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Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Situation Comedy > Soap Opera > Serial > Soap – The Complete Series (Sony DVD)

Soap – The Complete Series (Sony DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Episodes: B+



All In The Family opened up so much great TV and Norman Lear did some innovative shows afterwards.  One standby to take on is the daytime soap opera, as no show goes on and on like a successful serial drama.  He came up with Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and though it was a great show, there were other possibilities and the team of Susan Harris, Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas found it with Soap, a brilliant TV comedy show that arrived in 1977, ran four seasons, changed TV forever and for three of those seasons was a show so on the cutting edge that it could go a few rounds with Saturday Night Live and remains an all-time TV classic.


I watched it from the first episode, expecting something interesting and for the first three seasons, never missed a debut broadcast of any of the shows.  That’s how great I thought the show was.  Seeing this again over thirty years later, I realize how great the show was, how it is one of the most well-cast TV shows in history, is still ahead of its time and in its first season, is the single greatest season of TV comedy in American television history.


Besides the great writing by Harris and others, plus the amazing cast, director Jay Sandrich (whose work began on The Andy Griffith Show and started directing great episodes of That Girl and Get Smart, he continues to be one of the most prolific TV comedy directors of all time) made this the first show he took on on a regular basis and it is a marvel.


The story and series begins with two families of different social economic classes (the rich Tates and poor Campbells) tied together by two sisters who love each other.  Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon) has her construction worker husband (Richard Mulligan), gay son (Billy Crystal in a role that put him on the map in the long run), puppeteer son with a split personality he manifests through a puppet (Jay Johnson) and straight son (Ted Wass) who is involved with mobsters and (at first) thinks he is Italian when he is not.


Her sister Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) is also married to a businessman (Robert Mandan) Chester who is on the take with his company’s money and sleeping around all over the place, father (Arthur Peterson) who thinks WWII is still going on, daughter (Jennifer Salt) who is a reporter sleeping around, another daughter (Diana Canova) who is in love with a priest and a son (Jimmy Baio) who is just trying to have a normal girl-chasing teen life.  They luckily have a butler named Benson (Robert Guillaume) who can’t stand half of them, but loves Jessica like a sister and enough to tolerate the ones he does not like.


Though the first three seasons are great, nothing in TV history is as intense in a narrative level like the first season of Soap.  So many ideas, characters, bold storylines and comedy that it is a whirlwind, a force of nature and arguably the peak of the U.S. TV sitcom; a fact that will not be changed by High Definition TV or any cable TV show.  The words “brilliant” and “genius” get kicked around all the time, but for most of the time, the series lived up to that kind of hype and it helped put the ABC TV network on top in a way it never has been since.


Taking some cues from short-lived shows like Hot L Baltimore and breaking through more of the then-limitations of the Big Three Networks, the show went all-out and never stopped being great.  However, by the end of season three, one too many contrivances (not enough new characters being introduced), problems with developing some new ones and the loss of Benson (towards the end of the third season) to a hugely successful spin-off eroded the core audience sadly.  However, while it was on top, Soap was unstoppably funny and its arrival on DVD was a key release when the separate season arrived.  As a Complete Series set, it is a must-own set.


Other great actors across the series included Nita Talbot, Robert Urich, Sal Viscuso, John Byner, Rebecca Balding, Dinah Manoff, Gordon Jump, Eugene Roche, Marla Pennington, Gregory Sierra, Barbara Rhodes, Bob Seagren, Caroline McWilliams, Peggy Pope, Lynne Moody, Joe Montegna, Howard Hessman, Charles Lane, Harold Gould, Edward Winter, Jack Gilford, Doris Roberts, Sorrell Booke, Ron Rifkin, Robert Englund, Kene Holiday, Lee Bergere and Inga Swenson are among those ho brilliantly increased the lunacy and made this show immortal.  Telling about too much of the show would ruin it, but the achievement that is Soap is inarguable and essential viewing all the way to the end.



The 1.33 X 1 image across the four seasons are pretty good considering their age and that these professional NTSC analog tapings are old 2” reel-to-reel productions, with good color and only some softness typical of the format.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is slightly compressed throughout, but still sounds good overall, while the narrative bookends by Rod Roddy and music score by George Alice Tipton (who created the classic theme song) come through well.  Extras include some superfluous previews that are dated, featurette The Creators Come Clean (21 minutes) on DVD 3 of Season Two, the pilot repeated on that same DVD, but that is all.  Sadly, many of the main actors have passed away since the release of these DVDs and are not available to do any extras, though others certainly are and there are archival clips out there for a show this big.  He show is and continues to be underrated.  Hope this set changes that.



There is some controversy about the packaging, having the DVDs of all the seasons on one spindle, and a thin plastic one at that.  The plus is that it is a space saver and if you treat the discs like they are double-sided, it should be fine.  However, the plastic is a little thinner than I would have liked and why not a booklet-style case?


For more on its even longer-running spin-off, try this link for the first season of Benson:





-   Nicholas Sheffo


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