Combustible Celluloid

Digital Watch

Cult TV: 2004 Box Sets

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The A-Team: Season One (1983-84, Universal)
I never missed this show when I was a kid, and there's still something thrilling about it on a kind of "B" level. George Peppard stars as Hannibal, the team leader, with Mr. T as B.A. Baracus, Dirk Benedict as "Face," and Dwight Schultz as "Howlin' Mad" Murdock. A series of cute girls rounded out the ever-rotating fifth member. They're a team of escaped criminals (accused of a crime they didn't commit) who come out of hiding to help others and somehow never get caught. Universal's new box set collects 14 episodes on 4 discs, including the two-hour pilot (made before Benedict was cast). The episodes keep repeating the same formula, but their back-to-basics approach, unabashed good humor and unapologetic action prove that "The A-Team" has aged much better than I thought it would. "I love it when a plan comes together."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Sixth Season (2001, Fox)
Four words: Once More, with Feeling. The musical episode designed for sweeps week was the pinnacle of this great cult series, with more pizazz, more energy and more feeling than Moulin Rouge and Chicago combined. Now it looks and sounds great in digital without commercials. The episode comes with a behind-the-scenes featurette and sing-a-long videos. If you need more than that, this new box set also comes with 20 other episodes on six discs, commmentary tracks, featurettes, outtakes and more.

Coupling: The Complete Third Season (2001, BBC/Warner)
All six episodes of the complete third season are available on one disc. Six friends sleep with each other and talk about sex for a half an hour each week. It's like the British version of "Friends" but funnier, raunchier and sexier, and henceforth gets much closer to the truth. My wife and I devoured this whole disc like candy.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - The Complete Third Season (2002, Paramount)
This strangely addictive show probably draws people in with its gratuitous gross-out techniques, but it keeps them with its well-written -- exhaustively researched -- detective stories, its inventive camerawork and the clever way it uses Las Vegas as a backdrop (both glitzy and sleazy). Not to mention a terrific cast, headed by William Petersen (To Live and Die in L.A. and Manhunter). Even my mom likes this show. Paramount's Season Three box set collects 23 hour-long episodes on six discs, and six episodes come with commentary tracks. The episodes are widescreen-enhanced for 16:9 television sets, and there is an optional Spanish language track.

CSI: Miami - The Complete First Season (2002-03, Paramount)
David Caruso takes the hit show to its Miami spinoff, and though the stories are still gripping, this particular set of characters aren't quite as gripping as in the Las Vegas series. This box set brings together 25 episodes on seven discs, plus extras.

Gilmore Girls: The Complete First Season (2000-01, Warner Home Video)
What should be a feel-good girl show is actually the sharpest, wittiest show on television (besides "The Simpsons"). Young mother Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) and her teenage daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) face all kinds of oddball catastrophes in their small town of Stars Hollow. Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino is a huge Dorothy Parker fan and attempts to fill every spoken word with the kind of snap-and-spring that barely anyone bothers with anymore. Graham and Bledel are a born comedy team, bantering so quickly that you'd think Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell were alive and well. Sherman-Palladino's greatest trick is to give each character witty things to say but each in their own voice. Alex Borstein (The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Bad Santa) co-stars in the first four episodes as the bitter harpist Drella. Warners' DVD packs 21 hour-long episodes onto 6 discs, plus bonus material on the making of the show and the witty wordplay.

Law and Order: The Second Year (2004, Universal)
Universal's box set collects 22 episodes on 3 discs, and includes an all-new featurette, "The Cast: The Early Years." Paul Sorvino, Michael Moriarity, Chris North, Richard Brooks, Dann Florek and Steven Hill star. Guest stars include Maura Tierney, Allison Janney, William H. Macy and more.

Monk: The Complete First Season (2002, Universal)
This above-average new show is like a new "Columbo," an effortless blend of crime and comedy, mostly thanks to its superior performances. Tony Shalhoub plays Monk, an obsessive-compulsive San Francisco detective. Shalhoub brings great humanity and subtlty to the role; to get an idea how good he really is, one simply has to picture someone like Ben Stiller instead, drawing attention to himself and emphasizing the slapstick. The rest of the cast matches him, especially Bitty Schram as Monk's long-suffering assistant Sharona. The box set comes with twelve 45-minute episodes on four discs, plus extras. It also comes with a packet of antibacterial hand gel.

Northern Exposure: The Complete First Season (1990-91, Universal)
This popular cult series was considered "Twin Peaks"-lite in its day, but it's still pretty fun and certainly less challenging. An arrogant New York-raised doctor, Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) must work off his tuition working for four years in the Alaskan outback with a few dozen strange locals, including former astronaut (John Corbett) and a cute, spunky airline pilot (Janine Turner). Morrow can get on your nerves at first, but his audaciousness quickly grows on you. Many of the newcomers in the cast are effortlessly charming as well. Universal's new disc collects eight episodes on two discs, plus lots of deleted scenes, outtakes and bonus footage. Best of all, the disc comes packaged in a slick, orange down jacket, complete with a zipper.

The Osbournes 2 1/2 Season (2002, Miramax)
This two-disc set comes with censored and uncensored language tracks, bonus footage, wedding photo gallery, Ozzy translator, commentary by Sharon and Jack, a game and more. I've been known to listen to Ozzy's music, but as for this show -- and all reality shows -- I couldn't care less.

Playmakers (2004, Buena Vista)
This three-disc set contains the entire ESPN series about a fictional pro football team. Extras include two behind-the-scenes featurettes, one starring Snoop Dogg, and commentary track for the pilot episode.

Quantum Leap: The Complete First Season (1989, Universal)
Scott Bakula begins his non-stop hopping through time with only a hologram named Al (Dean Stockwell) to help him. With a perfect idea for the weekly television format, complete with weekly cliffhangers, this show pits our scientist against impossible odds. He appears in the bodies of all kinds of random people, from ballplayers to jet pilots, and must right some unknown wrong before it's too late. This show has remained a cult item for 15 years, and fans should gobble up this new box set. It comes with eight episodes on three discs, including the two-hour pilot. Each disc comes with "insights," and disc one includes the documentary A Kiss with History: Remembering Quantum Leap.

The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season (1992, Fox)
The greatest show of all time continues with one of my all-time favorite episodes, "A Streetcar Named Marge," in which Marge and Ned Flanders join the cast of a community theater production of a musical version of Tennessee Williams' play. Meanwhile, Maggie, stuck in day care, initiates an Great Escape style plan to get back her passifier. This season has some of the best "Simpsons" music, such as "Mr. Plow" and "Marge vs. the Monorail." It also comes with the third "Treehouse of Horror" episode, "Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie" with its weird futuristic ending, and, of course, "So It's Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show." Twenty-two episodes on four discs, this set boasts such consistently high quality over such a long running time that it should cost $400. Guest voices include Bob Hope, Sara Gilbert, Linda Ronstadt, Adam West, Elizabeth Taylor, Leonard Nimoy, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Brooke Shields, Barry White, David Crosby, plus "Krusty Gets Kancelled" with Johnny Carson, Hugh Hefner, Bette Midler, Luke Perry and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The "Simpsons" creators provide commentary tracks on most episodes, and other extras include commercials, deteled scenes, animatics, and more.

South Park: The Complete Fourth Season (2000, Paramount)
Still unbelievably funny, even as our four round-headed heroes enter the fourth grade. Seventeen episodes on three discs include the hilarious two-parter "Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?" and "Probably," in which Cartman becomes a greedy evangelist and Saddam Hussein tries to worm his way back into Satan's life. Episodes come with Trey Parker and Matt Stone commentary tracks.

Xena: Warrior Princess - Season Four (1998, Anchor Bay)
Anchor Bay's excellent whopping ten-disc box set collects 22 episodes on eight discs, plus a ninth disc of extras and a tenth CD-Rom. "Xena" earned its cult following by offering rich sci-fi and fantasy stories and characters, but never taking itself too seriously and turning on the sex appeal whenever possible (both sexes). Lucy Lawless plays Xena with Renee O'Connor as Gabrielle, who both go through enormous changes during this season. Plus, how can you go wrong with anything that stars Bruce Campbell? Our favorite cult actor appears in three episodes, and even directed one, "The Key to the Kingdom." The set contains "hours of extras," including interviews, commentary tracks, director's cuts on three episodes, a featurette on the two-part "Adventures in the Sin Trade," a featurette on the monsters, bloopers, outtakes and photos. Like "Season Three," this set comes with a CD-Rom full of bios, trivia, chronicles and designs and sketches. Best of all is the 26-minute "Cabin Fever," in which Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi interview each other more candidly than any professional could.
Best Buy Co, Inc.