Army Wives: The Complete Fourth Season (Disney) – This Lifetime original series focuses on the women of the Armed forces, many of them wives and mothers left at home, some of them serving in uniform on base or in combat, all of them as much a part of the fabric of army life as the men. Over its four seasons, it has become the most popular original drama on the Lifetime network.
Kim Delaney, Sally Pressman, Brigid Brannagh, Wendy Davis and Catherine Bell headline as the titular wives, with Sterling K. Brown as an honorary member of the homefront club as a base psychiatrist whose wife (Davis) is a field officer on active duty. I can’t say the show was ever on my DVR schedule but that doesn’t mean it’s not good at what it does. The show deals with real issues facing military couples and families, from the way the deployments upend stability to the stresses of separation and divorce, from the anxiety of loved ones in combat to the challenge of injury and recuperation, while presenting characters that the audience can relate to. It offers a more realistic and less, shall we say, Mamet-ian portrait of homefront life than The Unit.
This season follows a painful divorce but also expands the net to explore the lives of army children growing up on base. Gabrielle Union guest stars as a city police detective in an episode that plays out as a cop show mystery and real life Second Lady Jill Biden appears in one of the final episodes of the season. 18 episodes on four discs in a standard case with hinged trays, with three behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and the usual gag reel of bloopers and outtakes. The fifth season begins in 2011.
Groucho Marx TV Classics (Synergy) – For a certain generation, Groucho Marx is as famous for quipping his way through the quiz show You Bet Your Life as for his movies. This new set collects 16 episodes of the show on two discs and then tosses in a terrific third disc of bonus shows, including the unaired pilot, a degraded 16mm kinescope of what appears to be a dress rehearsal with all the interruptions and technical glitches intact. Just as good is the You Best Your Life Stag Reel,” with 25 minutes of deleted sequences and some of Groucho’s funniest off-color remarks. “We can take that out in the editing,” he smiles after one remark. “They take out almost everything I say.” Also includes two episodes of The Hollywood Palace hosted by Groucho, the 1956 election-day special See You at the Polls, an episode of Anybody Can Play hosted by George Fenniman and an audio-only 1945 episode of the Dinah Shore radio show Open House with Groucho. Video and audio quality is what you expect for archival material: rough in places but just fine.
The manufacture-on-demand model that the studios have applied to catalogue titles is now being extended to television through Amazon’s CreateSpace program. Single episodes of the original The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson and the public television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood are joining the titles available for purchase. It’s really more of a service than a bargain, as the $9.95 price is steep for a single episode—you can get sets of multiple episodes of both shows as a better price—but it is a way to track down purchase a particular episode that otherwise would not have been available. And that’s really the way to see the growing distribution stream: a way to make programming that is otherwise unfeasible to release on traditional DVD release streams available for purchase.
The Lifetime original movie Prayers For Bobby (New Video), based on the book by Leroy Aarons, earned Emmy nominations for Outstanding Made for Television Movie and for Sigourney Weaver’s performance.
Also new TV to DVD: the PBS documentary series God in America (PBS), Hawaii Five-0: The Tenth Season (Paramount), The Lucy Show: The Third Season (Paramount), Gunsmoke: The Fourth Season, Volume 2 (Paramount) and, for the obsessive collector, Hoarders: Season Two, Part One (A&E).