- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2015

Here’s a selection of top gift ideas for the television watcher in the family.

Downton Abbey: Limited Edition Collection (PBS Home Entertainment, Not Rated, $109.99) The Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning, highly melodramatic television phenomenon arrives in a special high-definition set compiling the U.K. episode versions of the first five seasons of the acclaimed Masterpiece Classic on 15 discs.

Fans follow the complex lives of the too-proper British Lord Grantham Crawley, his family and abundance of servants living in an extravagant English country manor during the early part of 20th century.

Viewers become drenched in the aristocratic lifestyle while living through more than 50 hours worth of heartbreak, war, romance, scandals, illness, blackmail and betrayal in a high-definition, screen-filling format.

Besides the impeccable digital transfer highlighting the fantastic set and costume designs, viewers also get over four hours of bonus features that include a Christmas Special; production diaries; season recaps; a look at the Crawley home (the real-life Highclere Castle); bunches of cast and creator interviews; and a look at the cultural, technological and political changes of the 1920s and their impact on the Downton Abbey crew.

Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season, Steelbook Collectors Set (HBO Home Entertainment, Unrated, $79.98) — A famed cable network’s award-winning and wildly popular adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s medieval fantasy saga comes back to Blu-ray for the holidays with a package sure to thrill “Game of Thrones” fans in the family.

The complex stories follow the interactions between the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the desire to control the Iron Throne. Dripping with war, political intrigue, betrayal, and unbridled brutality, the 10 episodes offers a stunning, screen-filling visual presentation. Each also arrives with the aurally sensational, room enveloping (even the ceiling) Dolby Atmos sound remix, for those able to afford the correct speaker array and added technology in their entertainment room.

Best informative extras, that favor both fans and those new to the shows, include 15 character profiles, seven optional commentary tracks (featuring many of the key actors and crew as well as Mr. Martin on one track) and an interactive, resource rich “Complete Guide to Westeros.” The guide covers locations, characters and mythologies and works as a stand-alone, multimedia encyclopedia that is tied to every episode in a fly-out menu item.

Additionally, the first season not only sports the metallic hard-shell case but also comes with a heavy magnet of the Stark Direwolf family crest. By the way, the second season ($79.98) now offers the same packaging but with the Lannister’s family crest.

My Favorite Martian: The Complete Series (MPI Media Group, Not Rated, $99.98) — A bizarre situation comedy on CBS captivated television viewers between 1963 and 1966 and starred Ray Walston as a hyper-intelligent humanoid extraterrestrial (nicknamed Uncle Martin) stuck on Earth and sharing a house with newspaper reporter Tim O’Hara (played by Bill Bixby).

A welcomed gift for older viewers looking for a wild nostalgia trip, the entire three seasons (107 episodes, first two seasons in black and white and the final in color) arrives remastered in the DVD format and loaded with extras.

Television connoisseurs should pay close attention to episodes with guest appearances from pop-culture stars such as Linda Evans (“Dynasty”), Butch Patrick (“The Munsters”), Bernie Kopell (“Love Boat”) and Jamie Farr (“M.A.S.H.”). Also, viewers will appreciate some of the primitive special effects that embellished Uncle Martin’s powers.

The wide-sweeping extras celebrate 1960s television and the show. They range from Mr. Walston appearing in an Alcoa aluminum commercial, and with host Steve Allen in the game show “I’ve Got A Secret” (1964); radio interviews with Mr. Bixby and Mr. Walston by Lucille Ball on her radio show (1964 and 1965); Kelloggs’ cereal commercials with the stars in character; original art panels from what looks like the “My Favorite Martian” comic book series (a bit hard to see even on a big television); two rare sitcom pilots from the era  (The Man in the Square Suit” and “The Reluctant Eye”); and 23 cuts from the television soundtrack

Lost In Space: The Complete Adventures (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) — Creator Irwin Allen’s out of this world television show celebrates its 50th anniversary with a high-definition, remastered Blu-ray set, perfect for the retro science-fiction fantasy fan in the family.

For three seasons between 1965 and 1968, television viewers enjoyed the harrowing deep space adventures of the researching Robinson family aboard the Jupiter 2 vessel. They included parents Maureen (June Lockhart) and John (Guy Williams), and children Will (Bill Mumy), Penny (Angela Cartwright) and Judy (Marta Kristen).

Also, along for the ride was pilot Major Don West (Mark Goddard) and their beloved robot B-9 as the group explored planets, dealt with hostile aliens and handled the sabotaging buffoonery of foreign agent Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris).

Viewers get all 83, roughly 50-minute episodes (first season in black and white and next two in color) spread out over 18 discs and looking fantastic in the 1.37:1 sized transfer.

More important, the over eight hours of extras are so extensive, a college student of television history could easily write one heck of a dissertation using the resources.

The enormous amount of reference material, some of which was pulled from Mr. Allen’s personal archives, includes eight optional commentary tracks with the surviving original cast (Mr. Mumy, Mr. Goddard, Miss Cartwright and Miss Kristen); multiple versions of the un-aired pilot; most of the cast performing a table read of an unaired reunion script in 1980 co-written by Mr. Mumy; home movies from Bob May (the guy in the robot suit); new cast interviews; a Guy Williams (daddy John Robinson) screen test; the 1995, Ken Burns produced, 95-minute documentary “The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen”; and a fun radio interview with Mr. Harris and Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster) from 1998.

And, that’s not all. The box includes eight large 5.5-inch by 7.5-inch trading cards of the principal characters, a compact version of the first episode’s script and a poster-sized blueprint of Robot B-9.

Anyone understanding the famous phrase “Danger, Will Robinson!” will truly appreciate getting “Lost in Space” in this high-definition bonanza.

The Civil War: 25th Anniversary Edition (PBS Home Entertainment, Not Rated, $129.99) — The series that turned filmmaker Ken Burns into a legendary documentarian debuts in a high-definition, 4K restoration from the original negative to give viewers a chance to learn about and reflect upon one of America’s bloodiest conflict.

The nine-episode series set the standard for historical documentaries. It explored all facets of the confrontation between the North and South through actors narrating memoirs from key players (Sam Waterson as Abraham Lincoln, for example); roughly 16,000 photographs (featuring slow panning of many of the images dubbed the “Ken Burns effect”); and video segments and interviews with a group of experts, including the Civil War authority Shelby Foote.

The extras are near as potent as the main event featuring Mr. Burns and associates looking back on the making of the series, a glimpse at the restoration process and the full interviews with Mr. Foote. Owners also get a 16-page, full-color book encapsulating key events in the war.


SPECIAL COVERAGE: Zadzooks 2017 Holiday Gift Guide


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