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“I think crime pays. The hours are good, you travel a lot.”

—Virgil Starkwell (Woody Allen), Take the Money and Run (1969) screenplay by Woody Allen and Mickey Rose


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Holiday Gift Guide 2012: Picks for TV lovers

Written by Kevin Burton Smith

 

harryo_firstseasonHarry O: The Complete First Season
Warner Archive, $59.99, 6-disc set

If Peter Gunn was the cool private eye, Harry O was the grumpy, cantankerous, uncool everyman, a misfit Eeyore (played with an gruff panache by David Janssen), limping along the sun-bleached beaches of SoCal, looking for answers he’d never find. Harry was so uncool he didn’t even have a car for much of his show’s run—he would take the bus. The bus! Harry O: The Complete First Season brings together the first year of one of the all-time great private-eye series, second only to (and at times surpassing) its contemporary, The Rockford Files. This tight, evocative drama aimed for a sustained melancholia and world-weary compassion that, in its own way, played as fast and loose with genre rules as Jimbo did, while coming about as close as television has ever come to the poetry of Chandler. Rockford could make you laugh; Harry could make you cry.

 

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In Plain Sight: Season Five
Universal Studios, $29.98, 2 discs

Often dismissed as a wayward Lifetime movie, In Plain Sight: Season Five is a neglected gem from the USA Network that has—despite occasional dips into soap opera territory—proven to be one of the most complex and rewarding character studies of a woman in recent television history. Sure, the will they/won’t they romance between hard-nosed US Marshall Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack) and her dopey, erudite partner Marshall Mann (Frederick Weller), at the Albuquerque branch of the Witness Protection Program, gets unnecessarily cute at times, and certainly the endless squabbles among Mary’s dysfunctional family fairly drip with mawkishness, but at its dark, hard core, this show’s all about how the lives of everyday citizens can take random and terrifying turns. Even the final season’s at-times-sitcom-ready pregnancy arc, and its predictable themes of redemption and growth, can’t ward off the surprising emotional wallop of the final episodes. A witty, smart finale to a consistently engaging and often excellent crime drama.

 

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Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season
Sony, $55.99, 4-disc boxed set

Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season is the ultimate finale to one of the most addictive crime shows ever, a morality play played out against the crystal-meth underworld that bypasses right and wrong completely and takes us straight to hell, with brief pit stops to admire all the good intentions, as family man and former high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) squares off against his drug-lord boss for control of the lucrative meth market. This DVD set features every episode of the award-winning season, including the jaw-dropping final episode, 60 minutes so explosively audacious and right that viewers were left stunned. Followed almost immediately as it was by the news that this was not the series’ conclusion, you’ve just got to wonder what on earth series creator Vince Gilligan can possibly do for an encore.

 


(For more about Mystery Scene contributor Kevin Burton Smith, please visit Our Contributors page.)