Of course, not every show can muster full commentary on every episode. The usual solution, employed by NewsRadio and Strangers With Candy is to have a few episodes get the deluxe treatment, which for NewsRadio seems to involve upwards of twenty people in the booth at times. Another option is to go the South Park route, in which show creators (and writers, voice actors, etc.) Trey Parker and Matt Stone comment on each episode, but only for as long as it interests them. What this means in effect is that there's five-to-ten minutes of commentary per episode. They settled on this compromise after their first-season set had no commentary at all on the DVD (it was available for purchase on CD directly from Comedy Central).
One of the points to revisiting an older show on DVD is to get the behind-the-scenes dirt on the show. To that end, we have to warn you: not everyone involved in producing DVDs of older shows gets that. For example, the A-Team box sets don't have any commentary. You're telling us that Dwight Schultz was too busy? You couldn't get through Dirk Benedict's receptionist? Was Mr. T out fighting crime or something? We would have even settled for a medium channeling George Peppard.
BETTER ON DVD
You may not have noticed, but over the past 30 years the amount of commercial time in each hour of television has dramatically increased. As a result, older shows currently being rerun on cable are cut to ribbons in order to let them fit today's smaller time slots. Do yourself a favor - watch the DVDs instead. Classics like the original Star Trek and M*A*S*H have been cleaned up and re-mastered for DVD, and are presented without any cuts. Unless you saw the original broadcasts in the 60s and 70s, you'll probably see stuff you've never seen before.
NOT BETTER ON DVD
However, the flip side of this is some shows you fondly remember may be less entertaining once you do indulge in the binge-watching and extras-gobbling. We are big fans of The Ben Stiller Show and remember stalking it across assorted cable properties when it was in its (very rare) rerun stage. Then we got the DVD and discovered that a little Ben Stiller goes a very long way - especially when he's also all over the commentary tracks.
Our second experiment in this vein: Mr. Show. By the end of an afternoon spent watching all of season 3 and the special features, we felt like our brain was full. Then again, maybe the problem is Bob Odenkirk. He is featured prominently on both DVDs. We'd look into it, but we hid our Mr. Show DVDs in self-defense.
SHOWS THAT DIED BEFORE THEIR TIME
Some TV shows just never found an audience when they were on - and yet, on DVD, they can become cult classics. If you weren't among the two-dozen people to catch Firefly, Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, or The Tick, now's your chance to enjoy them - not as failed series, but as enjoyable limited-run experiences.
NOBODY HAS TO KNOW YOUR SHAME
Finally, here's the dirty little secret of TV shows on DVD: nobody has to know what you're watching. We love our TiVo, but that electronic rat is only too happy to spill our shameful programming secrets to anyone with a remote. For those days when we really, really want to watch something horrible, there's always the option of nabbing Growing Pains: The Complete First Season. Or reliving the pastel-tinged 80s with Miami Vice. Now if you'll excuse us, we're off to watch the first season of Married... With Children.
Suggestions for further clicking:
- "Vampires and Cowboys" by Derek Powazek and "In Praise of Deadwood" by Lisa Schmeiser at TeeVee. "McCabe and Mr. Milch," Matt Zoller Seitz on Deadwood and McCabe and Mrs. Miller at The House Next Door.
- "Where no TV show has gone before," Laura Miller on Battlestar Galactica for Salon.
- "24," Philip Michaels, TeeVee. "The depraved heroes of 24 are the Himmlers of Hollywood," Slavoj Zizek, the Guardian.
- "I Renounce Homer Simpson and All His Teachings," Philip Michaels at TeeVee. Also: "Ode to Homer: The Vidiots Salute the Simpsons."
- "M*A*S*H and the Struggle of Life Against Death," Ken Sanes, Transparency.
- "Star Trek and the New Myth of the Machine," Ken Sanes, Transparency.
- "A Love Letter to Boomtown and Six Feet Under," Chris Rywalt, TeeVee.
- "Only the Good Die Young," Alex Abramovich in Slate on Freaks and Geeks.
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