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Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Situation Comedy > Political > Drama > Cable > Alice: The Complete First Season (1976 – 1977/Warner Archive)/Franklin & Bash: The Complete First Season (2011/Sony)/Louie: The Complete Second Season (2011/Fox/all DVD sets)

Alice: The Complete First Season (1976 – 1977/Warner Archive)/Franklin & Bash: The Complete First Season (2011/Sony)/Louie: The Complete Second Season (2011/Fox/all DVD sets)


Picture: C+/C+/C     Sound: C+     Extras: D/C+/C     Episodes: A-/B/C



PLEASE NOTE: Alice is only available from Warner Bros. in their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.



The TV situation comedy came out of several traditions, including B-movie comedy series and radio comedy series when network radio ruled before TV ever arrived.  After TV’s rise in the 1950s, sitcoms were here to stay for a long time and by the time All In The Family arrived, groundbreaking sitcoms followed far beyond spin-offs of that classic.  These latest releases show us the rise and fall of what followed, including the state of sitcoms today.



In what is one of the longest waits for a major hit TV show ever in home video history, Warner Bros. is finally issuing Alice: The Complete First Season (1976 – 1977), but surprisingly from its Warner Archive on-line Manufacturer-On-Demand (MOD) division.  This is a shock considering this is one of the biggest hit TV shows the studio ever made, but it is finally here.  Previously, some episodes of the show had made it to a single DVD from Warner’s Television Favorites series that we reviewed at this link:





Many viewers of the time still think this was made by Norman Lear, but it was (again) derived from Martin Scorsese’s hit film Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and may be one of the most successful direct movie-to-TV adaptations ever.  The show was paired by CBS with The Jeffersons to make one of the most profitable and successful sitcom ratings pairing in TV history, but the show moved into a new direction both as compared to the Scorsese film and Lear’s sitcoms, was different than the somewhat gritty melodrama and developed its own sense of humor, feel and instant chemistry between the cast.


Alfred Lutter was carried over as son Tommy Hyatt, but it seems he did not match Linda Lavin taking over from Ellen Burstyn in the title role of the widow who breaks down in Phoenix, Arizona on her way to Hollywood, so Lutter was replaced by a much younger Philip McKeon and that worked.  Vic Tayback also moved over from the film as the loud owner and cook at Mel’s Diner, but Diane Ladd was replaced by Polly Holliday as Flo (the catchphrase “kiss my grits” was the catchphrase for the show and her signature) and Valerie Curtin was replaced by Beth Howland as Vera.  The latter two are waitresses who become best friends with Alice and make up the de facto family at the diner.


Unlike past female-lead sitcoms where the women had great careers or ones with great promise (Mary Tyler Moore’s Mary Richards worked a TV station, Bea Arthur’s Maude was a progressive housemaid, Bonnie Franklin’s Ann Romano was also working well-paying jobs), Alice was a waitress just getting by and TV had never seen a working class character like this before.  She was also upbeat, persistent, smart, a great mother, very smart, optimistic and a true feminist figure who became an icon influential to this day.  You can see it in independent films like Adrienne Shelley’s underrated Waitress (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and in the late Donna Summer’s first big comeback hit She Works Hard For The Money.


Logging in 24 half-hour episodes, you can see how the pilot with Lutter as Tommy looked more like the Scorsese film.  It is darker-looking, the credits are more abstract (ironically, the new credits for the series until it ended with the next show includes footage from the Scorsese film), the diner far more junky and loaded with older equipment, the feel more over-accessorized.  The makers paired down the diner and came up with a more effective look and it worked.  No show before or since had the character of this show and you can almost tell this from all other sitcoms in subtle ways by its look.


David Susskind, ironically a relative of Norman Lear, was a producer on the Scorsese film and the pilot of the series, but left afterwards.  The show touched on many social issues from cheating (financially and in relationships) to gun control in more than one case to sex education for children to sexual harassment to a wide range of other issues while being funny, having some great character development to having humor we had never seen on TV before to some items that would seem politically incorrect today, but that comes wit the territory of actually dealing with adult issues.


Rarely has final casting been so great and as you watch each show (something you can only do in this set in order) you can see how quickly the chemistry develops, the actors find their characters and how energetic and great this show was and still is as it has suddenly become as relevant as ever in the wake of so much regressiveness in the media against women.


One thing that did not work was trying to launch Tm Mahoney as a regular customer named Travis, who was played as a down-home Phoenix guy with a different sense of humor in a sort of Art Carney as Ed Norton way.  This did not work and feels like an idea from the pilot session that did not work.  Otherwise, The show remains hilarious, everyone’s comic timing is perfect, it remains one of the all-time U.S. TV classics and is the kind of smart funny show we rarely see anymore (think Big Bang Theory), yet this was more common, expected and normal at the time when TV was in it last big golden period.


Robert Getchell (who created the Scorsese film, plus Bound For Glory, the Leonardo DiCaprio film This Boys Life and adapted Grisham’s The Client into an underrated film) is rightly credited as the show’s creator and what he set up in the film endured through its hugely successful run.  So much works here and still works here that I was amazed and had seen these shows multiple times over the years.


There are sadly no extras, but get this set and be sure to look for guest turns by the likes of Adam West, Lara Parker, Ellen Heckart, Victor Buono, Dennis Dugan, Cliff Norton, Gordon Jump, Geoffrey Lewis, Norman Alden, Murray Hamilton, Tom Poston, John Fiedler, Maureen Arthur, Henry Polic II, Bernie Kopell, Kaye Ballard, Ron Carey, Hamilton Camp, Kenneth Mars and Ronnie Schell.


Lavin left a great role on Barney Miller (reviewed elsewhere on this site) to do this show and it was one of the greatest moves in TV history.  Alice has been out of circulation too long and despite the on-line only availability, making it the biggest hit TV show to ever (or that will ever) get this limited treatment, it is worth going out of your way to get.  Find out more at the link at the end of this review!




The other big surprise here is Franklin & Bash: The Complete First Season (2011), a new drama that is really a very smart sitcom at drama length.  Brecklin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar are the title characters, the title lawyers with a reputation for being silly, unorthodox and outrageous, but it is not just hype like some bad 1980s film or TV show.  They do push the envelope.  However, they are in need of a new case to make some money and take on one that brings them into contact with a powerful superlawyer (series regular Malcolm McDowell) who they land up going to work for.


In most cases, this might not work and event he very sharp, smart Steven Bochco could not make Raising The Bar (also with Gosselaar as a lawyer, reviewed elsewhere on this site) into a hit beyond two seasons, but the makers of this show have decided to do it as a comedy and subvert both the lawyer show and the sitcom while keeping it realistic and truly humorous.  Gosselaar and Meyer are perfect casting, have the chemistry, the comic timing, the talent and energy to make their parts work, all ten episodes are funny and well-written and the supporting cast is as strong.


Some of the set-up might seem like Big Bang Theory with the characters, but that’s fine and all of this adds up to the best non-HBO cable series since Justified.  The choice of guest stars also works, but here, I will not spoil any of it for you, but this is no doubt the funniest show to show up anywhere since Big Bang Theory or The IT Crowd and I hope it becomes a Mad Men-sized hit.  McDowell is also very much in his element and puts the show over in great ways.  If you like comedy and something funny, you will find it very hard to surpass Franklin & Bash, so be sure to get this set as soon as you can!


Extras include 7 featurettes on the making of the show, 3 “commercials” for the lawyers and a fun Gag Reel.




So what happened to the sitcom in between those shows?  The networks started to roll back the political and progressive content in the early 1980s, making for some of the worst TV in history ever made, but then The Cosby Show brought the format back and instead of understanding it as a conservative phenomenon that also involved racial politics, took a shortcut in thinking and decided you just hire a stand-up comic and build a sitcom around them.  That should lead to a hit.


In most cases it did not, but that legacy continues with Louie: The Complete Second Season (2011) in which wallowing-in-failure-and-depression stand-up Louis C.K. plays a variant of himself in a really slap-dash show where he does some stand-up, has some would be comedy in the dramatic sections and hopes it all works.  It really does not, but a few moments have promise and the show does not know what to do with them.  It is a one-note show that goes on and on and on and is very predictable, even when they have a talent like Joan Rivers (playing herself as very pessimistic, like everyone else on the show) and only the fact that the 13 half-hours are as professional as they are does not make me dislike the show more.  An acquired taste for fans only, skip it.


Extras include a Fox Movie Channel piece on the show (???) and commentary by the star on some episodes.




The 1.33 X 1 image on Alice looks pretty good for a show shot on analog NTSC professional videotape of its age and time, but we do get some flaws here and there including staircasing, aliasing, some video noise, haloing, more softness in some shots, video banding, some tape scratching, tape damage, white turning yellow more than it should and even cross color that could be corrected with some fixing up and a better NTSC decoder.  Otherwise, the show often looks better here than I have ever seen it look before.  The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Franklin has some softness of its own and a little motion blur, but averages out slightly better, while the same playback on Louie is much softer and more problematic than Alice, in part by design.


The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Alice sounds pretty good for the shows age and it helps it was all shot in studio, while the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes on the newer shows may sound newer, but never achieve any sense of soundfield.  Franklin has a better fidelity edge, however.




To order Alice: The Complete First Season, go to this link:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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