DVDs are a wonderful thing. Not only are we able to watch clear transfers of classic films, but it seems that every TV show under the sun is now available for hours and hours of couch potato pleasure. Need something to watch on a long hangover Sunday in front of the TV? Here are some of my all-time favorites. Try renting– screw that–buying one of these box sets of stellar television shows that you may have missed:
Twin Peaks (1990-91)
Not too long ago, the most bizarre soap opera in the history of network television (and the show that paved the way for “Lost”) aired on ABC. David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” followed FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) around a seedy lumber town in northeast Washington. Investigating the murder of local teen beauty queen Laura Palmer, Cooper discovers there is more to this mysterious locale than the wonderful cherry pie at the Double R Diner.
Like Lynch’s Oscar nominated film “Blue Velvet,” the show explores the dark secrets that loom just beneath the surface of a small town. Amid all the lingering memories of the Black Lodge, the spooky Log Lady, and an evil “inhabiting spirit” named Bob, though, it is easy to forget how funny the show was as well. Season 1 was released on DVD in 2001 and is currently out of print, but Season 2 (featuring David Duchovny as a cross-dressing DEA agent) was just released last month. Rumor has it that a box containing both seasons and the pilot episode is scheduled to come out this fall.
The Shield (2003-present)
Season 5 of this morally conflicted police drama is now out on DVD, as the sixth season revs up currently on the FX network. Created by Shawn Ryan (who produced “Angel”), it features Michael Chiklis as corrupt L.A. cop Vic Mackey and two KU graduates (Jay Karnes and David Rees Snell) as members of a force that’s so dilapidated that they work out of a makeshift police department in a converted church.
The very first episode of Season 1 features a shocking conclusion that sets the tone for everything that follows. Before Oscar-caliber actors like Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker spiced up the fourth and fifth seasons respectively, the mostly unknown cast proved that they could more than handle themselves. Exceptional hand-held camerawork and complicated characters make this gangland drama seem as authentic as crime TV can get, even when some of its plotlines flirt with pure exploitation.
Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
If network execs at NBC and FOX had any patience, they would have let these two superlative coming-of-age shows at least run the course of an entire season. Had the suits known that producer/creator Judd Apatow would go on to direct “The 40-Year Old Virgin” and the upcoming “Knocked Up,” maybe they would have given them the breathing room (and the ratings) they needed to continue.
Thankfully, DVD has rescued the originally unaired episodes and restored the proper running order of both shows, leaving us with a hilarious, heartbreaking—if still incomplete—picture of the lives of ’80s high school geek-turned-freak Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini, “ER”) and ’00s college freshman dorm-rat Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel, “Almost Famous”). As it is, at least we have 35 episodes total of the best and most painfully honest writing you’ll (n)ever see on network TV. Extra bonus: see where James Franco (“Spider-Man”) and Seth Rogan (“Knocked Up”) started their careers!
Mr. Show with Bob and David (1995-1998)
Before HBO really hit its stride with original programming like “The Sopranos,” there was a little-seen and brutally funny program that aired at midnight, 2 a.m., on the weekends, or whenever they weren’t running reruns of “Real Sex” or “Taxicab Confessions.” On a shoestring budget, comedians Bob Odenkirk and David Cross wrote, produced and acted in the most surreal sketch comedy show since “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”
Just barely corralling soon-to-be-famous regulars like Jack Black and Sarah Silverman, the pair rescued sketch comedy from the stale late-night clutches of “Saturday Night Live” and “Mad TV.” It didn’t hurt, of course, that they were able to wield their scalpel freely and with viciously satirical accuracy, free of the limitations of commercial TV. That said, don’t watch the Comedy Central reruns that are cut for content and time limitations, rent the 3 DVDs that feature all four complete seasons.
The Awful Truth (1999-2000)
Funded by the U.K.’s Channel 4 and run concurrently on Bravo before their hey day-”Queer Eye” days, Michael Moore’s in-your-face documentary style show took on hypocrisy in politics and cultural values by sticking a camera where people don’t want them. Moore became an international lightning rod for controversy shortly after this series, so its interesting to see what he was railing against before he made “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
Highlights of the show’s two seasons on DVD include Moore combating deadbeat insurance policies (he hassled Humana until they covered a man’s life-saving pancreas transplant), successfully running a Ficus tree against an unopposed Republican Congressional seat (the tree’s victory was later rescinded), and taking a giant pink “Sodomobile” full of gay men to confront Rev. Fred Phelps in Topeka (in response to his picketing the funeral of Matthew Shepard). For those who don’t agree with Moore’s politics, this won’t be your bag, but it is hard to deny some of the simple points he makes, especially when they are made with humor.