TV Box Sets
By the Vidiots of TeeVee
TV shows have become ridiculously popular on DVD, and now there are a ton of them, with more coming every week. The skeptical among you may ask why you should bother renting a DVD of a TV series when you can easily hit any one of a hundred channels and watch something already. Easy: watching TV on DVD is not like watching TV on TV. It's not even like watching TiVo. Here are the most compelling reasons to pick up that Six Feet Under DVD.
WATCH WHEN YOU WANT
We love our Lost as much as the next person, but the vagaries of scheduling drive us crazy - one new episode, then four weeks of nothing? Four new episodes, then two off weeks? We resent having to stalk a show.
Yes, there is always the tactic of stockpiling episodes on the TiVo, but not everyone has personal video recorders. Better to take the season-by-season approach - this works for everything from CSI and Without a Trace to the first season of Lost. Sure, you won't find out what that monster on the island is. But if it makes you feel better, even if you were watching season two, you still wouldn't know. So why not set your own pace on when to see episodes?
Lost, Season 1.
Without a Trace, Season 1.
CSI, Season 1.
Apparently, there are some of you out there who aren't paying for premium cable. And that's your right. However, you're missing out on great shows like The Sopranos, Deadwood and The Wire. So grabbing the DVDs for any one of these shows is a great way to burn off a week's worth of free time, and raise your pop culture IQ.
There's also the angle science fiction is taking with Battlestar Galactica - the network released a DVD set of the first half of the season in advance of the season's second half. What's next, monthly DVD releases during the season? We heartily approve.
The Sopranos, Season 1.
The Wire, Season 1.
Deadwood, Season 1.
Battlestar Galactica, Season 2.0.
NO ONE CAN EAT JUST ONE
Just a few years ago, TV executives were down on "serialized" shows - ones that tell a continuing story (think 24) - because they weren't as successful in reruns as standalone shows like Law & Order, in which every episode is completely self-contained.
But it turns out that those continuing shows are absolute catnip on DVD. Great, narrative TV series require a big commitment and a strong long-term memory if you're going to watch them week-in, week-out. It's easier to watch a season-long theme unfold across the course of several episodes when you're watching those episodes within a week's time. And you still get the perks of nodding sagely and telling your friends, "Well, I thought the fifth season of Homicide: Life on the Street was about the perils of self-made morality." They will be awed by your insight, and cowed by your ability to discourse on a TV season nearly ten years gone.
And frankly, some series simply play better on DVD. We were indifferent to Carnivale, except as a sleep aid, prior getting a chance to pull an all-nighter with the show. Then there's Alias, the spy drama whose excellent first season featured a cliffhanger ending nearly every week. From the maniac intensity of 24 to the years-long sci-fi story arc of Babylon 5, some TV shows beg you to push the Play All button and sit back while four or five episodes unspool before your eyes.
Homicide: Life on the Street, Seasons 1 & 2.
Carnivale, Season 1.
Alias, Season 1.
24, Season 1.
Babylon 5, Season 1.
How to make a TV series that's always airing in repeats on your local TV station worth watching on DVD? Easy: provide bonus material. For example, every episode of every season of The Simpsons and Futurama has commentary. And it's actually good commentary, with directors, writers, animators, show creator Matt Groening, and the occasional voice actor or guest star contributing comments and observations along the lines of "I don't remember that joke!" or "That kid in the background is really off-model in this scene. It's bugged me for ten years."
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.
The Simpsons, Season 4.
Futurama, Volume 1.
NewsRadio, The Complete First and Second Seasons.
Strangers With Candy, Season One.
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.
M*A*S*H, Season 1.
Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1.
The Dick Van Dyke Show.
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.
The Ben Stiller Show.
Mr. Show, Complete First and Second Seasons.
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.
Firefly, Complete Series.
Freaks and Geeks, Complete Series.
The Tick, Complete Series.
Undeclared, Complete Series.
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.
Married... With Children, The Complete First Season.
TeeVee has been a source of humorous commentary on popular culture's most powerful medium since 1996.
Suggestions for further clicking:
"Lost is a Find" by Jason Snell, "Get Lost" by Steve Lutz and "Lost Explained!" by Chris Rywalt at TeeVee.
"All family business," Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall on The Sopranos in The House Next Door and The Star-Ledger of Newark.
"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.