- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The wait is finally over for Mary Hartmaniacs with the release of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman Volume 1 (three-disc, $29.95), new this week from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

Developed by sitcom pioneer Norman Lear and debuting in January 1976, the syndicated “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” quickly proved to be not only a sharp soap-opera parody but a complex character-driven ensemble series that tackled genuine issues while tickling the funny bone.

The show centers on the travails of perpetually bemused working-class Fernwood, Ohio, housewife Mary (Louise Lasser in her signature role), her extended family, neighbors Charlie Haggers (Graham Jarvis) and his young country-star wannabe bride Loretta (a brilliant Mary Kay Place) and, as the series rolled on, a growing cast of eccentric supporting players.

“Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” benefited from an expanded format (four to five episodes per week) that allowed the show and its colorful cast to breathe and develop at a deliberate pace. That the comic invention rarely lags in the opening 25 episodes collected here is a tribute to the show’s talented writing staff and on-camera performers, who handled the material with obvious TLC despite the demanding production schedule.

Whether dealing with Mary and distant husband Tom’s (Greg Mullavey) romantic problems or the threat of a mysterious mass murderer, the show maintains a subtle, deadpan style punctuated with bursts of high hilarity and memorable lines (e.g., “I hope I’m not thinking what I think I’m thinking”).

Fans will doubtless speed through these episodes and eagerly await the next installment, one that will hopefully include behind-the-scenes bonuses to boot.

Tele-video

In a busy TV-on-DVD week, Sony Pictures continues to concentrate on comedy with The Jeffersons: The Complete Sixth Season (three-disc, $29.95). MGM Home Entertainment contributes The Addams Family: Volume 2 (three-disc, $29.98) and Warner Home Video proffers Full House: The Complete Sixth Season (four-disc, $29.98).

MPI Home Video presents the 1960s sitcom Family Affair: Season Three (five-disc, $39.98), along with a brace of Comic Legends compilation discs, Dick Van Dyke: In Rare Form and Groucho Marx & Redd Foxx ($14.98 each).

A&E Home Video likewise looks for laughs via the original British improv series Whose Line Is It Anyway?, featuring bonus interviews with the show’s creators, and issues the History Channel documentary series Engineering an Empire (four-disc, $49.95 each).

For action buffs, Michael Chiklis and team take control in The Shield: Season 5 (20th Century Fox, four-disc, $59.98), equipped with audio commentary, 25 deleted scenes, featurettes and more, while 20th Century Fox covers the animated front with Fantastic Four: Volume One ($14.98).

Paramount Home Entertainment goes the religious route with a pair of dramatic series, 7th Heaven: The Fourth Season (six-disc, $54.99) and Touched by an Angel: The Fourth Season Volume 1 (four-disc, $42.99).

Acorn Media imports a pair of British sets, the Caroline Graham mystery adaptation Midsomer Murders Set Eight (three-disc) and the seriocomic spy series Sleepers (two-disc, $39.99 each).

The ‘A’ list

Among the many high-profile recent theatrical releases arriving on disc this week, Sony Pictures leads the way with an extras-laden edition of the Will Smith dramatic hit The Pursuit of Happyness ($28.95) and Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li in Zhang Yimou’s period epic Curse of the Golden Flower ($28.95).

Universal Studios offers a bonus-packed edition of Alfonso Cuaron’s futuristic sci-fi thriller Children of Men ($29.98), starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine. Warner Home Video counter-programs with the upbeat animated romp Happy Feet ($28.98), featuring the voices of Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

In the scare-film arena, ThinkFilm has the excellent documentary Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film ($24.98), while 20th Century Fox unleashes the teen-torture chiller Turistas: Unrated ($29.99).

New indies include Color Me Kubrick (Magnolia Home Entertainment, $29.98), starring John Malkovich, and the acclaimed Spanish import Princesas (IFC Films, $24.95).

Collectors’ corner

• Errol Flynn swashes, buckles and battles anew in The Errol Flynn Signature Collection Vol. 2 (five-disc, $49.98), gathering The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Gentleman Jim (1942), The Adventures of Don Juan (1948), The Dawn Patrol (1938) and Dive Bomber (1941).

• 20th Century Fox celebrates Shirley Temple in its America’s Sweetheart Collection Volume 5 (three-disc, $29.98), assembling The Blue Bird (1940), The Little Princess (1939) and Stand Up and Cheer (1934).

• Koch Lorber Films imports a pair of international classics, Alain Resnais’ 1963 drama Muriel, starring Delphine Seyrig, and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s surreal 1983 mystery La Belle Captive ($24.98 each).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Any chance of finding The Entertainer (Laurence Olivier) on DVD?

Steven Walters, via e-mail

That 1960 drama is now available via MGM ($14.98).

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or e-mail us at [email protected]aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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