Shows We'd Like to See on DVD

by Diane Werts December 18, 2008 12:28 pm
Shows We'd Like to See on DVD

There is no DVD justice. In a world where even According to Jim is available on disc, where oh where are DVD sets of all the sublime gone-too-soon shows that live on in fans' memories, years and years after their demise? Now And Again? Homefront? Frank's Place? We've got quite a DVD wish list. Santa, please see what you can do.

Bakersfield P.D. (Fox, 1993) -- Just thinking about this sly show puts a smile on the faces of fans who've practically worn out tapes recorded from the late, lamented Trio channel. Police detective Ron Eldard plays an eager but naive desert cop who gets his lifelong dream when he's teamed with savvy D.C. detective Giancarlo Esposito -- a black man! Well, only half-black (half-Italian), and hardly "authentic" enough for Eldard, whose cultural naiveté is audacious, hilarious and touching. But this single-camera gem raced well beyond race, playing rural/city sophistication conflicts, too, along with gender comedy in its three male detective teams (including Chris Mulkey and Tony Plana) who often express naked emotions like wounded romantic couples. TV comedy has yet to top this quirky cocktail.

China Beach (ABC, 1988) -- Dana Delany goes to Vietnam as an Army nurse in a reflective look back at the war, gender relations, and finding yourself while facing human horror day after day. The drama's people were unforgettable -- Delany, Marg Helgenberger, Robert Picardo, Megan Gallagher -- but so was the creative way the show laid out its tale, employing backwards scene order, real-life interview cut-ins, flash-forwards and other techniques to get under the skin and straight to the heart. Vintage songs provided a shrewd '60s soundtrack. But that, of course, makes music rights a pricy DVD stumbling block.

Cupid (ABC, 1998) -- Jeremy Piven wasn't some big discovery in Entourage. Those of us who saw him play a self-proclaimed angel of love in this whimsical romantic hour knew what he could do. It also provided a rare snug fit for offbeat actress Paula Marshall, as the semi-smitten shrink of Piven's semi-stable human/god. And it made a good entry point for writer Rob Thomas, later to give us the glorious Veronica Mars. But ABC wasn't sure if Cupid was comedy or drama, fantasy or fact (Piven's "real" nature never was explained), and marooned the show on Saturday night. Now they're remaking it with Bobby Cannavale in a midseason 2009 series already rumored to be in trouble. Bring back the original!

EZ Streets (CBS, 1996) -- Yeah, yeah, two episodes are out on a Brilliant But Cancelled DVD. Not enough! This uber-moody show from future Oscar winner Paul Haggis (Due South before, Crash after) only lasted eight episodes, after all -- all teeming with urban grit, scummy corruption, seamy sex and sick wit. Cop Ken Olin is hot to nail the Irish mob, while crime kingpin Joe Pantoliano keeps a freezer full of severed hands to provide misleading fingerprints. Haggis used song score gorgeously, too (Sarah McLachlan, Caroline Lavelle). Which means seeing this haunting saga again in its original form is exceedingly unlikely.

Frank's Place (CBS, 1987) -- Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Tim Reid's elegant evocation of NOLA should have hit DVD back when the city was underwater, all over the news, and in our hearts. This sharp single-camera half-hour was ahead of its time in not only format but also tone and attitude. Reid faced race head on, with a largely black cast, as well as the north/south divide, playing a Boston hotshot reluctantly returned home to his father's eatery. America just wasn't ready. Maybe now's the moment to revisit its languid charm.

Homefront (ABC, 1991) -- Period shows never work. TV axiom. But this post-World War II soap drama did OK in the ratings for two seasons and even better in the hearts of viewers who still yearn to revisit its warm study of characters and culture at a time of tumultuous change. Heck, television was invented on its watch! And what a cast -- Kyle Chandler, John Slattery, Kelly Rutherford, Mimi Kennedy, Ken Jenkins. Homefront evoked a time, place and tenor so effectively that its intrinsic unhipness made it the hippest thing around. Still is.

The John Larroquette Show (NBC, 1993) -- Here's a sitcom premise for you. Recovering alcoholic goes to work as night manager for a seedy St. Louis bus station. Laughs abound! Actually, they did in this sterling effort from the Night Court horndog, who got down, dirty and daffy at a time NBC was more attuned to Friends and Frasier's sleek style. The episodes' down-and-out situations were hard-hitting yet lighthearted, with pitch-perfect work from station assistant Liz Torres, chip-on-his-shoulder lunch counter man Daryl Mitchell, and gonzo drop-in cops Lenny Clarke and Elizabeth Berridge. Loosey-goosey and slightly demented, Larroquette was a gem that NBC didn't "get," and therefore tried to tidy up, thus diluting its 80-proof authenticity. Creator Don Reo went on to Action, while key writer Mitch Hurwitz would create Arrested Development. 'Nuff said.

Nothing Sacred (ABC, 1997) -- Taking faith seriously. What a concept. Too bad ABC let "religious" mouthpieces pick apart this genuine, probing and truly spiritual portrait of a troubled Pittsburgh parish. Kevin Anderson made for a hunky true-believer priest, wrestling with what his own faith meant, while trying to minister to the homeless, faithless and criminal, sometimes in his own family. Gritty scripts -- many written by the show's priest co-creator Bill Cain -- presciently tackled HIV, gay priests, and sexual exploitation by clergy, as well as abortion, mixed marriage and other hot-button topics. A skittish network never broadcast several of the best episodes, which remain unaired to this day. A sin, because those episodes (sometimes slipped to TV critic-fans of the show) are exactly the kind of intelligent, topical television the networks had better rediscover, lest they relinquish their primacy forever.

Now And Again (CBS, 1999) -- John Goodman got hit by a subway train and reborn into Eric Close's constructed hot bod, thanks to scientific genius Dennis Haysbert, in drama that played remarkably grounded for its pie-in-the-sky premise. All about (re)discovering who you are, the show was equally savvy with confused wife Margaret Colin and quirky daughter Heather Matarazzo. And filmed in New York, it looked superb, too. Creator Glenn Gordon Caron of Moonlighting and Medium made it sweet, smart and just the right amount out-there to hit us even harder in the heart.

Wonderland (ABC, 2000) -- And so this one resurfaces -- not on DVD, but on DirecTV, which announced it'll air all eight series episodes (including six never seen) starting Jan. 14. The link is series creator Peter Berg, now overseeing the satelliter's production of his Friday Night Lights. This equally intense and intimate saga focuses on doctors at a New York psychiatric hospital much like Bellevue, played by Ted Levine, Michelle Forbes, Martin Donovan and other potent performers. Berg's first creation, it reverberates just as viscerally as Berg's current saga of a quite different American community.

DVD is crying out for shows like these to be rediscovered. And we could go on and on. Comedies like Aliens in America, The Class and Miss/Guided. Dramas like Ed, Strange Luck and Jack and Bobby. Fantasy like Kindred, Brimstone and New Amsterdam. Even animation like Daria and The PJs.

If there's room on the shelves for Charles in Charge and Cashmere Mafia, there ought to be room for these.




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