Movies on DVD? That's so 2002. This year, 'tis the season to give the gift of canceled sitcoms, forgotten TV miniseries, and premium cable shows you previously couldn't afford. Here are some of 2003's boxed-set highlights and must-haves.
The BBC Ultimate Comedy Megapack (BBC, $562.82)
For the Britcom fan in your life, a gift of this newly released set could have a tear-inducing effect on par with a diamond from Tiffany & Co. The 10 discs cover 10 BBC favorites: Absolutely Fabulous, Black Adder, Father Ted, Fawlty Towers, Red Dwarf, The Young Ones, Coupling, Keeping Up Appearances, French & Saunders, and Yes, Minister. There's enough material to keep you laughing at bumbling Basil Fawlty and friends till Memorial Day. It's just a sampling, though; so for the true Britcom fanatic, you might consider one of the BBC's full sets, such as Black Adder: The Complete Collection ($119.98) or The Young Ones: Every Stoopid Episode ($59.98). KATIE MILLBAUER
Charlie's Angels: The Complete First Season (Columbia TriStar, $49.94)
Yeah, sure, we all appreciate the comedic and social progress that The Mary Tyler Moore Show represented for TV in the '70s, but somewhere in our secret souls, we're still more grateful for this compilation. C'monFarrah Fawcett-Majors? I rest my case. ABC's tribute to jiggly escapism was the ultimate guilty pleasure, and its debut year1976, when the detective trio consisted of Farrah, Jaclyn Smith, and Kate Jacksonwas easily its most fun. You get the pilot and 22 episodes, including the quintessential "Angels in Chains," which finds the ladies posing as both jailbirds and hookers, with appearances from future Love Boat star Lauren Tewes, future Oscar-winner Kim Basinger, and cult-film actress Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000)who, as a sadistic prison warden, has the Angels sprayed clean. STEVE WIECKING
Directors Label Series (Palm, $19.99 each)
If it seems redundant to watch music videos on your own rather than to encounter them on MTV, well, it probably is. But this collection works because creators Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry are fanatically attentive to detail and don't stint on extras. Jonze's Volume 1 functions as a catalog of mid-'90s pop cool, with clips from Weezer ("Buddy Holly" and "Undone") to Fatboy Slim ("Weapon of Choice," in which Christopher Walken dances up a storm) and, best of all, the Notorious B.I.G.'s posthumous "Sky's the Limit," an homage to the 1976 kid-gangster flick Bugsy Malone. The artists' commentary is also interesting, though the Beasties sure do mumble a lot for a bunch of loudmouths. Cunningham's Volume 2 is the shortestonly one side of the DVD is put to use as opposed to Jonze's and Gondry's twobut it's also the freakiest, from the limb-losing dude in Leftfield's "Africa Shox" to the robots making out to Bj�s "All Is Full of Love" to a pair of extremely creepy Aphex Twin clips, "Come to Daddy" and "Windowlicker." Gondry's Volume 3 brings us up to date with a slew of recent videos from the White Stripes, working backward to the obscure Oui Oui. Each volume also comes with an excellent 52-page book containing lengthy interviews with each director, making the series a bargain in more ways than one. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
Mr. Show: The Complete Third Season (HBO, $34.98)
That the Mr. Show tour and DVDs are popular five years after HBO canceled David Cross and Bob Odenkirk's sketch comedy series is testament to the show's strength. This two-disc set includes all 10 episodes of the season that brought the world "Druggachusetts," a psychedelic Krofft Brothers parody; "The Evil Genius Telethon," in which Bob and David pilfer money from benevolent viewers; "Fuzz: The Musical," a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of a COPS-style musical; and the hilarious "East Coast-West Coast Ventriloquist Feud," which parodies the gangsta rap wars. Essential stocking stuffer: last year's book Mr. Show: What Happened?! (Squaresville Productions, $22.95), a tell-all and episode guide. K.M.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection Vol. 3 and 4 (Rhino, $59.95)
Once upon a time, yelling snarky comments at the movie screen was an art practiced mostly by boors, midnight-movie aficionados, or people with Tourette's. That changed with a little two-hour comedy program from Minneapolis called Mystery Science Theater 3000, in which first Joel Hodgson, then Michael Nelson, and their robot pals, Tom Servo (made from the remnants of a gumball machine) and Crow T. Robot (a gold-painted bowling pin mouth with a hockey-mask head and Ping-Pong-ball eyes), crack a steady stream of laconic jokes while watching unspeakably bad movies. This pair of four-DVD sets covers various stages of MST3K's history, including the well-deserved pummelings of such cinematic gems as The Sidehackers, The Unearthly, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, and Space Mutinynot to mention the worst Hamlet ever committed to celluloid. M.M.
The OfficeThe Complete First Series (BBC Video, $29.98)
I hate to say it, but we all know it's true: The British are funnier than we are, especially when it comes to sitcoms. The Office crosses (inadvertently, I'm sure) Office Space and The Larry Sanders Show with The Mary Tyler Moore Show and ends up surpassing them all (and how) in characterization, satire, and plain old wit. (Extra bonus: no fake, annoying laugh track.) The series premiered on BBC America early this year, quickly becoming the same stateside smash it's been in the U.K. since '01. I once spent a whole weekend in bed giggling in hysterics while watching bootleg tapes of the entire series, which involves a hilariously realistic 9-to-5 crew at a paper manufacturing company. But the DVDsand we hope more seasons will soon followare well worth the price. Co-director, co-writer, and star Ricky Gervais plays the principal character, David Brent, whose dry, clueless, overbearing persona is the best we've seen on TV since, well, TV. LAURA CASSIDY
Sports Night: The Complete Series Boxed Set (Buena Vista, $44.99)
This is the show that made me want to be a journalist. West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin's short-lived, much-loved sitcom stretched TV comedy formula to its limits, tackling media ethics, sexual harassment, and race relations without losing its comic edge. Despite multiple Emmy nominations, the show's brainy banter couldn't save it; Sorkin's baby flopped after just two seasons. Then Comedy Central aired it in reruns, and Night found a second lifeand a whole new wave of rabid fans. Show alumnus Peter Krause ended up on Six Feet Under, and Josh Malina is a West Wing regular, but it's Sabrina Lloyd's performance as Nataliea character you fall in love with not because you're supposed to, but because you just can't help itthat really made Night soar. NEAL SCHINDLER
Three's Company: Season One (Anchor Bay, $14.99)
The John Ritter we're more or less rightly lionizing today isn't the straight-arrow columnist/cool dad of 8 Simple Rules but lanky, lecherous, pratfalling chef Jack Tripper, the luckiest-man-in-the-world lead of this breezy, innuendo-stoked late-'70s sexcom. Cheap, extras-free, and to the point, this set offers merely the pilot (based on Britcom Man About the House) and the first six episodes, most of which deal with the antagonistic Mr. Roper trying to get Jack to "go straight," which would in turn result in eviction (coed, hetero roomies, ironically, were more taboo than a gay man and two straight women living together). Company wasn't exactly a cultural examination on the level of All in the Family, but it spiced up the small screen and gave Ritter his iconic, career-defining role. ANDREW BONAZELLI
The West Wing: The Complete First Season (Warner Home Video, $49.95)
As Sports Night entered its final season (see above), NBC aired the pilot episode of another Aaron Sorkin workplace dramedy . . . where the workplace just happened to be the White House. Wing transposed the Night formula (fast-talking colleagues trade smart, affectionate barbs while doing serious, credible work) onto a larger scalebigger cast, bigger issues, much bigger budgetand it triumphed. Convincing Martin Sheen to play uncompromising, unflaggingly liberal President Bartlet was certainly a major coup; viewers have insisted for years that they'd vote for Sheen in a heartbeat if he were on the 2004 ballot. It helps that he's backed by one of the strongest ensemble casts in television history, making the show appeal equally to NPR intellectuals and soap-opera addicts. N.S.
Wiseguy: Season 1, Part 1Sonny Steelgrave and the Mob (Ventura, $69.99)
If you're one of the masses who've forgotten this classic TV show, you're in for a treat; if you're a fan, you're in heaven. In its late-'80s heyday, Rockford Files auteur Stephen J. Cannell's mafia show was so important that it forced Scorsese to change his movie's name from Wiseguys to Goodfellas, and you can feel the influence of its triple-feature-movie-length story structure in The Sopranos and Six Feet Under. Hulky ethnic Ken Wahl is superb as undercover fed Vinnie Terranova. Ray Sharkey, in his last role before AIDS felled him, gives the performance of his lifetime as the Jersey mafioso Vinnie stings. Take my advice and preorder Season 1, Part 2 ($59.99, on disc Dec. 30): It's got Kevin Spacey's first important role, plus Annette Bening and Deborah Harry doing some of their best TV work. TIM APPELO