- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Anyone interested in the history and evolution of North American comedy — and looking for solid laughs along the way — should check out The Second City: First Family of Comedy ($14.98), new from Acorn Media. It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

In Episode One of the 128-minute, three-part documentary, host Dave Thomas traces the roots of Second City, Chicago’s seminal improv comedy showcase and spawning ground of several generations of American and Canadian comics, from Alan Arkin to John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner and Tina Fey.

Episode Two, hosted by Kids in the Hall alum Scott Thompson, concentrates on what arguably was the tube’s most creative sketch series, “SCTV,” while in Episode Three, erstwhile “SCTV” regular Joe Flaherty examines the broader cultural and Hollywood impact of both Second City and “SCTV.”

“The Second City” incorporates priceless archival performance clips, delves into the intricacies of improvisational techniques (with a side trip to the long-running series “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”) and provides a comprehensive overview of changing comedy tastes and freedoms. Extras include extended interviews with Mr. Aykroyd, Martin Short, Mr. Thomas and Miss Fey.

“The Second City” and the invaluable bonus chats eloquently illustrate that for professional funnypersons, comedy is, indeed, serious business. That doesn’t mean it’s no laughing matter. This hypnotic documentary amply attests to that.

Tele-video

Britannia again rules the airwaves in the week’s fresh TV-on-DVD output. Leading the pack is A&E Home Video’s massive 18-disc Secret Agent (aka Danger Man): The Complete Collection ($149.99), gathering all 86 episodes of the 1960s espionage series starring Patrick McGoohan as brainy agent John Drake — about 57 hours of intrigue overall.

Acorn Media follows with Lindsay Duncan in the Joanna Trollope novel adaptation The Rector’s Wife (two-disc, $39.99) and the British miniseries Strumpet City (three-disc, $49.99), based on James Plunkett’s early-1900s novel set in Dublin and featuring Peter O’Toole. Then it shifts to Canada for the Vancouver-based crime series Da Vinci’s Inquest: Season 1 (four-disc, $59.99), with Nicholas Campbell as a crime-solving coroner.

YA Entertainment journeys to the Far East to service the expanding stateside market for Korean TV series with its latest offering, the 16-episode romantic saga What Planet Are You From? (six-disc, $99.99), complete with English subtitles and new featurettes. Dark Sky Films imports the Japanese TV horror anthology Prayer Beads: The Complete Series (two-disc, $24.98).

Closer to home, MPI Home Video revives The Doris Day Show: Season 4 (four-disc, $39.98), accompanied by cast interviews and other extras. Paramount Home Entertainment presents the femme sitcom Girlfriends: The First Season (four-disc, $39.99).

Shout! Factory introduces the animated Captain N: The Game Master: The Complete Series (four-disc, $34.98), and Koch Vision issues the Emmy-nominated 1994 miniseries World War II: When Lions Roared (two-disc, $29.98), with Michael Caine, John Lithgow and Bob Hoskins.

Collectors’ corner

Docurama pulls out all the stops for D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back (two-disc, $49.99), a vivid depiction of the pioneering musician’s 1965 British tour. Bonus material includes a filmmaker’s commentary, the archival compilation “Bob Dylan 65 Revisited,” a 168-page companion book and more.

In a much different musical vein, Kultur Video releases Jonathan Miller’s 1983 version of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” ($29.99), sung in English and relocated to New York City’s mob-controlled 1950s Little Italy.

VCI Entertainment continues to unearth interesting obscurities, among them Charlton Heston’s screen debut, when he was 17, in a filmed 1941 college production of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt ($17.99).

For fans of the Terence Hill-Bud Spencer action-comedy team, Somerville House unearths the 1980s cop romps Crime Busters and Super Fuzz ($14.98 each), the latter co-starring Ernest Borgnine and Joanne Dru.

The ‘A’ list

Among recent theatrical releases finding their way to the digital ranks, a kinder, gentler Russell Crowe stars in the romantic-comedy-drama A Good Year (20th Century Fox, $29.98), Sarah Michelle Gellar encounters the supernatural in the chiller The Return (Universal Studios, $29.98) and Terry Gilliam directs the extremely dark modern nightmare-fairy-tale Tideland, which arrives in a deluxe double-disc edition (ThinkFilm, $29.99).

Elsewhere, Will Ferrell stretches as an IRS agent who finds he’s a figment of author Emma Thompson’s imagination in the surreal comedy Stranger Than Fiction (Sony Pictures, $28.95), co-starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah.

International fare

First Run Features introduces a pair of prestigious imports, Olivier Dahan’s intense 2002 French drama La Vie Promise, starring Isabelle Huppert, and Yoji Yamada’s brilliant 19th-century Japan-set The Twilight Samurai, along with David Teboul’s 2004 fashion-focused documentary Yves Saint Laurent ($26.98 each).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I’m looking for the Evelyn Waugh series Brideshead Revisited from the ‘80s.

Roy Kantor, via e-mail

Acorn Media (acornmedia .com) released the complete series in an extras-enhanced four-disc “25th Anniversary Edition” ($59.99) in October.

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