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Threshold on DVD

It's been quite a while since a TV series had me hooked enough to seek out every episode; years in fact. Then I caught the premiere of Threshold in the fall of 2005 and sought it out eagerly from then on.

Or I would have if CBS hadn't juggled it around in the schedule, and then cancelled it unceremoniously long before it had hit its stride.

And doesn't that just figure.

Threshold is an alien invasion series, but it's far better than the normal, mindless TV fare It's smart, funny in places, with realistic characters you can root for (or against) – and it's also the creepiest and downright scariest series I've seen in a long time.

Threshold is the code name for a super-secret agency led by Dr. Molly Caffrey (Carla Gugino), a cerebral academic whose speciality has been in crafting contingency plans for "worst case scenarios." Fortunately, one of her scenarios dealt with an alien invasion, and when a navy vessel comes across a strange anomaly in the sky near their ship and goes silent suddenly, her plan is put into action.

She's plucked out of her life and taken to the secret headquarters and with the help of Deputy National Security Advisor J.T. Baylock (Charles S. Dutton, and we wonder if his character's name is an homage to an old Star Trek TV guest character) assembles her hand-picked team of world class intellects.

The reluctant team (none of them want to be there) consists of cynical and oft-divorced NASA microbiologist Dr. Nigel Fenway (Star Trek alumnus Brent Spiner), brilliant young and idealistic physicist Lucas Pegg (Rob Benedict), linguist and mathematician Arthur Ramsey (Peter Dinklage), and mysterious covert operative Sean Cavennaugh (Brian Van Holt), who provides the team's intelligence and muscle.

Their job is to figure out the aliens' intentions, isolate their victims, and come up with a way to fight and defeat the invasion.

Sounds like a pretty standard setup and it probably is. But what gives Threshold its edge is the decided creepiness and suspense of the stories, the humanity of the characters (well, the human ones, anyway) and the fact that this series doesn't shy away from tackling controversial issues. Regarding the latter, for example as the series unfolds, we see characters wrestling with such issues as euthanasia and on at least one occasion Dr. Caffrey is forced to make a decision that could cost the lives of innocent civilians.

The writing is terrific; the credits include veterans of the later Star Trek as well as Frasier series, and the plots are engaging to say the least – in fact, they often had us on the edge of our seats and Threshold plunged us into a high tech and high stakes world of covert operations in an age of terrorism and Homeland Security.

The cast is outstanding as well. Gugino's Molly Caffrey is all-business, but with a streak of humanity in her that's a mile wide – yet it doesn't make her go all wobbly when things get heavy. Spiner is well known to sci-fi fans and his reluctant hero in Threshold is a far cry from Data, yet he's as believable as the rest of the cast. Dutton, Dinklage and the rest are also first rate and the ensemble works very well together – fighting like cats and dogs at times, as they are forced to learn how to submerge their well-earned and substantial egos and work together as a team doing urgent work.

It isn't perfect. For example, Caffrey keeps going into the field when, as head, she should really be staying behind where she's safe. Ditto for her habit of returning to her home, where she gets into jeopardy every couple of episodes. But we can overlook that even more easily than we overlooked Captain James Kirk muscling his way into every dangerous situation 40 years ago.

Perhaps if the series had been allowed to live these loose ends would have been worked out, but now we'll never know and that's a shame.

The four disc set presents all 12 episodes in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture is terrific. Audio is also really good, with Dolby Digital 5.1  surround that'll rattle your breakables.

Extras include "The Threshold Brain Trust," a four part documentary that outlines how the concept was developed and where it was supposed to go over the next seasons (things were going to get a lot worse for humanity before they got better). There's also a feature on the series' special effects, and one offering background on the alien fractal design that seemed to be their signature.

There are also some deleted scenes as well as a pretty good commentary by Executive Producers David Goyer and Brannon Braga on the pilot episode.

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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