The DVD market takes a turn toward family

New on DVD

Movies: on screen, DVD/ Video

May 13, 2004|By Diane Werts | Diane Werts,NEWSDAY

Family values of all kinds are suddenly blossoming big on TV DVD. The format that initially mushroomed with sci-fi and cult items is now busy offering us more mainstream series focused on parents and kids, foster parents and kids, kids taking care of younger siblings, even aging parents and their adult kids.

That doesn't mean these shows are kid stuff. From the contemporary best-pals single mom and teen daughter of Gilmore Girls to the sprawling, homespun Depression clan of The Waltons, these sets depict all kinds of family units with different approaches to life in all its permutations.

Gilmore Girls (21 episodes on six discs) actually was developed by the WB in 2000 under the Family Friendly Forum initiative of advertisers supporting programs parents and kids can watch together. Yet, its parent-child structure was definitely out of the box, pairing a cool 32-year-old mom with the smart 16-year-old daughter she'd had in high school. Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel played articulate best friends in a magically convivial Connecticut small town, its appeal enhanced by the wit and intellect everywhere on display there. The snappy first-season set spits out references from Nietzsche to Dawson (of the Creek) with extras that include on-screen factoids throughout the episode "Rory's Dance," along with a short compiling of those verbally dexterous Gilmore-isms. A breezy 22-minute making-of documentary combines interviews and well-chosen clips to illustrate effervescent series creator Amy Sherman Palladino's belief that "audiences are as smart as you will allow them to be."

The Bernie Mac Show (22 episodes on four discs) feels the same way. This single-camera half-hour has always used on-screen visual scribbles and its star's confessional asides to comment keenly on its life-based chronicle of a cranky Hollywood comedian who does the right thing by taking in his troubled sister's three kids. The sleek first-season set also provides audio commentary from the star and creators on the profoundly creative 2001 Fox pilot. A&E's behind-the-scenes "TV-ography" profile is included.

Party of Five (22 episodes on five discs) redefined family without adults at all -- its five San Francisco siblings orphaned by a drunk driver. The first-season foldout set's hour-long "Look Back" at the drama's 1994 Fox beginnings can be almost tediously comprehensive, but it's divided into nine subtitled sections for easy access (and boredom avoidance). Commentaries on three key episodes are nicely done (if hard to find through on-screen menus). Creators Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman talk production on one optional audio track, while the cast warmly reminisces on a separate one.

The Waltons (24 episodes on five double-sided discs) takes us back to the traditional meaning of family TV, with the standard mom-pop-and-kids setup, plus grandparents, all of whom keep things as clean, conventional and honorable as one would expect from the 1930s setting and 1972 premiere date. But this long-running CBS drama was solidly produced, winning five Emmys in its first season alone, including best drama series and lead acting honors for eldest son Richard Thomas and mom Michael Learned. Too bad the first-season DVD foldout set adds no features to honor the series' significance or put its achievements in context.

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