We’ve already selected the top 10 TV gifts of 2017. Now it’s time for The Big One: Paste’s complete guide to the DVDs, Blu-rays, boxed sets, books, and apparel for the TV lover in your life—whether the sci-fi fanatic or the sketch comedy connoisseur, the young or the merely young at heart. Get ready to start making your way through those episodes stored on your DVR: With Paste’s guide in hand, you’re suddenly going to have a hunk of free time.
Animation for Little Ones, Teens, and Kids Young and Old
My Little Pony Friendship: Holiday Hearts (Shout! Factory, prices vary)
My seven-year-old described this set of six holiday-themed episodes as “funny” and “really, really silly,” and watching the DVD resulted in 132 minutes of giggles and squeals. (It also comes with four gift tags for your friends who love Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash as much as you do.) Other My Little Pony DVDs out this holiday season include My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Fluttershy (a DVD devoted to Fluttershy episodes) and the three-episode Equestria Girls: Magical Movie Night. All come with a bonus sing-along perfect for birthday parties and play dates. —Amy Amatangelo
PJ Masks: Hello Christmas (20th Century Fox, $9.96)
My three-year-old likes to call the PJ Masks “the PJ Maskistics,” and that’s because, if you’re under five, they are pretty darn fantastic. To the uninitiated, by day Greg, Connor and Amaya are your average preschoolers, by night they are superheroes Gekko, Catboy and Owlette. This DVD contains six Christmas-themed episodes and mystery mask (to my son’s delight, I can now be Owlette). Yes, the lesson is always the same (they have to work together as a team!), but as shows aimed at kids go, this one is pretty great. — Amy Amatangelo
Peanuts Holiday Collection: Deluxe Edition, 4K UltraHD (Warner Bros., $27.99)
“Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.” Truer words were never spoken, and with this line from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus highlights Charlie Brown’s eternal existential struggle. Or, to paraphrase Buckaroo Banzai, no matter where he goes, there he is. Charles M. Schulz’s immortal creation might not be the oldest example of something that works as well for adults as it does for kids, but Peanuts endures, and these three specials (along with copious extras) are eternal. In addition to the aforementioned Christmas special, this set includes A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, as well as nine additional episodes and featurettes; it offers them in both the original 4×3 and reformatted 16×9. (Do yourself a favor and watch the original aspect ratios.)
As for whether or not these classic specials actually look any better, HDR is the “secret.” HDR (high dynamic range) increases the complexity of colors, as well as blacks and whites, because having more pixels isn’t enough—you need better better pixels. When you’re dealing with older content, the advantage of 4K content with HDR is pretty apparent. The bottom line, though, is that in whatever format and whatever resolution, this is some of the most timeless, touching, hysterical holiday programming ever created. And remember, don’t eat the snowflakes in December. They’re not ripe yet. —Mark Rabinowitz
Samurai Jack: The Complete Series (Warner Bros., $87.39)
Sandwiched in between creator Genndy Tartakovsky’s Dexter’s Laboratory and Star Wars: Clone Wars, Samurai Jack is the ideal model of several fine and noble things. Firstly, it’s a prime example of how a robust mix of influences can yield something that feels fresh instead of overly derivative. Mixing the episodic wandering of David Carradine’s Kung Fu with a healthy measure of Lone Wolf (sans Cub), and set in an apocalyptic setting, Samurai Jack presents viewers with a series of tales that favor narrative tableaux over traditional, exposition-heavy story-telling. More importantly, all this translates into a vibrant and compelling series that attracts viewers young and old more than a decade after the initial four seasons. Secondly, in a landscape littered with unfinished, hastily finished or just badly finished television series, Samurai Jack actually got the closure it deserved, as, 13 years after its fourth season, Tartakovsky returned to the series and produced a fifth and final season (which in turn received similar if not greater critical acclaim than its predecessors).
It sounds simple, but it’s something that anyone who has had to cobble together multiple discs and separate boxed sets to have all the episodes of a series will appreciate. If you have a friend who loves Samurai Jack, this boxed set will complete them. (There’s even a metal art plate, for an extra sense of “it’s all here.”) The set also comes with a basic collection of extras (as in, you’re getting this for the completeness, not for the extras), including a few episodes’ worth of Tartakovsky commentary and some behind-the-scenes looks at how the fifth season came to be. Still, if all this boxed set had going for it was the re-mastered first four seasons along with the fifth, it would be a great gift. The story of Samurai Jack will capture the imagination of children and appreciation of adults for years to come. It’s all here. —Michael Burgin
: The Complete Seasons 1-11 (Paramount, prices vary)
Bowing this December on Blu-ray (separately, alas) are the first 11 seasons of one of the most consistently smart and scabrous series ever to air on television. While The Simpsons justifiably receives plaudits and hosannas for its continued creativity and longevity (29 years and counting), South Park is on Season 21 and counting and shows no sign of slowing down. I watched the very first episode (“Cartman Gets an Anal Probe”) for the first time in more than 15 years and it was still uproarious, albeit a little rough around the edges (after all, they hand animated it completely by themselves). The funny thing is, so-called “crude” animation benefits greatly from the conversion to BD, with each season improving over the previous one. Season One includes uproarious, uncensored commentary from creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone for the first time. —Mark Rabinowitz
Planet Earth II 4K (BBC, $47.88)
If you’re thinking about getting a 4K TV set-up (you really should, you know) this is what you show your friends when they come over. Planet Earth II is exactly what the technology gods had in mind when they decided to up our resolution. My jaw hit the floor no fewer than half a dozen times during the first two episodes (flamingos on ice!), and I can make a case that this release is hyperbole-proof and boredom-proof. Whether it’s swimming sloths, an Andean rabbit—but not a rabbit that’s too cute to be believed—or acid spraying ants, you’ll be hard-pressed to be more amazed by our natural world. Like much of the BBC’s excellent nature programming, however, Planet Earth II is not for the littlest of the kiddies. Nature can be cruel and violent and full of adorable penguins being tossed against rocky shores and racer snakes chasing baby marine iguanas. So consider yourself forewarned! —Mark Rabinowitz
Sherlock: Complete Series (BBC, $89.99)
There are TV series you watch, enjoy very much… and never even think of watching them again. Maybe it’s because there’s too much other stuff to watch, or perhaps it’s because you’re pretty certain you got it all the first go-round. Whatever the reason, most TV, even most quality TV, is “one and done.” Not so with Sherlock. Upon finishing Season Four (watched for the first time for this guide), the first thing I wanted to do was re-watch the series, starting from the beginning. Alas, that’s going to have to wait a while, but there’s no doubt that this set is going on my “Watch over and over” shelf. It’s truly a must-own. —Mark Rabinowitz
: The Complete Tenth Series (BBC, $66.29)
Every new Doctor is, essentially, a mini-reboot. A new showrunner can also serve as a fresh start and as such, Series Ten of the “modern” Doctor Who paved the way for a larger shift than usual. (I won’t go into the question as to whether or not Series Ten is actually Season Thirty-Six because it might cause cranial implosion.) This set serves as a quadruple farewell of sorts, as we bid a very fond adieu to the magnificent Peter Capaldi, as well as two of the best companions to date in lovely Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) and Nardole (the incomparable Matt Lucas). My personal farewell to head writer Steven Moffat is somewhat mixed on the fondness scale, but I’ll leave that for another day.
One of the wholly original aspects of Doctor Who is how it deals with the Doctor’s death(s) and subsequent rebirths. They’re always supremely moving, but that sadness comes with a bit of hope mixed with the melancholy, because we know there’s more coming. As such, Series Ten features one of the more emotionally-resonant finales in post-2005 series history (to be honest, they’re all pretty gut-wrenching) with the added bonus (?) of featuring not only sadness and death and transformation, but also one of the most surreal double murder-suicides in universal history. I will miss Capaldi (Local Hero is my all-time favorite film), and I may miss Bill even more. —Mark Rabinowitz
Marcella: Season One (Acorn Media, $27.97)
Year after year, Acorn Media brings almost limitless quality British TV to our shores via their excellent streaming service, Acorn TV, or on Blu-ray and DVD. Marcella is no exception. Called “devastatingly unsettling” by The Guardian, Marcella stars Anna Friel (the late, much lamented Pushing Daisies) and is one of the more recent entries in the rapidly expanding genre of Nordic or Scandinavian noir, with previous examples including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the two Wallander TV series, The Killing and The Bridge, among others. Of particular note, Marcella co-stars the incomparable Sinéad Cusack (A Room With a View, Eastern Promises), Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica) and Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones). —Mark Rabinowitz
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (Acorn Media, $13.99)
Most likely re-released to coincide with Kenneth Branagh’s big-screen adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic, considering the reviews the big-screen treatment is getting, it might be time to give this made-for-TV version from 2010 another go. As with any literary adaptation, especially from a source with such a devoted following, there are some naysayers, but David Suchet’s 24-year run as the master Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot is widely considered the definitive portrayal of one of Christie’s most beloved characters, and the cast is, as is often the case with these British ensemble pieces, exemplary, including Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Eileen Atkins (The Crown), David Morrissey (Doctor Who, The Walking Dead), Barbara Hershey (Hannah and Her Sisters), and Toby Jones (Sherlock, Captain America: The First Avenger). —Mark Rabinowitz
Humans 2.0 (Acorn Media, $22.97)
Remember trying to convince your non-geek friends that Battlestar Galactica was not only great sci-fi but that it was great TV, full stop? Well, after decades of being pooh-poohed as something “less than,” sci-fi is firmly ensconced on the airwaves, streaming services and in multiplexes, resulting in some of the most original and compelling film and TV of the past 15 years. Along with Orphan Black (one of Paste’s top 10 TV gifts of 2017), The Expanse, The 100 and many others, Humans is an example of what the best of the genre can be. Truly great science fiction not only explores realities not our own, but also shines a light back on us, forcing us to consider what our own future might be. Rarely has AI been so intriguing and so chilling. —Mark Rabinowitz
The Fall Complete Collection (Acorn Media, 39.56)
This Belfast-set psychological thriller is among the best of the genre, and that the audience knows who the killer is in the first three minutes of episode one makes it all the more unusual. Gillian Anderson, as DSI Stella Gibson, is far from a paint-by-numbers detective, and it’s her flawed and occasionally reckless character that makes watching her so… “enjoyable” isn’t really the word, but you can’t look away. Much the same can be said for her opposite number, serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), a charismatic and deeply troubled (duh) married father of two. Anderson and Dornan are magnificent, as is the supporting cast of John Lynch (In the Name of the Father), Colin Morgan (Humans, Merlin) and Archi Panjabi (The Good Wife). —Mark Rabinowitz
The Best of The Carol Burnett Show: 50th Anniversary Edition (Time Life, $99.95/$199.90)
It’s hard to overstate The Carol Burnett Show’s influence. The plucky performer’s variety hour, which ran from 1967 to 1978, not only showcased a woman’s talents in a genre most closely associated with men, it also more or less perfected the kind of pop culture parody that’s defined sketch comedy ever since. Time Life’s 50th Anniversary Edition contains 33 episodes on 11 DVDs (60 episodes on 21 DVDs, if you splurge for the deluxe version), spanning all 11 seasons—including 22 episodes never previously released for home viewing. Plus, the usual featurettes, a new interview with Burnett, and outtakes from the series sweeten the pot. But let’s be clear: The whole shebang is worth it for Burnett’s Smithsonian-approved Scarlett O’Hara spoof Went with the Wind!, which is possibly the funniest thing ever to air on American television. —Matt Brennan
Homicide: Life on the Street: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, $73.86)
Before The Wire, there was Homicide: Life on the Street, one of the most critically acclaimed TV series in history. Created by two-time Oscar nominee Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco, Quiz Show) and executive produced by TV and film vets Barry Levinson (Diner, Wag the Dog) and Tom Fontana (Oz), the series was based on The Wire creator David Simon’s non-fiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and is rightly in the pantheon of the best cop shows of all time. (In fact, Paste ranks it sixth.) It’s simply one of those indispensible shows that you just have to have on your shelf, and like The West Wing or The Wire, it’s worth a serious re-visit every couple of years. Not only that, but it’s the series that gave us Detective John Munch (Richard Belzer), the only fictional TV character (played by a single actor) to appear on 10 different TV series (in four genres and on five different networks, no less).
This set is pretty well loaded with extras, including commentaries with selected cast and/or creators on six episodes, interviews with key creatives, a feature-length documentary, the crossover episodes with Law & Order, and 2000’s Homicide: The Movie, which wrapped up the series. —Mark Rabinowitz
Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Series (Time Life, $249.95)
Also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year is Dan Rowan and Dick Martin’s Laugh-In, which may be most remembered for Richard Nixon’s famed “Sock it to me?!” appearance, but should be best remembered as a proving ground for the likes of Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin, among others. Time Life’s mammoth, psychedelia-inspired boxed set features all 140 episodes on 38 DVDs, as well as a flurry of extras: Christmas episodes, interviews with the cast and crew, a blooper reel, and more. —Matt Brennan
One Day at a Time: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory, $86.40)
You’ve fallen in love with the delightful Netflix version—now is the chance to fall in love with the original. This six-DVD set contains all 208 episodes of the series, which ran from 1975 to 1984 and starred Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips, Valerie Bertinelli and Pat Harrington, Jr. The boxed set also has an episode guide, an interview with Phillips and a feature on how the series came to be. The constant in both series is executive producer Norman Lear, who has been tackling social issues through humor for more than five decades. For added fun, check out this shot-by-shot recreation the Netflix cast did of the original opening credits. —Amy Amatangelo
: A Limited Event Series (Paramount, $49.99)
Considering that it’s been 26 years since Twin Peaks went off the air, bringing it back was somewhat of a risky move for both Showtime and creators David Lynch and Mark Frost. It also raised a lot of questions. Would the fan base be large enough to sustain interest? In a significantly larger TV landscape rife with quality, off-beat offerings, would the particular style and feel of Twin Peaks resonate with today’s audiences and catch fire like the original? Most terrifying to those of us who loved it the first time around, would it be any good? Considering how many end of year top 10 lists (both for TV and film, oddly) the show ended up on (including Paste’s) and how highly regarded it was in the press overall, I think it’s fair to say that everyone involved made the right choice. With the amount of exceptional TV there is these days, a true “water cooler” show is a rarity, but Twin Peaks: The Return certainly fit the bill. Both the DVD and BD sets are loaded with extras and include the first two pairs of episodes as either individual entries or as feature-length presentations (as they were originally aired). The Blu-ray set, housed in some pretty clever packaging, also contains more than 80 minutes of exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, including two nearly 30-minute featurettes directed by Ben Horne himself, Richard Beymer. —Mark Rabinowitz
The Good Place: Season One (Shout! Factory, $16.97)
I had pretty much given up on network sitcoms until The Good Place came along and I fell in love with one of the strangest (and smartest) shows on the air. Sure, I still love Modern Family, but given a choice between that and say, The Crown or Colony... or re-runs of M*A*S*H, I choose the latter. That’s not the case with Mike Schur’s gloriously demented comedy of ethics. Truly original—and how often can you say that about a new series—and loaded with talented performers, The Good Place is an absolute delight. The only drawback here is that this set is only available on DVD, and while most BD players and TVs do a decent job of up-scaling, it would be nice to own this visually delightful show in native HD. There are some good extras—including, ironically, a piece about the show’s visual effects—and the set contains the extended versions of the series premiere (combining episodes one and two) and the Season One finale (combining episodes twelve and thirteen). —Mark Rabinowitz
Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Series (Warner Bros., $130.89)
Created by I. Marlene King, who’d go on to be showrunner for all seven seasons, and based on the series of YA novels by Sara Shepard—from which the show’s plotline would eventually drastically depart, in a sort of A Song of Ice and Fire vs. TV’s Game of Thrones kind of situation—Pretty Little Liars follows four teens living in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Rosewood as they navigate both the rigors of pubescence and an all-seeing, malevolent force known as “A,” who has something to do with their murdered best friend and ersatz leader, Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse).
Despite lasting long past the point at which it could’ve cleanly bowed out, Pretty Little Liars stayed compelling (and very lucrative) throughout the better part of a decade, able to balance its teen soap opera tendencies with smart character development and a genuine affection for the world it had created. That tightrope walk extended to the many genres it tipped between, helmed by serialized television veterans like Norman Buckley (Gossip Girl), folks who’ve stuck around seemingly forever because they’ve got an inherent agility in the way they put together an episode. It helped that Pretty Little Liars was so adaptable to an array of fans, each watching for very different reasons. This was partly due to the series’ overarching mystery, which eventually became an eternally forking mess of mysteries: Who is “A”?—but also why is “A,” and what really happened to Alison, and what kind of juicy corruption lies beneath the shiny veneer of the Liars’ suburban hometown?
Throughout the series, the Liars survive their increasingly dangerous ordeals—villains become allies, and vice versa; retconning happens as a matter of fact—but every time they think they can move on, a previously unknown nemesis emerges to open old wounds. At heart, Pretty Little Liars is a slasher film more interested in imagining what happens to its Final Girl(s) after the film ends than stopping once the killer’s been subdued. It operates in the same vein as The Walking Dead by extending the lives of its genre-based archetypes into the endless, trope-less void of the future, and at its best, it shared self-awareness with the likes of Scream, portraying the lives of its high schoolers as serious, character-driven stuff, toying with the bits and pieces of its genre elements to heighten the audience’s sense of danger awaiting the Liars on the other side of adulthood. —Dom Sinacola
Gotham: The Complete Third Season (Warner Bros., $36.97)
I have to admit, when first announced, I expected that this noble experiment would die a quick death—and certainly never expected it to gather steam and build as large and as loyal a following as it has, both with audiences and with critics. I wasn’t an unbeliever because I thought it was a bad idea, artistically. Far from it. Taking Batman out of the equation, much like thinning the forest canopy, would allow the remaining characters to grow and develop a life of their own, out from under the shadow of the bat. Even more, setting it up as an origin story provides even more grist for the creative mill. I always thought it was a great idea, but I had my doubts that such a move would succeed… Welp. Guess I was wrong, wasn’t I? —Mark Rabinowitz
Star Trek: Discovery Pride T-shirt (CBS, $24.95)
While Star Trek fans the world over continue to argue over Discovery— about whether or not it’s canon, about how and why the technology is obviously so much more advanced than that of ST:TOS, about how Michael Burnham could have been raised in Spock’s house and yet Spock never mentioned a foster sister—one thing I would hope we can all agree on is that Gene Roddenberry would have been proud of at least some elements of Discovery, not least the open gay relationship between Anthony Rapp’s Lt. Paul Stamets and Wilson Cruz’s Dr. Hugh Culber. Sure, this shirt may be cynical pandering by CBS (is it cynical to posit that?), or it may be a statement that the Tiffany Network is full of Pride. But really, who cares? All I know is that I want one. —Mark Rabinowitz
This Is Us: The Complete First Season (20th Century Fox;, $19.62)
I’ll admit, I’m often ambivalent about This Is Us. On the one hand, it’s an earnest, often affecting family drama of the sort that’s all but vanished from the airwaves, anchored by the impossibly talented Sterling K. Brown. On the other, it’s an emotionally manipulative, often saccharine broadcast series of the sort we’ve seen plenty of times before, sunk by cringeworthy details (Toby, the makeup). Still, on balance, last season’s breakout hit is worth seeing, and might especially be worth seeing on DVD, away from the hype of its first season. Who knows, this could become a kind of collector’s item: Something like This Is Us may not come around again for a long, long time. —Matt Brennan
DC on TV: The Arrowverse
Arrow: The Complete Fifth Season (Warner Bros., $36.97)
The Flash: The Complete Third Season (Warner Bros., $36.97)
Supergirl: The Complete Second Season (Warner Bros., $33.97)
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow: The Complete Second Season (Warner Bros., $14.99)
When the CW announced that they were creating Arrow, a series based on the less-than-universally-known Green Arrow, comic book fans everywhere reacted with cautious optimism—but it turned out to be a pretty slick move. The show has not only been a ratings success for the network, but also, for the most part, a hit with critics, and in the process has boosted the network’s male audience numbers. Not only that, but it is the anchor for The Arrowverse, the far superior of the two DC filmed universes. While the DC Extended Universe has one movie (guess which) with a positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, its TV counterpart is batting 1.000.
While Arrow led the way with an exciting and original first season and has been, on balance, a solid example of the genre ever since, The Flash and Supergirl have been the true standard bearers of the Arrowverse, the latter not missing a beat after a move from CBS in Season Two. Although it took DC’s Legends of Tomorrow a little longer to gets its footing than the other three (Season One was pretty all over the place), it has settled into its rightful place in the Arrowverse and has something the others don’t have: Mick Rory. Having a villain on a team of heroes is unorthodox, to say the least, and makes for an excellent twist. (It’s often funny as hell, too.) Extras are mixed, with The Flash boasting a whopping 10 featurettes, Supergirl five, Arrow four and Legends only two. Kevin Smith pops up on The Flash and Supergirl, in conversation with series co-developer Andrew Kreisberg, and the pair offer up a commentary on “Supergirl Lives” from the latter. —Mark Rabinowitz
Game of Thrones
: The Complete Seventh Season (HBO, $39.99)
While not at the dizzying heights of Seasons Two through Five, Season Seven was a solid rebound from the oft-disappointing sixth, even though, as the series marches (and occasionally careens) towards its conclusion, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the writers are rushing things a bit. If you’ve been following Paste’s episodic reviews, you’ll be familiar with the rather facile treatment of travel time on the show—and it’s not the only element that’s less than thoroughly explained. That said, the planned feature-length Season Eight episodes should lend themselves more to wrapping up the roughly 653 plot threads that remain. Even allowing for such foibles, GoT is the broadest, deepest and most varied TV canvas of all time, and more often than not, series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are rowing in uncharted waters without Ser Davos at the helm. Giving them some latitude would not be amiss.
It’s only natural for a series as large in scope as this one to have more and more turning points and plot twists as it gets closer to its denouement, and Season Seven seemed to have half a dozen “Holy fuck!” moments, large and small, in every episode. The massacre of the Lannister forces by Drogon and the Dothraki horde in “The Spoils of War” and the destruction of Eastwatch in “The Dragon and the Wolf” rival the Battle of the Blackwater and the Battle of the Bastards for sheer scope and brutality, while Cersei’s introduction to the wight and Arya’s dispatching of Littlefinger (also in “The Dragon and the Wolf”) are among the most poignant moments in the series to date.
As usual, HBO has outdone themselves with extras in this set, with 11 audio commentaries, various featurettes and, perhaps coolest of all, “Conquest & Rebellion,”— a new, 45-minute animated history of Westeros, included as a bonus disc, with in-depth histories of all of the houses, narrated by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Aidan Gillen (Littlefinger), Harry Lloyd (Viserys Targaryen), Conleth Hill (Lord Varys) and Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy). —Mark Rabinowitz
Westworld: The Complete First Season 4K Ultra HD (HBO, $36.96)
To get to the heart of Westworld might very well take multiple viewings. At times, though, that heart is oh, so dark. There are definitely scenes in this generally excellent adaptation of Michael Crichton’s classic 1973 film that I’m not sure I wish to revisit. At the same time, the series is so expressive about human behavior (what makes certain behaviors specifically human) that a second viewing is almost required. A rarity these days, Westworld was shot on film, and as such, it’s a natural fit for it to be the first TV series released in Ultra HD. While I can’t swear on a stack of X-Men comics that the 4K is appreciably better than the 1080p standard Blu-ray version, I can swear that it’s magnificent as viewed on my TCL55p607 TV and Samsung UBD-M9500 4K player. The thing about 4K is that it allows—nay, requires—you to sit close to the set to get the full effect. As a result, your field of vision is almost all screen. It’s a truly immersive and often jaw-dropping experience.
The filmed extras are cool for what they are (mostly short featurettes), but the set lacks any commentaries. While I often find them more of a benefit in theory than in practice (who has time to watch everything two or three times?), I would have liked to hear creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy and executive producer J.J. Abrams get a little deeper into it on some key episodes. Also included in this handsome steel boxed set is a 20-page Delos Corporate Guidebook: Handbook for New Employees that’s actually a nice touch. —Mark Rabinowitz
Insecure: The Complete First Season (HBO, $12.96)
Issa Rae broke out as the star of this hilarious HBO comedy, which finds her navigating her passionless long-term relationship with her boyfriend, Lawrence (Jay Ellis), bonding with her best friend, Molly (Yvonne Orji), and dealing with her racist-but-don’t-think-they-are coworkers. The series is fantastic. My only complaint is the DVD’s extras are sparse, with a brief look at the series’ reality spoof Conjugal Visits and two extremely short behind-the-scenes featurettes. That said, it’s fascinating to hear Rae and executive producer Prentice Penny discuss why is was important for Issa to be “a weak black woman.” —Amy Amatangelo
Big Little Lies (HBO, $26.96)
It took home the Emmy for Best Limited Series, but don’t be fooled: HBO just announced that Big Little Lies will return for a second season. Semantics aside, the series, starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern, is a knockout, right up until its you-probably-didn’t-see-it-coming twist. Once again, the extras aren’t much, with the “Inside the Episodes” clocking in at less than a minute each and the cast offering sound bites instead of thoughtful commentary. —Amy Amatangelo
It’s a Whedonverse-ary!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Official Grimoire: A Magickal History of Sunnydale (Insight Editions, $22.48)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Encyclopedia: The Ultimate Guide to the Buffyverse (Harper Design, $19.99)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Series (20th Century Fox, $93.19)
Firefly: 15th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (20th Century Fox, $16.81)
The 20th anniversary of our favorite vampire slayer brought with it a slew of merch that was mostly unnecessary. I mean, do we really need more Slayer-wear from Hot Topic? Do we need more anything from Hot Topic? That said, some of what emerged from the megacorp merchandise machine was actually super cool, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Official Grimoire: A Magickal History of Sunnydale and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Encyclopedia, both of which should be insta-buys for any serious fan.
As written by Willow Rosenberg (aka A. M. Robinson), the Grimoire is basically what you’d expect from everyone’s favorite ginger witch. Like any good ancillary BtVS material, this sturdy, hardbound volume makes you want to watch the series all over again, while at the same time giving you more insight into Willow and what makes her tick. It’s full of doodles and diary entries, spells (duh) and a guest section by Andrew Wells on the history of The Trio. There are even neat little blow-ins, like a post-it of one of Giles’ drawings of the Gentlemen ripping out a heart and a touching letter from Tara to Willow. Hardly a money grab, this is a worthy extension of the Slayerverse.
Almost as well done is the official Buffy the Vampire Slayer Encyclopedia, a truly exhaustive listing of everything (and I do mean everything) ever mentioned on TV or in the subsequent canon comics. Another handsomely designed hardcover (complete with faux blood spatter, natch), this compendium, by Nancy Holder and Lisa A. Clancy, is so exhaustive that at time it sacrifices depth for completeness. I mean, do we really need an entry that reads: “RITUAL FLAYING OF THE DEMON AZORATH: Giles confirmed that the Mayor’s Ascension was not this event (BtVS “Earshot”)”? Instead of listing literally every named demon, vampire or minor character with a line of dialogue, I would have liked to see more in-depth entries on some major characters. One paragraph for Glory is hardly sufficient, for example. That said, these two volumes certainly make a nice one-two gift for the Buffy acolyte you know and love. Note to Harper-Collins: If you want some ideas on how to revise the encyclopedia for the 25th anniversary, call me. After all, I did write Paste’s ranking of every BtVS episode ever.
As far as the home video boxed sets go, I assume we’re all pretty much resigned to the fact that our beloved Buffster is highly unlikely to receive the Blu-ray treatment, yes? Though the widescreen HD versions on Netflix were derided by fans and creator alike, it would take an effort akin to what David Simon and HBO did with The Wire to get it done, and it’s not clear that Fox has the will to spend the money it would take to do it correctly. So for BtVS, DVD is it.
First off, the BtVS set. Do you need to buy it? The short answer is “No.” The long answer, however, is… “Maybe?” The way I look at it, obviously if you already have the complete set, you don’t need to rush out and buy this one just because it’s got a copy of the Season Eight, Issue #1 comic with an exclusive cover, or because it has an “original coloring sheet.” That would be… obsessive. But it’s the holidays, and holidays are for giving. What you really want to do is give the set you already have to a budding convert and start over with brand-spanking-new copies! Or the other way around. You do you!
As for Firefly, it’s pretty much the same but at a significantly lower price point, which makes this an easier trigger to pull. The new packaging is kinda nifty, and while the on-disc extras are the same as the previous BD release, the set includes large character cards of all our Big Damn Heroes, as well as a fold-out map of the United Alliance of Planets, which is actually pretty cool (the fact that 2D maps of 3D space are inherently nonsensical notwithstanding). That said, considering how much truly amazing Firefly material is being produced by folks like Quantum Mechanix, I’m a little surprised there wasn’t a pricier set with something super shiny in it. But again, for less than $17, you can give the gift of the Verse to someone you love! —Mark Rabinowitz
Things That Go Bump In The Night… And Are Likely to Eat You
The Vampire Diaries: The Complete Series (Warner Bros., $129.96)
While some might place The Vampire Diaries somewhere between a guilty pleasure and quality television, might I suggest that rather than somewhere on an imaginary continuum betwixt quality and frivolity, TVD is actually both at the same time? Yeah, it’s a supernatural teen soap opera—Dawson’s Creek if Pacey routinely tore open the throats of Capeside’s best and brightest and Dawson did his best wet blanket impression and only got his blood from the butcher. But that’s a simplistic interpretation. It’s as much a supernatural thriller/star-crossed romance as it is anything else, and as is the case with most genre shows, the acting is often what makes or breaks The Vampire Diaries. No, I’m not suggesting that this cast is worthy of comparison to Gielgud, Olivier and O’Toole. But I am saying that to sell the unbelievable for eight years, it helps if you have chops. Maybe I’m a sucker for blood-sucking love triangles and weekly mystical homicide, but I never missed an episode. The eight seasons included in this set are loaded with extras, included numerous unaired scenes, as well as the usual featurettes, gag reels and occasional commentary. —Mark Rabinowitz
Teen Wolf: The Complete Series (20th Century Fox, $69.99)
The second in our “it’s way better than you think” daily double initially suffered from having the same title and loose premise as the truly terrible Michael J. Fox “comedy” from 1985. But let’s get this out of the way up front: MTV’s Teen Wolf has literally nothing in common with its namesake. First of all, it’s genuinely terrifying on a regular basis; secondly, it’s surprisingly well acted (although I’m not sure why I’m still surprised when kids on genre shows are talented); thirdly, it goes far beyond “werewolf bites boy, boy grows fangs.” Like the best shows that deal with mythology or the supernatural, Teen Wolf had a creator (Jeff Davis) who did his homework and expanded the world of the series beyond the lupine, which in turn gave the writers and cast members significantly more to work with, which translated into a series that was worth watching. Now if only they’d release it on Blu-ray… —Mark Rabinowitz
The Walking Dead
: The Complete Seventh Season (Lionsgate, $34.96)
Glenn plays with his young son in the grass. Abraham sits on a bench with Sasha, as she lays an arm across a baby bump. Eugene drives a remote control car down the street, and Michonne brings a couple bottles of wine to the table set for all the survivors. This alternate-reality flash-forward is just one of the deleted and extended scenes in the Season Seven Blu-ray. For a series that spawned a whole genre of aftershow in Talking Dead, there’s plenty more goodies on this collection, including a featurette about the “Warrior Women” of The Walking Dead: Michonne, Maggie, Rosita, Sasha, Tara and Carol. Perfect for the superfan on your holiday list. —Josh Jackson