As Seen on TV!
As Seen on TV!
Your Tivo won't tell you who shot J.R. — DVDs will!
The Adventures of Pete & Pete
Loosely categorized as a children's show, The Adventures of Pete & Pete (1993-'96) followed the benignly surreal lives of two redheaded brothers with matching names. With plenty of adult fans still fueling an online cult following, Nickelodeon finally acquiesced and started releasing DVDs last year. (Seasons 1 and 2 are available now, with the final installment slated for a February 28 release.)
To the unfamiliar, the show must be a strange animal. Its creators seemed to have sidestepped conventional test marketing, instead catering to weirdos and outcasts. This was television for the kids who listened to They Might Be Giants and would later commiserate with Freaks & Geeks. Perhaps inevitably, the show never gained mainstream popularity because it was too hip: The likes of LL Cool J, Juliana Hatfield, and Deborah Harry would drop by to play citizens of Wellsville.
While it's never a bad idea to start from the beginning, the second season features one of the series' biggest turns, marking the farewell of Little Pete's personal superhero Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, with a two-part episode. On the upside, it also introduced Steve Buscemi and Iggy Pop as warmhearted, if funny-looking, suburban dads. —Lindsey Thomas
Aeon Flux—The Complete
Created by Korean-American animator Peter Chung and inspired by the artwork of Austrian artist Egon Schiele as well as Japanese anime, Aeon Flux first appeared on MTV's Liquid Television animation showcase in 1991. The show was spare on dialogue and heavy on stylized violence and gore, an entrancing revelation to this writer whose animation exposure thus far had mostly involved animals wearing bow ties and cracking jokes.
You could appreciate the show without paying much attention to the precise plot. Week after week, a statuesque assassin from the anarchist country of Monica led gory missions to infiltrate the neighboring land of Bregna. Ultimately, the success or failure of these missions didn't make a whit of difference to the show's stylish dystopia; Flux has a habit of dying, only to reappear in the next episode, intact and ready for her next adventure.
Now available in one potent megadose, the collection contains three DVDs featuring the Liquid Television shorts and the 10 1995 "third season" 30-minute episodes, as well as featurettes, production art, and other works by Peter Chung. Surely it's a coincidence that this geek fetish object appears on store shelves at the same time as Aeon Flux hits the big screen in a live-action movie starring Charlize Theron. Some foot soldier in Sony marketing can claim mission accomplished. —Corey Anderson
After School Specials: Autographs, Class of '81-'82
Brentwood Home Video
Twenty-five years after creating a generation of martyrs, the "after school special" remains the term we invoke to describe anything in the problem-child pantheon, from a latchkey kid forced to hang with the ruffians to the wunderkind football player gorging on a diet of steroids. This two-disc set of award-winning episodes from 1981-'82 not only invented a new terminology, but spawned an entire channel. Where would After School Specials' ugly stepsister, the Lifetime Network, be without these victims of neglect, alcohol abuse, self-hatred, and parental loss? On that note, where would Tori Spelling be?
Oddly, these four stories aren't how you remember (or imagine) them—edifying tales on par with 1950s filmstrips about hygiene and snowball-dance etiquette and boozy driving disasters. To start, they're more gut-wrenchingly depressing than they are hokey or ironic. (If you don't get choked up a little during "A Matter of Time," when a girl loses the mother who barely knows her, you have a steroid heart). Instead, these are little cultural artifacts that remind us how teens were perceived during the divorce decade, before tough love and Reagan-era ideology turned them into dolts who brought everything on themselves. —Molly Priesmeyer
Beavis and Butt-Head: The Mike Judge Collection— Volume I
"Time sucks," declares Butt-Head, as he and his ever-present companion watch the gas meter outside the house, waiting, waiting, waiting for something good to come on TV. And he's right, though for now, time seems to be on his side. Beavis and Butt-Head is enjoying a second wave of popularity, with reruns on Comedy Central and heavy advertising for this, the first of three sets of "The Mike Judge Collection." According to the show's creator, the discs will contain the two-thirds of the series that doesn't completely suck. Though including "director's cut" episodes that are actually shorter than those that appeared on TV...well, it does seem like something that an ass muncher would do.
Indeed, basic cable might still be your best bet for catching this underrated (except by adolescent boys) show. The extras here aren't too exciting, except for the one that shouldn't be considered an "extra" at all: the paltry 11 examples of the music video clips with B&B commentary that formed the heart of the show. Yeah, I know, licensing issues, blah blah blah.... But seeing the few video clips reminds you that a lot of the best comedy comes when the boys are doing what they do best: watching TV. Such as when they surmise that "that Pantera dude" must have gotten his ass kicked by his dad a lot as a kid: "Dammit, Pantera, this beer's warm! Get me another one!"
Or when the singer from Moist (I don't remember them, either) is overemoting and Butt-Head comments, "I think that's the way they talk in, like, Wussylvania." To which Beavis responds, as only Beavis could, "Oh yeah. And I was, like, thinking he was from California." —Bridgette Reinsmoen
Dallas: The Complete Third Season
Warner Home Video
When I was a child, Dallas was forbidden fruit. The highlight of each Friday night was watching The Dukes of Hazzard. Then it was off to bed. My parents would not let me stay up late enough to catch the tawdry shenanigans of the Ewing clan.
So last month I set about rectifying this gap in my cultural knowledge. I purchased the complete third season. The show was reaching its cultural zenith then, culminating in the legendary "Who Shot J.R.?" episode.
What did I miss back in the day? Well, the theme song is tremendous, with its funky wah-wah guitar as the camera pans over downtown Dallas. Larry Hagman is also primo, channeling wickedness through his dog-kicker grin and drunkard's paunch. The season finale is executed to perfection: Pretty much everyone but J.R.'s mama has a motive to take him out.
But the show, especially in the concentrated form that DVDs allow, can be terribly dull. The true villains for the modern viewer are Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and Pam (Victoria Principal). Lacking the venality that makes Dallas tick, they engage in endless petty dramas. Will they ever have a baby? Will Pam locate her mother? Will Hagman please return and piss on their cowboy casual-wear?
I don't think I'm in for season four, due out next month. But then how will I ever find out: Who shot J.R.? —Paul Demko
The L Word: The Complete Second Season
This is a season in hell, a Sapphic Magnolia that's all meltdowns all the time. Poised in sleek suits, Bette (Jennifer Beals, with the world's saddest smile) separates from the lover she cheated on and her life goes from bad to worse. She loses her ex to a millionaire harpy, loses her job, and loses her cold, withholding father (a majestic Ossie Davis) to prostate cancer. Meanwhile, Shane, the flabbergastingly sexy fuck-and-run alpha chick, has her Don Juan persona pierced by the affections of Carmen (Sarah Shahi). And she comes to address her terror of intimacy in a dizzying Catholic-confessional scene: "Everybody I know wants to take something from me, and I don't have anything left to give." Set in a West Hollywood that's powdered in soft, honeyed light, Season 2 is unusually daring: This first mainstream lesbian TV show becomes a symphony of frailty and self-deception. Series creator Ilene Chaikin is shrewd about love as a state of grace to which sinning partners have to earn their way back. Their stumbles and wrong turns leave you harrowed, wrung-out, and grateful for the L-Worlders' 11th-hour victories over their own flawed natures. —Matthew Wilder
MI-5 is the British FBI. (MI-6, their CIA, is James Bond's agency.) MI-5 is the British 24, but with a conscience and consequences. Rife with crackerjack Le Carré plotting and with yet another of those dour dark-haired gents the Brits do so well (Matthew MacFadyen), this series got the chop treatment when it ran on A&E. These DVDs, then, give you the entire episodes for the first time. (Season 3, which started slowly but ended with the shocking onscreen death of a major character, comes out at the end of January.)
Americans loom here as simple-minded forces of nature: "our cousins," hissed with resigned venom. And unlike the Cheneyesque 24, this show's politics are hard to parse. The themes are more ambitious, as the writers take up pro-life terrorism, anti-globalization activism, Kurdish separatism, and, of course, the IRA.
Watch for Hugh Laurie, now talking real Amurrican in House, M.D., chewing the drapes and looking far down his nose in a recurring cameo as supercilious MI-6 bigwig Jools Siviter. The regulars have a shorter life span: By the end of season three, not a single one of the first season's protagonists remains. —Jesse Berrett
Point Pleasant: The Complete Series
20th Century Fox
In my book, the only thing worse than teenybopper crap is "smart" teenybopper crap. And if anything puts my teeth on edge more than the winky smart-assery of Kevin Williamson, it's the painfully tongue-in-cheek universe of Joss Whedon. Here, Whedon protégé Marti Noxon and co-creator John McLaughlin spawn a diabolically high concept: The O.C. with Satan. Pert-nosed teen cutie Christina (Elisabeth Harnois) washes up on the shore of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, but as there are no cheese steaks or fat cops in sight, it looks a lot more like Laguna Beach to me. Once there, this half-devil-half-human desperado starts triggering nasty thoughts that would make the daffodils wither on Wisteria Lane. Supernatural pyrotechnics evoking late Chuck Norris vehicles begin to erupt. As in the Buffy/Firefly formula, the Pleasant creators tap all existing supplies of '80s genre kitsch while sending secret signals to the grown-ups in the audience: "We're really above this schlock!" The ickiest aspect of Pleasant is the by-now-rote fetishization of cheekbony WASP moms, washboard-ab hunks, and bitchy Denise Richards-esque queen bees. It's this slavish adulation of dumb rich kids, I will posit, that has led us to our current crummy world-historical fate. —Matthew Wilder
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
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
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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