Topping the list of this week’s releases is the HISTORY Channel drama Sons of Liberty, which is available on both Blu-ray and DVD. The highly-rated series, based on true stories, follows the destinies of a group of different men who come together to fight for freedom in the American Revolution. Not rated, it would merit a TV-14 rating because of several no-nudity sex scenes, heavy realistic violence, and drinking and smoking. That’s no surprise, because in reality the Minutemen were having a few at Buckman’s Tavern prior to that shot that was heard round the world. It stars Ben Barnes as Sam Adams, Henry Thomas as John Adams, Jason O’Mara as George Washington, Dean Norris as Ben Franklin, Michael Raymond-James as Paul Revere, Ryan Eggold as Joseph Warren, and Marton Csokas as Gen. Thomas Gage.
History gets a little more distorted—make that a LOT more—in Yellowbeard, a takeoff on pirate movies starring Monty Python’s Graham Chapman as the title character and featuring a high-powered cast of comic actors, among them Cheech & Chong, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, John Cleese, Kenneth Mars, and Marty Feldman. It’s eccentric and erratic and you walk away from it thinking that it probably could have been funnier, but Monty Python fans ought to get a kick out of it. In this one, Capt. Yellowbeard is allowed to escape from prison in the hopes that he’ll lead authorities to his treasure. But he’s in for a shock. His wife never mentioned that he has a 20-year-old son who’s (of all things) an intellectual, which complicates a Great Race to get to the treasure before his old crewmates or the British navy. Yellowbeard comes to Blu-ray for the first time this week and is rated PG, though you’d have to say that the censors were being overly generous. There’s some brief frontal nudity and comic references to rape, plus comic gore and violence—at least enough to merit a PG-13 rating nowadays.
For safer, more wholesome family fare that doesn’t list so far to starboard, there’s The Wonder Years: Season 3, starring Fred Savage as the narrator Kevin Arnold, who talks about growing up during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in a family with an uncommunicative father, a doting mother, a hippie sister, and an older brother who takes delight in picking on him. Add a brainy best friend and a first (and second, and third) love, and it all adds up to one of television’s best coming-of-age family comedy-dramas. This season Kevin meets an older girl during summer vacation, butts heads with an unreasonable teacher, tries to help Winnie get over her stage fright when they’re all in a play together, takes a break from best-pal Paul, gets his first pimple, learns a lesson about cheating, joins a band, gets a dog, struggles in glee club, builds a treehouse with his dad, and has to deal with an awkward moment when he and Winnie are invited to a make-out party. Meanwhile, the Apollo 13 astronauts are in trouble and the series cranks out its trademark classic music from the times. The Wonder Years: Season 3 is only available on DVD.
Another third season sitcom comes to DVD this week: Welcome Back, Kotter, with comedian Gabe Kaplan playing a teacher of group of low-achieving hard cases nicknamed the “Sweathogs.” Kotter was once a Sweathog himself, and feels the need to help students like the cocky womanizer Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), the goofy and goofy laughing Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), the supercool Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and the master of excuses Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes). Marcia Strassman played Kotter’s wife, Julie, while John Sylvester White was Sweathog nemesis Principal Woodman. The season opener is a flashback clip show from the first two seasons, so it’s pretty easy to get up to speed. This season the Kotters become parents, the Sweathogs enter the lottery, the group tries to deprogram Horshack after a cult gets their hooks in him, Mr. Woodman writes a novel that’s based on the Sweathogs, and Barbarino’s new love threatens to come between him and the gang.
The ‘70s and ‘80s were a golden age for TV private detective series, and a good one comes to DVD this week: The Rockford Files: Complete Series, starring James Garner as an ex-con turned P.I. who’s about as easygoing as it gets. Noah Beery Jr. plays his father, Rocky, while Joe Santos is Rockford’s friend and contact at the local California police department and two-time Emmy winner Stuart Margolin is a fellow ex-con who was also a friend. Rockford preferred to use his wits and avoid a fight whenever possible, and with Magnum, P.I. it was one of the most popular TV detective shows of the era. But your family has to like lighthearted P.I. series and older TV shows. All 122 episodes are included from the series’ 1974-1980 run. The Stephen Cannell production won a Primetime Emmy in 1978 for Outstanding Drama Series, while Garner won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series the previous year.