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2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Television

Television fans must love the holidays, because it’s the one time of year when studios unleash a host of massive box sets collecting their favorite dramas and comedies. This year is no different, with several critically acclaimed shows getting the complete series treatment. But while we like to devour an entire TV show just as quickly as the next person, sometimes a little self-discipline is required, which is why we’ve also included some less time-consuming (and more affordable) suggestions as well.

Click on the image next to each item to purchase it online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Breaking Bad: The Complete Series

Is there anything more to be said about the late, great “Breaking Bad” at this point, other than the fact that it was one of the greatest TV series of all time and that, although it went out in a blaze of glory, it’s left a vacuum that’ll be damned hard to fill? Nah, that about sums it up. But if you’re a fan and you’re continuing to mourn, then Sony has put together a set that’s so awesome that it’s almost too much to handle… but not quite. The 16-disc set includes all 62 episodes and more than 55 hours of special features, including an all-new documentary which chronicles the making of the final season, and, of course, all of the bonus material from the previous season sets remains intact too. The whole thing comes packaged in a barrel, as well a series about a meth manufacturer should, along with a Los Pollos Hermanos apron, a collectible booklet featuring a letter from Vince Gilligan and a commemorative Breaking Bad challenge coin. We don’t actually know what a challenge coin is, but we do know that it was designed and created by Gilligan himself, and dammit, that’s good enough for us.

Dexter: The Complete Series

Loosely based on Jeff Linsday’s popular series of crime novels, “Dexter” is probably the biggest hit in Showtime’s history, which only makes its steady decline over the years that much more maddening. Though the last four seasons were incredibly uneven compared to the show’s first four years, “Dexter” continued to be appointment television every week thanks to Michael C. Hall’s brilliant, Golden Globe-winning performance as the titular antihero. It also featured an excellent rotating cast of guest stars that included John Lithgow, Keith Carradine, Jimmy Smits, Julia Stiles and Jonny Lee Miller, and at times, some of the best writing on TV. It’s actually quite amazing that a show with a serial killer as its protagonist was able to last as long as it did, and though it faltered a bit in the end, there are plenty of diehard “Dexter” fans that would kill to own this complete series set. Designed to look like the character’s iconic blood slide box (with every Blu-ray case featuring a blood drop on the bottom), the 25-disc set – which features all eight seasons and a bonus disc filled with over five hours of never-before-seen extras – is definitely one of the cooler collector’s items on the market.

Weeds: The Complete Collection

HBO has long been considered the undisputed leader of premium cable, but without shows like “Weeds” and “Dexter,” Showtime never would have become the worthy competitor that it is today. Though Jenji Kohan’s dark comedy series suffered a drop in quality during its later seasons, it delivered more than its share of subversively funny moments (as well as those of the WTF variety) over the course of its eight-year run. Constantly reinventing itself after Season Three’s game-changing finale, “Weeds” may not have always succeeded in the risks that it took with the storytelling, but it’s one of the few shows with the kind of punk-rock attitude to even consider taking such risks. And throughout its numerous highs and lows, the core cast never faltered, especially star Mary-Louise Parker, who made “Weeds” must-see TV for her crazy/sexy performance alone. For those that haven’t yet seen the series, or just never got around to picking up each season individually, now is the perfect time with this complete series set, which comes packaged in a nifty, translucent green box and features new bonus material like a cast roundtable, interviews with fan-favorite recurring characters and more.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Seasons 1-5

As part of Disney’s recent acquisition of Lucasfilm – headlined by the new trilogy of movies currently in production – the company is also launching a new animated series under their banner titled “Star Wars: Rebels,” which unfortunately spelled the end for “The Clone Wars.” Though it never really got the credit that it deserved while it was on the air, this series spanning the years between “Episode II” and “Episode III” is not only a great introduction to the “Star Wars” universe for youngsters, but quality supplemental viewing for adult fans as well. The art style is incredibly cool (cartoonish without going too far over the top), and the blend of new and familiar characters smartly expands the “Star Wars” canon without stepping on too many toes. While the fate of the show’s unfinished sixth season is still undecided, the first five seasons are now available to own in a collector’s edition Blu-ray set that includes all 108 episodes and a book filled with concept art from the series – the perfect gift for any “Star Wars” addict.

House of Cards: The Complete First Season

Based on the 1990 BBC miniseries of the same name, “House of Cards” is an enthralling and immensely addicting drama that boasts the kind of top-shelf quality we’ve come to expect from networks like HBO and AMC. In addition to being produced by David Fincher (who also directed the first two episodes), there’s not a single weak link in the cast. Kevin Spacey delivers his finest performance since “American Beauty” as the calculating politician, while Robin Wright is the perfect complement as his stone-cold marriage partner in crime. Corey Stoll also delivers some fine work as the congressman who gets ensnared in Underwood’s puppet strings. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the series is partly based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and “Richard III,” because there are so many political power plays in each episode that it has the Bard’s fingerprints all over it.

Under the Dome

Curiously, the home video versions of CBS’s summer mega-hit are not labeled Season One, which gives potential buyers the impression that it’s a self-contained story. Yet anyone who tuned in this year (and judging by the ratings, that was quite a few of you) knows the first season of “Under the Dome” ended on a pretty massive cliffhanger, but not before delivering 13 hours maddeningly frustrating television about a small town trapped inside a mysterious invisible dome. Stephen King is no stranger to casting a spell on TV viewers, and with “Under the Dome” he appears to once again have a massive hit on his hands. The quality of this sociological experiment as a sci-fi series is up for debate, but America’s fascination with it isn’t. In many ways, “Under the Dome” is like a car wreck that you just have to keep looking at, if only to see who might stumble from the wreckage and be the last person standing.

Hannibal: Season One

When it was announced that NBC and Bryan Fuller were preparing a prequel TV series to the Hannibal Lecter saga, it was very easy to roll eyes and dismiss sight unseen. It had already been done once theatrically (2007’s all but forgotten “Hannibal Rising”), so why do it again? Because Fuller (“Pushing Daisies,” “Dead Like Me”) had a vision. Actually, he must have had dozens of them, because “Hannibal” feels like some sort of fevered nightmare come to life, and it was easily some of the most audacious TV of the year. Set in a pre-“Red Dragon” world, the series follows the blossoming friendship of troubled FBI special investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and his psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Both actors deliver stunningly complex portrayals, and Mikkelsen is so darkly alluring that by the third episode you’ll be asking Anthony who? Be warned: just because “Hannibal” is on NBC doesn’t mean it’s tame. Indeed, it’s anything but, and the series offers up some of the goriest, most disturbing imagery shown on American network TV ever. You were warned. Season Two will air in 2014.

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Third Season / Mad Men: Season Six

Just because a show is critically acclaimed doesn’t mean that it can’t have a duff season once in a while, but when it comes to HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and AMC’s “Mad Men,” they’ve both got pretty good track records. As “Mad Men” begins to wind down toward its conclusion, the goings-on in the show move through the ‘60s at a relatively rapid clip, with social change being seen in the workplace even as Don Draper seems trapped forever as a guy who can’t be happy at home, no matter how hard he tries. The bonus material on the Season Six set includes an interactive gallery, a look into the drug culture of the ‘60s and the show’s production design. As for “Boardwalk Empire,” with all due respect to Michael Pitt, it seems far from coincidental that the demise of Jimmy Darmody proved to be a creative boon for the series, resulting in arguably the strongest season up to that point. The bonus material blows that of “Mad Men” away, offering six audio commentaries, a look at several episodes from the directors’ point of view, a variety of “newsreels” which provide historical context to the season’s events and much more.

Adventure Time: The Complete First and Second Seasons

Trying to explain “Adventure Time” to someone who’s never seen it is a fool’s errand, but Tom Kenny – who voices the Ice King on the series – has called it “this generation’s ‘Yellow Submarine,’” and that’s about as good as any description as we’ve heard, so…yeah, let’s go with that. Kenny’s right, though: it’s downright psychedelic, baby, full of surreal adventures, bizarre humor and visuals that’ll blow your mind…particularly if you buy the first two seasons on Blu-ray, because it looks absolutely gorgeous. As with all the best cult TV series, the “Adventure Time” home video releases are chock full of bonus material, with the Season One set featuring four audio commentaries, three featurettes, 49 minutes worth of animatics and a few more fun bits here and there. The bonus material is a little more unique – what else would you expect from this series? – but you have to respect creator Pendleton Ward for coming up with the idea of doing a running commentary for all 26 episodes of the second season and making good on it. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll love it.

Orphan Black: Season One

The year’s hottest new sci-fi series wasn’t on Syfy, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, on BBC America, the home of “Doctor Who.” Yet “Orphan Black” has little in common with the infamous Time Lord, and it can hardly be called family viewing. Tatiana Maslany stars as Sarah Manning, a con-woman who one night sees her doppelganger commit suicide by jumping into the path of an oncoming train. Sarah assumes the dead woman’s identity, and that’s when other clones start coming out of the woodwork, each with their own distinct lives and personalities. What’s going on, and why there are so many versions of the same woman, is at the core of the show’s ongoing mysteries, which admittedly are never quite as interesting as the many faces of Maslany, who mesmerizes, never once misses a beat, and practically steals the show from itself. Few series are built entirely around a single actor’s numerous talents, but Maslany has a gift, and it’s difficult to even imagine “Orphan Black” existing without her. “Black” will be back for a second round in the spring, so now is the time to catch up on the first season of 10 episodes.

Doctor Who: The Complete Series 1-7 Limited Edition Blu-ray Giftset

Another year, another boffo collection of all things “Who.” This set, however, offers plenty that’s new, including Seasons One through Four in 1080p for the first time (likewise, all the previous high-def material has been upgraded from 1080i to 1080p). Quite the epic box set this is, and just in time to celebrate 50 years of the Doctor. Collecting together all of the episodes that have been produced since 2005 (minus the anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor,” of course), this 29-disc Blu-ray collection is sure to please. With its remastered picture and sound, new “Who” has never looked and sounded this tight. Including tons of extras, with several exclusive to this collection (for instance, a complete 90-minute Proms concert in 5.1) and a sonic screwdriver remote control (which retails for $100), the collection aims to give collectors ample bang for their buck. Many will double dip, and first time buyers will be investing in what’s clearly the Cadillac of “Doctor Who” on home video.

The Office: Season Nine

This set, appropriately subtitled “the farewell season,” collects together the final batch of 23 episodes from some of our closest TV friends, the employees of Dunder Mifflin. While Season Eight – the first after Steve Carell’s departure – was a mixed bag, the show returned to form for the ninth season, and proved that there was enough life left in the concept to give all the other characters we grew to love exits as appropriately fitting as the one Michael Scott got back at the end of Season Seven. Much of Season Nine centers on Pam and Jim, and the difficulties of trying to keep their marriage together when Jim attempts to jumpstart a new career outside of Scranton. Dwight is in for some serious life changes as well, while Andy might just find peace and happiness in the most unexpected of places. Much happens over the course of this extended farewell season, and much of it is as heartrending as it is funny. The Blu-ray is loaded with bonus features, including two hours of deleted scenes, audition tapes, a table read of the finale and a behind-the-scenes panel discussion. No self-respecting “Office” fan should be without it.

Enlightened: The Complete Second Season / Magic City: The Complete Second Season

You can’t sell mainstream audiences on some shows no matter how much critical acclaim they get. If you want proof, look no farther than HBO’s “Enlightened,” which over the course of two seasons turned from an odd little series into an absolute must-watch program, thanks in no small part to a tour-de-force performance from star Laura Dern as Amy Jellicoe, an executive at Abaddonn Industries who has a bit of a mental breakdown but, upon her recovery, is a changed woman with a whole new spiritual philosophy. You may not be sure about the show after watching Season One, but if you continue into the second season, you’ll soon be as angry as everyone else about its cancellation. The same may or may not go for “Magic City,” the Starz series about a hotel owner in 1960s Miami and his interactions with some unsavory types. It’s one of the most beautiful series to hit TV screens in ages, but it’s a bit of a grower, taking some time to build before it really takes off. The series set up lots of storylines for a third season that’ll never come, but it’s still worth taking a look, because it looks fantastic.

Banshee: The Complete First Season / Hunted: The Complete First Season

Cinemax may forever be stuck being perceived as HBO’s slightly lecherous little brother – sorry, but that’s what happens when a generation gleefully calls you “Skinemax” – but in recent years, they’ve at least been trying to climb out of the depths and build their own reputation for quality original programming. Alas, “Hunted,” created and written by Frank Spotnitz (“The X-Files”), may have been a little too smart for the room. Despite lots of action and a strong leading lady in Melissa George, the espionage-themed series proved to be a bust in the ratings, resulting in cancellation after just the one season. Still, it’s worth checking out. “Banshee,” however, is coming back for a second season, which is fantastic news for those who tuned in to watch the smoldering chemistry between stars Antony Starr and Ivana Milicevic. The DVD release of the show’s first season features four featurettes, a closer look into two episodes, six audio commentaries, a few deleted scenes and even a prequel comic book. Oh, were you wondering about the bonus material for “Hunted”? There’s precisely none: it’s available as an on-demand DVD, so it’s completely devoid of any special features. Ouch, that hurts.

Boy Meets World: The Complete Collection

Most people would probably be surprised to hear that “Boy Meets World” ran for seven seasons, but as one of the cornerstones in ABC’s TGIF lineup, it was one of the more successful sitcoms of the mid to late 90s. The show was recently made available on DVD in individual season sets, so it’s hard to imagine any reason why Lionsgate would release this Complete Collection so soon after other than to cash in on the news of the upcoming ABC Family spinoff “Girl Meets World.” It definitely makes sense, because this 22-disc set is the perfect refresher course for those who want to watch Cory Matthews grow up all over again, from getting into trouble with best friend Shawn, to receiving life lessons from teacher Mr. Feeney, to falling in love with school crush Topanga. Anyone who grew up in the 90s remembers “Boy Meets World” more than they care to admit, and with two new retrospectives featuring the original cast, it’s nostalgia in a box.

China Beach: The Complete Series

This ambitious Emmy-winning drama, set in an evacuation hospital during the Vietnam War, ran on ABC for four seasons from 1988-91. Due to costly music rights, it’s been unavailable on home video until earlier this year. Starring Dana Delaney in the breakout role of her career, “China Beach” also features early work from Robert Picardo, Marg Helgenberger, Chloe Webb and a very young Ricki Lake. This heavy box set, which includes 21 DVDs with 62 episodes, two “China Beach” dog tags and 10 hours of bonus material, boasts that it features “over 300 classic hit songs…from Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and many more.” More would certainly include The Supremes, whose “Reflections” is used as the “China Beach” theme song. For those who can’t get enough of a certain time and place in history, think of this as “M*A*S*H” without the laughs. The complete series set is available exclusively from TimeLife.com, while the budget conscious may want to consider gifting the first season, which is available from Amazon.

Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection

Last year, we recommended “The Best of The Carol Burnett Show,” and this year, we’re recommending its spin-off sitcom “Mama’s Family,” starring Vicki Lawrence as the cranky but lovable matriarch of an expansive Midwestern family. One of the most underrated sitcoms of the 80s, “Mama’s Family” shines, due mostly to Lawrence’s completely original performance of a character that’s instantly recognizable. Simply put, everyone’s had an aunt or grandmother reminiscent of Thelma “Mama” Harper. Due to years of playing the role on Burnett’s variety show, Lawrence wastes no time trying to find Mama, and the show knows exactly what it wants to be coming out of the gate. Burnett guest stars as the iconic Eunice on several of the early episodes, as do Harvey Korman and Betty White. The box set itself is a sturdy cardboard beast, housing 130 episodes spread across six seasons, with over 12 hours of extras and the rarely seen 1982 TV movie “Eunice.” As with the Burnett box, this set is currently available only from TimeLife.com. For the more budget conscious shopper, the first couple seasons are available individually from Amazon.

Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids: The Complete Series

“Hey, hey, hey!” A child of the 70s reads that and is able to hear it only one way: through the vocal talents of Bill Cosby, doing the voice of the one, the only, Fat Albert. For the first time ever, this 15-DVD set collects together all the various series of “Fat Albert” – from the concept’s more humble beginnings back in ’72, all the way up to the somewhat flashier versions that were made in the early to mid-80s. Cosby had a vision – to reach out to inner-city urban youth and entertain, inform and teach them lessons that couldn’t be found in all the white man programming that dominated the landscape. But the escapades of Fat Albert, Rudy, Mushmouth, Bill, Dumb Donald, Russell and Weird Harold proved to be so genuine and truthful that the show crossed all racial barriers, making an ever-lasting impression on a generation of kids who can now share these tales with their own children. There are 110 episodes in all (missing, unfortunately, are a few holiday specials), the quality is very nice given the age of the material, and there’s an hour-long documentary on the final disc entitled (what else?) “Hey, Hey, Hey…It’s the Story of Fat Albert.”

Star Trek: Enterprise – The Complete First and Second Seasons

It’s both surprising and depressing to realize that this, the most recent of the “Star Trek” TV series, seems to be the only one of the small screen brethren to escape J.J. Abrams’ rewriting of “Trek” history with his big screen adventures of Kirk, Spock and company. Think about the timing, though, and you’ll realize that Nero’s trip back through time took place after Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) took command of the first starship Enterprise. Why, there’s even a reference to Scotty having tested a transporter on Admiral Archer’s beagle! Looking back, “Star Trek: Enterprise” was already rewriting history well before Abrams took over the franchise, so we really should’ve seen it coming. If you enjoyed the series, though, you’ll be enthralled by the loving treatment Paramount has given “Enterprise” for its Blu-ray release, its sparkling picture and pristine sound accompanied by the usual plethora of bonus material that all of these “Star Trek” series invariably receive. Our only question: why couldn’t they have just stuck with chronological order with their Blu-ray rollout? (So sue us: we’re big “Deep Space Nine” fans here at Bullz-Eye.)

The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts Complete DVD Collection

Frank Sinatra might’ve been the so-called Chairman of the Board, but it’s become increasingly clear that the coolest member of the Rat Pack was really Dean Martin. No, he might not have had the pipes that Frank had, but Dino was cool, calm, and collected…or possibly just drunk. Either way, he had a way with a one-liner and a gift for hosting celebrity roasts. Comedy Central has tried to pick up the tradition of slinging zingers at celebrities, but they’re often rude, crude and socially unacceptable. The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts featured some of the biggest names in Hollywood, sports, politics or elsewhere stepping up to the podium and hurling jokes that were rarely harsh enough to offend but were consistently worthy laughs, from a chuckle to a full-fledged guffaw. StarVista Entertainment and Time-Life has compiled a 25-disc set that features hours and hours of these roasts, with a list of roasters and roastees that’ll blow your mind, including Bob Hope, Jack Benny, George Burns, Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason and many, many more. There are even bonus discs including tons of interviews as well as seven episodes of “The Dean Martin Variety Show.”

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: The Complete Series

With 38 discs and 325 episodes, this box set is a beast, and one of the strangest on the market this year. “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” ran for only about a year and a half back in 1976 and ’77, but it was produced on a soap opera schedule, and hence was on every weekday. Developed by Norman Lear (“All in the Family,” “Maude”), who still regards it as one of his finest works, the show deftly satirizes a suburban world that finds itself inundated by media and consumer culture. The series begins with the title character, played superbly by Louise Lasser, worried about the waxy yellow buildup on her floors, while the news on the radio reports that just streets away, an entire family (as well as their dogs and chickens) have been brutally murdered. Police sirens blast in the background, but it’s that waxy yellow buildup that most concerns the housewife. That sort of dark humor pervades the entire show, and the conspicuous lack of a laugh track only adds to the ongoing current of weird. Unavailable since it was first aired, “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” is for the TV addict who has everything but is looking for more. This should tide them over for several months. It also includes an extra 10 episodes of the Martin Mull-starring talk show spin-off, “Fernwood 2 Night.”

Kindred: The Embraced – The Complete Series

Hey, you know how all the kids love vampires? Sure you do. How can you not, what with “The Vampire Diaries,” “True Blood” and even “Dracula” all currently taking up real estate on various networks’ schedules? Unfortunately, some series tried to sway audiences over to the “vampires are cool” camp a little before the masses were ready to sign on to the trend, leaving them short-lived and quickly forgotten. As such, the words “Kindred: The Embraced” may mean nothing to you, but for a brief window in 1996 – we’re talking from April 2 to May 9 – Spelling Productions brought FOX viewers the story of San Francisco Police Detective Frank Kohanek (C. Thomas Howell) and his exploration of the five groups of vampires – known collectively as The Kindred – who are living and feeding in the city. There were only eight episodes, but that hasn’t stopped the studio from going all out with the presentation of the series, offering an extended version of the pilot, audio commentaries, deleted scenes and featurettes, while the set itself features bookcase packaging, a letter from the series creator and a replica of The Book of Nod. (Trust us: if you’re a fan, it’s pretty freaking awesome.)

Looking for more TV content? Check out the latest edition of our TV Power Rankings for a rundown of the best shows currently on the air.

  

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