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Gone But Not Forgotten: Starpulse Highlights The Best TV On DVD

October 31st, 2007 10:33am EDT
WonderfallsThe beauty of TV on DVD is that it lets small gems of television history continue to exist, allowing them to be found again and again. Swiftly canceled before their time, cult classics live on in DVD format for new generations of television lovers to happen upon.

Following is a list of some of the best TV on DVD you probably never watched. Discovering something new is always more fun and fulfilling than watching a rerun.

From the Unusual Mind of Bryan Fuller

If you've fallen in love with Bryan Fuller's charming new show Pushing Daisies, here's some good news. Fuller's previous two television series are available on DVD, and judging by the unceremonious way they were canceled, chances are you haven't seen them. Although Fuller left his first creation, Dead Like Me, after its first season, both of its two existing seasons reflect his offbeat wit and penchant for exploring death.
Dead Like Me
After being killed by a toilet seat that has fallen from a space shuttle, George (actually Georgia, played by Ellen Muth) becomes a grim reaper, collecting souls right before their owners' untimely deaths. Being a grim reaper doesn't exactly pay the bills though, so George is forced to take a dull office job. Her youthful disaffection for both jobs and wry humor provides plenty of amusement, as does her new "family" of fellow grim reapers.

After leaving "Dead Like Me," Fuller went on to co-create FOX's quirky Wonderfalls, another series about a disaffected youth with a larger than life situation. Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas), a smart but directionless Philosophy grad, works in a Niagara Falls gift shop. It's pretty normal for a recent graduate, except for the part where stuffed animals and other inanimate figurines talk to her. As Jaye reluctantly follows their commands, they lead her to change the lives and circumstances of the people around her.

If this all sounds a little too sentimental, don't worry. Jaye's inanimate object-induced adventures are wonderfully odd and hilarious, causing more than a little worry from her family. Her brother, Aaron (a pre-"Pushing Daisies" Lee Pace), is particularly concerned and curious. "Did the cow creamer tell you that?" he asks suspiciously in one episode. What happens to that cow creamer is both fun and touching.

Some of the series' best episodes were never seen, but the DVD set includes nine unaired episodes. Thankfully and sadly, Fuller and co-creator Todd Holland foresaw the show's demise and crafted a somewhat fulfilling ending, but 13 episodes is still far too short a time with this fantastic series.

It's All About Profit

In today's television world, "Profit" would have probably been a hit on cable. FOX's dark and morally ambiguous drama had the unfortunate pleasure of being far ahead of its time. It aired in 1996, before FX and HBO became what they are today and before corporate scandal became a common subject on the evening news.

Jim Profit, played by Heroes star Adrian Pasdar, is a disturbed, ruthless and deliciously evil anti-hero that would have fit in perfectly with the messy and complex characters that have become FX's signature. He'll do anything, and I do mean anything, to rise up the corporate ladder at Gracen & Gracen. Manipulation might as well be his middle name. In comparison, his "Heroes" character Nathan Petrelli is a harmless puppy - a puppy that Profit would have crushed without a second thought.

But no one is the way they are without reason. The pilot episode sets up a fair amount of childhood trauma and a step-mother so inappropriate, co-creators David Greenwalt (Angel) and John McNamara (Fastlane) were kicked out during their pitch meeting with CBS.

Pasdar is chilling in the role, using all his features to channel the show's darkness - slicked hair, deep voice, penetrating stare - as he speaks directly to the viewer, and yet, you kind of care about the sociopath.

The Beauty in Life

As its main character Angela once said in My So-Called Life, "You're so beautiful, it hurts to look at you."

Every once and a while, a series comes along that perfecly captures what it's like to be hurt, to love, and to feel like no one understands all the emotions that come along with simply being alive. For many young adults, that cultural touchstone is "My So-Called Life," a show so realistic and honest, it let its heroine wear the same outfit more than once while the roots of her dyed hair grew out. That outfit may be too '90s punk for today's teenagers, but the angst-ridden feelings of Angela as she struggles with new friends, her parents, and the cute boy by the lockers have not aged a bit.

Still as relatable, relevant and insightful as ever, "My So-Called Life" was a groundbreaking pioneer for many of today's teen dramas due to its depiction of teen sexuality and the seriousness with which it took its teens. But what distinguishes it is the truthful, stripped-down approach to storytelling. Even in more gimmicky episodes, Angela's voiceover always took the viewer back to the simple truths that one was thinking but hadn't realized.

Claire Dane's Angela wasn't perfect, but she was real and Danes filled her with teenage curiosity, innocence, naivety and a just a little bit of thoughtful, wise-beyond-her-years wisdom.

A new DVD release came out October 30, finally giving the series the treatment it deserves with interviews, commentaries, and a booklet with notes from fans Joss Whedon and Janeane Garofalo.

The Great Frontier

There once was a show named Firefly that was canceled by FOX. But like the little train that could, the show kept going and racked up DVD sales as well as a big-screen adaptation called Serenity. While the film was a nice treat, Joss Whedon's (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) creation is still best viewed on the small screen where Whedon gets to flex his strong writing muscles with character development and small moments of wit.
Firefly
An unusual, but oddly natural blend of space western, the show takes place more than 500 years in the future abroad a spacecraft called Firefly. The large cast of travelers is led by Captain Mal, a fitting name for a troubled, morally complex protagonist who floats through the sky by pulling off illegal jobs with his band of misfits. He's played by Nathan Fillion, who is part Indiana Jones, part charming romantic leading man (see Waitress) in his interactions with Inara, the ship's resident (and more importantly, respected) companion, if you get what I mean.

Fillion went on to guest star in the final season of "Buffy" while Gina Torres, Mal's second in command, had a stint on Whedon's other creation, "Angel." Adam Baldwin, currently bringing the surly charm to Chuck, brought it here first as mercenary Jayne.

Exploring the Unexplained

ABC's short-lived Miracles featured a second episode so brilliant, it haunted viewers for its originality, poignancy and mysteriousness. "The Friendly Skies" was the kind of episode that defied the nature of television by besting the high expectations set by its pilot.

A fiercely intellectual show about faith, spirituality and the unknown, "Miracles" centered on a skeptical seminarian played by Skeet Ulrich who investigated unusual happenings and miracles. Ulrich, then mostly known for Scream, is a revelation (no pun intended), grounding the character in intelligence and soulfulness.



The production values are film-worthy, full of moody atmosphere and gloom. One can easily imagine the show being turned into a big-screen feature.

The ominous phrase that appears throughout the series ("God is nowhere," which slips into "God is now here") is the kind of tantalizing tidbit that would have sent today's Lost aficionados into a frenzy. Sadly, the show's greater mythology is abruptly halted and unclear due to its cancellation. Still, the stand alone cases that Paul investigated are innovative, smart and more than a little unusual. One episode featured a break in the time-space continuum at a gas station market, which allowed Paul to hear the sounds of soldiers during the Civil War. Then there's "The Friendly Skies," which I won't say much about because it's that good.

Story by Vlada Gelman
Starpulse.com contributing writer