Here's a disparate gaggle of TV series that have landed on DVD for the first time, ranging from a trio of British mysteries to the rest of the first season of "The Love Boat" to the long-awaited animated fan-favorite "Tiny Toons."
P.D. JAMES: THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION (Koch, 1983-96, 15 discs, $149.98). These are murder mysteries written by P.D. James about her fictional Scotland Yard homicide detective Adam Dalgliesh, as played by Roy Marsden.
As with most English mystery series, there are multiple suspects, lots of motives and enough clues to give you some headway in figuring out the ultimate culprit(s) in each of these nine shows. And Marsden's Dalgliesh, though all business and sometimes rather aloof, is ingratiating enough to keep us coming back.
What makes this particular show unique and for me, most enjoyable is the leisurely pacing, as we get to know each character quite well, ultimately caring enough about them to start rooting for our favorites, hoping they won't prove to be "the one."
For example, in the first show, the three-part "Death of an Expert Witness" (from 1983), a full third of the final episode is devoted to a real-time sequence that involves finding a body, calling the coroner, treating someone in shock, questioning suspects and pondering the scene of the crime without the quick edits and shortened, clipped scenes required in today's programs.
Geoffrey Palmer ("As Time Goes By") and a very young Brenda Blethyn ("Secrets & Lies," "Atonement") show up in the first series, with Bill Nighy, Susannah York, Wendy Hiller and Pauline Collins appearing in subsequent shows.
This wonderful collection includes the first nine series filmed for the BBC, all adapted from James' books. Why the 10th and final series is excluded is a mystery all its own.
Extras: full frame, nine series, 24 episodes, text biographies; 16-page booklet (an interview with James)
• TINY TOON ADVENTURES: SEASON 1, VOLUME 1 (Warner, 1990, four discs, $44.98). "They're tiny, they're toony, they're all a little loony." If you know that song, you know "Tiny Toon Adventures," and you're likely among the fans who are excited that the show is finally on DVD.
Steven Spielberg produced this throwback to the "Looney Tunes" of old, with next-generation versions of Bugs, Porky, Daffy, etc., in the form of Buster Bunny, Babs Bunny, Plucky Duck, Hampton Pig, Dizzy Devil, et. al. ...
Great fun for animation fans, and something kids and parents can enjoy together. (We'll forgive the half-season set here since there were more than 60 episodes in the first year.)
Extras: full frame, 35 episodes
• FREAKAZOID!: SEASON 1 (Warner, 1995-96, two discs, $26.99). This may have been a Saturday morning cartoon, but it's aimed more at teens than children, and it's very funny, without all the vulgar sexual double-entendres that mark so many of the similar current cable shows. Think "The Tick" and you're in the ballpark.
The title character is a superhero who was once a typical techno-geek, but after being sucked into the Internet, he consumed all its knowledge and became, as Monty Python might say, a very silly fellow. Various comedy styles collide, and some of it is quite inspired. (Spielberg also had a hand in this one.)
Extras: full frame, 14 episodes, audio commentaries, featurette, promos
• THE LOVE BOAT: SEASON ONE, VOLUME TWO (CBS/Paramount, 1978, four discs, $39.99) Fans will be happy to see this half-season set, though it's still annoying that Paramount and CBS continue to gouge collectors by charging so much for abbreviated seasons.
Guest stars in this set include Kathy Bates, Pearl Bailey, Don Adams, Annette Funicello, Audrey and Jayne Meadows and many others.
Included here is the third "Love Boat" TV movie, the first to feature the familiar cast, along with Stella Stevens, Phil Silvers and others.
Extras: full frame, 12 episodes, TV movie "The New Love Boat" (1977)
• THE RACING GAME (Acorn, 1979, two discs, $39.99) Sid Halley (Mike Gwilym) is a former steeplechase jockey who investigates murders and other crimes centered around horse racing. Based on the character created by Dick Francis.
Sid is initially handicapped by an injured hand, but he regains his self-respect, goes into the detective business with a friend and begins solving mysteries at the track. Enjoyable, but you'd better have a strong affection for horses. (There is some sex and nudity.)
Extras: full frame, six episodes, text biography of author Dick Francis
• BLUE MURDER: SET (Acorn, 2007, two discs, $39.99) More thrillers featuring detective inspector Janine Lewis (Caroline Quentin), who tries to juggle soccer games with solving gruesome murders in her roles as both a single mother and tough cop in Manchester, England.
Clever writing and Quentin's performance make these worthwhile.
E-mail: [email protected]