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)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
include 7 featurettes on the making of the show, 3 “commercials” for the
lawyers and a fun Gag Reel.
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.
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.
include a Fox Movie Channel piece on the show (???) and commentary by the star
on some episodes.
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
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