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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 4/30/02

Friends: The Complete First Season
1994-95 (2002) - NBC/Warner Bros. (Warner)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season Two Program Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/C+

Specs and Features
Approx. 587 mins (24 episodes at approx 24 mins each), NR, full frame (1.33:1), 4 single-sided, dual-layered discs (containing 5-6 episodes each - bonus content on Disc Four), custom slipcase/gatefold packaging, audio commentary (with executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane) for The Pilot episode only, "extended footage" (each episode contains roughly 2-8 minutes of footage not seen in the original TV broadcasts), Friends of Friends (interactive list of cameo clips from the season), A Peek at Central Perk (interactive tour of the coffee house set with text, audio & video clips), How Well Do You Know Your Friends? (interactive trivia quiz), The One with the Trailer for Season Two (70 sec. promo trailer for the Friends: The Complete Second Season DVD set), "preview clips" for each episode, cast & crew bios, "Crew Cameo" Easter egg, animated program-themed menu screens with music, episode access, languages: English (DD 5.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Korean, Closed Captioned

Okay DVD fans - you asked for it. Heck, you demanded it. And Warner has finally heard your call. At long last, Friends: The Complete First Season is now on DVD, complete with all 24 episodes of the show's first year, along with a few extras to boot. And thankfully, there isn't a hint of "best of" anywhere to be found.

Friends, as you probably all know by now, was one of those rare TV shows that just struck a chord with its audience - in this case the highly-coveted Gen X demographic. I vividly remember my wife telling me, one day back in 1994, that she'd just seen this really great show on TV the night before, and she couldn't believe how funny it was. Luckily, she'd taped it, so I gave it a watch too. And we were both hooked almost instantly. It was amazing. Here, at long last, was a sitcom that spoke to US - to OUR generation. You had six twenty-something young adults, struggling but hopeful, just starting out into the real world, relying on each other for support and encouragement. They were naive but savvy, sarcastic but optimistic. These weren't the usual Gen-X slackers seen in the media - these kids wanted to succeed in life. And they weren't aging psychologists or baby-boomer comedians either... no, this was literally like watching six of OUR friends each week. Ross, Rachel, Joey, Chandler, Phoebe and Monica were caricatures sure, but the illusion of realism was what counted. The chemistry between these six young actors was undeniable. And that was all part of the magic of the show. LOTS of people identified with them. Word started to spread. The buzz grew. And almost overnight, Friends became a runaway smash hit for NBC.

Sarah and I liked the show so much, in fact, that we were lucky enough to get tickets for a couple of episode tapings that first season, before the show became so huge that it was one of the hardest tickets to get in town (for the record, we saw The One with the Evil Orthodontist and The One with the Dozen Lasagnas). Having seen the show live is one of the reasons I'm so happy to have this boxed set on DVD. When you see the show taped live, the cast and crew starts working at like 5 or 6 PM and they don't finish sometimes until well after midnight. You realize that there are a lot of scenes that are filmed, that end up getting cut - something that's true of almost any TV show. But deleted scenes on Friends can be a real hoot. Thankfully, much of that deleted material has been restored to the episodes in this set. In fact, each episode here features anywhere from two to eight minutes worth of material that wasn't seen in the original TV broadcasts (the average is about 3 or 4 minutes, although The Pilot features 8 extra minutes). Some of it is just a shot here and there - a joke, a line, a character moment, etc - that all adds up. But there's also the occasional complete scene too. And all of it is worth having, serving to make these episodes seem fresh and new again.

For the record, here's what you get: The Pilot, The One with the Sonogram at the End, The One with the Thumb, The One with George Stephanopoulus, The One with the East German Laundry Detergent, The One with the Butt, The One with the Blackout, The One Where Nana Dies Twice, The One Where Underdog Gets Away, The One with the Monkey, The One with Mrs. Bing, The One with the Dozen Lasagnas, The One with the Boobies, The One with the Candy Hearts, The One with the Stoned Guy, The One with Two Parts, Part I, The One with Two Parts, Part II, The One with All the Poker, The One Where the Monkey Gets Away, The One with the Evil Orthodontist, The One with the Ick Factor, The One with the Fake Monica, The One with the Birth and The One Where Rachel Finds Out.

The video quality of these episodes is generally very good (in their original 4x3 aspect ratio), but they definitely have a slight, digitally-compressed look to them. This may be due to the post production process and it may be due to the DVD compression. Nevertheless, as you'd expect, they look significantly better than they ever have before, either on the original broadcasts or on tape. Color is solid and accurate, contrast is generally excellent and detail is mostly crisp and clean. The vast majority of you should be very happy with the picture quality.

On the audio side of things, these episodes are presented in remixed Dolby Digital 5.0. As this is a dialogue driven show, the dialogue is what stands out. Thankfully, it's always clear and audible, placed front and center in the mix. Sound effects, music and audience reaction is then spread around the rest of the soundfield. To be fair, the audio mix on these DVDs is not especially directional or dynamic. But I was surprised at the sense of ambience these discs manage to achieve. This sound is definitely better than what most people heard on NBC and it serves the episodes well.

In terms of extras, The Pilot episode (on Disc One) includes an audio commentary track with the creators/executive producers of Friends, Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane. The track sounds rather edited together, and sometimes seems as if it's being read rather than spoken casually. But there's still a lot of interesting information to be found here. The trio talks individually about the original concept and origins of the show, the creation of the characters, the casting, etc. It's well worth listening to if you're a fan. The rest of the extras are found on Disc Four, and include an interactive list of the guest star cameos (with clips from their appearances), an interactive trivia game (not much payoff but fun for a little while), an interactive tour of the Central Perk coffee house set (with text blurbs or brief audio and video clips that illustrate interesting points) and a preview of the Season Two DVD set ("coming soon"). There's also at least one Easter egg in the cameo list section (there may be more on other discs).

Of the extras available, the commentary is nice and I particularly liked the interactive tour of Central Perk. In the future though, I'd definitely like to see a more documentary-style look behind the scenes on the filming of an episode. What's the work week like for the cast? What's the writing process like? What's an average rehearsal like? And what about all those outtakes? I can tell you that on the episodes I've seen live, there were dozens of funny gaffs. These six actors crack each other up left and right on the set. It can be really very funny stuff. It would be a real shame if the DVD audience didn't get to see some of that. Given that I wasn't expecting much, these extras are at least okay. But even those lame-ass "best of" DVD collections included the Rembrandts' I'll Be There for You music video and the documentary featurette The One That Goes Behind the Scenes - where's that kind of material on this set? I mean - a LOT of people never bought those "best of" discs because they wanted complete seasons in the first place. So if that material doesn't appear here, many fans will never see it. Warner... in the future, much more effort on the bonus material please! These DVDs are too important to fans to let them slide with subpar extras, particularly given the $70 SRP.

Anyway, there you go - that's Friends: The Complete First Season in a nutshell. Now it's time for you all to send a message to Warner and the other studios. All those of you who asked for this DVD need to get out there any put your money where your mouth is. Show Warner that there's a real demand for TV product on DVD, released as whole seasons rather than "best of" packages. If they see there's good money to be made, who knows what show might be next for complete season treatment? South Park? ER? The West Wing? You just never know.

Bill Hunt
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