I'm Alan Partridge: Series 1BBC, $29.98
It's not necessary to be British, or to go back and buy Steve Coogan's preceding series, Knowing Me, Knowing You, to appreciate his piercing mode of celebrity send-up, but it would help. It's also well worth the investment. Located somewhere on the buffoonish-yet-self-important continuum between Ted Knight's Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Ricky Gervais on The Office, Alan Partridge is secure in his sense of self-entitlement to fame (i.e., television), yet entirely shaky about the talent part. The dimwit DJ started as a radio character for Coogan, then jumped to the BBC (fictionally and literally), where Partridge famously imploded—wielding a turkey as a weapon—on a Christmas broadcast fiasco. This follow-up series (aired in 1997) charts his humiliating return to early-morning radio in Norwich, where he lives as seemingly the only guest at a dismal extended-stay motel set by the highway, barely tolerated by the staff.
Though a '90s creation, Partridge is a caricature of the '80s—a man without any musical taste (see: that lacquered thatch of hair; see: those ghastly holiday sweaters) who can't keep Soft Cell and the Police out of his mental soundtrack. (Asked what's the best Beatles album, he naturally replies, "The Best of the Beatles.") The predawn shift at the radio station is purgatory to him in this land of farmers; after all, he's a sophisticate, a TV veteran, a man who wears driving gloves in his (ordinary) sedan! The only way for him to preserve his aura of once-and-future celebrity is to abuse his personal assistant and the moteliers, who naturally mock him at every back-turned opportunity. (There's a strain of Basil Fawlty's DNA in the Partridge family tree.)
Yet Alan's durability and cluelessness begin to look like a form of courage in the showbiz arena. You can't kill him. You can't keep him down. You can't keep him away from the microphone or camera. (What little self-awareness he does possess comes in the form of nightmares about pole dancing for BBC executives.) Coogan has complained about being unable to distance himself from the character (Series 2 of I'm Alan Partridge actually followed in 2002), and some see the traces in his work in 24 Hour Party People (as TV host Tony Wilson) and even in Tristram Shandy (where Coogan, as Coogan, is mocked as Partridge). And still—now there's even talk of an Alan Partridge movie. In which sense the caricature finally has its revenge on the creator: So intent is Partridge on his career that he threatens to destroy Coogan's. BRIAN MILLER
CarsBuena Vista, $29.99
To say that Cars is the worst Pixar movie isn't an insult, just as saying that Alec Baldwin is the best Baldwin brother isn't a compliment. The movie still stands roof and spoiler over the majority of goofy computerized kid movies. There's just something off here that sets it apart from masterpieces like Finding Nemo or The Incredibles or even A Bug's Life. Is it that, in their essence, cars aren't cute? That the society of vehicles portrayed doesn't feel believable? That they stole the plot from Doc Hollywood? These questions may keep you from getting truly immersed, but they won't trouble the kids. And the trademark cleverness and top-notch voice talent (Owen Wilson, Paul Newman) make Cars utterly watchable. Special features include a couple of cute short films (some of them with the cast members) and deleted scenes, but there's sufficiently little here, thus ensuring another 12 editions in the future. JORDAN HARPER
The Best of Carson: Vol. 1R2 Entertainment, $39.99
There are already some 483 Johnny Carson best-of collections available—but like 2Pac and Hendrix, he's the corpse that keeps on giving. What differentiates this compilation, which is full of familiar Carnac sketches and Don Rickles appearances and Bette Midler farewells, is the heralded inclusion of a single show: the allegedly lost and infamous episode referred to as "Return to Studio One." It's a 1969 broadcast during which Dean Martin pops in for a "surprise" visit and hijacks the show from Bob Hope and the host. Carson, wearing a turtleneck and neckerchief, looks genuinely befuddled by a maybe-drunken Dino's smart-ass asides, offered with such elegant and casual bite. Whether it deserves its legendary status is debatable. But better that than another Aunt Blabby sketch, though you get that, too. ROBERT WILONSKY
Other ReleasesGeek historians rejoice: The 20th-anniversary reissue of Transfomers: The Movie means you don't have to worry where you buried that time capsule in the front yard. Though Helen Mirren's getting raves for The Queen, her braver performance this year comes in Shadowboxer, as an assassin conducting an affair with her stepson (Cuba Gooding Jr.). Edie Falco adds a commentary to season six of The Sopranos. The Spanish Take My Eyes greatly complicates notions of domestic violence and what makes a marriage work, fall apart, and work again. For TV completists, there are 122 episodes of Homicide bundled on a 35-disc holiday gift set and, on a smaller scale, the sole 1982 series of Police Squad. Other box sets honor Marlon Brando (with that rarity Reflections in a Golden Eye) and Gary Cooper (when will they get around to a remake of The Fountainhead?). Foreign reissues include Tarkovsky's Stalker and Un Coeur en Hiver. Crossword obsessives will recognize their own kind in the nerd-fest documentary Wordplay, and for people who don't subscribe to The New York Times, there's a comedy concert movie treatment of those guys on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.