As is tradition, Paste’s TV addicts have you covered for all your Cyber Monday shopping needs. And as is our wont, we’re pretty catholic in our selections. We’ve got your animation sets and books; we’ve got your legendary dramas making their bow on Blu-ray; we’ve got your high-end booze; and, of course, we have Buffy (there must always be Buffy). Plus, we have the first season of arguably the best Star Trek series… ever. (Fight me.)
Please enjoy Paste’s guide to the top 10 TV gifts of 2018:
10. VRV Premium ($9.99/month)
While researching the various streaming services, with an eye towards including one that was flying under the radar, I realized that there are… many. They are legion. Myriad, even. The Internet is like a pomegranate of well-curated streaming services, and while I don’t like the idea of one giant streaming service, the current “Balkanization” of the streaming landscape doesn’t appeal, either—and is likely financially unsustainable. While SundanceNow, Walter Presents and PBS Passport are all pretty cool in their own right, I settled on VRV (pronounced “verve”) Premium (some content is available for free as ad-supported content), largely because it’s not more of the same. I love compelling drama as much as the next guy, but sometimes I need a good LGBTQ coming-of-age anime drama (Bloom Into You) or a healthy dose of Courage the Cowardly Dog. VRV refers to itself as a “fandom-focused aggregation platform” and is composed of multiple branded channels, including Nerdist, Boomerang, Shudder, and anime powerhouse, Crunchyroll, as well as their in-house channel VRV Select, which houses most of the content exclusive to VRV, including the popular sci-fi series Killjoys, the 2011 ThunderCats reboot, and two shows from Community creator Dan Harmon: Great Minds with Dan Harmon and HarmonQuest. VRV Select also includes content from the excellent Shout! Factory TV, such as Mystery Science Theater 3000, Wilfred, the complete Stargate TV franchise, and the show that terrified me as a small child, Space 1999.
9. Funko: Pop! and More (Funko, various prices)
Oh Funko Pop! How do I love thee? I know it’s super trendy to fanboy out on these bigheaded, giant-eyed things, but I can’t help it. Funko seems to have hit on something ingenious when it comes to their curatorial choices. Even when they go mainstream, they tend to go a little… off-piste, as it were. Sure, they have all the requisite Stranger Things characters and in multiple settings (Eleven with Eggos and at the dance, Mike and Will as Ghostbusters, etc.) but they also produced a plush Smoke Monster! Aww! Isn’t he cute? Not only that, but they go back in the day to tug at the heartstrings of old men like me and rock out the classic Hanna Barbera icons, like Morocco Mole, Squiddly Diddly and Ricochet Rabbit. But the ne plus ultra of their TV offerings has to be Bob Ross. You know, the weirdly comforting TV painter with the fro? Ross is pretty far down the list of people you’d expect to be immortalized as a collectible, which is exactly why it’s a great move. There’s Pop! Bob with a paintbrush or palette, Pez Pop Bob (!!) and, in one of the weirdest TV-film crossovers ever, Pop! Deadpool as Bob Ross… even a plush Bob Ross. But my favorite? Bob with a raccoon. Click here (at about the 12-minute mark) to see why!
8. Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series 35th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $44.99)
I don’t think two days have gone by since I heard that this set was being released that “Let the music play…” hasn’t popped into my head. Not only that, I’m starting to see things like Doozer helmets in everyday objects, like the citrus juicers at my local bar. At first blush, it would seem that a 13-year-old (my age when it premiered) would be just outside the target age range for the show, but since its first U.S. airing on HBO in January 1983, Fraggle Rock has had an effect on a much wider age range than one might think. As Robert Lloyd wrote in his 2008 Los Angeles Times review of the DVD set, “Like all Henson productions, the series is something for the whole family, not because it’s studiously inoffensive, but by being unrelentingly smart,” and he’s dead on the nose. In re-watching parts of the series, I didn’t found myself trying to pretend I was a kid again, because it appealed just as much to 49-year-old me as it did to 13-year-old me—as, I suspect, it would to my six-year-old grandnieces. Part of that genius lies in the creators, and while we all know that Jim Henson often wrote for adults at the same time he was writing for the kiddos, Fraggle Rock’s writing staff boasted playwrights, novelists and poets, giving the stories greater dimension. While you might tell yourself that you’re buying this set for your kids or grandkids, don’t fool yourself: You’ll have just as much fun watching this series as they will.
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Stats (Insight Editions, $16.99)
Every year, I feel duty-bound to include a Buffy the Vampire Slayer item in the TV holiday gift guides. In 2014, it was a plush Mr. Pointy, and last year, it was a plethora of BtVS goodies. Then again, I am a fanatic. Well, this year Insight Editions has released Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slayer Stats, a hardcover, 125-page infographic that contains pretty much any fact-based info about the series you can imagine. “How many times was Giles knocked unconscious,” you ask? 18. Curious about all the relationships on the show (for good or ill)? Well, authors Simon Guerrier and Steve O’Brien have a nifty version of Fuck, Marry, Kill, laying out all the permutations, using “unreciprocated interest,” “reciprocal interest,” “relationship” and, of course, “kill.” There are profile entries on each major character, each of the Big Bad battles, and even a graph entitled “Butt Monkey: The Trials and Tribulations of Xander Harris,” with values ranging from Very Horrible to Slightly Embarrassing. Oh, Xander. No self-respecting honorary Scooby would be caught undead without this one.
6. Batman: The Complete Animated Series: Deluxe Limited Edition (Warner Brothers, $112.99)
When comparing DCEU with the MCU, the conventional wisdom holds that Marvel owns the big screen, and DC “wins” the small (especially in animation). It’s pretty easy to understand the logic behind the former—the MCU has made more than $17 billion worldwide in the past decade with 20 films. The top 25 DC films have pulled in roughly $10 billion over the last 20+ years. On the TV side, the argument for DC’s superiority is more about content quality and quantity than dollar amount—before Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Netflix’s barrage, the Marvel universe just wasn’t very present. But another way to explain why one publisher is more successful than the other in a medium is to ask a simple question: Where have we seen the definitive version of a character? The MCU is filled with “classic” versions of Marvel’s marquee names—Captain America, Thor, Iron Man. Few of even the most stalwart defenders of Man of Steel would argue “That was a pure encapsulation of Supes.” On TV, though? Exhibit A of “how to do it right” can be found in Batman: The Animated Series. Developed by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, Warner Bros. Animation managed to capture the essence of the Dark Knight, and did so in 100 episodes over a little more than three years. This influential series has been packaged together before, but the latest stands out. The new Batman: The Complete Animated Series: Deluxe Limited Edition represents the first re-mastering of the series since its original airing in 1993-95. In addition to getting the series “caught up” in terms of format (Blu-ray), this boxed set includes a digital version, scads of commentary, and two movies—including what many consider one of the best Batman films ever (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm) and the 90-minute documentary The Heart of Batman, providing insight into just how this landscape-transforming series came together. Rounding out the selection are three mini-figurines of Batman, Joker and Harley Quinn from that common Gift Guide inhabitant, Funko, and seven lenticular art cards. So, let Marvel have the big screen for now. This collection is a reminder that on the small screen, DC set a standard that may never be surpassed. —Michael Burgin
5. Community: The Complete Series (Mill Creek Entertainment, $51.80)
In 2016, Paste named Dan Harmon’s Community the 18th best sitcom of all time, and few shows in TV history have engendered such unrelenting passion and fan devotion. We should all be grateful that at 110 episodes, it far exceeded the lifetime of most cult favorites: One need only look to Roswell, Twin Peaks and Veronica Mars, to find shows that didn’t make it near that number (although the latter is returning, marshmallows!) and for every successful cult show, there are likely many more (see: Firefly, Pushing Daisies, Freaks and Geeks) that didn’t make it past 22 episodes. Community was genuinely, unabashedly weird in that all-too-rare unforced way. Blanket forts and paintball were recurring themes, pop-culture references flew with abandon (and were more creative than really any show in history, short of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and there was a kleptomaniacal monkey named Annie’s Boobs. Community featured a cast made up mostly of relative newcomers who became household names and was “the little engine that could,” surviving the departure (and return) of its creator, as well as the loss of several main cast members (some congenial, others not so much). It also introduced legion to the genius that is John Oliver, and was the last regular TV directing work by Anthony and Joe Russo, who left to direct some movie. In today’s increasingly insane world (in a bad way), we all need some of the good kind.
4. The Shield: The Complete Series (Mill Creek Entertainment, $137.29)
Consistently ranked at or near the top of lists of the best cop shows in TV history (we had it at #2), The Shield has been a long time coming to blu-ray. With all sorts of “it will never happen” online chatter, many fans had likely given up hope until a few years ago, when creator Shawn Ryan tweeted that Sony and Fox were going to do new 4K scans of the original 16mm negative (overseen by Ryan) and that the series would be released, he hoped, in time for the 15th anniversary of the pilot, in March 2017. We all know how production delays can happen, especially with undertakings as large as this one, but this December it finally arrives. While the word is often overused, The Shield was truly groundbreaking in many respects, including being on the leading edge of the “quality TV on basic cable” wave. The series also signaled FX’s intention to be a serious player in the original programming arena; when Glenn Close signed on as the female lead in Season Four, it was one of the first modern instances of a major film star taking a lead role in a TV series. While we couldn’t get our sweaty little hands on a review copy (the series hits retail shelves on December 18) the fact that this landmark show is receiving a serious re-master allows one to hope that perhaps the same will happen with Hill Street Blues and Homicide. A guy can dream, can’t he?
3. Go Team Venture! The Art and Making of The Venture Bros. (Dark Horse, $39.99)
There are shows you like and watch every week. You even get emotionally attached to the characters and mourn them when they die. You recommend them to your friends. But at the end of the day, they’re “one-and-done.” You’re unlikely to buy them on hard media or re-watch them, unless it’s as background while you’re cleaning the house. You’re certainly unlikely to buy a gorgeous, hardbound, 376-page, $40 tome detailing the ins and out of everything there is to know about that show. And then there’s The Venture Bros., Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer’s work of unmitigated genius. Like Archer, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The West Wing and a few others, The Venture Bros. actually requires repeat viewings. And now you have a companion book that will give you (or a loved one) insight into the art and themes of the series while doing a deep dive into the, dare I say, hysterical depravity of every single episode of the six seasons to date. Far more than a simple profile of the series and its creators, The Art and Making of The Venture Bros. is the soup-to-nuts of one of the great modern animated series, and answers not only “Who is the Monarch?” but also “Why is The Monarch?”
2. Star Trek: Discovery: Season One (CBS/Paramount, $34.96)
After the franchise’s TV hopes were left on life support, nearly bludgeoned to death by the hit-and-(mostly) miss Enterprise, I was cautiously optimistic when CBS announced that Discovery would launch All Access. It was a good sign that the network thought enough of the show to tent-pole their entry into the streaming world on its success. On the other hand, the series was delayed multiple times, and co-creator and showrunner Bryan Fuller departed a year before the first episode aired. As a result, fans were as nervous as a Klingon in a dump truck full of tribbles. While I definitely experienced some trepidation about how the show was going to explain the many apparent breaches with continuity, Discovery is so well done that my qualms faded and I was able to just go with it. The best sci-fi asks questions of society and challenges the rest of the entertainment industry to keep up: Sonequa Martin-Green is the first woman of color to top-line a Star Trek series, and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Culber (Wilson Cruz) are the first gay couple in Star Trek, with a relationship that’s not a side note, but is front and center. A modern Trek with more storytelling DNA in common with J. Michael Straczynski’s criminally underappreciated Babylon 5 than with TOS, Discovery plays the long game, leaving threads and hints dangling for multiple episodes before tying them up.
1. Game of Thrones Single Malt Whisky Collection and White Walker by Johnnie Walker (Diageo, various prices)
Themed liquor releases can be hit or miss. While many of the Ommegang Game of Thrones beers have been well-reviewed, who can forget the dismal Married With Children petit syrah or the ill-fated Bob’s Burgers Beaujolais? (Just kidding.) While there aren’t many reviews of these whiskies, this release doesn’t seem to be an outright cash grab. Superficially, the eight bottles of the Single Malt Collection, each one dedicated to one of the noble houses (plus The Night’s Watch) are very cool. Also, the distilleries involved, including Talisker (House Greyjoy, natch), Cardhu (Targaryan), Oban (The Night’s Watch) and Lagavullin (Lannister), are world-renowned for consistently turning out some pretty excellent hooch, and the suggested retail prices top out at a reasonable $65 (for the House Baratheon Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old and the Lagavulin 9 Year Old). The big question is, which to buy? Unfortunately, I was only able to sample the Johnnie Walker White Walker blend, which I was instructed to place in the freezer before drinking. “Freezer” and “scotch” are not things that generally go together, so I was dubious—and pleasantly surprised to discover that it was actually a decent drink, the flavor profile changing as it warmed in my glass (and the bottle has a nifty reveal, as it freezes). That said, I’m not sure it’s a value at $40 when, for $25 more, you can get the well-reviewed Lannister Lagavulin (if you can find it). Of course, for the Game of Thrones completist, how good they are may be wholly irrelevant, and there’s little doubt that they’ll sell out and be much sought after in the secondary market. However, for the scotch lovers among us who believe that spirits are meant to be experienced, not trapped in a bottle, there are three or four here that I will be seeking out and enjoying.