So you've got someone one your holiday list who you want to keep entertained for a few hours--maybe even in hi-def? Well, look no further than this lineup of 2011 TV on DVD and Blu-ray releases for a couple of ideas of what to get that special someone who's into the living dead, disavowed secret agents, drunk secret agents, and grimy, sci-fi adventure.
Title: The Walking Dead: Season 1 3-Disc Special Edition
Format: Blu-ray & DVD
Judging by the response to the second season premiere, some of you might still be really into AMC's The Walking Dead, and certainly, if you're reading this piece, there's someone on your list who either might want to revisit the first season, or didn't get a chance to see the show during its initial run.
Enter this three-disc special edition set that not only carries over the extras from the two-disc Blu-ray/DVD release, but adds a whole extra disc of making-of specials and interviews with the cast and creators of the series. This release might provide a little extra insight given the presence of then showrunner Frank Darabont who was summarily bounced from the series during the production of season two. I'm not saying a potential viewer should check it out to look for juicy insights into the tension that led to Darabont's departure (although, you're free to do so), but for fans of the series (and new watchers) it might be instructive to see how the creative team handled the show in the first season as compared to the pacing, tone, and feel of the second season.
There's actually a limited edition collector's tin out there in the wild if you can hunt it down, but as with all kind of limited releases like that, you'd better decide exactly how much you like that person on your list that you're getting it for and just how much you're willing to pay for six episodes of television.
Title: Jem: The Truly Outrageous Complete Series
Great news for Shout! Factory, the company responsible for getting this October release out there: Jem: The Truly Outrageous Collection is ranked at #30 on Amazon's ranking of movie and TV sales. That's a lot of people out there excited about this right here, the apotheosis of 80's fashion, music, animation, and TV tropes all in one place. What that means for you is there's a chance that if you have a Jem fan in your life, they might have already snatched this set up, but on the other hand, if you know for a fact that they haven't (or you suspect they might really be into the never ending battle between Holograms and Misfits), then you owe it to them to pick up this deluxe collection encompassing the entire series.
Spread out over 11 discs, this set brings the series back with a handful of retrospective special features as well as what I thought was the best thing about the whole set: a video jukebox that let you listen to all of the songs/watch all of the videos from the series. And I'm not trying to be funny here, but the Misfits' songs truly were better, by a mile. Besides that, there's about 1500 minutes of TV here, so whoever you get this for, tell them to pace themselves: watching too much of this show in one sitting can lead to schmaltzy synth-heavy love songs, spontaneous hair primping, and the appearance of garish, possibly impossible-to-remove makeup.
Title: Futurama: Season 6
Format: DVD & Blu-ray
Respectfully, Community, this is the show that knows what it means to always be on the edge of cancellation. Case in point: up until current Futurama home Comedy Central gave the show's production staff the green light for their upcoming seventh season, the writers went ahead and prepped yet another series finale for the sometimes-cancelled Fox show.
The 13 episodes in this set see the Futurama team getting into the groove of being back on the air again after the uneven fifth season, and we started to get a couple of gems out of this outing, including "Law and Oracle," and the previously-mentioned "season finale," "Reincarnation." Honestly, it felt like the writers were done with the need to try to catch up with the decade that had passed Futurama by, and fewer of the jokes were targeted or of the moment (something that the newly-revitalized Simpsons does a lot better) and instead went off on its own crazed, sci-fi tangents while exploring its characters and even fleshing out a longtime, unlikely, and sweet freiendship between the Professor and Dr. John "Johnny" Zoidberg.
The listing details a few audio commentaries and deleted scenes among the special features for this December 20th release (you might want to get release day delivery there), but as of this writing, I was unable to ascertain which episodes would get the commentary treatment or who would be participating.
Title: Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series
Format(s): DVD & Blu-Ray
I think opinion of the most recent season of Doctor Who has been split among fans. Not evenly, mind you--it seems still pretty heavily balanced toward the viewers who loved it--but there was an edge of dissent and disappointment as the most recent batch of episodes dealing with the Doctor's impending death brought up a lot more questions than provided answers in its "lets everyone talk fast" finale. Likewise, I know some fans were a little exasperated with the "sad, mad Doctor" storylines (still well below their peak in the downright maudlin final Tennant episodes), but again, on average, it seems like the sixth season resonated with people.
This set--coming to DVD and Blu-ray next week--actually brings together the first and second half of the season (whew, thanks for not double-dipping Warner Brothers/BBC) with the usual assortment of special features including commentaries and deleted/bonus scenes. It also brings the UK Comic Relief sketches and the Christmas special to disc for those who might not have been able to see those here in the U.S. (grumble, grumble, I didn't have cable at the time). So this is definitely one to pick up for the Who fan you know, since they were probably into it and this is as good a chance as any to dissect the mysteries of the season and try to figure out what's coming in season seven.
Title: Farscape: The Complete Series
I really like Doctor Who, and I'm with all of you other fans of Fringe, but for me, my absolute favorite sci-fi show of the last decade-ish was Farscape, the Jim Henson Company-produced space opera that ran for four years on the (then) SciFi Network. Mixing idiosyncratic, often hostile characters on the run from military forces and would-be despots, the adventures of astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) aboard the living ship Moya was one of the most electric series I had the opportunity to watch. Gone were the sometimes antiseptic adventures of Star Trek, replaced instead by a real sense of danger and almost viciousness as Crichton--by design and by chance--surrounded himself with outsiders, lunatics, and killers over the course of the four seasons.
I have a review of this set forthcoming (promise), but here's the long and the short of it: it looks spectacular and the show's episodes are reproduced with a crispness and clarity that's almost distracting. The fine folks at A+E, responsible for the pretty comprehensive Robotech set have done it again only just kicking it all the way up a bunch of notches in terms of production quality. You can pick out such fine and minute detail in many of the costumes and environments (and yes, some of the show's aging CG effects), but even for someone who's seen every episode a couple of times, it's like being able to revisit the show for the first time. It also ports over the special features from the sets released by ADV a few years back as well as a retrospective with the cast and crew looking back at the series. The only real disappointment is the lack of the Peacekeeper Wars miniseries that served as the show's wrap-up, but it seems that Lionsgate holds the rights to it and so the mini couldn't make its way into this set.
Title: Archer: Seasons 1 & 2
I'm just throwing this out here: Archer voice actor and comedian H. Jon Benjamin has one of the most wonderful voices on television right now. Usually starting from the same wry place of disinterest or snark, he's able to spin his characters up in so many different ways, something you'd know if you caught his work in other series like the essential Home Movies, a couple of guest stints on The Venture Brothers, and most recently on Bob's Burgers. He's a voice actor who knows both the value of underplaying it and going large with a role (sometimes called for in the same scene given the characters he plays). And the foul mouth on this guy: very few people on TV know how to just get completely disgusting and nasty in a tirade like Benjamin does, making his work on Archer one of the most valuable assets on TV right now.
The series--which just had a third "mini" season--has its first two seasons coming to Blu-ray in wide release this December (season one was initially a Best Buy exclusive). No word on what kind of special features and bonuses will be included in the holiday release of the dirty adventures of the world's simultaneously most competent and dimwitted spy, but it'll be exciting to see what FX cooks up for the release.
Title: The Venture Brothers: Season 4
I'm not putting any kind of qualification on this statement: The Venture Brothers is one of the best shows on TV and simply the best animated show running. Doc and Jackson know how to create characters, put them through hell and embarrassment, and make you care about it, all while drawing on decades of shared culture in a way that's neither intrusive, winking, or instantly dated. Hank and Dean are two of my favorite character creations of the current generation of TV and I salute the men behind bringing them to life for getting me and I'm sure plenty of other fans invested in them over the years.
Fan gushing out of the way, here's the fourth season--complete! The actual season was split by a couple of months, leading to a split DVD release between this and last year, but when the second half came around, we were provided with the most recent season in its entirety, complete with the best special feature of all: commentaries on every episode. This isn't out of the norm for Venture Brothers sets but it's still welcome given the lively, sometimes tangential to the entire episodes conversations the two creators engage in (occasionally joined by Dr. Venture himself, James Urbaniak). Also, it'll be the main fix for the show for the Venture Brothers fan in your life since we probably won't see the show again until sometime late next year.
Title: Twilight Zone season sets
I feel like it would be downright confounding to talk to someone who's never seen or worse, never enjoyed an episode of this classic anthology series. Like, what does that person think of when they think of genre-defining television? Do they have something against wonderful character actors performing in tightly-plotted tales of science fiction and suspense? I'd imagine they're like those people with a violent allergy to a common food--maybe a terrible peanut allergy. They don't know what they're missing and there's this huge, peanut-shaped hole in their lives from all the things they're missing out on.
Alright, I may have gone too far and mangled an analogy there (A! GIFTED! WRITER!) but giving The Twilight Zone to someone you know seems like the kind of thing that would go over well in just about any occasion. The Blu-ray sets from Image Entertainment, released over the last year and a half, bring together every single episode of the original series, complete with the intros and next episode previews all with just glorious picture and sound. Like the Farscape set, this is almost like a rediscovery of something I've seen plenty of times in the past, and the person you give the set to will get to appreciate exactly how spectacularly-produced the show was way back when.
Title: The Prisoner: The Complete Series
Format(s): DVD & Blu-ray
Hold up, let's be clear: I mean original 17-episode series and not the AMC thing with Jim Caveziel. Not interested, there.
But this: spectacularly weird/beautiful bit of high-spy paranoia would be a great companion to that Archer set up above, if only for the odd symmetry between George McGoohan's hard man of the weird Cold War and H. Jon Benjamin's hilarious indifference as Sterling Archer. But the most vital part of the show, the reason why you'll want to give this to someone (and why I reached all the way back to the releases from 2009) is how completely The Prisoner is clearly a precursor to the long-form mysteries we have today with the added benefit of being almost obsessive with its ideas about free will, personal freedom, surveillance, and paranoia in a world where a man could be imprisoned for reasons beyond his knowledge, completely hidden from the rest of the world.
This set comes with completely remixed 5.1 audio and the original mono tracks and a raft of special features on the Blu-ray disc as well as some nice special features on a standard-def DVD.
For a great introduction to the show, I recommend that you check out this excellent video analysis of the iconic opening sequence by Jim Emerson.
Title: Star Wars: The Clone Wars-Season 3
Format(s): DVD & Blu-ray
And finally, it wouldn't be Christmas unless it was a Star Wars Christmas!
Okay, I'm a little behind on the series and need to catch up, but that doesn't mean you have to be woefully behind the action in The Clone Wars, simply the purest use of the Star Wars license this decade. This set collects the 22 episodes from the third season as the Jedi continue to confront the emerging Sith menace, Anakin keeps making his slow turn to the Dark Side, and more clones presumably die pretty terrible, gruesome deaths.
Again, more of the usual special features included on both the DVD and Blu-ray sets but you do get an exclusive database on the Blu release called "The Jedi Temple Archives" which includes a host of concept art and 3D model turnarounds for that Star Wars fan who'd like to see how the show's creators crafted the stylized look of its characters.
The Top 10 Anime on DVD and Blu-Ray Gifts (2011 Geek Gift Guide)