TV has changed radically in the last decade but even with cable and streaming rivals, split seasons and winter and spring debuts, September remains the launch of the new TV season and that means the previous seasons start to roll out on disc in August. There are plenty to cover since the last TV round-up.
You can buy or rent digital copies of most of these shows, either by individual episode or full season package, through iTunes, Amazon, and other digital e-tailers, but that’s an expensive way to go, so I’ve noted which shows are also available through subscription streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant, and Hulu. And even if you don’t buy TV discs, a lot of libraries carry TV series on DVD (and sometimes on Blu-ray) so check with your local library system for any of these that interest you.
The Good Wife: The Fifth Season (Paramount, DVD) is the rare network drama that has found its voice and improved over its run, delivering both a clever and engaging legal show with cases and twists and offbeat characters that rival David E. Kelly’s show at their best, and an adult drama with real stakes and consequences for every choice, personal and professional. The professional complications come right away as Alicia (Julianna Margulies) plotting to leave Lockhart Gardner and start a new firm with fellow associate Cary (Matt Czerny), a secretive scheme that turns into a war with former colleagues Will (Josh Charles) and Diane (Christine Baranski). The split forces Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) to take sides and creates tension between the firm and Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), who is still Alicia’s husband if only in name and public appearance.
Margulies remains the center of the show but this is an ensemble with an expanding universe of characters—this season introduces mob-connected lawyer Damian Boyle, a new hire for the firm, and brings back Nathan Lane as a new colleague in the fledgling firm, Carrie Preston as an eccentric attorney, and Michael J. Fox as cunning rival Louis Canning who takes an interest in Lockhart/Gardner—but Charles dominates as Will, who goes on the offensive with a ferocity previously unseen in his character, while Baranski finds herself in a crisis of her own. For fans of the show, this is a significant season due to a dramatic death. A lot of dramas would play it for shock value but creators Michelle and Robert King work the event into the fabric of the series and the show spends a good part of the season exploring the way the characters deal with the loss personally and professionally.
22 episodes on six discs on DVD, with two featurettes (including an in-depth look at the key episode where a major character is killed), a music video, and deleted scenes. No streaming option yet beyond Digital VOD.
I frankly dropped out of this still-thriving cult series after the third season ended its cable run, so watching The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD) on disc was like a binge-viewing catch-up. The things that work—the intimacy of personal relationships among the characters and the intelligent engagement with personal commitments and moral dilemmas—still work, while the feeling that the series gets constantly mired in sidetracks and dramatic inertia is still present. The season opens with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the group trying to make a permanent home in their renovated prison sanctuary (having survived the Governor’s assault the previous season) but new threats send them searching for a new place, splintering the group in their flight and finally bringing them together in the cliffhanger finale that sets up another big dramatic battle to come. One thing that the season continues to confirm, however, is that Daryl (Norman Reedus) is still the most interesting character in the group.
16 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD editions, each with commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and eight featurettes. The Blu-ray also includes two extended episodes and a bonus commentary track. This season won’t be available to stream on Netflix for another month, so disc or Digital VOD are your best options for now, and frankly disc is the cheaper way to go (with the discounts available from various venders) at this point. Season five begins in October.
Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fourth Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) arrives less than two weeks before the fifth and final season begins on HBO, setting up the familial conflict that will surely become the focal point of the last episodes. It’s mob drama and family drama, with Buscemi still playing Nucky with a low-key approach in contrast to the big mob players of the 1920s, Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) in New York and Al Capone (Stephen Graham) in Chicago, and getting dragged into another turf war, this time with Harlem power broker Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), who runs his criminal activities beneath a façade of social works and tries to muscle in on Nucky’s territory. Patricia Arquette co-stars this season as a Florida speakeasy owner who helps him set up and run his new liquor pipeline from the Caribbean. For all the grand production values (the period recreation and visual texture is amazing and almost worth watching in its own right), it’s one of HBO’s less flamboyant spectacles and it constantly brings the violent business back home to show just what it does to the individuals and families involved.
10 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with episode commentary, featurettes, and character profiles, and additional supplements exclusive to the Blu-ray edition. Also available on HBO Go and Cable On Demand for HBO subscribers.
Revolution: The Complete Second Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD) is also the final season of the show. The JJ Abrams production in some way plays like a steampunk The Walking Dead, without the zombies but with social and technological collapse and threats to the survivors from bands of raiders, militias, and would-be dictators looking to rule the country. The second season has plenty of all, as well as another potential threat: the nano-technology that turned out the lights is now an artificial intelligence in its own right and it too wants to rule the world. It’s a colorful and action-packed show with a great look and the kind of visual spectacle you don’t often see on TV, which is probably one reason it was cancelled. And I like Billy Burke’s reluctant hero Miles. I just never got caught up in the sweep of its ambition.
22 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD editions, each with two featurettes, video of the 2013 Comic Con panel, deleted scenes, and a gag reel. The Blu-ray also features DVD and UltraViolet Digital HD editions of the season. No streaming options yet beyond Digital VOD.
Portlandia: Season Four (VSC, DVD), the cult sketch comedy series created by and starring Saturday Night Live alumnus Fred Armisen and musician / songwriter Carrie Brownstein, has become a cultural force with an influence well beyond its cable channel base, thanks to its sharp yet affectionate lifestyle satire and its web presence. Yes, Kyle MacLachlan is back as the Mayor and Steve Buscemi takes the lead in an epic episode set in the shadowy conspiracies of the produce marketing industry, with a guest star roster that includes k.d. lang, Jello Biafra, Michael Nesmith, Maya Rudolph, Kirsten Dunst, and Olivia Wilde (among many others).
10 episodes on two discs on DVD, no supplements. And true to its inspiration, it comes in environmentally friendly paperboard packaging. Comes to Netflix in November.
Elementary: The Second Season (Paramount, DVD), starring Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in modern day New York and Lucy Lui as Dr. Joan Watson, is in its own way as satisfying an updating of The World’s Greatest Detective as the BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. This season brings more of the characters from the Holmes canon into the show, notably his estranged brother Mycroft (Rhys Ifans), in this version a restaurateur with shady connections, and Lestrade (Sean Pertwee), here a rather pathetic fellow with an addiction for attention but little talent as a detective without Holmes pointing the way. Both star in the two-part season opener, which brings Holmes back to London, and work their way to New York before the season is over. Even more interesting, however, is the way Holmes faces the consequences of his arrogance when it gets a friend and colleague hurt.
24 episodes on six discs on DVD, with six featurettes on the show and the characters, plus deleted scenes. No streaming options currently available beyond Digital VOD.
It’s not all returning shows. The Musketeers (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD) is the new swashbuckling costume adventure from BBC and BBC America, a spirited and energetic (if unimaginative) take on the Dumas classic. Luke Pasqualino is the handsome country boy swordsman D’Artagnan who comes to Paris for revenge and ends up in the brotherhood of the Musketeers, the King’s personal guard, with Athos (Tom Burke), the serious one; Porthos (Howard Charles), the scrappy one; and Aramis (Santiago Cabrera), the lothario who has a fling with the Queen. Peter Capaldi (the new Doctor Who) is the most fun as Cardinal Richelieu, their nemesis, and most of the episodes revolve around Richelieu’s attempts to frame the Musketeers or manipulate the King. Which makes for a colorful and flashy show but not much substance or dramatic strength.
10 episodes on three discs on DVD, with four featurettes. A second season is announced for 2015.
Given all this TV (good, great, or simply diverting), why would you need to look beyond our English language options? I don’t have an answer, except that it’s kind of fun to check out what other countries find fun. Like Inspector Manara: Season 1 (MHz, DVD) and Inspector Manara: Season 2 (MHz, DVD), a spirited Italian murder mystery series with Guido Caprino as the handsome, young, flagrantly unconventional new Chief in a rural police department who sets every woman’s heart aflutter. Except for Inspector Lara Rubino (Roberta Giarrusso), another new arrival with a shared history at the police academy and a grudge that he doesn’t understand. It plays like a mix of easy-going British rural mystery and colorful American detective series, except that it’s all set in western Italy.
13 episodes on four discs, in Italian with unremovable English subtitles
Also from Italy this month comes Cesare Mori – The Complete Series (MHz, DVD), a period piece about the cop who took on the Sicilian Mafia in the 1920s and 1930s, and Donna Detective: Season 1 (MHz, DVD), a modern mystery series starring Lucrezia Lante della Rovere as a detective put in charge of Rome’s most prestigious investigative squad. And Borsellino: The 57 Days / Giovani Falcone: The Judge (MHz, DVD) collects two Italian telefilms about real-life heroes who took on the mafia in the 1990s. All in Italian with unremovable English subtitles.
Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, DVD) presents all four seasons and 95 episodes of the seventies sitcom starring comedian Gabe Kaplan as new high school teacher Mr. Kotter assigned to “the Sweathogs,” the class of problem students that he once belonged to. Season One was previously released separately but this is the disc debut of the rest of the series (apart from a couple of odd episodes on different collections), which went rapidly downhill in later seasons when John Travolta left for the movies and Kaplan withdrew over creative conflicts. 16 discs, with a featurette, screen tests, and a booklet.
Breathless (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD) is another period British drama, this one set among the staff of a hospital in the early 1960s, sort of an English Mad Men by way of a medical soap opera, complete with troubled marriages, affairs, blackmail, and by the end of the six-episode series, murder. It’s handsome but derivative and contrived and was cancelled after the initial six-episode run. It played in the U.S. on “Masterpiece Mystery,” despite the fact that there’s little mystery here. It has a good cast, though, including Jack Davenport, Natasha Little and Iain Glen.
Rosemary’s Baby (2014) (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD), a mini-series remake of the Polanski horror classic, relocates the story to Paris, where Zoe Saldana stars as the young whose first pregnancy becomes quite the curse. Patrick J. Adams (of the cable show Suits) is her seemingly benevolent husband, Carole Bouquet and Jason Isaacs co-star, and Agnieszka Holland directs. With two featurettes.
Toy Story of Terror (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, Disney Movies Anywhere) is the short TV special broadcast last Halloween. It’s now on disc and digital for the little fans looking to complete their collection of adventures with Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and their toybox friends. With three bonus Toy Story animated shorts, commentary, and featurettes among the supplements.
Once Upon a Time: The Complete Third Season (ABC, Blu-ray, DVD) is another high-concept series that inspires devotion from its fans so the disc is packed with commentary tracks, featurettes, deleted scenes and other supplements along with the 22 episodes of the season. The Blu-ray includes an exclusive writer’s room featurette and more deleted scenes. It’s also available to stream in its entirety on Netflix as of Friday, August 29, as is Revenge: The Complete Third Season (ABC, Blu-ray, DVD). No supplements in the streaming editions but the price is right.
Sons of Anarchy: Season 6 (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) arrived just weeks before the series revs up for its seventh and final season, and all indications that it’s heading for a conflagration. For a series that began as Hamlet on Harleys, it’s turning into a biker Godfather with Jax getting slowly corrupted by the violence of his life. 13 episodes plus supplements. No streaming option yet apart from Digital VOD.
Parks and Recreation: Season Six (Universal, DVD) is also heading into its final season and, while never a ratings powerhouse, it’s one of the funniest shows with the best ensemble cast on TV. Now it even has its own newly-minted superstar: Chris Pratt, the lovable, generous idiot of the show and the star of the summer blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy. 20 episodes on DVD, plus supplements. Comes to Netflix at the end of September.
Another underrated show, The Mindy Project: Season Two (Universal, DVD), created by and starring Mindy Kaling, also arrives on disc, hoping to pull some new fans into its orbit before the third season launches. Ratings are low but it’s a critical hit and that sometimes counts for something. 22 episodes on three discs, with deleted scenes and a gag reel. No streaming option yet apart from Digital VOD.
Criminal Minds: Season 9 (Paramount, DVD)
Parenthood: Season 5 (Universal, DVD)
Haven: The Complete Fourth Season (eOne, DVD)
Heartland: The Complete Fourth Season (eOne, DVD)
NCIS: The Eleventh Season (Paramount, DVD)
NCIS: Los Angeles – The Fifth Season (Paramount, DVD)
Newhart: The Complete Fourth Season (Shout Factory, DVD)
Blandings: Series 2 (Acorn, DVD)
Murder in Suburbia: The Complete Collection (Acorn, DVD)
The Twilight Zone: The Complete 80s Series (RLJ / Image, DVD)
Hey Arnold!: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, DVD)
A Haunting: Season 6 (Shout Factory, DVD)
37 Days (BBC, DVD)
14 War Stories (BBC, DVD)
Royal Cousins at War (BBC, DVD)
Churchill’s First World War (BBC, DVD)
Secrets of the Dead: The Mona Lisa Mystery (PBS, DVD)
Medieval Lives (Acorn, DVD)
Morbito: The Complete Series (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
75 Years of WWII (A&E, DVD)