Here's a disparate fivesome of new-to-DVD television programs.
• "The Duchess of Duke Street: The Complete Collection" (Acorn, 1976-77, 10 discs, $99.99). Gemma Jones shines at the center of this rags-to-riches series set in Edwardian England, as feisty Louisa Leyton (based on the life of Rosa Lewis, who ran London's grand Cavendish hotel).
Though raised in poverty, Louisa gains employment as a chef's assistant in an upper-crust manor and gradually ascends to become London's premier society hostess. Along the way, she has an affair with royalty, engages in an unhappy marriage, finds herself bankrupt and in ill health all in the first series.
The second series has her dealing with an unhappy staff, thanks to her meddling brother, as she receives mysterious love letters and World War I hovers over the proceedings.
This is a lavish production, depicting a 30-year period with atmosphere to spare, and the writing, directing, editing and performances are all first-rate. Like the best British programs, this one is addicting from the get-go, and both seasons are excellent.
Extras: full frame, 31 episodes, text essays/filmographies, photo gallery
• "The Color Honeymooners: Collection 4" (MPI, 1967-68, three discs, $39.98). These are the last "Honeymooners" episodes of Jackie Gleason's final variety show, which was filmed before a wildly enthusiastic audience in Florida and occasionally devoted the entire hour to musical extravaganzas with "The Honeymooners."
One can quibble that Sheila MacRae and Jane Kean are not as endearing in the respective roles of Alice and Trixie as were Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph, or that these shows don't rise up to the level of "The Classic 39" ... but then, what sitcoms do?
What we do have here, however, are Gleason as bus driver Ralph Kramden and Art Carney as his pal and neighbor Ed Norton, who works in the New York sewer. And they were still a hilarious comedy team with amazing chemistry.
These "Honeymooners" episodes are all originals (the first three seasons were musical reworkings of earlier shows), and a few boast guest stars, including Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor, Paul Lynde and others, including a cameo by Maureen O'Hara.
Extras: full frame, 12 episodes, featurette (interview with Jane Kean), 1973 reunion skit
• "Alfresco" (Acorn, 1982/1984, two discs, $39.99). This blackout comedy show would like to be the second coming of Monty Python but at least to this American viewer it's just not funny. Not universally, anyway. (Maybe to the British.)
And this is coming from someone who loves Fry & Laurie, "Jeeves & Wooster," "Black Adder" and many other shows featuring much of this same crew.
Still, if you're a fan of Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and/or Robbie Coltrane, it's fun to see them young and hungry. They and a few others star in these half-hour shows of disconnected skits and Thompson, Laurie and Fry are chief among the writers.
Extras: full frame, 13 episodes, three-episode pilot, text essay/biographies/filmographies
• "NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigative Service: The Fifth Season" (CBS/Paramount, 2007-08, five discs, $55.98). The most recent season abbreviated from the usual 22 episodes due to the writers' strike features the usual character interactions while unusual crimes with a military bent are solved.
Mark Harmon leads a capable cast that includes Lauren Holly and David McCallum, and the season ends with a two-part shocker as a major cast member is killed off.
Extras: widescreen, 18 episodes, audio commentaries, featurettes
• "Dexter: The Second Season" (Showtime, 2008, four discs, $42.99). This series is very violent and graphic, and also has occasional sex and nudity just what you'd expect on Showtime. So, if you saw it during its CBS run earlier this year, be advised that what you saw was heavily edited.
Dexter is a serial killer who kills serial killers, an intriguing premise but hardly for everyone. And it's a bit too overripe for me.
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