In Let’s Get Physical Media, Primetimer takes a quarterly look at the TV and TV-related Blu-ray and DVD releases worth canceling Netflix for. In this edition, we’re looking at full-series sets of essential 21st-century comedies, relics of space-faring civilizations cut down when they still have plenty of potential, and releases featuring animated icons who may have these choice words for CEOs past and present: “Of course you know, this means war.”
What is it? Twenty cartoons from the Golden Age of American animation starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and pals, each remastered, restored, and appearing on Blu-ray for the very first time.
How many discs? 1
How much does it cost? $17.99
Why is it worth it? When HBO Max launched in May of 2020, one of the crown jewels of its library was an extensive selection of vintage Warner Bros. animation, a significant portion of which was given the heave-ho during the belt-tightening reconfiguration that brought us the recently relaunched Max. You can still cue up a handful of these titles on the service, but you won’t find the 1954 fairy-tale riff “Beanstalk Bunny” or the hospital slapstick of 1957’s “Greedy for Tweety” there anytime soon — Max’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies catalog is strictly pre-1951 now, excising almost the entire history of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner (seen here in “Hip-Hip-Hurry!” and “Hot Rod and Reel”).
What is it? A strong contender for the best series to ever air on Adult Swim, The Venture Bros. began as another in the late-night block’s line of cheeky twists on old Cartoon Network standbys — Jonny Quest with more violence and mature situations. But a greater degree of ambition revealed itself over the series’s run, as the super-science misadventures of Dr. Thaddeus Venture (James Urbaniak), his naive twin sons Hank (co-creator Chris McCulloch) and Dean (Michael Sinterniklaas), their bodyguard Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton), and archnemeses The Monarch (McCulloch) and Dr. Girlfriend (co-creator Doc Hammer) blossomed into an achingly hilarious rumination on failure.
How many discs? 14
How much does it cost? $107.09
Why is it worth it? That list of characters above doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the world McCulloch and Hammer built across seven seasons, four specials, and 14 years — a big brick of DVDs like this is a starting point to wrapping your head around The Venture Bros.’ wide-ranging homages and constellations of heroes and villains and the various organizations devoted to administering their clashes. It’s also handy to have these seasons and their respective, previously produced special features on hand in preparation for the July 25 (July 21 on digital — but we’re not talking about digital here, are we?) release of the series’s direct-to-video finale, Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart.
What is it? The life and work of the late stop-motion animator Will Vinton, as documented by director Marq Evans (The Glamour & The Squalor). Working from the Portland HQ of his eponymous studio, Vinton and his collaborators brought new levels of expression, fluidity, and depth to the technique of bringing sculpted clay figures to life, one frame at a time. He earned an Oscar for the 1974 short “Closed Mondays,” but Vinton holds a place in the heart of TV viewers of a certain age thanks to a series of primetime specials — beginning with the Emmy-winning A Claymation Christmas Celebration — and ’80s advertising campaigns starring Tang-coveting lips, The Noid (cue Marge Simpson: “Avoid The Noid! He ruins pizzas!”), and The California Raisins.
How many discs? 1
How much does it cost? $24.99
Why is it worth it? Will Vinton Studios is arguably best known today as the direct predecessor to the current vanguard of stop-motion, Laika. But the truth is a lot more litigious, and Claydream shapes Vinton’s ouster at the hands of investor (and Nike founder) Phil Knight as an affecting tale told at the intersections of creativity, personal passion, and commerce. It’d make a great double feature with Ben Affleck’s Air (co-starring Affleck as a fictionalized version of Knight) — and you can complete the program with a short subject selected from the Vinton filmography included as a special feature on the Claydream Blu-ray.
What is it? Let us not talk falsely now: This isn’t the full run of ABC’s attempt at jumping on the Star Wars bandwagon, nor the 2003 Ronald D. Moore miniseries that relaunched and reimagined the franchise or the beloved Syfy series that followed it. This is the theatrical cut of the original Battlestar Galactica’s pilot episode, in which the human survivors of a devastating sneak attack by the robotic Cylon race are rallied by the heroic Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) and set off toward a distant planet called Earth.
How many discs? 2
How much does it cost? $21.99 / $27.99 for the SteelBook with art mimicking the marketing of the 1978 release
Why is it worth it? BSG is the sort of cult property that’s been packaged and repackaged with the emergence of every new home-video format — this release follows a 35th anniversary Blu-ray edition, as well as a remastered set featuring the complete series and its short-lived, scaled-down follow-up, Galactica 1980. But with a Sam Esmail-produced continuation for Peacock seemingly on ice, this 4K upgrade is likely the sole reunion with Adama, Starbuck, Apollo, and crew on the horizon. If you pick it up, try cranking your home-theater subwoofer to recreate the seat-shaking Sensurround presentation from the theatrical run.
What is it? Sci-fi on a human scale, from the showrunner of the late, great Lodge 49. Peter Ocko created this AMC+ series set 200 years in the future, when Earth’s last hopes lie in the colonists of a lunar utopia. Just as these so-called “Mooners” are set to bring their way of life to their terrestrial counterparts, a murder pulls back the curtain on their AI-curated paradise, eventually ensnaring a recently arrived pilot (Emma McDonald) and a detective operating in a society that’s evolved beyond policing (Dominic Monaghan).
How many discs? 2
How much does it cost? $19.99
Why is it worth it? If you’re not paying $8.99 a month for unlimited, commercial-free access to the Walking Dead universe, Mad Men, and Halt and Catch Fire (which, while we’re at it: Halt and Catch Fire complete series box set when?), you might’ve missed Moonhaven offering its complex answers to the question “How do we survive?” in the summer of 2022. A reversed renewal means a six-episode first season conceived as a prologue now serves as the whole series (the curse of Surf Dracula strikes again!), but there’s always a chance that someone who buys this Blu-ray will wind up cherishing its contents enough that they eventually try to make a Moonhaven reboot in some far-flung future. Hey: It worked for Battlestar Galactica!
What is it? Just as it says on the box: seasons 21 through 25 of South Park, a span of episodes that brings Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s deathless animated satire up to a silver anniversary few would’ve predicted when the show first made headlines for its crude scripts and cruder animation.
How many discs? 8
How much does it cost? $46.40
Why is it worth it? As physical evidence of some shady and convoluted streaming-era dealings. This set collects every season of South Park that aired between 2017 and 2022, but the definition of “season of South Park” is currently a matter for the courts thanks to suits filed by Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery earlier this year. (I truly didn’t anticipate entertainment law being the secret theme of this Let’s Get Physical Media. While we’re on the topic: Did you know 20th Century Fox sued Universal over the similarities between Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, only for Universal to counter that George Lucas had ripped off its 1972 film Silent Running?) You can read all about it here, here, and here, but the gist of the situation is that two giant conglomerates who can’t be bothered to shell out the relative pittance the Writers Guild of America is asking from them are currently duking it out over the contractual semantics that allows this set — and a single-disc standalone that preceded it — to pass off two super-sized episodes as the 24th season of South Park. So maybe not a collector’s item, per se, but certainly an item of interest to legal scholars.
What is it? Six seasons in the fluorescent-lit trenches alongside the staff of Midwestern big-box retailer Cloud 9. A stellar ensemble cast led by America Ferrera, Ben Feldman, and Mark McKinney face trials and tribulations that put a fresh spin on workplace sitcom convention and make the work-is-hell gripes of previous white-collar sitcoms seem pretty slight by comparison.
How many discs? 16
How much does it cost? $51.99
Why is it worth it? Because Superstore deserves a spot in the 21st-century NBC pantheon and box-set posterity alongside The Office (where creator Justin Spitzer wrote before transferring to Cloud 9), 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and Community. It’s increasingly rare that TV comedies get this kind of time to deepen their characters’ personalities and eccentricities — to take a hard-nosed supervisor like Deena (Lauren Ash) and reveal the doting bird mother inside, or to give a formerly one-joke character like Sandra (Kaliko Kauahi) an inner life and a role in a torrid love triangle. As the years go by, some of the stories only Superstore could tell may gain some time capsule qualities, but nothing else on TV was as equipped to chronicle COVID, and it’s not like the topic of workplace unionization is getting any less relevant.
A quick pointer from the unrepentant physical media buffs at Primetimer:
So you’ve got the discs. Now where are you going to put them? For the space-conscious, there’s always the option of a good old-fashioned CD/DVD wallet; this former Discman obsessive is happy to report that Case Logic and other brands are still manufacturing binders of varying capacity and materials for housing your delicate, iridescent circles.
But displaying is half the fun of collecting, and there’s just no beating the bookshelf aesthetic: all those spines lined up neatly in a row, their titles and design elements each calling out “pick me!” Hardware and home furnishing retailers still offer plenty of ready-to-assemble options for media storage, but if you’re going to put something together, why not make it permanent? With some shelf brackets, some one-by-eights, and your choice of finish, you can give your living space some handsome custom built-ins without the cost of hiring a contractor.
Erik Adams is a writer and editor living in Chicago.