Sesame Street: 40 Years Of Sunny Days (Genius) celebrates the fortieth anniversary of the longest running children’s television show in history with a combination video scrapbook and greatest bits compilation. After an intro that eases us into the cultural flashback with snapshots from each season we join Gordon leading a child onto Sesame Street, promising that it’s a street like no other, for the show’s debut episode. Ernie sings “Rubber Ducky” and Kermit sings “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” there’s an orange Oscar the Grouch (he went green later; apparently, it was easier for Oscar to be green, the color of mold), and Alistair Cookie (Monster) introduces Monsterpiece Theater’s production of “Me Claudius,” all in the first half hour.
There’s a greatest hits of musical guests from Diana Ross and James Taylor to Destiny’s Child and Alicia Keyes (plus the crazy quilt of guest stars imploring Ernie to “Put Down the Ducky”) and Muppet skits (spotlighting the great comedy chemistry of Ernie and Bert and the surreal humor of Jim Henson’s crew) sprinkled through the programs. Pop culture flashbacks—R2D2 and C3PO help Big Bird to count, The Fonz teaches us the difference between on and off in his own inimitable way and the Cookie Monster discos—place the show unmistakably in its various eras. And touchstone moments of the street portion of the show are revived, including the day the grown-ups finally see the Snuffleupagus, the marriage of Maria and Luis and the birth of their daughter, and most touchingly the discussion with Big Bird as they try to explain the death of Mr. Hooper (after the real-life actor, Will Lee, passed away). That’s the draw this show has for baby boomers who grew up on the show. For the current crop of tots, we get closer to the present with the first appearances of Elmo and Abby Cadabby and the contemporary guest stars, from Robert DeNiro explaining his own brand of method acting to Elmo to Neil Patrick Harris singing and dancing as The Shoe Fairy. The nostalgia factor is pretty irresistible for adults and playful approach of education and gentle tenor of its skits makes it perfect of children of any generation, making it one of the few kids DVDs that adults may enjoy just as much as (if not more) than their kids. The two-disc set also includes a half-hour of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews (which can be accessed while watching the show or viewed as a separate supplement), an optional pop-up trivia track and a few bonus bits.
Dawson’s Creek: The Complete Series (Sony) – After making his name with the Scream franchise, Kevin Williamson turned from teen horror to autobiographical coming-of-age drama with this hit young adult series, a nicely crafted rural response to Beverly Hills 90120 that become one of the defining shows of the fledgling WB network. James Van Der Beek stands in for Williamson, a movie-mad high school kid who wants to be a filmmaker while struggling through a first crush (displaced city girl Michelle Williams), palling around with his almost unbearably glib buddy (Joshua Jackson, who matured nicely over the course of the show), and realizing that his best friend since childhood (Katie Holmes) is growing up into a beautiful young woman. In season two, Kerr Smith and Meredith Monroe joined the cast. Needless to say, this show launched a few careers, but more importantly it gave the characters of teen TV a little respect, something only a few other shows bothered to do. And while My So-Called-Life and Freaks and Geeks only lasted a single season, this show went on for six seasons. There’s romantic melodrama to be sure—teens make the same mistakes and it’s a bit monotonous to see communication shut down and doubt overcome reason over and over again (especially when compressed into a box set and seen end to end)—but it’s a smartly written show that is remarkably non-judgmental of its characters most of the time. Williamson left the show in the third season and it became more of a soapier see-saw of romantic complications, but the sharp dialogue and charming cast kept on largely on track as they left the sleepy town of Capeside for college (or other career paths) and Dawson returned to the filmmaking dreams that opened the show. Kevin Williamson even returned to write the feature-length finale (his first contribution since leaving after season two), which takes the five longtime friends five years into the future, where differences and resentments make for a rough reunion when a happy event and a crisis brings them together one last time.
This collection features 127 episodes on 24 discs in a hefty scrapbook album-style case with stiff paperboard slipsleeve pages. These are the same releases that came out in individual season sets, with all of the commentary tracks and featurettes, and with some music changed from the original broadcasts (including an alternate theme song on the later seasons). A bonus disc features a new 17 minute interview with creator Kevin Williamson, who revisits the origins, casting and the general narrative of the first couple of seasons that he developed, and a less essential trivia game, and there’s a bonus CD soundtrack with five songs (including the original theme “I Don’t Want to Wait” by Paula Cole).
Justice League: The Complete Series (Warner) – Developed by Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series) for the Cartoon Network, the animated series of the all-star superhero team is no happy-go-lucky group of “Super Friends” saving the world with a smile and a chummy sense of togetherness. Choppy relationships, clashing personalities (the grim Green Lantern, happy-go-lucky jester The Flash, grim, haunted Martian Manhunter and, of course, “I’m not really a people person” Batman), and lots of suspicion make these teammates a contentious (and interesting) group. Each adventure spans multiple episodes, giving the series a scope larger than most such shows and the space to take on more complicated stories, like “Blackest Night,” where Green Lantern is on trial for destroying a planet, or “The Enemy Below,” where the Justice League clashes with Aquaman (reborn as a warrior king and looking more like Neptune than the genial fellow of previous animated shows). The series added new charter members when it morphed into Justice League Unlimited in 2004, among them Green Arrow, Supergirl, and Black Canary, though this incarnation backed off the multi-episode stories. This 15-disc set collects all 91 episodes, along with eight commentary tracks, eight featurettes (including “And Justice For All,” which discusses the revamping of the show to Justice League Unlimited) and other supplements, in two thick cases (one for each incarnation of the show) with a tin caseholder.