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The weekend’s here. You’ve just been paid, and it’s burning a hole in your pocket. What’s a pop culture geek to do? In hopes of steering you in the right direction to blow some of that hard-earned cash, it’s time for the Quick Stop Weekend Shopping Guide - your spotlight on the things you didn’t even know you wanted…

While most know her from her role as Jerri Blank on Comedy Central’s cult hit Strangers With Candy - or her numerous guest appearances on David Letterman and Sex and the City - friends and family know Amy Sedaris as a hostess par excellence, famed for her parties and dinners, and her fantastic home-cooked cuisine. Seeing the simple act of entertaining guests as an art quickly atrophying in this fast-paced digital age, she’s crafted the ultimate guide to throwing your own shindigs - I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence (Hachette Book Group, $27.99 SRP). Although written with the same wit and delightfully bent perspective that informs her comedy, the book should in no way be taken as a “joke cookbook” - it’s a legitimate presentation of party suggestions (leave marbles in your medicine chest to signal the telltale sound of a nosy guest), hints (like the fact that doing dishes after a party can be a cathartic exercise), recipes (I can’t wait to try her “Crosscut Stump Stew”), and crafts (plastic googly eyes make anything fun) sure to inspire even the most slothlike of hosts and hostesses to send off some invites, fill up the ice tub, fire up the oven, and lay out the welcome mat. An audiobook version read by Sedaris and featuring additional recipes is also available (Hachette, $29.99 SRP).

After seeing the ads for Big Love (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP) in the build-up to its premiere, I was completely nonplussed. Why would I want to watch a drama about an unconventional American family - members of a religious cult who believe in polygamy. Well, I tried to resist watching it, but it stars Bill Paxton as the patriarch of the Henrickson clan - which includes 3 wives (Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, & Ginnifer Goodwin) and a passel of kids - who owns a thriving home improvement center in suburban Salt Lake City. I did wind up watching the premiere, and like The Sopranos before it, found that instead of clichés, what I got instead was a nuanced drama filled with the kind of realistic human comedy that shows like Desperate Housewives try desperately to manufacture. And it’s got Bill Paxton. The 5-disc box set contains all 12 first season episodes, plus a pair of audio commentaries and a behind-the-scenes look at the credit sequence.

Of all the regional children’s presenters who rose to national prominence in the 50’s & 60’s, once of the most beloved - and delightfully anarchic - was Soupy Sales. From the originator of the infamous “take a dollar out of your parents wallet and send it in” gag to the endless pie fights, Soupy was a true TV legend. Thankfully, his hijinks have wound their way to DVD via a pair of releases - the 3-disc The Soupy Sales Collection: The Whole Gang Is Here (Morada Vision, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) and Soupy Sales: In Living Black & White (Morada Vision, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP). The former contains Sales’ later color work, which was aimed towards adults, while the Black & White disc features the classic kiddie shows that marked a generation of kids.

As Kevin Costner has his Dances With Wolves, Warren Beatty also has a masterpiece of a film on his résumé - and that film is Reds (Paramount, Rated PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP). Based on a true story, Beatty stars as the American communist, journalist, and activist John Reed, whose love affair with writer/feminist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) plays out as the titanic events of the Russian Revolution unfold around them. It’s an incredibly epic tale, and much-deserving of this 2-disc 25th anniversary edition, featuring 7 in-depth featurettes charting the making-of the film, as well as the events that inspired it.

If the first season of Wonder Showzen was a surreal experiment that somehow worked comedically, the second season (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP) was a confident, brutal, hilarious parody of those classic PBS kiddie shows that filled the youthful minds of the children of the 70’s and 80’s (I weep for the pop culture deficit of modern kids). The 2-disc set features all 8 episodes, plus a pair of commentaries, outtakes, and exclusive Beat Kids featurette, games & time wasters, and outtakes.

Even though Eric has presented Donna with a ring, does that mean she’ll actually say yes? And will Jackie’s secret relationship with Hyde escape Kelso’s notice? Or is he too preoccupied with the idea of becoming a cop after the high school job fair? And can Fez find love at the DMV? Granted, if you watched the fifth season of That 70’s Show (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) when it aired, you know the answers to all these questions. The 4-disc set features all 25 episodes, plus promo spots, a 70’s flashback with Wilmer Valderrama and Danny Masterson, and a 5-minute retrospective of the season.

The Master of Suspense returns with 39 more classic episodes in the 2nd season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). The 5-discs are packed chock full of guest stars, including Vic Morrow, Rip Torn, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, and many more. Have a “Good evening…” indeed.

If you want to support a pair of fantastic New Orleans charities - the Louisiana Children’s Museum & Habitat For Humanity’s Musician’s Village Project in New Orleans- and add some wonderful music to your collection, pick up New Orleans Playground & New Orleans Christmas (Putumayo World Music, $15.98 SRP each), a pair of discs featuring some legendary luminaries from the Crescent City, including Dr. John (whose take on “Row Row Your Boat” is memorable, to say the least), The Meters, Buckwheat Zydeco, Fats Domino, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, and many more.

When the somewhat dim, disconnected president of the United States (Dennis Quaid) decides to reconnect with the public by getting involved in the live finale of the hugely popular network reality show American Dreamz (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Imagine an even more tacky and wildly popular version of American Idol, where the finalists are an opportunistic middle American sweetheart (Mandy Moore) and a naïve, showtunes-loving young Arab boy - who just may inadvertently cause the night to completely derail in the most unwanted kind of fireworks you can imagine. The flick is actually a very sly satire (I’ll leave the interpretations up to you) and an enjoyable night in front of the TV. The DVD features an audio commentary, deleted scenes, and a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Take an obscure Japanese game show from the early 90’s that placed teams of contestants in unbelievably awkward and dangerous stunts, dub over it with an incredibly funny commentary from your “hosts” Vic Romano and Kenny Blankenship (not to mention field marshal Captain Tanneal and sideline reporter Guy LaDouche) and you have the sublimely brilliant MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (Magnolia, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP). This 2-disc set features all 13 first season episodes, plus select episode commentary, the original sales presentation for the show, a reel of the most painful eliminations, and even an episode of the show in its original Japanese form (known as Takeshi’s Castle).

In terms of British sitcoms, the long-running My Family is an anomaly. Unlike most Britcoms, which are usually written by a single writer or a writing duo, My Family had an American-style writing staff headed up by former Larry Sanders and Seinfeld exec producer Fred Barron. It certainly brings a slightly different flavor to this family comedy about a pair of hapless but loving parents (Robert Lindsay & Zoe Wannamaker) at the mercy of their children. Check out the complete first and second seasons (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP each) and see if you notice the difference a Yank makes.

Her Fox sitcom never really knew how to properly utilize Wanda Sykes. When you check out her caustically hilarious stand-up special, Wanda Sykes: Sick & Tired (Image, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), you’ll understand why no mainstream network could be capable of using her correctly, and why she’s the perfect fit for things like her frequent guest appearances on Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. The DVD features 15 minutes of additional footage, plus an audience Q&A and a radio interview.

A series of unfortunate events needs an equally gothic soundtrack, and Stephen Merritt’s The Tragic Treasury: Songs From A Series Of Unfortunate Events (Nonesuch, $18.98 SRP) is exactly that, with songs from each of the 13 books comprising Lemony Snicket’s chronicle of the trials and tribulations of the Baudelaire orphans.

Never really a fan of the CSI franchise, I have found that whenever I run across an episode of CSI: New York, I’ll find myself drawn in - not by the increasingly overplayed procedural aspects, but by star Gary Sinise as Detective Mac Taylor, whose forensics team faces a bit of a shake-up in the show’s sophomore season, plus a crossover with David Caruso’s Miami contingent. The 6-disc complete second season (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$64.99 SRP) features audio commentaries on 5 episodes, and 5 behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Loaded with gore and a low-budget energy, Feast (Dimension, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP) is the winner of the last Project Greenlight, which found John Gulager at the helm of a horror film. The final product should make many Fango fans happy, as it has many of the elements of the genre’s heyday. The unrated DVD features deleted scenes, outtakes, commentary, a making-of featurette, and a look at the practical effects.

Peta Wilson’s turn as the sexy secret agent codenamed Josephine wraps up in the fifth and final season of La Femme Nikita (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), featuring the resolution of her long-standing quest to find out exactly why she was chosen for her most dangerous position within the spy network Section. The 3-disc set features all 8 episodes, plus deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and an internet teaser by director Jon Cassar.

Like death with a typewriter, Angela Lansbury’s crime-solving novelist Jessica Fletcher returns in the complete fourth season of Murder, She Wrote (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). Joining her these season (and nimbly avoiding the scythe) is Tom Bosley - gotta love Tom Bosley. These season also features one of my favorite Fletcher death run, with guest star Frank Gorshin. The 5-disc set features all 22 episodes, plus a bonus episode from season 5 (”Snow White, Blood Red”).

Comfortable that they’ve become a long-running supernatural soap that has made it past cast changes and behind-the-scenes dust-ups, the sixth season of Charmed (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP) was one of wild abandon. Our witchy trio become Valkyries to take on an island full of Amazons, travel through time (via go-go power), fight a spider-demon, and even handily handle Phoebe becoming a genie. As with previous sets, there are still no bonus features - unless they require a magic key to find them which, sadly, I do not possess.

In the mood for a trashy horror flick to pass a chilly October evening? Why not try Rest Stop (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), a gorefest about pretty people making an ill-fated stop along the road. Bonus features include alternate endings, galleries, and a trailer.

So there you have it… my humble suggestions for what to watch, listen to, play with, or waste money on this coming weekend. See ya next week…



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