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Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Situation Comedy > LateLine - The Complete Series

LateLine: The Complete Series


Picture: B-     Sound: B     Extras: D     Episodes: B+



The late 1990s were a pivotal moment in Al Franken’s career.  He was stepping out of shadows of his success on Saturday Night Live and as a stand-up comedian and into the limelight as a liberal comedian taking jabs at right-leaning fundamentalists.  His book, Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot and Other Observations, became an overnight success, and wanting to capitalize on that, NBC gave Franken the to greenlight to create and star in his own primetime sitcom.  But rather than create a show that tackled political issues and debated hot topics, Franken and his partner John Markus, churned out a sitcom set behind-the-scenes at a fictitious Washington D.C.-based late night news program.  Think of it as The Larry Sanders Show, NewsRadio, and Murphy Brown—a TV series about a show within a show.


The show has several of the stereotypical characters one would find on the show.  The handsome-looking, but dim-witted anchorman (Robert Foxworth), the fast-paced, gung-ho executive producer (Miguel Ferrer), the female producer trying to prove herself to her machismo superiors (Megyn Price), and the smart guy nobody pays attention to because he is boring and unattractive (Al Franken).  But stereotypes aside, the show is quite good, with witty and insightful writing.  Also, the chemistry between all the characters makes this show truly outstanding and hilarious.  Perhaps the one character that truly steals the show is Ajay Naidu (most of you remember him from Office Space as Samir), who plays the intern for the news program.  His presence in front of the camera is phenomenal, as he steals the scene with his physical and spoken humor.


The brilliance and humor aside, the one thing that is really interesting is the many changes that are seen over the course of the series.  Given the fact the show lasted only three short seasons (two on NBC, one on Showtime) and only nineteen episodes, the changes that happen are really noticeable.  There are at least three different versions of the opening title sequence.  Looking at Season One and then at Season Two, it is apparent NBC liked what they say and increased the show’s budget, as the sets are much more elaborate in Seasons Two and Three than in Season One.  The other interesting thing to see is that in the second episode, Ajay Naidu dons a wig to cover his baldness.  It is weird to see, as he is bald in the pilot and then bald for the rest of the series.  I guess they wanted to test out the look, but usually if changes are made, it is because they did not work in the pilot, not the other way around.  Given other series that last a number of years, changes can be made gradually so as not to be obtrusive and standout.  But with the show being so short-lived, it is distracting to see all the changes happening so quickly.


That being said, there are only two other things about the show I felt did not work or were detrimental to the series.  The first is that in the first season, and even one or two in the third season, there were a few episodes that felt like they had no closure to them.  Specifically, certain storylines in the episodes just seem to end abruptly without the viewer feeling satisfied.  While it only happened it a few circumstances, this is a professional sitcom where these kinds of things should not happen.  The second thing involves the lighting scheme of the show.  Often times, it seems like there is too much light on the characters and sets which creates lots of shadows and gives the actors a soap opera-ish look to them.  It is not constant either, as in some scenes, the lighting seems fine, but then goes back to the over-lit scenes.  It is another element that is distracting.


But these are just small distractions and minute nit-picking that really do not take away from the quality of the content and the humor on an overall basis.  The show is smartly written, with the actors delivering great performances.


The video is presented in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is surprisingly very good as both the colors and the picture are sharp and bright.  Occasionally, the scenes get a bit grainy and there are hints of dust, but luckily, they are few and far-between.  There is also one short segment in one of the episodes where the color levels bleed and rotate between blue and orange.  Each disc contains a play all feature or you can view each episode separately, and each episode contains chapter breaks between segments when commercials would normally air.  The sound is given in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Surround, which does not make a whole bunch of sense given that it is a sitcom and mostly dialogue driven.  That being said, it mainly utilizes the center speaker, while occasionally using the surround for the laugh track and music.  Closed captioning is also provided in English.


As for extras, well, there are none.  This is truly a shame too, as one of the trademarks of the show is getting famous politicians to appear as themselves on the show and often times poke fun at themselves.  It would be interesting to hear their input on playing themselves, or at least audio commentaries by the show’s producers that gave insight into what that was like.


Overall, the show is highly funny and thoroughly entertaining.  The best guest stars included G. Gordon Liddy playing himself with a psychotic militaristic side to him and Allison Janney in her pre-West Wing days as a single mother smitten by Al Franken’s character.  Even Democratic Presidential candidate for 2004 John Kerry made a guest appearance that stole the show.  All in all, it is a great show that died too early, as is often the case with brilliant and misunderstood shows.



-   Antonio Lopez


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