by Aaron Peck
TV on Blu-ray has become a must for any HD home theater fan's collection. So how did 2012 stack up in that regard? Here's a look at our favorite TV Blu-ray releases last year.
The year started on a promising note. Not only were we going to get the usual onslaught of new day-and-date shows, but we were also waiting with eager anticipation to see how a couple of high-profile catalogue releases would turn out.
The big news of the year was the announcement that our beloved 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' was getting a complete overhaul and Blu-ray release. Paramount even went as far as remastering old effects and reediting each episode with the original film elements. It was an enormous undertaking, so we expected great things. Sadly, season one was plagued with audio problems, which was a bummer. Paramount made good on that though and sent out replacement discs as fast as possible. Then the second season came out and it underwhelmed in the video department. Now fans are left wondering if problems are in store for future releases. One of the most anticipated titles of the year, turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Because of the troubles that these seasons had, you won't find them on the year-end list. However, I should point out that after the disc exchange program happened, the first season turned out as flawless as it should have been in the first place.
It wasn't all glum though. Last year was full of stellar television Blu-rays of fantastic shows on great discs. Here are a few of our favorites.
A TV show on Cinemax that wasn't ridiculous softcore porn? Could it be true? Still, it can't be good right? I mean it's on Cinemax. What's that you say? It was originally produced across the pond? Well, they usually make some stand up shows. Maybe I'll give it a try…
Hey, that was great fun! It's violent, sexy, and just as tense as '24' ever was. Now this is an action show. It feels like it has the budget of a film! It's exciting, and surprisingly emotional in parts. Really, 'Strike Back' has it all.
Who knew Kelsey Grammer could be so mean? He's ruthless here. Downright despicable really. 'Boss' is a well-crafted political drama about the mayor of Chicago (Grammer) trying his hardest to hold onto his political power. Starz really reached with 'Spartacus' and seemed to come up with a show that was heavy on the style, but a little light on substance. 'Boss' is every bit as risqué as 'Spartacus,' but with deep characters and worthwhile storylines to match.
'Downton Abbey' took the soap opera formula, stuck it in the pre-war era, and created surprisingly compelling television. On paper this really isn't the type of series I'd even give a chance. A period drama about servants and the people they serve isn't something that I'm normally be interested in, however, the goings on at Downton sucked me in. It's hard to explain why I enjoy the show so much. I just do (and no, my wife isn't making me say this).
If there's one series that Acorn Media puts out that you simply must pay attention, to it’s 'George Gently.' 'Gently' is one of the most well-written and well-acted detective procedurals I've ever come across. Each episode is feature-length, so they're able to build on the characters, creating living, breathing people instead of stereotypical character cut-outs. The show is set in the 60s and routinely deals with hot-button issues of the day. Best of all, the mysteries are almost impossible to predict, and even if you do anticipate some of it, there are inevitably more surprising twists along the way.
'Modern Family' has stayed solidly funny through three seasons. Sure it's had its dips here and there. The third seasons seemed to coast along on location episodes, like going to Disneyland, but it still remains one of the funniest shows on TV. This was a really solid Blu-ray release and it's one of the rare television shows that you can watch over and over.
Speaking of rewatch value, 'The League' beats out just about any other show on television. It's crass, irreverent, and absolutely hilarious. You don't even have to be a fan of fantasy football to enjoy its humor. The show has gathered together a group of seasoned comics who throw verbal barbs with ease. Not to mention seeing Jeff Goldblum play Ruxin's father was one of the funniest things I saw on television all year.
9. 'Friends: The Complete Series'
It was hard to expect much in the way of stellar visuals and audio, but that's simply the nature of straight up sitcoms like this. The 'Friends' set breaks into the top ten because of its history, its popularity, and it being one of the funnier sitcoms from the 90s. The fan base for this show is huge, so it was fantastic for them that Warner Bros. decided to go through with this release. (Now, can we please get 'The West Wing?')
8. 'Breaking Bad: Season 4'
It's one of the hottest shows on television right now, and for good reason. Bryan Cranston, usually an actor who plays loveable characters, has gone against type (much like Kelsey Grammer in 'Boss') and has morphed into one of the scariest SOBs in the history of TV. Walter White is certainly a key reason 'Breaking Bad' is such a good show. Not only is Walter White a force on screen, but the entire series is perfectly crafted. To quote reviewer Luke Hickman, "If the Coen Brothers wrote a television series, it would be 'Breaking Bad.'"
7. 'Justified: Season 3'
The character of Raylan Givens is my favorite character on TV right now. Instead of being a Jack Bauer-type action hero, which he could easily have become, Raylan is a man who would much rather settle disputes with his words than his gun. The dialogue in 'Justified' is razor-sharp. The conversations between Raylan and Boyd seethe with hostility, yet they hold back from ripping each other's throats out. That's what I love so much about this show. It's this giant powder keg that's just itching to blow, only you have no idea when or how it's going to happen, and that's what keeps you watching.
6. 'Sherlock: Season 2'
I love me some British television, but I think the re-imagining of 'Sherlock' in modern times is the best of the bunch. This is a fantastically addictive show with only one flaw – they produce too few episodes. It's a good thing each installment is feature-film length, but I still can't get enough 'Sherlock' to keep me satisfied. We've spoken so much about great performances, so Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes cannot be understated. He makes for a delightfully fun, energetic, and sarcastic version of the famous detective.
5. 'Treme: Season 2'
Quietly, HBO's 'Treme' does its thing. It doesn't get as much fanfare or publicity as some other TV shows do, but it is, without a doubt, the most human of all the series on television. If you haven't gotten into 'Treme' you really should. It's a complex story about how a wide swath of New Orleans residents begin picking up the pieces after Hurricane Katrina. Plus, both of the seasons that have been put out by HBO have some of the best quality high-def audio that you'll find anywhere.
4. 'Boardwalk Empire: Season 1 & 2'
While the release schedule for HBO's hit show seems rather weird, there's no denying the quality with these releases. HBO produces some of the greatest TV Blu-rays and these are the cream of the crop. Top of the line audio and video accompanying a series that's simply one of the best. It's so easy to get lost in this show and watch it for hours without realizing how much time has gone by.
3. 'Entourage: The Complete Series'
HBO's willingness to release the entire series on Blu-ray, in some swanky packaging might I add, was music to my ears. I adore most of the seasons of 'Entourage' and having the entire series in my collection makes me extremely happy. What I was most impressed with was how HBO handled the first couple seasons, which were shot with in a 4:3 aspect ratio. They made the entire series look uniform and the first two seasons never looked odd at all.
2. 'Homeland: Season 1'
Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is the craziest character on TV and I love her. There's something addicting about a main character who is a complete enigma. You have no idea what she's going to do and when. It makes the entire show completely unpredictable. It's a great change from the glut of formulaic television out there. Oh, and don't forget Mandy Patinkin's Saul Berenson, a character so awesome he almost makes you forget about Inigo Montoya. Almost...
1. 'Game of Thrones: Season 1'
It's the best show on TV. No really, it is. If you don't agree then The Mountain will come looking for you and make you agree. HBO's release of the first season was magnificently put together. Everything from the video, to the audio, to the huge extent of special features, this was an amazing set. If you're a collector of TV on Blu-ray then the first season of 'Game of Thrones' definitely belongs on your shelf.
Honorable mentions go to 'Dexter: Season 6,' 'Futurama: Volume 7,' 'Enlightened: Season 1,' 'Frozen Planet,' 'Girls: Season 1,' 'Hatfields & McCoys,' 'Louie: Season 2,' 'Mad Men: Season 5,' 'Magic City: Season 1,' 'Mildred Pierce,' 'Spartacus: Vengeance,' 'The Simpsons: Season 15,' 'The Walking Dead: Season 2,' and 'The War.'
There's a ton of great TV out there. What are some of your favorites? Please let us know in the forums by clicking on the link below.