Movies Till Dawn: 2018 Gift Guide for Eclectic Insomniacs (Small Screen and Three Stooges Edition)

Goofball TV comedy or existential treatise on the human condition? In the case of Dan Harmon‘s “Community” (2009-2015), both are applicable. The series, about a gaggle of outcasts at a small junior college, embraced a dizzying array of high and lowbrow concepts during its five tumultuous years on NBC (and, briefly, Yahoo! Screen); any program that could address, with both cohesion and humor, alternate reality, statistical theory, spaghetti Westerns and Rankin-Bass holiday specials in the course of its run, is worth a few of your hard-earned moments. The excellent cast, which includes Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Danny Pudi, Jim Rash, and for a time, Chevy Chase, is also a high points; Mill Creek Entertainment collects the entire network run on 12 Blu-rays and adds a staggering amount of extras, including numerous commentaries, deleted and extended scenes, and making-of featuretes.

Alternate realities also abound on “The Outer Limits” (1963-1965), Leslie Stevens‘ short-lived but well-loved science fiction anthology series. We covered the first season here; Season 2 is shorter (just 17 episodes) but offers one of the show’s best entries, the Harlan Ellison-penned “Soldier,” which served as the inspiration for the “Terminator” franchise. Both sets are lavishly appointed by Kino Lorber, with Season 2 packing commentaries, alternate cuts of two episodes, and a wealth of extras from the syndicated run on TNT, including an interview with producer Joseph Stefano (“Psycho”) and promos by William Shatner and Martin Landau, among others.

Kino also has three stellar made-for-TV creature features from the early ’70s: the Dan Curtis-produced, Richard Matheson-penned “The Night Stalker” (1971), which pitted reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin, the once and future Old Man from “A Christmas Story”) against a vampire in modern Las Vegas, and its follow-up, “The Night Strangler” (1972), with Curtis directing and Kolchak tracking an undead killer below the streets of Seattle. “Stalker” was ABC’s highest rated original movie for years, and briefly spawned a series; the Special Edition Blu-rays include commentary by Tim Lucas, and interviews with Curtis and “Stalker” director John Llewellyn Moxey on respective discs. Matheson and Curtis also teamed up for “Trilogy of Terror” (1975), a portmanteau TV feature based on Matheson’s short fiction, all starring Karen Black; the film’s centerpiece is the concluding story, “Prey,” with Black fighting for her life against a tiny, relentless and extremely lethal doll.

One can only imagine what TV pioneer Ernie Kovacs would make of planned celebrations for his birthday centennial in 2019; most likely, it would involve a cigar and a car dropping through the floor. Shout Factory takes a more straightforward approach with its “Centennial Edition” DVD set, which packages its two previous Kovacs collections in one nine-disc set. Kovacs, a self-made surrealist who alternately celebrated and lampooned the fakery and silliness inherent to television, produced some of the most anarchic and mind-bending comedy ever seen, much of which would have a profound influence on everything from “Saturday Night Live” and David Letterman to “Kids in the Hall,” Upright Citizens Brigade and Funny or Die. The set includes episodes of his hallucinatory game show “Take a Good Look” and the apex of his small screen efforts, the intricate, largely silent ABC specials.

There are also echoes of Kovacs’ comedy in Sacha Baron Cohen‘s TV work, especially in their disdain for authority. However, their approaches are almost polar opposites: Kovacs loved to thumb his nose at establishment figures, but remained essentially respectful, but Cohen adopts an almost predatory approach to his faux interviews, turning his subjects’ gullibility or self-absorption against them to portray them in the worst possible light. That technique gets its most cutting showcase in his Showtime series “Who is America” (2018), for which Cohen dons elaborate makeup to convince Georgia Representative Jason Spencer to walk backwards and bare-assed while shouting racial epithets, and a smiling Dick Cheney to autograph a water-boarding kit. Your ability to withstand nuclear-strength hypocrisy and humiliation will determine your appreciation for “America”; the seven-disc CBS/Paramount set for Season 1 includes deleted footage, including more of Cheney and Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio‘s self-immolation.

And lastly, whether you want to admit it or not, there is someone in your life who likes the Three Stooges. He or she may be eight years old – they may be 80. But there is no getting around the fact that they are fans of the Brothers Howard‘s vast body of shorts and features, and if they don’t already have Sony’s sprawling chronological sets, why not make their holidays merry and violent with “The Best of the Three Stooges” from Time-Life? The 12-disc set packages 87 of the Stooges’ short comedies for Columbia Pictures, all featuring the best known lineup (Moe, Larry, Curly), as well as 28 shorts devoted to the solo careers of Curly’s replacements – brother Shemp, Joe Besser and Curly Joe De Rita.

Some of the extras are ephemera that will appeal largely to Stooge diehards – a trio of cartoons featuring their likenesses, and four feature films, including the modest 2000 TV-movie biopic (with Michael Chiklis as Curly) – but the real added value item is “Hey Moe! Hey Dad!” (2015), a nine-hour (!) documentary detailing the comedy team’s 100-year history and legacy. Narrated by Moe’s son, Paul, the film’s primary appeal is the wealth of home movies featuring the brothers and recollections by family members; if the holidays are all about spending time with your loved ones, I can’t think of a more ideal example of togetherness and familial bonding, with the occasional head slap or eye-poke. Just like with your family.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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