The release of favorite TV shows on disc has changed how we welcome televisual guests into our home. They used to come to us once a week at an appointed time to entertain, teach or amuse us, like tutors or divorced dads. Now the shows come as tiny complet
Columbo The Complete Fourth Season (Universal)
Lost to me as an impressionable youth watching Lt. Columbo needle-in-a- haystack his way to the truth, was that the show carried with it a political subtext. Rumpled raincoated Peter Falk was a simple man who drove a rusty Puegeot and had working-class values. Those he pursued, gated behind the high walls of privilege and wealth were often getting away with murder before they’d killed anyone. In Season 4 Columbo corners a buff Robert Conrad as a health club owner, a two-timing George Hamilton and Dick Van Dyke as a famous photog. All are worn down by the irritating, irrepressible little man whose incisive nagging made the well-connected quiver. While George Peppard’s Banacek was getting laid, McMillan and his perky wife living it up as San Fran’s Police Commish and Kojak tough-guyed it, the man of the people went home to his wife and made Mr. Armchair feel a little better about himself. Jason Bogdaneris
Murder She Wrote
The Complete Third Season (Universal)
For those of you who watched it and loved it in the 80s or enjoyed the show’s couch potato-friendly reruns in the 90s, alas, Jessica Fletcher has returned once again in the 21st century, in DVD form. A refresher: hailing from Cabot Cove, Maine, renowned mystery writer J.B. Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), conveniently finds herself in situations where her wit, intuition, and acute attention to detail are needed to solve murders, theft, and indeed, international espionage. Never before have loyal viewers been able to enjoy a good “whodunit” over and over again, season after season. The newest addition to the collection is the complete third season, which to everyone’s delight contains a crossover episode with Magnum P.I. So make some popcorn and pour some cognac. Now you can really say you’ve seen them all. Michael Kravit
The Complete Fourth Season (Universal)
This was the era of Picket Fences and the dramedy. Baby boomers were hitting middle age, and the laugh-tracked shows they grew up on started to seem a bit childish. Northern Exposure existed in that uncharted territory beyond the formulaic sitcom and the often maudlin dramas and it’s probably fitting that it’s set in the American hinterland. Dr. Joel Fleischer, Jewish physician and neurosis-filled twentysomething could be a grating cliché, but ends up otherwise in Cicely, Alaska. A smart, cunning approach to the writing makes it feel like it’s not TV. I mean that as a compliment. It’s a fish-out-of-water story, sure, about a New Yorker among the quirky locals. But they’re never quirky with a capital “Q”. The whole series, actually has a lower-case quality that serves its setting well. The locals are venal and self-centered and the native population is refreshingly self-serving instead of self-consciously “wise."