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The Complete First Season
Running Time: 693 minutes
Starring: Roma Downey, Della Reese
Retail Price: $49.99
Features: Audio Commentary with Creator Martha Williamson and Producer Jon Andersen for "The Southbound Bus," Audio Commentary with Director Tim Van Patten and Phylicia Rashard for "Tough Love," Audio Commentary with Creator Martha Williamson, Jon Andersen and Director Tim Van Patten on "Fear Not!", Audio Commentary with Creator Martha Williamson, Jon Andersen and Gregory Harrison on "There, For The Grace Of God," Series Finale Episode, Martha Williamson Talks About Touched By An Angel, Touched By An Angel Says Goodbye, 60 Minutes Interview
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Stereo, Spanish Stereo, English Closed Captions, Episode Selection, Chapter Stops (6 chapters per episode), Four-Disc Set
Released: August 31st, 2004
An out-of-nowhere success in television, "Touched By An Angel" certainly garnered its fair share of success in the world of television. Originally debuting on CBS in 1994, the show was noticed by some but did struggle for a bit. However, once it made the move to Saturday nights (people watch TV on Saturdays?) it was a ratings success (and then dwindled greatly when CBS moved it to Sunday nights). The show received some award nominations to boot, and lasted neatly nine years. When it comes to 1990s television, "Touched By The Angel" was the pinnacle of a time, hourlong drama that families with religious ties could watch and enjoy together. It doesn't get any tamer than this.
The show was about angel Monica (Roma Downey) who was sent to earth to help people in need, and usually re-discover their faith. Along for the ride was her supervisor Tess (Della Reese), who often helped her out. I'm all for television that teaches the importance of life and compassion, and while I certainly understand why so many have embraced "Touched By An Angel," the show doesn't really do anything for me. Sure some of the themes of the show are universal and there's a lot to get out of the show, but there is a bent on it toward the Christian faith (I'm not a Christian). I certainly respect and admire the show in how it touched people and was able to teach positive things, but a lot of it is the same every episode - someone has a major problem and it tends to get worked out somehow. I'm sure a lot of people have seen these storylines elsehwere - be it on the news or in other forms of media. Still, I'm rather sure there are those who found these episodes heartwearming, inspiring and helpful (and that's not a bad thing). On a much different note, the series does feature some strong acting. Della Reese is pretty noteable as the motherly, wise and resourceful Tess and Roma Downey (she's quite the babe) certainly carried the series as Monica, exuding some nice dramatic touches and reaching deep with the character, making her conflicted at times yet sweet and caring.
I'm sure this show on DVD will be a big seller, especially since Paramount is going to issue season sets. The first season features the first thirteen produced episodes (which actually span from September 1994 to October 1995), and as an interesting bonus, the two-part series finale. So if you want to relive the series from the start and learn some good values, go out and get touched.
The episodes are presented in 1.33:1 full screen, and while the series finale looks pretty great (since it was made pretty recently), all the other first season episodes look pretty bad. The episodes obviously weren't cleaned up, and it seems nobody really took good care of these prints. Other than the nicks, blemishes, scratches and marks over the prints of the shows, there is a pretty washed out look to the image quality. Episodes are grainy and fuzzy, fleshtones are below average and detail doesn't make any impressions. Worst of all, the colors are incredibly weak and look incredibly bland, and even sorta just pushing together. I was surprised in just how underwhelming the show looked - especially since its so popular and it's not that old.
The episodes feature English tracks in stereo, which are okay. Now and then a stereo effect will come into play with the show's music or a sound effect, but it isn't too often and it certainly isn't bombastic. Dialogue is easy to hear though, and the show's sappy and inspriational music helps set the stage to the episodes. In all, this is decent sounding but basic stuff. Stereo tracks are also available in Spanish, and there are English closed captions too.
This is the first television boxed set from Paramount that I can recall that isn't a "Star Trek" show or "I Love Lucy" but has supplements. The set has four Audio Commentaries. The first audio commentary is on the episode "The Southbound Bus" and features show creator and executive producer Martha Williamson and Jon Andersen. The two are pretty chatty (there are some dead spots) and have a lot of warm memories about making the series, and tell some production stories too. The commentary also focuses on the history of the show a little bit, and how a lot of people got a lot of start on the show. It's a very nice and friendly commentary. The second commentary, for the episode "Tough Love," is also friendly as director Tim Van Patten and actress Phylicia Rashard talk about their work. They share a few laughs and their own stories on working on it, but despite some silent moments, both seem to really like their work and talk about the importance of this episode. The third episode with the commentary is "Fear Not!" with Williamson, Andersen and Van Patten. Williamson is very candid in this track - she talks about CBS struggling what to make of the show and that it wasn't doing great in the ratings. But she also really loves it, while Andersen and Van Patten talk about production aspects of the series and a bit about the show. Finally, "There, But For The Grace Of God" features commentary with Williamson, Andersen and actor Gregory Harrison. This is probably the best of the four commentaries, as Harrison goes into great detail about his friendship with Williamson and how he played a large part in developing the episode. Like all the other tracks, everyone gets along well but there is the most information in this one. I'm not sure who will listen to these commentaries exactly, and while I'm not a big fan of the series, they are pretty engaging commentaries.
The fourth disc houses the rest of the extras. For some reason Paramount has included the Series Finale of the show on the fourth disc (it's a two-parter), which is an interesting touch - probably because of the parallels between this last episode and the first.
Lasting seven minutes is Martha Williamson Talks About Touched By An Angel. It's a pretty good featurette to watch, even if Williamson seems just slightly preachy. (it seems to be have done before the series ended). She talks about the importance of religious faith and inspiration, and articulates what about the show has touched people as well as her overall vision of the series. Those who attach themselves to what the show offers will probably get the most out of this interview.
Touched By An Angel Says Farewell lasts a little under three minutes, and seems to have aired on a CBS news program. Williamson, Roma Downey, Della Reese and someone else talk about the show, its last episode and the impact and overall importance of the series. Clips from the show and footage from the set are edited in. It's a nice little thing, and I guess the only reason it's included because the last episode is on the set. Don't be surprised if there is a little bit of history repeating when the last season hits (I guess that'll be in a few years time).
Rounding the set out is a 60 Minutes Interview done in April of 1997 with Ed Bradley. Lasting 15 minutes long, this unedited interview has Martha Williamson talking about herself, religion and the show itself. She comes across as very gracious and very proud of the series, and seems amazed the show survived. I suppose some of her comments overlap with what she says on the commentaries, but her passion and devotion to the show is admirable (Bradley asks the right questions to boot). Williamson comes across as caring and intelligent too (and compared with the other interview, she certainly lost a lot of weight), making this interview worth a watch if you are a fan of the series. Nicely done.
"Touched By An Angel" was a show that certainly had longevity, and I'm sure many are happy to have the first season on DVD. It's nice Paramount has included several extras with the first boxed set, and while the sound tracks on the episodes are fine, the episodes (except for the series finale) look pretty terrible. Nonetheless, there's a decent value to be had here with the episodes and extras.