2016 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. 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 devoted most of this year’s guide to some less time-consuming (and more affordable) suggestions. If you don’t find anything for your friends and family here, a Netflix gift card works just as well.

Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and check back throughout the week for more additions to our Holiday Gift Guide.

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

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There’s been a lot of great television this year, and FX’s “American Crime Story” is right up there at the top. Though most people of a certain age remember the media circus surrounding the so-called Trial of the Century, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” manages to feel like an entirely fresh experience, revealing things about the case you may not have known before while also recapturing all the infamous moments. Told largely from the perspective of the lawyers, the show examines topics like race, gender, celebrity and the criminal justice system and how each one affected the outcome of the trial. There’s hardly a dull moment throughout the show’s debut season, including the excellent bottle episode “A Jury in Jail,” which details the mental and physical strain placed on the jurors throughout the lengthy court case. At its core, however, “American Crime Story” is just a really excellent actor’s showcase that features award-worthy performances by Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown, among others. The series is so engrossing and expertly cast that it’s like watching the murder trial all over again, only this time, with an unrestricted view of the chaos and drama.

The Night Of

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The Night Of” was originally supposed to star James Gandolfini before the actor’s untimely death, but within the first few episodes of the HBO limited series, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than John Turturro in the role. The veteran character actor is so riveting as the down-on-his-luck attorney that it seems a near-certainty he’ll walk away with an Emmy for his performance. He’s that good, and the same could be said for the rest of the cast, including co-star Riz Ahmed and supporting players like Bill Camp, Michael Kenneth Williams and Peyman Moaadi. However, what really elevates “The Night Of” beyond the typical crime drama is the superb writing by co-creators Richard Price and Steve Zaillian, which delivers a probing examination of the systemic problems in the U.S. criminal justice system (from the police, to the prisons, to the lawyers) and how one crime can affect the lives of not only the accused but the people connected to them as well. Though the actual investigation feels a bit rushed, and the series doesn’t hit as many highs in the later episodes, “The Night Of” is an excellent piece of filmmaking that challenges the way we watch television and tell stories.

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2015 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 the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

Justified: The Complete Series

Justified” is one of those shows that never really got the credit (or the audience) it deserved, because it’s a sharply written and well-acted neo-Western that managed to pull off what most series have failed to do: stick the landing. Though it started out as a more formulaic, crime of the week-type drama, “Justified” evolved into something much richer over the years by focusing on the relationship between U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens and smooth-talking outlaw Boyd Crowder, two men who grew up in the same poor, coal-mining town in Kentucky, but ended up on different sides of the law. Both Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins deliver strong, well-rounded performances in their respective roles, but while it would be difficult to imagine the show without either of them, the supporting cast is just as important, especially Nick Searcy as Givens’ crusty boss, Jacob Pitts and Erica Tazel as fellow Marshalls, and Joelle Carter as Boyd’s fiancée/partner in crime. The rotating cast of guest stars is also impressive, adding to the series’ rich tapestry of down-and-dirty hillbillies, criminals and lawmen to create a lived-in world that feels more genuine than just about anything else on television. The fact that “Justified” was able to maintain its high quality throughout all six seasons is pretty extraordinary, but it’s also one of the few shows to produce a satisfying series finale, and that definitely earns it a spot among the TV drama elite.

Californication: The Complete Series

With Hank Moody, David Duchovny created a character that ranks as one of the greatest hedonists in television history. “Californication” was loaded with great characters and it thrived on introducing countless examples of the bizarre and interesting people you’ll find in L.A., but everything revolved around Hank and all of his crazy exploits. He could be arrogant and often self-destructive, but watching his endless exploits with the flaky but often beautiful women of La La Land made you want to hop on a plane and rent an apartment in Venice Beach. The best part was that Hank always found a way to enjoy the ride, even as things got a little rough. Through it all he was still crazy in love with his ex, Karen, played by the lovely Natascha McElhone, and Evan Handler was excellent as Charlie Runkle, his dopey but ever-loyal agent and sidekick who had his own ups and down with his hilarious and nutty wife Marcy. Now you can enjoy all 84 episodes on 14 discs in this new box set. Give it to someone who needs to learn how to enjoy life again, or at least can use a vehicle to live vicariously through someone else’s crazy adventures.

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2014 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 the links to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.

The Wonder Years: The Complete Series

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Can it really have been way back in 2006 when we put “The Wonder Years” at the top of our list of the 15 shows that we most wanted to see released on DVD? 2014 has been a damned good year for that list – now that “Batman” and “WKRP” are finally available, the only things left that we’re still waiting to see released are “Sifl & Olly” and “Ed” – but nothing’s made us as happy as the arrival of a miniature locker containing two faux Trapper Keeper notebooks filled with 26 discs worth of “The Wonder Years.” In addition to the 115 episodes, there’s also over 23 hours of bonus material, including footage from the recent cast reunion, tons of interviews with cast, creators and numerous guest stars, 10 newly-created featurettes, and outtakes from the filming of Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss…which, in case you didn’t know, was also Fred Savage and Danica McKellar’s first kiss as well! Lastly, when you pop open the locker – don’t worry, there’s no lock, so you don’t need to memorize a combination – you’ll also find a hardcover “yearbook” filled with behind-the-scenes pictures and notes from the cast. It’s so totally worth the wait.

Batman: The Complete Television Series

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Whether you grew up in the late 60s when it originally aired, or watched the reruns that played throughout the following decades, chances are that the “Batman” TV series was a big part of your childhood. One of the best things about the show is that it operates on multiple levels, so whereas you were attracted to the suspense, action and colorful production design as a kid, when revisiting the series as an adult, you’re able to enjoy the subtler, campier aspects. It certainly helped that it had such a game cast, from stars Adam West and Bruce Ward, to its cavalcade of villain guest stars – most notably Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith and Julie Newmar – all of whom understood exactly what kind of show they were making. “Batman” is one of the few classic TV series that still holds up today, which is why it’s so surprising that it took this long for it to be released on Blu-ray. The new digital restoration looks fantastic for a show that’s nearly 50 years old, with all 120 episodes presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-ray set also comes with hours of bonus material, including a retrospective on the show’s production and its legacy, a roundtable discussion with West and other Bat-fanatics, the original “Batgirl” pilot, screen tests for West and Ward, as well second-choice Lyle Waggoner (Batman) and Peter Deyell (Robin), and much more. And as if that wasn’t enough, it also comes with a Hot Wheels replica Batmobile, while the box itself plays the “Batman” theme song. Holy Fan Service, Batman!

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