Chris Hicks: ‘The Middle,’ ‘Search,’ ‘Mama’s Family’ on DVD this week

Published: Sunday, March 2 2014 3:00 p.m. MST

Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn (in the front seat) on a family drive with their kids (Charlie McDermott, Atticus Shaffer, Eden Sher) in "The Middle." Season 4 is new to DVD this week.

Warner Home Video

The fourth season of “The Middle,” the third season of “Mama’s Family” and the entire series of the 1970s sci-fi thriller “Search” have arrived on DVD this week.

“The Middle: Season 4” (Warner, 2012-13, three discs, $44.98, 23 episodes, deleted scenes, bloopers, four-page episode guide). Sitcom veterans Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) and Neil Flynn (“Scrubs”) star as Mike and Frankie Heck, harried blue-collar parents in this underrated but hilarious domestic sitcom.

Heaton narrates each episode, in which the focus is often on the kids — self-centered older teenage son Axl (Charlie McDermott), who graduates high school at the end of this season; middle teenage daughter Sue (Eden Sher), a giddy incurable optimist, despite her repeated extracurricular failures; and young Brick (Atticus Shaffer), who is bookish, obtuse, socially challenged and instead of merely accepting his shortcomings, embraces them.

Each actor fits his/her character like a glove and is riotously quirky, and even the recurring characters are perfectly cast. And just when you think something is going way over the top, it manages to remain grounded and even thoughtful.

This is also one of the few current sitcoms (perhaps the only one) that eschews dirty jokes; it’s squeaky clean week in and week out.

“Search” (Warner Archive 1972-73, six discs, $49.95, 23 episodes). An ex-astronaut (Hugh O’Brien), a former beachcomber (Doug McClure) and a retired NYPD cop (Anthony Franciosa) are spies wired for audio/video real-time transmissions as they fight crime for a private security firm under the watchful (and often exasperated) tutelage of their director (Burgess Meredith).

A heady sci-fi twist on James Bond, with the three stars taking turns, each appearing in every third episode. O'Brien comes off best and some of the stories are quite inventive. Guests include Stefanie Powers, Bill Bixby, Barbara Feldon, Anne Francis, Dabney Coleman, and in a recurring role, Cheryl Ladd. Only drawback: The TV-movie pilot, “Probe,” isn’t here, but is available as a stand-alone disc. (Available at warnerarchive.com)

“Mama’s Family: The Complete Third Season” (StarVista, 1986-87, four discs, $29.95, 25 episodes, featurettes). Season 3 of this broad domestic sitcom about a rowdy blue-collar family stars Vicki Lawrence, whose senior-citizen bravado is very funny. This season marked a lot of changes: The show left NBC and went into syndication, some characters were jettisoned, Beverly Archer joined the show as loopy neighbor Iola, and Ken Berry and Dorothy Lyman as Mama’s son and daughter-in-law, who were absent during Season 2, returned. Also, Betty White, as one of Mama’s daughters, makes her final appearance. Guests include Dr. Joyce Brothers, Yeardley Smith and, in two episodes, Brent Spiner.

“Les Petits Meurtres D’Agatha Christie (The Little Murders of Agatha Christie): Set 1” (Acorn, 2009-13, four discs, $59.99, in French with English subtitles, seven episodes). It’s not unusual for French movies to show up in American theaters but a French TV show on U.S. DVD? Not so much. So here comes a French series that dramatizes Agatha Christie mysteries, or rather uses them as a jumping off point, as two 1930s bickering police detectives investigate. Included are such familiar stories as “The ABC Murders,” minus Poirot. The first six episodes are gleaned from the show’s initial four seasons. The final one is the premiere of Season 4, which switches to new detectives in the 1950s! (As one might expect, there is nudity, sex, violence and coarse language.)

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