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Warner Bros. Home Video presents
The Best of Friends: Vol. 1 (1994)

"You're over me. When were you under me?"
- Ross (to Rachel)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: December 31, 2000

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matt Leblanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer
Other Stars: Elliott Gould, George Clooney (cameo), Helen Hunt (cameo), Noah Wylie (cameo)
Director: Varied

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for everyone except young children)
Run Time: 02h:33m:39s
Release Date: December 19, 2000
UPC: 085391895527
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B+BB+ C

DVD Review

Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, Phoebe, and Monica. Mention these names in succession and people usually know what you're talking about. In the fall of 1994, Friends began with little fanfare amidst NBC's Thursday night juggernauts Seinfeld and Frazier. Now in its seventh season, the show has grown into one of the most popular sitcoms on television.

I've been a fairly consistent viewer of Friends since the second season, and it's become a "hit or miss" show for me in recent years. At its best, the sitcom wonderfully combines side-splitting humor with touching emotional moments. On the other hand, the episodes sometimes waver towards stupidity and tired clichés. Yet, I continue to watch the reruns in syndication and usually find them enjoyable. There's something about these characters (especially Joey and Chandler) that makes them fun to watch even in the duller moments.

Warner Bros. has chosen not to release the whole season in the vein of The X-Files and The Sopranos. Instead, they have released two "best of" compilations that include the top 10 episodes as voted by the fans of Friends. While this set will please casual fans like myself, it undoubtedly will anger fans of the series wanting to add entire seasons to their collection. It would not surprise me to see full season releases of this series at a later date if these sets are well received.

What is the allure of Friends? Why has it succeeded and continued to gain in popularity while other shows flounder and lose their fans? The key for me is the clever mix of slapstick comedy, a Seinfeld-like neuroticism, and the ability to make us care about the characters involved. Some of my favorite moments from the early seasons—including the first hookup between Ross and Rachel—are funny, but contain more than the usual sitcom clichés. All six actors play off each other wonderfully and definitely appear to enjoy playing these roles. While certain characters (especially Monica) become annoying at times, we stay with them and continue to watch their exploits religiously.

While Friends has numerous positives going for it, the show also contains some problems that are often hard to overlook. The conflicts are usually extremely minor, (What will Rachel wear? Will Chandler tell Joey he hates the bracelet?) and they will alienate more cynical, realistic viewers. Also, it's impossible to believe that young people who barely work (except for Chandler) can afford nice apartments in the middle of New York. Finally, the cheesiness factor does sometimes reach nearly astronomical levels.

The drawbacks and sometimes ridiculous nature of this show quickly faded to the back of my mind while viewing the episodes on this disc. All five contain at least several hilarious moments, with no clunkers in the mix. They helped to remind me why I enjoyed the series in the first place.

Pilot
September 22, 1994 (Season One)
Director: James Burrows

"See. But Joni loves Chachi. That's the difference." - Rachel

This episode provides a nice introduction to each character and their eccentricities. Everyone looks much younger, especially Joey and Monica, and the budget was much less for the show at this time. Ross' wife has left him to live with a lesbian, while Rachel has left her fiancée Barry at the altar. Monica goes on a date with "Paul The Wine Guy," who charms her with an intricate series of lies. This story has some silly moments, but it's not a classic episode. The actors are obviously just learning about their characters, and it shows here. The best moment is a touching scene at the end between future lovers Ross and Rachel.


This episode rates 3 Marcels out if 5.





The One With Two Parts
February 23, 1995 (Season One)
Director: James Burrows

"Did I tell you that I think I'm so much cuter than I am?" - Monica (playing Rachel)

With Friends gaining popularity, it was definitely time for a special two-part episode during sweeps month. It features cameos from Helen Hunt's Mad About You character as well as George Clooney and Noah Wylie playing ER doctors. This adds fun to an episode that's decent, but not spectacular. Clooney and Wylie have a great time playing doctors who just can't meet any normal girls. In this episode, the guys meet Phoebe's twin sister Ursula (who has appeared on Mad About You), and Joey immediately falls for her. This drives Phoebe crazy, and it allows Lisa Kudrow to show another side of her character. The highlight is Ross' humiliating experience at Lamaze class, where he is forced to play the "mom" role. Marcel the monkey also makes an appearance, as well as Ross and Monica's parents (Elliot Gould and Christina Pickens). The Gellars are two of my favorite supporting characters, especially Gould, who constantly says the wrong thing and can't control his libido. By this point of the first season, the characters are starting to play off each other, leading to an entertaining episode. They're beginning to show the promise that would lead to future classics.

This one rates four Marcels out of 5.





The One With All the Poker
March 2, 1995 (Season One)
Director: James Burrows

"This is a poker game. You can't serve food with more than one syllable." - Joey

The girls want to get involved in the guys' poker game, but they have absolutely no idea how to play. Monica's competetive nature makes her call on Aunt Iris, a brash poker expert. After losing a good deal of money to the guys, the girls take more lessons and are ready for the final battle. The banter between Ross and Rachel is starting to heat up, and it culminates in the poker game. Neither wants to give up, until Ross sacrifices (or does he?) his hand to make her happy. Their chemistry is the most noteworthy element of this silly, but forgettable episode. The most memorable scene involves an impromptu dance by Joey, Chandler, and Ross to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." That is one of the funniest moments on the entire disc.

This one gets three and a half Marcels out of five.






"The One Where Ross Finds Out"
November 9, 1995 (Season Two)
Director: Peter Banerz

"You're over me. When were you under me?" - Ross (to Rachel)

Ross has found a new girl while in China, and this drives Rachel crazy. She's just recently realized she has feelings for Ross, but it may be too late. This is my favorite episode on this disc, and one of the best Friends episodes of all time. While Rachel frets, Monica has put Chandler on a workout program to lose his newly acquired fat. Once again, her competitive nature makes her go too far, and Chandler ends up avoiding her in several hilarious situations. Now in its second season, the show is really coming into its own, with great character interaction and a larger budget. Jennifer Aniston is striking, but Rachel is not one my favorite characters on the show. However, she shines with her drunken ravings during a blind date and Ross' subsequent discovery of her feelings. Their final reconciliation shows why this series stands above the other imitators that pop up each year.

This one deserves the top rating of 5 Marcels.





"The One With The Prom Video"
February 1, 1996 (Season Two)
Director: James Burrows

Monica:The camera adds 10 pounds.
Chandler:So how many cameras were actually on you?

This episode provides a glimpse into the humorous past of several characters while viewing Rachel and Monica's hilarious prom video. Ross is a college guy, sports a silly mustache, and talks about spending the summer working on "his music." Monica is ridiculously fat, and we see her eating a giant sandwich while in her prom dress. Rachel's nose is rather large, and she's going to the prom with a guy named Chip. During this episode, Ross and Rachel have broken apart, but the video saves the day in the end. This show also features a subplot involving a gaudy gold bracelet that Joey gives to Chandler with the inscription "To My Best Bud." Their silly squabbles provide some of the funniest moments in the series, and this conflict is no exception. Elliot Gould and Christina Pickles also return for a few more funny scenes in this episode.

Definitely worth four and a half Marcels.



Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: This full-frame transfer improves greatly upon the conventional television picture of the series. The colors are crisper and brighter, and the clarity of the images is much greater. It's not a breathtaking picture, but there significant differences are obvious if you compare it to the visual look on television. Since Friends is shot mostly on a set, the impressive picture is not as essential it would be for an outdoor setting. Still, Warner Bros. deserves credit for making the effort and giving fans of the show an excellent transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.0
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.0-channel Dolby Digital transfer remains fairly simple on this disc. The show revolves around dialogue, so it doesn't fully utilize the audio capabilities. However, the quick musical interludes are extremely clear and lively, and the theme song sounds excellent. While nothing amazing is occurring in terms of sound on this disc, I can't imagine these episodes sounding any better. For a television program such as Friends, this is a well-done audio transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. I'll Be There For You music video by the Rembrandts
  2. Additional footage not shown on television included with episodes
Extras Review: This release is pretty light on the extras, and it's not a major surprise. I would have liked to see extensive interviews with the cast and creators about the show and its progression. I've read little about the thoughts of the cast on the show and what it means to them. Feature commentaries from the stars during the episodes also would have been a nice bonus. However, Friends isn't really the type of show that warrants in-depth discussions about its characters.

The extra features include an impressive cast and crew section that gives a solid background on each of the major stars. At the time of the series' pilot, Courtney Cox's Family Ties tenure was virtually the only memorable television experience for any of the prime cast. Today, all of them have starred in major Hollywood films. Sadly, many of the films were not what you would call "classics."

This disc also includes the video for the Rembrandts title song I'll Be There For You. It is a catchy pop song that fits with the light-hearted nature of the show and its friendship message. It's the type of song that gets stuck in your head and will not leave. Unfortunately, it wears out its welcome quickly after watching a few episodes. The video was released soon after the premiere of Friends, and features all of the cast members taking over the band's instruments.

The episodes also contain extra scenes that were deleted for the television airing. I couldn't point them out while watching the shows, but they are fairly significant in The Pilot, which runs around 30 minutes.



Extras Grade: C

 

Final Comments

Friends is not a classic sitcom on the level of Cheers and Seinfeld, but it continually remains one of the funniest and most consistent sitcoms on television. While this release may disappoint ardent fans hoping for complete seasons on DVD, it does serve as an excellent compilation for casual viewers and will probably create even more new fans for this popular show.

 


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