This week, your DVD player turns into a time machine, reviving Michael J. Fox's last masterpiece, Beats in Corvettes, Popeye and Foyle battling fascism, Batman's best show, and dinosaurs laying waste to British shopping malls.
The top TV DVD is technically a movie, the 2008 Steve Carell remake of Get Smart ($28.98), but since it's such a smart update of the Mel Brooks/Buck Henry spy spoof, it qualifies as an extension of the old show. Carell is even more charming than the original Agent Maxwell Smart, though the film can't match the absurdist humor of the original, which so scared ABC they gave the hit to NBC. It saved Brooks's career: After losing his job on Sid Caesar's show in 1959, he'd gone from $352,000 a week (in today's dollars) to $600 a week. In 1965, Get Smart put him back on top. But Henry was at least as responsible for writing Get Smart.
Michael J. Fox's finest hour before illness smashed his career was Spin City: The Complete First Season ($39.99). He soars as a deputy mayor saving a gaffe-o-matic mayor and a pack of City Hall goofballs from the cleverly-duped-by-Fox press corps (as Fox cleverly disguises his Parkinson's symptoms from the camera). Previously, all you could get were Michael J. Fox's favorite episodes on disk, a strange marketing idea. This is the real thing, all the initial episodes in order.
World War II is the thunderous backdrop of two disparate disks, Popeye the Sailor: 1941-1943 ($34.98) and Foyle's War ($59.99 for one set, $199.99 for all five). Popeye's fist punched some energy into a Disney-dominated animation world, but the war whipped him into a political frenzy, as indicated by episode titles like "You're a Sap, Mr. Jap." Foyle is a great antidote to the dim jingoism of the spinach-breathed bicep boy; it's one of the best Brit murder mystery series, intelligently anchored in real events (explicated in the DVD extras) and brilliantly written by bestselling novelist Anthony Horowitz.
Don't make the mistake of taking Batman: The Complete Animated Series ($107.92) as kid's stuff. It honors the comic book it came from, and adult fanboys and girls will revel in it. In some ways, it's truer to the original than the blockbuster movies, and the cartoon is far superior to some of the flicks.
I love Mad Men, despite its aimless longeuers, but critic James Wolcott is correct: its glumness does not capture the true exciting spirit of the '60s. For that you need Route 66: The Complete Second Season ($49.99), the On the Road-inspired 1960 show about two guys in a racy Corvette discovering America one town at a time. I cannot tell you how cool this show was: It made us kids Kerouac fans without knowing it. It's fun to see future stars in guest spots: Robert Duvall trying to kick heroin, Tuesday Weld inexplicably covering up her pretty punim with a mask, James Caan, DeForest Kelley and Ed Asner trying to make their mark.
Don't even think about the godawful movie version -- instead, check out the original The Wild, Wild West: The Complete Series ($129.98), about the adventures of a James Bond-like agent touring post-Civil War America on his gadget-stuffed private train.
Primeval: Volume One ($49.98) collects the first two seasons of the BBC's attempt to meld the appeals of Doctor Who and Walking With Dinosaurs with a show about rampaging dinosaurs escaping through a time tunnel to menace modern Britain (though actually, some of the dinos are really cute and cuddly). Very silly dialogue, but pretty good CGI and action, and a story arc that connects things serviceably.
On its 25th anniversary, Jim Henson's empire releases all 20 disks of Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series Collection ($139.98), 47 hours' worth of entertainment. This was the Muppet show for kid intellectuals, after they'd mastered the alphabet the original show taught them as tykes.
With so much new DVD material from the past, it's only right to conclude with something from the other direction: Matt Groening's Futurama: Bender's Game ($29.99), which is not the TV series but a spinoff feature satirizing Dungeons and Dragons, Star Trek (George Takei does voice work), Lord of the Rings and other fanboy fodder.