plastic case, with a cardboard slip-cover; doing justice to Miss. Dushku’s features.
Aside from the troublesome transfer (see below), it’s an ideal purchase for fans of the short-lived show, and it’s doubtful Tru Calling will get a double-dip. But what do the discs have to offer?
The Look and Sound
It seems that no improvements have been made to the video-quality, since the release of the US set (reviewed here by James Gray). Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), Tru Calling is marred by washed-out colours, that give the show a grubby look, despite the sunny photography. Detail is fair, but inconsistent, and it could have been much sharper - background elements are lost, and darker scenes reveal grain. Still, it isn’t unwatchable, and passes muster, yet it’s disappointing to see such a recent show look so average. I might have been too hard on these transfers, but the series looked so much better on television...
Audio is also average, but more pleasing than the video. The 2.0 soundtrack is functional, with clear music, dialogue and effects. Naturally, there’s no force to the audio, with little bass-heavy action, but what did you expect? It’s your typical television presentation, and I didn’t find any serious faults during the shows run.
Fox also provide English, French and Spanish subtitles.
These are swish, and very pleasing to the eye; matching the style of the show very well indeed. Highlighting the title of an episode reveals the time a particular victim will (or won’t) die. Neat…
Most of the features found on the American edition are ported over, and all of them should be of interest to Calling devotees. While it’s doubtful I’ll watch any of these materials again, it did give me a good idea of how the show was put together (yet there’s no mention of its subsequent failure).
The extras are spread across the eight discs, beginning with:
There’s six of these, on various episodes; all of which feature creator Jon Harman Feldman. He is joined by Dushku, Reaves, Galifianakis, Priestley and producer Dawn Parouse on different tracks. Harmon is very frank about the show, and goes into pleasing detail on its creation. The facts about the day-to-day running of the show are intriguing, and the cast seem to enjoy discussing their roles. For anyone interested, these commentaries are an entertaining mixture of insight and reflection. These are the best extras in the set by far, making up for the less-than comprehensive featurettes…
Finding the Calling: the Pilot
A breezy 10-minute featurette, which barely scratches the veneer. Cast and crew (including Dushku, Reaves and Galifianakis) discuss how great making the show is, and it seemed to be a fun set to be on. Of course, this is the usual EPK-deal, and goes into no real insight.
The Tru Path: Season One
A similar fluff piece, that talks about the characters, and what life lessons Tru is learning from week to week. As before, it is full of happy sound-bytes from cast and crew, with little genuine information to glean from the proceedings.
Evil Comes Calling: A Late Season Twist
Easily the most entertaining vignette, this documents Jason Priestley’s arrival on the show, and the actor talks about breaking the Tru Calling mould. The cast and crew seem to agree that he brought a much-needed dynamic to the show.
There’s a surprising amount of cut footage to be found here, covering 13 episodes. Feldman provides optional commentary, discussing why the vignettes were excised from the final versions. These range from small character pieces, to scenes that just didn’t work. Most of it is worth a look at least once, and Feldman is honest about why they were left on the cutting room floor.
And last, but not least…
A cheesy goth-rock piece, for Full Blown Rose’s “Somebody Help Me” - the main title theme. It’s what you’d expect from the sub-genre, with a scary lead singer, and embarrassing ‘dance’ moves. Skippable.
The Bottom Line
Tru Calling has developed a rather harsh reputation, but it was a decent mix of fantasy and drama while it lasted, with some good performances by Eliza Dushku. The box set is definitely worth a look for fans (if only to bag those Season 2 episodes), with a nice platter of bonus material. The video lets it down slightly, but it’s easily the best edition on the market.