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2014 - Holiday Gift Guide - Part II

December 7th, 2014

This week on the Holiday Gift Guide, we tackle TV on DVD releases. As usual, I will only talk about first season and complete series updates, because you don't need me to tell you if Modern Family: Season Five on DVD would be a good gift or not. Do you know someone who owns and likes the first four seasons but doesn't have season five on DVD yet? Buy it. Or maybe not. Maybe they are waiting for it to come out on Blu-ray. Okay, bad example. But you get were I'm coming from. Unfortunately, this year's collection seems rather weak. There were only three new TV shows from last year that I really liked and there are not as many Full-Season Megasets to compensate. Worst still, some of these Megasets that are coming out are like True Blood or How I Met Your Mother and ended on a really weak note.

For those who are hooked on the Marvel Cinematic Universe...
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: The show takes place after The Avengers focusing on a group of agents from S.H.I.E.L.D., led by the suddenly not dead Agent Phil Coulson. The cast of characters includes some seasoned agents, some geeky lab geniuses, and the newest addition to SHIELD, Skye.
Pros: I was worried the TV series would be freak of the week episodes for most of the season, but that wasn't the case, as we got right into the mythology. Additionally, while I enjoyed the show more than most people right from the beginning, even those not entirely sold on the concept will admit the quality skyrocketed after the The Winter Soldier tie-in. There are plenty of extras on the DVD and Blu-ray and the Blu-ray looks incredible.
Cons: Not everyone was instantly a fan of this show like I was. Then again, maybe if you know someone who liked Marvel but gave up on the show early on, you can buy them this and tell them it really hits its stride by the end of the season.

For those who love the original movie...
Fargo: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: This ten-episode mini-series is based in the same world as the original Fargo was, but it is populated with an entirely different cast of characters. Billy Bob Thornton plays a hitman, Malvo, who travels into town and disrupts the lives of everyone there.
Pros: When I first heard about this mini-series, I was skeptical. Fargo is a classic and it has a great ending. Messing with it would be a disaster. Fortunately, the writers knew this and instead of remaking the film in mini-series form, they created an entirely new story, with some connections to the original, and populated it with interesting characters. Additionally, the Blu-ray has plenty of extras, including audio commentary tracks on three episode, about 30 minutes of deleted scenes, and a few featurettes.
Cons: The ending is the weakest part of the mini-series, in my opinion.

For those who want to explore the boundaries of science...
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts this revival of the classic PBS science series. Throughout the 13-episode first season, we learn about a number of people, discoveries, events from the big bang, evolution, pollution, and a lot more.
Pros: Neil deGrasse Tyson is the perfect host for this show and there are more than enough extras on the DVD or Blu-ray to be worth picking up.
Cons: The DVD and Blu-ray came out on the home market in June, so there is a good chance that the person you are shopping for owns it already.
Note: The DVD / Blu-ray doesn't say first season, but Neil deGrasse Tyson and Seth MacFarlane are beginning to work on a second season. This is great news for fans of the show.

For those who realize this is as good as it is going to get...
WKRP In Cincinnati: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon: DVD
Description: This TV series ran for four seasons starting in 1978 and focuses on a group of strange employees at a failing radio station.
Pros: The show only ran for four seasons, but it is widely regarded as a classic and fans of show have been itching to get it on DVD since the rise of TV on DVD as a genre. The cast is amazing and there are numerous episodes that are memorable, even to those who never saw the show when it was first on the air. "As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly." lives on as part of pop culture. The extras on the DVD include more than an hour of interviews and featurettes, which is good for this type of release.
Cons: Music rights. This is a TV series that relied on music to be almost as an important of a character as the actual human characters were and it is impossible to get the rights to all of the songs they used throughout the show's four-year run. Shout!Factory did the best they could and all but the most unforgiving fans will likely applaud the end result.

There are also a few other TV shows from the same era that have Megasets that came out this year: The Bob Newhart Show, Mork and Mindy, and Welcome Back, Kotter. However, there's less to say about these as individual releases. The issues with the music rights for WKRP is important enough for its own entry.

For those who like superheroes to be really, really old school...
Batman: The Complete Television Series - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: The Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward, as Batman and Robin respectively. The pair work with Commissioner Gordon of the Gotham Police while they battle a gaggle of strange super villains from the Joker to the Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler, and many more.
Pros: It has a very comic book feel to it and is considered a camp classic, if not a truly classic TV show. While most shows of the era are not fodder for Blu-ray, this show's colors really pop in high definition. Additionally, the Blu-ray is loaded with extras.
Cons: If you are a fan of the current generation of grittier, and humorless, D.C. Comics movies, you might not enjoy this show. On the other hand, I'm so over grittier and humorless.

For those who prefer their shows to be even older school...
Annie Oakley: The Complete TV Series - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Description: Gail Davis stars as Annie Oakley, who is inarguably the most famous female cowboy in TV and movie history. She's a rare female hero that came out 60 years ago, which is a time not known for its gender diversity. For that matter, there's not a lot of female heroes that get their own shows today.
Pros: The show began 60 years ago, but it is still widely regarded as a classic by fans of the genre. It does feel old school, but it still holds up relatively well. (Granted, the level of technical expertise of the average show has improved greatly over the years, but the characters and plots are still engaging.) Additionally, the 11-disc set has more extras than I was expecting, given the age of the show.
Cons: The show is old and I doubt there are many people reading this who watched it when it first came out, or even know anyone who did. Then again, it was in syndication, so I'm sure there are many people who watched it over the decades as kids and now have strong nostalgic feelings for the show.

For those who want one of the best most recent shows to end...
Breaking Bad: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Bryan Cranston stars as Walter White, a husband and father who learns he has cancer. He knows he doesn't have enough money to pay for treatments and to ensure his family can survive when he dies, so he uses his skills as a chemistry teacher to make crystal meth, partnering with a former student, Jesse Pinkman.
Pros: The show earned, according to Wikipedia, more than 100 awards, including 16 Primetime Emmy Awards. It is one of the few shows in the current Golden Age of TV we are experiencing that didn't seem to fade in the end. In fact, the quality is so strong there is a spin-off in the works called Better Call Saul.
Cons: The show ended roughly this time last year and there has already been two Blu-ray releases. This could be a bad sign and we might see too many special editions released over the years.

For those who want a little help from their friends...
The Wonder Years: The Complete Series Set - Buy from TimeLife.com: DVD
Description: Fred Savage stars as Kevin Arnold, a kid growing up in late 1960s with Daniel Stern providing the iconic voice-over. The show focuses on Kevin's family life, as well as his friendship with Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano) and friendship / eventual romance with Winnie Cooper.
Pros: When it comes to TV shows with a ton of nostalgia, The Wonder Years is either at the top of the list, or very near the top of the list. Additionally, the more than 20-disc set is loaded with extras.
Cons: It is only available on TimeLife, so it is more expensive than it will be when it is no longer an exclusive release.

For those who want a deal they can't refuse...
The Sopranos: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray
Description: The Sopranos is a show that ran for six seasons starting in 1999 and focuses on James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, the head of a New Jersey crime family.
Pros: The show was arguably the best show on TV for much of its run earning 60 awards, including 21 Emmys. The Blu-ray box set is loaded with extras.
Cons: It is not the first time the show has been released as a Megaset, so for a lot of fans of the show, the Blu-ray would be a double-dip.

For those who want to move on up...
The Jeffersons: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon: DVD
Description: Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford play the Jeffersons, a couple who are movin' on up thanks to their successful dry cleaning business. George Jefferson is an abrasive individual whose interactions with his neighbors was the source of much of the humor, while the show also occasionally touched on deeper topics.
Pros: It lasted for 11 seasons, and for good reason. It is one of the many creations of Norman Lear and secured its place in pop culture history.
Cons: It doesn't come out till Tuesday, so I'm not sure what the DVD set is like.

For those who have psychic powers, or at least like to pretend they do...
Psych: The Complete Series - Limited Edition - Buy from Amazon: DVD
Description: The TV focuses on Shawn Spencer (James Roday), who at the beginning of the series made money watching police reports on the news and using his brilliant powers of observation to figure out the crimes and then calling in tips to the anonymous tip line for money. However, he's so good at it, that the cops think he is involved in one of the crimes, so he has to pretend he has psychic powers.
Pros: It is a police procedural show, but one with a fun hook and a great cast of characters. The price of the box set is a bargain and there's lots of extras.
Cons: It is a police procedural show, so it is far from unique. Even fans of the genre can't keep up with all of the ones released since this show first aired.

You said the secret word...
Pee-wee's Playhouse - The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray
Description: Paul Reubens stars as Pee-wee Herman, a manchild living in a colorful and imaginative world.
Pros: While I never watched the show as a kid, or even as an adult, I know it has a large following among those who watched it as a kid, as well as those who were adults when they first discovered it. There are roughly four hours of extras on the Blu-ray.
Cons: While it lasted five seasons, each season was only less than ten episodes long on average, so the price-per-minute isn't fantastic.

I think I'm going to call it there. It doesn't seem like a big list this time around. There are a lot of other new shows, like Penny Dreadful that were good, but not great. Or shows that others seemed to love, like Ray Donovan, but I just couldn't take. Just as I'm over "grittier and humorless", I'm over "strong, male anti-hero's journey to redemption." Also, maybe we are running out of classic shows in need of Megasets. Whatever the reason, it feels like a short list and I hope next week isn't the same. Next week we have limited releases, foreign imports, Canadian films, and documentaries. That should be a big list.


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Filed under: Bryan Cranston, James Gandolfini, Clark Gregg, Sherman Hemsley, Seth MacFarlane, Danica McKellar, Aaron Paul, Paul Reubens, Fred Savage, Daniel Stern, Billy Bob Thornton, Adam West, Chloe Bennet, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Isabel Sanford