As Seen on TV!

Your Tivo won't tell you who shot J.R. — DVDs will!

Remington Steele

20th Century Fox

Before he was Bond, Pierce Brosnan was a bit player, about to turn 30, with credits like "last victim" and "first Irishman" on his CV. Not much of a career loomed. (In fact, until GoldenEye in 1995, not much of a career ensued, unless you think Lawnmower Man made a prescient statement about cyberspace.) But even the first season of Remington Steele uncovered something in Brosnan that Bond would later tap—a hint of dissipation and violence that his prettiness almost seemed to demand. It's a shame nobody convinced this actor to play Dorian Gray before he hit 50.

The show itself is standard '80s network detective product (dig those bows on Stephanie Zimbalist's power suits! groove on a theme that channels Mary Tyler Moore and Hallmark Productions!), though it's more slackly paced than you'd like. And the sexual friction between the stars sputters too often. Yet despite his prow of newscaster hair, Brosnan shows off nice comedic timing, some wry inklings of the joys of failure and dishonesty. It's worth a rental, but I suppose I shouldn't get real excited about anybody reissuing Simon & Simon. —Jesse Berrett

Roseanne—The Complete First Season

Anchor Bay

For those who don't think we've regressed decades or even centuries culturally, let Roseanne be a little reminder of a more wholesome era. Back then, women weren't doting and submissive sticks married to fat men, lesbian kisses were perfectly acceptable in prime time, and gay couples cared about more than how their asses looked in designer jeans. Here were comic stories about middle- and lower-class white families who never felt fully represented by Alf or the equally insipid but puppet-alien-free Growing Pains. In fact, though the first season of Roseanne originally aired in 1988, it feels more true to current family life than last week's episode of Yes, Dear.

Hardcore fans will note that the studio made a mistake and included only the syndicated versions of the show's first 14 episodes, meaning that about two minutes were cut out of each show to make room for more commercials. But even that major snafu can't taint episodes that are all at once socially relevant, hilarious, and even heartbreaking. Roseanne geeks (myself included) will be happy to know that Season 2, due out this week, includes the original full-length versions. —Molly Priesmeyer

Undeclared: The Complete Series Shout Factory

This comedy written/created by Judd Apatow (of Freaks and Geeks and now 40-Year-Old Virgin fame) aired for a single Fox season (2001-2002). And it was a truncated one at that, given the seemingly endless baseball playoffs and the network's penchant for other major and abrupt interruptions.

It would be tempting to say that this show came before its time—but given the recent circumcision of Fox's Arrested Development, it's not clear that time will ever come. Was Undeclared foolish to eschew the laugh track in favor of smart, improvised comedy? Were audiences bored by the single-camera setup? Uninterested in sluggish college freshmen? Is standup comedy the only realm where actors can bring their own quirks and social inadequacies to a role?

Guest appearances (Fred Willard, Amy Poehler, Ted Nugent), deleted scenes, an unaired episode, and hilarious commentary are almost like salt in a wound: Why do all the great comedies go the way of the endangered monkey-eating eagle? In our revisionist history, at least, Loudon Wainwright (as Steven's dimwitted and recently divorced dad) easily beat out every actor on Everybody Loves Raymond for an Emmy. —Molly Priesmeyer

The Wire

HBO

Some heretics insist that The Wire is better than The Sopranos, which officially makes it The Best Show on TV. I've got no beef with that claim. The show is a labor of love courtesy of true-crime maestro David Simon (Homicide), abetted by writers Richard Price and George Pelecanos (among others).

The novelists' touch is crucial here: Imagine the work in spinning all of these plotlines through the 25 episodes of the first two seasons: five separate family sagas, black, white, gay, and straight; police-department infighting and the decline of the working class; the collateral damage of cop and crook machismo; contemporary union politics; and a whole lot more.

While the writers' words have the pop of the real, the actors' voices alone could sell this show. There's the throaty growl of aspiring buppie drug lord Stringer Bell, the slurry bonhomie of entrepreneurial crackhead Bubbles, and the laconic drawl of gay stickup man Omar: "In...deed." In the funniest single moment, a corner boy running drugs to Philly turns on the radio in his rental car and gets stuck listening to Garrison Keillor the whole way. —Jesse Berrett 

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