Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 28 January 2015

The 50 Best TV Boxsets

The Wire: the Complete Series 
Virtually every TV critic in the country has described it as the greatest TV show ever made, and combined with the fact that it was shown here on the relatively obscure FX channel, it's hardly surprising that The Wire has really taken off on DVD. Over five series, the show takes you through the inner workings of Baltimore, and its wide scope ranges from the detectives in the homicide department to the drug dealers on the corners. If you haven't yet succumbed to the hype then do so - you are in for a treat. 
How much: £124.99
The Wire: the Complete Series
Virtually every TV critic in the country has described it as the greatest TV show ever made, and combined with the fact that it was shown here on the relatively obscure FX channel, it's hardly surprising that The Wire has really taken off on DVD. Over five series, the show takes you through the inner workings of Baltimore, and its wide scope ranges from the detectives in the homicide department to the drug dealers on the corners. If you haven't yet succumbed to the hype then do so - you are in for a treat.
How much: £124.99
Blackadder: the Complete Collection
Blackadder brought together a group of writers and performers that we now recognise as some of the biggest names in British comedy, including Rowan Atkinson, Ben Elton and Richard Curtis. Every last minute of Blackadder, from the Middle Ages to the Great War, is collected in this comprehensive, six disc set. Featuring not only the four full Blackadder series, but also a making-of documentary and special episodes such as Blackadder's Christmas Carol. Bargain price, too, considering the hours of pleasure it contains.
How much: £59.99
David Lynch: the Lime Green Set
Immersing yourself in the world Of David Lynch is not a prospect to be taken lightly, but if you're up for it, this nine-disc collection will definitely scratch that Lynchian itch. All the favourites are there, from his first feature, Eraserhead, through to The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, and most come with previously unreleased footage. Extra highlights include the director's collection of short films, his collection of animated shorts and a filmed version of a play by Lynch.
How much: £86.79
How much: £29.99" >
The Richard Dawkins Collection
The evolutionary biologist and pugnacious critic of creationism Richard Dawkins doesn't pull any punches in this divisive three-part series. In The Genius of Charles Darwin, Dawkins, who is reviled by religionists worldwide, celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's theory of evolution, before examining the backlash against what he describes as the most powerful idea to occur to a human mind. In The Enemies of Reason, he debunks the myths of alternative remedies, and in Root of All Evil?, he warns of the danger of religion in the 21st century asking people of reason to say, "Enough is enough".
How much: £29.99
The Sopranos: Complete Season 1-6 Deluxe Edition
Mob films have a long and proud history, but it is television that has provided us with Tony Soprano, the Don Corleone of our time. This beautiful boxset - which looks more like a coffee-table book - contains all six seasons of The Sopranos, a show that not only covers the violent and criminal aspect of the mafia but also the day-to-day problems faced by Tony, such as his rebellious teenage children and a raging mid-life crisis.
How much: £129.99
How much: £199.99" >
Seinfeld: the Complete Series
Only ever broadcast in a graveyard slot this side of the Atlantic, this sitcom "about nothing" - featuring the titular comedian and his good-for-nothing gang of fictional pals - has nonetheless proved immensely popular on DVD. This 33-disc Complete Collection, featuring all of seasons one to nine and a host of rewarding extras - including a 226-page coffee- table book - was released in 2007. Jerry Seinfeld's co-writer Larry David has gone on to star in his own superb semi-autobiographical sitcom, Curb Your Enthusiasm.
How much: £199.99
The Ultimate Oliver Stone Collection (13 Discs)
Although they are fiction, Oliver Stone's films provide an energising narrative introduction to some of the major events and the feel and tone of America's last 50 years. Includes Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Natural Born Killers, the director's cut of JFK and Oliver Stone's America, a documentary interview in which he comments on his work.
How much: £44.99
Louis Theroux: the Strange & the Dangerous
Deploying his trademark offbeat and unconfrontational interviewing style, the inimitable Louis Theroux delves into the unsavoury and dangerous in this series. The strangest episode of the set, and by far the most disturbing, is Louis and the Most Hated Family in America, where he travels to the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka. The church's followers, including young children, are loathed for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.
How much: £24.99
The West Wing: the Complete Series
Celebrated for its quick-fire dialogue and high production values, The West Wing is a fascinating, albeit slightly idealised, drama about the inner workings of the team behind the most powerful man in the world - the President of the United States. With intelligent but loveable characters, it is never afraid to confront difficult and serious issues while still managing to entertain.
How much: £159.99
How much: £19.99" >
The Day Today
The news spoof that kick-started the television careers of Chris Morris, Steve Coogan and Armando Iannucci, among others, The Day Today is an essential collectors item for fans of their later work, such as Brass Eye, I'm Alan Partridge and The Thick of It. This great value boxset features all six original episodes and a handful of extra gems, including a complete version of The Pool documentary, starring Coogan and playwright Patrick Marber: "In 1983, no one died!"
How much: £19.99
The Vengeance Trilogy
The key to investing in boxed sets is to weigh up the re-watchability factor. You will find something new in every viewing of Park Chan-Wook's dark, inventive trio of Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance. The narratives are unflinchingly challenging and the pervasive tense atmosphere redolent of a Murakami novel.
How much: £35
Band of Brothers
The reunion of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg on a new Second World War project after Saving Private Ryanwas always going to be something special, but the fact that Band of Brothers was made for television over 10 episodes means the true story of Easy Company can be told in great depth. With a flawless cast - including Damian Lewis and David Schwimmer - the series also features moving present-day interviews with the survivors.
How much: £59.99
Spaced: 3-Disc Collectors' Edition
Simon Pegg is now a Hollywood star thanks to his movie creations Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (he's appearing as Scotty in this Summer's re-boot of the Star Trek franchise). But the cult show that launched him as a comedy writer and actor of distinction was Spaced, about a mismatched pair pretending to be a couple in order to rent a London flat together. The premise might be simple, but the comedy is rich with popular-cultural references, and each episode is based on a classic film, as the commentaries and assorted extras in this complete set explain.
How much: £29.99
Johnny Depp
What's not to like in a box full of Johnny Depp movies? This collection shows Depp's range well. Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, often dubbed a modern-day Western, also stars Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, John Hurt and Robert Mitchum in his final role. It's been placed in the Cormac McCarthy fold and deserves a closer look. Also includes Arizona Dream, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Sleepy Hollow and Lost in La Mancha.
How much: £34.99
The Life Collection: David Attenborough
This box set goes to show why Sir David Attenborough is an irreplaceable national treasure. Bringing together for the first time, in over 70 hours of incredible viewing, all of the epic Life series, David Attenborough: the Life Collection is a testament to the broadcaster's on-screen career. Its highlights include Life on Earth, Life of Birds, Life of Mammals and The Living Planet. Even better, this series is on offer at Amazon, Play and the BBC Shop for almost half the recommended retail price. Worth every penny.
How much: £169.99
24: the Complete Seasons 1-6
Winning attention for its famously innovative structure (the action unfolds in real time, with each 24-episode series taking place over one day), 24's addictive storylines makes it a key purchase for your DVD boxset collection. Kiefer Sutherland is Jack Bauer, a Federal Agent who keeps finding that he's required to save the day, which from series to series involves stopping Los Angeles from being blown up, preventing a deadly virus from being released and saving a Presidential candidate from an assassination attempt. Exhilarating.
How much: £169.99
Alfred Hitchcock Boxset
Hitchcock heaven this one - all the classics and a few more besides at an unbelievable price. Psycho is the special-edition disc but you'll have to watch The Birds and Rear Window back to back to make up for the glaring absence of North by Northwest. But that's the thing with Hitchcock - he made so many great films it's hard to fit them all into one boxset.
How much: £99.99
The Michael Palin Collection
In this collection, Michael Palin proves again that he is the perfect companion for the armchair traveller, boasting a charming mix of old-school English charm and eccentric humour with a sharp mind and view of the world around him. The ex-Python clearly relishes exploring the world around in him this hefty 16-disc collection, which includes seven hours of newly shot interviews, Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Full Circle, Sahara and Himalaya as well as the lesser known Hemingway Adventure and Great Railway Journeys, both of which are new to DVD.
How much: £69.99
Gossip Girl: the Complete First Season
They may be bitchy, glamorous and impossibly rich, but Manhattan's teenage elite and their scandals sure make for compelling viewing. Created by Josh Schwartz of The O.C. fame, Gossip Girl is one of the sharpest teen dramas to grace our screens, and behind the gloss lies some extremely good performances including Brit Ed Westwick, who steals every scene he's in as the dastardly schemer Chuck Bass.
How much: £29.99
How much: £39.99" >
Summer Heights High & We Can be Heroes
Antipodean comedy is so hot right now, with New Zealand's funniest folk musicians Flight of the Conchords into their second season on HBO. Chris Lilley, who created and starred in this pair of mockumentary series, is Australia's answer to Ricky Gervais. We Can be Heroes follows six characters competing to be "Australian of the Year", while Summer Heights High chronicles a term at a fictional high school. Lilley plays all the major characters to perfection, including monstrous drama teacher Mr G and bitchy schoolgirl Ja'mie.
How much: £39.99
John Pilger: Documentaries That Changed the World Don't let yourself be deterred by the bombastic- sounding title or its somewhat cheesy-looking packaging, for John Pilger's work is first-rate investigative journalism. From the hard-hitting From Year Zero - the Silent Death of Cambodia (1979) and Burp! Pepsi v Coke in the Ice Cold War (1982) to the heart wrenching Paying the Price - Killing the Children of Iraq (2000) and Stealing a Nation (2004), these 12 programs constitute some of the best political documentaries ever made. How much: £29.99
Skins: Complete First and Second Series
It has been decried by its critics for being voyeuristic in its celebration of adolescent bad behaviour, and to be honest Skins does have more than its fair share. Binge drinking, drug taking, casual sex - all are regular occurrences in the lives of these Bristol youngsters in Channel 4's teen drama. However, behind this (at least in the first two series which are collected here) lies a wonderful ensemble cast playing characters with real depth, a rarity for British youth TV.
How much: £39.99
Family Guy: Complete Seasons 1-7
Seth MacFarlane's animated sitcom was cancelled twice, in 2000 and 2002, but holds the distinction of being the first show ever resurrected on the basis of blockbusting DVD sales. The tangential tales of life in the Griffin household are often hailed by fans as funnier than The Simpsons. Praise, indeed. Beginners should invest in this bumper collection of the first seven seasons. Family Guy veterans, on the other hand, may wish to plump for the show's feature-length Star Wars spoof, Family Guy Presents Blue Harvest.
How much: £129.99
The Luis Buñuel Collection Box Set
Another master, like David Lynch, of the spooky and the surreal, Buñuel virgins and aficionados alike should take advantage of this bargain collection. Buñuel pioneered the Surrealist movement in the film world and his political and social critiques still ring true today. Belle de Jour is the easiest watch for Buñuel beginners, but the set would benefit from the inclusion of Viridiana.
How much: £49.99
The BBC Shakespeare Collection
Thanks to the large number of Hollywood adaptations of his plays, it is likely that somewhere in your DVD collection is a filmed version of a Shakespeare play. However, sometimes it is nice to forgo flashy production and let the words speak for themselves, which is what the BBC have done with this massive collection of all 37 of Shakespeare's plays - filmed between 1978 and 1985 - with fantastic performances from such formidable thesps as Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud.
How much: £199.99
Extras: the Complete Boxset
Assuming Ricky Gervais fans are already in possession of every episode The Office had to offer, the next item on their shopping list ought to be this complete set of Gervais and Stephen Merchant's sophomore creation, Extras. Like its predecessor, this comic treatise on celeb culture rewards repeat viewings. And by the time you get to the final special episode, the celebs themselves seem to be falling over each other to make their cameo appearance.
How much: £39.99
Pedro Almodóvar Collection
Almodóvar's more recent films, the ones in this collection, are the best known over here, but they are also the most mainstream and accessible. This set would make a great gift to introduce someone to the vivacious Spanish director. The five discs are Bad Education, starring the good-enough-to-eat Gael García Bernal, TieMeUp, Tie Me Down, with Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril, Live Flesh with Javier Bardem, All about My Mother, which catapulted Penélope Cruz to Hollywood, and Talk to Her, which won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.
How much: £59.99
Coast Series 1, 2 & 3
Discover the secrets of the British coastline with over 1,600 minutes of geographic and historical soft-porn in the first three series of this Bafta award-winning documentary. Presented by a team of history and geography experts including Neil Oliver, Nicholas Crane, Alice Roberts and Scrap Heap Challenge's Dick Strawbridge, Coast celebrates the unique character of this island nation with some truly fantastic photography and aerial views.
How much: £59.99
Heimat: a Chronicle Entourage Seasons 1&2 of Germany
Heimat, a German word meaning homeland, is Edgar Reitz's epic trilogy telling the tale of family life in one small German village. Spanning the generations from the end of the First World War to the present day, the films place personal and domestic life against glimpses of social and political events. But despite reportedly being Stanley Kubrick's favourite film, Heimat came in for criticism for its selective interpretation of German history - omitting any mention of Germany's economic difficulties or the Holocaust.
How much: £199.99
How much: £29.99" >
Entourage Seasons 1&2
HBO doesn't just do groundbreaking drama, it does groundbreaking comedy, too (think Sex and the City), and this "dramedy" about a young film star and his friends is a shining example. Based on the true-life antics of Mark Wahlberg's gang when he first arrived in Hollywood, Entourage has real stars lining up to appear alongside the fictional Vinnie Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his eponymous entourage, which includes super-agent Ari Gold, played by the Emmy-winning Jeremy Piven.
How much: £29.99
Spike Lee Spike Lee's rule-breaking career in independent film is covered well with these three films: She's Gotta Have It, his debut feature, depicted black urban lives rarely seen before on screen. Malcolm X stars Denzel Washington, and Lee reinvigorates the story for a contemporary audience. Summer of Sam captures the New York psyche in 1977 when a serial killer strikes. How much: £54.99
Mad Men: Season One
With its dapper suits, sexist men and the endless smoking of cigarettes, the first series of MadMen perfectly captures the feel of America around 1960. Set in Sterling Cooper, a fictional advertising agency in Manhattan, this HBO series is not only wonderfully stylish but sharply written with intriguing characters - especially the agency's star man, Don Draper, and his wife, Betty.
How much: £29.99
Peep Show Series One to Five
Perhaps the funniest British sitcom since The Office, Peep Show presents the innermost thoughts of two mismatched flatmates, Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb), As we see the world through their eyes. Best friends but persistently at each other's throats, the pair's antics are still essential viewing after five series, thanks to two wonderful performances and the sustained brilliance of the scripts, by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. A sixth is in the works.
How much: £49.99
Stanley Kubrick Collection
Stanley Kubrick's life was as intriguing as his films, so the documentary disc in this collection is a welcome insight into the man, despite some uninspiring narration from Tom Cruise. All his masterworks are here: 2001: a Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, Lolita, Barry Lyndon, Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut and Dr Strangelove. Worth calling in sick for.
How much: £37.99
Earth: the Power of the Planet
Dr Iain Stewart tells the compelling story of how Earth works and how, over the course of 4.6 billion years, the great forces of ice, the oceans and volcanoes have made it the place it is today. The series makes extensive use of satellite imagery to reveal new views of our planet and, as well as being laced with global science facts, it deploys time-lapse filming over many months to bring our planet to life.
How much: £19.99
This Life: Complete Series 1&2
It's hard to believe that it's been more than a decade since we first tuned into the lives and loves of these young lawyers, but with this box set you can relive the programme that kept so many Britons glued to the screen in the 1990s. With its portrayal of the lives of twentysomething young professionals in London, this was a landmark series for the BBC and brought to our attention such stars as Andrew Lincoln and Jack Davenport.
How much: £49.99
Father Ted: the Definitive Collection
Writer Graham Linehan's latest creation, The IT Crowd, recently won an International Emmy Award, but the comedy that made his name - and many others' - was Father Ted. Frustrated village priest Ted lives with his colleagues Dougal and Jack, and housekeeper Mrs Doyle, on the remote Craggy Island off the west coast of Ireland. How could hilarity fail to ensue? This box set has plenty of added value, with extensive extras including a documentary about the annual Father Ted festival, Tedfest.
How much: £49.99
Tribe: Complete Series 1-3
Former Royal Marine Bruce Parry sheds the comforts of Western existence and heads off to the furthest reaches of the planet in search of adventure. Living among the world's embattled tribes, Parry takes gonzo-journalism to a whole new level in some of the world's most remote rainforests and jungles, adopting the working methods, tribal practices and, in one case, hallucinogenic drug consumption of the indigenous people he stays with.
How much: £34.99
Agatha Christie Poirot: the Complete Collection
If you are a fan of classic murder mysteries, then this will be your dream boxset - 28 discs containing 61 episodes of sleuthing from Agatha Christie's Belgian detective, played definitively by David Suchet. His great performances, ably supported by a long list of guest stars, make each of these period mysteries a real treat. Released next month.
How much: £156.99
30 Rock: Season 1
Written by and starring Tina Fey, who made waves in 2008 as Sarah Palin's comedy doppelgänger, 30 Rock is one of the most acclaimed sitcoms to emerge from the US in years. Set behind the scenes on a sketch show closely resembling Saturday Night Live (for which Fey was once head writer), it features a career-topping turn from Alec Baldwin as executive Jack Donaghy, and a career-making one from Jack McBrayer as Kenneth, the sweet but naive studio tour guide.
How much: £34.99
Satyajit Ray: The Apu Trilogy
If you caught Slumdog Millionaire fever, you'll love Satyajit Ray's The Apu Trilogy. Set in Bengal in the late Fifties, the three films chart Apu battling caste prejudice and poverty as he reaches maturity, tackling tricky issues with a more sensitive but far more probing hand than Slumdog. Prepare for some weeping.
How much: £49.99
Brideshead Revisited: Collector's Edition
The recent movie version of Evelyn Waugh's classic tale of the British upper classes between The World Wars was never going to stand a chance against this lavish and fondly remembered ITV production, which stretches over an epic 11 hours. Amid beautiful scenery, Jeremy Irons is perfect as Charles, but it is Anthony Andrews's Sebastian - complete with his famous teddy bear - who is the real star.
How much: £39.99
The Guillermo del Toro Collection
Guillermo del Toro manages to create a disturbing mishmash of a world - part claustrophobic and spooky, part sci-fi fantasy and part pure horror. This set has Cronos, a gore-filled horror, The Devil's Backbone, produced by Pedro Almodovar and Pan's Labyrinth, a wonderful but chilling fantasy set against some of the worst atrocities of the Spanish Civil War.
How much: £29.99
Shameless: Series 1-5
The Chatsworth Estate, Paul Abbott's fictional working-class home in Manchester, has not only introduced us to the acting talents of James McAvoy and Anne-Marie Duff, but also brought Frank Gallagher into the world - a foul-mouthed drunk who undoubtedly is the star of the show. A peculiarly British creation, the Bafta-winning Shameless has never been matched for its wit and humanity.
How much: £69.99
Jonathan Creek: Complete Series
British detective shows are 10 a penny, but Jonathan Creek is a true original of the genre where the fun is not in working out who or why, but how. If the recent Christmas one-off made you feel nostalgic for Alan Davies's improbable crime buster, ably supported first by Caroline Quentin and then Julia Sawalha, this collection of the original four series will make perfect viewing with its endlessly inventive mysteries and black humour.
How much: £74.99
The Blue Planet
The Blue Planet charts previously unseen area of the ocean and delves into life deep below the waves. Its eight episodes, long in the making and filmed at over 200 locations, make full use of the arsenal of cutting-edge technology available to the BBC and are well deserving of their numerous Emmy and Bafta awards. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough - taking a brief break from his Life series - the collection includes three new programmes explaining how many of the incredible images were captured.
How much: £29.99
How much: £33.99" >
The Mighty Boosh: Special Edition DVD
If you don't get the joke yet, perhaps you never will, but for those countless fans who can't get enough of The Boosh, this boxset is an indispensable addition to the collection. As well as three series of Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt's outlandish comic creation, the set boasts two and a half hours of documentaries, interviews, deleted scenes and special "in-character" extras.
How much: £33.99
Richard Pryor
It is easy to forget Richard Pryor's films over his straight comic output, but these four are sure to put a warped smiled on your face. Car Wash is a disco musical written by a young Joel Schumacher, Stir Crazy lampoons a couple of Broadway stars trying to find themselves in the deep South, in Brewster's Millions, Pryor tries to spend $30m in 30 days and in See No Evil Hear No Evil police try to solve a murder involving a blind man and a deaf man.
How much: £19.99
The World at War
First broadcast in 1973, and narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier, The World at War became the definitive television history of the Second World War. Using previously unseen footage, rare colour film and interviews from the likes of Albert Speer and Vera Lynn, it is a fine example of the documentary form. This boxset includes six special programmes filmed three years after its original release, unseen interviews, a history of The World at War, songs and newsreel and military maps.
How much: £99.99
Roots: 30th Anniversary Edition
This landmark mini-series about African-American history was hugely popular in the 1970s in America - over 130 million watched the television adaptation of Alex Haley's best-seller, and its finale still has the third highest ratings of any entertainment program. This set, released in 2007 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the show, is vital if you want to own a piece of true television history, and comes with two documentaries on the show.
How much: £29.99

From Baltimore to Brideshead, from John Pilger to Richard Pryor, our TV addicts pick the sets that will keep you glued to the sofa

>> Click the image to the right to launch the 50 best boxsets.

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