Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Stay Tuned???

My set of Tom Goes to the Mayor: The Complete Series has been a near-permanent fixture in my DVD player since I bought it a couple weeks ago (read my full review here). It's one of the best examples of how a niche series can be done so right on DVD: you get every episode and more extras than you need for an affordable price (less than $30) and in a creative presentation. I watched the show quite a bit when it was on, and was always slightly-fearful that it wouldn't get its just due on DVD, but I was glad to be disappointed. The fact remains that even with the generous treatment television series have been afforded on DVD, there are still many beloved series that have yet to make the transition and may never escape the television-to-DVD limbo. How can it be that Rambo: The Animated Series, Captain N the Game Master and The Ghost Busters (live action) have comprehensive DVD releases but not The Wonder Years, The Real Ghostbusters or Dexter's Laboratory? For some it's a matter of music rights, for others we can only guess. Let's take a look television series that are at the top of my wish list:

Dexter's Laboratory (1996-2003)
Status: Unreleased
Chance for life: Not good
For many years this was one of my top three favorite shows on television. It was not only a marvel of creative animation and comedic writing, but it struck close to home with me personally. For a lot of my early childhood I
was Dexter, or at least I wanted to be: being young mad scientist was my dream, and I even introduced myself as a scientist for a couple years when meeting adults. I don't believe this thinking was limited to myself, and that's why Dexter was so popular among adults and kids -- it touched on that "science can do anything" mentality that kids possess until they realize jet packs and baseball on Mars will never happen. From the wonderfully-warped mind of Genndy Tartakovsky (Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars), Dexter's was nominated for Emmys and picked up a few other children's programming awards. For many years it occupied multiple daily blocks on Cartoon Network and even had a limited line of merchandise. There are so many Dexter's episodes that could be called "the best," but Mock 5 has always been my favorite, and it borders on genius for anyone familiar with Speed Racer.

And yet, it's not on DVD? Not only that, it barely got on VHS: all that was offered was a small best-of compilation and a video of the Ego Trip mini series. Cartoon Network has shown a willingness to put its best series on DVD, with nearly all the Adult Swim shows as well as Samurai Jack, Powerpuff Girls and Ed, Edd and Eddy all making the jump -- why not Dexter's? Reportedly, a recent Warner Bros. chat on their web site went so far as to say there were "no plans" for a DVD release. I would jump at even a compilation of episodes at this point.

Freddy's Nightmares (1988-1990)
Status: Available
Chance for Life: N/A
Until a couple of minutes ago I was under the false impression that this great series was unavailable, but you can apparently buy the complete set from a couple of sites and even download all the episodes for free from AOL.com! If I didn't know about this, a lot of other people are probably in the dark as well, so I'm including it in this list. Freddy's Nightmares was a show I watched a lot as a kid when I couldn't sleep, because it was on late at night on ... USA? If you're thinking to yourself that this was an unproductive act since the show would give a young child nightmares you are correct, but I couldn't turn away from many of the episodes. Structured like a Twilight Zone serial, Freddy's Nightmares would present evil tales from the town of Springwood that usually centered around children. One episode that still haunts me is "Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?" (
download it!), where a mother locks her murderous step-daughter in the basement rather than turn her into the authorities. A young girl babysits the families younger (less evil) daughter, but is lured into the basement by the evil daughter, who then pulls a dastardly switch-a-roo on her.

The Real Ghostbusters (1986-1991)
Status: Partially released
Chance for life: Moderate
I'm not going to say "they don't make 'em like this anymore!" because I think the opposite is true: a lot of today's semi-disturbing kids cartoons resemble this one. Rather, this was one of the revolutionary 80s kids cartoons that aimed to elicit frights as well as laughs from kids. The Real Ghostbusters (so named because an unrelated cartoon had already
taken the name) was an excellent take-off on the movie and furthered the group's adventures in New York, usually pitting them against terrifying ghosts and monsters that were often based on mythology and literature. For at least a couple seasons, The Real Ghostbusters was a perfect blend of comedy, action and horror, with many episodes venturing into genuinely scary territory (anyone remember the Cthulhu episode? The show had excellent voice talent, with Lorenzo Music (Garfield and Friends) as Peter and even Arsenio Hall as Winston. I was a nut for anything Ghostbusters related, so this cartoon meant a lot to me, and even more so when some episodes were tied into Ghostbusters 2 plot elements.

It's kind of sad when the knockoff Ghostbusters cartoon is on DVD, and even the 1970s live action show of the same name, but not this series. Presently, the best you can do is see a couple episodes on the Ghostbusters 2 DVD and track down a couple discs that have random episodes on them. In a world when all the terrible Mario and Zelda cartoons have made it to DVD, this one deserves a better release.

The Wonder Years (1988-1993)
Status: Partially released
Chance for life: Not good
What introduction do you need? Was there anyone who didn't watch this show? I remember watching the pilot with my family, and continuing on through the weaker latter episodes when Kevin was getting ready to graduate from high school. The Wonder Years was blessed with a great cast, with only Olivia D'Abo able to escape the shadow of the series and go on to a successful career (where have you gone, Jason Hervey?). There were countless "moments" from this show: Kevin and Winnie's first kiss, Kevin flicking a spoonful of mashed potatoes at Wayne's face during a silent family dinner, the underlying tension between Kevin and his dad and up-and-down friendship between Kevin and Paul.

Realistically, it's hard to get too upset that The Wonder Years hasn't gotten a full DVD treatment. With the problems WKRP in Cincinnati had with rights to songs, The Wonder Years have to be much more complicated, starting with "A Little Help From My Friends" being the title song and multiple seminal tunes used throughout its run. It seems every year there are rumors of season releases, and 2007 is no different, so who knows. Presently the only DVDs of The Wonder Years are long out of print and subpar best-of and Christmas editions that often fetch triple digit prices on eBay.

Amazing Stories: Book Two (1986-1987)
Status: Unreleased
Chance for life: Good?
The first season of Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories had a great
DVD release last year, but the superior second season has still not been announced. The first season got the ball rolling with a couple gems, but the sophomore effort included the hallmarks of the short-lived series: Lane Change, What If?, Miss Stardust (with Weird Al Yankovic) and of course the timeless Family Dog, directed by Brad Bird (this used to be on YouTube, maybe it got pulled with the Viacom noise?). Bird went on to do The Simpsons, The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, and you can see signs of his future fame in this little episode. The animation is just superb, with Bird's trademarks of top notch body language and facial expressions on display. It's a hilarious tale of an undersized family watch dog and his battles for attention. I would buy the whole second season just for this episode.