This week's DVD releases feature good deals on two cult TV classics, plus everything from family sitcoms to reality porn to horror.
Be sure to seize the deal of the week: NewsRadio: The Complete Series ($59.98). If you like The Office, you owe it to yourself to try this remarkably quirky 1990-95 comedy set in an AM radio station. Dave Foley and Andy Dick send up their own real personalities as the bemusedly normal station manager and his screw-up reporter. Pre-ER Maura Tierney plays a driven nerd, and Stephen Root makes a nifty buttinski station owner. But the undisputed star is SNL vet Phil Hartman as the egomaniacal anchor. He outdoes Mary Tyler Moore's Ted Baxter. After Hartman's mad wife killed him, Jon Lovitz took over on the show. There's a wealth of smart commentaries and blooper reels, all for a recession-proof price.
For ten bucks more, watch the worst movies ever made with the best sarcastic soundtracks: Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition ($69.99). A spaceman stranded with a gumball-machine-headed robot pal or two screen the likes of First Spaceship on Venus and fire off high-IQ wisecracks you wish you'd said. The original honcho Joel Hodgson is a bit funnier than his successor Mike Nelson.
So you want a Halloween-appropriate DVD? Try the granddaddy of TV vampires, Barnabas Collins, in Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Vol. 6 ($59.98) -- that's the new release, but you might want to start with the first volume. He was 175 in 1966, so he's 217 now, and just as entertaining as True Blood. The extras aren't killer, but true collectors will treasure them forever.
On its 50th anniversary, The Donna Reed Show ($39.95) makes its DVD debut. First noted as a looker of a hooker in From Here to Eternity, Reed did a moral 360 as Jimmy Stewart's occasionally naked but always upright gal in It's a Wonderful Life. In her eponymous sitcom, Donna defined herself forever as the ultimate '50s housewife. When I was a Sears bill collector in the '70s, I discovered that one of our Seattle customers shared her name. Then I discovered Donna Reed really was a Seattle housewife -- talk about authenticity! Her show is a trifle slow, but an important time capsule of period behavior.
HBO broke strange ground with Cathouse: The Series ($29.98), a documentary about Nevada's Moonlite Bunny Ranch, where sex for sale is legal and the days go slower than Donna Reed ever knew they could. It's not exactly titillating, but it's interesting. I always thought that this is the show that should've been called The Deadliest Catch.
Because so many people are so unduly influenced by the brilliant but unreliable historian Oliver Stone, I urge everybody to watch On Trial: Lee Harvey Oswald ($24.98), which lays out the JFK assassination case in an infinitely more fact-based fashion. Vincent Bugliosi (who prosecuted Charles Manson and penned eyebrow-raising bestsellers about Manson, Oswald and George W. Bush) plays prosecutor and Gerry Spence plays defense attorney. See it so you can make your friends look ignorant at parties.
A friend of mine got fired as a film critic for headlining her review of the movie version "YABBADABBA-DUD!" But she was right about the flick. Everybody still loves the animated TV show, however, and The Flintstones: The Complete Collection ($129.98) promises to be a keeper. Packaged in Bedrock-style Paleolithic chic, it promises hours of commentaries which I haven't heard yet and can't vouch for but anticipate with primitive joy.
If you're a compulsive Anglophile detective freak who can't bear pledge breaks, snap up The Complete Inspector Lynley Mysteries ($199.95). Nothing on TV can match the class consciousness of the adventures of the eighth Earl of Asherton and his commoner girl-sleuth sidekick. If you feel guiltier than the perpetrator midway through, simply hit pause, write a check to PBS, then go back to the show in good conscience. Or don't -- I'll never tell.