- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 29, 2020

Here’s a selection of top gift ideas for the DVD, Blu-ray and 4K UHD-loving, TV binge-watcher in the family.

Schitt’s Creek: The Complete Collection (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, not rated, 1,722 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $59.98) — The Emmy Award-winning comedy that offers the woeful tale of the Rose family gave viewers of the Pop TV channel a clever and often hilarious exploration of relationships in small-town America.

Led by Second City veterans, chameleons Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara as daddy Johnny and mommy Moira Rose, the show covered the filthy-rich family, including pampered son David (Daniel Levy) and daughter (Annie Murphy), and the loss of their fortune due to shady business dealings.

The Roses are then forced to live in a run-down motel in their one remaining asset that was bought as a joke, the folksy town of Schitt’s Creek.

Lovers of wry comedy can binge-watch the entire six-season run of the show, all 80 episodes, on 15 DVD discs that feature top-notch performances from the main cast as well as veterans such as Chris Elliot as Mayor Roland Schitt, Jennifer Roberson as his wife Jocelyn and Emily Hampshire as the motel owner Stevie Budd.

Beside creators not allowing the season to have a seventh season, the only other miscue is Lionsgate releasing the series on the woefully inadequate DVD format when a classic of this magnitude deserves a high definition release at the bare minimum.

Alas, that’s what fans are stuck with, but it’s better than no release of “Schitt’s Creek,” one of the greatest comedies now available in the home entertainment realms.

Best extras: Seems obvious, but owners will need to very carefully open the clamshell case just to watch the shows or suffer the wrath of the poor packaging gods as all of the DVDs fall from their loose fittings and onto one’s lap or worse, the floor.

The owners, once they extricated the discs, will also find deleted scenes and bloopers, 37 webisodes (roughly two minutes each) and 76 featurettes covering all of the seasons (averaging three minutes each). That’s a whole bunch of Schitt for the fans.

The standout of the material is the 44-minute documentary “Best Wishes, Warmest Regards: A Schitt’s Creek Farewell,” previously seen on Netflix, offering a teary-eyed look at the final season of the show.

Chernobyl: Steelbook Edition (Best Buy exclusive) (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, TV-MA, 322 minutes, 1.33:1 aspect ratio, $44.99) — HBO’s Emmy-winning historical drama from 2019 covering the horrifying events of the April 26, 1986, nuclear power plant explosion in a city on the outskirts of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic of Chernobyl gets the royal treatment with both a ultra-high definition and special packaging release.

The five-episode mini-series arrived via a trio of 4K discs to often focus on the brave men and women who fought to contain a disaster that could have consumed the planet and the human race.

Riveting, crystal-clear visuals complement powerful performances from Jared Harris as Soviet nuclear physicist Valery Legasov, Stellan Skarsgård as Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina and Emily Watson as Soviet nuclear physicist Ulana Khomyuk.

Best extras: The discs contain previously available content from the 2019 Blu-ray release.

Specifically, a too-short, behind-the-scenes look at every episode (averaging three minutes each) and five featurettes including a woeful inadequate overview of the Chernobyl disaster, clocking in at roughly 90 seconds, round out the selections.

Warner Bros. could have done much better on one of the best and most educational series of the year.

The steel case’s full-color art is a sobering tribute to Edvard Munch’s masterpiece “The Scream” with a gas mask-wearing specter, hands on either side of its head, walking down a road next to others wearing decontamination suits.

The only other addition to make this special release more special would be if the discs came in a lead-lined container.

Game of Thrones: The Complete Collection (HBO Home Entertainment, not rated, 4,185 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $254.99) — HBO’s unforgettable adaptation of author George R.R. Martins’ drama-thick medieval fantasy universe finally debuts in its entirety on UHD in 30, 4K discs compiling all eight seasons (73 episodes) of the 59-time, Emmy-winning series. 

The complex adventure followed the interactions between the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the desire to control the Iron Throne. It starred Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Sir Jaime Lannister), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) and Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth).

This should be the final and definitive gift for GOT fans who have not yet purchased any disc collections, and it is, by far, the best-looking version of the show ever released.

Best extras: Ported over are more than 15 hours of bonus content translating into 88 optional commentary tracks; motion comic tales of Westeros’ mythos in “Histories and Lore”; the almost 2-hour-long “Last Watch” documentary; and plenty of character profiles and extra featurettes.

Three additional Blu-ray discs of extras in the package offer a two-part, over 90-minute-long reunion special hosted by Conan O’Brien with much of the principal cast; a 45-minute animated overview of the great families of Westeros; 102-minutes’ worth of key scene breakdowns; 78 minutes of production background (with plenty of comments from the author); and 163-minutes’ worth of visual effects breakdowns.

Mission Impossible: The Original TV Series (Paramount/CBS Home Entertainment, not rated, 8,618 minutes, 1.33:1 aspect ratio, $144.99) — One of TV’s most popular, multiple Emmy-winning series in television history gave fans of action a spy drama with a roller coaster ride’s worth of twists and thrills for seven seasons on the CBS network between the years of 1966 and 1973.

This 46-disc Blu-ray collection compiling 171 episodes chronicles the adventures of the chameleon-like Impossible Mission Force, a covert team of American super-secret agents, with even the authority to take down dictators, who were given assignments via a record player or tape player with the famous line: “This disc/tape will self-destruct in five seconds.”

It was led by led by Daniel Briggs (Steven Hill) and later Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) and featured the specialty talents of mechanical and electronics genius Barney Collier (Greg Morris), makeup artist and escape expert Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), weight lifter Willy Armitage and actress model Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain).

Worth noting is the color episodes are remastered for the high definition format but not as meticulously impressive as the previously released clean-up by Paramount of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” series.

And, while mentioning sci-fi shows, pop culture aficionados will remember Landau and Bain also later starring in “Space 1999” and Star Trek’s famed Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) actually takes over Landau’s character’s specialties as the mysterious Paris in seasons four and five.

Those older TV fans looking for a dose of classic television will be grateful.

Best extras: Surely something must be missing from this attractively presented boxed set as viewers will find no bonus content.

It’s hard to imagine a retrospective on the show (the PBS series “Pioneers of Television: did one in 2011), any interviews with experts or even a comparison between the series and Tom Cruise’s blockbuster film franchise, based on “Mission Impossible,” could not be offered.

Arrow: The Complete Series (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, not rated, 7,572 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $189.99) — DC Comics’ legendary archer starred in a live-action television show for eight seasons on the CW network and recently concluded his run earlier this year.

The entire angst-ridden adventures of mysterious and gruff playboy billionaire Oliver Queen aka Arrow (Stephen Amell) are now compiled on a 31-disc Blu-ray set offering all 170 episodes of the show.

That’s a binge-watching spectacular for fans looking to learn about the origins of the Arrow and his core team in Starling City including Spartan aka John Diggle (David Ramsey), Laurel Lance aka Black Canary (Katie Cassidy), Thea Queen aka Speedy (Will Holland), Arsenal aka Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) and Overwatch aka Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards).

Watch their encounters with supervillains such as Deathstroke (Manu Bennett), Huntress (Jessica De Gouw) and Ra’s Al Ghul as well as heroes including Flash (Grant Gustin), Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) and Atom (Brandon Routh).

By far the most entertaining episodes for me were the crossovers into the universe of superhero shows on the CW with the last and best being “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” adapted from the massive DC Comic’s series from the 1970s.

Luckily, the entire “crisis” is found on the final disc of this set plucking one episode from “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” “Batwoman” and “Legends of Tomorrow” and packed with guest appearance from previous DC Comics-themed movies and TV shows.

They include Tom Welling and Erica Durance (Clark Kent and Lois Lane from “Smallville”), Kevin Conroy (the voice of the animated Caped Crusader in “The Adventures of Batman”) and Burt Ward (Robin from the live-action “Batman” TV show).

Best extras: All of the hours of bonus content from the previously released sets are included on the discs ranging from production featurettes to optional commentary tracks, roundtables, gag reels and deleted scenes.

Some of the best include the cast and crew at the 2013 PaleyFest (28 minutes); a look at the crossover events “Crisis on Earth X” (41 minutes) and “Elseworlds” (45 minutes); commentary tracks on the third-season episodes “The Calm” and “The Climb”; coverage of 2013 and 2015 to 2019 “Arrow” San Diego Comic-Con panels; and a retrospective on the entire series (42 minutes).

Saturday Night Live: The Early Years (Time Life, not rated, 2,256 minutes, 1.33:1 aspect ratio, $99.95) — Lucky gift receivers can now appreciate the longest-running sketch comedy show in the history of U.S. television with a 12-disc DVD set offering a selection of 33 episodes from the first five seasons of the show.

On Oct. 11, 1975, “Saturday Night Live” debuted with the comedic might of the Not Ready for Primetime Players comprised of comedic legends the late John Belushi, the late Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman and Garrett Morris. The show would lose Mr. Chase but add Bill Murray for its second season.

Many oldsters will remember and still laugh at skits such as Land Shark, “Weekend Update” (skewering the current news of the day), the Super Bass-O-Matic and the last voyage of the Starship Enterprise; or classic characters such as Mr. Chase’s President Ford, Radner’s Emily Litella, Belushi’s Samurai, and the Coneheads.

Featured guest hosts in the set include Steve Martin (debuting his hit novelty song “King Tut” in 1978), Monty Python’s Eric Idle, “Star Wars” Carrie Fisher, TV legend Desi Arnaz, comedians Richard Pryor, George Carlin (host of the first show) and film legend Walter Matthau.

And, don’t forget about the musical guests. The collection covers appearances by Joe Cocker (performing “Feelin’ Alright” as Belushi mimics him), the Rolling Stone, Carly Simon, Billy Joel, Frank Zappa, the Kinks, the debut of the Blues Brothers and New Wave legends Blondie and Devo just to name a few.

Not only is this an archive of the some of the most important moments in on-air sketch comedy but a historical journey for fans of television.

Best extras: Viewers get the original auditions from the main cast and a sit-down with the cast and producer Lorne Michaels on the “Tomorrow Show” with Tom Snyder, held roughly a week before the debut of the show.

The Last Dance (ESPN Films, Rated: TV-MA, 496 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $49.99) — Basketball fans that fondly remember the days when Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls dominated the sport will be giddy getting this special boxed set containing ESPN’s Emmy-winning, exhaustive documentary on the team’s six championship-winning runs in the 1990s.

Ten episodes contained on a trio of Blu-ray-discs offer a historical overview as well as deconstruction of the team, its opponents and the drama even including never-been-seen footage of the final win in the 1997-1998 season.

The tales unfold with archival interviews and footage as well as current words from coach Phil Jackson, players such as Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, Toni Kukoc, Will Perdue and John Paxson; enemies such as challengers Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller; and plenty from Mr. Jordan as all offer perspectives on how the success, failures and ultimate demise of the team occurred.

Much more than simply a look at a great basketball team, the episodes allow an intimate look at the Michael Jordan era in basketball and much on the man who became the legend know as “His Airness.”

Suffice it to report, this is a definitive look at “Da Bulls.”

Best extras: Boasting more than four hours of bonus content, the set allows viewers to dive into vintage interviews, ESPN roundtables and an almost hour’s worth roundup of “After Show” segments with director Jason Hehir talking about each episode.

The crown jewel is a cinematic presentation (1.78:1 aspect ratio) of the final game of the Bulls dynasty, called “Game 6: The Movie,” that offers the championship win against the Utah Jazz from the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on June 14, 1998.

The packaging includes an accordion fold-out timeline featuring key moments of the Bulls’ dynasty, starting with the team drafting Mr. Jordan back in 1984, and a 28-page full color episode guide with an introduction from the filmmakers Jason Hehir and Andy Thompson.

Flintstones: The Complete Series (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, not rated, 4,217 minutes, 1.33:1 and 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $84.99) — The animated exploits of Hanna-Barbera’s beloved blue-collar prehistoric family finally gets celebrated in home entertainment realms with a 10-disc Blu-ray release offering the very best-looking, high definition presentation of their wacky adventures covering six seasons on the ABC network from 1960 to 1966.

Over 166 episodes, TV watchers joined Fred and Wilma Flintstone along with their daughter Pebbles, pet dinosaur Dino and their best buddies, the Rubbles — Barney, Betty and Bamm-Bamm — in the town of Bedrock.

I fondly remember some of these episodes, not only for their riffing on the live-action show “The Honeymooners” but for guest appearances by luminaries such as Ann Margrock (the Ann Margaret), Stoney Curtis (the Tony Curtis), Rock Quarry (a Rock Hudson persona) and extraterrestrial the Great Gazoo (voiced by Harvey Korman no less).

The “Flintstones” were, well, a bedrock of 1960s television, distinguished as the first cartoon to play in prime time and certainly worthy of a place in any fan of animation’s library.

Best extras: A dozen featurettes (more than 90 minutes in total) mainly offer memories from cast and crew on the cartoon but also cover the music, wacky inventions and even some of the collectibles produced for the show.

Also on 12th disc are two full-length animated movies “The Man Called Flintstone” from 1966 and “The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age Smackdown!” from 2015.

Eureka: The Complete Series (Mill Creek Home Entertainment, not rated, 3,358 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $75.99) — Fans of “Stranger Things,” “Men in Black” and “Twin Peaks” will appreciate binging in high definition this quirky sci-fi drama that originally aired 77 episodes on the Sci-Fi Channel between 2016 and 2012.

Within the 12-disc Blu-ray set, viewers are taken to a small, cozy town in the Pacific Northwest name Eureka to learn about its world changing research projects led by its citizens, a group of scientists culled from the brightest minds on the planet since the end of World War II.

U.S. Marshal Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) stumbles upon the town with his rebellious daughter Zoe (Jordan Hinson) and is asked by the Department of Defense liaison agent Aliison Blake (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) to assume the role of sheriff and with help of deputy Jo Lupo (Erica Cerra) try to manage this group of Doc Browns from destroying the universe.

Fans will scream “eureka” over the mind-stretching and entertaining plotlines as they encounter wormholes, maybe Santa Claus and are even taken time traveling back to the 1940s, but they will find Mill Creek’s visual presentation inconsistent and often lacking in the clarity front.

Best extras: Where Mill Creek fails in the high definition presentation, it shines in the packed bonus content offering no less than six optional commentary tracks and more than two dozen podcast commentaries with the majority of the cast and crew participating.

Viewers also get eight webisodes (covering a strange creature that lives in the woods), featurettes in the writing, plot evolutions and special effects, deleted scene, gag reels and faux PSAs geared toward the town.

Masterpiece: Victoria — The Complete Seasons 1, 2 and 3 (PBS Home Entertainment, not rated, 1,310 minutes, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $74.99) — This nine-disc, DVD set offers the first 25 episodes of the acclaimed PBS’s British historical drama covering the reign of England’s Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman) and her marriage to Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) from 1838 to 1851.

The series never fails to entertain, often ignoring historical accuracy and willing to dive into soap opera territory, as it explores how an 18-year-old girl was forced to transform into monarch that would lead the British Empire into one of its most prolific and expansive periods.

However, as entertaining as the show is, its release on the woefully antiquated DVD format does a great disservice to excellent production design, costuming and wondrous settings that demand at least a high definition presentation to shine.

Best extras: Viewers get more than 100 minutes of supplemental content that breaks down into 21 featurettes covering special effects, interviews with the main cast, costuming, key characters and scenes, and also a quick tour of Buckingham Palace.


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