A new Western, an episode from a vintage anthology and follow-up seasons of fan favorites are among TV programs on DVD and Blu-ray this week.
"Hell On Wheels: The Complete First Season" (eOne/Blu-ray, 2011, three discs, $44.98). This multi-character western from the AMC cable channel follows a former Confederate soldier (Anson Mount) as he tracks down the Yankees that killed his wife. To find the last killer on his list, he joins the Union Pacific's transcontinental railroad crew.
Neither as profane nor as dense as "Deadwood," and not quite as compelling as AMC's own "Broken Trail" miniseries, this one embraces genre tropes but also invests the story lines and dialogue with modern sensibilities, which makes for a mixed bag.
Still, it's well developed and performed by an able cast (with special kudos to Colm Meaney as a ruthless villain). And the intermingling of fiction with history — from the railroad backdrop to the plight of emancipated former slaves — lends some depth.
Extras: widescreen, featurettes (also on DVD, $39.98)
"Mr. Flanagan, the Chaplain and Mr. Lincoln" (Alden, 1960, b/w, $19.95). This vintage program tells the true story of a Jewish chaplain forced to resign during the Civil War after a law is passed requiring military chaplains to be officially ordained in Christian denominations.
Despite a grainy, scratchy source print, the eye-opening story remains quite compelling and is very well told. (Look for young George Segal in a supporting role.)
The episode is gleaned from the long-running NBC Sunday-morning show "The Eternal Light," comprised of documentaries and dramas produced in cooperation with the Jewish Theological Seminary. (For more information on the series, go to www.divacommunications.com/programs/documentaries/the-eternal-light/)
Extras: full frame (available at www.aldenfilms.com)
"Hazel: The Complete Third Season" (Shout! 1963-64, four discs, $34.93). Oscar-winner Shirley Booth returns for Season 3 of the domestic sitcom based on the comic strip about a feisty middle-age maid who turns a suburban household upside-down. Amusing, broadly played farce, typical of its era. Guest stars include Frank Gifford, Jamie Farr and Harvey Korman.
Extras: full frame, 32 episodes
"Flashpoint: The Fourth Season" (CBS/Paramount, 2011, three discs, $42.99). Enrico Colantoni leads the Strategic Response Unit (the Canadian equivalent of a SWAT team) in this latest season, defusing bombs, rescuing hostages, etc. Very good police procedural with a solid Canadian cast.
Extras: widescreen, 18 episodes, featurettes
"Time Team" (Athena, 2009, three discs, $59.99). Tony Robinson hosts this look at British history through the unearthed secrets collected by a team of archaeologists, historians, surveyors, etc., excavating sites that were once under Roman rule.
Extras: full frame, 12 episodes, text biographies; 16-page booklet
"Treasure Houses of Britain" (Athena, 2011, two discs, $49.99). Selina Scott uncovers the history of five country homes steeped in British history in this documentary series.
Extras: widescreen, five episodes, featurettes; 12-page booklet
"The Universe: The Complete Season Six" (History/Blu-ray, 2011, three discs, $44.95). The computer effects developed for this documentary series about pioneering space are always the highlight, and Season 6 does not disappoint in that regard, especially in this Blu-ray edition. Subjects include the birth of the solar system, sounds from space, comets and asteroids, landing on Mars, etc.
Extras: widescreen, 14 episodes (also on four-disc DVD, $39.95)
"History of the World in Two Hours" (History/Blu-ray/3D, 2011, $29.95). CGI also drives this compressed view of "14 billion years of history," an entertaining survey of the formation of Earth, the emergence of life, the growth of man and civilization, etc. (Though configured for 3D equipment, this one is also compatible with Blu-ray players.)
Extras: widescreenComment on this story
"Astros: 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition" (A&E, 1981-2007, five discs, $49.95). Four "essential" games for Astros fans, highlighting Nolan Ryan in 1981, Mike Scott in 1986, Chris Burke in 2005 and Craig Biggio in 2007.
Extras: full frame/widescreen, four games, featurettes
"Scooby-Doo! 13 Spooky Tales Around the World" (Warner, 1976-84, two discs, $19.98). Episodes set in various international locations, gleaned from "The Scooby-Doo Show," "Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo" and "The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries."
Extras: full frame, 13 episodes (but 12 stories, as one is a two-parter)