Television gift ideas for the holidays, TV gifts, Entourage, Friends, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who
November 23, 2012
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 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.
When “Entourage” debuted on HBO back in 2004, many people christened it the male version of “Sex & the City,” and after eight seasons of watching Vincent Chase and Co. traverse the ups and downs of the Hollywood lifestyle, it’s a pretty fair comparison, even if “Entourage” offered much richer storylines over the years. Though it was far from perfect (it suffered a noticeable drop in quality during its last few seasons), the show gave fans some great personalities to keep them coming back every week, including favorites like Johnny Drama and Ari Gold, and a seemingly endless supply of awesome guest stars, some playing larger-than-life versions of themselves and others just playing fictional characters. For all the wild subplots and crazy cameos that transpired over the course of its eight-year run, however, the series’ biggest strength was the incredible chemistry between its five leads, because without them, “Entourage” wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long as it did. And while we all wait for the long-rumored “Entourage” movie, now is the perfect time to experience the show all over again (or introduce someone to it for the very first time) with this compact, 18-disc complete series set.
More than eight years after Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe and Joey bid farewell to the millions of viewers who tuned in during its remarkable ten-year run, “Friends” remains one of the most beloved sitcoms in TV history, joining the ranks of such classics as “Seinfeld” and “Cheers.” It’s not surprising, then, that Warner Bros. has decided to release the entire series on Blu-ray for the first time, giving fans the chance to relive all their favorite episodes and classic moments in high definition. We know what you’re thinking: Between the individual season DVDs and the complete series set released back in 2006, anyone that’s ever wanted to own “Friends” on home video probably already does. But while that may be true, the show didn’t exactly look its best on DVD, and the new HD transfer remedies that with a much crisper and more colorful picture across all ten seasons, so the “Friends” fan in your life can enjoy the misadventures of the Central Perks gang just as much as they did the first time around.
Based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels, "Game of Thrones" is exactly the kind of fantasy epic that you'd never expect to see produced on this scale for television. The scope of the series is massive (from its large cast of characters, to its beautiful landscapes, to its incredibly detailed production design) and the acting is all top-notch as well, particularly screen vet Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, newcomer Kit Harington, and Peter Dinklage in his Emmy and Golden Globe-winning role as the perpetually entertaining imp Tyrion Lannister. The show has it all – drama, comedy, action, suspense – and the fact that it's so faithfully adapted from Martin's source material is just the cherry on top of what is already a delicious fantasy sundae. Though audiences are probably more excited about the impending release of Season Two, the addition of a dragon egg paperweight (not to mention DVD and digital copies of all the episodes) makes this collector’s edition a no-brainer for the diehard fan who still doesn’t own Season One on Blu-ray.
This behemoth of a box might give new meaning to the phrase “it’s bigger on the inside,” with 41 discs covering the first six seasons of the revival series, adding up to over 70 hours worth of material, a toy sonic screwdriver, an exclusive comic book entitled “Doctor Who at Comic-Con,” art cards, and three specials currently exclusive to this set. This is the DVD collection guaranteed to keep on giving, and is an ideal gift for the person who is either new to “Who,” or just hasn’t gotten around to picking up the series on home video. If this holiday season, you – in one bold, generous move – want to change a kid’s worldview forever, there’s simply no better way to do it than by initiating him or her into the worlds of Doctors Nine (Christopher Eccleston), Ten (David Tennant) and Eleven (Matt Smith), and their constant, the trusty time and space traveling machine, the TARDIS. Along for the rides to past, present, and future are Rose Tyler, Amy Pond and everyone in between…yet the one person who gets to go on the greatest adventure is the recipient of this set.
The most significant development to occur on the HD scene in the past year was the overhaul of this, one of the most important and entertaining sci-fi series of all time. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” has been rebuilt almost from scratch for Blu-ray, and the results are nothing short of a revelation, especially for folks who’ve watched the show in reruns in recent years and thought that the analog picture quality left more than a little to be desired. But the reinvention doesn’t stop with the picture – no, the sound has also been remastered in crisp 7.1. The Season One set features a fascinating documentary, entitled “Energized,” which walks fans step by step through the painstaking process of bringing this series to HD in a way that commands the respect “Next Gen” so richly deserves. It’s entirely possible the hardcore Trekkie in your life already has Season One. If so, don’t despair: Season Two has a street date of December 4th.
The 2012 election may be history, but campaign slogans like “Knope 2012” and “Knope We Can!” still make fine holiday gifts. Still the best comedy that most people aren’t watching, in its fourth year “Parks and Rec” gets extremely comfortable in its own skin, and weaves a 22-episode arc-driven tale about Leslie Knope’s run for City Council in her hometown of Pawnee, Indiana. Complicating matters along the way is her relationship to Ben Wyatt and her opponent, the clueless Bobby Newport (guest star Paul Rudd), whose candy tycoon father all but holds Pawnee economically hostage. The sense of coming together for the greater good, as Leslie’s eccentric co-workers rally behind her vision, keeps the potentially preachy material grounded in laughs, and coming from the right place, and the final three episodes of the season, presented here in extended versions, work together to form, in scope, a sort of “Parks and Rec” movie. Additionally, the set is crammed with extras including webisodes, deleted scenes, campaign ads and the “Catch Your Dreams” music video.
Given the proliferation of political correctness in today’s society, it’s somewhat staggering to look back at the classic 1970s sitcom “All in the Family” now and see how much Norman Lear was allowed to get away with. There’s probably half a dozen things that come out of Carroll O’Connor’s mouth in any given episode – sexist, racist, you name it – which, if you dared to utter them today, would quickly find you on the receiving end of a lawsuit. This is another fine Shout! Factory collection, one which is so full of bonus material (including, among other items, the series’ two pilots as well as the pilots for its two less-remembered spinoffs “Gloria” and “704 Hauser”) that you can forgive the fact that Archie Bunker’s antics begin to grow a bit stale in the later seasons. Besides, the all-but-inevitable dip in quality over 10 seasons in no way diminishes how groundbreaking “All in the Family” was when it began.
Probably the most successful sketch comedy/variety series ever created, “The Carol Burnett Show” ran from 1967 to 1978, and anyone over the age of about 40 will go positively ape for this 22 DVD box set. It collects together 50 uncut hour-long episodes – from the second half of the show’s run, when it was at its most popular – spread across 18 discs (the other four discs are loaded with hours of bonus material). Discs are packaged in easy to handle plastic cases, which in turn are housed in a sturdy cardboard box designed to look like the recognizable cartoon curtain that featured prominently in the series, along with Burnett’s iconic Charwoman. All the famous sketches are contained within, including the infamous “Gone with the Wind” parody, featuring one of television’s most memorable sight-gags, as well as plenty of installments of “The Family,” which introduced us to characters like Eunice and Mama. Most episodes begin with reminiscences from Burnett and her co-stars Harvey Korman and Tim Conway. Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner are the other major players, alongside a cavalcade of guest stars such as Betty White and Roddy McDowell, and various musical acts such as the Pointer Sisters and the Carpenters. The set can only be purchased from CarolOnDVD.com. Shipping is free. For those who can’t afford the $200 price tag? Relax. A 6-disc, 16-episode set entitled “Carol’s Favorite’s” can be purchased from Amazon and other retailers.
While it’s true that perhaps not every black and white sitcom warrants an upgrade to Blu-ray – it’s not like Rob Petrie tripping over the ottoman needs to be experienced in hi-def – there’s no question that The Dick Van Dyke Show should continue to be seen by as many eyes and via as many mediums as possible for generations to come. Way too many of Hollywood’s best comedy writers were drawn to their profession by watching the way Rob and his cohorts Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) and Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) interacted in the offices of “The Alan Brady Show,” and, let’s face it, quite a few others came to their career choice because they believed that they, like Rob, might someday manage to score a hot wife like Laura (Mary Tyler Moore). Like the DVD version before it, the Blu-ray release of “The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series” is laden with bonus material, including tons of stuff from Van Dyke himself, as well as creator Carl Reiner and numerous others from the cast and crew.
Who could’ve imagined that a BBC series about an aristocratic family and their servants in post-Edwardian England would’ve turned into such a sensation in America that its creator – Julian Fellowes, previously best known for writing the screenplay for “Gosford Park” – could successfully sway someone as high-profile as Shirley MacLaine to join its cast? If you’ve yet to discover the charms of this UK import, now’s the perfect time, as they’ve released a limited-edition set which offers the first two seasons of the show, along with plenty of bonus material, including the 2011 Christmas special. Better yet, if you actually do manage to get a copy of the set sometime this holiday season, you should have just enough time to plow through it before Season 3 makes its U.S. debut on January 6.
There’s no accounting for the taste of mainstream viewers: the idea of disappearing and reappearing Alcatraz inmates couldn’t pull enough of an audience to stick around for more than 13 episodes, yet here are two series, both very different yet still ultimately inspired by classic fairytales, which have both managed to stick around into second seasons. The more guy-friendly “Grimm” comes closer to offering a mainstream look at the premise, revolving as it does around Det. Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli), a Portland homicide detective who helps maintain the thin blue magical line between humans and the mystical creatures known as Wesens. Alternatively, “Once Upon a Time” focuses on Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), a seemingly ordinary young woman who discovers that she’s the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. Sure, it sounds crazy, but it’s darker than you might expect, and damned if it hasn’t helped make ABC the place to be on Sunday evenings.
We’ve lavished “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” with as much praise as we can stand, and the success of “The Walking Dead” over the course of this season has been like a zombie outbreak, i.e. so hard to contain that it seems nearly unstoppable, so it’s time to put our holiday focus on – what else? – “The Killing.” No, no, we’re only joking. (You should see the look on your face…) The AMC series that really deserves a bit more viewer appreciation is “Hell on Wheels,” which was dismissed a little too quickly by folks who were convinced that it was traveling the same dusty path as HBO’s “Deadwood.” Although there was a little bit of merit to that concern when the show first kicked off, as it turns out, “Hell on Wheels” has very much developed into its own formidable entity which even classic western fans are starting to embrace…probably because there’s not nearly as much profanity. Season 2 of the show hasn’t hit home video yet, but Season 1 has, and it looks fantastic.
If you were a child of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, then there’s a pretty good chance that you were a fan of the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” animated series that aired from 1987-1996, which also means that you can probably still recite the lyrics to its catchy theme song. Though several renditions of the Ninja Turtles have been introduced to new generations of fans in the years since, the classic series is hands-down the best of the bunch, which is why we’re happier than a pizza-loving hero in a half-shell that it’s finally been given the complete series treatment. Previously released as individual season sets, the new collection features all 193 episodes spread across 23 discs and packaged in a cool keepsake Turtle van. Whether you’re just feeling nostalgic or you want to pass on the joy of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to a child or nephew, this is the best place to start.
The programmers at MTV appear to spend most of their time avoiding not coming up with new ideas for series, either because they’re lazy or because they’ve found it’s just so much easier to Americanize existing British programming. This is a shame, as A) they’re very, very bad at it, and B) even if they were any good at it, it’s still wholly unnecessary, as there was nothing wrong with the original British versions to begin with. Proof of this can be secured by picking up the complete-series set of “The Inbetweeners,” which, over the course of three seasons and 18 episodes, handily proves that the problems of kids in the UK as sketched out by creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris don’t require the Rosetta Stone to be funny to folks in the US. Also note that this version of the series was successful enough to warrant a feature-film continuation of its characters’ adventures. Sure, the same thing could happen with MTV’s version, but given the way the American version of “Skins” went down, we wouldn’t advise holding your breath.
Everyone knows how great HBO’s original programming is, and thanks to “Homeland,” Showtime’s profile in the field has never been higher, but rising up through the ranks at a slow but steady pace is Starz, who has given us some pretty enjoyable stuff over the past year or two. Kelsey Grammer’s series, “Boss,” probably has the highest profile of any program on the network, but his work as the mentally-deteriorating Tom Kane, the goddamned mayor of Chicago, has been outstanding, as has that of the show’s ensemble, including Connie Nielsen and Kathleen Robertson. Make no mistake, however: “Magic City” is the Starz series you really should be watching, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Danny Huston battling it out for control of the nightclub scene in early 1960s Miami. Few series on the air today look quite as gorgeous as this one, and that’s partly because of the set design and partly because of the cast. Sure, it’s a little soapy at times, but that’s part of why it’s so deliciously addictive.
Once upon a time, TV series with unique premises were given a bit of time to build an audience, but that time has long since come and gone, and Fox’s “Alcatraz” is just one of 2012’s many such casualties. Admittedly, the drama – which first posited that the notoriously inescapable prison closed because everyone on the island vanished into thin air, then added further intrigue by having those individuals now suddenly beginning to reappear as if no time had passed – seemed hamstrung by an edict to offer more straight-ahead procedural elements and less development of its unique mythology, but it finally seemed to be coming into its own just as it concluded its first season with an obnoxiously awesome cliffhanger. It’s still worth watching for the performances by Sam Neill, Jorge Garcia, and the show’s MVP, Jonny Coyne, who plays Alcatraz Warden Edwin James, just as long as you remain aware that you won’t get a satisfying ending.
Sometimes these gift guides feel like they’re sponsored by Shout Factory, but the fact of the matter is that they put out some of the best damned collections in the business, and they continued the trend in earnest in 2012. Those of you who are only familiar with Mel Brooks’ film work will be astonished to see just how much hilarity he’s brought to the small screen over the years, be it as a writer, producer, performer, or very special guest star, and this appropriately-titled “Irresistible Collection,” while not 100% comprehensive, nonetheless serves as an admirable education. Similarly, while Steve Martin’s current show-biz persona is a far cry from the wild and crazy guy he once was, “The Television Stuff” spotlights several of his stand-up specials as well his appearances on various talk shows and sketch shows during the ‘70s and ‘80s. In addition, both Brooks and Martin contribute interesting and insightful new reflections on their past efforts to their respective sets.
Face it, guys: when watching TV with your significant other, sometimes you’ve got to make sacrifices for the greater good, i.e. your relationship, which is why we’ve all had to endure our fair share of shows that we actively dislike. While “2 Broke Girls” may not be the worst sitcom blighting the airwaves at present, it’s certainly not what you’d call highbrow humor. Still, it’s got a few things going for it. We’ll leave the specifics at the door, lest anyone be accused of outright sexism, but we will say that stars Beth Behrs and Kat Dennings have certain charms which extend beyond their comedic abilities, which is why even the worst episodes of the show’s first season can be said to have their merits. Plus, lest we forget, “SNL” alum Garrett Morris and Christopher Guest favorite Jennifer Coolidge are also on hand, both of whom manage to make the most out of even the lamest punchlines. Long story short, if your wife or girlfriend likes the show, you won’t have to look very long to find several reasons to sit through “2 Broke Girls: The Complete First Season” with her.
It’s been quite awhile since we’ve had a new sketch comedy series that was funny enough for both viewers and critics to get behind it, but the true sign of the greatness of Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele” is the critics have found it in their hearts to praise the guys’ work without holding it against them that they used to be on “MADtv.” A lot of eyes latched onto these funny fellas thanks to a couple of their sketches going viral in advance of their premiere, most notably the recurring character of Luther, President Obama’s “anger interpreter,” but Season 1 of their series revealed that they’re just as funny – some would argue funnier – when they’re setting aside impersonations and impressions in favor of their own original material. They might not be at the level of “Chappelle’s Show” yet, but give them time to keep building and they just might make it there sooner than later.
There’s an obvious and understandable temptation to bypass any sort of original text in this write-up in favor of just quoting from as much of the “Underdog” theme song as space allows, but if you want the cheap thrill of those fun memories, you can watch the show’s opening sequence right here. Instead, let’s just focus on the fact that this series, while decidedly not operating on the same level as The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, still provides hours of fun for the “kids of all ages” demographic, skewering superhero adventures with the help of the legendary Wally Cox as the title character. The bonus material is pretty swell, too – thanks yet again, Shout Factory! – and features audio commentaries from animation historians and folks involved in the creation of the series, with the former doing an outstanding job of steering the latter through their discussions. If your kids have no clue about the identity of the big flying dog in the Thanksgiving Day Parade, now you can offer them a highly entertaining frame of reference.
Normally we’d sneer at the idea of releasing a single episode of a series on Blu-ray when the entire season could just as easily be offered on the format, but let’s be realistic: there are a lot of Quentin Tarantino fans who just want a copy of the man’s “CSI” two-part episode and could give a shit about anything else. So, hey, fair enough, now they’ve got what they want. The premise of the episode finds poor Nick Stokes buried alive, leaving his CSI cohorts on a quest to save him before he’s either out of air or devoured by fire ants. Ouch! Tarantino’s touch can be seen throughout the production, be it in the pop culture reference in the dialogue, the soundtrack, or the casting of Tony Curtis, Andrew Prine, John Saxon and Frank Gorshin, who died only two days before the episode aired (and to whom it was dedicated). Diehard fans of the show may wish to wait ‘til the whole of Season 5 makes it to Blu-ray, but even if you don’t love “CSI” as a rule, there’s a lot to enjoy about this disc.
There are few places more perfect for a cult series’ final resting place than Shout! Factory, a company that knows its audience – the obsessive TV geek – inside and out. Bullz-Eye talked to the star of the often bizarre but perpetually entertaining “Get A Life,” Chris Elliott, when he was in the midst of promoting the first-season DVD release and second-season premiere of his current show, “Eagleheart,” at which point he let it slip that this set was on the way and indicated that he’d be contributing to the bonus material. Despite this assurance, however, Elliott’s nowhere to be found except in archival footage, which makes us concerned that we might’ve had something to do with his absence. Thankfully, series creator David Mirkin is all over this thing, and he speaks frankly throughout, offering plenty of insight into the show’s creation and relatively short lifespan. Looking back at it now, it’s a wonder “Get a Life” ever got on the air, but for fans of the absurd, it’s wonderful to finally have the full collection at last.
Quite a few films made the jump to the small screen during the ‘70s. “M*A*S*H” was one of the more successful ones. “Logan’s Run” wasn’t. In fact, if you didn’t actually grow up in the ‘70s, you probably didn’t even know there was a “Logan’s Run” TV series, but the show has maintained a cult following over the decades, one large enough to warrant Warner Brothers delving into their vaults a few years ago and make these 14 episodes available on iTunes. Good, yes, but not good enough. Thankfully, someone finally realized that, given the age of the average person who remembers the series, they might actually sell a few more units if they made it available on DVD. Granted, Gregory Harrison is no Michael York, and even though they shared some of the same writers, “Logan’s Run” ain’t exactly “Star Trek,” but there’s a lot of dated sci-fi fun to be found in this set, and if you’re able to approach the material with the mindset of what ‘70s TV viewers were used to seeing, you’ll find that it’s aged surprisingly well.
If you’re the kind of guy who can get his kicks from watching a couple of cool cats cruise across America in a Corvette and have close encounters with the various folks they meet along the way, then it’s high time you took a trip through “Route 66: The Complete Series.” Mind you, if you understand why the previous sentence was funny, then you’re probably already familiar with the series, but Shout Factory has put together a nice set which features all four seasons of the show, which starred Martin Milner and, depending on which season you’re watching, either George Maharis or Glenn Corbett. Like a lot of ‘60s series, one of the biggest reasons to check out the show is to see the guest stars, which here include Lee Marvin, Buster Keaton, Walter Matthau, Robert Duvall, James Caan and Martin Sheen. Heck, there’s even an episode directed by Robert Altman!