The horror... the horror
American Horror Story: The Complete First Season
Most Ryan Murphy series (especially in their later seasons) can be described as horrorshows, but American Horror Story represents his first wholesale immersion in the genre. And you know what? It's pretty good! Sure, there are the usual Murphy-isms to deal with, including inconsistent storytelling, dropped plot threads and some truly obnoxious characters. But the series also boasts a genuinely spooky setting in the form of the so-called Murder House -- a handsome Los Angeles-abode where the bickering Harmon clan (played by dunderheaded patriarch Dylan McDermott, cool mama Connie Britton and irritating teenager Taissa Farmiga) come to repair their fractured family -- as well as a whacked-out sense of humor and at least two or three great "Boo!" moments packed into every episode. Best of all it has Jessica Lange playing the crazy, demon-child loving lady next door, in a loony, go-for-broke performance that's guaranteed to earn her an Emmy on Sunday night. In a smart move, Murphy also chose to end the story on a high note instead of dragging it out for another, lesser year. So when American Horror Story returns next month, it will have a whole new set of characters and storylines. That means you can enjoy Season 1 as a closed book and not dwell on how Murphy would inevitably screw it up in the second year.
Extras: Murphy contributes a commentary track to the bang-up pilot episode and pops up on the making-of featurette as well. There's also a tour of the Murder House, a featurette about the creation of that creepy title sequence and another short doc about the various ghosts haunting the house.
Click here to see our review of the AHS pilot and the season finale
Desperate Housewives: The Eighth and Final Season
The women of Wisteria Lane have survived murders, double-crosses and time jumps, but they ultimately couldn't outrun declining ratings. After eight seasons, ABC's one-time Sunday night powerhouse finally departed the airwaves this past May in typically convoluted and confused fashion. The season-long farewell culminated in a finale that felt like less of a triumphant send-off than a weary "don't shut your door on the way out" exit. So adios, ladies. We'll try to remember the good times, but honestly they were so long ago that we're not sure we can.
Extras: An extended cut of the series finale (wait... that thing was longer?), audio commentaries, deleted scenes, a farewell featurette and two additional behind-the-scenes docs.
Click here to read our eulogy for Desperate Housewives
Gossip Girl: The Complete Fifth Season
With one season left to go, the glossy CW soap Gossip Girl opened its fifth year with Blake Lively's Serena still summering in Los Angeles (wonder if she crossed paths with Ryan Reynolds in between scenes?) and Blair choosing between her princely suitor and bad ol' Chuck. The latter storyline nabbed the spotlight in the 100th episode where Blair actually does become an honest-to-god princess, but is trapped in a loveless marriage as a result. 10 episodes left show... let's make 'em crazy.
Extras: A behind-the-scenes featurette chronicling the making of that special wedding episode, a look back at all the fashions the characters have worn over the years, a gag reel and unaired scenes.
Click here to read our Gossip Girls Season 5 recaps
The Crimson Petal and the White
If you've never read Michel Faber's 2002 novel The Crimson Petal and the White, remedy that as soon as possible. It's a great piece of historical fiction, told with compelling flair and packed with juicy drama. This four-part BBC-made miniseries doesn't completely capture the book's unique tone and fluid storytelling, but it does boast some great performances, starting with Romola Garai as Sugar, the prostitute at the center of Faber's yarn. After catching the eye of frustrated writer and upper class twit William Rackham (Bridesmaids's Chris O'Dowd, in a strong dramatic turn), Sugar becomes a (paid) one-woman man, moving from the whorehouse uptown to a swanky townhouse. But this isn't a Pretty Woman-like happily ever after tale. A variety of complications -- including Rackham's crazy wife and Sugar's decision to volunteer as the new nanny to his little daughter -- ensue, pushing her to a very different kind of happy ending. The first episode is marred by the director's overbearing direction, but the visual style settles down as the series progresses and Faber's addictive plotting takes over. You don't have to have read the book to enjoy the series, but if you do enjoy the series, then you have to read the book next.
Extras: 11 minutes worth of deleted scenes, interviews with Garai and O'Dowd and character biographies.
Also on DVD:
Fred Armisen and Carrie Browstein deliver up more wry deadpan comedy in the second season of their IFC comedy, Portlandia: Season 2, while Seth MacFarlane serves up more pop culture spoofs in the tenth year of Family Guy: Vol. 10. CBS's veteran crime franchise puts the latest seasons of its various series on disc; CSI: The 12th Season found Elizabeth Shue joining the series as Ted Danson's right-hand woman; CSI: Miami: The Final Season bade farewell to David Caruso and his sunglasses; and CSI: NY: The Eighth Season... well, it exists. The last Law & Order series standing, Law and Order: SVU: The Thirteenth Year releases its Christopher Meloni-less thirteenth year. Last but not least, experience '70s jiggle television in all its glory in the form of Charlie's Angels: The Complete Series, which collects all five seasons of Aaron Spelling's camp classic. Or if you're in the mood for something more serious, you can mainline all seven seasons of the Denis Leary firehouse drama Rescue Me: The Complete Series.
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