by Peter Sobczynski
If you like TV--and I mean really like TV--you are going to love this week's column, as some of the greatest things to ever hit the small screen are making long-awaited appearances.
Although I generally try to cover most of the TV shows that are released on DVD each week–often a major task in its own right because of the sheer volume of titles–I rarely highlight any of them in the main review portion of this column. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, for every significant TV title that arrives each week, there is usually an equally important or meaningful film title to cover as well. More importantly, I will admit that I have a bias for film over television–in my eyes, even the silliest movie can offer something of value for the true film fanatic while the vast majority of television, past and present, tends to do little more than reconfirm the words of the late, great Michael O’Donoghue, who once opined that TV was little more than a lava lamp with sound. This week, however, sees the week of a quintet of TV-related titles (okay, two of them aren’t technically TV shows but I suspect that the vast majority of the people reading these words were first exposed to them via the tube) that are worth highlighting in detail, both for the quality of the shows themselves as well as for their presentations.
Last spring saw the long-awaited release of “Twin Peaks: The Complete Second Season,” a set that collected the second and final season of the legendarily weird mystery series from co-creator David Lynch that briefly had the entire country asking “Who killed Laura Palmer?,”the cheerleader-with-a-dark-side whose murder helped uncover the strange secrets of a seemingly ordinary Pacific Northwest town. Now, only a few months later, we have “Twin Peaks–The Definitive Gold Box Edition,” a 10-disc set that includes all of those episodes along with the seven Season One installments that were issued in 2001 in a long-out-of-print collection. For those of you who don’t own these previous editions, the set is a no-brainer since the show remains one of the greatest in the history of the medium–an alternately funny, scary, touching, twisted and inscrutable work that succeeded both as a deadpan spoof of TV cliches as well as a compelling work of straightforward narrative on its own–as well as one of the most influential. (It is impossible to imagine such complex and convoluted shows as “The X-Files,” “Lost” or “Veronica Mars,” to name just a couple, ever existing without the example it set years earlier.) However, if you are one of those hard-core fanatics (and when it comes to “Twin Peaks,” there are hardly any other kind) who presumably already owns all of these episodes, is there any burning reason as to why you should go out and repurchase them a second time, especially if you just bought the Season 2 set last spring?Well, it turns out that yeah, you pretty much have to pick them all up again because as good as those earlier sets were, this new collection is one of the best DVD packages of the year. Granted, most of the bonus features found on those earlier editions have not been ported over but in terms of both quantity and quality, the new extras found here are worth the purchase price all by themselves. First, and perhaps most significantly, the set includes, for the first time on domestic DVD, the feature-length pilot episode that got people talking in the first place–not only that, it includes both the broadcast version and the one prepared for European theatrical release with a different resolution to the central mystery. That would be enough for most fans but the set also includes a small-but-tasty collection of deleted scenes, a feature-length three-part documentary on the show charting its history from its inception to its meteoric rise to its just-as-rapid fall and a roundtable discussion in which Lynch, post-production coordinator John Wentworth and co-stars Kyle MacLachlan and Madchen Amick dish out additional stories. If that weren’t enough, the set also includes the “Falling” music video from Julee Cruise, a video gallery collecting all of the “Twin Peaks” trading cards, a series of “Peaks”-themed commercials shot for a Japanese coffee company that include many of the cast members and the hilarious “Peaks”-based sketch from the “Saturday Night Live” hosted by Kyle MacLachlan in the fall of 1990. In other words, this set includes everything but a slice of cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee.
Although “Twin Peaks” died far too soon, at least ABC gave it 29 episodes before pulling the plug, which is more than one can say for what they did with “My So-Called Life,” the brilliant and groundbreaking 1994 series that, despite critical hosannas and multiple awards, was unceremoniously yanked from the air after only 19 episodes. No doubt put on the air by the network in the hopes of scoring their own version of “90210,” what ABC actually got was a touching and penetrating examination of teen angst that is perhaps the closest thing that the television medium has ever come to producing the likes of “The Catcher In the Rye.” The only difference is that, unlike that book, the show doesn’t come across as embarrassingly overwrought when you revisit it a few years down the line, mostly thanks to the soulful lead performance from Claire Danes as Everyteen Angela Chase–a piece of acting so strong, sure and nuanced that she gets a lifetime pass as far as I’m concerned. Previously issued in a set that was both difficult to find for sale and wildly overpriced (especially on the secondary market once it went out of print) if you were lucky enough to find it, it has now been reissued in a 6-disc collection that includes all 19 episodes, commentaries featuring Danes, show creator Winnie Holzman, co-producer Marshall Herskowitz and others, a behind-the-scenes history of the show, a new interview with Danes, highlights from a 1995 panel discussion on the show at the Museum of Television & Radio featuring most of the cast and the key creative personnel and a 36-page booklet featuring testimonials from Holzman (who reveals plot details that would have occurred had the show lived on a little longer) and such famous fans as Janeane Garofalo and Joss Whedon.
This week also sees the release of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Volume 12,” the latest collection of episodes from the beloved cult show in which some of the silliest movies ever made are brutally and hilariously mocked by an amiable human dope and a pair of wisecracking robots who are trapped in space and forced to watch them as part of a bizarre interstellar experiment. (If you need the premise explained to you at this late date, you are definitely reading the wrong DVD column.) This set includes “The Rebel Set” (in which a pseudo-hipster, who is probably not played by Merritt Stone, cons a group of fairly unconvincing beatniks into helping him pull off the most convoluted robbery imaginable), “Secret Agent Super Dragon” (a silly 60's-era Bond rip-off filled with beautiful women, inscrutable plotting, lame double-entendres and a theme song that will stick in your mind for weeks afterwards), “The Starfighters” (essentially a feature-length training film extolling the virtues of the Air Force that is notable only for featuring future loathsome right-wing-congressman Bob Dornan as one of the leads) and “Parts: The Clonus Horror” (in which a dope from a mysterious land discovers that he is actually a clone that has been developed to serve as future spare parts for his owner–a plot that was ripped off decades later for Michael Bay’s “The Island”). These four episodes are among the best of the series–I would have to give the nod to “The Rebel Set” because of the skit in which our heroes discuss what they would do during a one-hour layover in Chicago–and if you don’t crack a grin while watching them, there must be something wrong with you.
Over the past few years, one of the brightest lights on the DVD horizon has been the annual packages from Warner Brothers celebrating their theatrical cartoon heritage. This week sees the release of the latest instalment of the series, “Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 5,” and it lives up to the high standards of the previous editions. Once again, the set includes 60 shorts spread out over 4 separately themed discs–Disc One offers up some classics featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, both separately and together (as in the all-time great “Ali Baba Bunny”), Disc Two gives us a feast of fairy tale spoofs, Disc Three highlights the career of director Bob Clampett and Disc Four takes a look back at some of the earliest cartoons produced by the studio. As with previous sets, this collection includes numerous commentary tracks from animation historians, a few music-and-effects tracks that allow you to rediscover just how important sound was to these shorts and a series of historical featurettes. In addition, fans will also get “Chuck Jones: Extremes and In-Betweens,” a feature-length documentary on the life and work of one of the most famous of all animation directors, three complete television specials and even a few of the rare “Private SNAFU” shorts made by WB for the military during World War II.
Over the years, Sony Home Entertainment has put out numerous DVDs of Three Stooges shorts but the results have been so dismal that most fans have wondered why they even bothered–the shorts themselves looked as though they were taken from dull and worn-out prints and the studio merely slapped them together in vague theme collections that had no rhyme or reason behind them and often repeated previously-issued titles ad nauseum. For years, fans have been begging the studio to make an effort towards restoring them and releasing them in chronological sets that would allow them to one day collect all 190 films. Finally, Sony has seen the light and we now have “The Three Stooges Collection, Volume One: 1934-1936,” a two-disc collection offering up the legendary comedy trio’s first 19 shorts, including such classics as “Punch Drunks,” “Three Little Pigskins” (featuring a then-unknown Lucille Ball) and the immortal hospital spoof “Men In Black” (“For Duty And Humanity!”) The shorts have never looked better on video than they do here but alas, there are no extras to speak off–presumably they are being held off for future installments to lure those who might not otherwise be inclined to buy the ones in which Curly was replaced by utility Stooge Shemp Howard or, God help us, the tragically irrepressible Joe Besser.