TV On DVD Roundup: The International Edition

February 9th, 2012 11:20am EST

An Idiot Abroad The first TV on DVD roundup has a decidedly more traveled feeling, as I take a look at the BBC's An Idiot Abroad and Acorn Media's Northern Lights, plus more...

I'm of two minds when it comes to An Idiot Abroad, which is another series from the minds of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. The simple description of the premise is that they send their friend Karl Pilkington on a trip around the world...which they generally make difficult for him.

On one hand, I'm a travel buff, so I enjoyed the opportunity to see places in the world I hadn't yet visited, like the Great Wall of China in the first episode and Rio de Janeiro in the sixth. The experience is helped by some great visuals and a solid DVD transfer, which is practically a must for any sort of travel-oriented release.

Yet it's hard to get behind the parts of the show that are clearly Gervais and Merchant trying to mess with Pilkington for their enjoyment (and, one supposes, that of the audience as well). There's having some good-natured fun with your friends and then there's calling them to insist they travel the entire length of the Great Wall of China. In a later episode, Karl is genuinely freaked out by a fireworks festival in Mexico. There are times I just felt bad for the guy, and that's not entertaining.

But, in all fairness, this is Ricky Gervais, who got in trouble for allegedly being too mean-spirited an awards show host. It's not as if he's trying to promote world peace.

For just about $26 (as of this article), you get the entire first series of An Idiot Abroad (which actually aired in 2010). It covers China, India, Jordan, Mexico, Egypt, Brazil and Peru, plus a wrap-up show at the end. The transfer is good, but not great, and the special features are limited to deleted scenes and a photo gallery.

I can't see myself watching this show more than once, and there aren't enough special features on it for me to recommend it as a blind buy. But if you're into travel, it's worth a rental, and if you're a Gervais/Merchant fan, it's an obvious addition to your collection. You can purchase your copy of An Idiot Abroad here.

Read on for my review of Northern Lights...

There's another British program that arrives on DVD today, and it's Acorn Media's Northern Lights: The Complete Collection. when this aired on BBC America years ago, it became an instant family favorite for me and mine, so I'm glad to finally have it to own.

For those of you who missed it, the show stars Robson Green (Wire In The Blood, Touching Evil) and Mark Benton as two guys who were competitive when they grew up together and are still that way as adults. The gist of the original special was the two of them trying to outdo each other's Christmas light displays much to the chagrin of their long-suffering wives (who also happen to be sisters). It seems like a cutesy idea, but it really is fun and funny, and the subsequent outings keep that good humor, although they do start to get a little ridiculous with the premises.

If you only know Robson Green from his dramatic work, you'd be well advised to pick this one up, because he gets to show his comedic talents off. Benton makes a good foil for him, and they play off each other quite well. This is one of those shows that's just a simple good time, and even if it gets a little ridiculous, it's always charming.

The title is a bit unintentionally misleading, because the series started with the one-off special Christmas Lights, and then the two series Northern Lights and City Lights, but they're all included here as is the other special, Clash of the Santas. The only bonus is a behind-the-scenes piece for Northern Lights, but it runs about 45 minutes so at least it's sizeable bonus. The transfer is another solid one from Acorn, the people who have brought you the likes of Rebus, Bonekickers and Midsomer Murders, to name a few.

Right now, this set is priced at $41, which isn't bad considering that you're getting two specials and 12 episodes (which amounts to about 12 hours of programming) plus the bonus, and we're talking about a series that you probably won't see on television again. If you're looking for something light and funny, or something you can watch with your family, Northern Lights is a series you'll be interested in. You can purchase your copy of Northern Lights: The Complete Collection here.

Read on as we go into space...

Another release we saw in January was Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Next Level, a "sampler" for the planned Blu-Ray releases of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Ordinarily, I'd be telling you to avoid buying a preview disc when you'll just have to re-buy the episodes in a season set later on.

I'm not saying that this time, and here's why: firstly, it's going to take a bit for those Blu-Rays to come out, and when they do, they're not going to be cheap. The DVD complete series of TNG still costs around $300 depending on where you look. For those of you who can't or won't sink a huge chunk of change into re-purchasing the show on Blu, this disk has some great episodes (including "Encounter at Farpoint," for example) that you can enjoy for now.

Also, this set just looks ridiculously cool. Here's a video clip provided to me by CBS DVD, which shows just how much difference there will be between TNG on DVD, and TNG on Blu-Ray.

As you can see, it's going to be a fantastic transfer. This sampler disc looks and sounds terrific, which is even more impressive considering that this show was filmed way before Blu was even a thought in someone's head.

Plus, this thing has more languages and subtitles than I can shake a stick at (Castilian?!); this has to be the most accessible release of a TV series I've ever seen. For $15, you might only be getting three episodes, but you're going to enjoy them. You can purchase your copy of The Next Level here.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the first month of 2011 also gave us the release of Justified: The Complete Second Season. I would recommend this show if it came in an unmarked paper bag, because it truly is the best scripted series on television. At some point during season two I felt like I was repeating myself, as I started to run out of superlatives to describe what I was seeing. Margo Martindale won an award for her work in this season and rightly so.

The second-season set has less extras than the first season did, but the transfer is still fantastic (you can really see the level of detail that production designer Dave Blass and his crew put into making California look like Kentucky) and the featurettes that do exist are worth watching. For under $30 on Blu-Ray, this is a steal (and go for the Blu-Ray, as it's well worth the extra bucks for the superior audio/visual quality). Now, if we could get some more commentaries from the talented cast, this would be a perfect set, but as is it certainly comes very close. You can purchase your copy of Justified: The Complete Second Season here.

That's a wrap on my talk-worthy DVD's for the month of January and early February. Stay tuned as I'll be scouring the interweb for the best TV on DVD releases to bring you each month!

(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.

Related: Karl Pilkington, Ricky Gervais, Robson Green, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Starpulse Exclusives, Television, Video, Family, Comedy, Drama, Previews

© 2012

Photo Credits: BBC, Acorn, CBS, FX

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