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nostalgia or crap?
dvd retrospectives turn tv trash into treasure
by joe procopio (@jproco)

Turns out Jason Bateman is quite an actor. I know this because his delivery of deadpan lines in Arrested Development is just too sharp to be a fluke. I know this because I have DVRed (Tivoed) and kept every episode of Arrested since it premiered last year. I did not have to do that. I know this because I spotted the entire first season on DVD and was somewhat surprised to realize it was released a scant few weeks after said season ended.

Note: I also DVRed Teen Wolf Too, just to see how bad it was, and that movie provides the antithesis of the opening sentence of this column.

I welcome the release of Arrested on DVD. I may buy it. However, during the same shopping trip I also spied the DVD version of 3, the seemed-creative-but-in-reality-stupidly-named biopic of Dale Earnhardt that ran exactly seven-million times on ESPN during the month of December. It's still December and whammo, there's the DVD. Now listen, I'm no NASCAR fan, but I respect its reach. It's just that... didn't you see it? In fact, isn't it still in rotation? Wasn't it a made-for-cable movie?

"Well, I could catch this at 9:00 tonight on ESPN, or at 10:30 on ESPN2, or maybe 11:00 on ESPN Classic... or I could buy it now and watch it whenever I want."

Answer: DVDs are really... really cheap to make. And since the content already exists, studios are more than eager to get whoever isn't dead or still famous and lock them in a small room and have them reflect back on what is what like being Potsie. There's your bonus feature. A little shrinkwrap and you've got a $20-$99 product in stores just in time for the holidays.

Begs the question: Is it nostalgia or crap?

My own personal most egregious example is the Battlestar Galactica collection I got for Christmas last year. It came in a box shaped like a Cylon head and everything. And don't call me a nerd because I was 8 and it was cool.

Now, except for a rare few re-runs of Galactica draped around the Sci-Fi Channel's not-even-close remake last year, you couldn't find anything except the pilot - and then only on VHS - and then only at your trickier video rental outlets.

But not long after I threw disc one of six into the DVD player, I realized why. It's not very good. Not as a grown-up anyway. It really was a cheap rip-off of Star Wars (David Jenkins, I owe you an apology and a free shot at my gut). Some of the acting is laughable and some of the writing is rancid. But it still brought me back to my childhood in some form, and for that I'm happy.

It did manage to swear me off the A-Team retrospective. One because Dirk Benedict isn't fooling me twice, and two because I remember loving this show even though it was bad.

The childhood flashback deal did not happen with Monty Python's Flying Circus. Thankfully, I only bought one of the sets, the one I thought would be the best one - I think it had the dead parrot sketch.

Upon further review, it's not that funny. And I know, I KNOW, this is blasphemy in certain circles, but I can only ask you to go ahead and watch it again, from a fresh perspective. It's funny, yeah, and clever as all hell when it's not being extremely pretentious. But it's not the best thing that ever happened to the small screen.

So what makes a good retrospective? I'll tell you. The Family Guy box set had a few things going for it. First, it was one of the funniest shows ever allowed on television. Second, it got cancelled way too early in its run. Third, you couldn't find it anywhere after that. In fact, the success of its box set not only led to it being picked up in syndication but also its renewal for a fourth season, a feat never previously achieved.

Not even by My So-Called Life, which, while I'm told is a cult classic, I've never ever wanted to see. Go figure.

What makes a poor retrospective? There are three kinds:

Quick Hitters

I love Chapelle's Show. Everyone does. But the truth of the matter is I only actually love a few of his bits. If you watch a bunch of it, crammed all together in a small block of time, you have to wade through some serious dreck to get to Rick James, Prince, and Ashy Larry. Furthermore, characters like Tyrone and Li'l Jon come off as banal and repetitive without a week's break between visits.

On the same token, are there really highlights in a show like Trading Spaces? I mean, do people have their favorite... episodes? ...makeovers? ...passive-aggressive freak-outs?

Instant Garbage

Please tell me The Simple Life isn't on DVD. This is another of those thinning-the-herd signs that we should pay special attention to. Those of you who purchased this and thus made way for The Simple Life 2 DVD - you're ruining it for everybody.

Quick. Is Tru Calling still on or not? It's on DVD.

It's one of those WB or UPN deals, right? Like The Jamie Kennedy Experiment. Note to WB: If no one knows who your star is, you can probably drop his name from the title and just call it Long Stoner Joke Disguised as Experimental Comedy Show! or Tom Goes to the Mayor (trust me on this one).

Finally, what the heck is Keeping Up Appearances and (after a google) why the heck is it available over here and (after reading a description) why is it being marketed to people who are still alive?

Cheap Memories

As I mentioned, a good chunk of the time, nostalgia DVDs only serve to highlight flaws and crush some lovely memories. Actually seeing Galactica hurt it for me. It probably needed to be out there, but it likely spawned the release of the (yes!) Gil Gerard vehicle Buck Rogers. That show, and I'll warn you that I'm going to get off with the color here, was a steaming pile of shit.

Did we need Starsky and Hutch? Wait, let me rephrase that. If there was no crappy 2003 Starsky and Hutch movie, would there have been a DVD release of the crappy Starsky and Hutch original? There's probably room for Welcome Back, Kotter but do we want to see 21 Jump Street (and shouldn't Johnny Depp have gotten some kind of career injunction)? How did we get Night Court but not WKRP in Cincinnati? Speaking of MIA, where is NewsRadio? If it's that last season they're still trying to render, they can go ahead and lop that off.

We have Just Shoot Me but not Andy Richter Controls the Universe and I assume it's only a matter of time before we get Quintuplets. Note to Richter: Dude, turn down something.

So you see, just because it's old doesn't mean it's good. And just because it was good before, when the vast majority of the target market was too stupid to know any better, doesn't mean it's any good now. After all, we did bring about The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider, which means David Hasselhoff is kind of our fault.

But as long as DVDs stay cheap, we'll see the definition of retrospective devolve before our very eyes. Don't tell that to Jason Bateman, who finally made it out of his sister's shadow and has a very strong interest in keeping It's Your Move back in the vault where it belongs.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

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topic: television
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juli mccarthy
1.3.05 @ 12:25a

Keeping Up Appearances is out on DVD? Cool!

robert melos
1.3.05 @ 12:56a

True there is a lot of "junk" on DVD, but it was the same with video. At least some DVD gives you added "bonus features", such as the entire show/movie with voice over commentary from stars, director,lighting and sound crew, whoever happens to wander into the control room. Granted the commentary isn't a great feature in most cases, but it has the same appear as reality TV or personal web cams.

I was just happy to find The Gong Show Movie on DVD. And let's not forget such wonders as Sports Night, arguably the best television show ever.

I have yet to see Arrested Development. I've heard great things about it. I still want that and Greg The Bunny.

Sometimes you have to wade through the waist deep gunga to get to the hidden diamonds.

sigbjørn olsen
1.3.05 @ 8:32a

Upon further review, it's not that funny.

I beg to differ.


james wondrack
1.3.05 @ 9:23a

Family Guy's on TBS.
I'm waiting for In Living Color (the show not your much beloved genre-splitting 90's band Joe) to make it's syndication run and if it must, the DVD sets too.

trey askew
1.3.05 @ 9:49a

Amen brother. And you would take Tom Peters name recognition out of his show. What's next? Harvey, Attorney at Law?

jeffrey walker
1.3.05 @ 9:55a

It’s hard to see your TV classics (or at least classics in your mind) ruined by time. I couldn’t wait to stay up until midnight on a Sunday back in middle school just to see B.B.C’s The Young Ones. Once I finally got them on DVD from netflix, I couldn’t even be bothered to watch them all. It’s the same reason you don’t try to seek out your girlfriend from high school: sure it might be fun to see her again, but you’ve probably grown and matured a lot.

Regarding new series already out on DVD; I loved getting the Chapelle Show all at once. I was rolling watching several episodes back to back. And the faster they turn out new series on DVD, the more I won’t regret giving up cable – I’ll only be on season behind everyone else.


tracey kelley
1.3.05 @ 10:14a

I've caught a couple of Young Ones on BBC America, and no, it's not that funny to me anymore. But back then...

However, I rewatched WKRP on Nick a couple of years ago, and laughed hysterically at every single ep: mainly because even through its faults, it's still so damn close to real life.

Unfortunately, it will never be in full on DVD because of the music licensing. In fact, none of the videos have the original music. I ask you: what is WKRP if you can't hear the music? All those dinosaur rock acts are selling their tunes to freakin' Circuit City and sumsuch (THE CARS AND THE WHO, I"M LOOKIN" AT YOU) but they won't cough up rights so that WKRP can be aired properly? Bullocks.

jael mchenry
1.3.05 @ 10:32a

Dude, if it weren't for DVD, I couldn't watch Sports Night whenever I want. I'm with you on NewsRadio, though, I really want that one in hand.

"And I'd say 'just like that Siskel Ebert' guy and you'd say 'sir, Siskel and Ebert are two people', and I'd say, 'Dave, just because the man is fat is no reason to make fun.'"

We now also own every episode of Family Guy. Freakin' sweet!

For some shows, I'd just rather watch them on DVD than try to make time for them in broadcast. Arrested Development first on the list.

And the Northern Exposure boxed set comes in a cute little parka.

tracey kelley
1.3.05 @ 10:43a

I'm glad to hear about AD, because I'll zip right out and rent that puppy.

The first two years of NE were fantastic, then it just got too weird even for itself. And have you seen Janine Turner lately on those eye drop commercials with her puffy lips? So wrong.

adam kraemer
1.3.05 @ 11:56a

Two words: Faulty Towers.

mike julianelle
1.3.05 @ 12:13p

Two words: Mr. Show.

daniel givin
1.4.05 @ 10:19a


dan gonzalez
1.4.05 @ 10:46p


daniel givin
1.6.05 @ 5:22p

$%#%%%##@*&^* crap!!!!!!

joe procopio
1.6.05 @ 5:39p

Gentlemen. Can't it be nostalgia and crap?

Like Simon and Simon?

robert melos
1.6.05 @ 11:05p

Whoa! Simon and Simon is not crap. Although, I see your point. Three's Company, especially the later years, and the spinoffs of The Ropers and the one where Jack gets his own restaurant.

However, I do see a real need for all of these to be available on DVD, if for no other reason than continuity. Just as we can't have Green Acres without Petticoat Junction.

I do think it isn't fair to keep WKRP from DVD yet allow it in reruns. Now that's a show I'd love to watch without commercials.

daniel givin
1.7.05 @ 11:13a

Agreed. Nostalgic crap it is.

mike julianelle
1.7.05 @ 1:17p

As opposed to those shows on VH1 which are Crappy Nostalgia.

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