Armchair Cinephile: The Cine-Mini


Well. Halloween’s stomachaches are a fresh memory, Thanksgiving turkey remains to be tasted, but Christmas ornaments are already popping up all over the place.

That’s bad news for those susceptible to Yule fatigue, good tidings for DVD studios, who have hit upon a way to work the industry’s biggest trend — the reissue of TV series, both current hits and forgotten relics — into a gift-friendly format, repackaging individual-season box sets into mega-collections that scream out for early Christmas lists. Here are some highlights from the recent crop, with comparative ratings:

Homicide: The Complete Series

Buy-in-bulk value: At $300, it’s a nearly 50-percent discount over buying the seasons separately. (Bear in mind that all the prices listed here are retail; smart shoppers needn’t pay that.)
Special selling points: A&E pioneered the “mega-set” years ago with The Avengers, and now they’re at the forefront of clever repackaging: Homicide arrives in its own miniature filing cabinet. In addition to that nice gimmick, the set offers such bonus features as three Law & Order crossover episodes and Homicide: The Movie.
How it holds up: A bridge between the flawed cops of Hill Street Blues and the gritty Baltimore-on-the-skids of The Wire, the series benefits from a strong cast and solid writing.

The Twilight Zone: The Complete Definitive Collection

Buy-in-bulk value: $300 versus $520-ish if bought individually
Special selling points: Nothing beyond what’s in the individual-season sets, which already included plenty of extras.
How it holds up: Like a legend. If television history were a library, TZ would be a leather-bound set of Great Books, despite offering as much fun as a dime store full of pulp novels.

Six Feet Under: The Complete Series

Buy-in-bulk value: $280 versus around $500
Special selling points: Boxed up in a cutely macabre imitation of a burial plot, the set adds two soundtrack discs and a slim booklet.
How it holds up: The body’s still warm. Who’s to say?

Get Smart: The Complete Collection

Buy-in-bulk value: Irrelevant for the moment, as it’s only available as a bulk set through (Conventional releases are planned later.)
Special selling points: Naturally it’s camouflaged as a phone booth.
How it holds up: While the dumb-luck adventures of Maxwell Smart may work best in small doses, scripts by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry are nothing to sneeze at.

The West Wing: The Complete Series

Buy-in-bulk value: $300 versus $420
Special selling points: Makes you feel like POTUS himself, with your own dossier-style box, although there aren’t any extras worth mentioning beyond what’s on the individual sets.
How it holds up: Depends what you mean by that. It’s a shameless fantasy for those of us who lean to the left, but in its best seasons the stories and dialogue sparkle like nothing outside of HBO.

M*A*S*H: Martinis and Medicine Complete Collection

Buy-in-bulk value: $200 versus $440 — the best bargain of the lot, price-wise.
Special selling points: Relatively straightforward packaging, but the set contains Altman’s original film and two discs of goodies for fans, including a never-filmed teleplay.
How it holds up: It didn’t last for 11 seasons without reason. Probably more re-watchable than any mainstream series of its era.

Alias: The Complete Collection

Buy-in-bulk value: At $200 roughly one-third less than regular retail.
Special selling points: Packaged like a Rambaldi artifact! With a secret compartment holding bloopers and deleted scenes!
How it holds up: Jennifer Garner is still adorable, the costumes are still hot, and the stories are still ludicrously contrived, with enough fantastic soap-opera reversals to choke a gaggle of screenwriters.

That’s My Bush: The Definitive Collection

Buy-in-bulk value: Are you kidding? It didn’t even last a full season — what’s to discount?
Special selling points: Um, it’s from the creators of South Park.
How it holds up: Love him or hate him, most would agree that the real George Bush proved to be beyond the reach of any TV scribe’s satirical imagination. Star Timothy Bottoms’s brain-dead impersonation doesn’t help.

Star Trek: The Animated Series

Buy-in-bulk value: Again, this is the only way to buy it.
Special selling points: Comes in a snappy plastic clamshell like the live-action version, although the interior package is pretty flimsy.
How it holds up: Series creator Gene Roddenberry made a point of hiring his favorite writers, but the early-‘70s, Super Friends-style animation makes this a goofy experience for anyone but hardcore Trekkies.

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