The television work of Steve Martin leads these new-to-DVD series and specials.
"Steve Martin: The Television Stuff" (Shout! 1966-2005, three discs, $34.93, six TV specials, excerpts from various TV shows, new interviews with Martin; 24-page booklet). Before he became a movie star, Steve Martin was a magician, a banjo player, a TV writer and a stand-up comedian. And as his fame rose and he eventually became a genuine rock-star comic, he also did television specials, for both NBC and HBO.
This set provides plenty of nostalgia for those old enough to remember Martin's white suit, the arrow-through-the-head, the bunny ears and his tag lines: "Hey, Steve, you're a ramblin' guy," "Well, excuuuuuuuse me!" and, of course, "I am a wild and crazy guy." And for those who only know him from recent movies, it may be a revelation as he goes from filling intimate clubs (see the 1976 HBO special "On Location With Steve Martin") to huge arenas, where only the biggest rock bands had gone before ("Homage to Steve" includes his only recorded late-'70s stage act before he made the full-time transition to movies).
Martin's stage persona of a clueless, bumbling would-be comedian/banjo player with an attitude of condescending faux sincerity was immediately recognized by young audiences of the 1970s as a send-up of the establishment, and they responded adoringly, embracing his mix of wit and silliness in the same way they had been drawn to Monty Python.
The HBO specials here let Martin roam free (to include his less tasteful material, with vulgar sexual comments and foul language) while the NBC specials try to put him in an old-fashioned variety-show box, but even those include some very funny skits. Best of all is the third disc, "Bits and Pieces," with excerpts from "Saturday Night Live," appearances with Johnny Carson and his hilarious speeches at a variety of awards ceremonies. And my personal favorite, Martin's 1977 Oscar-nominated short "The Absent-Minded Waiter," with Teri Garr and Buck Henry.
In all, this is a terrific, inspired collection, and let's hope it encourages the powers that be to pull together similar sets for other comic superstars' early TV appearances.
"Get a Life: The Complete Series" (Shout! 1990-92, five discs, $59.97, 35 episodes, audio commentaries, featurettes; 24-page booklet). This is Chris Elliott's offbeat two-season sitcom about a developmentally challenged 30-year-old paperboy living over his parents' garage. (His dad is played by his real-life father Bob Elliott, of Bob & Ray fame.) Absurdist in the extreme, this slacker farce was in some ways a groundbreaking show, but it's definitely an acquired taste.
"Grounded for Life: The Complete Series" (Mill Creek, 2001-05, 13 discs, $44.98, 91 episodes, audio commentaries, featurettes, bloopers). One sitcom that owes something to "Get a Life" is this one, about a couple (Donal Logue, Megyn Price) in their 30s with three kids, and guess which are the more mature characters. Some funny stuff in this look at the embarrassments of suburban life.
"Rawhide: The Fifth Season, Volume 1" (CBS/Paramount, 1962-63, b/w, four discs, $42.99, 15 episodes).
"Rawhide: The Fifth Season, Volume 2" (CBS/Paramount, 1963, b/w, four discs, $42.99, 14 episodes). Clint Eastwood and Eric Fleming star in this classic Western series about cattle drovers meeting up with shady characters on the trail. Guests this season include Harry Dean Stanton, James Whitmore, Beverly Garland, Susan Oliver, Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Eddie Bracken and Cesar Romero. (Both volumes packaged together, $69.98.)
"Body of Proof: The Complete Second Season" (ABC, 2011-12, four discs, $39.99, 20 episodes, featurettes, webisodes, bloopers). Dana Delany returns as arrogant pathologist Dr. Megan Hunt, who clashes with her boss (Jeri Ryan) while solving murders with evidence no one else sees.
"Army Wives: Season Six, Part One" (ABC/Lifetime, 2012, three discs, $39.99, 13 episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes, bloopers). The title characters prepare to leave Fort Marshall, but a natural disaster cancels their plans and forces them to bond even more than before.
"Roseanne: The Complete Fifth Season" (Mill Creek, 1992-93, three discs, $14.98, 25 episodes, audio commentary, featurette).
"Roseanne: The Complete Sixth Season" (Mill Creek, 1993-94, three discs, $14.98, 25 episodes). More blue-collar comedy with the Conner clan, led by Roseanne Barr and John Goodman. Guests include Loretta Lynn, Morgan Fairchild, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Joan Collins, Florence Henderson, Mariel Hemingway and Michael O'Keefe.
"Joseph Campbell: Mythos: The Complete Series" (Athena, 2007-11, six discs, $99.99, 15 episodes; 12-page booklet). Lectures by Campbell that have shown on PBS, presented in the order and manner dictated by Campbell himself. He referred to the "Mythos" series as "one great story" of humanity, examining Western traditions and modern myths.
"America's Book of Secrets" (History, 2012, three discs, $29.95, 10 episodes, special: "America's Book of Secrets: The Monuments"). Documentary series exposes mysteries of Fort Knox, Freemasons, Black Ops and, um, the Playboy Mansion.
"Secret Access: The Presidency" (History, 2012, three discs, $29.95, three episodes). This documentary collection looks at Air Force One, the White House and the so-called President's Book of Secrets.
"James Bond Gadgets" (History, 2002-04, $19.95, "Biography" episode on Ian Fleming). Just what the title indicates, a documentary exploration of all those space-age toys Agent 007 is equipped with, and how real they are.
"Cajun Pawn Stars: Season One" (History, 2012, $19.95, eight episodes). Jimmie "Big Daddy" Deramus, owner of the largest pawnshop in Louisiana, with so many rare pieces it is referred to as a "museum for sale."
"Best of Ancient Aliens" (History/Blu-ray, 2010-12, two discs, $19.95, four episodes). Have intelligent life forms from space been visiting Earth for millennia? That's what this series attempts to answer. (Also on DVD, $19.95.)
"Understanding Art: Impressionism" (Athena, 2011, three discs, $59.99, four episodes, documentaries: "Manet: The Man Who Invented Modern Art" and "Vincent: The Full Story"; 20-page booklet). Critic Waldemar Januszczak sheds light on personalities that revolutionized the art world.
"Katt Williams: Kattpacalypse" (eOne, 2012, $19.98, animated short). Stand-up comic Williams' new Showtime special, with the expected foul language.