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Top Ten TV Shows Discovered on DVD

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I like TV shows, but I don’t really like watching TV. Yes, the commercials can be tiresome, but they are not really the biggest problem. It’s trying to schedule to watch the shows into my day. Have you ever cancelled plans because you couldn’t miss your favorite program? Of course there is TIVO and VCRs, but that’s not a fun path, either. Have you ever missed your favorite show three weeks in a row, and then you try to go back and watch it, but you never get caught up, so you keep taping it?

While it might leave ad sales executives pulling out their hair and lead to premature cancellation due to lack of viewers, watching TV shows on DVD can’t be beat. At first the idea of releasing TV shows on DVD was to give viewers a chance to go back and get TV series that they may not have seen in a while. Studios at first tapped into niche markets like X-Files and Star Trek. Well, TV on DVD has taken off beyond anyone’s expectations, and there is a new phenomenon of people discovering shows entirely through the DVD release. What this means for the future of television remains to be seen, but here are my top ten favorite TV shows that I never actually watched on TV.

1. 24 – I realize I may be the only person in the country to “discover” this show on DVD. After years of being told I would like it, someone actually decided the best way to get my attention was to give me Season One as a gift, therefore obligating me to watch it. The ploy worked. I devoured the first season in a matter of days, and hungry for more I immediately went out and bought Season Two. Seven weeks later I’m done with Season Four and anxiously awaiting the DVD release of Season Five. I just didn’t know it would be so good: the characters, the plot twists, the tension. It all works. Lesson learned: sometimes when everyone says something is the best show on TV it actually is.

2. Battlestar Galactica – The name Battlestar Galactica is not exactly synonymous with the words “good TV.” So the original series from the '70s was possibly about as bad as it gets, but this new version is about as good as it gets. Forget whether you’re a sci-fi fan, a Star Trek fan, or anything else that conjures up images of major geekdom. It doesn’t matter. Battlestar Galactica is a great show no matter how you look at it. It may be set in space, but it drops anything anyone afraid of tapping into their inner geek may feel uncomfortable with. The show is a tense, action-driven drama with some of the best storylines I’ve ever seen on TV.

3. The Office – UK – If you’ve ever had a job, and maybe even if you haven’t, you’ll find something to relate to in this show. It seems so real, it’s almost uncomfortable at times. Watching office manager David Brent in action is like being stuck in a meeting with that one person at work you wish would never say anything but always does. The show is very funny, and may be one of the best sitcoms I have ever seen. There are only twelve episodes and one Christmas special, but that is all you really need. The show does everything it needs to do and quits on top. You may want more, but you’ll never wish you had less.

4. Arrested Development – Are you watching the funniest show on TV? Too late for that because this show has been cancelled. It will probably go down in history as one of the most critically acclaimed but under-watched shows ever. Now, I know I’m not the only one to have discovered this one on DVD. The writing was clever and funny and it was probably one of the best cast shows ever. Maybe it fell apart a little in the third Season. I only saw bits and pieces of that. I’m still waiting for the DVD.

5. Curb Your Enthusiasm – After seeing it win at the Emmys and Golden Globes every year, I finally decided to check this one out. I would’ve gotten to it sooner, but I didn’t have HBO. Everyone told me that if I was a fan of Seinfeld then I would like Curb Your Enthusiasm, and they were right. Curb is kind of like Seinfeld meets reality TV, except not bad reality TV, but good reality TV. Of course it’s probably good reality TV, because it’s not actually real, it doesn’t pretend to be real, it just looks real. Pretty good. Pretty, pretty good.

6. Dead Like Me – This show was only on Showtime for one and a half seasons, before getting the axe. I rented the pilot on a whim and was immediately hooked. The show is a comedy/drama revolving around a group of grim reapers who are trying to get through the day just like you and me. Sound depressing? It’s not. The show was funny and touching, and the writing and cast were excellent. I was sorry this one didn’t get more time to live up to its full potential.

7. Firefly – This may be one of the most under-appreciated shows of all time. When the show aired on TV the episodes were run out of order, and the show was barely promoted. Granted, the western set in space was probably a huge marketing headache. But we can’t put all the blame on the studio. Though they may not admit it now, many of the show's biggest fans (who also decided to check out the DVD) were reluctant to give the show a chance at first because it drew Joss Whedon’s attention away from the ultra-popular Buffy The Vampire Slayer. This may be the most discovered show on DVD, because it’s the DVD sales that helped get the green light for the big screen spin-off, Serenity. While I don’t think Firefly is the most intelligent or best show I’ve ever seen, it was still very good, and a lot of fun, and should have been given more of a chance to succeed.

8. Lost – I meant to watch Lost on TV. I read the fall TV preview in my Entertainment Weekly and thought it looked interesting. But the premiere came and went, and then the encore of the premiere came and went and my TV never went on. No reason, I just didn’t get around to it. That is why it is the newest show on this list. I watched Season One as soon as it was out on DVD. I loved it. I thought the characters were interesting, and the island intriguing. I was excited to watch Season Two when it premiered the next fall. My excitement lasted about five episodes. The DVDs spoiled me. No commercials and the ability to quickly move on to another episode, if one isn’t that good, is something I had taken for granted.

9. Tru Calling – I acquired this DVD through some kind of online ordering/returning snafu suffered by a family member. I’m not sure what happened, but the end result was they had two copies of Season One and they gave one to me. It’s no surprise to me that this show was cancelled prematurely, because it took me about six or seven episodes to get into it. I could barely give it a chance on DVD, so it’s no surprise viewers stopped tuning in every week. That being said, the show took off about halfway through the first season, and I thought it was one of the best shows I had seen in a long time. Unfortunately a lack of viewers caused the second season to be cancelled after only six episodes and left all the viewers on a cliffhanger. The show left me wondering – was Jason Priestley always this good? A rerun of Beverly Hills 90210 told me the answer was no.

10. Da Ali G Show – What can you say about Sacha Baron Cohen’s take on life in America? Cohen’s interviews with average Americans and politicians (definitely not average Americans) were often hilarious and sometimes uncomfortable. What worked was Cohen’s non-judgmental portrayal of everything. What happened happened. Some people came off okay and some didn’t, most of the time it was just funny.

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.
  • I discovered Carnivale through DVD after it had been cancelled. I’m completely hooked on that show, and now I’m beginning to see that maybe the fact that I got to watch it in the way that I did is the reason why the show had a problem attracting viewers when it was on HBO…the storytelling may have worked better when I got to watch the episodes back to back. Either way, next time you’re at the video store you should check out Carnivale.

  • I thought “Firefly” didn’t really distinguish itself from Star Trek all that much. Being a Star Trek fan, I found too many similarities.

    I discovered “Roswell” on DVD.

  • When 24 debuted, it wasn’t carried on any of the channels that I subscribe to, so I missed out. I began with season 1, episode 1 and was so hooked watching it on a laptop, from files downloaded by a friend. One of the episodes wouldn’t play, so that evening, I ran out and bought seasons 1 to 4 on DVD and watched them all fairly quickly. I haven’t paid any attention to Season 5 and will buy the dvd set in the fall.

    I missed several minutes of the first Lost episode from season 1 and forgot about the show. As the show gained in popularity and critical acclaim, I decided that I would buy seasons 1 and 2 on dvd and watch them this fall, as well.

    I think I’ve seen bits and pieces of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development, but someday I will buy or borrow the dvds. Ditto for Firefly.

    I don’t consider myself to be a big tv watcher. I’ve never seen a complete episode of CSI or any of it’s offshoots or imitators. For years, I’ve been disappointed with television, but it seems as if there’s actually a lot of good shows out there.

  • Dynamo of Eternia

    Probably the biggest for me was Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel.

    When Buffy first started in 1997, I really never bothered watching it. My first reaction was “They are making a TV series out of THAT movie?!” (not that I hated the movie, but it wasn’t particularly great, and didn’t seem worthy of a TV series).

    Then as it went on, I had some friends telling me it is actually good. I wanted to give the show a chance, but I also found out that it had all kinds of story arcs and ongoing plots that made it so that it would be hard to really get into it in the middle of everything.

    So, back around fall of 2002 (I want to say November-ish), I decided to buy Season 1 and 2 of Buffy (both of which had been out for a while). I watched the entirely of both seasons within about a couple of weeks and was hooked! I wanted more! And finally in January of ’03 they released the third season, which I picked up and watched within a week or two as well. A month later the first season of Angel came out, so I picked that up and watched that as well.

    At that point in time, the shows were both still on the air. Buffy was in its 7th & final season, and Angel was on its 4th season (with one more to go). I started watching both series on TV at that point. Buffy wasn’t too hard to understand since most of the characters in that final season had been introduced within the first 3 (there were a few exceptions, but not many). Angel was a little harder, as the bulk of the characters who were around in season 4 didn’t get introduced until season 2, so I found myself a little more lost on that one.

    So, as each season set of both series continued to come out, I would buy them and watch them as quickly as I could, and I eventually filled in the blanks that happened in between the early seasons I watched on DVD and what was happening on the more current TV episodes (and even when I got the DVDs of all of those later seasons, I still watched them as well).

    My greatest record so far: When I got Angel season 2, I began watching it. Then, at the time, I was working a job in which one of my days off was Thursday. Well, on that particular Thursday, I didn’t have much to do. So, throughout the course of that day, I ended up watching 12 episodes from that season.

    As far as other series mentioned in this article go:

    Dead Like Me:
    This is an awesome show. I hadn’t heard of it before, but my now fiance (gf at the time) had heard about it, and picked up season 1 out of curiosity. We watched it together and were hooked on that as well. She then got season 2 when it came out, which was also great. It stinks that it didn’t go on longer, but the last episode was still pretty good. It didn’t completely leave you hanging or anything, and gave the show a sense of closure without making it an definate ending.
    – A particular favorite moment of mine in that series is the episode in which Rube gives Mason a Purple post-it, and Mason freaks out trying to figure out what it meant and what significance it has. That was brilliant.
    -Also, when ever we (my fiance and I) see those collestoral mediciton commercials, we always get excited to see Rube again.

    Tru Calling:
    A great show, horribly marketed, and an even worse time slot.
    I also saw this show on DVD. My fiance and I watched it together after I picked up the first season.

    I never watched season 1 during its original run. I was aware of the show, but it was on opposite Friends which I watched a lot at that time (and it was pretty stupid trying to market a brand new show like this and putting it on against one of the most popular TV shows on the air at the time).

    But, we got hooked on it from watching the DVDs. At that point, we started looking for it on TV again, figuring it would have to be in the middle of its second season. But, she went online to discover that it had been canceled after only 6 episodes were filmed, and at that time they hadn’t aired or been released on DVD.

    Then, they did eventually air them that spring, or I should say, 5 of the 6 episodes (they didn’t air the final Christmas one because they thought a holiday episode in spring would be too confusing or something). However, by the time we even discovered this, we only got to see one of them. Later, they released the second season on DVD. It initially came out as a Best Buy exclusive (then was later sold elsewhere), so I bought it right away when I discovered BB would be carrying it. We were SO mad at the last, cliffhanger episode. I mean, I know the show wasn’t doing well, but would it have been that hard to film one more episode just to finish things off? It’s sad that this didn’t get more of a run.

    Arrested Development:
    This one I actually watched on TV from the beginning. I happened to tune in the night the first episode aired, and became a fan. I have both DVD sets that are out now, and will get the 3rd when it comes out.

    It’s a great show, but a difficult one to get into if you watch any random episode other than the first one. The humor builds over the course of the series. The show was done in a such a way that jokes would be built up over the course of episodes. So, in any random episode, you are getting the punchlines from jokes previously set up, while new ones get set up to have their punchlines delivered later on. This is why the show didn’t get huge ratings, IMO.

    But, I think its perfect for DVD viewing given the nature of the humor. And the last episode of season 3 gave the series a great sense of closure as well. There were rumors of the show possibly coming back on Showtime, but I haven’t heard much in a while, so I assume that isn’t happening. Still, what was made is great and I highly recommend giving it a chance.

  • Imhotep

    In order for Star Trek to resemble Firefly, you would have to remove all evidence of aliens whatsoever, make the federation the bad guys, turn the crew of several hundred sraight-arrow government employees into a half-dozen desperate criminals, and add generous helpings of sex, lesbian and otherwise.

  • Browncoat

    What about Deadwood , that is a killer series.


    I spend a lot of time away from broadcast TV, (and really, am I missing anything?) but upon my return to American pop culture, I have found that I actually prefer to watching a lot of the worthwhile TV shows once they come out on DVD. That way I can watch them at my pace, and I don’t have to spend 4 months finding out what happens next. TV on DVD was made for people snowbound in cabins, travelling by submarine, and guys like me.

  • Ty

    Nice article.

    It is sad that even with your article and EW’s pimping of it, Battlestar Galactica is the best show people are NOT watching. People won’t give it a chance, so they don’t see that it’s not really Star Trek-type sci-fi, but a damn good drama with plenty of politics (a la West Wing and 24), action, etc, and even themes of religion and stuff. It is so good, but it bothers me people are so closed-minded to it.

    I noticed when I went through Emmy posts here and mentioned BSG, I got no support. To me BSG is the biggest Emmy snub of them all.

  • Ty – I agree with you. I think BSG may not be elligble for Emmy’s. I haven’t done the research, but Star Trek TNG seemed to only be elligble for technical awards. Something to do with it being always being considered syndicated.

    I don’t know if BSG is the same.

  • Ty

    No, no, read the articles. BSG IS eligible, it is not considered syndicated.

    Other articles (not blogs) re: Emmy’s have mentioned BSG’s snub for Best Drama.

  • The DVD format gives some shows a chance that the competitiveness of commercial ratings can kill. So, I do give a vote for a Canadian show from the past two seasons that once again the CBC kills (they do that, cancel some outstanding work)–a show called “This Is Wonderland”. Very funny, but at the same time quite accurate view of the civil justice system in action. Based in Toronto.

    OK, an example of the value of DVD breathing life into hidden excellence. I mean, having the whole ‘Nip/Tuck’ broadcasts would be good. I missed all of last season. Is it still a wickedly great show?

  • Mei

    Do yourself a giant favor and watch Freaks and Geeks on dvd. It’s really one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and I watch a LOT of television.

  • Scott Butki

    Great piece. I do this a lot too – I rarely watch anything (besides the Daily Show) when it airs on tv but I’m watching West Wing, CSI and the Simpsons from the first season on via dvds.

    I need to do the same with House and Firefly.

    Fortunately my local library has all of these so it’s free!

  • upsethottie

    Around 1999 a tv series called Popular aired den de ended up cancling it AND LEAVING US HANGING I HATE IT :@