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Friends
The Complete First Season

review by Zach B.

 

 

Not Rated

Running Time: 587 minutes

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer

 

Studio: Warner Bros.

Retail Price: $69.98

Features: Never Before Seen Footage, Episode Previews, Cast and Crew, Audio Commentary with Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane, Friends Of Friends, How Well Do You Know Your Friends?, A Peek at Central Perk, Season 2 Trailer

Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Digital 5.0, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Korean Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (35 Scenes), Four Disc Set

Released: April 30th, 2002

 

 

Way back in 1994, a little show on NBC debuted called "Friends." I must admit when I saw promos and advertisments for the show, I had no idea what to think. Given similar sitcoms with similar backdrops that failed miserably in the past (and now rip-offs of "Friends" itself that are just as bad), I didn't know what to think exactly. Either way, "Friends" was the type of show NBC needed for its Thursday night staple "Must See" lineup. The show was pretty much an instant smash and success, and instant household names were born in Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry. It lifted up NBC Thursdays even more, and was pretty much the type of show people wanted: a likeable cast, solid writing that was funny and things that people could relate to: bizzare situations that come out while interlocking key relationships. The last thing is probably what has made the show so strong and evolve, especially as things grew in later seasons. NBC was successful in many ways in the 1990s, and "Friends" was truly a big mark for them. It's amazing that 1994 was only eight years ago... it seems so much longer, and it seems that "Friends" has been on longer than that. "Friends" has truly made its way and mark on popular culture... the show is really big in a variety of different countries. It's been a phenom the whole way through, basically.

I must admit I never really became hooked into the show. I do enjoy the show and I am a casual watcher on Thursdays and through the magic of syndication, but now it was time for me to go back and see where it all began. I've seen some first season episodes, but now was the chance to get into the series the proper way (and now I can wait for each season). There have been many series that are so beloved by the public, yet when they first started out, no one really got into them, let alone they weren't great to begin with. Thankfully though, this is not the case with "Friends." Yes, the show has evolved thanks to its characters and relationships (like any show, naturally), but it was pretty strong from the get go and the first season is sharp, pretty laugh out loud hilarious and just plain fun. While I don't LOVE every single episode here, I do love some and really enjoy all the others. This is as good as first season television ever gets (and yes, the show improves later on as you know).

Despite the dead-on writing, great directing (the talented James Burrows, a television directing legend has directed a good deal of episodes), the cast really makes the show shine and always has. Essentially, this is great casting. Everyone here has a genuine chemistry that is by no means fake, and we can see that through their acting and sense of respect toward one another. Like I said, the group of actors are quite likable. And yes, there's been stuff outside the show how they're all great "friends" (HAHAHAHAHHAHAHA PUNNY) in real life, but as the episodes grow and the seasons have packed on, we really do see that Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox Arquette and Matthew Perry are talented actors with great comedic timing, solid lines deliveries and have plenty of charm to spare. This really is a good group of actors (who as I write, are getting a million per episode for the series final season), who really do have good relationships off screen, and I'm sure their chemistry there has translated on screen, especially as each season has passed. Chemistry in a show like this are key, and it's all played down flawlessly.

Finally abandoning their annoying "Best Of Friends" discs, we get the whole series in complete order. All the first season episodes are right here: "The Pilot," "The One with the Sonogram at the End," " The One with The Thumb," "The One with George Stephanopoulos," "The One with East German Laundry Detergent," "The One with The Butt," "The One with The Blackout," "The One Where Nan Dies Twice," "The One Where Underdog Gets Away," "The One with The Monkey," "The One with Mrs. Bing," "The One with Dozen Lasangas," "The One with The Boobies," "The One with The Candy Hearts," "The One with The Stoned Guy," "The One with Two Parts," "The One with All the Poker," "The One Where the Monkey Gets Away," "The One with The Evil Orthodontist," "The One with The Ick Factor," "The One with The Birth," and "The One Where Rachel Finds Out." Enjoy "Friends" fans!

 

 

Presented in its original 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratio, which was of course the way it was shot since it is your standard sitcom. Overall, the transfers for the episodes are incredibly strong. All of the episodes have been digitally remastered, and there are only a few flaws on the transfers. The prints of some episodes have a speck, scratch and blemish here and there which isn't major, and there is some grain which is somewhat noticable. Otherwise, everything else is great. Noise is kept to a minimum, while detail is rather impeccable, fleshtones hit the spot and colors are very well saturated. The show features a variety of sets and colors, so something always stands out which is actually nice. Overall, no major complaints and fans should enjoy what's here.

 

Remixed in English Dolby Digital 5.0, these mixes are very nice and compliment the show quite well. If you've ever checked out "The Best Of Friends" sets from before, you know what you're getting into here. The opening theme song and music cues are very well mixed throughout the channels and have a nice presence to them, while the dialogue is clear and crisp. Since this sitcom is all talk and not so much on physical comedy for noises, there's not much surround wise to expect here. The laugh track feels natural and sounds particuarly good as well, it just fits in. All the tracks have a nice, loud ambiance to them. And while there is no .1 LFE, I didn't find it needed. Overall, strong stuff here given the material. Also included are English subtitles, French subtitles, Spanish subtitles, Korean subtitles and English closed captions.

 

The first boxed season of "Friends" isn't jammed pack, but does have some pretty decent supplements. Hopefully in the future we'll get more extras for the future seasons (I'd love cast commentaries), but what we have here is good and is certainly better than nothing (a trend that seems to be appearing quite often in older television shows coming to DVD).

On the first disc, we get a mere Cast and Crew listing (ech, I never consider that a feature since it's just a credit listing) and probably the best supplement in the set, an Audio Commentary with Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane. The latter two, of course, also created the show and have written some episodes. This is one awesome commentary that ranks right up there with any other commentary for any other medium. The three were recorded seperatley, and therefore this commentary is edited. Still, I'm assuming they put the best stuff in, because everything here said is very good and rather insightful. Bright's comments seemed read and sort of forced, but they are quite good, especially as talks about the title sequence and a compromise with NBC over it. Kauffman and Crane talk about the focus of what they wanted to do and inspriations concerning the show, the cast and breaking the sitcom mold. There are a lot of great bits here that will surely delight fans, and it's never dull. And out of all the commentaries I've heard for episodes of television series, this does rank as one of the best for sure. I wish the three commented on other episodes in the set, though...

The rest of the stuff is on the fourth disc. Friends Of Friends lists all the first season's guest stars and shows their clips here (yay Jon Lovitz!). I'd say this is kinda pointless... seeing how you can just see these clips in the episodes themselves. But if you want to jump directly to a guest star and see a single scene with them, here ya go...

A Peek At Central Perk is an interactive map of the famous hangout. You can see stills of the café, read tidbits about it and even hear from the show's art director, John Shaffner who walks about the names of the original hangouts... and babbles on about the title. It's fun to look at, I suppose.

How Well Do You Know Your Friends? is a trivia quiz mixed with clips from the episodes when you answer, and finally, there is a Trailer For Season 2 in full frame.

Also, each episode has Never Before Seen Footage. And yes, you "The Best Of Friends" fans know that those collections also had never before seen footage. Everything is seamless though, and since I'm not a die hard watcher, I couldn't really tell what was new and what was old. For all I know some episodes may have minutes of new footage and others mere seconds. And there is no indication of what is new, which would have been nice. My guess? Probably the stuff that doesn't really work or advance the plot... like cheap laughs. Hmm. Oh yeah, and there are Episode Previews. I really wouldn't call this an extra... by clicking the coffee cup next to each episode, you'll be treated to a short clip from the episode you picked.

Oh, on another note, I wish the episodes had chapter stops. Grr. It's just a pet peeve of mine when studios do that... play the episode straight through with no stops, and when you skip a chapter you go to the next episode. Ah well, that's just plain old nitpicking.

 

"Friends" fans, this is what you've been waiting for. You can now add the whole first season to your DVD collection. Thankfully, the first season is a strong showing of the series and of what was to come. The set itself has good video, fine audio remixes and a decent collection of supplements. While the price may be a bit high for some, especially with what you get, you can surely score it cheaper. For "Friends" fans though, this is an obvious must own collection.