SEINFELD SEASONS 5 & 6 By Fall 1993, this sitcom was reaching the apex of its catchphrase-minting cultural power--so much so that mayoral candidate Rudolph Giuliani made a cameo in an episode about bogus nonfat frozen yogurt. These 46 episodes include "The Puffy Shirt" (in which Jerry agrees to wear a flouncy pirate top on the Today show), and introduced J. Peterman (John O'Hurley, before he danced with the stars) and the concept of "regifting." Seinfeld's best and darkest seasons were just ahead, but no one is likely to regift this set, all the same.
THE MUPPET SHOW SEASON 1 SESAME STREET was always a bit of a grownups' show in short pants, but this variety series, debuting in 1976, truly transcended demographics with its wacky skits, musical numbers and sharp show-biz humor. It's also fun as a field guide to '70s celebrities (Avery Schreiber! Mummenschanz!). Season 1 takes a while to hit its stride--the corn crop is heavier than usual in the early episodes--but by the end, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew et al. are fully fleshed, or rather fuzzed, out.
BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD THE MIKE JUDGE COLLECTION, VOL. 1 MTV sells a dream: coolness and popularity. Creator Judge's Beavis was the antidream, embodied in two MTV-watching cretins with a taste for dirty jokes ("Heh heh heh. You said unit"). The cartoons--40 of them selected here--satirized '90s teen culture while snidely trashing music videos. TV rarely critiques itself with such pith. Heh heh heh. I said pith.
SOAP SEASON 4 Long before Desperate Housewives, ABC took soap-opera conventions over the top. Racy for its time (for ours, even) the 1977-81 series features pitch-perfect work from Katherine Helmond, Richard Mulligan and Robert Guillaume, who reprised his sarcastic- butler role on Benson. The outrageous final season offers story lines involving a Latin American revolutionary, a possibly alien baby and a kung-fu fortress. Meanwhile, Billy Crystal, as one of TV's first gay characters, begins channeling the spirit of a 90-year-old Jewish man--which, come to think of it, he's been doing ever since.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER THE CHOSEN COLLECTION Creator Joss Whedon took a marginal 1992 movie about a cheerleader who whups the undead and turned it into a story of self-discovery with strong emotional, ahem, stakes. Over 40 discs and 144 episodes, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) grows from snarky adolescent into wounded young woman, leaving a trail of latex-faced villains behind her. The finest episodes come in the more mature later seasons--especially the Sondheimesque musical "Once More, with Feeling" in Season 6.
LEAVE IT TO BEAVER THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON Beaver has become shorthand for 1950s naiveté. But as you can see over 39 episodes (TV seasons, like airline legroom, were more generous then), its picture of child-hood could be tart as well as sweet. When Beaver (Jerry Mathers) is worried that his teacher will hit him over a minor mess-up, Wally (Tony Dow) corrects him: "Only the coach can hit you." Beaver was never edgy, but it packed its own good-natured punch.