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2011 - Holiday Gift Guide - Part II

December 8th, 2011

After a week's break for the December Preview, we're back with our annual Holiday Gift Guide. This week we are dealing with TV on DVD releases. Normally we limit suggestions to the first season release or the Full Season Megasets. The reasoning behind this is simple: when it comes to deciding if someone in your life would like the fifth season of New Tricks or Degrassi: Season Ten, for example, you don't need my advice, you just need to know if they bought the previous seasons. (On a side note, both of those shows are worth owning.) However, this time around, this limitation becomes a little more difficult, as last season was really bad for new TV shows. The People's Choice Awards has Best New Comedy and Best New Drama, and last year of the ten TV shows nominated in those two categories, six of them were cancelled at the end of the year, including the winner of Best New Comedy, $#*! My Dad Says. I think that the best new show of last year was...

For those who want to get a head start on Christmas shopping, for 2012...
Game of Thrones: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Based on the A Song of Ice and Fire novels by George R. R. Martin, the series is in the medieval fantasy genre and focuses on the political and military conflicts in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
Pros: Arguably the best new show of last season; arguably the best show on TV, period. It earned 13 Emmy nominations, winning two of them, not to mention countless genre awards. The DVD and the Blu-ray are loaded with extras, including several Blu-ray exclusives. It's shot like a movie, so the video and audio presentation should be near reference quality, if not better.
Cons: It doesn't come out till March 6th, 2012. The only reason I'm mentioning it is because it is so much better than the rest of the new shows from last season.

For those who don't mind being a little late for Christmas...
Boardwalk Empire: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Steve Buscemi plays the treasurer of Atlantic County, who is a majorly corrupt politician during the prohibition. The ensemble cast includes politicians, gangsters, and those caught in-between.
Pros: Another new show that one could argue is the best show on TV. It led the way in Emmy nominations for new shows and was second overall. (The number one show was actually a mini-series, Mildred Pierce, which comes out on DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack next month, while Mad Men was the only continuing series to top it in total nominations. On the other hand, Modern Family had the most wins.)
Cons: It doesn't come out til next month, so it is a little late for Christmas.

For those who want the best new Drama that has already come out on the home market...
Nikita: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: An adaptation of La Femme Nikita. Maggie Q stars as the titular Nikita, a secret agent / assassin working for a secretive government agency. Three years before the start of the show, she broke free of their control and is now looking to take them down.
Pros: It's a high quality show that has picked up nominations for the Emmys, People's Choice Awards, Teen Choice Awards, etc. It might have done better, if more people had seen it. Plus, the DVD / Blu-ray releases have plenty of extras and the show has good replay value.
Cons: It is a genre show, so the target audience is a bit limited. It's averaging less than 2 million viewers each week, so it might not last till season three, so you might not want to get someone hooked on a show that is about to end. On the other hand, the show is only being seen by less than 2 million people a week, so it is unlikely your recipient will have the show already.

For those who don't mind that the British version is better...
Being Human: Season One - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Being Human is a TV show about three roommates: a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost. In the show, they try to fit in in the human world while learning more about their powers.
Pros: A lot of people hated the very idea of remaking the British show and thought this would be complete crap. However, all but the most ardent haters will admit that the show turned out to be much better than expected. In fact, there are some who think it is better than the original. (Although those are in the minority.)
Cons: I'm still waiting on the DVD and / or Blu-ray to arrive, so I can't comment on extras or the technical presentation.

For those who want the best of the new comedies...
Raising Hope: Season One - Buy from Amazon
Description: The story of a 23-year old slacker, Jimmy Chance, who has to raise the infant daughter he didn't know existed. (She was the result of a one-night stand with a serial killer.) He gets help raising his daughter from his mother, who gave birth to him when she was 15 and abandoned him to be raised by her mother. Bad parenting runs in the family.
Pros: Arguably the best of last year's batch of new comedies. It earned two Emmy nominations, People's Choice Award nomination, Satellite Award nominations, and more.
Cons: I'm still waiting for the screener, so I can't comment on extras.

For those who remember when MTV was airing good shows on a regular basis...
Awkward: Season One - Buy from Amazon
Description: Ashley Rickards plays Jenna Hamilton, a high school social outcast. One day she accidentally breaks her arm, but instead of being just one more embarrassing event to deal with, her classmates think it happened after a botched suicide attempt. Suddenly her social standing shoots up!
Pros: If you are under 20, you likely don't know that there was a time when MTV actually had good shows on. Beavis and Butthead, Daria, Maxx, The Head, Æon Flux, Liquid Television, etc. For the first time since those shows went off the air, MTV has a show that is actually worth watching.
Cons: The screener is a little late, so I can't comment on the extras. It does have extras, which is rare for a Make Space Amazon.com release.

For those who thought Melissa McCarthy was the best part of Bridesmaids...
Mike & Molly: Season One - DVD or Blu-ray
Description: Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy star as Mike and Molly, two overweight people who meet at a support group and fall in love, but they have to deal with comments and criticisms from the people around them.
Pros: Melissa McCarthy earned an Emmy for her performance and it was well deserved. The show overall earned another Emmy nomination, plus a People's Choice Awards nomination.
Cons: Melissa McCarthy is the best part of the show, but, while she's excellent in the TV series and the cast is very good as well, the writers too often go for the easy joke.

For those who don't mind if the show isn't too new...
Archer - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: Season One or Season Two
Description: Henry Jon Benjamin provides the voice for Sterling Malory Archer, who is considered the world's most dangerous spy. Dangerous? Maybe. Talented? Not even close.
Pros: It's a great show, and while season one came out last year, this year it is making its debut on Blu-ray.
Cons: It doesn't actually come out till the 27th, which is a little late for Christmas, unless you are Eastern Orthodox. And if you are not Eastern Orthodox, pretend you are. That way you can take advantage of boxing day sales.

For those who don't mind that it is not even close to being new...
Firefly: The Complete Series - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: A space western that follows the crew of the spaceship Serenity as they try to eke our a living without running foul of the Alliance government.
Pros: This show is the poster child for short-lived shows that were cancelled before their time. The Blu-ray looks great and is loaded with extras.
Cons: It came out three years ago. I wouldn't have mentioned it, but it landed in eleventh place on our Blu-ray chart last week.

For those who liked the new maturity added to a kids cartoon...
Transformers: Beast Wars: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Description: This Transformers series takes place in the future where the Transformers had to upgrade their forms to animals in order to survive. The forces are divided into the Maximals (Autobots) and Predacons (Decepticons).
Pros: Arguably the most mature of the Transformers TV series that have been made, the show dealt with some pretty deep philosophical issues and some of the plot threads were darker than you would expect in a kids show. It was also the first Transformers to be computer animated. I would argue both of these had an influence on it winning a Daytime Emmy. Also, there were no young kids that tend to annoy audiences in similar shows.
Cons: I'm still waiting on the screener, so I can't comment on the extras. Generally there are not a lot of extras for releases of this type (kids shows made before TV on DVD was common) but Shout!Factory tends to include at least a few smaller bits that are worth checking out.

For those who like their CG cartoon series a little more old school...
Reboot: The Definitive Mainframe Edition - Buy from Amazon
Description: The show takes place in the world inside a mainframe computer with all of the programs and hardware coming to life. Programs like the COMMAND.COM file help run the computer, while Guardians protect them from dangerous viruses. And every once and a while, the user plays a game, which has the potential to do more damage than any virus. (If you've ever tried to upgrade an old computer and had a serious hardware conflict, you probably understand how a user is more dangerous than a virus.)
Pros: This series was groundbreaking; It was the first fully CG animated TV series. It was also very well written with complex characters, character development, etc. There are also tons of pop culture references, most of which hold up well even today. Additionally, there are better than expected extras on the nine-disc set.
Cons: This series was groundbreaking; It was the first fully CG animated TV series and even fans of the show might be shocked to see how primitive the animation is and it might take a few episodes to get used to it.

For those who prefer puppets to computer animation...
Farscape: The Complete Series - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: The series starts with an astronaut, John Crichton, testing out a new theory of his in an experimental spaceship of his own design. During the experiment, he is sucked into a wormhole, through into an unknown part of space, accidentally becomes embroiled in a prison escape and becomes part of a fugitive crew.
Pros: This award-winning show was one of the best science fiction shows around during its time, and it still holds up today. The 20-disc Blu-ray release came up just a few weeks ago and, while I haven't had time to fully explore it, what I have seen is impressive. There are a ton of extras, including audio commentary tracks on 30 episodes, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes, featurettes, interviews, etc. Plus, the sound is excellent for TV on DVD.
Cons: The show was made before HD was common place, so the video is not a major selling point. It looks better than the DVD does, but the special effects were done in standard definition, so they don't have the resolution. They did the best they could with what they had.

For those who want to try a different groundbreaking TV series...
Robotech: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Description: In the year 1999, a spaceship crashes into Earth landing on Macross Island. For ten years the world's scientists try to understand the alien technology and eventually manage to repair the ship enough for it to launch. However, during the celebration, aliens attack the Earth and only a small band of survivors manage to make it off Earth alive. Now they have to defeat the Zentradi threat.
Pros: This is one of the first Anime series ported over from Japan for North American audiences. It was actually three unrelated series in Japan before being turned into one series and, amazingly, it works, for the most part. Plus, four discs of this 17-disc set are dedicated to extras, including archival extras and stuff recorded specifically for this set.
Cons: The show is very old and the animation quality is not as good as we've become used to. (Movement animation is not as smooth, for instance.) Also, while I said combining three shows into one works for the most part, there are some jarring changes in the show between series.

For those who grew up in the 1980s and want a manly cartoon...
M.A.S.K.: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Description: A battle between good and evil. Good is a government task force called Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, a.k.a. M.A.S.K, who fight evil, a terrorist organization called Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem, a.k.a., V.E.N.O.M. Each side has a huge cast of characters, each with cool transforming vehicles.
Pros: This is a show of the 1980s, which is both a pro and a con. It's 90% action, with a really hokey moral tacked on in the end. It was clearly made to sell toys, but is still entertaining with a healthy dose of nostalgia.
Cons: This show hasn't aged too well. It is really a product of the 1980s. Plus Scott and T-Bob are highly annoying.

For those who grew up in the 1980s, but want a more lady-like cartoon...
Jem and the Holograms: The Truly Outrageous Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Description: Usually 1980s cartoons were testosterone magnets. So many were 10% plot and 90% action, if that, with almost entirely male casts. Jem, on the other hand, focuses on a group of friends, mostly women, who grew up together in a home for orphan girls. Jerrica Benton's father funded the home. When her father dies, she and her friends try to save the home, but in order to do so, she has to regain control of the record label her father ran by starting a band.
Pros: I'm outside this show's target demographic, but even so I can tell it is a high quality show. It is a cartoon that has compelling characters with more depth than most cartoons have, plus it cares a lot about continuity. The eleven-disc set includes all 65 episodes, plus a bonus disc with a number of extras totaling nearly two hours in length.
Cons: It's a product of the 1980s with many of the weaknesses common in the era, including stiff animation, color errors, etc. (Computer assisted animation has been a boon to the format.) Also, some of the music and fashion is really dated.

For those who like their sketch comedy with a Canadian flavour...
The Kids in the Hall - Buy from Amazon: Death Comes to Town or Complete Series Megaset
Description: The Kids in the Hall is arguably the most famous sketch comedy show to ever come out of Canada (only SCTV could reasonably be considered more famous). After an extended hiatus, the troupe worked together on a TV mini-series about a murder mystery in a small Canadian town with a large cast of very strange characters.
Pros: The mini-series was really hyped up here in Canada and, thankfully it lived up to the hype, for the most part. It was great to see the guys take the absurdist humor and focus it on a narrative story. As for the Megaseries, it's nearly two days worth of comedy that is so good and so memorable that when I watched the episodes for the first time in years, I was able to remember many of the punchlines within the first 30 seconds, but I still laughed at all of the jokes.
Cons: This is not the first time the show has been released as a Megaset. Meanwhile the eight-part mini-series is not as good as say the eight best episodes of the show, so it suffers in comparison. (That is admittedly an unfair comparison, but one many will make.)
Notes: And if you really want a Canadian Christmas, grab Trailer Park Boys: The Complete Collection. However, it too has been released as a Megaset in the past.

For those who already miss the show...
Smallville: The Complete Series - Buy from Amazon
Description: It's a TV series based on the most famous comic book character of all time, starting when he was a high school student in a small town till he was living in Metropolis, all the while fighting super villains and dealing with interpersonal relationships.
Pros: The show lasted for ten years on TV, which is a very rare feat. For much of the time, it was one of the biggest hits on WB / CW network. During its decade on the air, it won numerous awards, including three Emmys. Plus, the DVD releases have had plenty of extras over the years.
Cons: The quality of the show has wavered from time to time. Early on there were too many, "Freak of the Week" episodes, while later on it started to show its age. Plus, the last few seasons have been released on Blu-ray, but the Megaset is DVD only, at least so far.

For those who are missing not just one show, but an entire franchise...
Stargate: Atlantis: Complete Series Megaset - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon
Description: A spin-off to Stargate: SG-1, which in turn was based on the movie. It follows a group of scientists and military men after they find the lost city of Atlantis, in another galaxy, and accidentally get stuck there.
Pros: One of the best genre shows of its day and there is a real debate whether or not it is better than the original series. The Blu-ray is loaded with extras and looks and sounds amazing. Also, at the moment, it is cheaper than the DVD Megaset.
Cons: If you haven't seen the previous show / movie, it might be hard to get up to speed. That said, that Megaset is also worth owning.

Okay, I've gone overboard and even though there are a couple releases I missed (Doctor Who: The David Tennant Years and Torchwood: The Complete Series DVD or Blu-ray) I should really stop there. It's 7:00 a.m. and I haven't gone to bed yet, and I have a full day's work tomorrow to get to. Next week we will get to some Independent / Foreign / Classics to go over, while the week after that is the final installment of this year's Holiday Gift Guide with music, books, toys, etc., plus a few DVDs / Blu-rays I have missed / will miss over the first three weeks.


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Filed under: Video Releases