Almost all primetime TV series are broadcast in high definition these days. Many (a majority, even) from years past were photographed on film and could be remastered in HD. (Just look at the beautiful restoration of the 1960s ‘Star Trek‘.) Despite this, we still have a distinct lack of TV shows available on the Blu-ray format. With that in mind, this week’s Roundtable is pretty straightforward: Which TV series (not currently available) would you most like to see released on Blu-ray?
We’ve asked each participant to pick one drama title and one comedy title.
- Drama: ‘The West Wing’ – Both of my picks happen to be Warner Brothers television productions oft-rumored for Blu-ray release. So far, no dice. Come on, guys, these shows would burn up the sales charts if they hit Blu-ray. Since both were shot on 35 mm film, there’s no excuse for not releasing them on the best format possible! The first of my picks is truly addictive television that cries out for an HD release. The first season of Aaron Sorkin’s masterful series hit standard DVD in 2003 in its original 1.33:1 broadcast aspect ratio. As if the obsolete formatting weren’t reason enough to remaster them, the discs also featured truly rotten transfers. Each of the following seasons were released in 1.78:1. Aside from the much, much better transfers, the framing and style of the show were also enhanced by the more cinematic appearance. I can only imagine how good this would all look in glorious 1080p. Plus, just imagine the bonus feature possibilities on Blu-ray! It would just be too good. I want this. I want this now. How about we fast track the Blu-ray box set of the complete series, then start planning to revive the series with a new administration. That would be brilliant. BRILLIANT!
- Comedy: ‘Friends’ – I recently caught some episodes of ‘Seinfeld’ that had been prepared for HD broadcast, and I have to say that the results were fantastic. Aside from a few blurry, episode-specific establishing shots, the wider frame and the increased resolution made for some terrific HD viewing. That got me thinking. Aside from some ‘Seinfeld’ Blu-rays (of the Larry David seasons only, please), what about getting the complete run of ‘Friends’ prepped for Blu-ray? Hell, the studio could get this and ‘The West Wing’ ready at the same time, market them together, then sell the new masters for broadcast syndications to maximize profits. Seriously, I should just be running Warner Brother these days. Sure, ‘Friends’ can seems pretty cheesy now and again, but for me, the nostalgia factor is strong.While not to the same degree as ‘Seinfeld’, there are so many references to the series that surface in day to day exchanges with my friends, that I can only imagine the same is true for countless others who grew up watching the show throughout high school and college. As someone who wound up marrying his across-the-hall neighbor, I’d love it if we could re-watch some of the Chandler and Monica storylines in 1080p.
- Drama: ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ – Joss Whedon’s groundbreaking, seven-season comedic drama, which combined coming-of-age pathos with end-of-the-world scenarios, may not initially seem ideal for the high definition format. (Especially when you consider that earlier seasons where shot on grungy 16 mm.) But, really, it is. Mostly because the series, which starred Sarah Michelle-Gellar as the valley girl tasked with rescuing the world from all manner of supernatural destruction, was so damn good. Later seasons, with their accompanying bigger budgets, opened up the visual scope of the show considerably. (The series’ final hour has an almost ‘Lord of the Rings‘ vibe to it.) There would also be a chance to exploit the Blu-ray disc’s expanded storage space, with brand new documentaries, retrospective looks, and an exploration of the greater ‘Buffy’ mythos. (For example: stuff like ‘Fray’, ‘Angel’, and the expanded comic book universe.) And speaking of comic books, there was talk out of Comic-Con that the ‘Season Eight’ comic will be coming to Blu-ray in the form of a semi-animated “motion comic.” Why not bundle that disc with the other seven seasons for a definitive box set?
- Comedy: ‘The Jim Henson Hour’ – ‘The Jim Henson Hour’ was an experimental late-’80s television series that wound up being creator Jim Henson’s last great, ambitious project before his death less than a year later. The ‘Hour’ was a spectacular, visionary “What If?” that combined ‘Muppet Show’ type “Let’s put on a show!” comedy (this time, Kermit and the gang ran a multi-pronged cable channel), cutting edge technology (including Waldo, an all-CGI Muppet), and ambitious storytelling techniques. (Sometimes the entire hour was given over to a stand-alone story.) It would be hard to reconcile the different parts of ‘The Jim Henson Hour,’ since half of it (the John Hurt-led ‘The Storyteller’) has been on DVD for a few years now, and pieces of the remaining half hours are now being released with little fanfare by Lionsgate. But to have the entire hour together, loaded with special features describing the intent and cultural impact of the series, would be something altogether brilliant. (If anybody can pull it off, it’s Disney, who now owns the Muppet characters.) ‘The Jim Henson Hour’ was so ahead of its time that even today it would look positively groundbreaking… if only somebody would give it a chance.
- Drama: ‘Nero Wolfe’ – This isn’t the most obvious choice, no, but from its sparkling wit to its breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography, I love A&E’s ‘Nero Wolfe’ mysteries. These adaptations of Rex Stout’s sprawling stack of mystery novels take a repertory theatre approach to casting that I never really see on television, and its period setting and sharp sense of humor set the show apart from the rest of the procedural thriller crowd. Its keenly cinematic visual eye certainly ought to translate marvelously to Blu-ray as well. The series is set in a very different era than ‘Mad Men’, but both series do share an intelligence, a healthy respect for their audiences, and their own distinctively sleek period aesthetics. So I believe ‘Nero Wolfe’ could also appeal to the many admirers of ‘Mad Men’ if marketed the right way.
- Comedy: ‘Arrested Development’ – As for a comedy I’d really like to see claw its way over to Blu-ray, who wouldn’t vote for ‘Arrested Development’? This is a series that still ranks dizzyingly high on most critics’ lists. With a show this ridiculously rewatchable and a following this rabid, I don’t think fans would mind forking over their credit cards for another go-around in high definition. Maybe if that movie ever gets off the ground, Fox’ll swoop in with a high-def release of the series to ride its coattails.
- Drama: ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ – Based on the popular books by Alexanader McCall Smith, ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ was produced for the BBC and ran for one season on HBO. (Apparently, the jury is still out on whether or not a second season is forthcoming). The show follows Precious Ramotswe, feisty owner of the title firm as she puts her natural intuitiveness to good use solving cases ranging from infidelity to missing persons. The show is filmed on location in Botswana and gives us a glimpse of an Africa rarely seen on film or television. Rather than showing the extremes of the continent, the show focuses on everyday Africans living in a modern city with a rich cultural history. While the tone is definitely on the lighter side, the series does not shy away from the real issues facing Africans (and Americans, for that matter) such as poverty, AIDS, domestic violence and organized crime. Singer Jill Scott proves that she has acting chops with her portrayal of the charming Mma. Ramotswe. She is both strong and vulnerable as she tries to forge her way in the still largely male dominated world of Gaborone. Along the way, she’s aided by her trusty (and high-strung) assistant and the local hairdresser. Her reluctant romance with a local mechanic is both sweet and compelling. They are not young or what we traditionally think of as beautiful, but you will root for them and wonder why we don’t see more couples like this on TV. The series pilot was directed by the late Anthony Minghella and is absolutely gorgeous. The natural landscape combined with the brightly-colored interiors and costumes give it a look that is like nothing else on television. The first season has an ending of sorts, but definitely leaves the possibility of an additional season open. I still have my fingers crossed. There’s a great interview with set decorator Melinda Launspach if you’re interested in learning more about how she created the look and feel of the program. Fair warning: after a few episodes, you may be compelled to start researching a trip to Botswana.
- Comedy: ‘Wonderfalls’ – If you blinked, you probably missed the brief broadcast run on Fox for ‘Wonderfalls’ back in 2004. A midseason replacement buried in the Friday night graveyard, the show never really had a chance to find an audience and was canceled after only 4 episodes. Fortunately, thanks to critical acclaim and small but devoted fan base, it found a new life with a 2005 DVD release of all 13 episodes. The show follows twenty-something slacker Jaye, a Brown graduate with an advanced degree in philosophy who works as a clerk in a Niagara Falls gift shop. Much to her dismay, the animal figurines in the shop begin talking to her. Thinking she’s losing her mind, she tries her best to ignore them. But they’re quite insistent. She begins to grudgingly follow their cryptic instructions, and slowly becomes more involved in the lives of those around her. The show is the brainchild of Brian Fuller, creator of ‘Dead Like Me’ and ‘Pushing Daisies‘. His touch is very evident here. Though less stylized than ‘Daisies’, it has a similar aesthetic. And like his later work, the ‘Wonderfalls’ world is populated with a host of wonderfully eccentric characters. (Look for Lee Pace, the pie maker himself, in a supporting role as Jaye’s brother – an atheist PhD student studying comparative religions.) Shot on location at Niagara Falls, the show has a strong sense of place, and the set design is dense and rich. More importantly, despite its short broadcast run, the 13 episodes that were produced have a coherent story and a satisfying ending. It’s definitely a series that would benefit from a Blu-ray release.
- Drama: ‘Twin Peaks’ – In the two decades since its spectacular debut (and equally spectacular burn-out a season later), there has never been another series on television like ‘Twin Peaks’. Certainly, many shows have tried to adopt one aspect or another of the ‘Peaks’ formula – be it the supernatural mystery, the quirky characters, or the dark surrealism. But nothing has even attempted, much less succeeded, in copying everything that ‘Twin Peaks’ did. The show was simultaneously a murder mystery, a fantasy, a soap opera, a supernatural thriller, a teenage melodrama, an offbeat comedy, and a devastating emotional portrait of the dark underside of an all-American small town. It could be all of these things at once, without contradiction, woven up into a tightly structured serial narrative that demanded strict attention from its audience. It was simply amazing. And it was also beautifully photographed, with lush feature film-quality production values that would translate spectacularly to high definition. I would pay any amount of money for a comprehensive “Complete Series” box set of ‘Twin Peaks’ on Blu-ray. Did you hear that, Paramount? I’m standing here with cash in my hand!
- Comedy: ‘Sports Night’ – I am not a sports fan. Professional sports, college sports, high school or Little League – it doesn’t matter to me. I have never understood the fascination with watching illiterate, steroid-enhanced jocks chase a ball around or pummel the crap out of one another for 30 seconds on Pay-Per-View. Perhaps this goes back to always being picked last for team sports in grade school, or perhaps I was always picked last because I just never cared enough to try at them. In any case, I hate sports. By all accounts, I should be absolutely the wrong target audience for a sit-com about the workings of a 24-hour cable sports network. And yet, somehow, I can say without reservation that I consider ‘Sports Night’ one of the best television series ever made. The show (written by ‘West Wing’ creator Aaron Sorkin) had a sparkling wit, snappy dialogue, and characters who were refreshingly passionate about coming to work every day and putting in their best effort. You don’t have to like sports to like ‘Sports Night’. You just have to love great television. While the show’s photography wasn’t anything special or elaborate, I would welcome a Blu-ray release if for no other reason than to give the studio (I believe Shout! Factory currently holds the rights) the opportunity to remaster the first season and strip out the horridly inappropriate laugh track that the ABC network forced on Sorkin against his will. (He had enough clout by the second season to do away with it at that point.)
That’s what we’d like to see released on Blu-ray. What TV shows are you waiting for?