Viewing Inside the Box: TV's 2015 Definitive DVD Gift Guide

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Once again, it’s that time of the year. Time for furious last-minute shopping and the mass consumption of filmed home entertainment. The next two weeks are all about family, eating more than you thought possible and, well, hunkering down and binge-watching your favorite TV shows and some you might have missed. Here, then, is a curated list of what we here at Paste think are the best offerings of this holiday season. Along with those on our Top 10 TV Gift Guide, this should give you some last-minute gift ideas and healthy inspiration for the “I got a gift card” Boxing Day shoppers!

Nostalgia by the Decade
True nostalgia has respect for neither time nor taste. Sure, there’s a chance that hard-to-find song or show you loved as a child actually was pretty decent, but it’s also just as likely it’s been forgotten because it deserved to be. But you know, who cares? Nostalgia certainly doesn’t. Nostalgia says, love what you love and both the critical and the clueless be damned!

I Love Lucy: The Complete Series ($44.99, CBS DVD)

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While many series from the 1950s cling precariously to the collective consciousness (if at all), the work of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz maintains a firmer grip than most. Before now only available as a 2007 collectible, this 33-DVD set shows why everyone’s favorite redhead was everyone’s favorite. Containing all six seasons (194 episodes) of I Love Lucy, three seasons of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, as well as a disc of bonus material, this shelf-friendly set is just the thing for Lucy fans, ’50s enthusiasts and just anyone interested in the foundation of TV comedy.—Michael Burgin


McHale’s Navy: The Complete Series ($21.99; Shout! Factory)

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Better known as “that series my granddad liked,” McHale’s Navy has largely faded in cultural awareness and relevance. Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway’s names may still ring a bell, perhaps, but otherwise, the crew of PT-73 has gone the way of Green Acres. This new boxed set aims to, well, if not reverse that slide into the forgotten mists of TV Land, at least preserve the series for any who may remember it fondly. Containing all 138 episodes from its network run, this set also includes two full-length McHale’s Navy feature films and discussion of the show by its stars.—MB


The Saint: The Complete Series ($199.98, Shout! Factory)

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“...the (in)famous Simon Templar.” So begins one of the most famous title sequences in the history of television, and one of the best, most ear-wormy theme songs. Often described as a spy series (perhaps due to star Roger Moore’s later turn as James Bond) The Saint was originally more of a mystery/crime thriller with a Robin Hood bent, with the novel touch that while Templar often stole from criminals, he generally kept the loot himself (while also punishing the bad guys, protecting innocents etc.). Do yourself a favor and ignore the terrible film in favor of this stylish and fun series.—Mark Rabinowitz


Lost In Space: The Complete Adventures ($199.99; 20th Century Fox)

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There’s a reason some shows become classics and live on for half a century after they air while some are consigned to the cultural scrap heap. I mean, who can forget Richard Benjamin in Quark, right? Right. But Lost In Space is justifiably a classic. CBS was offered Star Trek but turned it down in favor of this often melodramatic, but ultimately compelling tale of the space family Robinson and it was, at the time, much more successful than Star Trek. Of course all things being equal, Star Trek turned out to be the better bet, but there should be a space on your bookcase for this one, as well. The (often ad-libbed) banter between the craven Doctor Smith is alone worth the price of admission. One tiny downside: This might be the second worst-packaged set I have ever seen.—MR

Mission: Impossible: The Original TV Series ($129.99, Paramount)

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The 60s were still somewhat early days of TV and the medium and formats were still developing, as evidenced by the differences between this show and the above-mentioned Lost in Space. While premiering only 1 year apart, the two are like chalk and cheese. While both well written with engaging stories, the former has physical production rooted in the 1950s, while Mission Impossible is a thoroughly modern endeavor. Granted, they aren’t as far-flung and fantastic as the films, but it’s great to see how many of the elements of the series survived the switch to the M:I movie franchise.—MR


Original Christmas Classics Gift Set 2015 ($17.99, Dreamworks Animation)

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There are some things that are just, necessities. For the holiday season, it’s A Christmas Story, egg nog (yeah, I went there) and these amazing old school Christmas classics. This collection has them all—Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, The Little Drummer Boy and more. And while kids might be taken in by all that fancy Pixar stuff today, it’s our job as old people to make sure they appreciate the early days of Rankin/Bass stop-motion animation. Special features include an artist tutorial with fun craft activities and sing-alongs to those dope holiday tunes from Frosty and more.—SH


Maude: The Complete Series ($159.98, Shout! Factory)

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Norman Lear is one of the most prolific creators and producers of memorable television series in history. Just dig this list of shows he’s been involved in: All in the Family, Sanford and Son, Good Times, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, , Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life... and then there’s Maude. Like The Jeffersons, Maude was a spinoff of All in the Family (Bea Arthur’s Maude was Edith’s cousin) and like its parent series, and many other Lear shows, it was groundbreaking TV. While it was indeed a sitcom, Maude often strayed into dramatic territory, like many other classic 70s-era series, and touched on many serious issues, including abortion, alcohol and prescription pill abuse, Rockefeller drug laws and suicide. It’s exceptional TV and this set is loaded with extra features, including two episodes of All in the Family that feature Maude.—MR


The Midnight Special Collector’s Edition ($119.96 Time-Life)

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This late-night musical variety show was a rather unique creature for its time, featuring mostly live performances from a host of great musicians (and the occasional comedian). As they are wont to do, Time-Life has collected more than 10 hours of performances from the show’s nine-year run and put it in a package fans of the decade and its music will enjoy. This set includes a bonus disc of the best comedy featured on the show, which included acts like Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and George Carlin. So if you want to return to a time when, after Johnny Carson, it was slim pickings for a night owl hoping to hear any music that wasn’t coming from the radio or stereo, here’s your portal.—MB


Mr. Warmth: The Ultimate Don Rickles TV Collection ($42.42, Time Life)

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Don Rickles is without a doubt an American treasure. He basically invented insult comedy, but does it with such an obvious love for his targets and a twinkle in his eye, that it’s impossible to take offense. And believe me, he’s said some things that, taken out of context, could cause serious hurt feelings. It’s a true testament to his genius and his humanity that his comedy has endured for decades. In fact, he’s as big a star at 89 than ever! This set includes four classic one-hour network television specials from the 1970s featuring Rickles and a parade of guest stars, including: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jack Klugman, Bob Newhart, John Wayne, Helen Reddy, Loretta Swift, Rip Taylor, Don Adams, James Caan, Michael Caine, Jose Ferrer, Arthur Godfrey, Elliott Gould, Michele Lee, Larry Linville, Jack Palance, Otto Preminger, Bobby Riggs and Loretta Swit! Also included are new intros from the man himself and the complete series of CPO Sharkey, his fondly-remembered 1970s sit-com.—MR


The Great American Dream Machine ($27.99; Amazon)

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This 1971-1973 PBS series might just be the weirdest collection of skits, documentary interviews, performances and political satire ever recorded. A truly subversive and wholly American look at our country, the show skewered consumerism, advertising, trade school TV ads, and politicians, among other things, while staying steadfastly American. A creative mix of absurd, heart-warming and eye-opening segments, The Great American Dream Machine featured current and future stars like Chevy Chase, Albert Brooks, a pre-60 MinutesAndy Rooney, Elaine Stritch performing the Broadway classic “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch,” as well as work from Charles Grodin, Penny Marshall, Henry Winkler, Marshall Efron, writer Studs Terkel, David Steinberg, Carly Simon, Tiny Tim and many others. This is a lost American classic given new life.—MR


Manimal: The Complete Series ($21.99; Shout! Factory)

Automan: The Complete Series; $21.99; Shout! Factory)

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Oh, hello 1980s. And hello, Glen Larson, creator of two of the most ’80s-ish television series of all time. Manimal featured Simon MacCorkindale as Dr. Jonathan Chase, wealthy young man with the power to turn into any animal. (With powers like that, you totally have to fight crime.) Meanwhile, premiering just a few months later, there was Automan, featuring a TRON-inspired title character who was in fact a computer program-generated hologram (Chuck Wagner) created by a police officer (Desi Arnaz Jr.). (With powers like that, you totally … should probably tour the world as a “Japanese pop star”:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatsune_Miku? It’s a tough call.) Despite both shows having “blink and you’ll miss them” runs, Shout Factory has brought both series back to the present, allowing the nostalgia-predisposed to again experience this particular splinter of the 1980s.—MB


JEM and the Holograms: The Truly Outrageous Complete Series ($53.99; Shout! Factory)

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Another artifact from the ’80s, this series—the result of a Hasbro marketing initiative—ran longer (three seasons) and had more success than the Manimals and Automans of the day. This set represents the first ever complete collection of the series, featuring all 65 episodes along with a whole passel of bonus materials, including retrospectives, animated storyboards, the original Writer’s Bible, the original toy commercials, etc. The new movie may not have lived up to fan expectations, but this set will.—MB


Mystery Science Theater 3000, Volume XXXIV ($53.99; Shout! Factory)

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So where exactly is that line in pop culture consciousness between cult favorite and just plain-ol’ beloved show? Wherever it may be, go there and you’ll find MST3k and the show’s loyal and stable (in population!) fan base. Shout!’s latest offering gathers four more episodes “never before on DVD”—Viking Women of the Sea Serpent, War of the Colossal Beast, The Undead and The She-Creature. There’s also four exclusive mini-posters among the bonus material. With the recent news of Felicia Day’s casting, MST3k isn’t likely to fall into the nostalgia bin anytime soon.—MB

God Bless the BBC (and ITV)

Gone are the days when access to British television required a Sunday appointment with Masterpiece Theater or other staples of PBS programming. With the explosion of viewing options, so, too, have the chance to view, enjoy and collect content from across the pond. This holiday season, give a thought to some of these offerings when gather gifts for friends and family.

Rebus: The Ken Stott Collection (59.99; Acorn)

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A gruff law enforcement veteran haunted by his past as he (or she) solves crimes, along with his young, ambitious partner, in a gritty present—I just described what seems like every British crime drama. But while Inspector Morse and Luther might be household names in the states (the latter thanks to Netflix, especially), Ken Stott’s turn as DI John Rebus in the adaptation of Ian Rankin’s popular novels makes for a worthy, Edinburgh-based addition to the tradition. For that lover of UK crime drama, this collection hits the spot.—MB


Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Julia McKenzie Collection ($79.99; Acorn)

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After Sherlock Holmes, it’s a pretty big gap before one reaches the next tier of sleuths. Among those, though, is Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Acorn TV, a British TV streaming service in the United States, has all six seasons of ITV’s take on the Christie heroine, but for anyone looking for a bigger chunk in one place, look no further than this collection, which contains all 11 feature-length episodes making up seasons 4-6 (and featuring actress Julia McKenzie).—MB


 Foyle’s War: The Complete Saga ($149.99; Acorn)

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If there’s one TV genre that the British excel at, it’s the detective series. Not to suggest it’s the only one of course, but the list of standout British detective serials is mind-boggling. I make no exaggeration when I say that I could easily spend a weekend with Michael Kitchen’s DCS Christopher Foyle and never get bored and the setting (the “home front” during wartime) is one all too infrequently explored in television drama. The fact that each “episode” of Foyle’s War is at least 90 minutes, means that this set is, in essence, 28 feature-length films with enough guest stars to fill an entire season of The Love Boat, including: 2 Doctors (David Tennant and Peter Capaldi), Professor X (James McAvoy), Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), The Jackal (Edward Fox), Madame de Pompadour (Sophia Myles) and King Arthur (Nigel Terry), not to mention Emily Blunt and even an un-credited Paul Giamatti!—MR


Lovejoy: The Complete Collection ($149.99; Acorn)

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For all the grizzled policeman and PIs—or Christie-created detectives—one associates with British sleuthdom, there are a few other non-traditional mystery solvers out there. Standing tall among them is antiques dealer Lovejoy. For those who saw Ian McShane in Deadwood and wondered where the hell he came from, this show, which ran for six series over the course of eight years in the ’80s and ’90s, is the answer. Lesser known in the states than other BBC-spawned dramas, Lovejoy makes a great gift for the viewer who likes some humor and charm in his or her protagonist. (And for couples who love Monk and Antiques Roadshow, this series should do the trick.)—MB


Doc Martin: Six Surly Seasons + the Movies ($124.99; Acorn)

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The Doc Martin series is one of those British series that you run across and ignore over and over—there is plenty of hipper, fresher content out there, after all. But then, you finally encounter it on PBS or elsewhere and give it a chance, only to discover that this series about a surgeon who moves to a small, bucolic locale after he develops a crippling fear of blood is filled with first-rate actors and a title character (played by Martin Clunes) who make the show is not “must-watch,” then at least “just-watch”—just watch it. You’ll enjoy it. For those who have developed a case of Doc Martin-philia, this set will provide them a dependable supply.—MB


Modern Love

Of course, when looking for gift ideas for the holidays, it’s not all nostalgia and hidden gems from the UK—there is plenty of more recent fare out there.

Better Call Saul : Season One (Limited Collector’s Edition) ($49.99; Sony)
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AMC’s prequel-ish spin-off of Breaking Bad made a decent splash in viewership and critical circles in its first season. Bob Odenkirk anchors the show (with a solid assist from Jonathan Banks and Michael McKean), but this particular Limited Edition is anchored by a collectible postcard vinyl of the title song, as well as the requisite gag reel, deleted scenes and commentaries.—MR

Arrow: Complete Third Season and The Flash, The Complete First Season (both $19.99; Warner Home Video)

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While there are undoubtedly people who write off The CW as perhaps a genre-heavy (not wrong) network that “doesn’t play my kind of shows,” I would argue that perhaps they’d do better expanding their horizons. Both Arrow and its spin off The Flash are well-acted, suitably gritty and compelling dramas that are not what the uninitiated might assume “super hero” shows are like. (I can deconstruct the idea that there even is such a thing as a typical super hero show some other time.) As heroes (and as filmed entertainment) Green Arrow and The Flash have more in common with Netflix’s Daredevil than they do with The Avengers. Tortured loners with the weight of the world (or at least of their respective cities) on their shoulders, costumed crime fighters can have all the friends they want, but in their heart, they know they’re really alone. If that’s not enough, there’s always Ollie on the salmon ladder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuJk69zP0No—MR

The 100, The Complete Second Season ($17.99, Warner Home Entertainment)

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While the CW is still clearly a network dominated by youth-oriented genre programming, the commitment to quality is higher than ever and one of the places that’s most evident in the acting. After a truly poor pilot, The 100 has rebounded with two seasons of quite exceptional programming. Based on a trilogy of young adult sci-fi novels, the show is unlike anything on TV. The story of a group of human trying to re-settle an increasingly hostile Earth after a nuclear catastrophe is never less than thrilling and the muted visual palate lends even more gravitas to the proceedings. However, the thing I found myself muttering to myself repeatedly is “Jesus, these kids can really act!—MR

Gotham : The Complete First Season ($19.99; Warner Home Video)

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Inspired by equal parts Batman and his spin-off comic series Gotham Central, Fox’s Gotham shows what it was like to be a cop in Bruce Wayne’s hometown before The Caped Crusader got really into cosplay. But while the episodes are entertaining, especially once Morena Baccarin joined the cast as Batsy’s future doctor, Leslie Thompkins, the most interesting part of this set is “Gotham: The Legend Reborn,” a twenty-one-minute making-of featurette that shows how the series came together, which includes talk of its characters’ comic book roots. Of course if you’re a really big fan of the show, you’ll want to watch while wearing the Gotham City Police Badge replica ($29.95) from DC Collectibles while clutching the embroidered 10-inch Penguin plush ($19.95).—Paul Semel

Justified: The Complete Series ($99.99; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

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I wish I had enough superlatives for this series. It’s yet another example how it’s quite possible that fewer episodes per year often result in a tighter arc. Of course this means fewer episodes overall and I’m not sure that’s a fair trade. I’d happily have another 70 episodes of Justified even if it meant 0 of them were crap. Graham Yost and Elmore Leonard have created a timeless series that is eminently re-watchable and the cast of characters unforgettable. I’ll never tire of watching Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens and Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder tee off and Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett in season two deserves all the bling. This set is glorious too. Absolutely loaded with extras and, of course, a flask!—MR

Grimm, Feason Four ($39.09; Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

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NBC seems to have found the perfect Friday night niche for this dark and inventive series that takes full use of Portland, Oregon’s landscape and weather. At first glance there are some definite parallels with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (it was in fact co-created by alums from that legendary world) but the “human with the power to fight the evil” angle is sufficiently altered here and Grimm is only as derivative as how most works of art rely on what came before. Set in a world where the creatures from the Brothers Grimm stories (and others) are real, Grimm has a created an intriguing twist on the police procedural and blends the supernatural elements seamlessly. Extras aren’t as full as I’d like (No commentaries! But there are copious deleted scenes, the now-standard interactive Grimm Guide (all this season’s beasties) and a really superbly edited fight montage.—MR

Flowers in the Attic/ Petals on the Wind/ If There Be Thorns/ Seeds of Yesterday 4-Pack ($22.32; A&E Home Video)

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This wonderfully creepy collection of stories will make you rethink the term “dysfunctional family,” and whether it not it really applies to the people you grew up with. Sure, your mom’s the reason you’re in therapy now, but did she lock you in her mother’s attic and pretend you didn’t exist so she could reclaim her former life as a socialite? She probably didn’t. Of course, that’s just where the story begins, and to see where it all ends up you’ll have to watch all four of these incredibly soapy and entertaining TV movies. But don’t let the drama fool you—Ellen Burstyn, Kiernan Shipka, Heather Graham and Rose McIver deliver standout performances that’ll have you shaking your head, wagging your finger and yelling at the screen, because, “Hell no, that is just so wrong!”—SH

Californication: Complete Series ($55.98; CBS Home Entertainment)

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A new packaging of this terrific series brings all 84 episodes of 7 seasons to DVD. Alas, there’s no blu-ray edition available and from what I have heard, that’s a growing trend among the home entertainment industry. If you’re one of those that doesn’t mind (or has a really good up-converting BD player) then perhaps you should take a shot. Personally, I rate Californication as among the best of premium cable offerings of the past decade and David Duchovny’s Hank Moody is endlessly fun to love and hate.—MR

Doctor Who , Christmas Specials Giftset ($42.98; BBC America)

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While decidedly a mixed bag (“The Christmas Invasion”: Yay! “The Time of the Doctor”: Boo!) there’s usually something memorable and delightfully “off” about the Doctor Who Christmas specials. They often contain pivotal moments, be that Nine’s regeneration into Ten or Eleven’s re-introduction to “The Impossible Girl” and tend to be a mix of whimsy and melancholy. I mean, who can resist psychotic potato dwarf Strax and “I suggest a full-frontal assault with automated laser monkeys, scalpel mines and acid.” Besides, it comes with a replica of Twelve’s sonic screwdriver!—MR


My Little Pony: Equestria Girls ($24.93; Shout! Factory)

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If you have young children, especially young girls, it’s likely they know of Hasbro’s reinvention of My Little Pony. Conceived and helmed initially by Lauren Faust, the television series is actually very, very good—the type of show you hope your young daughter gets hooked on rather than the other insipid TV toy initiatives. But in case you think you’re only in it for horse-related merch, Hasbro has different ideas—and so will your child. The Equestria Girls series takes place in a parallel world where Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie and the rest have humanish counterparts. A natural extension of the Friendship Is Magic universe? Well, not so much—this is about grabbing that Barbie market share. But you know, it doesn’t matter. It’s still better than some of the other alternatives, and if your child loves My Little Pony, you’ve got no choice anyway. So embrace the pony.—MB

Toys/Gadgets/Books/Geeky stuff

Various Game of Thronesitems, Game of Thrones Risk & Monopoly, with Swords and Dragons and Wolves, oh my!

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While I’m not certain that Game of Thrones is my absolute favorite show currently airing, I’m quite certain that the folks at HBO, Dark Horse, Funko and others are by far the best at coming up with supremely cool things with which you can festoon your keep and they aren’t all budget-busters, either. The coolest of this year’s offerings has to be the new Game of Thrones versions of Monopoly and Risk, with the latter really blowing it out. There are three different ways to play: Westeros with 5 armies, Essos with 2 or the whole kit & caboodle with 7! As for the others, I’m personally drawn to anything to do with swords, (like this teeny tiny $12.95 4” replica of Longclaw, HBO) dragons (like this teeny tiny $9.99 Pop! Figure of Drogon ($9.99, HBO) or wolves (just….awwww! $12.99, HBO). —MR

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