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The Perfect DVD Curriculum for Summer Couch Potatoes

By Jen Chaney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 2009 12:00 AM

The television season is coming to its annual May-sweeps end. "House" and "The Office"? Both closed for the season. "Lost" won't be found again until early 2010. Even this year's "American Idol" has practically been crowned.

Although some series -- see "Burn Notice," "True Blood" and "Army Wives," among others -- will crank out new episodes over the summer, many viewers may be seeking ways to fill that TV void in the air-conditioned days that lie ahead. Yes, you can always watch shows on the Web. But don't you also want to binge on broadcast programming the (relatively) old-fashioned way -- by seeing it on DVD?

If the answer is yes, then consider this handful of recently released or upcoming TV DVDs, each packed with compelling episodes you may have missed when they originally aired. All should make for solid summer entertainment, and a couple may even catch you up just in time for new episodes debuting in June, July or August.

There are only so many times and ways that a person can say, "Watch 'Friday Night Lights.'" But since the high school football drama recently got renewed for two more seasons on DirecTV and NBC, and the exceptional third season of the show arrives today on DVD ($29.98), I may as well repeat myself: watch "Friday Night Lights." Seriously. (P.S., Dillon Panther fans -- the third season set includes a couple of deleted storylines, including a semi-juicy one that involves a bit of jealously between former QB Matt Saracen and his beloved Julie. ) Oh, and one more thing: if you missed seasons one and two, both are on DVD as well.

"Twilight" has made the entertainment industry a little vampire crazy. But if you can't beat 'em, you may as well suck the blood. Or at least check out "True Blood," Alan Ball's wicked HBO drama that stars Golden Globe winner Anna Paquin as a waitress with a thing for a 173-year-old night crawler. Season one is out today on DVD ($59.99) and Blu-ray ($79.98), arriving just in time for newbies to catch it before season two begins June 14 on HBO.

"Pushing Daisies" -- perhaps the only show in TV history to focus heavily on death yet remain relentlessly cheery -- is about to take its last, low-profile bow on ABC. The final trio of episodes will air in the TV equivalent of the basement morgue, on Saturday nights starting May 30. If you never took the opportunity to get acquainted with Ned (Lee Pace), an endearingly earnest piemaker with a knack for briefly reviving the deceased, by all means, do it on DVD; season one is available now and season two debuts on DVD ($39.98) and Blu-ray ($49.99) July 21.

"Top Gear," the BBC reality show that specializes in car worship and airs stateside on BBC America, finally made its U.S. DVD debut last month with "Top Gear 10," ($39.98) a set that includes every episode from the program's tenth season. (You ask: "Is it possible to start with season 10, or will I be totally confused?" I respond: "It's a show about cars. You'll be fine.") Celebrities make regular cameos, so be prepared for test drives with Helen Mirren and Simon Cowell.

It's no surprise that NBC tried to make its own version of "The IT Crowd," a British comedy about a tech team that turns the question "Have you tried turning it on and off again?" into a mantra. But it is surprising that NBC bailed on the effort considering how funny "The IT Crowd" is. See for yourself by viewing the first season -- which debuted on DVD ($24.98) in America earlier this year and comes with a brilliantly satirical making-of featurette -- then make plans to snag the second (also $24.98) when it arrives June 30.

Your friends talk about it. Your co-workers talk about it. Even your mother recently tried to launch into a discussion of the Dharma Initiative. It's time to surrender and jump on the "Lost" bandwagon before the final season of the show begins early next year. The recently aired fifth season won't arrive until December, but for Blu-ray owners itching to start from the very beginning, seasons one and two debut in that format ($69.99) on June 16.

Ah, summer. It's the perfect time for heavy drinking and excessive cigarette smoking. At least it is in the world of "Mad Men," the acclaimed AMC series that returns in August with its third season. Before Don Draper (Jon Hamm) brings his brand of '60s-sexy back, check out season one (available now) and season two ($49.98 on DVD, $49.99 on Blu-ray), releasing July 14.

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