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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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Eden Sher (“The Middle”)

If there’s any question as to whether actress Eden Sher possesses any of the delightful awkwardness of Sue Heck, her character on “The Middle,” it was answered at the precise moment I picked up the phone when she called me for our interview. At first, there is silence, which is quickly followed by an odd muffled sound which can only be described as a high-pitched grunt. Then, a breathless Sher suddenly announces herself and explains apologetically that she’d taken a sip of water the moment before the call connected and was struggling to hurriedly swallow it without choking. (“I’m, like, ‘No, no, I’m not a mute!’”) With her throat no longer parched, Sher discussed the experience of playing one of TV’s geekiest, gawkiest teenagers, getting her big break on “Weeds,” and sharing a tender yet awkward moment with Ryan Hansen on “Party Down.”

Bullz-Eye: With your performance on “The Middle,” you’re quickly developing a reputation as one of the most fearless comediennes on television.

Eden Sher: Wow, thank you! I appreciate that. I’ll try to limit the growth of my head after a compliment like that. [Laughs.] When people say that, though, I’m not sure how to take it, because it doesn’t seem…I feel like if you’re not going big, if there’s any sort of fear in the way or if there’s any thought process that gets in the way of being funny, you’re not going to be funny. So I don’t really consider it to be a special thing. I’m just doing my job!

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BE: Well, you’re certainly not afraid to “Sue it up” as far as your appearance goes, but you also seem to be game for any and all physical comedy gags.

ES: Yes! Yes, I am, because I say the sweatier I am, the more bruised I am, the dirtier I get, the funnier it probably will be! [Laughs.] Because, I mean, you know the scene when I’m practicing to be the mascot, with the cardboard box on my head? I have realized this: falling or hitting something or physically hurting yourself is always funny. In real life or TV. Always is.

BE: So do you have any formal training as far as physical comedy goes?

ES: Uh, you mean aside from being clumsy and accidentally hurting myself? [Laughs.] No! I mean, I’ve taken acting classes forever, but I’ve actually never even taken a class that’s strictly comedy. I’ve taken improv classes before, but not a comedy class, per se. Do they offer physical comedy classes? Is that actually something they do?

BE: Not being an actor myself, let’s say, “Sure, they do!”

ES: [Laughs.] Well, either way, I’ve never actually taken one.

BE: DeAnn Heline has confirmed that it was actually you who went careening across the countertop in “The Test” last season, but did you do the swing set face-plant in this year’s season premiere (“The Last Whiff of Summer”)?

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ES: That was not. I tried to do it, and I just…it was too dangerous. But it did take awhile, because it’s actually the stunt girl you see walking to do it, too, and it was quite an ordeal having to help her master my walk. [Laughs.] I had to show her how to walk like Sue! But I will say, because this is something you don’t even see my face for, that the mascot face-plant…? That was me in the suit. That was actually me.

BE: Is that a regular occurrence? How much of what we see the mascot doing is you inside the suit?

ES: Anytime I’m doing anything physical other than standing, it’s me. All of the dancing stuff, that’s all me.

BE: Regarding to the physical transformation, what’s involved in the process of turning Eden Sher into Sue Heck?

ES: Well, first of all, I appreciate you noting that there is actually a transformation required! But it’s actually helped me to retain my anonymity a lot, because either people aren’t expecting it, or…I usually get, “You know, you look a lot like that girl on that show? Have you seen it?” It’s not actually that extensive of a process, because it’s mostly a case of coming in with dirty hair…oh, but I’m revealing too much. [Laughs.] Seriously, though, what happens is that I usually don’t wash my hair, because they have to flatten it out and make it a little stringy-ish. Or stringier than it usually is, anyway. And then they don’t put any makeup on me. They kind of fill in my eyebrows to make ‘em a little bushier. And then they just put the braces in, and that’s pretty much it.

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Blu Tuesday: Crazy Cults, Tower Heists and More

There are plenty of new Blu-rays on tap this week, and as usual, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I didn’t even bother writing entries for Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” and the “Shrek” spin-off “Puss in Boots” because the sooner we forget about both movies the better, while other noteworthy titles like Criterion’s “Anatomy of a Murder” and the first season of BBC’s “The Fades” weren’t available for review. Fans of Criterion’s previous releases can confidently blind-buy the former, however, knowing it will live up to their standards.

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”

Sean Durkin’s directorial debut was a big hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and after finally seeing the movie myself during its theatrical release, it’s easy to understand why. A disturbing yet mesmerizing psychological thriller about a girl who runs away from a cult only to become increasingly paranoid that its members have tracked her down, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (so titled for the various names that its protagonist uses throughout the course of the film) is bone-chilling suspense at its best. Durkin’s cleverly edited transitions between past and present are so disorienting that you start to become as paranoid as Martha herself, while star-in-the-making Elizabeth Olsen delivers an incredible performance that should have netted her an Oscar nomination. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is one of those rare movies that stay with long after it’s over, sparking debate about its purposefully vague ending. It’s sure to enrage some, but most cinephiles will love every gripping minute.

Blu-ray Highlight: The list of included bonus material isn’t as impressive as it sounds, but fans of the movie will still no doubt be interested in director Sean Durkin’s short film “Mary Last Seen,” which serves as a companion piece to “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”

“Tower Heist”

Though a lot of people were quick to condemn “Tower Heist” before they even had a chance to see it, I was hopeful that Brett Ratner – who’s a better director than he gets credit for – would prove them wrong. After all, not only did the movie boast a promising setup and a great cast (including the potentially dynamic pairing of Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy), but the script was co-written by Ted Griffin, who penned the “Ocean’s Eleven” remake and co-created the excellent but short-lived FX drama “Terriers.” In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have been so optimistic, because despite its timely subject matter and the aforementioned components, “Tower Heist” never really makes the most of its potential. There are a handful of humorous moments littered throughout, but for the most part, it’s a rather unmemorable heist movie that’s biggest disappointment is its mediocrity.

Blu-ray Highlight: Universal has provided a solid collection of bonus material for the two-disc release, but the audio commentary with director Brett Ratner, co-writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, and editor Mark Helfrich is the clear standout. In addition to revealing some interesting anecdotes about the long road from development to production (including Eddie Murphy’s original pitch for an all-black cast with guys like Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and Chris Tucker), the quartet also talks about working with the ensemble cast and the challenges of filming the movie’s various set pieces.

“The Son of No One”

Channing Tatum must have made a deal with the Devil earlier in his life, because it’s the only possible explanation as to why Hollywood is so obsessed with him. After seven years in the business, Tatum hasn’t delivered a single performance that’s convinced me he has any real talent as an actor, and yet he continues to get work in high-profile projects. Director Dito Montiel is perhaps the worst offender, having cast him in all of three of his films, including this laughable police drama that also stars Al Pacino, Ray Liotta and Katie Holmes. The only thing worse than watching Tatum bumble his way through yet another leading role is the dreadful script by Montiel, which lazily strings together a series of incredibly pointless events and moments of manufactured conflict that are so easily avoidable it can be viewed as nothing less than an insult to the audience’s integrity.

Blu-ray Highlight: There are only two extras on the disc, but the audio commentary with writer/director Dito Montiel and executive producer/editor Jake Pushinsky offers up some interesting nuggets about making the film despite the long stretches of silence.

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Bullz-Eye’s 2012 TV Power Rankings

So…where were we?

Oh, fine, let’s go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room: it’s been nine months since Bullz-Eye doled out its last TV Power Rankings. What can we say? There were a lot of good shows on the air between May 2011 and February 2012, and somewhere around late October, it just kind of reached a point where we said, “You know what? It’s way more fun to watch TV than it is to write about it.” Eventually, though, the powers that be pried us off the couch (there’s still an indentation where we were sitting), set us back in front of the computer, and said, “Look, the readers demand to know Bullz-Eye’s take on the best shows of the past year* and, frankly, they’re starting to get a little belligerent about it.”

(*Rounded up for statistical purposes.)

So here we are, ready to offer up our list of the 25 best shows on television** as well as several shows bubbling just under our list, plus a new section called “Still Too New to Call,” where we praise shows that seem pretty damned good after their first few episodes but simply haven’t been around long enough for us to feel comfortable including them in the other two lists.

(**Okay, technically, it’s the 24 best shows on television plus one show that hasn’t been on since 2010, but we’re so excited about that particular show coming back that we included it, anyway.)

All told, we hope you’ll walk away from this piece either nodding your head in agreement or wondering why you haven’t been watching some of these shows. If not, however, there’s a perfectly good Comments section that’s just waiting for your opinions about what’s good on TV.

Everybody ready? Then let’s get this thing started…

25. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

No, it’s not quite the same show it used to be, owing to the fact that the cast now consists of almost as many women as it does men, but with the series now in its fifth season, the trio of Kaley Cuouo, Melissa Rauch, and Mayim Bialik have probably infused “The Big Bang Theory” with more laughs than the it would’ve had at this point if it had stuck strictly to the original four geeks. The only question now is how much longer we’ll have to wait for Raj to come out of the closet…because, seriously, you don’t need to possess gay-dar to see that that’s what they’re leading up to.

24. Weeds (Showtime)

When we first picked back up with Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) for the seventh season of “Weeds,” she’d spent three years cooling her heels in the clink while the rest of the Botwin clan had been chillin’ in Copenhagen, but with Nancy being shifted to a halfway house in New York City, a family reunion was only inevitable. Big shock: Nancy started selling pot again. Possibly bigger shock: even going into its eighth season, “Weeds” is still reliably entertaining.

23. New Girl (Fox)

When it comes to watching “New Girl,” one’s level of appreciation is directly proportionate to how one feels about the concept of “adorkability,” which Zooey Deschanel brings to the small screen in seemingly limitless quantities as Jess, a too-cute twentysomething who moves in with a trio of guys on the heels of an excruciatingly bad breakup. As with most ensemble comedies, it’s taken time for the chemistry of the cast to find its feet, but it’s coming along nicely.

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