Here's a batch of TV shows new to DVD, led by a sweet-natured light comedy that paved the way for the ultra-"nice" sitcoms of the 1950s.
• "Father Knows Best: Season One" (Shout! 1954-55, b/w, four discs, $34.99). Back when television (and movies, for that matter) cared about providing uplifting material the kind that, while not completely realistic, gave the audience an ideal to be aspired to this show was an antidote for the wacky wives and temperamental husbands of "I Love Lucy" and "Make Room for Daddy."
And it ushered in an era of kinder, gentler sitcoms that followed, such as "The Donna Reed Show" and "Leave it to Beaver."
Robert Young, as Jim Anderson, had already starred in the radio version of "Father Knows Best" for five years when he took on the TV show, which features insurance-salesman Jim, his wife Margaret (Jane Wyatt) and their three children, Betty (Elinor Donahue), Bud (Billy Gray) and Kathy (Lauren Chapin).
The title is a bit of a misnomer, as he didn't always know best, and some of this is pretty corny, even by '50s standards (dad calls his daughters "Princess" and "Kitten"). But it's obvious that the members of this suburban family love each other and care about getting it right.
True, Margaret is always dressed up as if she's going out, and the kids never get into any real trouble, and simple solutions are found for all of life's problem within each half-hour format. But as these episodes demonstrate, there's also real charm and warmth, something that, generally speaking, is sadly lacking today.
Extras: full frame, 26 episodes, special non-TV episode, pilot for "Window on Main Street" (Young's second series), Young's home movies
• "Becker: The First Season" (CBS/Paramount, 1998-99, three discs, $39.99). In contrast is this more recent series starring post-"Cheers" Ted Danson as the title character, a crass, crude, sarcastic and always surly doctor. This first season is a bit awkward getting out of the gate but eventually finds its humorous footing.
The good supporting cast includes Terry Farrell ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"), Shawnee Smith, Hattie Winston and others. Guests in this first season include Dick Van Dyke (as Becker's father), and Bill Cosby, Ray Romano and Kevin James as their respective CBS sitcom characters.
Extras: full frame, 22 episodes
• "McHale's Navy: Season Three" (Shout, 1964-65, b/w, five discs, $44.99). The shiftless con artists led by PT commander Quinton McHale (Ernest Borgnine) during World War II continue their antics without Gavin McLeod ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The Love Boat") who left after the second season. But since the best aspect of "McHale" is scene-stealer Tim Conway who has some very funny moments in this season who cares?
Season 3 guests include future stars Raquel Welch and Marlo Thomas, among others.
Extras: full frame, 36 episodes
• "Midsomer Murders: Set Ten" (Acorn, 2005, four discs, $49.99).
• "Midsomer Murders: The Early Cases" (Acorn, 1997-2000, 19 discs, $159.99). This show features a rural police detective who is a family man for a change, although the murders he investigates are just as bizarre as other British series. John Nettles is great as Barnaby, who solves cases the old-fashioned way (who needs "CSI"?).
"Set Ten" is the latest to be released, featuring four feature-length mysteries, with John Hopkins as his young assistant. "The Early Cases" has Barnaby's first (and longest-serving) deputy, played by Daniel Casey, in the show's first 18 episodes.
Extras: widescreen, 18 episodes, documentary "Super Sleuths" (on "Early Cases"), text biographies/filmographies
• "Sliders: The Fourth Season" (Universal, 1998-99, 22 episodes, $59.98). By this season (its first on the Sci Fi Channel after leaving Fox), the once-witty sci-fi comedy-thriller about "sliders" who visit alternate Earths while trying to get back to their own began its own slide, downhill.
Without Sabrina Lloyd and especially John Rhys-Davies, it's left to Jerry O'Connell, Cleavant Derricks and Kari Wuhrer to keep it going, with the added burden of Jerry's less talented brother Charlie O'Connell. The emphasis is on action in this penultimate season.
Extras: full frame, 22 episodes
• "The Invisible Man: Season One" (Universal, 2000, five discs, $59.98). A quirky sense of humor helps but this Sci Fi Channel series about a criminal injected with an "invisibility gland" and forced to work for a shadowy government agency gets pretty silly at times. Still, it has its moments.
Extras: widescreen, 23 episodes, audio commentary, featurettes, a Season 2 episode
• "Bionic Woman: Volume One" (Universal, 2007, two discs, $29.98). Labeling this DVD "Volume One" is rather optimistic since the show is not expected to return after being aborted by the writer's strike. A remake of the goofball '70s show about a woman who attains superpowers via artificial limbs offers a pretty good pilot, but it's all downhill from there.Extras: widescreen, eight episodes, audio commentary (on the pilot), featurettes
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