GAG GIFT OF YANKOFICIAN PROPORTION
The Weird Al Show: The Complete Series
Shout! Factory; $34.98
The Weird Al Nation was already having a great 2006. This year, the crinkle-haired hero of would-be song parodists everywhere landed his first Top 10 album (Straight Outta Linwood) and garnered a good few weeks of Internet buzz with "White & Nerdy," his actually pretty hilarious riff on Chamillionaire's "Ridin'." But Al-ficionados can see even more of their kooky king with this three-DVD set, which combines all 13 episodes of the Weird Al Show with a wealth of bonus material. Vignettes trace the evolution of "Fatman," the cartoon short embedded in the Al Show. Al, director Peyton Reed and producer Thomas F. Frank use their episode commentaries to speak with refreshing candor about the struggle to balance their creative vision for the show with the occasionally clueless demands of the standards and practices bigwigs at CBS.
While the Weird Al Show is full of the innocent fun Yankovic brings to his song parodies, he and his creative partners blame the network for forcing his show into a wishy-washy existence somewhere between children's programming and zany, culture-skewering comedy. For example, a typical episode will hammer away at a central golden rule be kind to others, lying is bad, etc. but it also includes advertising spoofs and goofy celebrity cameos that zing modern phenomena like infomercials, MTV and the remarkably bland career of John Tesh. Yankovic is hilarious throughout, making goofy asides and talking to his best friend, Harvey the Wonder Hamster; recurring guest shots from Judy Tenuta and Emo Phillips are predictably fun; and cameos from Ron Popeil, Martha Quinn, Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Drew Carey keep things interesting. For fans of Yankovic and comedy in general, The Weird Al Show The Complete Series is the ultimate gag gift. Johnny Loftus
HOME SWEET HOME
Beavis & Butt-Head: The Mike Judge Collection (10 DVD box)
Beavis & Butt-head was a profoundly defining moment for me when it hit. Not because of its deceptively simple subtext of flawed suburbia, but because it was everything and everyone I knew in high school. Mine was a fading suburban blight in Arizona where all you could see was spending the rest of your alcoholic life living in the shadow of the goalposts, divorced, with maybe a neglected speedboat sitting amid weeds in the front gravel yard of your cinderblock tract-house. The speedboat was a glorious and blemished symbol of lost promise. I quit school to get the hell out of there. To get away from my festering inner Beavis & Butt-head. When its first episode debuted on MTV, it was all I could do to keep my jaw from hitting my knee. Brian Smith
For years, breaking out my shoebox full of banged-up Maxell EX-120 VHS dubs was the purest way to revisit Beavis & Butt-head, not to mention ads for the flawed Lewis Largent era of 120 Minutes. But until the guy who stole my VHS version puts it on eBay, I'll be watching this DVD retrospective of Mike Judge's pioneering animated series. Butts, boobs, explosions, and riffs Beavis and Butt-head only wanted their base desires fulfilled. ("This video would be better if there was a toilet in it," Butt-head once observed.) They were apathetic, cuttingly sarcastic and completely unsympathetic bastards, but the idiotic nowhere of their lives was addicting not only as comedy but as escapism too. And whether they were fucking with Stuart, lap-dogging over local dirt-ass Todd or blowing up Tom Anderson's RV, Beavis and Butt-head always shuffled off at the end of the episode, their ridiculous heads shaking with laughter and their shoulders bowed inward like true poster dudes for the 1990s slacker ethic. The sullen constant of Beavis & Butt-Head is heartening, particularly in a world where little lasts for longer than a few minutes. The Maxi-Mart will always be open, and jokes about butts will never go out of style. Johnny Loftus
LEARNING TO FLY
The Best of the Electric Company
Shout! Factory; $49.98
The Best of the Electric Company: Volume Two
Shout! Factory; $39.98
They turned it on and brought the power the cast of the Electric Company, including Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno and one fly-lookin,' bandana-wearin,' badass Morgan Freeman in the role of Easy Reader, were charged with the mission to make learning more fun. With comedy sketches, music, animation and special effects, their teaching tool was good humor. Consider this skit, with two chicks riding tandem on a bicycle to nowhere:
"Where'd you put my giggles you know, those things I put on my eyes for swimming?"
"You mean goggles?"
"No, that's what you do when you have a sore throat."
"You mean gurgle?"
"No, that's what you wear under a skirt."
"That's a girdle."
"No, that's what you cook pancakes on."
"You mean griddle."
"No, that's like, a joke with no easy answer."
"You mean a riddle."
Well, it goes something like that. To make matters more absurd, Electric Company's set looked like a circus that puked up psychedelics in shag-carpet shades of green, orange and red. Who knows if kids actually learn anything about reading or writing from watching the show, but hip your kindergarteners to it and they'll learn something about the 1970s. EC's style was smooth as suede and unwaveringly righteous: Each educational episode was "multi-culti" in a way that contemporary children's programming can only feign to be. Dig that, kids. Rebecca Mazzei
ALL NUTS IN THE FAMILY
Arrested Development: The Complete Series
Imagine Entertainment; $109.94
There are so many dysfunctional characters and so many totally ludicrous tangents running through Arrested Development's comedic narrative that you almost instantly empathize with Michael Bluth played hilariously straight by Jason Bateman because he is the only immediate member of the absurd Bluth family who even pretends to stand on level ground. Led by George Bluth (Jeffery Tambor), who's serving time for fraud at the family-owned conglomerate, and also featuring Michael's adorably naive and dorky pubescent son George-Michael (Michael Cera), his conniving but lovable mother Lucille (Jessica Walter), his maladjusted brothers Buster (Tony Hale) and GOB (Will Arnett), as well as his beautiful but vapid sister Lindsay (Portia DeRossi) and her family, this clan is a perfectly cracked portrait of the idle rich. They've never had to learn to function on their own, but, boy, they sure are self-involved.
This show's got a cult following in love with these constantly collapsing lives hooked on the delusions, neuroses and high silliness of some of the most original characters written for TV in years. Why Fox yanked Mitchell Hurwitz's howling spoof of privilege off the air after three seasons is anyone's guess, but the show's hyperinvolved storytelling style is better on DVD anyway. Brad Duncan
WHATDDYA MEAN NO SEX?
That Girl: Season One
Shout! Factory; $29.99
That Girl: Season Two
Shout! Factory; $39.98
Now that it's possible to run 24 hours of That Girl in nonstop succession, that doesn't mean you should. For the love of Ann Marie, savor the comfort-factor in smaller increments! But it's hard to stay away this 40-year-old sitcom makes for irrational, compulsive viewing, for reasons its creators could never have imagined. The bonus features and commentaries make sure you know this was a landmark show that gave TV its first liberated woman but I'd say Catwoman and her whip achieved that on Batman the year before, thank you. As a prototypical feminist, Marlo Thomas' heroine may have been living alone in New York City without a husband, but she spent too much of her screen time on these early shows placating her father and boyfriend to inspire much bra burning. The show's real value is as a swinging '60s time capsule lots of two-tone cabs, Mustang convertibles, mod dresses and a Manhattan that's still in Breakfast at Tiffany's mint condition. It's a world where policemen stake out a girl's apartment all night if she receives an obscene phone call, where a struggling actress has more costume changes in a 20-minute episode than a whole week's worth of Project Runway. It's a world where guys and gals don't have to worry about sex because Standards and Practices won't permit it anyway. The only place Ann's boyfriend Donald Hollinger ever came on this show was across midtown to Ann's apartment.
As you watch That Girl, you'll marvel at the endless reserve of cute that Thomas, a kind of Holly Go-Politely, brings to every show. Whatever happened to cute, goddammit, anyway? Who made cute such a bad thing? Blossom? Grandpa Smurf? Rodney Allen Rippy? Speaking of anomalies, these shows resurrect a host of forgotten TV character actors like Billy De Young, Paul Lynde and Jessie White, the original Maytag repairman who, by law, had to appear in every '60s sitcom. One show stars George Carlin, Sally Kellerman and Dabney Coleman more guests than belly laughs. But gut-clutching humor isn't what carries the show, it's the warm and fuzzy chemistry between Thomas and the late Ted Bessell, whose sculpted Ken-doll hair is every bit as stare-worthy as Marlo's flip. Or present day Marlo's plastic surgery, which has inexplicably left her looking like ... Janet Jackson? Hey Marl, whatever happened to "free to be you and me?" Serene Dominic
I HEART DANIEL DESARIO
Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series
Shout! Factory; $69.98
If you haven't been blessed with the wonderfulness that is Freaks and Geeks, you probably have an irritating friend who continuously extols the show's virtues, spouting things like, "It was too good for network television."
The series, which ran for one brief season in 1999-2000, follows the lives of two groups of outcasts in a suburban Detroit high school: the freaks (interests: cigarettes, sex, flunking, fighting) and the geeks (hobbies: waiting for puberty, quoting Steve Martin, Dungeons and Dragons, bikes with banana seats). The two main characters, siblings Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) and Sam (John Francis Daley), serve as the thread that binds the two disparate camps.
The show's elevated way above typical sitcom level by its ability to convey the good, the bad and the ugly of high school without falling prey to convenient stereotypes. We should all know now what we didn't know then: the most terrifying mean girl in high school has insecurities and a shitty home life, and the sarcastic smart-ass who makes you feel like a total loser every time you walk by doesn't feel as cool as he looks. Maybe, just maybe, the Geeks are the ones who really truly "got it."
Casting is spot-on, with actors who actually look the age they are supposed to be playing. Leads Cardellini and Daley are great, but it's the rest of the actors parents, teachers, friends and enemies that give the show meat.
Jason Segel (now on CBS' decent How I Met Your Mother) is a sweet stoner in love with Lindsay and obsessed with playing the drums but he isn't good at either. Martin Starr plays Bill (the geek with the hot mom) who, despite being gangly and awkward, is remarkably self-possessed. And to single out one adult, there's Dave (Gruber) Allen as the post-hippie guidance counselor, who nails some amazing one-liners in his signature delivery.
Freaks and Geeks is picture-day-zit and dreamy-first-kiss all tangled up. At the risk of sounding like an acolyte, it's damn-near perfect. Kelli B. KavanaughSend comments to firstname.lastname@example.org