Bill Cosby’s animated “Fat Albert” series, based on the characters from his stand-up monologues, leads TV shows on DVD this week.
“Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: The Complete Series” (Shout!, 1972-85, 15 discs, $119.99, 110 episodes, audio commentary with Cosby and others, hourlong documentary; 14-page booklet). Cosby became a beloved icon in the 1960s with his many hilarious stand-up comedy monologues about growing up in urban Philadelphia. And his childhood pals came alive in those stories, leading to this excellent cartoon series, which is both educational and entertaining.
Perfectly designed to tackle issues faced by children, from lying to being approached by strangers to stage fright to bullying, the shows are laid out in a way that kids can grasp, and Cosby himself hosts episodes in bookended live-action segments that emphasize the educational aspects. He also voices several characters in the cartoons.
Sadly, the pilot for this show, a stand-alone 1969 prime-time TV special titled “Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert,” is not here and in fact has never been released on DVD. Also absent are the Halloween, Christmas and Easter prime-time specials produced during the 1980s, although they are available on DVD.
“Jack Taylor: Set 1” (Acorn, 2010-11, three discs, $49.99, three episodes, photo galleries). Iain Glen is very good as the title character, a cop-turned-private eye who, like many TV detectives, is burned out, drinks too much and isn’t the friendliest of blokes. But he gets the job done and has earned a reputation as the go-to guy for tough cases. Location shooting in western Ireland adds texture, and Glen’s performance gives these three feature-length mysteries some juice. (Violence, rough language)
“Honest” (Acorn, 2008, two discs, $39.99, six episodes, text production notes/interviews, photo gallery). After the head of a family of crooks is sent to prison, the mother (Amanda Redman) decides she and the children are going to go straight. Easier said than done in this British comedy-drama, as her two sons and two daughters are reluctant to find real jobs, which would mean embracing a lower-income lifestyle. And is her wily father-in-law faking his dementia? (Harsh language, sex, nudity, drugs)
“New Tricks: Season Nine” (Acorn, 2012, three discs, $39.99, 10 episodes, featurette). More dark and witty episodes with tough-minded Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman (Redman again) and her “old dogs” solving “impossible” cold cases in and around London. A veteran member of the team retires this season and a new member comes onboard. (Coarse language)
“MADtv: The Complete Third Season” (Shout!, 1997-98, four discs, $29.93, 25 episodes). “Saturday Night Live” clone, very loosely based on the MAD magazine template, has some talented comics occasionally hitting the mark, in particular with celebrity impersonations, which range in this set from Michael Jackson to Kim Jong-il. Guests include Halle Berry, Pam Grier, Phyllis Diller, Lou Diamond Phillips, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Anna Nicole Smith, Sandra Bernhard, LaToya Jackson and Jerry Springer.
“Todd & the Book of Pure Evil: The Complete Second Season” (eOne, 2011-12, two discs, $19.98, 13 episodes, deleted/extended scenes, audio commentaries, featurettes, bloopers). Canadian comedy-horror series follows the misadventures of high schoolers who have found the title book, leading to zombie rockers and other devilish plots.
“The Garfield Show: Pizza Dreams” (Vivendi, 2011, $14.93, six episodes). French/American animated series based on the comic strip (and dubbed in English, of course) about the lasagna-loving feline’s adventures.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parents Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com