HBO
Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney star in "John Adams."

These new-to-DVD TV series/miniseries are led by HBO's detailed account of America's birth through the eyes of one of the Founding Fathers.

"John Adams" (HBO, 2008, three discs, $59.99). The story of how the United States broke from English rule and became independent is told from the point of view of the man who would become our second president, and it is based on David McCullough's book.

This is an epic undertaking of the kind we see infrequently on TV these days, filled in equal part with scenes that are stirring, chilling, uplifting, gut-wrenching and enlightening, while demonstrating the great sacrifices that went into the formation of America.

Character actor Paul Giamatti, whose star has been on the rise with lead roles in such theatrical art films as "American Splendor" and "Sideways," as well as many more terrific supporting turns in such diverse commercial efforts as "Cinderella Man" and "Fred Claus," is bound to get a boost from this; he's sterling in the title role. And as Abigail — Adams' beloved wife, sounding board and adviser for more than 50 years — Laura Linney matches him all the way.

The first episode is a bit slow (as is the last), but stick with it. The film improves and picks up speed as it goes along. The only negative is some distracting and unnecessary artsy camera work, with a few angles so off-kilter that you may wonder if there was any level ground in 18th-century America.

And be warned that, this being HBO, there are also a few R-rated elements, graphic violence and gore and some nudity.

Extras: widescreen, seven episodes, optional text commentary, documentary on McCullough (who is a great oral storyteller), featurettes

"Sinatra" (Warner, 2002, two discs, $19.98). This 1992 CBS miniseries covers the life of Frank Sinatra (well played by Phillip Casnoff) from his youth through his later years, stopping along the way for highlights (and lowlights) in anecdotal fashion.

Thankfully, unlike many Hollywood biographies ("Beyond the Sea" anyone?), the singing voice here is the real deal — vintage Sinatra — and it makes a difference, with complete performances of many of the expected hit songs.

A lot of characters come and go (and come back again), including Sinatra's parents (Olympia Dukakis, Joe Santos), Tommy Dorsey (Bob Gunton), young Mia Farrow (Nina Siemaszko) and, of course, the Rat Pack. But the emphasis is primarily on the two great loves of Sinatra's life, his first wife, Nancy (Gina Gershon), and his stormy relationship with Ava Gardner (Marcia Gay Harden). There are also some gritty, unflattering moments, despite the film being executive-produced by daughter Tina Sinatra.

The biggest hurdle with films like this is that we know so many of the principles from old movies, it's difficult to accept impersonations — especially in portrayals here of Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Humphrey Bogart, who look nothing like their real-life counterparts. But if fans can get past that they should be pleased.

Extras: full frame, two episodes

"The Fugitive: Season Two, Volume One" (CBS/Paramount, 1965, b/w, four discs, $42.99). This great series deserves more than half-season releases, but those of us who are fans will take what we can get.

David Janssen is Dr. Richard Kimball, still on the run, still looking for the one-armed man who killed his wife, and Lt. Gerard (Barry Morse) is still after Kimball and still doubting his story. In this collection, guests include Suzanne Pleshette, Tuesday Weld, Ron Howard (billed as "Ronny"), Dabney Coleman, and Leslie Nielsen.

Extras: full frame, 15 episodes

"The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season" (CBS/Paramount, 1973-74, four discs, $42.99). Tony Randall and Jack Klugman are back for another funny run at Neil Simon's most famous roommates, neat-freak Felix Unger and slob Oscar Madison, respectively. In this penultimate season, guests include Teri Garr, Dick Clark, Hugh Hefner, Wolfman Jack, and for a real '70s flashback, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

Extras: full frame, 22 episodes

"Hawaii Five-0: The Fourth Season" (CBS/Para- mount, 1971-72, six discs, $54.99). Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is still booking them, with help from Dan-O (James MacArthur), and their perennial nemesis Wo-Fat shows up in a two-part episode. Guests include Utah actress Marie Windsor, Buddy Ebsen, John Ritter, Hume Cronyn and Herbert Lom.

Extras: full frame, 24 episodes

"7th Heaven: The Sixth Season" (CBS/Paramount, 2001-02, six discs, $49.99). In this season of the family drama about a suburban minister (Stephen Collins) and his wife (Catherine Hicks) and family, their oldest daughter (Jessica Biel) moves back home, another daughter (Beverley Mitchell) drops out of divinity school, and a rebellious son (David Gallagher) finds himself in a police chase. Guests include Morgan Fairchild and Ernest Borgnine.

Extras; full frame, 22 episodes


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com