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Still revolutionary, still hilarious

Four decades may have passed since it premiered Jan. 12, 1971, on CBS, but All in the Family can shock even today's most sophisticated or jaded viewers.

Four decades may have passed since it premiered Jan. 12, 1971, on CBS, but All in the Family can shock even today's most sophisticated or jaded viewers.

More shocking perhaps, Norman Lear's revolutionary sitcom still has the power to make you think even as you fall over laughing. That's a rarity, given the dearth of thoughtful fare on the tube.

The first season of Family is included in the massive, 19-disc boxed set The Norman Lear TV Collection from Sony (; $159.95; not rated), which came out Tuesday.

The set, which features six hours of bonus content, also includes the first season of six other groundbreaking shows: Good Times; The Jeffersons; Maude; Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; One Day at a Time; and Sanford & Son.

Lear, who turns 87 next month, didn't invent the half-hour issues-sitcom (Room 222, which dealt with pressures faced by teens, premiered in 1969, two years before All in the Family), but he revolutionized the genre.

Each episode of Family packs the contents of an entire U.N. summit, albeit with a huge dose of cutting humor.

In less than 25 minutes, the Bunker household - ruled by the loving if despotic blue-collar patriarch Archie (Carroll O'Connor), who presides over the house from a tattered (and one imagines, smelly) chair - is rocked by surprisingly serious debates about every conceivable political and social issue.

In heated exchanges peppered by racial epithets, Archie tries to hold back any whiff of social change (or socialism) advanced by his verbally abused wife, Edith (Jean Stapleton); their bouncy daughter, Gloria (Sally Struthers); their son-in-law, Michael "Meathead" Stivic (Rob Reiner); and their African American neighbors, the Jeffersons.

Lear's shows are a welcome palliative to today's politically correct, feel-good TV fare.

With the notable exception of Chris Rock, no one today dares cook up the winning blend of irreverence, eye-opening rudeness, and social commentary that made Lear's shows such classics.

Canadian TV on DVD

Ever wonder what our polite neighbors to the north watch? Here's a chance to find out with three new releases produced for Canadian TV.

Murdoch Mysteries: Series 1 due out June 16 from Acorn Media (; $59.99; not rated) is a terrific procedural police drama with a difference. Based on the mystery novels of Maureen Jennings and set in Toronto at the turn of the 20th century, the first season's 13 episodes follow the exploits of an oddball detective (played by Yannick Bisson) who uses his brain - and the newly established science of forensics - to solve murders. Murdoch's ally is an equally unconventional medical examiner who is (gasp!) a woman.

The one-hour show was produced after the success of a series of three amazing, and far superior, TV movies from 2004, which featured talented Toronto actor Peter Outerbridge in the title role. It's out on DVD as The Murdoch Mysteries Movie Collection from BFS (; $39.98; not rated).

For more hard-hitting drama, there's nothing better than Intelligence: Season 2, also from Acorn ($59.99; not rated). A cross between 24 and The Wire, it's half mob drama, half espionage thriller.

Set in Vancouver, Intelligence follows intelligence operative Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) as she tries to free the nascent Canadian intelligence service from the grip of the far-more powerful CIA and to disentangle Canada's legal system from its dependence on U.S. policy.

The drama gets going when Spalding recruits Vancouver drug lord Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey) as an intelligence source.

It's never been my cup of tea, but the Canadian comedy The Red Green Show became quite a hit during its run on PBS. Red Green Is Special from Acorn ($39.99; not rated) features four special episdodes, including the reunion special, The Red Green Story: We're All in This Together, featuring reminiscences from cast members.

Also, visit Acorn's Web site ( for previously-released boxed sets of the first three seaons of the Vancouver-based procedural crime drama Da Vinci's Inquest, not to mention the 7-disc Slings & Arrows: The Complete Collection, which features all three seasons of the dead-smart satire about an under-funded Shakespearean theatrical troupe. The show boasts great guest stars, including Rachel McAdams, Sarah Polley and renowned Stratford Festival actor William Hutt.

Missed it on cable network The N? Then catch season 1 of Canadian teen drama The Best Years: The Complete First Season from Koch Vision (; $49.98; not rated), which follows the eventful - and sometimes tragic - lives of a group of freshmen at Boston's prestigious Charles University (why not set it at the Ivy League-level McGill University in Montreal?). It stars Charity Shea as scholarship kid Samantha Best, Jennifer Miller as her richer-than-rich socialite roommate, Kathryn, and Brandon Jay McLaren as the devilishly handsome basketball player Devon.

Finally, don't miss the thrilling three-hour Canadian mini-series Guns from Phase 4 Films/Peace Arch Entertainment Group (; $29.99; not rated) about the growing gun and drug trade in Toronto. Canadian-born stars Elisha Cuthbert (oh, yeah, she's from Calgary), Colm Feore, and Shawn Doyle star in an urban epic about a legitimate international arms dealer (Feore) who nearly destroys his family when he branches out by selling guns to street thugs.

Set your sites on that other former British colony, Australia, with McCleod's Daughters: The Complete Eight Season from Koch Vision (; $59.98; not rated), a drama about two sisters who try to run a massive outback cattle station after their dad's death.

The best of American TV

HBO comedy Entourage: The Complete Fifth Season, due on June 30 from Warner (; $39.98; not rated), finds East Coast homeboys Vince, Eric, Drama, and Turtle facing new challenges in Hollywood: Medellin, which was supposed to give Vince a stab at the Oscars has failed and the gang desperately needs to find a way to resuscitate their cash cow's career.

Eastbound & Down: The Complete First Season due June 30 from HBO Home Entertainment (; $29.98; not rated) features six episodes of HBO's new comedy. Danny McBride stars as Kenny Powers, a former baseball star who, having spent the millions he once earned, has to return to his high school to teach physical education.

HBO will released Blu-ray editions of two of its best miniseries on Tuesday, June 16: The Paul Giamatti-starring historical epic, John Adams and the super-macho Iraq war drama, Generation Kill ($79.98 each; not rated).

Treat Williams stars as Dr. Andrew "Andy" Brown in the family-friendly drama, Everwood: The Complete Second Season from Warner (; $39.98 )

Showtime's Weeds: Season Four from Lionsgate (; $39.98) features a family of an entirely different nature. Let's just say they're a bit dysfunctional.

The exciting, dangerous journey ends for Dominic Purcell and Wentworth Miller in Prison Break: Season 4 from Fox (; $49.98; not rated). And more nasty conspiracies crop up - like so many weeds - in 24: Season Seven also from Fox ($49.98; not rated).

It's great to see Eliza Dushku back on TV - and under the awesome leadership of genius Joss Whedon. See her in Dollhouse: Season One, due July 28 from Fox ($49.98; not rated).

Kyra Sedgwick brings back Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson - and her Southern drawl - in The Closer: The Complete Fourth Season from Warner ($39.98; not rated). The show just keeps getting better every year.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Gloria Reuben lead a cast of hot young actors who play hot young attorneys who are always busy calculating how to win cases, how to fast-track their careers and how to bed each other in Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season from TNT (; $39.99; noT rated)

Tired of police procedurals? Benjamin Bratt doesn't carry a gun, but some hard-earned wisdom in The Cleaner: First Season from Paramount (; $49.99; not rated). The Law & Order alumnus plays a recovering addict who tries to help out other addicts get their lives back together.

Before they began cranking out blockbusters by the dozen, the Scott brothers - Ridley and Tony - created one of Showtime's most enjoyable shows from the 1990's. A horror anthology with an erotic twist The Hunger: The Complete First Season from Koch/E1 Entertainment (; $39.98; not rated) contains 22 half-hour episodes from the 1997 season. Each episode is chock full of vampires, ghosts, evil spirits, succubi - and a lot of nudity.

Other shows to look for: Army Wives: The Complete Season 2 from Buena Vista Home Entertainment (; $45.99; not rated); Saving Grace: Season Two due Tuesday, June 16 from Fox ($49.98; not rated); Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Fifth Season from MGM (; $49.98; not rated); The IT Crowd: The Complete Second Season from MPI (;    $24.98; not rated); and Reaper: Season 2 from Lionsgate ($39.98; nor rated)

Old-time television

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon: Complete Season 2 from Falcon Picture Group (; $39.98; not rated) follows the adventures of Canadian Mounted Police officer Sergeant Preston and his faithful lead sled dog Yukon King. The show was introduced in 1938 as a radio drama. In 1955 it migrated to TV with Richard Simmons in the title role.

Land of the Lost: The Complete Series from Universal (; $59.98; not rated) features all 43 episodes of the sometimes goofy 1970's sci-fi show which pits the Marshall family agains The Pylons, the Pakuni and evil energy storms.

Father Knows Best: Season Three from Shout! Factory (; $39.99; not rated) will teach you how families were run before everything changed in America . . .

Cannon: Season Two, Vol. 1 from Paramount (; $36.98; not rated) will teach you the ins and outs of crime fighting in 1972.

Watch Raymond Burr take apart the prosecution in Perry Mason: Season 4, Vol. 1 also from Paramount ($49.99; not rated). The four-disc set covers more than two-dozen episodes from the 1960 to 1961 season.

TV shows from Britain

Few police thrillers have had the lasting power of Scotland's gritty, intense procedural, Taggart.

Billed as the longest-running continuous drama in Britain, the show, about detectives working out of a Glasgow police station, evolved from the 1983 mini-series Killer, which introduced one of TV's most irritable, crabbiest and most dogged cops, Detective Chief Inspector Jim Taggart (played by Mark McManus, himself a Scots through and through). Because of the show's high ratings, the ITV network spun it off into a regular series called Taggart.

Unlike most American shows, Taggart, which starred McManus until his death in 1994, featured episodes which ran between 100 and 140 minutes. This allowed the show's superb writers freedom to develop multiple plot lines.

Sadly, today's incarnation of the show has the standard 50-minute format.

BFS Entertainment has released several collections of the original, McManus-starring series, including six new boxed sets. Each set has a thematic title (examples include Taggart: Hellfire Set, Taggart: Violent Delights Sets and Taggart: Ring of Deceit Set) and contains three feature-length episodes.

Visit for information about the boxed sets, which cost $34.98 each.

But it's not over for Taggart fans: The latest incarnation of the show also is available, this time from Acorn. Taggart: Set 1 (; $49.99; not rated) features seven episodes from the show's 19th season in 2002. McMannus' fearsome DCI Taggart may be gone, but the new boss, DCI Matt Burke, (Alex Norton, Patriot Games) is no softie.

Wycliffe: Series 1, also from BFS ($39.98; not rated) features the gentle Jack Shepherd as an entirely different kind of cop: He's soft-spoken and quiet, while Taggart was explosive. But he also has a dark side he keeps bottled up and an preternatural ability to tell when suspects and witnesses are lies.

British spy show Callan which portrays the world of espionage with surprising accuracy, is one of the darkest and bleakest statements on the cold war since John le Carré's classic novel, The Spy Who Came in From The Cold. And Edward Woodward portrays the embittered titular anti-hero with as much bile as Richard Burton in the film version of Cold.

Finally available on DVD, Callan: Set 1, which is due July 7 from Acorn ($49.99; not rated), features four feature-length episodes from 1970.

The Charles Dickens Masterworks Collection from BBC/Warner (; $119.98; not rated) features new and recent dramatizations of four of the master's classics (Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, Bleak House, Little Dorrit and Great Expectations), which first aired on PBS' Masterpiece Theater.

Other Brit fare to look for include Gavin and Stacey: Season One from BBC (; $24.98; not rated); and Blue Murder: Set 4 from Acorn ($39.99; not rated)