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Book of Negroes, Manhattan arrive on DVD this week
Aunjanue Ellis and Cuba Gooding Jr. star in the TV miniseries "The Book of Negroes," now on DVD. - photo by Chris Hicks
The acclaimed TV miniseries The Book of Negroes and a new show set in the 1940s about the Manhattan Project have been released on DVD this week.

The Book of Negroes (eOne/DVD, 2015, three discs, six episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes; 28-page booklet). There are some obvious comparison points with the acclaimed 1977 TV miniseries Roots (including one of that shows stars, Louis Gossett Jr.), but The Book of Negroes based on the Canadian novel by Lawrence Hill and directed by Canadian filmmaker Clement Virgo, with a script on which they collaborated takes a distaff point of view and allows the story to leave the South and move into the East Coast and Canada.

We first see Aminata as a child in West Africa in the mid-1700s, where she is kidnapped, taken to America and sold in South Carolina. From the second episode on, the adult Aminata (Aunjanue Ellis) is determined to better herself and ultimately return to her native land. But its a hard road, of course, as she is brutalized by her owner, separated from her husband and child, and goes through many more harsh experiences while trying to keep up her spirits and focus on her goal.

This is not unfamiliar territory, of course, and some scenes are rough (though not as rough as 12 Years a Slave). But a miniseries is the right format to allow the story to unfold and it never lags (it was shown earlier this year on the BET cable channel). The narrative is strong and the cast is uniformly fine, especially Ellis, whose magnificent performance dominates the proceedings. Her co-stars include Cuba Gooding Jr., Ben Chaplin and Jane Alexander. (And after youve watched it, be sure to read Hills essay in the DVD booklet.)

Manhattan: Season One (Lionsgate/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital, 2014, three/four discs, 13 episodes, audio commentaries, featurettes). Set against the backdrop of history in 1943 Los Alamos, New Mexico, as scientists race to develop the first nuclear weapon in hopes of calling a halt to World War II this fictional melodrama gives life to those scientists and their families in a world of secrets and lies. Excellent writing and performances move this WGN cable series along with engaging stories and a Mad Men vibe. The cast includes John Benjamin Hickey, Olivia Williams and Daniel Stern.

Barney Miller: Season Seven (Shout!/DVD, 1980-81, three discs, 22 episodes). Very funny sitcom/police procedural, set in the cramped precinct of a police squad in New Yorks Greenwich Village, led by Hal Linden as the captain. Though by this penultimate season of the series two lead players were gone (Jack Soo and Abe Vigoda), the remaining cast (Ron Glass, Max Gail, James Gregory, Ron Carey and Steve Landesberg) is stellar and the show remains sharp, warm and laugh-provoking, as a revolving door of goofball criminals keep it afloat.

Inside Amy Schumer: Seasons 1 & 2 (Comedy Central/Paramount/DVD/Digital, two discs, 20 episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes, stand-up routines). Schumers skit-comedy series is strictly for fans of her raunchy humor. Guests include Paul Giamatti, Parker Posey, Josh Charles, Rachel Dratch and Patrick Warburton.

Mentir Para Vivir (Lie So You Can Live) (Cinedigm/DVD, 2013, 20 episodes). Mexican telenovela about a family in Colombia under duress when the husband confesses he has been helping a smuggling operation and banking the money in his wifes name. When police close in, she takes her daughter and escapes to Mexico to begin a new life.
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