We live in a time of social unrest, financial instability, global violence, disease, famine, pestilence, and other worrisome things. In short: It’s scary out there, scary enough to make retreating into a fantasyland of film, music, television, and other forms of entertainment seem more appealing than ever. But you can’t live in a pop-culture bubble 24 hours a day… or can you? When The A.V. Club surveyed the landscape for this year’s gift guide, we noticed that much of what’s out there seemed designed to allow consumers to forget the real world any time they like. Why just style your hair when you could style it using Twilight-approved tools? What’s more, the usual crop of mammoth box sets seemed even mammother than usual, designed to provide not just hours, but days of entertainment. It’s as if someone out there knew we’d soon be wanting to go inside and stay there, safe inside a pop-culture bubble, for a long, long time. With that in mind, we compiled some gift ideas that should make your time in the bubble comfortable, entertaining, and self-sustaining. See you when things get better. Until then, we’ve got, like, 20 seasons of Law & Order to watch.
Rock-N-Ride Automotive Seat Covers ($22-$33)Supergirl fuzzy dice
from the rear-view mirror, or installing a Dukes Of Hazzard horn set
to make hitting those speed bumps around the neighborhood feel more exciting. But is that enough? Shouldn’t car owners actually be physically wrapped in pop culture at all times? They can with licensed microfiber bucket-seat covers, with band designs including Kiss, The Who, Ozzy Osbourne, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Judas Priest, Run-DMC, AC/DC, ZZ Top, and Lil Wayne. This way, rock fans who don’t have the time or money to airbrush their favorites onto the sides of their vans can just slap on an airbrush-like seat-skin and call it a day.
Did we get a free one? A more relevant question would be, did we ask for one? No. How could we possibly choose just one? And what self-respecting company would send us one of each, accepting at face value our claim that we drive a company nine-bucket-seat van?
Recommended for: People who’ve always wanted to sit on Gene Simmons’ face, but without actually catching a disease.
Next steps toward complete pop-cultural saturation: Plenty of custom seat covers have matching floor mats and steering-wheel covers, so why not these? That way, drivers could grip Lil Wayne and put their feet on Ozzy while sitting on Gene, and they wouldn’t have to commit to just one brand of car-rock. For that matter, why not a rear-view-mirror dangler shaped like ZZ Top’s beards?
Nirvana’s Nevermind, Super-Deluxe Edition ($179)
, the album you love but never listen to anymore because you heard it so many times, couldn’t let its 20th anniversary pass without reminding you how important it is, and what says “culturally significant” like a four-CD, one-DVD reissue in a beautiful, expensive package? Now you can put the original album on at the same time as the “Devonshire Mixes”—Butch Vig’s mix of the entire record—and try to spot the differences. (It ain’t easy.) Still, it’s great to be surrounded by all of the era’s B-sides and outtakes. What would Nevermind have sounded like if the band recorded it on a boombox and self-released it? “The Boombox Rehearsals” answers that question: pretty raw.
Did we get a free one? They sent us one, but they want it back. Bastards.
Recommended for: People who want the packaging, mostly. A really nice book, complete with coverage from the time period (including a hilarious Smash Hits pullout) is included in the bulky package.
Next steps: Is there anything left in the Nirvana archives? Did Cobain ever stop over at Mudhoney’s practice space to jam on a cover of “Crosstown Traffic”? Keep digging!
Smallville: The Complete Series ($340)any
TV show to run for 10 full seasons, let alone a show that flew almost completely under the radar, never becoming even a Top 100 hit. But that was the destiny of Smallville
, the WB/CW series that followed the adventures of a teenage, pre-Superman Clark Kent from 2001 to 2011. As much a coming-of-age saga as a superhero adventure, Smallville
held onto a small-but-loyal fan base for a decade, and now all of its 218 episodes are available in one mighty 62-disc DVD box set, complete with a handsome 32-page episode guide, a replica Daily Planet
, more than a day
’s worth of commentary tracks and featurettes, and the pilot episodes for the 1961 The Adventures Of Superboy
and the 2006 Aquaman
—two shows that never got picked up. Fans will need to draw on their powers of super-sitting to absorb all 9,261 minutes of this behemoth.
Did we get a free one? Yes. And we immediately placed it under a glass dome, next to our slice of Superboy’s farewell cake.
Recommended for: Smoldering small-town hunks who are content to do good deeds without receiving any of the credit they richly deserve.
Next steps: What did Clark Kent do when he left Smallville? He headed to the big city to take a job as a bumbling reporter. The CW needs to start production right away on Metropolis, a show focusing exclusively on the hero’s journalism career. No supervillains, just super-scoops! This one could easily run for 20 years—provided that future generations have any idea what a “newspaper” is.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version Deluxe Box Set ($30) Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version
MF Doom, Operation Doomsday Lunchbox (sold out, up to $125 on eBay)
which includes a wallet, mini-poster, sticker, extended artwork, liner notes, and most disquietingly, a laminated copy of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s food-stamp card. Yes, you can now take a little piece of Ol’ Dirty everywhere you go! Heck, you might even try to use
his food-stamp card. It’s what Dirty would have wanted. The MF Doom Operation Doomsday
double-disc reissue lunchbox similarly affords scamps the opportunity to carry their favorite supervillain with them to school every day while their parents rock out to a version of the album that started it all for Doom, remastered with alternate versions, B-sides, instrumentals, a 32-page lyric book, and character cards. It’s win-win!
Yes. The publicists behind these two fine items were more than willing to share them with us, and in plenty of time for the holiday, as well.
Recommended for: Elementary-schoolers with precociously bohemian tastes. Or hip-hop fans out to defraud the system in a retro-ironic fashion.
Next steps: Why not spice up your kitchen a little further with a cookbook from Raekwon, the chef of Wu-Tang Clan? His French cooking recipes are to die for!
Han Solo In Carbonite Ice Tray ($10)Star Wars
Custom Carbonites ($50-$300)
series is now an ice-cube tray. Remember that shocking movie that reversed all expectations for a kid-friendly space-opera adventure by letting the bad guys win? Remember how the villainous Darth Vader casually reduced rakish, resourceful space-smuggler Han Solo first to a screaming victim, then to a block of frozen metal? Now you can reproduce that moment, and use it to chill your drink. The irony, like the cold, is palpable. And for those who want to commemorate the same scene but don’t want agonized-looking miniature Harrison Fords floating around in their cocktails, Nebraska artist Paul Pape will turn pictures of people into sculptures of those people in blocks of carbonite, in various sizes at various costs. You could be quite well protected… if you survive the artistic process, that is.
Did we get them for free? No. ThinkGeek keeps selling out of the ice-cube trays, and Amazon and other distributors are strangely averse to just sending reviewers anything they want from their extensive catalog. We didn’t even ask Pape to make us a freebie sculpture, because we aren’t jerkwads.
Recommended for: Fans of the original trilogy who wish they could freeze it in carbonite circa 1983, protecting it from sequels, prequels, spin-offs, tie-ins, and repeated post-production digital tinkering.
Next steps: Frankly, it’d be difficult for the Star Wars series to saturate the market more thoroughly than it already has. Uh… has anyone marketed a Jabba The Hutt body pillow yet? He’s the right shape.
Twilight hairstyling tools ($13-$40)Twilight
branding monster has left its mark (officially and unofficially) on enough consumer products—from shower curtains
to adhesive bandages
—that fans could conceivably vampirize their entire lives if they so choose. The next logical step, then, is altering their physical appearance to more closely align with those of the Twilight
characters; once the application of white pancake makeup and perma-scowl is complete, turn to Pro Beauty Tools’ Twilight
Sparkle Tool collection to get Bella’s signature, uh, sort of wavy-ish brown hair, or Edward’s kinda-spiky also-brown hair. The “professional grade” curling iron, straightener, detailer, hot rollers, hair dryer, and brush are the only acceptable tools for creating the slightly-better-than-average hairstyles seen on the big screen, and their glittery purple finish and prominently placed Twilight
logo serves as reassurance that Jacob would totally approve of that curling-iron burn on your forehead.
Did we get them for free? No. We just slapped Twilight stickers on our own styling tools. Same thing, really.
Recommended for: The tragically flat-haired members of Team Edward and Team Jacob.
Next steps: Body glitter. So much body glitter.
The Smiths, Complete Super Deluxe Collector’s Box ($500)The Smiths
made just four massively influential studio albums in the mid-’80s, and they’ve been endlessly reissued, repackaged, and reevaluated over the years. There needn’t be any more of that after the deluxe version of the new Complete
collection. The entire catalog—those four albums, plus the live Rank
, and three singles and a B-sides collection—has been remastered by guitarist Johnny Marr and tucked into CD sleeves that look like the original LPs. That’s what you get for a mere $70 or so. Bump your investment up to $500, and you can be physically surrounded by Morrissey
and Marr as well: Packaged in “trunk-style” case, the “super deluxe collector’s box” gathers all eight albums on CD and LP, then throws in 25 7-inch singles, eight art prints, a poster, and a booklet. Oh, and some digital wallpaper. That must’ve been the expensive part.
Did we get a free one? Just the CD set so far, but we’re crossing our fingers for the big trunk. (Only 750 are available in the U.S., though, and they’re listed at $800-$1,000 on Amazon and eBay right now.)
Recommended for: Obsessives who probably have all of these records anyway, but don’t have the trunk. Or the poster.
Next steps: Can a Morrissey solo box be terribly far behind? There must be thousands of extra copies of Maladjusted somewhere, just waiting to be boxed up. Perhaps all in a nice faux-suede(head) case of some kind?
Skelton Crew Locke & Key replica keys ($25)Joe Hill
’s excellent comic-book series Locke & Key
is discovering the different enchanted keys that are hidden throughout Keyhouse, and figuring out their attendant magical powers. The 10 replica keys produced by Skelton Crew Studio may not turn their owners into ghosts, or let them see inside their own heads—or maybe they do—
but they’re certainly neat. And hey, just because they’re forged out of plain ol’ plated pewter and not a mystical metallic substance from another dimension doesn’t mean they’re worthless; thread a nice chain or ribbon through one of these babies to turn it into a necklace or Christmas ornament that serves as a constant reminder of how ordinary and non-magical your boring life is.
Did we get free ones? We were too scared to ask.
Recommended for: Those with a strong enough grasp of the divide between fiction and reality to resist the temptation to jam the Head Key into the napes of their necks in hopes of accessing repressed memories.
Next steps: Wait for Skelton Crew to start selling the Giant Key—it’s supposedly in the works—add four legs, and enjoy your new coffee table.
Scarface limited-edition humidor ($1,000)Scarface
leather jacket and various charcoal drawings of Al Pacino as Tony Montana, there’s really only one gift to buy this Christmas: a limited-edition humidor complete with Montana’s “family crest” (or something) and the words “The world is yours.” (Shouldn’t that be “The world is yours until you go cocaine-crazy and get gunned down”?) Inside, it’s the real deal, designed by a dude who’s apparently a star in the humidor world, and complete with an analog hygrometer, so your stogies don’t get too moist. Oh! You also get the Blu-ray and a bunch of art cards. Merry Christmas, dad! I hope you die in a hail of bullets!
Did we get a free one? Nope. We asked, but they only sent pictures. We’re probably going to kill their friend Angel with a chainsaw.
Recommended for: Tough guys with death wishes, or who secretly fantasize that they have a death wish. Must be cigar smokers.
Next steps: A limited-edition (of one) Tony Montana mansion, complete with giant piles of blow and M16 with M203 grenade-launcher attachment.
Friday Night Lights: The Complete Series with Dillon Panthers Sweatshirt Stadium Blanket ($100)great
television series? (Isn’t TV supposed to be the most compromised, mainstream outlet of the three?) But there’s nothing typical about Friday Night Lights
, which for five seasons spun compelling stories around the lives of Coach Eric Taylor and the players of fictional Dillon, Texas. Those worried that sports-related entertainment isn’t their thing should at least give the show—a warm, human, down-to-earth drama that happens to be about football—a chance. This new collection gathers the entire run, and it’s packaged in a “38-page collectible photo book” that isn’t terribly exciting. But a special version from the NBC Universal Store comes with a Panthers Sweatshirt Stadium Blanket. (Pfft, call us when they have an East Dillon version.) Still, it’s what’s on these discs that matters, and Friday Night Lights
is required viewing.
Did we get a free one? We did. Though honestly, we could’ve used seven or eight more. There’s a lot of Friday Night Lights box envy going around.
Recommended for: Dad, mom, brother, sister, friend, enemy.
Next steps: In a few years, they’ll probably issue the entire series inside a collectible Dillon Panthers football or something. Might as well get it while it’s in this slim volume.
Sylvester Stallone “Chaos” pen by Montegrappa ($4,000-$5,000)The Expendables
. Reading the description without actually seeing the photos, you might assume nothing too gauche. But check out that thing: It’s all skulls and snakes straight out of some high-school metalhead’s notebook. And it costs between $4,000 and $5,000.
Did we get a free one? We didn’t even try.
Recommended for: Stallone, Stallone’s friends trying to be polite, rednecks who won the lottery.
Next steps: There’s only one place for Stallone to go next: diamond-encrusted tea sets.
VHS: Absurd, Odd, And Ridiculous Relics From The Videotape Era ($14)Found Footage Festival
videos you’ve seen here at The A.V. Club
before—make the leap to the printed page with VHS
, a glossy, full-color collection of some incredibly ridiculous VHS covers they’ve collected over the years. What it lacks in live-action weirdness, it makes up for in total immersion. You couldn’t make up stupider, funnier covers than “Clown Ministry Video” or “Hunks With Hats.” And having these all collected in one volume is surely better than clogging the entire basement with videocassettes.
Did we get a free one? Totally. Unsolicited, even.
Recommended for: ’80s nostalgists with sarcastic taste. People with coffee tables.
Next steps: How about a book featuring stills from all the best Atari 2600 games?
Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection ($100)Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection
, which gathers all the sound shorts and features together into a 10-disc set. “The Music Box,” a.k.a. “the one where the boys have to move a piano up a stairs”? It’s in there. Sons Of The Desert
, the feature that inspired the name of the international Laurel and Hardy appreciation society? It’s in there too. The ones where Laurel and Hardy deliver their dialogue in Spanish? Those too.
Did we get a free one? Yes. And just try to pry it away from us.
Recommended for: Fans of laughing.
Next steps: Al, Jimmy, And Harry: The Collected Works Of The Ritz Brothers.
Sodastream Genesis Home Soda Maker ($100)
Did we get a free one? Yes, including a ton of flavors. It caused a brief flurry of activity around the office, which is probably how it will play out in people’s homes as well.
Recommended for: A holiday gift for someone you don’t know very well, but still want to drop some coin on.
Next steps: Do they make a super-convenient French-fry machine yet? If not, they should.
The Flaming Lips Gummy Song Fetus and Silver Trembling Fetus Ornament ($150 and $30)
Did we get a free one? Fairly easily. The publicist seemed almost eager to get rid of a couple. Then again, they probably don’t want to get busted with boxes of these things.
Recommended for: The pro-lifer in your life.
Next steps: An appreciation of The Flaming Lips can and should begin in utero. Why not a customized sonogram that plays the band’s entire catalog through the uterine wall to your unborn child? He or she will pop out of the ol’ cervix with excellent taste in music. And “She Don’t Use Jelly” will take on a whole new meaning.
Planet Earth: Six-Disc Limited Collector’s Edition DVD ($80, $100 for Blu-ray)Planet Earth
series will surely want to express their respect by tucking DVDs inside a gauche little plastic globe, right? A weird display of cognitive dissonance if there ever was one, this ugly plastic ball—inconveniently shaped, though mercifully with a base to hold it upright—houses six discs that explore Earth beautifully. You’ll want to keep your eyes on the TV (or go outside) to distract from the ball’s silliness. Or you could just throw it out, and honor Gaia by filling one of her landfills. The balls are individually numbered, so she’ll know you sent it.
Did we get a free one? Yes, though not the Blu-ray, sadly. Number 2,026 out of 50,000, as a matter of fact.
Recommended for: Earth enthusiasts and plastic enthusiasts.
Next step: A PETA documentary in a fur-lined case?
Star Wars Back Buddies ($40-$48)Star Wars
Back Buddies”: One carries your stuff, the other carries your stuff by mounting an Ewok on your back as if you slaughtered it out in the wild. It’s a backpack so large, and in some cases adorable, that it’s impossible to avoid, ensuring the entire world knows of your unabashed, unwavering love of the Star Wars
franchise (episodes IV-VI). The website 80s Tees carries a full line of Back Buddies—including C-3PO, Storm Trooper, Yoda, Darth Vader, and even a tiny Chewbacca—so you can ally yourself with both sides of The Force. Plus, strapping an R2-D2 to your back is an automatic conversation-starter, especially
if that conversation happens via a series of beeps and boops.
Did we get a free one? Nah. Why settle for a plush toy when we can go slaughter our own Ewok?
Recommended for: Those who want to recreate the Luke training montages with Yoda on their back, but without all the pesky building of a puppet or becoming an actual Jedi.
Next steps: A nice selection to start with, but no Luke? Leia? Han Solo? Admiral Ackbar? Jar Jar? Maybe a slaughtered youngling? The Back Buddy line has room to grow. And hardcore hikers who need to carry a lot of gear will appreciate a plus-sized Jabba The Hutt.
Law & Order: The Complete Series ($700)Law & Order’s
longevity—it’s tied with Gunsmoke
for the longest-running prime-time drama ever—is the durability of its formula. How many other shows have the episode’s structure built into the title? Go back to the first episode, presented here in glorious non-widescreen, unlike the cropped versions available on Netflix, and the elements are already in place. There’s no wisecracking Briscoe, no world-weary McCoy, no hot female prosecutor, but they’ll come in time, as will a guest-starring parade of nearly every actor who’s ever called New York home. Speaking of time, you’ll need a lot of it, since the 456 episodes—half of which are not otherwise available on DVD—add up to nearly three uninterrupted weeks of screen time. Try not to misplace any of those 104 discs.
Did we get a free one? We asked, and before you could say “thunk-thunk,” the nice folks at NBC Universal had it on our doorstep.
Recommended for: Serious L&O junkies, or anyone who’s fantasized about a three-way with Jerry Orbach and Dann Florek.
Next steps: First, participate in the process by buying a Law & Order gavel that makes that “thunk-thunk” sound. Then, once you’ve watched the whole show, you’ve got SVU and Criminal Intent to get through, not to mention the one-season Trial By Jury and the UK version. But for God’s sake, get some fresh air first.
Official Devo Yellow Jumpsuit and Energy Dome ($50 and $32)Devo
is one of the first bands to market itself through merchandising in a wholly ironic sense—that is, until the veteran avant-rock group started making actual hits in the ’80s, at which point the conceptual nature of its merch turned into something far more earnestly lucrative. On the wave of the group’s latest resurrection, the Official Devo Yellow Jumpsuit and Energy Dome are now available for purchase and self-adornment; after all, how better to display your postmodern individuality than by wearing a uniform?
Did we get a free one? Yes, and with little difficulty. Given how perennially successful the band has proven to be over the decades, there’s probably an entire village of sweatshops in Bangladesh devoted solely to Devo.
Recommended for: New traditionalists, young and old.
Next steps: The group has allowed the kid-cover-band travesty known as Devo 2.0 to happen. At this point, why not let anyone who buys a Jumpsuit/Energy Dome set actually be a member of Devo for a concert?
Mastodon Tusk Beer Stein ($65)The Hunter
, the popular metal band Mastodon
has proven it can ease up on the concept records and make music for partying. And partying means drinking—which is why the Mastodon Tusk Beer Stein is the perfect yuletide accessory for guzzling and head-banging. Standing 6.5 inches high, holding a third of a liter of grog, and shaped like the tusk of (very small) mastodon, the mug also bears the name of the group and its new album, just in case the symbolism is a little too subtle.
Did we get a free one? “I’m so sorry,” said the publicist’s not-so-sorry-sounding reply, “but we actually cannot send anyone [sic] of these out. They are strictly for consumers.” Well, that’s a catch-22. How we can consume the contents of the stein if no one will give us the stein?
Recommended for: Those male family members with sleeveless jean jackets, Viking complexes, and pronounced brow ridges.
Next steps: Obviously, Mastodon needs to start brewing its own seasonal holiday beer with which to fill those epic steins. A nice, dark porter—as thick and pungent as pachyderm piss—would do nicely.
Thomas Ligotti, The Agonizing Resurrection Of Victor Frankenstein Deluxe Edition ($1,750)
The Thomas Pynchon of existential horror, the reclusive author Thomas Ligotti has become a cult figure over the decades. His erratic output, reliance on small presses, and occasional collaborations with similarly arcane artists such as the experimental group Current 93 has only added to his mystique—not to mention his small yet hardcore fan base. But Centipede Press is really testing the threshold of Ligotti fanaticism with the Agonizing Resurrection Of Victor Frankenstein Deluxe Edition. A lavish repackaging of one of the author’s most beloved (and skin-crawling) short-story collections, Centipede’s limited edition—only 15 were made—features premium production and printing, gorgeously chilling artwork by Harry O. Morris, and a personalized autograph from the creepy hand of Ligotti himself. It will also set you back the price of a used car.
Did we get a free one? No. Short of selling a major organ, acquiring one is next to impossible.
Recommended for: People who don’t need a car, presumably because driving one means leaving mom’s basement.
Next steps: For an extra $1,000, Ligotti will come to your home, make you dinner, slit your throat, and write a short story about your meaningless death—scrawled in your own blood—which you may read as your last breath escapes your lungs.
Lou Reed Signature Headphones ($400)
Lulu, Lou Reed’s sublimely bad collaboration with Metallica, has been one of the most talked-about (and least-purchased) releases of their respective careers—and it’s put the aging Reed back in the category of aural terrorist. And yet he’s teamed up with the electronics company Klipsch to endorse the Lou Reed Signature Headphones, which boast “aesthetics chosen by the mastermind himself.” Of course, that could mean anything; perhaps the headphones adhere themselves to your skull, inject probes deep into your brain, and pump a high-volume, nonstop loop of Metal Machine Music directly into your cerebral cortex. As a bonus, the first 50 online orders will receive “a free, autographed Lou Reed CD!” Three guesses as to which CD that will be.
Did we get a free one? An email request for a sample pair of Lou Reed Signature Headphones apparently fell on, um, deaf ears.
Recommended for: Whatever the polar opposite of an audiophile is.
Next steps: Lou Reed Signature Self-Mutilation Kit.
Dinosaur Jr. Cassette Trilogy ($39)Dinosaur Jr.
has seen a huge critical resurgence over the past few years, thanks in part to a recent wave of reissues of the group’s early catalog. But if you’re looking for a more faithful approximation of the band’s fossils, there’s the new Dinosaur Jr. Cassette Trilogy. Issued in December by the label Joyful Noise, the box set—limited to 500 copies—will reproduce Dinosaur Jr.’s first three albums (1985’s Dinosaur
, 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me
, and 1988’s Bug
) in a format they haven’t seen in decades: cassette. Packed in a screen-printed, hand-numbered wooden box with foldout artwork, there’s simply no better way to prove your old-school loyalty.
Did we get a free one? In spite of the limited-edition-ness of this box set—it’s currently sold out—the label’s response to a request for a promo copy was an immediate and enthusiastic “We’d be happy to!” Obviously this is a pure labor of love, not a moneymaking enterprise—and the folks at Joyful Noise seem pleased as Joseph and Mary just to show off their baby.
Recommended for: The ’80s fetishist who just can’t get retro enough. Also, people so young, they have no firsthand experience of how annoying cassettes are.
Next steps: Wax-cylinder reissues of the slim discography of Deep Wound, the seminal yet short-lived hardcore band that J Mascis and Lou Barlow played in before forming Dinosaur Jr.