How to Survive the WGA Strike: dealnews Staff TV DVD Picks
We needed something more to get us through these trying times that deprive us of story, plot, character development, and dialogue (admittedly watered-down and recycled). So we put together the following list of some our favorite TV shows on DVD, many lesser-known, to help you (and us) get through the strike. Naturally, we also listed the lowest price we could find for each DVD set.
Daniel de Grandpre
Like the Sopranos, CSI, and Silence of the Lambs? May I introduce you to Dexter: Season One ($28 + $0 s&h at Amazon.com). Starring Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under), Dexter is a serial killer who works as a crime scene investigator in Miami. A CSI who's a serial killer — that's already innovative. The wicked twist is, Dexter only kills murderers. When I find myself rooting for cold, calculating Dexter to stalk and kill his despicable victims, I feel just like I did when Tony Soprano killed Phil Leotardo or when Hannibal Lecter broke free. Best of all, you don't have to pay a nickel for Dexter, since CBS bought the rights from Showtime to re-broadcast it starting on February 17. Setup that TiVo WishList now!
My favorite TV show has got to be Red Dwarf: The Complete Collection ($169 + $0 s&h at Tower.com), a British sci-fi / comedy set three million years into the future, on a gigantic spaceship in deep space. The ship's crew consists of one human, a Felis Sapien (cat person), a hologram, and the ship's computer. Oh, and a talking toaster. Like most famous science fiction shows from across the pond (namely Dr. Who), Red Dwarf works despite being filmed on an obviously very limited budget. That means the writing and acting really shine through, making for a series with high replay value. If you liked Dr. Who or The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I highly suggest checking out Red Dwarf. Here's a sample from Season One's "Future Echos."
If you buy what series creator David Simon says about his show, then The Wire: The Complete Seasons One to Four ($201 + $0 s&h at Tower.com) isn't a show — it's a five-part novel about the failure of the American inner city. At its heart, this is a story about cops and drug dealers in Baltimore (the setting for Simon's other projects: Homicide and the Corner). Each season, a new layer and set of characters joins the story that explores the economics of drugs, race, politics, the state of American education and policing, and the media.
For anyone who sees both the humor and the exquisite pain in familial relations, Arrested Development: The Complete Series ($46 + $0 s&h at Amazon.com) is for you. The show follows the Bluths, a highly dysfunctional group of people that have recently been shoved off their pedestal of privilege and can't seem to manage "working" for a living. The plotlines verge on the wonderfully ridiculous side (Buster's hand was bitten off by a seal and now he dates Liza Minelli; Gob is a magician but performs "illusions" since tricks are what a "whore does for money") and even the straight man (Jason Bateman) is absurd. One thing's for sure — you won't be able to pull yourself away from the numerous layers of witty jokes and visual gags from one of the best ensemble casts ever on TV.
To be honest, the writer's strike hasn't affected me at all thus far. I'm not up in arms over the Golden Globes being cancelled and I'm pretty happy watching the types of programs not affected by the strike. However, I imagine the sense of loss that some people may feel over their favorite shows being threatened might be compared to how I felt when Six Feet Under ($150 + $0 s&h at DeepDiscount.com) ended in 2005. Yes, it's been almost 3 years now and I'm still pretty upset that I can't get my weekly Nate fix (because lead actor Peter Krause is so great on this show and I might have had a teeny crush on him). Luckily, the entire Six Feet Under series is available for unlimited viewing on DVD. The show centers on the dysfunctional Fisher family, who live in and operate a funeral home in L.A. Each show starts with a death, how it happens, and how those left behind handle it. The premise may sound a bit grim, but the show is often comical and always thought-provoking and brilliantly acted. If you like Peter Krause in Dirty Sexy Money, or Rachel Griffiths in Brothers & Sisters, or the movie American Beauty (written by series creator Alan Ball), you'll love Six Feet Under. It'll make you look at life (and death) a little differently.
Babylon 5: The Complete Seasons One - Five ($199 + $0 s&h at Tower.com) was more than just a five-year sci-fi show that ran on TNT. And unlike most episodic science fiction, Babylon 5 unfolds like a novel for television rather than as individual episodes. Characters change, mature, and die over the course of the show and the viewer is treated to some of the finest sci-fi television ever produced. Seasons three and four are particularly good. And if you already dig Babylon 5, you may also enjoy the new Battlestar Galactica series.
Good comedies are hard to come by (especially when you don't watch much TV to begin with), but if a good chuckle is what you're looking for, I'd recommend Scrubs (from about $28 + $0 s&h at various stores). Combined, the show's surreal asides, daydream sequences, and down-to-earth (not to mention socially awkward) characters make this one of my favorite all-time sitcoms. If you like Scrubs' whimsical plots, you'll probably like Family Guy: Seasons One & Two ($24 + $2 s&h at Tower.com). Before it became popular, it was one of the funniest shows on TV, so again you'll want to stick with the early seasons as those are the best episodes. Pop these two into your DVD player and you won't even realize there's a strike.
It's hard to describe what's magical about House. According to the Internet Movie Database, House M.D. ($40 + $0 s&h at Tower.com) is about "an antisocial maverick doctor who specializes in diagnostic medicine and does whatever it takes to solve puzzling cases that come his way using his crack team of doctors and his wits." Call it formulaic, call it predictable, but even so, House M.D. is one of the best shows on (or off) TV today. I highly recommend picking it up on DVD if you need something to hold you over during the writer's strike. Developed characters, interesting illnesses, and witty dialog make this a show worth watching again and again.
... and the Stuff You Probably Already Watched, But Just in Case
dealnews' Jeff Morgan recommends Seinfeld: The Complete Series Box Set ($184 + $0 s&h at Tower.com). "I am seriously considering getting the boxed set and a video iPod so that I can carry them with me on trips. It would be my personal insurance policy to assure that I don't get caught without good entertainment on a delayed flight." ... Julia DiNardo considers The Office: Season One ($16 + $2 s&h at Tower.com) a must-see, noting that "everyone has experienced a toxic work environment at least once in their life." Heyyy! ... Finally, Dave Odegard also recommends Heroes: Season One ($39 + $0 s&h at Tower.com) for "the simple sense of wonder it creates in me."
One last thing: Instead of buying these, you can opt to get them via Netflix. Plans start at $8.99 per month.
Dave Odegard is a dealnews staffwriter who sides with WGA and refuses to cross picket lines. However, he has several amazing ideas for both television and movies and an evil identical twin who will gladly meet with any and all producers.