Holiday gift cards in hand? Ready, get sets, go! Redeem those little rectangles of plastic in one solid punch by picking up some TV or movie collections on DVD. Here are several new releases not to overlook when turning those cards into cache.
"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation " The Eighth Season"
Scoop: TV's top-rated crime drama is still going strong, with no signs of wear and tear. The eighth season was a bit of a game-changer, with a finale that sends off a couple of cast members, and plants seeds for further shake-ups. Among 17 episodes, "The Exorcist"'s William Friedkin (who provides a commentary) directs one of the bleakest, and crossovers are to be found with the casts of "Without a Trace" and, oddly, "Two and a Half Men." A little pricey, but ultimately worth it.
"NewsRadio: The Complete Series, Seasons 1-5"
Scoop: Prediction: It may take another decade or two, but NBC's underrated "NewsRadio" will go down in TV history as one of the all-time great workplace sitcoms. Pick virtually any of the 97 episodes and witness an absolutely excellent ensemble cast headed by Dave Foley, but truly anchored by the late, great Phil Hartman. Future "Gilmore Girl" Lauren Graham has a terrific recurring role in season four as an efficiency expert " one of many guest stars who shined awfully bright. Packaging for this set looks a little chintzy, but it contains of slew of gag reels that provide even more laughs.
"Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection"
Scoop: When they say "Ultimate," they really mean it! Not only does this set contain all 14 expected episodes of Rowan Atkinson's daft, daffy British series, but also the two feature films ("Bean" and "Mr. Bean's Holiday") and the animated series, which is one of the strangest kiddie offerings you'll ever see. All feature the slapstick man-child in increasingly uncomfortable situations that stem from the work of Jacques Tati or Peter Sellers. Watch the Christmas episode where he gets his head stuck in the turkey and see if you don't agree.
"Primeval: Volume One"
Scoop: BBC's "Primeval" looks like a "Jurassic Park" sequel with a wrinkle-in-time twist, and that's pretty much what it is. Too bad it doesn't have a Spielbergian budget, because the series suffers from prehistoric creatures that look, well, pre-hysterical. Still, adventure and action abound in a show that wants to be the next " Doctor Who" or "Torchwood," but doesn't quite succeed. But you can watch it with the kids, and they'll likely tear into this set, which contains the first two seasons in full.
"The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus Collector's Edition"
Scoop: Should you be pursuing a degree from the Ministry of Silly Walks, you probably already turned over serious tuition money for this behemoth of a set. After you've digested every episode of "Circus" on 14 discs, there's still an alarming seven to go, packed with specials, live shows, documentaries, deleted scenes, galleries and more stuff paying tribute to all those routines you learned by heart watching reruns at PBS and then hearing them ad infinitum in the school lunchroom. From dead parrots to lumberjack songs, it's all here " except the movies. Still, without those, it's a bloody embarrassment of riches.
"Knight Rider: The Complete Series"
Scoop: Forget the current revival series " the '80s original "Knight Rider" is where it's at. All four seasons of the long-running hit show starring David Hasseloff and a talking car named K.I.T.T. are contained in one sleek black box, plus 1991's made-for-TV "Knight Rider 2000" reunion movie. Best of all, press the red button on the package and the whole deal lights up like K.I.T.T. and plays several seconds of its still-awesome theme song. So where 's the "Team Knight Rider" spin-off series, Universal?
"Abbott & Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection"
Scoop: You can keep your Laurel and Hardy and your Marx Brothers. For me, classic film comedy begins and ends with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. That's why Universal's "Complete" box set " containing all 28 films the duo made for the studio " is sheer DVD gold, perhaps a "best of the year" release. The monster team-ups ("Meet Frankenstein") are the most fondly remembered, but don't overlook gems like the radio station-set murder mystery "Who Done It?" or the wacky, wintery "Hit the Ice. " Each offers plenty of laughs and solid routines. The bonuses include a special hosted by Jerry Seinfeld and a 44-page book dishing out more info on these massively entertaining movies. Who's on first? This set, that's who.
"The Ron Howard Spotlight Collection"
Scoop: Okie-born director Ron Howard certainly tries hard, even if the quality of his prestige pictures don't quite match their ambition. This set gives you double-disc versions of four of his films, including the firefighter epic "Backdraft," probably the most pure entertainment of the bunch; the tense true story of "Apollo 13"; the rather weak Oscar winner "A Beautiful Mind"; and the limp boxing drama "Cinderella Man." Your choice for picking this up should hinge on how many you'd actually watch again. For me, that'd be two.
"The Edgar Wallace Collection: Volume Two"
Scoop: It may only be one disc, but this no-frills package provides two cultish crime films from the 1960s, based on the works of prolific British novelist Edgar Wallace: "Curse of the Yellow Snake " and "Phantom of Soho." The latter is the better, with an atmospheric, even spooky mystery set among strip clubs. These black-and-white low-budget films exhibit swank sensibilities while telling fairly classy, buttoned-up stories " kind of like a restrained noir. They're not for everyone's tastes, but those who seek out forgotten gems will find them sublime. "Rod Lott