AmericanHorrorAsylumFor a format that has been all but pronounced dead or dying by the folks who like to pronounce such things, disc releases continue pouring out in numbers that seem to contradict the assumption. And not just for movies. It’s been a month since I’ve tackled TV on disc and trying to catch up on what I missed is, to say the least, daunting.

American Horror Story: Asylum (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD) confirms that series creator Ryan Murphy has come up with a new twist on anthology horror TV, making each season a self-contained story, essentially a collection original mini-series with a brand sensibility and a stock company of players who grab a new character with each incarnation (along with newcomers). Where the first series was a ghost story set in contemporary Los Angeles, Asylum rewinds back decades and lands in a loony bin run by the church and filled with some very nasty spirits and secrets, plus another memorable performance by Jessica Lange. It arrived on disc as the new season launched on FX. 13 episodes plus featurettes and deleted scenes.

InTheFleshKeeping with the horror TV theme, the British limited series In The Flesh (BBC, DVD) chronicles the aftermath of the zombie uprising as the undead are, essentially, calmed with medication and sent home to resume their lives. Well, their continued existence, anyway (it’s called “partially dead syndrome”), which is not what Kieren (Luke Newberry) expected when he took his own life a couple of years before. Not that his little village is ready for him, either, as hatred of the zombies has never abated. The zombie has become a handy metaphor for almost anything a filmmaker could hope for in the past decade or so. Here it tackles intolerance, hatred, forgiveness, acceptance, guilt, trauma, and hypocrisy, and finds that emotion is a far more powerful instinct than reason or knowledge. As a metaphor for prejudice it’s not exactly subtle but creator Dominic Mitchell invests deeply in the emotional crises of his characters, undead and alive alike, and the ways in which people justify their emotional impulses and ignore contradictions as it suits their needs. It makes a very human drama of inhuman circumstances. Three hours over three parts on DVD.

JackIrishJack Irish: Series 1 (Acorn, Blu-ray+DVD Combo), an Australian series of telefilms based on the novels of Peter Temple, stars Guy Pearce as a former lawyer trying to pick up the pieces after his own client, in a fit of rage, murders Jack’s wife. That’s all established in the first few minutes of “Bad Debts,” the first of two “Jack Irish” films which debuted on Australian TV in 2012 and in the U.S. via the online service Acorn TV. Pearce is suitably shabby and seedy as Jack, who turns his back on his profession and seems content getting by as low-rent debt collector, itinerate race-track gambler, drinker, and apprentice to a cabinet maker. But he plays it with the low-key style of a man slipping back into old haunts (he’s a regular at a local working-class pub) and easy rhythms. These are traditional but well-written mysteries anchored by an interesting character and strong performance by Pearce, the same caliber as most British TV mysteries but with an Australian setting and sensibility. Two feature-length episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus a featurette.

Gillian Anderson has essentially relocated her career to Britain, where she’s finding good roles on TV, and she headlines The Fall: Series One (Acorn, DVD) as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, a specialist in the psychology of serial killers who is called in to a case in Belfast. The first series, made for BBC2 in Britain, premiered on Netflix in June, where it was unfortunately overshadowed by their original shows like “Orange is the New Black.” Now it’s on disc. Five episodes on two discs on DVD, with a short featurette.

DefianceS1Defiance: Season One (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD) is SyFy’s first real original science fiction series in a while (as opposed to pick-ups like Continuum and supernatural shows like Being Human). This one tosses the human and alien survivors of a war that almost destroyed the planet together into a new society rebuilding on the rubble. Which makes it pretty much a futuristic western, complete with a rakish cowboy lawman (Grant Bowler) and an adopted alien daughter (Stephanie Leonidas) who stake out their place in a frontier mining town that was once St. Louis (the damaged arch still rises over the town, giving the show a distinctive visual signature). The tribalism of the various races isn’t that much different from the urban melting pot of modern urban cities, and individuals all have their own personal motivations, which gives the show its share of heroes and villains and, mostly, a lot of folks in between. While there’s nothing new or original here, it is colorful, features an engaging production design that suggests a mix of industrial practicality and scavenged technology, and tosses in all sorts of schemes and conspiracies and political machinations to the familiar stories of suspicious strangers, criminal activity, and outside forces trying to take over the town and the mines that give it value. 12 episodes plus featurettes and deleted scenes.

PrimevelNewWordlsmallPrimeval New World: The Complete Series (eOne, Blu-ray, DVD) is essentially SyFy’s American spin-off of the British series that drops dinosaurs in the modern world thanks to rips in the fabric time. To be fair, it actually takes place in Vancouver, Canada (where it is shot, of course), which is apparently the North American locus of dinosaur time travel. In this version, a tech entrepreneur (Niall Matter) finances his own team to take on the invasion and send the creatures back to their time before the butterfly effect does any damage to reality while the government has its own agenda. It’s essentially the same series minus the mad-scientist conspiracy, comic relief, and British accents, and it ends before its bid to introduce its own take on the space-time ripples gets a proper tryout. The two-part finale, titled “The Sound of Thunder” after the famous Ray Bradbury story, leaves us on a cliffhanger that will never be resolved: the show wasn’t picked up for a second season. 13 episodes plus featurettes.

FamilyTreeChristopher Guest brings his mockumentary improv comedy model to HBO with Family Tree: The Complete First Season (HBO, DVD), starring Chris O’Dowd as a recently unemployed guy who finds distraction from his brooding self-pity when he inherits a box of family memorabilia from a distant great aunt and tracks down the backstories of his ancestors. What he finds, inevitably, is a roll call of eccentrics, under-achievers, and stunted dreams, but in that droll, underplayed manner than makes his feature comedies such a delight. And some familiar faces show up for various episodes: Michael McKean (as the dad, who spends his days watching painfully unfunny – and completely made-up – old British sitcoms), Ed Begley Jr., Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, and Guest himself. Eight half-hour episodes plus deleted scenes and a featurette.

More new shows and specials:VikingsS1

Vikings: The Complete First Season (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD), the first continuing original drama on the History Channel, takes the vogue for historical TV drama to the barbarian culture of the rampaging northmen. Nine episodes. The remake Beauty and the Beast: The First Season (Paramount, DVD), which trades the romantic fantasy of the original series for the CW formula of sexy young adults (namely Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan) and a government conspiracy of genetic experiments, comes in at 22 episodes.

Untold History of the United States (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD), Oliver Stone’s take on the stories behind the American history we take for granted, was originally made for Showtime.

And from PBS comes The March (PBS, DVD), a documentary on the Civil Right March on Washington led by Martin Luther King.

Box sets and collections:DamagesComplete

The gift sets are coming out too, lining up to vie for your holiday dollars. Damages: The Complete Series (Sony, DVD) collects all five seasons of the legal series with Glenn Close and Rose Byrne that began on cable and ended up on satellite TV.

Downton Abbey Seasons 1-3: Limited Edition Box Set (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD) should prove to be catnip for plenty of viewers, though the show is set to return with a fourth season next year. British mystery lovers have the low-key Inspector Lewis: Pilot through Series 6 (PBS, DVD), geeks and gamers have Internet darling Felicia Day’s web series The Guild: Complete Megaset (Flatiron, DVD).

Casting the net farther back, The Best of the Original An Evening at the Improv: 4-Disc Special Edition (Somerville House, DVD) features 12 hours of stand-up comedy from some of the greats way back when while Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: The Complete Collection (Star Vista, DVD), available exclusively at, collects all 54 programs along with bonus TV specials and featurettes.

And if family sitcom nostalgia is your speed, there is The Partridge Family: The Complete Series (Sony, DVD), Bewitched: The Complete Series (Sony, DVD), and I Dream of Jeannie: The Complete Series (Sony, DVD), plus Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection (Star Vista, DVD) available exclusive online at

More recent releases:Awkward

Line of Duty: Series 1 (Acorn, DVD)
Awkward: Seasons One & Two (Paramount, DVD)
Gentle Ben: Season One (Paramount, DVD)
First of the Summer Wine: Series One (BFS, DVD)
North America (Gaiam, Blu-ray, DVD)
90210: The Final Season (Paramount, DVD)
Nikita: The Complete Third Season (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD)
White Collar: The Complete Fourth Season (Fox, DVD)
Hart of Dixie: The Complete Second Season (Warner, DVD)
Anger Management: Volume Two (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Middle: Season 3 (Warner, DVD)
The Guild: Season 6 (Flatiron, DVD)
Kavanagh Q.C. Set 6: The End of Law Set (BFS, DVD)
The Pallisers: 40th Anniversary Edition (Acorn, DVD)
The Secret of Crickley Hall (BBC, DVD)
The Snow Queen (BBC, DVD)
Dr. Who: Terror of the Zygons (BBC, DVD)
Antigone 34 (MHz, DVD)
The Johan Falk Trilogy (MHz, DVD)
Spiral: Season 2 (MHz, DVD)
Kindred: The Embraced – The Complete Series (Paramount, DVD)
League of Super Evil: The Complete Series (Flatiron, DVD)
Aaahh!! Real Monsters: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, DVD)
Digimon: The Official Seasons 1-4 Collection (Flatiron, DVD)
Brains on Trial with Alan Alda (PBS, DVD)
David Starkey’s Music & Monarchy (Athena, DVD)
The Dark Ages: The Age of Light (Athena, DVD)
A Day in the life: Seasons 1 & 2 (Virgil, DVD)
American Experience: War of the Worlds (PBS, DVD)
WWII 3-Film Collection (Lionsgate, Blu-ray)
The JFK Collection (Lionsgate, DVD)