Television gift ideas for the holidays, TV gifts, The Pacific and Band of Brothers, Friday Night Lights
Stuff to Buy Channel / Bullz-Eye Home
Television fanatics must love the holidays, because it's the one time of year when studios unleash a host of massive (but still compact) box sets collecting their favorite shows. This year is no different, with several popular and critically acclaimed shows getting the complete series treatment. But while we like to devour an entire TV show just as quickly as the next person, sometimes a little self-discipline is required, which is why we've also included some less time-consuming suggestions as well.
There are few series that one could bestow upon a friend or family member this holiday season that are as instantly rewarding as "Friday Night Lights," and now that the show is officially over, this five-season box set is the obvious way to go about it. Destined to be on TV series "Best of" lists for years to come, this is one show that totally lives up to the hype. On the surface, it's a high school football drama that takes place in the fictitious town of Dillon, TX, but peel back that surface description, and "Friday Night Lights" reveals itself to be one of the most heartfelt, honest TV dramas of the past decade. It's quite honestly difficult to imagine anyone not loving the show, regardless of their feelings about football. Starring Kyle Chandler ("Super 8"), Connie Britton ("American Horror Story") and a host of up-and-comers, this complete series box set is one that viewers will enjoy seeing through to the very end.
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg made World War II TV history not once, but twice – first with "Band of Brothers" in 2001 and again with "The Pacific" in 2010. These epic miniseries put a spotlight on different slices of the war, and the debate could rage for hours as to which of the pair is superior. Although this box set isn't necessarily an imperative double dip, it sure is tempting once you get a closer look at it. Housed in a nice, durable box with a magnetic lock is an even nicer book-like case in which the 13 discs in this set are enclosed. The "pages" are thick cardboard that sport glossy pictures from the series', from which the discs slide in and out with ease. Any new goodies? Why yes: Smack in the middle of the set is a disc that includes a new hour-long documentary entitled "He Has Seen War" that features many of the veterans you've previously met through these series discussing how difficult it was to adjust to civilian life after the war was over.
Although it ran for five seasons on HBO and secured considerable critical acclaim during its run, it wouldn't be entirely untrue to suggest that most people who never actually watched
"Big Love" know it as "the show with Chet from ‘Weird Science' where he's got a whole bunch of wives." Which, come to think of it, isn't entirely untrue, either, except that Bill Henrickson – Bill Paxton's character on the series – is a far cry from the douchebag who extolled the virtues of a greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray. With a remarkable cast that featured Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin as Paxton's wives, along with recurring appearances by Bruce Dern, Harry Dean Stanton, Mary Kay Place, Zeljko Ivanek, Robert Patrick, Aaron Paul and Anne Dudek, "Big Love" is a series which, although more than a little bit uneven in terms of the overall quality of its seasons, is rarely less than interesting to watch unfold. As far as this set, though, there is
one major caveat: it might save you money in the long run if you haven't picked up the individual season sets, but that's your only
bonus. (Translation: there are no additional special features.)
Why, yes, it is completely freaking huge. But, really, what else would you expect from a 104-disc set? NBC's not doing well enough that they could afford to send out promos of a set this substantial, but we have it on good authority from our good friends at TVShowsOnDVD
that it weighs almost 10 pounds. If you're a fan, the good news is that you get all 456 episodes of the series, plus the three crossover episodes the show did with "Homicide: Life on the Street," but the bad news is that you don't get any of the crossovers done with the various other "Law & Order" series. Nor, for that matter, does the set include the sometimes-forgotten TV movie, "Law & Order: Exiled." These might not be make-or-break omissions for you, but still, better to get them out there before you consider taking the plunge. If you've bought all of the individual seasons they released prior to this, then my sincerest apologies go out to you, but here's the bottom line: comfort-food TV doesn't get much better than "Law & Order," and this box is an all-you-can-eat buffet.
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a 62-disc set? "Smallville" may have begun with a simple premise – teenager Clark Kent (Tom Welling) comes to terms with his unique abilities and unearthly heritage while also dealing with the usual battles of entering adulthood – but by the end of its ten-season run, it had expanded into much more. Granted, by the time Clark had graduated from Smallville High, casual viewers had already begun twitching and asking, "When the hell's he going to turn into Superman?" Forget those guys. What's important to remember is that the series gradually spun beyond the standard Superman mythos and into other corners of the DC Universe, incorporating such other superheroes as Green Arrow, Aquaman, the Martian Manhunter, Dr. Fate, and even Booster Gold. This massive set does its best to inspire fans who've already picked up the previous seasons to set them aside in favor of this collection, offering up a full issue of The Daily Planet
alongside five hours of new special features, including a 90-minute series retrospective, the previously-unaired 1961 "Superboy" pilot, and…geez, I can't remember: was the failed "Aquaman" pilot already included on a previous season set? Well, either way, that's here, too.
"Parks and Rec," as we like to call it, must surely be the smartest, funniest sitcom currently on TV. Anyone who likes to laugh will get a huge kick out of this third season box set, which is self-contained just enough to serve as an introduction to the show for the uninitiated. It's a perfect blend of wit, personality and sight gags. Starring Amy Poehler as Lesley Knope, proud resident of Pawnee, Indiana and ambitious employee of the town's Parks and Rec department, the show has a knack for finding funny in the most unexpected of places. Essentially a workplace comedy, "Parks and Rec" throws Knope into a carefully crafted wading pool of hilarious supporting characters, including Libertarian hater of all things government Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), P.R. whiz Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), and style and health obsessed boss Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe). This season follows Lesley's attempts to revive Pawnee's Harvest Festival, as well as her burgeoning romance with Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott).
Music, politics, social commentary and Cajun cooking, all wrapped up in a laidback yet complex weave of storytelling; that's more or less the essence of HBO's "Treme," from David Simon and Eric Overmyer. Not a show that will enthrall everyone, but for the discriminating, thoughtful viewer, this is one steaming hot bowl of gumbo. Set several months after Hurricane Katrina, "Treme" traces the lives of a dozen New Orleans residents as they try to rebuild their lives. Featuring a knock-out cast that includes Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters and Steve Zahn, this first absorbing, addictive season has an almost perfect sense of wraparound closure, making it a great gift for the person who maybe doesn't want to be roped into further seasons. Yet the real key to "Treme" remains the music, and every episode takes time out to showcase various musicians and bands; folks like Dr. John, Kermit Ruffins and Steve Earle give the entire affair true local flavor.
The laughs-per-minute ratio for the fifth season of "Robot Chicken" may not be as high as years past, but it's still one of the funniest and most irreverent animated shows on TV. The two-disc box set contains the latest 20 episodes in all their pop culture-splattered glory (including the climactic 100th episode) and features parody mash-ups of everything from "The Smurfs" and "Avatar," to "Precious" and "King Kong," to "The Muppet Babies" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Other highlights include a look at the dangers of magic with the "Harry Potter" gang, a clever observation on the rules of Stratego, the annual Christmas Special, the shortest and funniest "Alien vs. Predator" skit you'll ever see, and enough "He-Man" sketches to last you a lifetime. Season Five is also jam-packed with hours of extras, including audio commentaries for every episode, deleted scenes and channel flips, and some playful but insightful featurettes about producing the series, the large cast of celebrity voice actors, and Nathan Fillion's conspiracy theory on how the show lands so many big names.
Like most shows on Cartoon Network, "Adventure Time" is an animated series that will entertain both kids and adults. But while there are certain elements about the show that are undeniably childlike, the fact that it airs just outside of the Adult Swim block should tell you all you need to know about whether it's appropriate for your child. Following the exploits of human boy Finn and his magical dog Jake, each 11-minute episode has the duo embarking on a wild adventure through the fantastical land of Ooo, whether it's going on a treasure hunt for the rare Crystal Gem Apple, saving Princess Bubblegum from the evil Ice King, or obtaining a lock of the princess' hair to prevent from being sucked into a balding witch's butt. Though there's no real rhyme or reason as to why the 12 episodes that appear on this DVD were chosen, each one is as funny as the last, flaunting a witty and quirky humor that plays like a strange mash-up of "The Simpsons" and "Pee-Wee's Playhouse."
Since making his film debut in 1950's "The Happy Years," Robert Wagner has maintained a relatively high profile as an actor, but given that there's now an entire generation who only knows him for as Agent Tony DiNozzo's dad on "NCIS," this would seem to be the perfect time to teach those young whippersnappers about what Wagner did back in the day. "It Takes a Thief" may have only lasted for three seasons, but the work Wagner did on the series between 1968 and 1970 helped to cement the suave, debonair image that he maintains to this day. Kudos to Entertainment One, then, for bringing "It Takes a Thief" out of obscurity and releasing this complete series set. Wagner plays Alexander Mundy, a thief so cunning that – as seen in the pilot episode – the government gives up trying to keep him in prison and decides to put him on their payroll. And he charms his way through all 66 episodes, occasionally accompanied in the later installments by his father, Alistair, played by Fred Astaire. Even those who know Wagner for his work on "Hart to Hart" are often unfamiliar with "It Takes a Thief." Now's the perfect chance to remedy that.
You can't flip more than a channel or two without finding a cop drama, but cop comedies
? Those are harder to come by. "Barney Miller," which ran from 1975 to 1982, is one of the great ensemble sitcoms, led by Hal Linden as the title character, captain of New York City's 12th Precinct. The initial breakout character of the series was Detective Phil Fish, played by Abe Vigoda (who's still alive as of this writing, but if you're concerned that may have changed, you can check on his current status by clicking here
), but the series successfully survived both his departure at the end of the show's fourth season as well as the death of Jack Soo – Det. Nick Yemana – midway through Season Five. "Barney Miller" ran for a total of eight seasons, and they're all in this typically-kickass set from the fine folks at Shout Factory, who have gone the extra mile and included the entire first season of Vigoda's character's spinoff, "Fish," as well as a history of the show featuring reminiscences from Linden, Vigoda and Max Gail. Brew yourself a batch of bad coffee, sit back, and bask in all the "Barney" you can stand.
Anime is an acquired taste, that much is certain, but even the most casual aficionado of the genre is generally familiar with "Robotech," an epic series which tells a tale of alien technology finding its way into the hands of humanity, which promptly comes up with something called "robotechnology," and use it to create a whole bunch of cool stuff in order to defend Earth. That's basically it…or, at least, it's as deep as we're willing to get when trying to summarize 85 episodes in a single sentence. A&E Entertainment has never been afraid to cater to the sci-fi audience – these are
the people who put out "Space 1999: The Complete Series" and just about every Gerry Anderson series ever
, after all – but "Robotech" has a far larger fanbase, having inspired no end of toys, games, novels, and so on down the franchise line. Maybe it's not your cup of tea, but if you ever found your pulse quickening at the sound of the theme to "Battle of the Planets" or "Starblazers," this might be a way to recapture your youth while also educating yourself to one of the great sci-fi sagas in recent memory.
Most everybody knows a science fiction fan, but even with the surplus of sci-fi material available today, it can still be tough finding something they don't already have. "Farscape," a cult series that ran from 1999-2003, has been given the Blu-ray once over and all four seasons are now available in one box set from A&E. The show follows astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder), who's been flung across the universe, via a wormhole, and ends up in a world of strange aliens with bizarre customs. Produced by The Jim Henson Company, the series is a visual feast, with plenty of action, humor and explosions all wrapped up in an engrossing ongoing storyline. Folks who enjoy lighter fare such as "Star Wars," "Doctor Who" or "Buck Rogers" will have a field day with this series. In addition to porting over all of the extras from the DVD box set, this release features a brand new HD documentary, as well as English subtitles for the hearing impaired, which were curiously absent from the DVD.
Hands down the most needlessly complicated and whacked season of "Doctor Who" thus far, this box set is sure to be on every Whovian's Christmas list this year. Matt Smith returns as the mysterious titular time-travelling Doctor alongside Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), her husband Rory (Arthur Darvill), and River Song (Alex Kingston), around whom many of the season's shocks and surprises revolve. Over the past couple years, River had a bigger question mark at the end of her name than the Doctor, but with this season, all is finally revealed. Featuring an episode written by Neil Gaiman, introducing the Silence (the spookiest alien race since the Weeping Angels), and even an encounter with Adolph Hitler, the sixth season of "Who" is one crazy, wild ride. With eye-popping visual and killer sound, this set also includes last year's Christmas special, "A Christmas Carol," as well as commentaries, a couple of Comic Relief sketches, and five new specially-produced scenes unveiled under the banner of "Night and the Doctor."
Fans of Akira Toriyama's "Dragon Ball Z" haven't had it easy over the last few years, as anime distributor Funimation has pillaged the pockets of its loyal fanbase by releasing several different incarnations of the series on DVD and Blu-ray, including the remastered Orange Boxes, the Japanese Dragon Boxes, and the recent "DBZ Kai" filler-free editions, which we actually prefer. But for those that have been patiently waiting for an unabridged version of "Dragon Ball Z" on Blu-ray, your Christmas wish has finally been answered, because this volume of the series' first 17 episodes is everything that a "DBZ" purist could ask for. Completely re-mastered frame by frame using the original film footage, the series' original 4:3 format and color scheme has been preserved, and you even have the option to choose from three lossless audio tracks, including an English dub with either the Japanese or English broadcast music, as well as the classic Japanese dub. Not everyone is going to see the need to re-collect the series all over again, but for diehard fans, "Dragon Ball Z: Level 1.1" is practically a requirement.
Oh, sure, they came walking down your street, getting the funniest looks from everyone they met, but, geez, that was, like, 45 years ago. Are we really still
supposed to care about the Monkees? Look, man, John Lennon basically called them the heir apparent to the Marx Brothers. That's the kind of funny that doesn't have an expiration date. Are you going to argue with a Beatle? We didn't think so. Then, of course, there's the music, which…well, okay, truth be told, the music probably has
aged better than some of the comedy. Put ‘em both together, though, and you've got a complete package that'll entertain kids and adults alike. This isn't the first time the two seasons of "The Monkees" have emerged on DVD, of course, but Eagle has kindly put them back into circulation, maintaining the same special features as the original Rhino releases, including several audio commentaries as well as the group's post-series special, "33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee," which also served as the swan song for Peter Tork as a member of the band until their 1986 reunion. Pick up these sets and enjoy a Pleasant Valley Sunday revisiting the Prefab Four. You won't be sorry.
Wait a minute, that's not Stacey Keach! Who the hell's this guy? And why is this in black and white? Well, we'll answer the last question first: it's in black and white because it's the original "Mike Hammer" series, a syndicated effort which ran from 1957 through 1959. And, yes, you're right, that isn't
Stacey Keach, but given that the holidays are here, the face of the man playing Mike Hammer just might look familiar to you: it's Darren McGavin, better known at this time of year for playing Ralphie's dad in "A Christmas Story." Many critics in the 1950s bitched about the fact that the series featured excessive and gratuitous violence, though modern audiences watching without a frame of reference to TV sensibilities of the era will likely have no clue what all the complaining was about. Although a far cry from grittier peers like "M Squad" and "Naked City," "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer" remains a fun trip back in time to the days when gumshoes always delivered their dialogue in the form of snappy patter and possessed the sort of detective skills that enabled them to solve every crime in a time span of 30 minutes or less.