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.)
“Under Capricorn” (Acorn, 1984, two discs, $39.99, two episodes). This Australian miniseries is a remake of the 1949 Alfred Hitchcock film, based on a novel by Helen Simpson. A classical gothic yarn that may bring to mind “Rebecca” (also filmed by Hitchcock), the story is set on a sprawling Australian ranch in 1831, where an ambitious, well-mannered young Irishman hopes to make his fortune. But his involvement with the ranch owner’s mentally challenged wife digs up dark secrets. (Contains nudity.)
“Above Suspicion: Set 3” (Acorn, 2012, $29.99, three episodes, featurette, photo gallery). The latest three-part story of this tough British police procedural is also its last, as detective inspector Anna Travis (excellent Kelly Reilly) and her old boss (Ciaran Hinds) try to find a killer while dealing with their own complicated relationship. The elements that have Travis traversing the man’s world of police inspectors has led to comparisons to “Prime Suspect,” which, like this show, came from the pen of Lynda La Plante.
“Last Stand of the 300 and Other Greek Battles” (History, Lionsgate, 2004-09, three discs, $19.98, six episodes). Just in time for the “300” sequel that opens in theaters next week is this set of six History cable channel specials on similar subjects: “Last Stand of the 300,” “Decisive Battles: Marathon,” “Battles BC: Alexander, Lord of War,” etc.Comment on this story
“Adventure Time: the Complete Third Season” (CN/Blu-ray, 2011-12, $32.97, 26 episodes, audio commentaries, featurettes). Another odd but amusing ratings hit for the Cartoon Network cable channel is this animated series about a boy and his magical dog in a mystical world where they have adventures with Princess Bubblegum, the Ice King and the Vampire Queen, who doesn’t drink blood but devours the color red. (Also on DVD, $26.95)
“The Flintstone Kids: Rockin’ in Bedrock” (Warner, 1986-87, two discs, $19.97, 10 episodes). Ten of the first season’s 14 episodes are collected here for fans of the animated series that imagines Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty as children. Yabba-dabba goo goo.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: www.hicksflicks.com