reviews by Peter Schorn and Adam Jones of The
The Complete Series
- 2001-2002 (2005) - DreamWorks Television/FOX (Shout! Factory)
Program Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C+/B-/A-
While nursing the cough syrup hangover that came from reviewing
O.C.: The Complete Second Season, another package came
sailing through my transom. (I need to remember to close that
thing.) The attached card read, "Sorry about that 'pretty
kid' show thing, buddy. This will make you feel better."
They weren't kidding.
Hot on the heels of his cult-failure Freaks
and Geeks, writer-producer Judd Apatow regrouped and
came back with the college-set comedy Undeclared
which also attained cult-failure status and got cancelled before
all its episodes had run. Thanks to resurrecting power of DVD
(just ask Firefly and Family
Guy), the show now has the potential to come into
more homes than ignored it the first time around.
concept is simple enough - freshman Steven Karp (Jay Baruchel) goes
off to the University of North Eastern California and has colorful
roommates and neighbors in his dorm. His thespian roommate - that's
means "actor", not a girl who's into other chicks - Lloyd
(Charlie Hunnam), is an English babe magnet who frequently leaves
Steven banished to the suite's couch or rec area with the other "sexiles".
Across the suite are Ron (Seth Rogen) and Marshall (Timm Sharp),
girl-challenged wiseacres with enough issues between them to open a
Across the hall is a suite of girls: Lizzie (Carla Gallo), Rachel
(Monica Keena) and Tina (Christina Payano). Steven has a crush on
Lizzie, most likely because they hooked-up in the first episode.
Complicating this mutual attraction is her
emotionally-unstable/borderline-stalker older boyfriend, Eric (Jason
Segal), who manages a copy shop when he's not leaving paranoid
messages on her phone.
While these familiar ingredients can be found in many teen sitcoms
like Undeclared's lead-in when
it aired, That '70s Show,
where it excelled is in it's savvy semi-improvisational writing and
acting. Filmed on sets without an audience or laugh track it had to
earn its laughs the hard way - by making the audience identify with
the characters and their situations - and the vast majority of the
time, it nailed the underlying truths that make the best comedy
Even if you've never lived in a dorm, anyone who has ever lived
with someone who has put an infuriatingly catchy pop song into 24/7
rotation will relate to the boom box battle that erupts between
Rachel and Tina. Steven's arm-flailing angst over Lizzie and the
embarrassment of his father Hal's (Loudon Wainwright) constant
visits to share uncomfortable updates on his parent's divorce make
us cringe in sympathy. And who hasn't gotten together with their
friends, stocked up on mass quantities of junk food and hair dye at
the warehouse club and then sat down to a marathon of Girls
Gone Wild videos while eating a giant tub of cookie
dough? (Other than me, that is.) I'm sure some of our female readers
have dated a guy who spoke exclusively in impressions and you have
Adding to the reality is the superb cast who actually look, sound
and act like real college students and not like twenty-something
fashion plates. (Hmmm, what could I be referring to?) Scrawny
Baruchel looks like he's ready to play the lead in The
Young Gary Shandling Chronicles; Rogen (who was also a
writer for the show) could pass as the singer of Barenaked Ladies;
the girls are both very cute, but nothing alike and not exactly your
traditional bimbettes. (An episode toward the series' end introduced
a more typical-looking girl character because the network wanted to
make the show, in the words of one commentary participant, "look
like The O.C.")
Second-string characters and dorm-dwellers look even more like,
well, normal people than clones from Central Casting. This leads to
a funny B-story in one episode when Rachel, who's put on her "freshman
15", is aghast that they're suddenly hitting on her when they
were previously too afraid to look her in the eye, so bodacious she
The chemistry between the cast members makes this an ensemble show
with everyone given a chance to shine. There isn't really a "best"
character as much as a buffet of personalities for viewers to take a
shine to. I personally liked the sarcastic Ron and the sardonically
contemptuous Perry (Jarret Grode) - who makes a killer first
impression when he offers to DJ a party with a mix of "straight
East Coast thug hip-hop and Brit pop" and verbally demonstrates
what that sounds like - for some reason. Nerdy spazzoids will
probably like Steven, sad dorks that they are.
I'm not even going into the guest appearances by the likes of Fred
Willard, Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler (absolutely uncredited
anywhere), Amy Poehler, Kyle Gass (the half of Tenacious D that
isn't Jack Black), half the cast of Freaks
and Geeks or Ted Nugent(!!) whose appearance was lost in
the reconfigured version of the intended episode, Full
Bluntal Nugety. Except for a wildly-wrong-for-the-part
shot by Ben Stiller, they avoid the stunt casting/special guest star
For a show that was pretty much long-forgotten - I barely recalled
its existence - it's amazing to see the effort put into this set's
features when most would be lucky to just get a bare-boned dump onto
DVD. The nicely designed fold-out disc holder and 28-page episode
guide booklet with synopsis, credits and comments from the writers,
Apatow and Baruchel - and even shooting and re-shoot dates! - are
only the start.
The disc menus are different for every main, episode and feature
menu with very clever artwork and a sound bite from that episode to
give you a smile while you're merely navigating the disc. Every
single episode has a commentary track from various combinations of
the show's makers from both sides of the camera. I naturally didn't
have time to check them all out, but the portions I sampled tending
to fall into "cheerful old pals party mode" with plenty of
joking and little hard commenting. It's clear that everyone got
along famously on and off screen and as a nice touch, multiple
participants are panned across the stereo soundfield.
The Unaired Scenes are
deleted scenes, alternate versions or master takes that were
subsequently cut to fit and they show the heavily improvised nature
of the show's production. Some bloopers are included and one clip
has an explanatory intro from Seth Rogen who appears to have spent
his time since the show ended getting enough tattoos to get a job as
a roadie on the OzzFest tour.
[Reviewer's Note: Judd Apatow dropped
me an e-mail to say this: "Seth has tattoos because he had fake
ones put on for The Forty Year Old Virgin.
They are gone now. As is the facial hair."]
The fourth disc is all extras starting with 23-minutes of Auditions
which are interesting when you see some of the actors reading for
roles other than what they ultimately portrayed and how wrong they
are for the parts. Next up is about 10 minutes of Rehearsals
where we witness the roots of the show's improvisational nature
A 70-minute-long Museum of Television Q&A
discussion with a huge panel including Apatow, supervising producer
Victor Hsu, directors Jake Kasdan and Greg Mottola and every first
and second-string cast member and guest star that also appeared on
Freaks and Geeks, too, except
for Monica Keena. With 14 people on stage, it's understandable that
not everybody gets to say very much, but it's entertaining. Taped
while the show's fate was still officially up in the air - but the
writing unmistakably on the wall- it feels like an ironic send-off
Wrapping up the goodies are a script for an episode intended for
the second season called "Lloyd's Rampage" which featured
Lloyd going to a townie bar with Steven and a second major plot
involving Marshall becoming a campus icon as "Puke Boy" -
it's a hoot - and fans of Loudon Wainwright's quirky folk music will
be pleased to find an 8-song, half-hour-long live club performance.
With such a wealth of fine shows and extras, it's regrettable to
have to report that the technical presentation is a letdown.
Previous Shout! Factory DVD sets I've seen have been marked by
extremely gritty and grainy transfers and this is no exception.
While the full screen picture is OK as far as detail, it looks
washed-out with noise in light areas and occasional interlacing
errors on cuts. There's a line between rough-edged and sloppy and
this crosses it.
The audio is marginally better, but for some reason the option for
Dolby 5.1 Surround is left in the setup menu and the default is just
vanilla stereo. (I didn't even know a 5.1 option existed until I'd
already polished off two of the three episode discs and wandered
into the Setup menu!) The surround track is much louder, but
occasionally there was clipping and distortion during louder scenes.
Surround activity is limited to music and crowd noises, but since
there aren't many spaceships flying around, it's not a big deal. In
another annoying Shout! tradition, there are no subtitles at all for
the hearing impaired or those who wish to read along while listening
to the commentary tracks.
With such great attention to the other elements, it's too bad
Shout! has these quality problems in the audio-visual department -
here's to hoping they do better in the future. In another odd glitch
- this time the fault of the show's makers - the episodes are in
incorrect order on the discs. According to a message on the
Undeclared web site, Judd Apatow cops to the screw-up
and provides the correct order, which still doesn't match the
original broadcast order, but helps smooth out some crazy character
arc paradoxes. The changes are minor and compared to the idiotic
random sequence Fox aired the shows - something they also
knee-capped Firefly with - the
discs are in OK order.
It's a never-ending source of vexation to people bored to death by
formula entertainment of all types that insipid dreck like that
decade-themed show starring Demi Moore's cradle-robbed boy toy or a
nameless show set in the 92657 zip code can run forever on the same
network that couldn't sell a show like Undeclared.
Perhaps part of the problem was that people shunned it precisely
because it was such a "critic's darling" kind of show.
There's something about universal loud acclaim from the maladjusted
sociopaths who gravitate into the entertainment criticism racket
that sends John and Jane Q. scurrying in the opposite direction.
Maybe it's anti-intellectualism or what I call "The Broccoli
Effect" in which people turn up their noses because they've
been told something's good for them. Either way, it sometimes leads
people to miss something that they'd actually enjoy. (Yes, I
recognize the irony of this paragraph. Hold the letters.)
had barely heard of Undeclared
outside of its glowing reputation and if not for my open transom I
would probably have never given it a look or second thought. Don't
make the same mistake yourself - go and check out this fine
compilation posthaste! If you're an aging member of Generation X you
probably recall the quirky sitcom Square
Pegs; Undeclared is
like a spiritual godchild of that show, but without Sarah Jessica
Parker. If you missed it before, here's your chance to catch up with
what the loyal fans (and critics) knew all along.
1 & 2
Double Feature Gift Set
- 1984 & 1989 (2005) - Columbia TriStar (Sony)
Film Rating (Ghostbusters): A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A-/B+
Film Rating (Ghostbusters 2): D
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/D
1984 was a magical year for a kid going to the movies. For $2
dollars, you could check out Bastien, Atreju and Falkor battling
The Nothing from The NeverEnding
Story. Daniel and Mr. Miyagi learned the value of
friendship in The Karate Kid.
You were scared watching Gizmo and Stripe wreak havoc in Gremlins.
Kermit and Miss Piggy got married in Muppets
Take Manhattan. You were horrified when Mola Ram
ripped out that guy's heart in Indiana
Jones & The Temple of Doom. If you were lucky
(and I mean really lucky) you got to hear Axel Foley drop the
F-bomb twenty times in the first ten minutes of Beverly
Hills Cop. And finally, you were laughing as much as
you were scared when Peter Venkman declared that he had been
slimed in Ghostbusters. "Who
you gonna call?" was just as much of a catch phrase as "Wax
on, wax off." Life was great for the nine-year old in 1984.
George Orwell was nowhere to be found.
was the highest-grossing film in '84, pulling in something close to
$230 million domestically. And that's when adult ticket prices were
$4 bucks. Movies these days just don't do that kind of business
anymore, where they would run for three months to sell-out crowds
instead of three weeks before the next barrage of studio
blockbusters takes your money. It's weird saying it now, but Ghostbusters
was unlike anything you had ever seen. A comedy with semi-scary bits
(come on, Gozer was scary, even if she/he/it looked liked Sheena
Easton), proton packs, unparalleled special effects, and the
Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man trundling through downtown Manhattan. Bill
Murray and Dan Aykroyd were your buddies. The sheer originality of
the story and cleverness of the comedy brought down the house.
Movies like this were events because of the creativity put into
them, and the audiences that embraced them.
I'm not spoiling anything here telling you about the story, unless
you were living in Nepal at the time. Widespread reports of
supernatural phenomena have been circulating around New York City.
Three scientists (Murray, Aykroyd and Harold Ramis) have just been
fired from their university jobs, and they figure the best way to
make some quick cash is to respond to these reports. They have some
James Bond-like gizmos to monitor psychic waves in the air, plenty
of petrie dishes to examine icky green slime, and even more wit to
spare. A ghost is spotted in the banquet room of a posh hotel, and
our heroes rise to the occasion sporting equipment that does more
damage to the hotel than anything, but the ghost is eventually
captured and the movie takes off at high speed with laughs, scares,
and action. The movie benefits from just the right balance of
special effects and comedy. Many of the gags are visual, but the
funniest moments come from the dialogue. Even though the film is
twenty-one years old (!), it's still very funny and a sight to
behold. So it was a shame when the sequel came out five years later,
the magic from the first film was gone completely.
Ghostbusters 2 suffers from
the lack of a good story and hardly any genuine laughs. Bill Murray
is his usual obnoxious self, chewing up the dialogue and making it
better than it actually is. However, we should never have to hear
Rick Moranis say "I didn't know you had you driver's license"
to Slimer (the green, hot-dog munching apparition from the last
film) before boarding a bus. This time, it's the audience who got
After a five-year break, you would think that the filmmakers could
come up with something pretty good. Instead, it's merely a shootable
script. Our intrepid scientists are in the midst of a legal battle
regarding their save of New York from Gozer and Zuul. They are no
longer allowed to engage in any investigative activity of the
supernatural. Venkman (Murray) has become the host of a cheesy
talk-show. Stantz (Aykroyd) and Spengler (Ramis) run a pawn shop.
Only when Dana Barret's (Sigourney Weaver) son Oscar is being
threatened by ghosts, do the Ghostbusters illegally investigate.
There's also this subplot featuring the second coming of some demon
currently trapped in a painting in the museum Dana works at. The
only saving grace of this subplot is Peter MacNicol, turning in a
wonderful quirky performance as the museum's curator. And, I guess,
what would a Ghostbusters
movie be without slime? Well, there's plenty of it this time around.
A whole river, in fact, running underneath the city feeding off all
the negative energy from the denizens above. Eventually, it's up to
our heroes to save New York once again. A lot of ideas, and you know
what? You don't care... at all.
The jokes induce more groans and rolling eyes than laughs. When the
Ghostbusters hitch a ride down 5th Avenue via the Statue of Liberty
you can only wonder if The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man asked for too
much to return for the sequel. And, dammit, somebody needed to fire
the music supervisor assigned to the soundtrack. Not only do you
have to suffer through that dismal Bobby Brown song (nowhere in the
league of Ray Parker, Jr.'s tune) four times as the film goes on,
Brown himself has a cameo and asks for a proton pack for his kid
brother. Who you gonna call this time? Another writer.
So, we finally make it to the disc specs. Both films are presented
in anamorphic widescreen video (despite an error on the back of the
slipcase packaging to the contrary - just ignore it), and actually
look better than they did on the original DVD releases, with
improved color, contrast and clarity. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio
mixes for each film are also improved compared to the original DVDs,
with better sound effects placement and added bass. Ghostbusters'
new mix is a significant improvement, though the Ghostbusters
2 audio is much less so.
In terms of extras, Ghostbusters
has simply been slightly revamped for this gift set, but most of the
special features from the initial release remain, including a
terrific "live" video/audio commentary (with Ivan Reitman,
Harold Ramis and Joe Medjuck), 10 deleted scenes, storyboards
comparisons, a few behind-the-scenes featurettes and other assorted
items. What's missing are the trailers, the subtitle trivia track
and production notes. Unfortunately (but appropriately given the
lack of cleverness so apparent in the sequel), the special features
on the Ghostbusters 2 are
limited to a pair of episodes from The
Real Ghostbusters animated series. In addition to the
video extras, you also get a "collector's scrapbook" that
contains production notes, storyboard and concept art, cast bios and
Even if you already have the original DVDs, you might still want to
pick this box up for its A/V quality improvements, especially given
the low Suggest Retail Price. On the other hand, if you're happy
with the previous releases, you can safely pass on this one and wait
for the Blu-ray Disc versions you know are probably coming in 2006.