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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2013 Father’s Day Gift Guide: Entertainment

Everyone loves watching a great movie or TV series, so we’ve compiled some of our favorite releases from the past year that just about guy will enjoy. And for more gift ideas, be sure to check out the other categories in our Father’s Day gift guide.

Ultimate Gangster Collection: Classic and Contemporary

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Most guys love gangster films, so it’s hard to think of a better “one size fits all” gift than Warner Bros.’ recently released Ultimate Gangster Collection on Blu-ray. Divided into two volumes, the Contemporary edition is arguably the more desirable of the pair as it’s comprised of favorites like “The Untouchables,” “Heat” and three Martin Scorsese films (“Mean Streets,” “Goodfellas” and “The Departed”). Though the Classics edition is a little more niche, you really can’t go wrong with a quartet that includes Golden Age standards like “Little Caesar,” “The Public Enemy,” “The Petrified Forest” and “White Heat.” All four films have also been remastered for their Blu-ray debuts, and like most Warner Bros. catalog titles, they look fantastic. Each collection also includes a 32-page book with images and additional info on each movie, and the Classic edition comes packaged with a feature-length documentary. The best part? At $40 a pop, you’re getting some great movies at an unbeatable price.

Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection

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What better way to celebrate Father’s Day than with one of the coolest dads in movie history? We’re talking about John McClane, of course, even if he wasn’t exactly a very good father himself. Though Fox has released the fifth installment in the “Die Hard” series, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” just in time for the holiday, we’d actually recommend picking up the “Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection” on Blu-ray instead. Though the earlier films haven’t been given the HD restoration that they deserve, the set does include a nearly two-hour retrospective on the franchise titled “Decoding Die Hard” that’s definitely worth checking out. Plus, unlike the latest installment, the other four movies are all worthy of repeat viewings (yes, even the underrated “Live Free or Die Hard”), making this five-disc box set a must-have for any fan of the series, Bruce Willis or great action films in general.

Forever Marilyn Collection

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She’s probably our most iconic sex symbol. Marilyn Monroe remains relevant after all these years for more than just her amazing beauty and charisma. She was a true starlet, but she could act as well. Now you can get many of her best films in one collection with “Forever Marilyn: The Blu-ray Collection.” The films include classics like “The Misfits” and “Some Like It Hot,” along with new-to-Blu-ray titles “How to Marry A Millionaire,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “The Seven Year Itch,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “River of No Return.” We’ve included some images of Marilyn from the films courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, including the memorable scene of Marilyn’s white dress being blown up in the subway in “The Seven Year Itch.”

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Blu Tuesday: The Newsroom, House of Cards and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Newsroom: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: Following a mandatory leave of absence after a political tirade goes viral, news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Bridges) returns to find that most of his staff has quit. Seeing an opportunity to rebrand the nighttime program, his boss (Sam Waterson) hires Will’s ex-girlfriend, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), to executive produce a show that values quality news over ratings-driven infotainment.

WHY: Aaron Sorkin’s last TV project (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) may not have been his best work, but he’s hit a homerun with this HBO drama, which uses actual news stories (the BP oil spill, the death of Osama Bin Laden, etc.) to ground the show (and by extension, its characters) in reality. The writing is every bit as snappy, whip-smart and funny as we’ve come to expect from Sorkin, while the cast is littered with great performances from veterans like Bridges, Mortimer and Waterson, as well as up-and-comers like John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill and, quite surprisingly, Olivia Munn.

EXTRAS: In addition to cast and crew audio commentaries on half the episodes, the four-disc set also includes all of the “Inside the Episode” recaps, a handful of deleted scenes, and a 25-minute roundtable discussion with Sorkin, Daniels, Mortimer, Waterson and directors/producers Greg Mottola and Alan Poul about making the show.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“House of Cards: The Complete First Season”

WHAT: After Senator Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), the House Majority Whip, is passed over for the Secretary of State position, he exacts revenge on those who betrayed him by exploiting his devoted wife (Robin Wright), a young reporter (Kate Mara) and a troubled congressman (Corey Stoll) to help do his dirty work.

WHY: 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.

EXTRAS: Sadly, no bonus material has been included.

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