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2012 Holiday Gift Guide: TV on Blu-ray and DVD

Each year, as one of the TV reviewers for Popdose, I’m sent many great box sets of television series released on DVD and Blu-ray.  As the holiday season approaches, I’d like to take the time to point out my favorite releases from the year, as well as give mention to some that I may not have reviewed, but would certainly love to have under my Christmas tree. Without further ado and no particular order, here are my recommendations for TV on DVD and Blu-ray this year.

COMEDY

New Girl: The Complete First Season (Amazon link)  Zooey Deschanel was the initial draw for this winning comedy series on Fox. The cute, perky star has enough charm and quirkiness to liven up any TV show. However, New Girl quickly morphed from a starring vehicle for Deschanel into one of the most interesting comedy ensembles on TV. Max Greenfield, as perpetual douche bag, Schmidt, became a breakout star and the rest of the cast proved to be just as important as Deschanel. The first season is a 3 DVD set that contains all 24 episodes from season one, as well as special features, including commentary on the pilot episode and two other episodes

How I Met Your Mother: The Complete Season 7 (Amazon link) As this CBS series slowly draws to a close (the current 8th season certainly feels like its last), there’s still plenty of time to refresh your memory of the clues that will lead to the identity of the mom referred to in the title. Season 7 featured likable lonely guy, Ted (Josh Radnor) still trying to find true lover, career minded Robin (Cobie Smulders) seeming to find it, Marshall and Lily (Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan, respectively) expecting their first baby, and Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney emerging from being the world’s biggest womanizer and considering marriage. This collection is a 3 DVD set that includes all 23 episodes from season 7 (the season finale was double length) and has special features, including commentary on select episodes.

Get A Life: The Complete Series (Amazon link) Chris Elliott’s cult series from the early 1990s comes to DVD for the first time. In the 6 DVD collection from Shout! Factory, all 35 episodes from the show that originally aired on Fox are presented uncut and in order. Elliott starred as Chris Peterson, a 30-year-old paperboy with an ever decreasing grasp on reality. Co-starring with Elliott were his father, Bob Elliott, as well as Robin Riker, Sam Robards, Elinor Donahue, and the great Brian Doyle-Murray. The collection is crammed full of bonus features including commentary on every episode, alternate audio version without laugh track on select episodes, a new featurette with James L. Brooks and Judd Apatow, and more. This is a must for diehards of Get A Life.

The Inbetweeners: The Complete Series (Amazon Link) MTV has done an admirable job with their American adaptation of this British series, but nothing can beat the original. One of the funniest, raunchiest and weirdest coming-of-age sitcoms ever, The Inbetweeners also shares something with the beloved cult series Freaks and Geeks: it has a lot of heart. Will, Simon, Jay and Neil are four high school buddies trying to navigate the trenches of high school. They are neither popular nor the biggest losers around, and they make plenty of idiotic and outrageous mistakes while trying to score beers and boobs. I challenge anyone to watch this show and not laugh their ass off. The 3 DVD complete series set contains all 18 episodes from the shows run, as well as 3 hours of bonus features, including video diaries, behind the scenes featurettes and audio commentaries. If you really want to shake things up after hours of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, slap on The Inbetweeners and watch jaws drop and bellies hurt from laughter.

All in the Family: The Complete Series (Amazon Link)  Possibly the most important and influential sitcom of the 1970s, All in the Family addressed the social issues of the era and presented them in thought provoking, smart and most importantly, hilarious thirty-minute episodes of television. Starring Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker, Jean Stapleton as his endearing wide, Edith, Sally Struthers as their recently married daughter, Gloria, and Rob Reiner as Gloria’s husband (and perpetual pain in Archie’s ass) Mike, All in the Family is one of the few shows in television history to be the number one rated show for five consecutive years. Never afraid to take chances, the show was also able to step away from the laughs and get serious, no more so than the episode when Edith is nearly raped on her 50th birthday. The complete series box set contains all 208 episodes, including the three-part retrospective from 1979. Bonus features are many, including the original pilot, the pilot for the Gloria spin-off and the pilot for Archie Bunker’s Place. For a more in depth look at this superb release, read Ken Shane’s article.

Friends: The Complete Series Blu-ray (Amazon Link) Remastered from the 35MM film prints, this Blu-ray release of one of the 1990s most popular sitcoms gives the venerable show a fresh look. Through 10 seasons and 236 episodes, Friends had its ups and downs, but it always had charm and the believable love that existed between all six of the characters. Although the complete series has been released previously on DVD, this is the first time the show appears on Blu-ray and it is the ideal way to watch the show. Uncut and in high definition, Friends has never looked better. Looks aren’t everything, though, and what made the show a consistent hit was the writing and the performances. Unlike some shows from the ’90s, the humor of this show stands up and remains funny through multiple viewings. One need only watch the season 6 Thanksgiving classic, “The One Where Ross Got High” to know what I’m talking about. Housed in a beautiful box, which includes a book that shares the producers’ insight and episode descriptions, call this The One Everyone Friends fan should have.

The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection (Time-Life Link) Time-Life presents a superb 22-DVD box set. 50 hand-picked episodes by the comedy legend herself, 20 hours of new, never before seen bonus features, rare sketches from the first five seasons of the show, plus guest appearances by such Hollywood luminaries like Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis, Betty White, bob Hope, the Smothers Brothers and Steve Martin. Add to that the dream cast of Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway, Lyle Waggoner and Harvey Korman and you have one of the greatest collections of TV comedy history ever.  This one is a must for anyone who loves television and anyone who loves to laugh. For a more in depth review, please read this.

DRAMA

Homeland: The Complete First Season (Amazon link) Claire Danes is so shockingly good in Homeland that all traces of Angela Chase from My So-Called Life will be wiped clean from your memory, unless you imagined that lovelorn Angela would become a conniving, mentally unstable CIA agent who lies about her meds and is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that another terrorist attack doesn’t occur on U.S. soil. Danes deservedly won an Emmy for her performance as Carrie Mathison. But she isn’t alone on this show. Damien Lewis, as a soldier returning home after eight years in an al-Queda prison cell, is so likable and you root for him so badly that you can’t imagine that he may be a sleeper agent. And Mandy Patinkin, in the role of Carrie’s mentor, brings his usual ferociousness to the part, lifting the caliber of all the acting in the show. Homeland is a political thriller from the people who brought us 24 and won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama this past fall. The season 1 Blu-ray contains all 13 hour long episodes from season one, commentary on the pilot, a preview of season two and deleted scenes. Now is the time to get caught up on one of the best shows on television.

House: The Complete Series (Amazon link) Hugh Laurie. I could leave my recommendation off with just the name of the superb actor who carried this intense, Sherlock Holmes medical series on his shoulders, but then I’d be doing a disservice to the rest of the fine cast and the outstanding production values of this Fox show that went off the air last year. Now all eight seasons are collected in one box set that contains plenty of bonus materials and hours of quality television. If you think that watching reruns of House on basic cable is enough to get you by, think again. The clarity of DVD allows you to appreciate all of the talent that went into creating this slick, inventive show. And of course, there’s that guy playing Dr. House, Hugh Laurie, who gave us one of the most memorable characters in the past decade.

Columbo: The Complete Series (Amazon link) Speaking of memorable characters, here’s one who doesn’t get the love that television reruns should bestow upon him. It’s Detective Columbo, the sly detective who used his odd mannerisms to mislead criminal suspects into believing that he was a bumbling fool, when in fact he was getting them to provide him with the evidenjce to bring them down. Peter Falk deservedly won an Emmy for his portrayal of Columbo, a character he played on NBC for seven seasons between 1971 and 1978, and then revived for a series of mystery movies for ABC in the late ’80s and into the early ’90s. For this holiday season, all seven season and all of the mystery movies are collected in one huge box set.  Besides the 69 episodes and 24 movies contained on the 34 discs, there are three bonus episodes of the TV spin-off Mrs. Columbo. Fans of Falk and the series won’t have to track down crappy looking reruns anymore, now they can own the entire mother load and watch at their leisure in crisp looking DVD.

Star Trek The Next Generation- Seasons 1 & 2 Blu-ray (Amazon Links Season 1 & Season 2) Celebrating its 25th Anniversary in 2012, TNG has come back in full force with the release of the first two seasons on Blu-ray. Using the original 35MM film elements, these high-def transfers have given the popular sci-fi series a much needed face lift (as shown in one of the featurettes on the Season 1 Blu-ray). Each episode once again looks vital and exciting; perhaps ever better than when it originally aired back in the late ’80s. You don’t have to be a Trekkie to enjoy TNG, which quickly became one of the best written and acted genre shows on television. There are a multitude of bonus features that will occupy you for hours, none better than the cast roundtables. During these featurettes, the viewer gets the sense that these actors who truly like each other and appreciate the TV legacy they’ve created.

Robin of Sherwood: Sets 1 and 2 on Blu-ray (Amazon links Set 1 and Set 2) The definitive retelling of the Robin Hood legend is now available thanks to Acorn Video. This mid-1980s series was rich in authentic historical detail, adding sorcery and mysticism to the swordplay and social justice. Set 1 comprises the first two seasons of this British import. It follows the adventures of Robin of Loxley (Michael Praed) as he forms his band of merry men, becomes the legendary Robin Hood and takes on the Sheriff of Nottingham. Set 2 contains the third season of the show and finds Robert of Huntingdon (Jason Connery) taking up the mantle of Robin Hood. Ray Winstone (The Departed, Sexy Beast) also stars in this thrilling adventure series that has been given a new life on Blu-ray. Both sets contain over 9 hours of bonus features and plenty of great entertainment. While you sit around waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones, consider this show as an alternative.

Mission Impossible: The Complete Television Series (Amazon Link) While Tom Cruise contemplates the next installment of his successful film franchise based on this series, now’s your chance to watch the entire TV run. Every single episode from the ’60s classic show and the 1980s revival are collected on 56 jam packed discs for your viewing pleasure, should you choose to take on this assignment.  Peter Graves, Barbara Bain, Steven Hill and Martin Landau star in this nail biting action series, one that continues to entertain 40 years after its original inception.