As the fall TV season kicks into gear with weeks of season - and series - premieres still to come, it's easier than ever to catch up on what you might have missed.
ABC Studios has released many of its series in nicely packaged, multiple DVD sets, including the final season of "Desperate Housewives" and the first season of two of the more intriguing new shows - and hits - from any network from last year, "Revenge" and "Once Upon a Time."
"Once" returns to the ABC lineup at its usual 8 p.m. Sunday time this week and will now be followed by "Revenge" at 9, which is taking over the "Desperate Housewives" slot.
If you haven't seen those two dramas, you're missing out. While I enjoyed the clever reimaging of fairy tales in "Once," I ignored the seasonlong buzz about "Revenge" until the DVD set landed at my desk. I never watched the show for a single reason: The plot - a young woman seeks vengeance against wealthy Hamptonites who set up her dad - sounded like an idea that would sustain a movie, not a TV series.
It took me two episodes into "Revenge: The Complete First Season" ($45.99) to be thoroughly hooked. "Revenge" is a riveting prime-time soap with multiple cliffhangers, plenty of twists and a rarity in television these days: a payoff in every episode. The opening minutes put viewers in the middle of an extravagant beach engagement party and a murder nearby, then whisk us back to show how Emily Thorne was literally ripped from her father's arms as a child. (As you'll hear in an interview with creator Mike Kelley, "Revenge" is a modern take on the classic revenge tale, "The Count of Monte Cristo.")
The five-disc set comes with multiple deleted scenes, bloopers, music videos and a pilot commentary with Kelley and Emily VanCamp, who is so wonderful as the complex Emily. It's disappointing there isn't more about the thought process behind this shrewd show, other than a quick 14-minute featurette "Roadmap to Revenge," that gives a hint ("Revenge wants what revenge wants," we're told about the writing that isn't afraid to go to extremes). Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce, who helmed the first two episodes, said that Kelley's top rule is "the punishment has to fit the crime," a philosophy enacted time and again throughout the season.
An "interview" called "Nolan Ross Exposed" appears to set up a new story line with Nolan, the show's Mark Zuckerberg-like character played by the underappreciated Gabriel Mann, who so deliciously channels a young James Spader.
"Haute Hampton: Femme Fatale Fashion," is a quick look at the fashion of Emily, who is dressed in Grace Kelly-like wardrobe of light colors and crisp clothing, compared with the elegant, dark and body-hugging wardrobe of matriarch Victoria Grayson (Madeleine Stowe), she of the size 0 figure. "At Home in the Hamptons" may surprise even the most astute viewers - all of those gorgeous beach scenes are blue screen work with Wilmington, N.C., sitting in for the Hamptons.
Fairy tale secrets
"Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season" ($79.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 DVD) does a better job with bonus features, going behind the thinking of this clever show from the fertile minds of Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis ("Lost").
In "Once," the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) from "Snow White" casts a spell that traps well-known fairy tale characters in the modern world with no memory of who they were. The curse can be broken only by the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), who shows up in the form of the tough and cynical Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison, "House"). If this sounds like a show for the kiddies, it's not. Think of it as a mystery that moves between two worlds.
"Fairy Tales in the Modern World" is a 20-minute look at the origins of "Once," including why it started with the story of Snow White ("It is ground zero of fairy tales," we're told), the idea of the character "mash-ups" (Snow White and Red Riding Hood were friends?) and how the writers turned fairy tale icons into "flesh and blood" characters. Among the questions they asked themselves: "Why is Grumpy grumpy?"
The actors also give their thoughts on fairy tales, including their favorites. "The little 8-year-old in me is doing cartwheels every day," Goodwin says about playing Snow White.
King of his 'Castle'
"Castle" is one of the smartest shows on TV and one of the most enjoyable, thanks to the quick-witted banter between Nathan Fillion as the title character and co-star Stana Katic as Detective Kate Beckett. Fillion plays a rich playboy author and single father who starts shadowing a police detective for inspiration and doesn't leave, sticking around to help solve all sorts of cases (and usually getting in the way).
"Castle: The Complete Fourth Season" ($45.99, five discs) has audio commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, a look at a radio show starring Fillion and other cast members, and a featurette on director-executive producer Rob Bowman and his father, long-time TV director Chuck Bowman.
The fifth season of "Castle" premiered this week (it airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on ABC), but fans - and those who want to see it from the beginning - will be happy to know the show joins the TNT lineup Wednesday, starting with an 11-hour marathon at noon with eight "favorite" episodes. Later that night, at 8 p.m., TNT starts from the beginning with the first three episodes. "Castle" begins its regular TNT schedule Oct. 3 with nine episodes airing from noon to 6 p.m. and then 8 to 11 p.m.
"Body of Proof: The Complete Second Season" ($39.99, four discs). Dana Delany stars as medical examiner Dr. Megan Hunt, who solves more than her share of mysteries in this drama. Featurettes examine how the dead bodies are made to look real, the fashions, stunts, bloopers and webisodes.
"Desperate Housewives: The Complete Eighth and Final Season" ($45.99, five discs). Say goodbye to the gang from Wisteria Lane. Extras include deleted scenes, bloopers, a commentary with creator Marc Cherry and "I Guess This Is Goodbye" featurette with the cast strolling down memory lane.
"Private Practice: The Complete Fifth Season" ($39.99, five discs). The medical soap opera from Shonda Rimes includes 22 episodes, plus deleted scenes and bloopers.