Something old ("The Barbara Stanwyck Show") and something new ("Better Off Ted") lead off this look at recently released TV shows on DVD.
"The Barbara Stanwyck Show: Volume 1" (E1, 1960-61, three discs, b/w, $39.98). This half-hour anthology series ran only one season but it won a best-actress Emmy for Stanwyck, who starred in 32 of the show's 36 episodes.
There are 15 episodes collected here, and she's in all but one, the exception being a failed pilot for Milton Berle. The genres range from thrillers to mysteries to melodramas to Westerns, and Stanwyck is great — as are such costars as Lee Marvin, Julie London, Yvonne Craig, Vic Morrow, Ralph Bellamy, Charles Bickford and Michael Rennie.
All 15 shows are in great condition — but apparently some of the series' episodes are "lost," according to the liner notes. (In a rather unprecedented move, the folks at E1 and the Archive of American Television are asking collectors at large to contact them at [email protected] if they have episodes that might be included in the next volume.)
Extras: full frame, 15 episodes, unaired pilot episode, excerpt from 1961 Emmys; 20-page booklet
"Better Off Ted: The Complete First Season" (Fox, 2009, two discs, $29.98). This rapid-fire sitcom is a funny show about eccentric scientists who come up with new, bizarre creations designed to make a profit for a wide-reaching conglomerate. Smart, quick and laced with pop-culture references (what isn't these days?). Jay Harrington and Portia de Rossi lead the cast.
Extras: widescreen, 13 episodes
"McLeod's Daughters" (E1, 1996, $14.98). Consider this a sort of stripped-down starter kit for the popular Australian "Western" series (which has been on DVD for a while now). Included here are the TV movie that served as a pilot for the show about two half-sisters who were raised separately but come together to save the family ranch, along with the series' first two episodes.
Extras: full frame, pilot, two episodes, trailers
"Rescue Me: Season Five, Volume Two" (Sony, 2009, three discs, $49.95). Troubled firefighter Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) continues to battle his own demons while all around him soap-opera machinations pull at him. Leary's great, and the show is laced with dark humor, but it's also very adult stuff. Guests include Maura Tierney, Patti D'Arbanville and Tatum O'Neal.
Extras: widescreen, 11 episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes, bloopers, trailers
"Lost: The Complete Fifth Season" (ABC, 2009, five discs, $59.99). Fans are thrilled that this enigmatic series seems to have regained its footing leading up to the sixth and final season (to air starting Feb. 2). Season 5 brings in more twists and turns and surprises as the central characters return to the island.
Extras: widescreen, 16 episodes, deleted scenes, audio commentaries, featurettes, bloopers, trailers
"Johnny Mercer: The Dream's on Me" (TCM/Warner, 2009, two discs, $29.98). An affectionate documentary presented by Clint Eastwood about the great songwriter with a wide array of familiar tunes to his credit: "That Old Black Magic," "Skylark," "The Days of Wine and Roses" and so many more. Interviews and performance clips include Frank Sinatra, Pearl Bailey, Julie Andrews, Fred Astaire, Barbra Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.
Extras: widescreen, featurettes, text biography
"Seven Wonders of the Muslim World" (PBS, 2008, $24.99). The Grand Mosque of Mecca, Spain's Alhambra in Granada, Istanbul's Blue Mosque, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and others are explored in this documentary about six young Muslims who take a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.
"SpongeBob SquarePants: Season 6, Volume 1" (Nickelodeon/Paramount, 2009, two discs, $26.98). More zany adventures with SpongeBob and friends in the first half of Season 6, which includes 12 episodes (24 stories).
Extras: full frame, 24 stories, seven shorts, the SpongeBob History Song, trailers
"Handy Manny: Motorcycle Adventure" (Disney, 2009, $26.99). Along with his tools, Manny brings a group of friends to a family reunion.
Extras: widescreen, bonus cartoon, trailers
"The Night Before Christmas" (Scholastic, 2009, two discs, $19.95). Twelve animated stories with holiday themes, narrated by Alfre Woodard, Theodore Bikel, Jane Curtin, Christopher Lloyd, Anthony Edwards, Jenny Agutter, etc. For ages 3-9.
Extras: full frame, 12 stories
"Treasury of 50 Storybook Classics: Animal Antics … and More!" (Scholastic, 2009, seven discs, $49.95). Stories are read by Meryl Streep, Sarah Jessica Parker, John Lithgow and others, and include "Chicken Little," "Harry the Dirty Dog," "The Ugly Duckling," "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel," etc.
Extras: full frame, 50 stories
e-mail: [email protected]