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The Complete First Season
Starring: Sela Ward, Billy Campbell
Retail Price: $59.99
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, 6-Disc Set, Episode Selections, Chapter Encoded (5 Chapters per episodes)
Released: November 5th, 2002
What can I say? I guess the brilliant team of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick don't have much luck when it comes to keeping some of their series on the air. While "thirtysomething" had a great run and was essentially the best of 1980s television, "My So-Called Life," certainly one of the best shows of the 1990s in my opinion, lasted a mere 19 episodes due to poor ratings, but certainly not to critical acclaim and giant fans. And then we have "Once and Again," which is fair to say probably struck some middle contrast between those two other series.
"Once and Again" lasted three seasons, much more than "My So-Called Life." But the show wasn't treated fairly by ABC. The show opened to some really impressive reviews and instantly gathered a loyal fan base, also much like "My So-Called Life." But then you have Neilsen ratings issues and ABC moved this show around all over the place, making it impossible to find for the casual viewer. Only the most hardcore of fans knew where to find the show and when, and people complained and complained ABC really didn't do enough to support the show.
The show is incredibly endearing as it follows the relationship between two families coming together. When Rick Sammler (Billy Campbell) and Lily Manning (Sela Ward) meet by chance at a soccer game, the two parents (Rick is divorced and Lily is seperated) slowly fall in love and build a relationship. Of course, this has its share of problems with their children, divorce, the past, parents and a lot of other stuff.
"Once and Again" is simply TV drama at its finest. This show hits all the right notes without feeling corny, false or forced. Every thing here rings downright true, be it the situations or the characters. "Once and Again" explores a more modern family, which means divorce and second marriages and stepchildren. You definitely could see this stuff happening to people - and it probably has in some shape or form. But the beauty of the show was how the characters interacted with each other, how love can grow when some hope may be lost and issues as well as feelings all kinds of people could resonate with. And did I mention how it was done in such a strong, subtle matter where it felt so damn realistic (yes, even when the characters broke the fourth wall - I think that added to the realism).
Acting wise, "Once and Again" had it all. Sela Ward won an Emmy during the show's first season as Lily. Ward is an amazing actress who is happily married and has a family, but you'd think otherwise as if she had similar experiences as she totally embodies Lily as she acts on such pure, raw instincts with such motherly, heartfelt mannerisms. Her chemistry with Billy Campbell is magnetic; their pairing is one of the best ever between two people on television in my opinion. Campbell is equally superb as Rick, who truly channels the character as at he calls on emotions as if he did live this character his whole life. Supporting performances, particuarly from Evan Rachel Wood and Shane West are incredibly strong and lead into a fine ensemble. Those two young actors are becoming more and more noticed now, and certainly their roles on the show will be remembered as landmarks and pivots in their careers. When you watch all the actors together, you really think of them as real people and as real families.
I wasn't a die hard fan of "Once and Again," but when I was able to catch the show, I watched it and definitely enjoyed it (which is why it's a thrill for people like me who missed out the first time to have complete season sets). I suppose it's another prime example of "only the good die young." The show really had everything going for it with its actors, its characters, its stories, its writers, its directors and all the other elements. A show like "Once and Again" is hard to put into words because there is so much to it, as if this is real life. That's really a rare testament that can't be said about a majority of television shows. If you have never seen the show and like dramatic episodic television, then you have no idea what you're missing and need to check this show out. For everyone else, rejoice - one of the greatest TV dramas of all time has finally hit DVD. Enjoy the first season... and now I await the next two.
All the episodes for the first season of "Once and Again" are presented in their original 1.33:1 full screen format. There is a decent deal of noise on them and they seem a bit faded as well as grainy, but they are pretty good. I noticed some little specks and flaws of that sort here and there, but they aren't distracting and don't occur too often. Fleshtones look nice, detail is good and color saturation is pretty superb. I guess the transfers could have been smoother (but that's what you get for squeezing four episodes on a single disc), but no one should really be complaining.
The English Dolby Surround tracks for the episodes are also pretty good. The W.G. Snuffy Walden score sounds quite pleasant, while sound effects add in a few kicks and punches. The sound effects are small in their stature, but there is no denying that car doors slamming, bells ringing and footsteps are still effective. The dialogue is clearly placed and doesn't become cluttered in the other elements, and its clarity rings true. The show is dialogue based for the most part, and all the other things come together and work well here. 5.1 mixes could have probably worked, but what's here is fine. Also included are English subtitles and English closed captions.
Nothing, unless you count some SoapNet promos and inserts inside the first DVD case. Damn advertisments. What a shame. Though surprisingly, all the episodes are chapter encoded. You can't access direct chapters from the menu (only the episodes), but each episode has 5 chapters, most of which begin as if the show came back from a commercial break. Hopefully the next two seasons on DVD will have commentaries or interviews or something substantial.
"Once and Again" was truly a great series with wonderful, realistic characters, great writing, amazing acting and a lot of things we can all relate to. It's always sad to see a network mistreat a show that has its loyal fans, wins awards and is a critical favorite. Despite ABC moving the show around so much so it could never build a bigger audience, it lasted much longer than many expected. It's great to have then first of the three seasons on DVD, with ample transfer and sound mixes but no supplements to speak of. I would have loved interviews or commentaries, but I guess having the show itself is better than not having it all.