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The best of the box

Entire seasons of current and classic shows are now on disc, and offer extras to boot.

June 09, 2003|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Couch potatoes have embraced the DVD format in a big way, plunking down dollars for multi-disc sets of their favorite TV series such as "The Simpsons," "The Sopranos," "Star Trek," "The X-Files" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Like the enormously popular feature film releases of DVDs, these digital versions generally feature a raft of extras such as interviews, documentaries and commentaries.

Since TV has proven to be a cash cow for the DVD industry, every month more and more such fare has made its way to the format -- not only American shows, but also popular British imports. Here's a look at the latest crop of small-screen series given the digital treatment.

Hey! Hey! The first season of the 1966-68 Emmy Award-winning NBC comedy "The Monkees" has arrived on DVD in a groovy six-disc set (Rhino, $90) featuring all 32 episodes of the musical comedy -- inspired by the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" -- about a struggling rock 'n' roll band living in Los Angeles. Its young stars -- Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith and Peter Tork -- were labeled by some as the "Pre-Fab Four," but the guys were cute, funny and had some terrific songwriters -- including Neil Diamond, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart -- penning catchy pop tunes. The Monkees became overnight sensations, although the success didn't last very long.

The DVD set is a wonderfully fun nostalgic trip down memory lane for any female baby boomer who fell in love with the boys and couldn't wait for a new episode of the series.

Besides the episodes, which have been remastered from original 35mm prints (and unfortunately look a bit faded), the discs include self-deprecating commentary on select episodes from Nesmith, Jones, Tork, Rafelson, director James Frawley and songwriter Hart; a faded 16mm print of the original pilot that was scrapped; vintage Monkees Kellogg's commercials; their famous song romps; and a memorabilia gallery.

New from Paramount are the complete first seasons of two long-running, Emmy Award-winning sitcoms ($40): "Cheers" and its spinoff, "Frasier." The good news is that "Cheers," which aired on NBC from 1982-1993, holds up remarkably well and the episodes have all been restored and look even better than when they first aired. The bad news is that the set is pretty skimpy in the extras department. There is a short interview with Ted Danson, who won two Emmys for his performance as bar owner Sam Malone, a trivia game and a look at Norm's (George Wendt) one-liners.

At least there are a few more goodies on the "Frasier" set, including a decent retrospective documentary featuring interviews with executive producers and creators Peter Casey and David Lee and stars Kelsey Grammer, John Mahoney, David Hyde Pierce, Peri Gilpin and Jane Leeves; commentary on the pilot episode with Casey and Lee; and a look at all the celebrity voices who "called in" to Frasier's radio therapy show during the first season.

England's Rowan Atkinson is one of the most versatile clowns working today in films and television. His latest comedy, "Johnny English," is a blockbuster in Europe and is set to open next month in America. Perhaps his greatest TV creation is Mr. Bean, the perplexed, clueless, sometimes naughty man-child who lives in a tiny apartment with his beloved stuffed teddy bear. "Mr. Bean" originally aired in America on HBO and then moved to PBS. Those who only know the Mr. Bean character from the uneven feature film version, "Bean," are in for a real treat with the A&E set, "Mr. Bean the Whole Bean" ($50). The set features all 14 episodes of the program; a documentary, "The Story of Bean"; two never-before-seen TV skits; and two bits he did for the U.K. version of "Comic Relief."

Entirely different in tone and style than "Mr. Bean" is the biting British political satire "Yes, Minister" (BBC Video, $80). All 21 episodes of the award-winning series from the early '80s are included on the four discs, as well as an interview with creator Jonathan Lynn, who has gone on to direct such films as "The Whole Nine Yards" and a retrospective documentary on the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne, who came to fame as the conniving, ambitious civil servant, Sir Humphrey. Paul Eddington stars in the perceptive farce as the rather hapless Jim Hacker, the new minister for administrative affairs.

Martin Short is a busy guy these days. He is appearing on stage at the Pantages eight times a week opposite Jason Alexander in the musical comedy "The Producers." He also is appearing next month in a TNT movie called "Prince Charming." And he stars in the Comedy Central series "Primetime Glick" as rotund, obnoxious TV interviewer Jiminy Glick. Comedy Central has just released "The Best of Primetime Glick" on DVD ($15), which features the first episode of the uneven series, as well as Glick's more inspired interviews with the likes of Eugene Levy, Bill Maher, Dennis Miller, Conan O'Brien and Jerry Seinfeld.

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