The last few years have seen an explosion of television releases on DVD. With considerably lower cost and space requirements than ever before, distributors have found that there is a significant market for this long-running episodic style of entertainment. While a few classic shows have been given the deluxe treatment, a large portion of the quality releases have come from the most recent television seasons, presenting an opportunity to not only profit further from the show but help promote future episodes of the series that have yet to air while getting viewers new to the series caught up on the storylines. It's a win-win scenario for nearly everyone involved, and shows like Family Guy
, and Babylon 5
are already finding new life in large part because of successful DVD sales. For a television fan like myself, this evolution has been wonderful to experience, and I hope it continues long into the future.
Building on the strength of the superb 2001-2002/2002-2003 television seasons and tossing in a couple of long-awaited classic releases, 2004 proved to be a fantastic year for television on DVD, so much so that keeping this list to only 10 titles was near impossible. In fact, since the top 4 titles on this list appear on DVD Talk's overall Top 20 DVDs of 2004, and since it's the holiday season ;), it seems only fair to extend this list to 14 titles. Of note, in cases where hairs had to be split, I gave preference to series that would not be appearing on another DVD Talk Top 10 list. With that in mind, I am pleased to present the Top 10ish Television Releases on DVD in 2004:
1. Freaks and Geeks - The Complete Series: Fan Yearbook Edition
The late 1990s were a difficult time for American television. Seinfeld was wrapping up, and the networks were trying to forcibly capture lightning in a bottle with a whole host of uninspired sitcoms. Meanwhile, primetime game shows were generating huge numbers, and original programming was getting cancelled left and right to make room for just 5 more minutes of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Caught in the wake of this painfully shortsighted mentality were two incredible shows: Sports Night and Freaks and Geeks. The former stumbled onto DVD late in 2002 without any additional features, while the latter storms onto the scene with one of the most complete and exhaustive DVD sets ever released.
Described as a love letter to the fans, the Freaks and Geeks Fan Yearbook Edition is a limited edition set available only from the official website. It showcases a staggering amount of material from the show, including at least one full-length commentary (29 in total) and deleted scenes for each of the 18 episodes plus two entire discs packed with hours upon hours of table readings, auditions, bloopers, and featurettes. On par with the Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings DVDs, this set dwarfs just about everything else released this year (or frankly, any year), and there is no way I could put together a list like this without the Freaks and Geeks Fan Yearbook Edition planted firmly at the top.
(Review by Randy Miller III)
2. Wire, The - The Complete First Season
In recent years, HBO has dominated the television landscape with original movies and series that are astonishingly high quality. With all the press over The Sopranos and Sex and the City working their way towards a conclusion and Six Feet Under gaining public recognition, The Wire slipped in under the radar in 2002 with one of the most impressive debut seasons of any series. Based on the experiences, writings, and expertise of former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon -- the man behind the fantastic Homicide: Life on the Street and The Corner -- The Wire brings together many of the creative forces from those two projects to present tightly crafted season-long stories focusing on the intricacies of organized crime in the Baltimore area.
Unlike most television shows in the crime genre, The Wire does not focus on episodic plots. Each season tells a complete story of a particular crime operation and all the complex issues that must be addressed to attempt to bring them to justice. Along the lines of the daringly unique Murder One, the season starts at the beginning and gives the viewer an understanding of every aspect of the police investigation from start to finish. What sets this series apart from so many is that it also provides a detailed understanding of the criminal enterprise under investigation and creates fascinating characters on both sides of the law. Oftentimes either the criminals or the police detectives are larger than life characters, and the audience is directed into "rooting" for one or the other. With The Wire, characters are realistically portrayed, and the audience is able to identify with everyone involved. From the interpersonal relationships to the physical logistics, this show is a fascinating glimpse into organized crime and those who try to prevent it. With three audio commentaries from the show's creators and HBO's typically stellar audio/video presentation, the first season of The Wire is a worthwhile DVD set for quite possibly the best show currently on television.
(Review by John Sinnott)
3. West Wing, The - The Complete Second and Third Seasons
The fourth season of The West Wing was a bit meandering, and after Aaron Sorkin and Thomas Schlamme moved on, the fifth season was downright dreadful, but there was a time when this show was the absolute best thing being produced by the major broadcast networks. That time was during the first three seasons, the second and third of which were released on DVD this year. Dedicated to the inner workings of the American government's Executive Branch, The West Wing is both informative and compelling as it follows the day-to-day activities of the White House staffers who serve the President. Regardless of your political persuasion, the dynamic characters and intelligent stories should appeal to just about anyone. The second and third season DVDs of The West Wing contain many audio commentaries and featurettes and showcase an incredible television series at the peak of its quality.
(Reviews by John Sinnott and Jeffrey Robinson)
4. Seinfeld - Seasons 1, 2, & 3
Audiences have been demanding this DVD release since the inception of the format, and finally with quite a bit of fanfare, the day arrived in late 2004. To the delight of everyone, the Seinfeld DVDs were quite a bit more than simply slapping the episodes onto discs and pushing them into stores. Much time was spent tracking down as much information as possible to make this release something that would please everyone, and the effort was a success. The first three seasons of this much beloved "show about nothing" show the series and its concept in the formative stages as it grows into one of the most popular television series in history. With numerous commentaries, featurettes, and behind-the-scenes material, the first three seasons of Seinfeld are almost essential to anyone's DVD library.
(Reviews by Holly E. Ordway and Aaron Beierle)
5. Arrested Development - Season One
With dramatic programming, there are often many unique types of series on the air, but with comedies, television is typically very unoriginal. We have been ripping off I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and The Dick Van Dyke show for decades, so it's wonderfully refreshing when something like Seinfeld or Sports Night or Scrubs slips its way through the fog and into the mainstream. In 2003, Mitchell Hurwitz teamed up with Ron Howard and the group at Imagine to bring the next great original comedy to the airwaves in Arrested Development. Not since the glory days of The Simpsons has a show presented such an intelligent level of humor at a frequency high enough where even the most perceptive viewer needs a Digital Video Recorder and a Replay button to catch all the layers of comedy in each scene. Arrested Development is the story of the Bluth family, an upper-class and out-of-touch group who has been living off the riches of the patriarch's numerous business interests. When he is sent to prison for all kinds of illegal activities, the family has to figure out how to survive without his leadership or his money, and as I'm sure you can imagine ... hilarity ensues. Boasting an amazingly talented cast, the comedy on this show works on so many levels, and it's on a short list of programs where I can watch the same episode 3 times in a row and find something new and hilarious each time. The DVD set of this first season is wonderfully put together with episode commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, and a fantastic jukebox feature that presents a full album's worth of David Schwartz's original quirky music for the show. With so many sitcom clones crowding the airwaves, it's a treasure to have something so unique and creative to look forward to every week, and this DVD is a great selection for people who have seen all the episodes as well as those who are completely new to the show.
(Reviews by Francis Rizzo III and Aaron Beierle)
6. Babylon 5 - The Complete Fourth and Fifth Seasons
Released on DVD in 2003, the third season of Babylon 5 is probably the best complete season of dramatic television ever produced. It is an amazing achievement that leaves me in awe each time I watch it. 2004 brought us the follow-up fourth season -- one that is slightly less spectacular yet still impressively done -- as well as the fifth and final season of what many consider to be television's greatest story arc. Forces beyond their control created a situation where many plot points from the fourth and fifth seasons had to be shifted around so that the series could end with the fourth season finale if necessary. Thankfully, the show was rescued at the last minute, and a fifth season was produced; unfortunately, each of the two seasons suffers a bit (the fifth more than the fourth) from the jumbling of the plots. Still, Babylon 5 is one of the most impressive accomplishments in all of television history, and these final two seasons are essential to the show's conclusion, and for the most part are very well done. I considered just listing the fourth season on this list as it is significantly better than the fifth, but the fifth season release contains one of the best hours of television ever, and it's essential enough to the total product to be grouped with the fourth. If you have not seen this series, it is impossible for me to recommend it highly enough.
(Reviews by Holly E. Ordway)
7. Simpsons, The - The Complete Fourth and Fifth Seasons
Remember when I mentioned "the glory days of The Simpsons" earlier? The early 1990s witnessed this brilliantly satirical and wickedly funny animated classic in its prime. The fact that I refer to a show that is still on the air as "classic" should underscore not only the length of its run but its impact on American culture. Hugely popular among people of all ages and all demographics, The Simpsons proved that you could combine all levels of comedy -- from the highest level of intelligent social satire to the most basic sight gag -- into a show that could appeal to just about anyone. The fourth and fifth season DVD releases showcase some of the best material in the show's entire run, and with full-length audio commentaries for each episode and various other bonus materials, these two seasons are a must for any fan of the series.
(Reviews by Holly E. Ordway, Bill Gibron, and Aaron Beierle)
8. Everwood - The Complete First Season
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2002-2003 television season was Everwood. Maybe some of you saw it coming, but I certainly didn't. On the surface, Everwood doesn't really sound like anything particularly special. Dr. Andrew Brown (Treat Williams) is a hotshot, big city neurosurgeon who has always been too busy with work to really connect with his kids, but his wife is a wonderful mother, and the family more or less survives in spite of his flaws. When she is tragically killed in a car accident, however, he is forced to deal with his life and the family he doesn't truly know. He loves his children very much, but he doesn't have much of a connection with them, particularly his teenage son who resents his father and with good reason. After their mother's death, he abruptly packs up the family and moves to the small mountain town of Everwood, Colorado in hopes of building a new life and being a genuine part of the lives of his children. With a full cast of dynamic characters, Everwood is a beautifully insightful show about life and love and loss and, most importantly, family. Over the course of this first season, I fell completely in love with it, and I know I'm not alone. With four audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and deleted scenes, the DVD release of this initial season is worthy of a spot on this list, and I urge anyone looking for a great family drama to give this show a chance.
(Review by Jeffrey Robinson)
9. Shield, The - The Complete Second Season
The first season of The Shield came out of nowhere. FX? FX showed reruns of The Practice and Ally McBeal. Who knew they were about to start producing some of the best dramatic content on television? That first season existed somewhat under the radar before gaining quite a bit of recognition at various award shows. With a larger audience and more media interest, this follow-up season had a lot to live up to. While not as great as the initial season, this second season was incredibly well done and finished with a very powerful season finale. Creatively weaving the stories of many different characters among one another, The Shield is a gritty police drama that focuses on an elite "strike team" in a Los Angeles district with heavy gang activity. This strike team gets results with some of the most difficult cases, so they are given quite a bit of latitude when it comes to procedures. However, they're also prone to abusing their position and getting themselves into trouble because of it. This second season delves deeper into the stories of these characters and features their potential plans to steal a few million dollars from the Armenian mob. The DVD release is very well done with 4 episode commentaries and numerous featurettes/documentaries that provide insight into the show's production.
(Review by Jason Gann)
10. Star Trek - The Complete First, Second, and Third Seasons
Finally ... season sets. It was a long wait, and unfortunately many people had to double dip with the original two-episode releases, but thankfully they finally arrived, and the special features were worth the effort. I know I am in the minority, but I like the tricorder packaging, and I'm thrilled to have the original 79 in a small space on my shelf instead of dedicating half a room to the individual VHS cases. Considering the age of the material, these DVD releases came out looking great, and the featurettes and commentaries present a surprisingly new amount of information, even for those of us who have seen just about every documentary on the show imaginable. The text commentaries by Denise and Michael Okuda are a unique touch, and overall this release satisfied expectations.
(Reviews by Holly E. Ordway)
11. Penn & Teller: Bullshit! - The First Season
Brilliant magicians and insightful skeptics, Penn & Teller seek to debunk all the nonsense people allow themselves to believe -- from talking to the dead to alien abductions to hysteria over global warming -- in their show Bullshit!. What makes this show so great is that it's not just two guys (well, one, since Teller doesn't speak) ranting about something and expecting the audience to agree with them. Instead, they're more prone to focusing the camera on some con artist or clueless individual and letting that person make the case against himself all on his own. Mixing in a great amount of insight and humor, Bullshit! is both hilarious and informative, and the DVD set for this first season provides multiple bonus features that give even more material for viewers to digest.
(Review by Matthew Millheiser)
12. Boomtown - Season One
Another great show cut down way too early, Boomtown initially sought to show one crime from many different views. This gimmick worked very well when used but was abandoned for many of the episodes. However, the show never suffered from the shift. With a stellar cast and an amazing group of experienced writers, Boomtown was both creative with its often nonlinear storytelling approach and compelling in its execution. The DVD set for the show's first season provides audio commentaries on six of the eighteen episodes as well as two interesting featurettes, and it's a good treatment of a great series.
(Review by John Sinnott)
13. Farscape - The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons
There has never been anything on television like Farscape and there may never be anything like it again. A visual masterpiece, Farscape tells the story of an American astronaut who gets caught in a wormhole and shot across space into the middle of a building war between alien races. On the surface, it's a thrilling space epic; at its core, it's a touching love story; and in between, it's just great entertainment. The third and fourth seasons showcase the second half of the show's entire run, and the DVDs for these seasons are very impressive with numerous features to keep anyone interested. The only real drawback to these sets is the bulky packaging, but that can be overlooked when the content is so strong.
(Reviews by Holly E. Ordway and Don Houston)
14. Carnivāle - The Complete First Season
Continuing HBO's tradition of great shows, Carnivāle sets the epic battle between good and evil against the backdrop of the Great Depression and 1930's America. With amazingly detailed set design and cinematography, Carnivāle is an incredibly ambitious show, both in the technical aspects of the production and the scope of its story. It demands quite a bit from the audience, and at this point it's unknown how much of that will be paid off in subsequent seasons, but it is nonetheless a very captivating program and one worthy of investigation if you're even mildly interested in the subject matter. With only 3 audio commentaries and a small featurette, it does not boast the greatest amount of special features, but the strength of the content in addition to the well-packaged set and high quality audio and video are enough to make the final spot on this list.
(Review by das Monkey)
Worthy of Special Mention:
Office, The - Complete Second Series and Special
The Office is another one of those rare programs that is really unlike anything else on television. In 2001, relative newcomers Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant crafted a squirmingly brilliant mockumentary series about a relatively dreary office environment and the unbelievably clueless and annoying boss who desires nothing more than to inject "entertainment" into their daily lives. The first series of six episodes focused mainly on the insanity of the David Brent character and the numerous uncomfortable situations he created for himself, but it also developed the supporting characters in a way that the show could evolve into a very touching love story by the end of the second series. Unlike typical sitcoms that use the love story as a crutch when they run out of ideas, this building story was always very subtle and beautifully done. In many ways the second series is better than the first, and the ensuing Christmas special, intended to wrap up the show for good, is a poignant and satisfying finale that leaves the audience begging for more and yet understanding exactly why the show needed to end where it did. The special features are a bit light on these two discs, but what is there is absolutely hilarious.
(Reviews by Holly E. Ordway)
Sledge Hammer! - Season One
A great blast from the past, Sledge Hammer! is a slapstick and violently over-the-top sitcom about a detective with a great arrest record because he takes the most violent approach to any situation. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Well, it is. I love unique shows, and it's safe to say that Sledge Hammer! occupies a world of its own. Most older shows that weren't hugely popular just get dumped off onto DVD with little effort, but this set surprisingly boasts a great number of special features. It contains the standard audio commentaries and featurettes plus the original commercials advertising the show that are a great time capsule from 1986. A lot of people have probably never even heard of this show, and most of the cast disappeared into obscurity when it went off the air, but for the fans that are out there, this is a great release.
(Review by John Sinnott)
Other Noteworthy Releases:
American Dreams - Season One;
Angel - Seasons Three and Four;
Curb Your Enthusiasm - The Complete First and Second Seasons;
Dallas - The Complete First and Second Seasons;
Dead Like Me - The Complete First Season;
Dead Zone, The - The Complete Second Season;
Futurama - Vols. 3 and 4;
Gilmore girls - The Complete First and Second Seasons;
Homicide: Life on the Street - The Complete Seasons 4 and 5;
Jeremiah - The Complete First Season;
Keen Eddie - The Complete Series;
L Word, The - The Complete First Season;
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - The Fifth Year;
Nero Wolfe - The Complete First Season;
Nip/Tuck - The Complete First Season;
Six Feet Under - The Complete Second Season;
Without a Trace - The Complete First Season
- das Monkey