Gift filter: Help me pick a present for a wonderful man
December 3, 2010 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Gift Filter: Help me pick a present for my step-dad. He's Canadian, 65ish, living in Hawaii. He's a nurse, not a huge drinker or reader. He enjoys watching sports to relax, specifically baseball and football- but I wouldn't characterize him as a huge sports fan. Same goes for gadgets- he's got an iphone and some nice stuff, but he's not over the moon for them. He adores my mother and doesn't seem to have a ton of hobbies. He really enjoys watching the History Channel, so I've heard. He and my mother also enjoy meaty thriller serials (24, Alias, BSG). He's a wonderful, caring man, and I'd like to get him something he'd really enjoy. I'm thinking about a boxed set of DVDs, but I need some advice:

-first, the History Channel is not my genre at all, and I have no idea what is "good" for someone who enjoys this sort of thing. (I've been looking on Amazon) If you are a history channel buff, which of those sounds good to you? Do you like to re-watch episodes, or does the repeat risk make this a bad idea?

-The more safe option might be a whole series of a show they can watch together. Any suggestions in the 24-Alias-BSG realm?

My budget is $50 for the History channel version or $100 or so for the series version.
posted by paddingtonb to Shopping (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by dfriedman at 3:46 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

How about books? Maybe a non-dry book about a historical period he's found interesting, or some well-researched historical fiction? (Patrick O'Brian?)
posted by hattifattener at 3:58 PM on December 3, 2010

history channel guy? Band of Brothers or the Pacific (disclaimer, history channel type husband has not yet watched the Pacific, but is excited to. He still rates the box of Band of Brothers as one of the best xmas presents ever.)
posted by ansate at 3:59 PM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

For thriller stuff, the first couple seasons of MI-5 are very good. I think the later seasons go off the rails a bit, but it might be a good choice if he's already familiar with most American thriller shows.
posted by gnat at 4:16 PM on December 3, 2010

This is kind of abstract, and involves your mom a bit, but bear with me. There's a type of person who likes the History Channel because they like the complexity of systems. When they were kids, those "How Castles Work" picturebooks were fascinating; when they grow up, they like watching HC for a more involved "How the Ming Dynasty Worked". Those types of people also tend to like those 'meaty' thrillers that you mention and other similar fiction because they involve a long story arc involving a complex civilization, machinations and power plays, developments over time, etc.

And you say that while he's not a big hobbyist on his own, he and your mom like to watch those things together. there a subject matter that both he and your mom would enjoy? Suggestions in that area might help narrow things down. If they like the old west, a boxed set of Deadwood might be good; English history, The Tudors; ancient history = Rome or I, Claudius. Any ideas?
posted by bartleby at 4:23 PM on December 3, 2010

bartleby, my mom isn't into the history channel either- she never watches with him. Otherwise, I think you're right on that it's the "how systems work" part that he likes, that rings true.

Thanks for all the responses so far!
posted by paddingtonb at 4:32 PM on December 3, 2010

2nding MI-5 which is similar to 24. It's no Sandbaggers but then what is?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:35 PM on December 3, 2010

I really enjoyed The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and I think somebody who enjoys history and those types of TV shows might also enjoy this book.
posted by willnot at 4:44 PM on December 3, 2010

My fiance just bought the new Mark Twain autobiography, and I'm probably going to get it for my dad too. radiofiance is enjoying it - he read me a few passages, which were witty in a very Twain-like way. It's more of a journal/memoirs than autobiography.

radiofiance also likes Band of Brothers a lot, and is looking forward to The Pacific.

There's only been one season, but we're really enjoying Caprica, which is the prequel to BSG. Of course in classic BSG DVD fashion, they're selling it in two volumes.
posted by radioamy at 4:51 PM on December 3, 2010

Aha. I suggested those things because they're gripping dramas (for mom?) that also have a well-researched complex historical context (for stepdad?). If mom doesn't particularly care for period stuff, they're still all great box sets, and if he's into any of those periods himself, good picks.

+1 on Band of Brothers and The Pacific for WWII, and for MI-5 for modern spycraft that others have mentioned. If he likes cops and criminals, the box set of The Wire will pretty much pin him to the couch for a month.

If he might be interested in "how systems fail", try the boxed set for Life After People. It's conceivably a bit depressing to some (and you might check with mom to see if he's watched it already?), but it's a technically interesting 'If all the humans hypothetically suddenly vanished, how long would the things we've build last? How long would it take nature to reclaim stuff, and in what order? What would it look like in 5, 10, 50, 100, 1000 years'?
posted by bartleby at 5:08 PM on December 3, 2010

Have you considered a set of Top Gear DVDs. The American version of the show is the hot new thing on the History Channel, but the dvds for the superior British series are available readily.

Although Mom wouldn't be as into the car stuff, all the hosts are comedians in their own right and quite entertaining.
posted by desl at 5:47 PM on December 3, 2010

Desl is my boyfriend being coy, but the UK version of top gear is not a half bad idea.

Otherwise I'm leaning toward MI-5 because I'm pretty sure they haven't seen it and step-dad has an affinity for all things commonwealth. Thanks y'all!
posted by paddingtonb at 6:12 PM on December 3, 2010

I thought the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers was pretty good (goes to the History Channel and the serials). I am not usually into war genres, but I liked it a lot.
posted by murrey at 6:26 PM on December 3, 2010

Boxed set of Slings and Arrows with Paul Gross. A wonderful Canadian drama series centered on the behind the scenes goings-on at a Stratford Festical type of Shakespearan theatre company. Every season (there are 3) centres on a different Shakespearan play (Hamlet, King Lear and another I don't recall). Lots of 'complexity of systems' type of stuff going on and some stellar acting. Plus, a main character who has a bit of The Crazy :)
posted by JoannaC at 9:07 PM on December 3, 2010

Boxed set of The Prisoner series starring Patrick McGoohan: retro, suspenseful fun.
posted by carmicha at 10:00 PM on December 3, 2010

Not a DVD, but the National Geographic Genomic Project costs about 100 bucks and would trace the movement if his ancestors through the ages by testing his DNA.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:56 AM on December 4, 2010

If he likes British stuff, my absolute favorite set of DVDs is the 5-disc A History of Britain by Simon Schama. I got it for ~$35 at Deep Discount DVD. So incredibly good - I've probably watched it through at least a dozen times and parts of it even more than that.
posted by clerestory at 5:57 AM on December 4, 2010

Sorry, I should have said that I'd mentioned a specific retailer so that you would know you didn't have to pay the full ~$100 list price at the History Channel website.

Also, if he likes the analytical side of history and is at all interested in technology, you could consider the Connections series (any of them, really) by James Burke. They're a perennial MeFi recommendation, even now that they're getting a bit long in the tooth.
posted by clerestory at 6:02 AM on December 4, 2010

2nding Firefly, Rome is good (total soap opera, but very violent in my books even compared to BSG, and very sexually explicit/ homoerotic). Decide what is the key feature of History channel interest (complex systems, militarism, intrigue) and check that against her interests (serial plot, intrigue, other?). For example, I like those series too, but tolerate sci-fi violence but not militarism in history format. What about the movie and seasons of Caprica?
posted by kch at 8:43 AM on December 4, 2010

The 26-episode British series The World At War is "the definitive visual history of World War II", it's narrated by Laurence Olivier, I defy you to find a bad review, and it's like $38 at Amazon right now.
posted by IvyMike at 11:48 PM on December 4, 2010

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