The only time James Stewart was billed as "Jimmy" was for his 1970s sitcom, which is on DVD for the first time this week, along with other TV shows.
James Stewart's first TV series was a half-hour domestic sitcom (mercifully without a soundtrack), and it has finally made its DVD debut this week, 40-plus years after its original airing. "The Jimmy Stewart Show: The Complete Series" (Warner Archive, 1971-72, three discs, $29.95, 24 episodes). Stewart's first TV series (before "Hawkins") was the only time Stewart was not billed as "James," perhaps to suggest the show's relaxed, even jaunty feel. But it's also an unintended metaphor for an uneasy attempt to mix old-fashioned 1950s sensibilities with a hip '60s/'70s vibe, women's lib gently clashing with male chauvinism. The result is uninspired and occasionally wheezy. (Though it is nice to see the family praying at meals, a real rarity in today's TV landscape.) But it has Stewart, and he makes up for a lot, still very much a charming, likable actor at 63 when he took on the role of a college professor with a pretty wife (played by Julie Adams, best known for "The Creature From the Black Lagoon") and a precocious 8-year-old son. They also have a 29-year-old son, now married with his own 8-year-old. (Let the nephew/uncle jokes begin). The central conceit has the older son's family moving into Stewart's house after the absent-minded professor accidentally burns down their house. Domestic chaos ensues - and oddly echoes three Stewart films of the mid-1960s: "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation," "Take Her, She's Mine" and "Dear Brigitte." Two of those films co-starred grumpy character actor John McGiver, who co-stars here as Stewart's pal and colleague, and "Brigitte" was written by Hal Kanter, who wrote most of these episodes. Vincent Price has fun in one episode, playing himself; another has Arthur O'Connell, who earned an Oscar nomination opposite Stewart in "Anatomy of a Murder; and Beulah Bondi shows up in yet another as Stewart's mother, a role she had previously played in "Of Human Hearts," "Vivacious Lady," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "It's a Wonderful Life." Other guests include Mary Wickes in a recurring role, future "Charlie's Angel" Kate Jackson as a student, Jack Soo, M. Emmett Walsh and Will Geer (whose daughter Ellen plays Stewart's daughter-in-law). (Available at www.warnerarchive.com) "Midsomer Murders: Set 23 (Acorn, 2011-12, three discs, $39.99, three episodes, audio commentary, featurette). This highly entertaining, character-driven, rural murder-mystery series is still quite good in its 17th year. Here, Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) and Jones (Jason Hughes) investigate sightings of a headless horseman (the most contrived of these stories, with good and evil twins), the return of a vengeful ex-con (with a clever twist) and a series of killings replicating 1960s horror films (a darkly funny and inventive riff on Hammer Films' salad days). Why there are only three feature-length episodes instead of the usual four is anyone's guess; the U.S. releases are still seven episodes behind British airings. (Also on Blu-ray, $49.99) "Laverne & Shirley: The Seventh Season" (CBS/Paramount, 1981-82, three discs, $42.99, 22 episodes). The penultimate season of this broad comedy, a "Happy Days" spinoff, about two single women and their zany schemes for dating and seeking fame, relies heavily on the charm of Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams in the title roles, and they generally deliver the goods. Guests include Joey Heatherton, Jeff Goldblum, Charles Grodin, Anjelica Huston and Harry Dean Stanton. "Family Matters: The Complete Fourth Season" (Warner, 1992-93, three discs, $29.98, 24 episodes). Amusing show depicts a black middle-class family and stars Reginald VelJohnson and Michelle Thomas, although Jaleel White's ultra-nerdy Steve Urkel quickly took over midway through the first season. Another very broad sitcom. "The Broker's Man: Series 1" (Acorn, 1997, three discs, $39.99, three episodes). Kevin Whately stars in this British crime show as an ex-cop who becomes an insurance investigator, exposing con artists even as he attempts to protect his family from his job. "Pride and Perseverance: The Story of the Negro Leagues" (MLB/Lionsgate, 2013, $9.98). Documentary from Major League Baseball about the Negro Leagues, which provided a place for black players to practice their craft. Highlighted by rare footage of the teams in action from the 1920s through the '50s. "Off the Hook: Extreme Catches" (Animal Planet/Cinedigm, 2012, 10 episodes, $29.93). Reality show from the Animal Planet cable channel about extreme fishing - bass fishing on water skis, catching sharks with pantyhose, etc. "Care Bears: The Care-a-thon Games" (Lionsgate, 2013, $14.98, four episodes). Are these games Olympic events? Episodes of the animated "Care Bears" show are "Compassion-NOT!" "Shunshine," "Care Campout" and "Cheer Factor." "Lalaloopsy: Friends Are Sew Special!" (Nickelodeon/Paramount, 2013, $16.99, four episodes; lacing kit). Episodes of the animated "Lalaloopsy" show are "Dot's Moon Mission," "Princess Parade," "Spot-it-is" and "Flight Plan."%3Cimg%20src%3D%22http%3A//beacon.deseretconnect.com/beacon.gif%3Fcid%3D88747%26pid%3D46%22%20/%3E