“The Vietnam War” (PBS, 2017, 10 discs, 10 episodes, featurette). A new Ken Burns film is always a go-to event, and that includes this latest deep-dive into history, which is, as suggested by the title (and the 18-hour length), an epic overview of one of America’s most controversial military engagements. (Be advised that there is also graphic violence and strong language.)
A decade in the making and directed by Burns and partner Lynn Novick, the 10-episode documentary miniseries is primarily comprised of witness accounts, which makes it more intimate than it might otherwise be. In fact, there don’t seem to be many (or any) scholarly historians onboard, though narrator Peter Coyote nicely fills in the gaps.
Much of this material will seem familiar to those of us of a certain age and experience, but there is also an emphasis in later episodes on North and South Vietnamese participants, a perspective that has been all but ignored in myriad other documentaries. (Available on Blu-ray and DVD, the series is also now airing on KUED Channel 7 through September, and will be repeated in October.)
“Madam Secretary: Season 3” (CBS/Paramount, 2016-17, six discs, 23 episodes, deleted/extended scenes, featurette). Téa Leoni is excellent as the U.S. secretary of state, juggling world-shaking events and duplicitous adversaries with a home life that is warm and loving (unlike so many modern TV dramas). Snappy writing and a first-rate cast make this a winner. (Season four begins Oct. 8 on CBS.)
“Arrow: The Complete Fifth Season” (DC/Warner, 2016-17, four Blu-ray/five DVD discs, 23 episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes, bloopers). Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) is now mayor of Star City, but he still has to take on a nasty new villain, which has him recruiting more masked superheroes. (Season six begins Oct. 12 on The CW.)
“This Is Us: The Complete First Season” (Fox, 2016-17, five discs, 18 episodes, “aftershow” featurettes). Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia head the ensemble cast of this family drama that depicts a wide range of family members and people who share the same birthday, with flashbacks to the 1980s and ’90s, and locations that include Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. (Season two begins Sept. 25 on NBC.)
“Empire: The Complete Third Season” (Fox, 2016-17, five discs, 18 episodes, extended music performances, featurette). A music mogul and former drug dealer (Terrence Howard) battles with his ex-wife (Taraji P. Henson) for control of a hip-hop music company. Recurring cast members include Leslie Uggams, Vivica A. Fox, Taye Diggs and Demi Moore, while guests this season include Mariah Carey and Eva Longoria. (Season four begins Sept. 27 on Fox.)
“Chicago Fire: Season Five” (Universal, 2016-17, six discs, 22 episodes, crossover episodes).
“Chicago P.D.: Season Four” (Universal, 2016-17, six discs, 23 episodes, crossover episodes).
“Chicago Justice: Season One” (Universal, 2016-17, three discs, 13 episodes, crossover episodes). “Law & Order” mogul Dick Wolf conceived these Chicago-based ensemble crime series that deal, respectively, with a fire department, a police department and the court system. These seasons are highlighted by crossover episodes that overlap all three shows, and each relevant episode from the other series is a bonus feature. (Season six of “Chicago Fire” begins Sept. 28 on NBC, season five of “Chicago P.D.” begins Sept. 27 and “Chicago Justice” was canceled after one season.)
“Chicago Med: Season Two” (Universal, 2016-17, six discs, 23 episodes).
“Code Black: Season 2” (CBS/Paramount, 2016-17, four discs, 16 episodes, deleted/extended scenes, featurettes, bloopers).
“The Heart Guy: Series 1” (aka “Doctor Doctor,” Acorn, 2016, three discs, 10 episodes). These three shows are all medical procedurals. “Chicago Med” is another Dick Wolf series set in Chicago, with Oliver Platt heading a team of doctors in a busy trauma center. “Code Black” is also set in a trauma center, with Marcia Gay Harden and Rob Lowe as doctors in an understaffed Los Angeles emergency room. “The Heart Guy” is an Australian comedy-drama about an arrogant, disgraced heart surgeon who returns home and begins working in a rural, understaffed hospital while navigating a dysfunctional family. (Seasons three of both “Chicago Med” and “Code Black” will begin in early 2018, on NBC and CBS, respectively; series two of “The Heart Guy” has already aired in Australia.)
“Veep: The Complete Sixth Series” (HBO, 2017, two discs, 10 episodes, audio commentaries). This popular political satire (which is profane on an R-rated level) stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the former vice president who ran for president in season five and ultimately lost after an initially tied vote. Now, she is writing a memoir and trying to mount a presidential library. (The seventh and final season will begin on HBO in early 2018.)
“The Real Story: Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (Smithsonian, 2011).
“The Real Story: Scream” (Smithsonian, 2012). The Smithsonian Channel’s documentary series “The Real Story” delves into the true stories that provided inspiration for fictional films, such as the UFO sightings that Steven Spielberg drew from for his 1977 sci-fi classic, and the gruesome crimes that led to the first of the Scream franchise, films that lace slasher-movie clichés with dark satire.
“Blaze and the Monster Machines: Wild Wheels Escape to Animal Island” (Nickelodeon/Paramount, 2017, four episodes). More episodes of the cartoon series about anthropomorphic vehicles, with the title story following Blaze and friends on an island where they transform into high-speed animal trucks.