Screens Armchair Cinephile

Chappelle MIA, Undeclared rediscovered

The news this week is not good for fans of stand-up comedy. According to Charlie Murphy, who was responsible for much of last season's triumph, The Chappelle Show will never resume production.

After we've all taken a moment of silence to mourn, and to pray for Dave's speedy return to the entertainment world, we can console ourselves with Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth (Sony), an hour-long stand-up special filmed at San Francisco's Fillmore for Showtime. No, it's not the same as hearing "I'm Rick James, bitch!" again. But it's what we're going to get for now.

Sony just double-dipped into its stand-up vault, come to think of it, for a Richard Pryor disc that couples Here and Now with Live on the Sunset Strip. The two early '80s features form the latter half of his performance-film career, and as with the Chappelle disc, allowed him to entertain any number of subjects that broadcast television (even prime-time basic cable) won't permit.

Some things television will permit, but won't tolerate for very long. One of those, as a general rule, is smart ensemble comedy that actually wants you to care about its characters. Shout Factory knows a thing or two about that: After bringing Freaks and Geeks to a grateful world last year, they are now releasing F&G creator Judd Apatow's follow-up, Undeclared. Few would claim that it's as great as its predecessor, but Undeclared was similarly too good for network survival; less than two dozen episodes were shot, and all are included here.

Shout Factory digs deep into the vaults - 1969 through 1974 - for The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons, a three-disc collection with a self-explanatory title. Cavett was known as an oasis of intelligence in an ugly TV wasteland, happy to let guests talk about their anti-war beliefs between performances of their current hits. This set showcases its share of hippies (Janis, Joni, and Jefferson Airplane), but also features oddball arrivals such as a Young Americans-era David Bowie and, of all people, Tex Ritter singing the theme to High Noon.

It's a good time to be an American fan of British television. In the wake of The Office, DVD studios seem to be releasing more series than ever from across the pond. There are the old standbys, off course: A&E is about to launch a series of Monty Python releases called Personal Best, in which a troupe member picks his favorite bits and adds some unseen material, while Koch keeps the detective genre alive with The Maigret Collection, in which Michael Gambon (The Singing Detective) plays Simenon's famous sleuth. And there are new-star hopefuls: Shaun of the Dead's Nick Frost arrives with Danger! 50,000 Volts! (Ryko) and BBC is set to introduce Yanks to the award-winning first season from a troupe called Little Britain. But the most exciting new title is BBC's Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge: A mock talk show in which Steve Coogan (24 Hour Party People) plays an inept host, the format allows Coogan to test the limits of just how big an ass he can be without making people hate him.

Speaking of lovable buffoons: The sixth season of The Simpsons (Fox) comes in a package shaped like Homer's big bald head. Not sure why - Season Six was good enough it hardly needs a gimmick for fans to snap it up: Bart gets a girlfriend then plays Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, Marge becomes a cop, and somebody shoots Mr. Burns. We won't say who.

As The Simpsons embrace wacky packaging, Northern Exposure (Universal) abandons it. The lovably quirky show's first two seasons came in miniature parkas, but the third arrives in plain (well, kind of textured) green cardboard. That's fine here, so long as it doesn't indicate that the studio's interest in the series is slacking - there are still a few seasons to release. So long as they continue to include deleted scenes and unseen goodies (as this set does), Universal is welcome to package episodes in a brown paper bag.

One last TV-related item: If The Island's artificial utopia made you pine for The Truman Show, Paramount is about to scratch your itch with a new special edition, due August 23. It's part of a pair of Peter Weir titles - the other being 1985's Witness - that boast deleted scenes and multiple documentaries but (contrary to special-edition expectations) no audio commentaries. Maybe Weir has gone into Chappelle-like self-imposed exile; hopefully, the sometimes slow-working filmmaker is just up to his arms in his next movie.

John DeFore on DVD

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