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Chris Hicks: 3 much-anticipated TV series make it onto DVD

Three eagerly anticipated TV series come to DVD on Tuesday. Two are hits from last season — "Desperate Housewives" and the "Battlestar Galactica" remake — and the third is the late-'80s cult favorite "Crime Story."

"Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season" (Touchstone, 2004-05, not rated, $59.99, six discs). This is one smart, funny and sometimes too-risque comedy-drama, a lampoon of soap operas that hits the mark more often than it misses.

If you somehow missed it last year, this set is worth renting. And even if you saw every episode when they aired on TV, there are still some things here worth seeing — from sharp deleted scenes to a very funny blooper reel to a hilarious spoof of "Desperate Housewives" starring Oprah Winfrey!

Extras: Widescreen, 23 episodes, audio commentaries (by creator Marc Cherry and cast members), extended episodes, deleted scenes, making-of featurettes, bloopers, TV spots, trailers, optional English subtitles, chapters.

"Battlestar Galactica: Season One" (Universal, 2005, not rated, $59.98, five discs). If you are familiar with the early 1980s series, you will notice a surprising number of references here to the original show, from character names to musical cues to a good portion of the central plot. But if you aren't familiar with the old show, none of that matters.

From the 2003 miniseries that kicked off this new incarnation to the series episodes which just seem to get better and better, this is the best outer-space saga to come along in quite awhile. The first-rate cast is led by two excellent veterans, Edward James Olmos ("Stand and Deliver," "My Family") and Mary McDonnell ("Dances With Wolves," "Sneakers"), and the action and heart on display between the action sequences are excellent.

It should be said, however, that this basic-cable show is also decidedly adult and not for young children.

Extras: Widescreen, 13 episodes, two-part miniseries, audio commentary, deleted scenes, making-of featurettes, art gallery, subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.

"Crime Story: The Complete First Season" (Anchor Bay, 1986-87, not rated, $39.98, five discs).

"Crime Story: The Complete Second Season" (Anchor Bay, 1987-88, not rated, $39.98, four discs). When this show initially aired, it was considered quite violent — and it still is, although not as gruesome as most of today's cop shows (more killings happen off-camera than on).

Dennis Farina, who is now on "Law & Order," heads the ensemble cast as a cop in 1960s Chicago assigned to investigate high-profile crimes. At the end of the feature-length pilot, he sets his sights on a mobster (Anthony Denison) who's rising in the ranks, la "The Godfather," and much of the rest of the two-season series is spent in that pursuit.

Excellent performances, authentic period elements (including pop songs from the period) and taut direction (the pilot is directed by Abel Ferra, who later gained infamy with "Bad Lieutenant") help elevate this series. Guest stars include Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, David Hyde Pierce, Pam Grier, Ving Rhames, Christian Slater — and two current "CSI" stars, David Caruso and Gary Sinese.

Extras: Full frame, first season: 20 episodes plus the pilot, second season: 22 episodes, chapters.

"Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats" (Shout! 1984-85, not rated, $34.98, four discs). The great Mel Blanc, who did so many memorable voices for the classic Warner Bros. cartoons (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, etc.) provides the voice of the lasagna-eating orange comic-strip cat in this mid-'80s animated series.

Fans of the show will appreciate that each cartoon is in its original broadcast form, in chronological order and with the "Cats & Co." cartoons that appeared in early shows, and with the original "Pet Tips" segments that ended each episode.

Extras: Full frame, 24 episodes, new interview (with "Heathcliff" cartoonist Peter Gallagher), "Heathcliff" cartoon-panel gallery, TV promos, chapters.

"The Ren & Stimpy Show: Season Five and Some More of Four" (Paramount, 1995-96, not rated, $38.99, three discs). More adventures with the vulgar but sometimes amusing and wacky Ren, the nervous Chihuahua, and Stimpy, the very odd cat. Not for young children.

Extras: Full frame, 33 episodes, 13 audio commentaries, featurette, optional English subtitles, chapters.

"SpongeBob SquarePants: Absorbing Favorites" (Nick/Paramount, 2005, not rated, $16.99). SpongeBob episodes on this disc are "Ripped Pants," "Mermaidman and Barnacleboy," "Karate Choppers," "Gary Takes a Bath," "Jellyfish Hunter," "The Fry Cook Games," "Club SpongeBob," "Plankton's Army" and the double-length "Lost Episode: The Sponge Who Could Fly."

Extras: Full frame, nine episodes, interactive quiz, karaoke, language options (English, Spanish, French), chapters.

"The Popcorn Popper" (WGBH, 2000, not rated, $12.95). The title show, along with "Hug, Hug, Hug!" and "Piggyback, Piggyback," are episodes of the PBS children's series "Between the Lions," with a family of lions who run a library.

Extras: Full frame, three episodes, bonus video: "Leading the Waqy to Literacy," downloadable activities, optional English subtitles, chapters. (If you can't find this title in a local store, it can be ordered by phone at 800-949-8670, or on the Web at shop.wgbh.org.)

"I Love Toy Trains: The Final Show" (TM, 2004, not rated, $14.95). The "I Love Toy Trains" DVD series for kids has 12 volumes, and this one is sort of a "best-of" collection of live-action scenes of both real and toy trains, with educational segments, bloopers and original songs by James Coffey.

Extras: Full frame, chapters. (If you can't find this title in a local store, it can be ordered by phone at 800-892-2822, or on the Web at www.tmbooks-video.com.)

"Meet the Letters" (Preschool Prep, 2005, not rated, $14.99).

"Meet the Numbers" (Preschool Prep, 2005, not rated, $14.99). This series of discs, aimed at kids ages 9 months to five years, is designed as an educational tool to help small fry learn their letters and/or numbers. Through the use of video flashcards and sing-alongs, and colorful animation, letters and numbers are taught to the youngest of viewers.

Extras: Full frame, chapters. (If you can't find this title in a local store, it can be ordered by phone at 866-451-5600, or on the Web at www.preschoolprepco.com.)

"Time for Manners, Volume 2: Table Time" (2005, not rated, $16.95). Children, ages 3-7, learn about manners and social behavior through songs and skits with live action and puppets.

Extras: Full frame, chapters. (If you can't find this title in a local store, it can be ordered by phone at 866-626-6372, or on the Web at www.timeformanners.com.)

"Brainy Baby: Jingle Bells" (Brainy Baby, 2005, not rated, $16.98). Little ones can sing along to music videos, with familiar Christmas carols, including "Jingle Bells," "Frosty the Snowman," etc.

Extras: Full frame, chapters. (If you can't find this title in a local store, it can be ordered by phone at 877-455-2229, or on the Web at www.brainybaby.com.)


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com