The Mary Tyler Moore Show - The Complete First Season
Once you get over the shocking plunge back into the fashions and attitudes of 1970, it doesn’t take long before the abiding charm and real skill that made the "Mary Tylere Moore Show" a massive hit overwhelms you. While there’s no argument that the 70s were the first golden age of the sitcom, MTM’s competition hasn’t aged nearly as well; "M*A*S*H" quickly degenerates into formula character gags and bathetic sentiment, and the monolithic bigotry of Archie Bunker feels like a liberal caricature, a straw man for right-on political humour that feels forced and overstated today.
Mary’s show, once you get past the plank-wide ties and the quilted skirts, is a remarkably subtle piece of work, built on the beautiful interplay of Mary - the pollyanna - and the collection of needy, bitter, passive-aggressive, but alarmingly lovable grotesques around her. Betty White’s Sue Ann Nivens, alas, doesn’t show up for another couple of seasons, but Cloris Leachman’s Phyllis and Ted Knight’s Ted Baxter are astounding creations, one a harbinger of budding me-decade solipsism, the other simply one of the best comic characters ever put on TV. Ed Asner’s Lou Grant is still manic and threatening, his edges yet to be buffed down, and Mary quickly begins to explore her character’s querulous virtuousness, the small-town prom queen that we loved to ogle and humiliate at the same time.
The Simpsons - The Complete Second Season
After an endless wait, the Simpsons box set series continues with the essential second season, the one where the show really started to gel. With Homer’s character finally in place - less rage, more goofiness - the result was classic episodes like “The Way We Was” (Homer and Marge meet in high school) and “Treehouse of Horror”, the first Halloween special. It was also the year of Bartmania, “Do the Bartman”, the Simpsons on the Emmys, and the first Simpsons Butterfinger commercials, all included here as bonus material. Commentary tracks are included with every episode, and for real fans they’re the real feature - Groening, James Brooks and the colleagues giggling over continuity errors and arguing about in-jokes.
40 Days and 40 Nights
Set in San Francisco during the dot.com boom, 40 Days and 40 Nights is already a period film. Josh Hartnett plays a web designer whose abundant but anxious sex life inspires him to give up sex for Lent, a self-denial so remarkable that he becomes the object of a popular online betting pool, and the target of an army of predatory females intent on bringing him down. With a tagline like “the longer it goes, the harder it gets...”, you can imagine the level of comedy contained therein. Set in a world where the challenge for a young man is not to have sex, it’s obvious that 40 Days and 40 Nights is also a fantasy, and a puerile one at that.