The last two weeks have seen the release of two of home video’s most wanted TV series, “Hill Street Blues” in a complete series box set, and the second season of “L.A. Law.” Though never a ratings blockbuster, “Hill Street” would go on to earn four Emmys for best drama series. Its docu-style, taboo-breaking content and open-ended storylines are in the DNA of such shows as “NYPD Blue,” “The Shield,” “The Wire.”
"L.A. Law,” which would succeed it on NBC’s Thursday night “Must-See TV” programming block, was another television benchmark that would win 15 Emmys during its eight-season run, including four for best drama series.
Both hold up relatively well, although what was once considered shocking (for television) in the 1980s and ‘90s (expletives, sexual situations, ) is now as tame as a glimpse of stocking in this new age of “Anything Goes”
But series both lend themselves to binge-watching, a cultural phenomenon that has gained new cachet with the rise of online on-demand services such as Netflux, Hulu and Amazon Prime, which are releasing recycled and original programming that can be watched in marathon viewing sessions.
What makes a series bingeable is subjective. Most fans want to immerse themselves in shows they love, or want to revisit as with a favorite novel, but there is an odd offshoot of binge-watching called hate-watching. Hate-Watching is defined by Entertainment Weekly, “requires a TV series with high ambitions and features a certain amount of aesthetic perfection…yet fails consistently and badly enough to make it compelling.”
Anyone who would decry hate-watching as a spectacular waste of time has never seen Aaron Sorkin’s failed “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” What a train wreck, what a misfire, what fun.
But the release of “Hill Street” and “L.A. Law” got me thinking about other favorite TV shows as yet unavailable on DVD or the online services that I, for one, would love to be reacquainted with. Tricky business, that. How many episodes of “It’s About Time,” “McKeever and the Colonel” or “Camp Runamuck” would I be able to watch before the nostalgic reverie wore off? Some shows, very much products of their time, have not aged well. Case in point: “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”
These, I suspect, would hold up better:
The Wonder Years: The wait is over. This coming of age series set in the 1960s and 70s is coming to home video this year with much of its classic rock soundtrack intact. Episodes have been available on Netflix and Amazon, but with substitute songs. Bummer.
WKRP in Cincinnati: Speaking of which; the first season of this great workplace sitcom was released on DVD, but with its own rock soundtrack replaced by generic substitutes. Maybe someday the entire series can be released with the songs intact, as was done with “Freaks & Geeks” and “Miami Vice.”
Ten from Your Show of Shows: Technically, this is a movie; a compilation of classic sketches from the gold standard comedy series starring Sid Caesar and a peerless ensemble of performers Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris) and a dream team of writers (among them Neil Simon, Mel Brooks and Larry Gelbart). This is timeless sketch comedy done right.
St. Elsewhere: Only season one is available on DVD. A complete series set, a la “Hill Street” would be just what the doctor ordered. The series finale remains one of the most memorable WTF moments in TV history.
Frank’s Place: I’ve never seen this critically-lauded dramedy set in New Orleans and starring “WKRP”’s Tim Reid. It was cancelled after one season. But I would love to see if it’s as great as the critics say.
KaBlam!: A show from my son’s youth. This Nickelodeon series was a collection of clever recurring animated shorts. My favorite: the stop-motion “Action League Now!” with the Flesh (“super strong and super naked”) and Thunder Girl (“she flies…like thunder”), Stinky Diver and Melt Man (“with the power to melt”).And one from mine. Holy DVD! This camptastic series starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader is at last coming to home video this year. I would have been happy with just a box set of Catwoman episodes, but this will do.
Batman:And one from mine. Holy DVD! This camptastic series starring Adam West as the Caped Crusader is at last coming to home video this year. I would have been happy with just a box set of Catwoman episodes, but this will do.
What shows do you binge-watch? What are your favorite TV shows you’d like to see released on DVD?