Interested in buying something special for that TV lover in your family, something off the beaten path that isn’t getting tons of press in the mainstream media? I have a few TV on DVD suggestions for you- series I’ve come across throughout the year that are compelling, dramatic, thrilling, thought provoking and just plain entertaining. All of these collections are available through Amazon.com. I’ve provided links to each. Have a happy and safe holiday season! As always, thanks for reading Popdose!
Single-Handed, Set 1 (Acorn): Filmed on location in Ireland, this excellent procedural drama follows the career of disgraced Garda Sergeant Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell) after he has been transferred from Dublin to the rural Irish town where he grew up. He soon learns the remote community he’s been tasked with policing is rife with corruption and long-held secrets. While Jack tries to prove his worth in a community that doesn’t trust or have faith in him, he must also deal with the strained relationship with his father, the man who used to keep the town safe.Single Handed co-stars Ian McElhinney (Little Dorrit, Doc Martin) with guest star Caroline Catz (Doc Martin). Consider this the U.K. cousin to Justified. The 3 disc set includes three 2 hour movies.
Outcasts (BBC Video): Outcasts is intelligent, well paced science fiction that builds in tension with each episode. Set in the year 2060, the Earth has become uninhabitable. To save the human race, a group of pioneers travel to a far off planet similar to our own. They name it Carpathia. Establishing a base camp, Fort Haven, these brave men, women and children, try to adapt to the new world while also attempting to fix the errors that led to Earth’s slow death. Led by a democratic, secular president (Liam Cunningham), hard decisions are made in the name of preserving mankind. When a religious leader (Eric Mabius) arrives on the planet, he brings with him a rivalry with the President and many secrets that could tear apart the fragile civilization of Fort Haven. In addition to some fine writing and excellent acting (Daniel Mays and Amy Manson stand out), this series poses some interesting questions about redemption and human nature. Given a second chance, would humans resort to the same old politics, or would they really try to start fresh and create a better world? Part Star Trek, part Lost, and part old time western, this is one sci-fi series that isn’t silly and doesn’t insult your brain.
Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series (Universal): Anyone who reads Popdose knows how much we loved FNL. The show completed its series run earlier this year on Directv and NBC and the producers have done the right thing by compiling all five seasons in one special box set. For anyone who has hesitated to buy any of the past season releases, this is the way to go. You get all of the bonus features from all five previously released box sets, plus additional photos from the show. All of it is packaged in a nice box that makes this a great gift for any fan of the Dillon Panthers or East Dillon Lions.
Prime Suspect: Series One and Two (Acorn Video): Before the groundbreaking women cop characters on Homicide, NYPD Blue and The Wire, before Kyra Sedgwick battled office politics on The Closer, there was this seminal series starring Helen Mirren as DI Jane Tennison. Series One introduces us to the tough as nails woman, as she takes command of a high profile murder case that thrusts her into the media spotlight and upends her domestic life. At the same time she must combat sexism in the work place and prove that she’s every bit as worthy to be leading a squad room as the men who preceded her. The drama of Prime Suspect withstands time, thanks mostly because of the impeccable Mirren. Both series one and series two are epic long dramas that no way resemble the U.S. procedural that was supposed to be a remake. Mirren plays the role of a woman who is sometimes admirable, sometimes unlikable, but always in control. She’s superb and so is this show.
Everwood: The Complete Fourth Season (Warner Video): The beloved WB series was cancelled after just four seasons, primarily thanks to the WB/UPN merger that gave us the CW. Warner Brothers slowly released all of the seasons on DVD, much of it without the original music used for broadcast. Despite that minor disappointment, if you want to see a quality family drama, you should check out Everwood. Created by Greg Berlanti, who would eventually oversee Brothers & Sisters, the drama starred Treat Williams as a famous New York surgeon who moves his two children to a small Colorado town after the death of his wife. Playing his oldest son was Gregory Smith (ABC’s Rookie Blue). Other cast members include Emily VanCamp (Revenge), Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) and Scott Wolf (Party of Five). Lucky for the show and fans, Berlanti knew of Everwood’s untimely cancellation before completing the season four finale. He was able to write a conclusion to the show that was a fitting farewell. As a bonus feature on the Season 4 DVD, the original ending (which was also shot) is included.
Blue Murder: The Complete Collection (Acorn Video): Broadcast on ITV from 2003-2009, this critically acclaimed, smash hit British crime drama stars Caroline Quentin as DCI Janine Lewis, the top cop with the Manchester police force. While she runs things on her job, Lewis must also juggle the stress of being a single mom to four children. Quentin is outstanding in the show, which blends wit and warmth with gritty storylines. The Complete Collection brings together all 19 episodes of Blue Murder in a 9 disc set.
Big Love: The Complete Collection (HBO): Big Love, the controversial series starring Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin, may not have been the most consistent show, but it was always compelling television. This fictionalized account of a fundamentalist Mormon family studied the complex and often dark world of polygamy. Paxton and his three leading ladies made the characters real and sympathetic in what could have been a cartoonish show. After five seasons, Big Love went off the air this past March. The Complete Collection brings together brings together the series’ uniquely crafted story arc about modern day polygamists Bill Henrickson, his three wives (Barb, Nicki and Margene), and nine children as they struggle to overcome the myriad of challenges brought about by their beliefs, lifestyle and Bill’s entrepreneurial and political ambitions. The complete collection includes the 53 episodes from all five seasons, plus all of the extra features from the individual releases that offer additional insight into the Henrickson family dynamics.
Queer as Folk: The Complete U.K. Collection (Acorn Video): Seen on the Ovation channel in the U.S., this groundbreaking series was the basis for the remake that later appeared on Showtime. Created by Russell T. Davies (Torchwood), Queer as Folk is a witty, daring and unapologetic look at gay culture that tackles universal themes of friendship, love and betrayal. Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Identity) stars as a rich, unrepentant man whose cockiness and charisma create trouble wherever he goes. Craig Kelly co-stars as his best friend, not so secretly in love with him, who often gets stuck cleaning up the messes. The complete series is contained on this 3 disc set from Acorn Video. Bonus materials include deleted and extended scenes with commentary, interviews, behind the scenes featurettes, and a twenty page booklet that includes notes from series creator, Davies.
Kids in the Hall: The Complete Series Megaset (A&E Entertainment): The Kids were the comedy equivalent of left of the dial music in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Although Lorne Michaels helped break them when their series debuted on HBO, they weren’t as well known as Saturday Night Live or In Living Color. Their brand of humor walked a fine line of edgy and dangerous, with the cast never wavering in their commitment to laughs. By the end of their series run they were on CBS, the equivalent of a big record contract, I suppose. But, like The Replacements, they were always the next big thing that never really caught on with the mainstream. The Canadian comedy troupe gave us five remarkable character actors in the form of Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson. This megaset collects every single episode from their series along with the Kids miniseries from 2010, Death Comes to Town. There are an abundance of great special features. My favorite is the featurette that documents how the group came together and how they managed to remain friends after all of these years.
How I Met Your Mother: Season 6 (Fox Video): This celebrated hit sitcom rebounded in its 6th Season by refocusing the show back on the main characters and not the wacky situations the writers came up with (something they seem to have reverted back to in its current run). On this 3 disc set, the show gets closer to revealing the identity of the mother, but not before introducing us to the Captain, Zoey, The Blitz and Barney’s father (played John Lithgow). Special Features include deleted scenes, commentary on selected episodes and several behind the scenes featurettes. Season 6 reminded faithful viewers why they fell in love with How I Met Your Mother in the first place and set up the end run of the show with laughs and heart.
Gavin & Stacey: The Complete Collection (BBC Video): One of the funniest and most charming comedy shows in the past decade, this BBC import is a romantic comedy that has universal appeal. Gavin is an average guy from England and Stacey is an ordinary girl from Wales. These two adorable characters meet cutely and quickly fall in love, much to the concern of the best friends (show creators, James Corden and Ruth Jones) and their respective families. But Gavin and Stacey can’t deny their hearts and soon they’re planning a wedding. Season One of Gavin and Stacey follows those wedding plans up to the heartwarming (and riotous) wedding day. Season 2 picks up after the honeymoon and sees the two love birds grappling with life as newlyweds and separating from their close families. Meanwhile, everyone else deal with their own intimate issues. Season Three finds Gavin and Stacey starting a life in Wales, with the two of them trying to have a baby. Also included in the complete collection is an extended version of the Christmas Special, which showed Stacey’s family spending the holiday with Gavin’s. The cast of this show is top notch, comparable to Modern Family or Parks and Recreation.
Robot Chicken: Season Five (Warner Video): The Emmy winning series from Seth Green, Matthew Senreich and Adult Swim continues with the absurd laughs in the fifth season. Twenty episodes make up this two disc set. The DVD allows for the uncensored humor of the series. Additionally, a couple of episodes on the Season 5 collection haven’t even aired yet. Special features include seven behind the scenes featurettes, on air promos, commentary on all twenty episodes and animatics. For Robot Chicken fans, the makers of the show never skimp on the extras. Additionally, the Blu-ray version of Robot Chicken Season 5 features alternate audio takes from various sketches throughout the season, while the DVD will allow fans to download an exclusive version of the ”Blue Rabbits” song.
Barney Miller: The Complete Series (Shout!Factory): The complete series run of Barney Miller makes its debut on DVD with this nicely packaged set that also includes the first season of the Abe Vigoda spin-off, Fish. Many real life cops, as well as many of the creators of acclaimed procedural dramas, have sighted this comedy as a major influence. Hal Linden starred as the titular character, a beleaguered police captain with a motley crew of hard working detectives. The series ran from 1974-1982, winning a Peabody, three Emmy awards and a couple of Golden Globes. There are 168 episodes contained on 25 (!) discs. Fans of quality television, as well as the longtime fans of this show, should rejoice. Bonus features include cast interviews, commentaries and commemorative booklet that features an excellent essay by former TV critic, Howard Rosenberg.
King of Cool: The Best of The Dean Martin Variety Show (Time/Life): The Dean Martin Show ran for nine seasons, airing on NBC from 1965 to 1974. Hosted by legendary entertainer Dean Martin, the unique variety and comedy show was a television pioneer. There were no rehearsals, no re-takes, and Martin simply just wasn’t a host behind a desk and a microphone — he took part in virtually all the segments, whether talking and singing with guests or performing a comedy sketch. King of Cool boasts 18 classic episodes of The Dean Martin Variety Show, featuring Dean and an impressive array of guests. Among the guests featured are: a young Bill Cosby from 1966, fresh off the success of I Spy; Art Carney, Red Buttons, Sid Caesar, who each appear in several classic sketches with Dean; Ruth Buzzi, who at the time was a star on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In; plus Mickey Rooney, George Kirby, Flip Wilson, Jonathan Winters, Dom DeLuise, Jackie Mason, plus many others. Earlier this year Time/Life released a separate 6 DVD collection. King of Cool carries on with the quality of that earlier set and offers a window into a different era when TV allowed for variety shows like this one. For your grandparent, your budding rat pack cousin, or just to see how cool television could be, this one’s great to add to the library.
Shout Factory! has been releasing many of the great Nickelodeon animated series on DVD throughout the year. Already there are two seasons worth of The Wild Thonberrys available to purchase. The Wild Thornberrys was one of the most imaginative and delightful shows the network aired; that rare cartoon with a girl as the main character. Season One of Butch Hartman’s exciting Danny Phantom is definitely a great gift for anyone with a young boy or a kid who loves super heroes. The sleek design and witty dialogue made it a big hit in the early 2000’s. One of my favorites was the gentle dramedy (in a cartoon no less) Hey Arnold! Unlike so many sitcom type animated shows, Hey Arnold! didn’t always go for the huge laughs. The writers invested a great deal in the characters, making them some of the most realistic drawn people on television. Season One is available.
Nickelodeon also had some crazy, loud, obnoxious cartoons, as well. Among them were Ahh! Real Monsters, (from the same people who brought you Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys) which followed a group of, you guessed it, monsters. Season One is available. The Angry Beavers and CatDog are a couple of sometimes bizarre, sometimes hilarious creations that are perfect for anyone who loves the old Roadrunner cartoons. Loud, colorful and sometimes shrieky, they’re also a lot of fun.
The Cleveland Show: The Complete Season 2 (Fox): This show continues to be my favorite from Seth McFarlane’s block of animation that is featured on Fox TV. Unlike Family Guy, and especially American Dad, I’ve always felt that The Cleveland Show has a little more warmth to it. True, the situations are every bit as ridiculous and rapid paced as it’s two cousins, but I believe the family in The Cleveland Show more than the other two hit shows. Season 2 features a return of Kanye West as Kenny West, proving once again that the superstar rapper really does have a sense of humor. The DVD set also includes plenty of amusing bonus features that should provide enough to watch as you’re digesting your holiday feast.
Robotech: The Complete Original Series (A&E): Long before the live action Transformers movies introduced giant alien robots to a new generation children (and fanboys), there was this sweeping animated sci-fi epic that delivered ”mecha” to the masses. Robotech aired on U.S. television in the mid-80s via syndication. The legendary space opera—one of the very first anime imports—helped to usher in the multi-billion dollar anime industry. A+E Networks Home Entertainment, working closely with original Robotech producer Harmony Gold, has released the influential series in a handsomely-designed 17-disc DVD collector’s set featuring all 85 re-mastered episodes of the dramatic anime classic. Additionally, there are four exclusive bonus discs containing more than 10 hours of bonus content—much of which is new to DVD. Instead of enduring the loud, obnoxious Michael Bay sci-fi Transformers movies, check out this innovative and groundbreaking series.
Archer: The Complete Season 1 (Fox):From the mind of Adam Reed, creator of Sealab 2021, comes this very adult action/comedy animated series that airs on FX. Staring the voices of H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Jessica Walter, Judy Greer and Chris Parnell, Archer follows the exploits of suave secret agent, Sterling Archer (Benjamin). Considered one of the world’s most dangerous spies, Archer’s field work fending off assassins and terrorists is nothing compared to the dangers he faces with human resources, his ex-girlfriend and his mother (who also runs the top secret agency he works for). Archer is raunchy, sexy, funny as hell and uses a slick animation style that recalls 60’s comic book cool. Season 1 has been on DVD for most of this year and is a great introduction to this cult favorite. Season 2 is expected to be released early in 2012.
The Adventures of Tintin: Season One (Shout! Factory/Nelvana): “Great snakes!” This is one of my favorite releases of the year. Before you head to the movie theaters to see the Steven Spielberg directed Tintin movie, be sure to get this animated series from the early 90’s. Adapted from the series of graphic novels by artist Herge, The Adventures of Tintin uses his original stories as the basis for this exciting adventure show. 13 half hour episodes make up the 2- disc set, two of which, “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackman’s Treasure,” were used for the Spielberg film. Tintin is an intrepid young reporter who, along with his faithful dog, Snowy, gets mixed up with smugglers, drug dealers, pirates and cults. The animation is all hand drawn and appears to have been done when production companies were still using cells and cameras instead of computers. The storylines are a little more mature than the typical fare you’ll see on any of the kids networks. There are guns, deaths, kidnappings and, in the case of Tintin’s friend, Captain Haddock, quite a bit of alcohol consumption. However, if you’ve shown your kids any of the Indiana Jones or Transformers movies, then theses episodes should be okay for them. Thoroughly enjoyable and my highest holiday recommendation for animated TV series on DVD this year.