The long tail of DVD boxed sets

One of the many modern inventions that I love, but mainly only in the guise of my alternative-universe parallel, fantasy version of myself, is the DVD boxed set. In my real life, I "enjoy" TV entirely vicariously, in other words, I see odd moments of it when my daughters are watching something, or I read about it in the media. Hence there are TV series I would love to watch, but my real persona knows that I am never going to actually watch even one TV show, let alone a series.

The wonderful invention of the DVD boxed set is the answer, together with Amazon and the enabling economic power of "the long tail". On Amazon you can just watch the price drop and drop until you can get a whole series of something for peanuts. Then you buy it and wait for life to change so that you have the time to watch it. Occasionally, circumstances allow you to watch a series, eg when I had a foot operation two summers ago and could not walk for a few weeks, I watched 24 series 3. (Naturally, this was before I discovered blogging, or I would have been doing that instead.)

Dave Lull sent me a fascinating article by Mark Lawson in the Guardian Unlimited about this topic. At the end of his article, Mark Lawson lists his ten best DVD boxed sets ever. Obviously I haven’t seen most of them but the list is not bad. 

I would like to collect some recommendations of DVD boxed sets to buy for the parallel me. I’ve already got some of the 24 series and (as yet unwatched) CSI series 1. Please let me know your favourites.

48 thoughts on “The long tail of DVD boxed sets

  1. Oh, I love DVD box sets too and I know what you mean about the rock-bottom price of them if you are prepared to wait. My list goes something like this:
    The Sopranos (I’ve still got series 4 & 5 to watch)
    Black Books – series 1, 2 & 3
    Curb My Enthusiasm

  2. I have been watching the British TV series, “Touching Evil”. I think it was on in the late ’90’s

  3. Given the question, what series would I take with me on a desert island–assuming a DVD–the first thing that pops into my head is Columbo. I love that show.

  4. I love the idea of the box set (I never watch TV, partly b/c it doesn’t have the lovely binge potential of novels, so the notion of being able to watch a whole season in one gruesome weekend seems to me excellent) but I have never actually watched any, I have no television! (Laptop seems to take the enjoyment out of it.) But if I were laid up in bed for a month, here are the series I would watch, in order from most to slightly-less-avidly anticipated: The Wire (this is the one that’s going to make me take the leap); Buffy the Vampire Slayer (can’t believe I never saw a single episode of this); The Sopranos (I have actually seen some of these at one time or another, v. good); 24. There are a few older shows that I adored at the time but have already seen a million times on reruns in the early 90s: namely Star Trek: New Generation…

  5. Thanks for all these suggestions, they are great — have not even heard of quite a few of them. Please keep them coming. I haven’t seen Sopranos (or Buffy) but I have heard such good things about the Sopranos that I will have to one day. Jenny, the other nice thing about DVD box sets apart from viewer control of timing is that you don’t actually need a TV so long as your computer will play DVDs 😉
    Crimefic, no idea what NCIS is but maybe if I visit your blog I’ll find out.

  6. Dave Lull is quite right — I have been watching Brit crime show series (esp. those involving Paul Abbott) for their philosophical depth and complex characters. At first I was interested in the psych as well, but as time went on, that began to thin out — I think partly because psychology itself has turned away from the great Freudian tropes (like repetition compulsion or projection) and towards organic medical theories (Got obsessive/compulsion disorder? Take a pill!)
    I expect that now there will be a wave of PTSD stories as soldiers leave Iraq. Already there was recently a young man who refused to return to Iraq and later committed a relatively minor offense — he was shot to death by a SWAT team who knew he had been a crack sniper for the Marines and therefore feared him.
    But my first box set love — still mostly unbought — is “Upstairs, Downstairs.” I own all the “Anne of Green Gables” episodes right down to “Tales of Avonlea.” The latter, of course, are Canadian.
    I’m getting series DVD through Netflix — one year’s shows on each DVD. The writing shows up far more when seen this way — some of it extremely skillful and rich. I watch each DVD twice (at least) before sending it back and always gain quite a bit the second time, watching while knowing how it will end.
    Both “The Shield” and “Deadwood” left a bad taste in my mouth. So much was ungrounded in anything but sensationalism and a fantasy of what crime is like, plus a kind of worship of corrupt (as opposed to flawed) powerful men and a cynical view of women.
    Prairie Mary

  7. Hi Maxine,
    NCIS (Naval Criminal Intelligence Service), starring the gorgeous Mark Harmon, has been on channel 5, but I missed it. (More here:
    Harmon was in one of my all time favourites, Chicago Hope, and I still haven’t seen the very last season as I don’t think it never aired in the UK. I think the purchase of a DVD set or six, when I next head west would be most appropriate.
    Well enough of my adolescent hormonal (if only) ramblings.
    Happy new year to you and yours Maxine!
    And all the very best in 2007.

  8. Count me in as a Mark Harmon, oops I mean NCIS fan. Anyone else remember St Elsewhere? It launched Denzel Washington as well as MH.. I would recommend Alias season 1 where every episode ended on a cliffhanger. Veronica Mars which has a series long crime arc – to be solved by the teenage VM – and is very witty as well. West Wing of course if only to rewind it to catch the superfast witty dialogue. I bought my mum House season 1 for pennies recently. We’re also working our way through Six Feet Under via box sets.

  9. Hi, Prairie Mary– Yes, Paul Abbott. We ordered “State of Play” from and bought a region-free DVD player to watch that miniseries. It did not disappoint in any way, shape or form. I recommend it to all, partic. those of you in the UK who can easily obtain it. Great acting by Kelly Macdonald, James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, John Simm, and on and on.
    Boxed sets: How we first discovered “The Sopranos,” and then went on to get HBO because the episodes were so good. (I’ve lost steam with them this last year, though. Still extremely well made, but plots are running thin and getting surreal.)
    “Lost,” the first season. I remember seeing about 20 episodes with my family on a rainy weekend in the Poconos — we still refer to that as “The Lost Weekend.” We had rented a house way up in gorgeous, mountainous countryside, and we could do *nothing* outdoors — it poured rain for 48 hours and turned the landscape into a mudscape. We only went out to walk the dog in the rain, then came back in to pop in another episode.
    Off topic: Mary Scriver, did you write a book with “Sweetgrass” in the title? I have such a book on my shelf — well-written personal essays — and a feeling I somehow know you. Perhaps we met at a conference in Laramie, Wyoming, some years ago. Otherwise, can’t fathom the link.

  10. Wow, thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. I loved the first series of St Elsewhere with the gorgeous Mark Harman. He was not in the second series, which therefore was nowhere near as good; after that I think it shifted over to pay TV — I lost track of it, anyway. It was on in the UK in my pre-children days when I still had time to watch.
    At that same time-ish, I loved a US series called Knot’s Landing (a spinoff of Dallas). It “jumped the shark” a few times, but I loved it. That is why I knew I’d love Desperate Housewives before it opened, as it is an updated version of that. (Including Nicolette Sheridan playing excactly the same role). Sure enough, I did like the first series, which I managed to watch courtesy of Cathy recording it for me. I have not seen the second series but confess to giving Cathy the boxed set for Christmas.
    Another series I liked when it was on live was “Law and Order” about the lawyers (not the more recent police one) — Susan Dey, Harry er….Hamlin? Hamlinson? The Greek god anyway. (think Ursula Andress. Or indeed, Nicolette S.) Again, that went over to pay TV after a couple of seasons so I lost track of it.

  11. LOL! The UK chapter of the Mark Harmon fan club has found a home! Watch out Maxine!
    I too remember St Elsewhere, but more because parts of the hospital reminded me of a Victorian built UK hospital, as opposed to remembering the actors!
    Harmon was also in the remake of “Freaky Friday”, or whatever it was originally called, with Jamie Lee Curtis and someone playing the daughter. (OMG, I just looked it up – that was Lindsay Lohan. I wondered what this tabloid and sleb mag star was famous for?!)
    Anyway, FF did not live up to my expectations. Harmon was sidelined and wooden IMHO, with JLC not quite managing the finesse of comedy she achieved in the glorious “A Fish Called Wanda” or “True Lies”, in which she was brilliant.
    But back to “Chicago Hope”. It’s a hospital set drama with many great actors in it and it makes Casualty/Holby City look like Crossroads.
    Maxine, I agree, “Law & Order” is another brill one and with great credibility to Harry Hamlin post “LA Law”. Remember that one? So good when it started and I can still remember the theme tune! But what a love he’s had, as you mention…

  12. Oh, it is me who is confused, Crimeficreader. I meant “LA Law” of course, not “Law and Order”. Thanks for the correction.

  13. ‘Twas not a correction, Maxine. I think that Hamlin went from “LA Law” to “Law & order” via some loin cloth movie stuff! But I may be wrong.
    Perhaps I’m mixing him up with the beautiful Chris Noth who also appeared in “Sex and the City?

  14. Hmmm, have no clue, Crimeficreader! I do know that I enjoyed “L A Law”, but don’t think I have ever seen “Law and Order” or know who is in it, I just got confused about the similar titles. I believe Harry Hamilin was in some Hollywoodised Greek myth (with Ursula Andress, who became Mrs H H pre Nicolette S) well before L A Law. After that, I became distracted by domesticity/drudgery and lost touch with these immortal doings!

  15. Oh my, I am a Mark Harmon fan too!! I was studying my final exams at secondary school when St Elsewhere was on — it was the one hour of TV I allowed myself to watch every week simply for the drool factor.
    He played Ted Bundy in a mini-series on the serial killer. Still thought he was gorgeous though!
    Not seen NSCI but will keep my eye out for it!

  16. Hello Ladies!
    The history of the cast of “Law & Order” remains to be determined, but a UK Harmon appreciation group is gathering nonetheless!
    I’ve liked to think I have been in the company of similar minds for a while, but really, this proves it!
    I have to admit that I bought nearly £70’s worth of DVDs today, (I implied it was a lot less to my dear mother), but the NCIS set is now top of my “to be viewed list”. I really look forward to seeing how well Mr Harmon is doing in his new series and reporting back.
    What an enlightening night, ladies!

  17. Harry Hamlin was in “Clash of the Titans” with Ursula Andress — that’s the loincloth movie y’all are thinking of. Interestingly, Mark Harmon first came to national attention as a football star — he was UCLA’s quarterback in the early 1970s.
    I think Harry H. is gorgeous, but Mark Harmon always struck me as handsome in an all-American way, but nothing to write home about. I wonder if British women like him because he *is* so “all American.” In the way we here in the States love Hugh Grant because he seems so quintessentially English. (How is HG perceived at home? A hottie, or nottie?)

  18. Susan,
    Happy new year to you!
    I’m so glad we have different tastes. Nothing to do with “true American” in my books, Harmon is simply just gorgeous. (Harry H never really appealed to me, as it happens.)
    I think HG was a big hottie who is now sliding the slope to nottie, but I may be wrong. Few new films don’t help (he’s distracted by heiress Jemima Goldsmith, currently on a regime of holidays galore with her!). But he’s never been one of my faves. HG is quintessentially old school, upper middle class, English, yes. But a complete tosser too, in some books. Dare I say that word?
    Coming soon to a beach near you, as opposed to a cinema screen. Enjoy his DVD backlist…
    (The stuff that’s good in it, isn’t necessarily his best either…)

  19. The Freaky Friday with Mark Harmon and Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan is in fact a really good movie. Not because of Lindsay Lohan, mind, but I think Jamie Lee Curtis is very good in it. It’s sweet and funny.
    Lohan was actually in lots of Disney movies before she became whatever she is now.

  20. Howdy Petrona,
    Yes, I’m the author of “Sweetgrass and Cottonwood Smoke,” which is a compilation of “prairie sermons” from my years as a Unitarian Universalist minister in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana. The Edmonton UU Church created an outrigger to their canoe called “Moosemilk Press” but needed something to publish. They asked for the sermons and edited them as a committee, which I gather was quite an ordeal! Mostly they softened the darker stuff. It made money but there were two boxes left over, which are under my bed. I own the rights.
    I’ve never been to a conference in Laramie, but aside from that I used to be pretty active as a UU. Now I’m retired and withdrawn, though I keep an eye on them. Never know what they might do next!
    Prairie Mary
    (Mary Scriver)

  21. Ah the joy of NCIS is awaiting Mark Harmon’s rare smile. Michael Weatherly isn’t bad too, though I prefer him in Dark Angel. I loved LA Law and Harry Hamlin appears as a recurring guest star in the first two series of Veronica Mars, playing a famous, full of himself actor.
    I’ve been following Hugh Grant’s career since watching Maurice in the 1990s (with Rupert Graves). He’s still fairly hotty I think!!

  22. I like Mark Harmon and Hugh Grant, but not so much Harry Hamlin– thick lips!
    Clive Owen, Alan Rickman — either is fine by me. Not so keen on David Thewless, he isn’t bad but not in the Rickman or Neal Pearson class.
    Of course none is a patch on Viggo in Aragoron mode…
    Being the age I am, all the above are slightly Johnny-come-lately. When I was very young I adored Laurence Olivier, followed by Albert Finney, Antony Hopkins (whom I first saw on stage in the NT in “A Woman kill’d with Kindness”), Peter McEnery (Clayhanger and many other similar), Neal Pearson. And when young themselves, Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner were pretty gorgeous. Now this comment is getting out of hand –I must stop now and be serious!

  23. Actually, I have remembered that I also like David Birney, who was also in the first series of St Elsewhere. Anyone heard of him? Know anything else he’s been in?
    Oddly enough, I was scrolling through the paper today and saw that Clash of the Titans, starring Harry Hamlin and Ursula Andress, is on UK TV today (channel 5). Small world.

  24. David Birney was married to Meredith Baxter Birney. They were in a show together called Bridget Loves Bernie in the 70s. They have at least one daughter, who majored, I believe, in classics at Yale.

  25. Being an SF&F fan, I’d recommend the late, lamented “Firefly” from Joss Whedon, Season 2 of “Doctor Who” (part of my Xmas present), “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and “Angel”.
    I am a big fan of David Tennant so I also recommend the non-SF&F series “Casanova” (which he did with Russell T Davies) and “Blackpool”, in which he plays a cop…

  26. Thanks again, everyone, for your eclectic recommendations and to Debra for the arcane info about David Birney! Daughter majored at Yale — with Jodie Foster I wonder or are the ages too different?
    My daughters have both Dr Who boxed sets but I don’t find them that good (the odd episode I’ve seen). Christopher Eccleston (first series) is far better than David Tennant’s knowing, send-uppy, sentimental (re. Rose) version in my opinion, but I am never going to approve of Barty Crouch Jr, whatever he is in.
    I agree that the first few episodes of Cracker were excellent, but it rapidly went off when Christopher E. (of later Dr Who fame) left the series and they softened the character of Cracker from nasty egotist to “old softy”. I stopped watching it at that point. These series usually seem to be good only until they hit the bigtime, then the dreaded ratings formula people take over.
    This happened to “Between the Lines”, which I can recommend, an excellent police procedural first series and not bad second, but by the third (and final) it had lost the plot (literally). That starred Neal Pearson and Francesca Annis, and featured corruption in the Met as well as the inevitable relationship wreckage.

  27. No, the ages are different: Jodie Foster was there before my time, and Kate Birney after. Well, not after exactly. It was 1996 and I had just given birth and was printing out the final copy of my dissertation. My friend Victor brought Rebecca–she was probably a week old–into his class by way of show and tell. I was in his office next door. And I know that Kate Birney was in that class, so that dates it.

  28. Ooh Maxine, if ever you head west and cross the Severn Bridge, you’d better keep this comment to yourself: “…Christopher Eccleston (first series) is far better than David Tennant’s knowing, send-uppy, sentimental (re. Rose) version in my opinion…” I suspect that if he’s not already there, 2007 will see Tennant’s adoption as an honorary Welsh person! He is much loved and much talked about here. And, dare I say it, no one seems to mention Ecclestone these days. I think his one Dr Who series may go down in history as a bit of a flash…
    Last Saturday, I ended up very welcomed into an ongoing conversation between two sales assistants at WHSmith about Dr Who and Tennant. I left with very detailed directions on how to find relevant “the book” in the neighbouring Waterstone’s branch.
    I’ve also heard wonderful stories about the cast and crew for Dr Who. The BBC South East Wales website carries some of them. Children love the involvement that comes frm filming at their school, for example.
    It’s clear: Tennant has been adopted here and is obviously dearly loved.
    Armed with that Maxine, I hope to protect you from lynchmobbing, should you ever come this way…
    I’m with you on Rickman – a wonderful actor and he can do the tango quite well. Also Neil Pearson and the series “Between the Lines” – why on earth did that one disappear? Classic stuff.
    He was recently in “The State Within” on BBC alongside Jason Isaacs (my recent “discovery”) who was in Harry Potter as Lucius Malfoy (thus I guess you’ve come across him, Maxine). A great actor and a pleasure to watch! “The State Within” was onerously complicated when it came to plot, but the production quality and the acting swept it along to great heights. I think there is to be a series two and I hope that if there is, the BBC will schedule it more kindly. (Up against reality TV is not the best time in the UK these days, if seeking ratings to validate the production.)
    Have a look at “The State Within”, Maxine. I think you may like it. Pearson and Isaacs in one programme…
    Lastly, I saw three episodes of NCIS yesterday. Very dry humour and some quirky characters. The home of integrity when it comes to crimes. A sort of mix of the best US crime series but set in the Navy. And kimbofo is right – Harmon has an elusive smile! Looking out for it just adds to the tension. The almost long lost David McCallum is in too, playing a forensic pathologist who gets to play with some very rigid and plastic looking corpse models. (The only downside I could see. They’d have been better off approaching a butcher for realism from what I could see. But I’m not complaining.)

  29. I have just finished (yes,literally about five minutes ago) 24 Series 5 and I am in shock recovery mode. When this series first came out I watched it on TV one hour a week. No way could I do that now, programmes like this have to be watched in blocks and this series took up most of the last few days. Quite quite brilliant.
    Just before Christmas I watched the final series of West Wing, quite the most intelligent and wonderfully scripted programme I can remember. I now have all of these on DVD and will watch over and over again in the future.
    The nextDVD sest I am going to purchase is the complete Miss marple (NOT the ghastly new series) with Joan Hickson as they are pure classics that I never tire of watching.
    I also have all ten series of Friends on DVD.
    I will own up now and say I have NEVER liked Dr Who, ever though I had a quite surreal expeirence once when meting up with some friends at the Albert Hall on a Sunday morning many many years ago. As I walked round the Hall I was suddenly faced with about forty daleks standing in front of me shouting Exterminate Exterminate. They were filming an episode and I had stumbled upon it. Gave me quite a fright I can tell you!!

  30. For more Jason Isaacs — though, I warn you, he’s an even nastier character than usual in this — see “Friends with Money.” Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Keene, & Frances McDormand star in it and then there are their beaux, of whom Isaacs is one. (Interesting movie, with an indie feel, despite all the big stars.)
    On Dr. Who. My dear Bill Nighy was supposed to star in it and then they gave it to Christopher Eccleston instead. Nighy was so nice (too nice, in my opinion), he said, “Oh, I guess they wanted a younger, more handsome guy.” Jeez Louise. I would watch Bill Nighy playing a dead guy. In fact, I have!
    Gotta do the “24” thing, as so many here have. Ditto “West Wing” and “Six Feet Under.” I think the boxed set is a fabulous concept. Maybe I’ll even cancel the outrageous expensive HBO. I could buy two or three boxed sets for every month’s worth of payments!
    PS: Too right about Alan Rickman’s tangoing skills. I saw him in “Private Lives” with Lindsay Duncan and they tangoed away!

  31. Hi Susan,
    “On Dr. Who. My dear Bill Nighy was supposed to star in it and then they gave it to Christopher Eccleston instead. Nighy was so nice (too nice, in my opinion), he said, ‘Oh, I guess they wanted a younger, more handsome guy.'”
    Oh no… That’s bad news. But Tennant has made it his, so good luck to him!
    “For more Jason Isaacs…” – oh yes please & thank you! I’m adding it to my list.
    Re Rickman and tango: I saw him on stage in the 90s with the production of “Tango at the End of Winter” (
    That might not be it, but it was superb at the time!

  32. Well, Crimefic and Michele, I still maintain that anyone who could be Barty Crouch Jr basically has a lot of subsequent catching up to do.
    Eccleston seems to be the kind of actor who likes to do “challengy” things rather than going all out for stardom — hence “Cracker” was great when he was in it but lost focus when he left. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of him.
    Tennant is said to be leaving Dr Who in the middle of the next series, so maybe dear Bill will get his chance then!
    I too loved Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, Elaine. She was so wonderfully understated, she just “was” the part. Better in the part even than the adorable but too eccentric Margaret Rutherford.
    West Wing — I loved the first two series but after that it plummeted I feel, as usual with these series, it was quite edgy at first, but once a ratings winner was on the studio’s hands, sentimentality and whimsicality came in and Rob Lowe went out! (Actually, again in the UK it transferred over to some pay channel after the first 2 or 3 seasons so I stopped watching for that reason if no other).
    I read about “The State Within” when it aired, Crimeficreader, and it does sound up my street (for Neal P reasons among others!). So I’ll watch out for that one in the Amazon DVD sale. Good to hear that NCIS is good after succumbing to your recommendation and ordering it the other night.

  33. The best Dr Who was Tom Baker. Just thought I’d throw that one in:)
    I would think Black Books and Father Ted would be worth getting on DVD because every time I watch those I laugh all over again.

  34. I’m with Clare re: Black Books and Father Ted. I’ve seen every episode about 10 times and I still laugh like it’s the first time!

  35. We love our boxed set of Waking the Dead DVD’s – it’s a fabulous crime series from Britain.
    And we’ve just heard that Unit One is finally available in Australia with English subtitles – it’s a Danish police series and an absolute standout.

  36. The Wire is brilliant in box set form – once you get over Dominic West’s rather peculiar Oirish-American accent.

  37. Thanks, Stew, that’s another one for my old age, then (I think I’ll be about 247 by the time I’ve watched this lot;-) )

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