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.

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Bullz-Eye’s 2013 TV Power Rankings

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When we published our first TV Power Rankings in 2005 listing the best shows on television, the revolution in TV viewing habits was well underway with cable shows like “The Sopranos” raising the bar for TV dramas. Meanwhile, DVDs and on-demand viewing started to change the way we watched our favorite programs and discovered new ones. Since then, the changes have only accelerated, and now many teenagers and people of all ages are addicted to streaming TV, watching everything by their own schedules. Many have even “cut the cord” and eliminated their cable TV subscriptions altogether. Water-cooler discussions about “must-see TV” have given way to shows aimed at niche audiences.

With these developments, the quality of the shows has improved dramatically. That may not be true for sitcoms and most of the stuff on network TV, but many have called this the new “golden era of television,” as the cable networks in particular have given talented writers and directors the freedom to create masterpieces like “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad.” Now with Netflix triumphantly entering the fray with the excellent “House of Cards,” the bar keeps getting raised even higher. I watch fewer movies these days as the quality rarely matches that of the best TV shows, which also have the advantage of developing characters over a much longer time period.

“Breaking Bad” has been one of our favorites for years, and it tops our list again as it completes its final season. When it’s all said and done, it will be part of every conversation of the best TV shows ever. Our list is dominated by cable TV dramas and we’ve left off reality shows. Some are entertaining, but none match the quality of the programs on our list.

We’ve kept spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to avoid some of the write-ups if you want to avoid learning about plot developments.

1. Breaking Bad

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Expectations for the fifth season of Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” would’ve been running high anyway, given that Season 4 concluded with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) bringing an explosive end to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) while also revealing just how far he was willing to sink to get things his way. It doesn’t get much lower than poisoning a child to trick your former partner into working for you again, but the knowledge that it truly was the beginning of the end (i.e. the final season) really amped up the adrenaline. With posters for Season 5 showing Walt surrounded by stacks of cash and emblazoned with the tagline “Hail to the King,” the question at hand was whether or not Mr. White would be able to keep his ego in check successfully enough to take over Gus’s meth empire. The answer: not entirely. Although Mike (Jonathan Banks) agreed to join the operation more out of an attempt to help keep Jesse (Aaron Paul) safe, he quickly grew frustrated and tried to bail out, only to end up in a terminal tussle with Walt. Meanwhile, the domestic situation in the White house has reached all new levels of tension, thanks to a power struggle of sorts between Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn). As the first half of Season 5 wrapped up, however, the biggest reveal of all took place, with Walt’s DEA-agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), finally discovering that he’s the infamous Heisenberg. This show has yet to disappoint, and there’s no reason to think it’s going to start now. – Will Harris. Check out our “Breaking Bad” blog here and our Fan Hub page here.

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Who in the World is Gary Oldman?

When theatergoers leave screenings of “Red Riding Hood” this weekend, a great number of them will be saying, “The best thing about that movie was Gary Oldman.” This isn’t necessarily the greatest compliment that Oldman’s ever been paid – trust us, we’ve seen the movie – but it’s one that he’s heard plenty of times, and rightfully so.

On the occasion of this latest film, we thought we’d take a look back at 20 of his most notable roles, most of which are found in films far better than “Red Riding Hood.” That’s most, though, and not all. (See #10 and #13.) Still, as track records go, you’ll soon see that Oldman’s is pretty damned enviable.

1. Sid Vicious (Sid and Nancy, 1986): Most would agree that it was Oldman’s performance as the late Sex Pistols bassist which really put him on the radar. Even those who criticized the accuracy of the film generally had glowing words for Gary, and that goes all the way up to Johnny Rotten himself. “The chap who played Sid, Gary Oldman, I thought was quite good,” wrote John Lydon in his autobiography, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. “Even he only played the stage persona as opposed to the real person, (but) I don’t consider that Gary Oldman’s fault because he’s a bloody good actor.” This was echoed by the Evening Standard British Film Awards, who named Oldman the year’s Most Promising Newcomer.

2. Joe Orton (Prick Up Your Ears, 1987): Only 34 years passed between the life and death of English playwright Joe Orton, and one might be able to successfully argue that more people know him for his connection to the Fab Four (he wrote a screenplay, “Up Against It,” which was rejected as the Beatles’ cinematic follow-up to “Help!”) than for his plays, let alone this movie, but if you’ve managed to see “Prick Up Your Ears,” then you’re already aware of the phenomenal work Oldman does alongside Alfred Molina, who plays Kenneth Halliwell, Orton’s boyfriend and – eventually – his murderer. Indeed, Oldman’s performance earned him a BAFTA Award nomination for Best Actor.

3. Rosencrantz (Rosencrantz & Gildenstern are Dead, 1990): Fans of the Bard with a sense of humor have long praised the way Tom Stoppard took two relatively insignificant characters from “Hamlet” and turned their actions – or, rather, their lack thereof – into a full-length play, but there’s not quite as much unanimity about the way the production transitioned onto the big screen. Still, the only real complaint tended to be that it probably played better when performed on a stage, which stands to reason. (After all, the play’s the thing, innit?) Granted, the humor’s a bit highbrow for the mainstream, but if you like Shakespeare, you’ll love seeing Oldman and Roth pondering their characters’ existence.

4. Jackie Flannery (State of Grace, 1990): Although Phil Joanou’s Irish-American crime drama didn’t break any box office records, possibly because the Italian-American criminal contingent had the higher profile at the time (this was right around the same time as “Goodfellas”), it sure had a hell of a cast: Oldman is teamed with Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Robin Wright, John Turturro, John C. Reilly, and Burgess Meredith. Throw in an Ennio Morricone score, and you’ve got the kind of picture that critics drool over…and rightfully so.

5. Lee Harvey Oswald (JFK, 1991): When you make a film about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, if there’s one role that you absolutely, positively must cast perfectly, it’s that of the man who (ostensibly) assassinated him. In an interview with Empire, Oldman revealed that director Oliver Stone gave him a couple of plane tickets, a list of contacts, and told him to go research the part himself. You’d think it would’ve been easier on the budget if Stone had just paid for Oldman’s cab fare to the library, but, then, the library wouldn’t have provided Oldman with a tenth of the information about the man he was portraying that he ended up getting from his meeting with Oswald’s widow, Marina.

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