TV on DVD 08/17/10 – Cougar, Dexter and Ugly Betty in the Friday Night Lights

The lascivious title of the hit comedy Cougar Town: The Complete First Season (Disney) brings forth images of sexy sitcom shenanigans of older women diving into a dating pool of younger men. And yes, and there’s some of that to be sure, but this sitcom of single parenthood and life after divorce features the trademark humor of Bill Lawrence’s previous sitcom, Scrubs—adult childishness, zippy gags and rapid-fire ensemble banter of creator—transplanted to suburban Florida.

A musical interlude from "Cougar Town"

Courteney Cox stars as the single mother of a teenage son (Dan Byrd) who is six months divorced from a cheerful idiot of an ex-husband (Brian Van Holt) who still practically lives in her home, along with most of the neighbors (or the cul-de-sac crew, as she likes to call the regulars at the morning coffee-klatch and evening wine parties). It’s the worst array of male role models a boy ever had. Christa Miller stars as her ferociously jealous married best friend, Busy Philipps is her dizzy party-girl work buddy, Ian Gomez is Miller’s husband and Josh Hopkins the divorcé across the street who turns out to be more interesting than the hunky boys she flirts with. Over the course of the season, this cast knits into one of the tightest ensembles on TV.

24 episodes on three discs plus a smattering of supplements, more like appetizers than meals. The five-minute “Taming Cougar Town” is more promotional than informational but bouncy and funny nonetheless, and creator Bill Lawrence gives credit for inspiration to his wife (and series co-star) Christa Miller. “Ask Barb” features nine webisodes of the video blog featuring Carolyn Hennesy as Barb dishing out advice for aspiring cougars (in longer and dirtier versions than available on-line, or so she promises), and “Stroking It With Bobby Cobb” features dubious golf tips from Brian Van Holt’s character, but check out “Saber Tooth Tiger Town,” a parody from “Jimmy Kimmel Live” with Cloris Leachman and Shirley Jones. Also includes deleted scenes and bloopers.

Friday Night Lights: The Fourth Season (Universal) is a reminder that all the best shows are not on cable. This season opens with the town split in two by a redistricting move. Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) takes a job on the other side of Dillon and rebuilds a defunct football program from scratch in an economically depressed district while Tami (Connie Britton) remains as principal of West Dillon, where she collides with the football boosters. It ends, of course, with the rivalry match between the two schools, but along the way it provides plenty of human drama, from rivalries turned vicious to the stories of former football heroes in danger of getting stuck in dead-end lives. The rousing locker-room speeches are prime-time Shakespeare and the expressions of pride and accomplishment in the show are authentic and impressive. But the unsung star of the show is Connie Britton, whose quiet dignity and resilience as Tami has a way of putting Coach Taylor’s problems into perceptive.

The critical favorite but ratings-shy show is still kept alive in a unique partnership between DirecTV (which premieres the series as a satellite service exclusive in the fall) and NBC (which runs the show in the spring), and a shorter, cable-like season. It’s a winning formula and a good length to watch on home video. 13 episodes on three discs in a fold-out digipak, plus commentary on the season premiere, three featurettes, introductions by producer Peter Berg and deleted scenes.

Dexter: The Fourth Season (Paramount) – Dexter (Michael C. Hall), the Miami PD blood-spatter specialist who moonlights as a serial killer, opens the fourth season of my favorite Showtime original series as both a new husband and father of a newborn, which complicates his double life executing other serial killers. John Lithgow is the guest serial killer this season, the so-called Trinity Killer who has been so successful that he remains a veritable phantom in the law enforcement community, and Dexter becomes fascinated by this family man with his own, carefully cultivated double life, but admiration turns to disgust as he sees through the crumbling façade of normalcy that he holds together through fear and intimidation. Dexter’s ethical balance is still the most fascinating part of the show. Keith Carradine also returns as a now-retired FBI agent hunting the Trinity Killer, which creates romantic conflicts for Dexter’s police detective sister (Jennifer Carpenter). And beware that this run has a seriously dark ending. 12 episodes on three discs, plus cast interviews. The Blu-ray offer bonus episodes of other Showtime series via BD-Live.

Ugly Betty: The Complete Fourth and Final Season (Disney) – The adventures of Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), the lovably geeky fashion disaster from Queens, in the catty culture of Manhattan’s beautiful people and corporate wolves comes to an end after four seasons of soap-opera melodrama and high-fashion intrigue. It is, however, a banner year for Betty and friends: she gets a promotion to the editorial department, her sister has a wedding, her fashionista nephew comes out, frenemy (and roommate) Amanda (Becki Newton) leaves the reception desk for her own career and fashion vampire Wilhelmina (Vanessa Williams), well, she continues scheming to take over the magazine as usual. The producers had enough of a heads up to bring back characters from past seasons, wrap up intrigues, send current characters off to new futures and even give a little love to favorite villains. But the big news: Betty FINALLY gets those braces off. 20 episodes on four discs, plus the light featurettes “Betty Goes Bahamas” (a bouncy, utterly inessential travelogue) and “Mode After Hours,” webisodes, deleted scenes and the obligatory collection of bloopers.

Rocky & Bullwinkle: Season 4 (Classic Media) – “And now for something you’ll really like!” Moose and Squirrel (aka Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocky J. Squirrel) are back, along with Boris and Natasha, Mr. Peapody (and his boy Sherman), Dudley Do-Right and Snidely Whiplash, and all the magic tricks Bullwinkle never performed, in the first new collection of episodes from the satirical animated series released since 2005. Jay Ward snuck adult satire and spitball humor into the tortured puns and animated absurdities of a kids show and created a classic still admired today. The cliffhanger serial format (and the kooky cold war battles with no-goodniks Boris Badenov and his Garbo-like partner Natasha) produces a series of long-running storylines. This two-disc set, in a book-style digipak, features five serialized adventures told through 19 episodes from the fourth season: “Painting Theft,” “Guns of Abalone,” “Treasure of Monte Zoom,” “Goof Gas Attack” and “Banana Formula.”

Also new this week: the HBO original film Temple Grandin (HBO) starring Claire Danes and featuring a commentary track by the real-life Dr. Temple Grandin, One Tree Hill: The Complete Seventh Season (Warner), and the British documentary series Simon Schama: A History of Britain: Special Edition (BBC) and A History of Scotland (BBC), also with Simon Schama.

For more DVD releases, see my picks for the week at my blog and my DVD column at MSN.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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