Lateline: The Complete Series

During the '90s, The Simpsons and Seinfeld killed my tolerance for typical sitcoms, and South Park buried it. That said, this short-lived late-'90s program about a Dateline-esque Washington, DC-based news magazine show — an updated, edgier Murphy Brown with a more democratic ensemble cast, essentially — isn't half bad. Well, maybe a quarter bad. Over 19 episodes, Lateline's characters make tiresome errors in judgment, experience boring epiphanies, encounter coarse, one-dimensional foils and stumble through inane gags, as is the way of primetime network comedy. However, the jokes and the chemistry tighten up considerably as the show progresses, and the cast boasts Miguel Ferrer (Twin Peaks, etc.) and Ajay Naidu (Office Space, etc.), as well as the program's co-creator Al Franken, a former Saturday Night Live writer and cameo cast-member, current talk-radio host and future politician. In light of Franken's current gig at Air America Radio (the impetus for the release of this three-DVD set, I assume), Lateline's parodies of American news shows, the issues they cover and the politicians they interview are particularly poignant (but not nearly poignant enough), as is a guest appearance by a certain Senator John Kerry in the final episode. But the funniest guest by far is Nixon foot-soldier G. Gordon Liddy, who's also made a name for himself on the wacko gun-nut end of talk-radio. These little coincidences, ironies and oddities, along with a fair share of laughs, make Lateline worth a look. (Paramount)