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Satirical TV newsmagazine makes its DVD debut this week
Chevy Chase, left, and Ken Shapiro mime musical orchestrations at the opening of "The Great American Dream Machine" (1971-72), a satirical TV newsmagazine that aired on PBS and is now making its DVD debut. - photo by Chris Hicks
Although its now more than 40 years old, a PBS satirical newsmagazine making its DVD debut this week is still witty and entertaining.

The Great American Dream Machine (SMore, 1971-72, four discs, 11 episodes; four-page booklet). This PBS satire on news events and American life lasted just two seasons, but its fair to say the show influenced the next generation of televisions topical humor. Watching these episodes through the prism of hindsight, there are easily identifiable germs of everything from Saturday Night Live to The Daily Show.

The program also makes good use of an array of recognizable New York actors (Penny Marshall, Charles Grodin), pundits (Andy Rooney with the same cranky editorial shtick he would later do on 60 Minutes, Dick Cavett reading brief, pointed excerpts from Mark Twain and Carl Sandburg) and future SNL regulars (Chevy Chase in white makeup miming instrumental music, Albert Brooks infomercial for the Famous School for Comedians, complete with pie-throwing).

There are man-on-the-street interviews, chats with children (a la Art Linkletter), serious mini-documentaries, wry cartoons and occasionally such offbeat elements as a very short Laurel & Hardy bit and the serious 10-minute black-and-white why-cant-we-all-just-get-along? film, The House I Live In, which won an Oscar in 1945 and stars a young Frank Sinatra included without irony in its entirety.

Obviously, a show like this is going to be hit and miss, but there are lots of fascinating and amusing elements to make it recommendable. (Just ignore the misspellings of Andy Rooney and Stan Laurels last names, on both the on-screen index and the box.)

Downton Abbey: Seasons 1-5 (PBS, 2010-15, 15 discs, 43 episodes, featurettes, tourism promo). The Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) heads the aristocratic Crawley family (though Maggie Smith as his mother steals the show) as it weathers scandals, tragedies, financial difficulties and, of course, World War I, with equal time given to the familys servants. Television serial drama at its best, this British period soap opera from writer Julian Fellowes was an unexpected international sensation from the get-go. Now that things will be wrapping up with the sixth and final season in January, PBS has collected all five existing seasons in this new Blu-ray/DVD box set.

Home Fires (PBS, 2015, two discs, six episodes). With Downton Abbey on the way out, several new British dramas are hoping to fill the void. First, there was Indian Summers and now comes this one, which opens in 1939 against the backdrop of looming World War II. The setting is a small rural village where the men are being recruited and the women are left at home to run a service institute to aid the war effort. The central focus is on two rivals, played by Samantha Bond and Francesca Annis. (A second season is scheduled for next year.)

Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries: Series 3 (Acorn, 2015, two-disc Blu-ray or three-disc DVD, eight episodes, featurettes, photo gallery). Essie Davis stars in this amusing series as the title character, a lady detective in 1920s Melbourne, Australia, who is glamorous to a fault. The show is campy and a bit wacky but nonetheless an enjoyable flight of fancy.

NOVA: Nuclear Meltdown Disaster (PBS, 2015). This hourlong documentary breaks down the events that led to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, as well as a close call at another nuclear plant a few miles away. Plant workers are interviewed in this chilling look at how an even worse disaster was averted. For now.

Red vs. Blue: Season 13 (Flatiron, 2015, 20 episodes, audio commentary, featurettes, outtakes, trailers). These episodes wrap up the Chorus Trilogy of this popular motion-capture animated Web series. Here, the Reds and Blues are stranded on a planet where they must convince two enemy armies to join forces or risk annihilation. (On Blu-ray and DVD.)

Barbie & Her Sisters in the Great Puppy Adventure (Universal, 2015, music video, bloopers). This straight-to-video animated feature (76 minutes) in the Barbie video franchise has her uniting with sisters Skipper, Stacie and Chelsea, along with their pet puppies, for a treasure hunt after they find a map in Grandmas attic.
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