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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Gimme a Break!: Season One (1981)

"Honey, I am woman. Come on. I'm gonna teach you how to box."
- Nell (Nell Carter)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: February 21, 2006

Stars: Nell Carter
Other Stars: Lauri Hendler, Lara Jill Miller, Kari Michaelson, Dolph Sweet, Rue McClanahan, Danny Glover, Helen Hunt
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 07h:47m:00s
Release Date: February 14, 2006
UPC: 025192941320
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C C-C+C B-

DVD Review

One of the wonders of DVD is the opportunity to receive an instant blast from the past on almost a weekly basis. I fondly remember watching Gimme a Break! nearly every day. However, before engrossing myself in this initial season release, I tried to put my finger on just why I liked it so much. About 10 minutes into the first episode, it became clear that the main reason was the late Nell Carter. Sure, the series as a whole doesn't hold up too well after so many years, but Carter does her best to make the show worthwhile.

Carter carries her first name over into her character, with this Nell working as the housekeeper for Police Chief Carl Kanisky's (Dolph Sweet) family. This recently widowed law enforcement officer has three daughters whom Nell is like a mother to. There's Katie (Kari Michaelson), Julie (Lauri Hendler), and Samantha (Laura Jill Miller); a trio that is going through all of the typical girl problems as well as the ups and downs of school life. Nell and Chief Kanisky have a wonderful working relationship, and also have found a way to raise his kids together, while keeping the household in as much harmony as possible.

Where many sitcoms would spend time initially showing how the basic situation came about, the first episode begins with Nell already entrenched in the Kanisky household. The series' storylines are mostly non-linear, especially in the first season, with the aforementioned premiere, Katie the Crook, finding the oldest Kanisky girl shoplifting as a means of coping with her mom's death. This serves as the first example of Nell's motherly skills as she comforts Katie while still serving as a disciplinarian in regards to the shoplifting offense.

Chief Kanisky fixes Nell up on a date with one of his officers in A Good Man Is Hard to Find. After the Chief encounters an old flame (Rue McClanahan) in The Second Time Around, the late Mrs. Kanisky casts a shadow in Mom's Birthday, when the patriarch creepily takes the whole family out to dinner on the titular day. While I never thought they would go there, Do or Diet finds Nell joining a weight-loss program, with the Chief unwittingly getting involved as well.

A now-famous guest star makes an appearance in A Man in Nell's Room, as Danny Glover isn't welcome by the Chief when he's discovered with Nell. Your Prisoner Is Dead, finds the Chief coping with having killed a robber; daughter Julie is the focus of the next two episodes, Julie's Rejection and Julie's First Love. Things continue on this semi-serious/comic route in Nell's Ex, where her ex-husband shows up looking for money, and in Katie the Cheat, in which the ex-shoplifter turns the path of her life of crime towards cheating on tests. The endless plight of Katie continues when she goes to the hospital with severe stomach pain in The Emergency.

The youngest Kanisky, Samantha, follows in Katie's footsteps in Samantha Steals a Squad Car, and shows her naïveté in Sam's Affair. In between these shows, the Chief's parents celebrate their 55th anniversary in Grandma Fools Around, Katie's in a band in Hot Muffins, and Nell thwarts some thieves in The Robbery. The season closes with the discovery that one of Katie's friends (Helen Hunt) is pregnant in An Unmarried Couple.

While the show's primary concern is getting laughs, in this first season alone, they deal with the train-wreck that Katie's becoming, Nell's ex-husband, her dying father (Nell Goes Home), and the surrounding sadness of the Kanisky's recently departed mother. With sharper, less-cheesy dialogue, these message-laden themes might have amounted to powerful, darkly comedic television, but the characters' often trivial banter aims solely to get that laugh track going on a regular basis. Back in the '80s, it may have worked, but in today's age of witty, intelligent humor, even the great Nell Carter can't make Gimme a Break! worth revisiting.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: All 19 episodes are in their original full-frame aspect ratio, and it appears that at least a small attempt to clean the source material up took place. There's an overall bit of softness to the images, but the colors are well-rendered, and contrast holds up well given the overly bright lighting. Black levels are consistent, and grain and dirt have been kept to a minimum.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is what we get for each show, and it does its job of presenting the dialogue and music as clearly as possible. Unfortunately, that means we also get to hear every nuance of the annoying laugh track that accompanies each episode.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
19 Other Trailer(s) featuring Magnum P.I.: Season Three, Knight Rider: Season Three, The A-Team: Season Three, Charles In Charge: Season One, Gimme A Break: Season One, Kate & Allie: Seasons One & Two, Northern Exposure, Revelations, Cleopatra 2525: The Complete Series, Earth 2: The Complete Series, Sliders: The Third Season, American Gothic, The Munsters: Season Two, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Battlestar Galactica: Season One, Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.0, Law & Order, Leave It to Beaver: The Complete First Season, Miami Vice: Season Two
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Nexpak
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Bonus Episode - From Kate & Allie: Season One - Very Loud Family
  2. Bonus Episode - From Charles in Charge: Season One - Extracurricular Activity
  3. Bonus Episode - From Gimme A Break!: Season Two - Nell Goes to Jail
Extras Review: Three of the extra features are bonus episodes from the series Kate & Allie, Charles in Charge, and a show from season two of Gimme a Break!.

The 28-minute documentary, The Great '80s Flashback is a great addition to this set. It focuses on the most popular shows of the decade, including Gimme a Break!, Charles in Charge, and Quantum Leap. The only problem with this piece is that it limits its discussion to Universal programs, but that isn't exactly a surprise.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Gimme a Break! is a quintessential 1980s sitcom, focusing heavily on family and sappy, poorly written dialogue. Unfortunately, my fond memories of the show didn't take long to fade when I began exploring Universal Home Video's first season release. The series' first DVD collection looks and sounds better than expected, and even includes an interesting documentary and some bonus episodes of other Universal TV releases to boot.


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