You might’ve seen it coming, but 2006 made it official: the lifespan of the shows you watch on television is now directly impacted by the ongoing financial success of releasing TV series on DVD. It’s true. It’s now gotten to the point where, even if a show looks like it might tank, the networks still greenlight enough episodes so that they’ll have enough for a viable DVD release of the complete series. They’re also making a point of releasing the previous season of a show immediately prior to the premiere of the new season, so as to grab new viewers. Simultaneous to that, you’re also finding the various studios digging into their vaults to see what shows should be released on DVD next.
This past year gave us quite a lot of TV-DVD releases worth crowing about. We begin with Will Harris’ list of his top 20 favorite sets of the year, along with the stuff he’s already drooling about for 2007; following that, other staff members have chimed in with a few of the sets that didn’t make Will’s list…mostly because there aren’t enough hours in the day for one person to watch all of these collections!
Doctor Who: The Complete First Series
There really aren’t any levels that this new incarnation of the venerable BBC sci-fi series doesn’t work on, and you can attribute that to one Russell T. Davies, who finally created a version of the show that Americans could appreciate…though, of course, they had to stay home on Friday nights to watch it if they didn’t want to wait for this DVD set. There’s certainly no question that the set was worth the wait, though; it’s loaded with five hours’ worth of special features on top of the 13 episodes. I don’t want to give anything away, but, uh, don’t get too comfortable with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. That’s all I’m saying.
The Best of The Electric Company, Vols. 1 & 2
You know, I haven’t even gotten a copy of Volume 2 yet, but I’m comfortable throwing it right beside Volume 1 of “The Best of ‘The Electric Company’” because, well, I grew up with this show, and I know how good it is. For you kids who are just discovering it for the first time, it might take you a few sketches to get past how surreal it is to see Morgan Freeman strutting his stuff as Easy Reader, but the humor throughout the show remains just as endearing now as it ever did. The fact that it’s educational may seem secondary, but I owe more to “The Electric Company” than I can ever repay.
Police Squad: The Complete Series
“We're sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn't dead then.” One of the funniest shows EVER. That it only lasted for six episodes is a crime, almost as big a crime as the fact that it took this long for it to finally make it to DVD. Creators David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, and Jim Abrahams gladly showed up to do commentary for half the episodes, and Frank Drebin himself – Leslie Nielsen – sat down for an exclusive interview about the show as well.
How I Met Your Mother: Season 1
It’s the best traditional sitcom on television at the moment, swear to God. Neil Patrick Harris has transformed himself into a man with unparalleled comedic delivery, making his character of Barney into an instant TV classic. And this’ll be, like, the twentieth time I’ve said this, but it is, in fact, the heir to the “Friends” throne…provided enough people keep watching it. The DVD has been lovingly compiled with commentaries, a blooper reel, and a featurette on the creation of the show. Start here, and you’ll be tuning in every week.
The Boondocks: The Complete First Season
It’s a major pisser that Aaron McGruder has essentially abandoned the daily comic strip that inspired this animated series, but if this first season is any indication, at least McGruder’s vision will continue unabated on television. “South Park” might get more attention when it gets controversial, but just about any episode on this DVD will send your eyebrows hurtling skyward with what you’re hearing. You might well cringe as much as you laugh, but you’ll definitely laugh at the myriad of pop culture references throughout.
Stella: Season 1
Stupid Comedy Central. This might be called Season 1, but, in truth, the show’s been cancelled, making it “Stella: The Complete Series” for all practical purposes. Maybe that’s why the guys in the comedy troupe – Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain – went all out with the special features on the set. There’s commentary for every episode, a 45-minute documentary on the history of the trio, a ton of deleted scenes, and a blooper reel. As far as what to expect from the show if you’ve never seen it, if you think a combination of Monty Python and the Marx Brothers sounds promising, you’ll want “Stella” on your DVD shelf.
My Name Is Earl, Season 1
There’s some question as to whether or not the second season is as funny as the first, but there’s no arguing that the first season of “My Name Is Earl” is downright hilarious, thanks as much to Earl’s naïve and, let’s face it, rather stupid brother, Randy (Ethan Suplee), as to Earl himself (Jason Lee). Also, both Jaime Pressley and Nadine Velazquez are really, really hot. This set includes audio commentaries and featurettes, but the big selling point is an exclusive mini-episode that purports to be the original pilot for the series, showing Earl being influenced not by Carson Daly’s comments on karma but by Stewie Griffin’s views on extracting revenge on those who’ve wronged you.
Everybody Hates Chris: The First Season
Don’t be scared off by the fact that this is a sitcom on the CW (formerly UPN) with a predominantly black cast. This isn’t some dumb laugh-track-laden gag fest; this is a show produced by Chris Rock, and, basically, it’s his version of “The Wonder Years,” basically, except it’s in the ‘80s rather than the ‘60s. In any given episode, Tyler James Williams – who plays young Chris – just has to look into the camera, and he’s already funnier than every episode of “The Parkers” combined. “Everybody Loves Chris” is a hilarious show that sums up what it was like to grow up in the ‘80s, and you absolutely don’t have to be black to appreciate it.
Threshold: The Complete Series
CBS sucks. Okay, they don’t completely suck, but given that they put a show like this on the air, with a fascinating sci-fi premise (aliens come to earth and attempt to absorb humanity, but, thankfully, the U.S. Government already has a worst-case scenario plan waiting in the wings) and a stellar ensemble cast (including Carla Gugino, Charles S. Dutton, Brent Spiner, and Peter Dinklage), then refused to give it the opportunity to breathe, they certainly suck a little. In a season that found both ABC and NBC also attempting to bring new sci-fi shows into their respective line-ups, it’s ironic that CBS had the best of the bunch yet threw it into the dumper the soonest. Bonus points for the producers contributing to a featurette and revealing how the show would’ve played out if it had continued.
Medium: Seasons 1 & 2
Finally, Glenn Gordon Caron can be remembered for something besides just “Moonlighting,” and Patricia Arquette isn’t just “that chick from ‘True Romance.’” “Medium” is such a combination of dissimilar genres – part family drama, part detective show, part spooky thriller – that you wouldn’t think it could work, but the sum of the parts is a consistently enjoyable series. Both seasons of the show emerged in 2006, and they’re each tricked out with lots of special features to make the fans happy.
The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends
Dick Cavett’s an acquired taste as a talk show host, but he’s just so damned knowledgeable when it comes to chatting with his guests that you can’t help but be impressed. You’ll be even more impressed, however, with his guests on this collection. George Burns, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Groucho Marx are among the funny folk who share the stage with Cavett, each telling stories about the bygone days of Hollywood and, in some cases, even vaudeville. Just being able to see and hear Groucho sing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” is enough to make this a must-own.
M*A*S*H: The Martinis and Medicine Complete Collection
I’m still pissed off that Fox waited until this collection to produce any special features for “M*A*S*H” – it’s a real slap in the face to the fans who bought the single season releases as they emerged – but you can’t deny that this is a really kick-ass set. All 11 seasons of the show are here, along with the movie that inspired it, and two discs worth of specials, documentaries, and featurettes. So the next question is: when will someone dig “AfterM*A*S*H” out of the Fox vault and put it in stores?
The Bob Newhart Show: Season Four
What else do you need to know besides the fact that it stars Bob Newhart? Well, how about the fact that most of the original cast comes back to do audio commentary? Newhart and his TV wife, Suzanne Pleshette, do commentary on “The Longest Good-Bye” with guest star (and Pleshette’s husband) Tom Poston, while Newhart and co-star Marcia Wallace (she played Carol the receptionist on the show, but you may know her as Edna Krabappel on “The Simpsons”) chat on “Who Is Mr. X?” Even one of Newhart’s most famous patients, Mr. Carlin (Jack Riley), shows up to talk about “Over the River and Through the Woods,” which – as it happens – is arguably the single funniest episode in the history of the show. You haven’t lived ‘til you’ve heard Bob Newhart try to order moo goo gai pan while drunk.
Veronica Mars: Season 2
The heir apparent to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the category of “Tough TV Chicks Who Kick Ass and Take Names,” Veronica Mars is a high-school student who solves crimes like she’s Encyclopedia Brown. (She even references him in one episode, saying, “I hear he does good work.”) There are a couple of nice featurettes on the set, but, really, the best reason to pick up this set is simply to introduce yourself to Veronica’s world. And don’t forget that it’s still on the air!
Groovie Goolies: The Saturday Mourning Collection
I’m sure very few other people were quite as thrilled about the release of this series on DVD as I was, but I was such a fan as a kid that when I once again had the opportunity to see these brightly colored monsters onscreen again, cracking their bad jokes at every opportunity, there was no question that five stars were in order. The special features are pretty good, too, with a few audio commentaries and the so-called “docu-comedy” which covers the history of the show.
Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season
I hadn’t even had this in my possession for 24 hours when I decided to include it within my top 20, but I barely even needed to watch it to know it should’ve been sitting pretty in the list; from a historical standpoint alone, it’s absolutely indispensable… and, frankly, on the first night I had it, I spent an hour and a half watching Desi Arnaz – yes, the Desi Arnaz, the one who played Ricky Ricardo – not only hosting an episode but serving as its musical guest, performing “Cuban Pete” and his trademark number, “Babalu.” The guy was almost 70 years old, and he was leading the entire cast around Studio 8H in a congo line, banging on a bongo all the while. That’s gotta be worth a top-20 spot in and of itself.
The Simpsons: The Complete Eighth Season
I’m not going to get into a debate about when “The Simpsons” officially began to lose ground and cause fans to say “it’s just not as funny as it used to be,” but suffice it to say that it happened sometime after the eighth season. This year found Albert Brooks returning, this time voicing a faux Bond villain named Scorpio…Hank Scorpio. You also get Rodney Dangerfield as Mr. Burns’s long-lost son, Mulder and Scully visiting Springfield (in an episode narrated by Leonard Nimoy), David Hyde Pierce voicing Sideshow Bob’s brother, Cecil, and…arguably best of all…we get the first appearance of Poochie. (He’s half Joe Camel and a third Fonzarelli, you know.) And, as ever, there’s a commentary on every single episode.
Get Smart: The Complete Series
I know this would rank higher if I’d had the time to sit down and absorb all five seasons of the series before writing this up, but, wow, is it a fantastically-packaged set. It comes in a phone booth…and, like the opening credits of the series, you have to go through three doors to get to the contents. The special features are fantastic, with audio commentaries from all the surviving major players (Barbara “Agent 99” Feldon, creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry) and a few guest stars (Don Rickles and James Caan), footage from various awards ceremonies, a ton of featurettes about different aspects of the show, and a reunion of the entire cast from a few years back…so, yes, Don Adams – Agent 86 himself – is in attendance. Tell your friends to go WouldYouBelieve.com for more information…but use the Cone of Silence when doing so. (This is, after all, top secret information.)
Star Trek: The Animated Series
It might be a cartoon, but, for the most part, it ain’t for kids. The animated version of “Star Trek” ran as part of NBC’s Saturday morning lineup for two years in the early ‘70s, but it did pretty poorly amongst children; it did, however, help more than a few college students shake off their hangovers and buzzes. The entire original cast returned to voice their characters – minus Chekov, because the budget didn’t allow for his inclusion (suuuuuurre it didn’t) – and the stories are consistently top-notch, mostly because special effects are a lot cheaper to produce in animation.
The Rockford Files: Season 2
This would’ve rated higher on the list if only there were more special features included. God love Universal for the great TV shows they’ve got in their vaults, but this is the second “Rockford Files” volume, and we haven’t gotten a single audio commentary yet. Oh, well, the show’s still damned good, further emphasizing that James Garner is a national treasure.
Seven TV-DVDs I Can’t Wait to See in 2007
1. Doctor Who: The Complete Second Series, due January 16
Given that the first series was my #1 pick for 2006, this probably isn’t much of a surprise.
2. Family Ties: The Complete First Season, due February 20
Because if it’s good enough for Kevin Smith, it’s good enough for me.
3. Twin Peaks , The Complete Second Season, due April 3
I was beginning to wonder if this would ever come out. Thank God someone finally got the log rolling.
4. My Hero: Season 1, due January 16
A British-comedy take on superheroes. My local PBS station shows it at very odd times; it’ll be nice to watch it at my discretion.
5. Hawaii Five O: The Complete First Season, due March 6
I’m curious to see whether Jack Lord could beat David Caruso in a stilted acting contest. Now’s my chance.
6. WKRP in Cincinnati: Season 1 , due April 10
Who CARES if the original music isn’t all there? The dialogue, the characters, and the performances made this show, not the music.
7. Whose Line Is It, Anyway: Seasons 1 & 2, due February 27
Not that there’s anything wrong with the US version of the show, but this is the original British version. Tony Slattery is a hoot, as is Josie Lawrence, but it’s funny that a show from the UK would introduce me to so many US comedians, like Greg Proops and Ryan Stiles.
Jamey Codding, Editor in Chief
Six Feet Under: The Complete Series
I didn't start watching "SFU" until season four, so needless to say I was absolutely stoked to pick this bad boy up. All five seasons are housed in the slick headstone box, along with the show's two CD soundtracks and a book of character obits. If you've never seen this dark, poignant, heartbreaking and hilarious HBO dramedy, do yourself a favor and pick up this set or borrow it from a friend.
South Park: The Hits
Truth be told, I could've just as easily listed the season-eight DVD for "South Park," but since one of my colleagues took care of that below, I'll show some love for this greatest hits set. Obviously, there are some classic episodes in this set, including three or four personal favorites, but the inclusion of "The Spirit of Christmas," the five-minute short that many of us first saw on the internet before the show ever hit Comedy Central's airwaves, makes "The Hits" one of the year's highlights.
Entourage: The Complete First Two Seasons
What would this list be without a mention of perhaps the hottest show on TV? The second season of "Entourage" was bogged down by the Mandy Moore fiasco, but Jeremy Piven's performance as Ari Gold more than makes up for it.
David Medsker, Senior Editor
South Park: The Complete Eighth Season
Satanic woodland creatures, Japanese anime, stupid spoiled whores and Mel Gibson. Disc One of this set, which closes with the title-says-it-all “AWESOM-O,” might be the best collection of episodes on one disc in the show’s history.
NewsRadio: The Complete Fourth Season
Lauren Graham’s stint as the stations’s efficiency expert was gold, but the set is worth purchasing solely for “Super Karate Monkey Death Car,” where Jimmy James has his autobiography (“Capitalist Lion Tamer”) translated from Japanese back into English (“Macho Business Donkey Wrestler”).
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse
Before the Digital Shorts came along, Robert Smigel’s irreverent cartoons saved many a mediocre “SNL” show. The cartoon with Jesus checking in on the people preaching his “word” is both the funniest and sweetest thing “SNL” has run to date.
Jason Zingale, Associate Editor
The Office: Season 2
Quite simply the best TV-on-DVD release of the year, the second season of “The Office” showcased the US version’s amazing transition from a substandard remake to an award-winning comedy with a mind of its own. And let us not forget about the incredible collection of special features. From the 10 cast/crew audio commentaries, to the 140 minutes of deleted scenes, you’ll spend just as much time carousing the bonus material as you will revisiting all of your favorite episodes.
The Adventures of Brisco County Jr: The Complete Series
It’s been a little more than a decade since the high-concept sci-fi western-comedy “The Adventures of Brisco Country Jr.” left the air, and it still remains to this day one of the most misunderstood series to ever be prematurely cancelled. Did I mention that it was co-created by Carlton Cuse, a seasoned veteran of the business who now writes for a little show called “Lost”? Talk about being light years ahead of its time. Starring Bruce Campbell, Hollywood’s B-movie golden child, the eight-disc box set includes all 27 episodes and features a fine selection of special features that will please any fan of the King of Cult.
Friends: The Complete Series
The question these days doesn’t seem to be whether you’re a fan of a particular show or not, but rather which one of many DVD versions you’ve spent your hard-earned money on. For diehard fans of NBC’s “Friends,” there really isn’t a better choice than this complete package, which includes all 10 seasons of the award-winning show in quite an attractive red leather-bound collector’s box. True, most of the special features that appear on this version can also be found on the individual season releases, but for anyone that hasn’t yet made the plunge, this is definitely the way to go.
24: Season 5
If you didn’t already know that the fifth season of “24” was its best yet, well, now you do, and if you’ve never seen a single episode of the hit series, there isn’t a better time to jump straight into the action. As usual, the seven-disc box set is loaded with special features, including twelve cast/crew audio commentaries (with the first ever appearance by Kiefer Sutherland), deleted scenes and in-depth production featurettes.
The Wire: Season 3
It’s been a long time coming for the third season of “The Wire” to drop on DVD – the show was patiently awaiting its sentence in Television Purgatory when it finally returned two years later – and though most have never even heard of the gripping HBO series, it’s hands-down the best show on television. The five-disc set isn’t particularly remarkable, but it’s a great investment for any couch potato who appreciates a well-scripted drama and marks the strongest season of the urban crime series thus far.
John Paulsen, contributing writer
Battlestar Galactica: 2.0 & 2.5
This re-imagining of the cheesy ‘70s sci-fi series has come out of nowhere to become one of the best shows on television. It’s gritty, intense and most of all, realistic. The ensemble cast and inventive storylines keep the show fresh and surprising.
Sleeper Cell: Season 1
This terrific series from the “other” pay TV network is flying way under the radar. It follows an undercover FBI agent as he infiltrates a terrorist cell intent on launching an attack on Los Angeles. It’s like a less-polished “24,” and the audience doesn’t have to suspend disbelief.
Rome: Season 1
Pagans sure could party. This series takes place right about the time of Julius Caesar’s death, but revolves around two real-life soldiers in the Roman army. There is a ton of politicking, sex, conspiracy and betrayal. Times haven’t changed that much.