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"All in the Family" The Complete Series DVD Review - Page 2 of 2

All in the Family: The Complete Series DVD box set cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com All in the Family: The Complete Series (1971-79)
Show & DVD Details

Creators: Norman Lear (developer); Johnny Speight ("Till Death Us Do Part") / Regular Writers: Larry Rhine, Mel Tolkin, Don Nicholl, Michael Ross, Bernard West, Milt Josefsberg, Lou Derman, Bob Schiller, Bob Weiskopf, Bill Davenport, Ben Starr / Regular Directors: Paul Bogart, John Rich, Bob LaHendro, Wes Kenney

Regular Cast: Carroll O'Connor (Archie Bunker), Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker), Rob Reiner (Michael "Meathead" Stivic), Sally Struthers (Gloria Stivic)

Recurring Characters: Danielle Brisebois (Stephanie Mills), Mike Evans (Lionel Jefferson), Jason Wingreen (Harry Snowden), Isabel Sanford (Louise "Weezie" Jefferson), Allan Melvin (Barney Hefner), Betty Garrett (Irene Lorenzo), Danny Dayton (Hank Pivnik), Sherman Hemsley (George Jefferson), Bob Hastings (Tommy Kelsey), Billy Halop (Bert Munson), Vincent Gardenia (Frank Lorenzo, others), Mel Stewart (Henry Jefferson), Liz Torres (Teresa Betancourt), Andrι Pavon (Carlos), James Cromwell (Jerome "Stretch" Cunningham), Gloria LeRoy (Mildred "Boom-Boom" Turner), Lori Shannon (Beverly LaSalle), Estelle Parsons (Blanche Hefner), Bea Arthur (Maude Findlay), Zara Cully (Mother Jefferson), Barnard Hughes (Father John Majeski), Bill Quinn (Mr. Van Ranseleer), Clyde Kusatsu (Rev. Chong), William Benedict (Jimmy McNabb), Scott Brady (Joe Foley), Theodore Bikel (Albrecht "Alvin" Klemmer), Roscoe Lee Browne (Assorted), Eugene Roche (Pinky Peterson), Janis Page (Denise), George Wyner (Dr. Sidney Shapiro), A Martinez (Manuel)

Notable Guest Stars: M. Emmet Walsh (Billy Hartfield), Cleavon Little (Coke), Eileen Brennan (Angelique McCarthy), Hector Elizondo (Carlos Mendoza), Richard Dysart (Russ DeKuyper), Sammy Davis, Jr. (Himself), Rue McClanahan (Ruth Rempley), Michael Conrad (Uncle Casimir Stivic), John Randolph (Joe Peterson), Mary Kay Place (Betty Sue), Ron Glass (Jack), Charles Durning (Detective), David Doyle (Jim Sanders), Vic Tayback (Joe Tucker), Richard Masur (George Bushmill), Charlotte Rae (Miss Lillian Henderson), Henry Fonda (Himself), Norman Lear (Himself), Paul Benedict (Harry Bentley), Franklin Cover (Tom Willis), Roxie Roker (Helen Willis), Robert Guillaume (Dr. Franklin), Bernadette Peters (Linda Galloway), Billy Crystal (Al Bender), Jack Gilford (Bernard Bernstein), Doris Roberts (Marge), F. Murray Abraham (Clerk), Christopher Guest (Jim)

Running Time: 5304 Minutes (208 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired (Seasons 1 & 2 only)
Seasons 8-9 Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Original Series Airdates: January 12, 1971 - April 8, 1979
Suggested Retail Price: $199.99 / DVD Release Date: October 30, 2012
Twenty-eight single-sided discs (25 DVD-9s & 3 DVD-5s) / Five Clear Keepcases in Cardboard Box
Complete Season Sets Still Available: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ($19.99 SRP; Sony); 7, 8, 9 ($29.93 SRP; Shout!)
Multi-Season Bundles: Seasons 1-6 ($79.99 SRP; Sony), Seasons 7 & 8 ($29.93 SRP; Shout!)

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Series and Episode Review

VIDEO and AUDIO

This set's picture quality varies tremendously and it is never all that great in the first six seasons. Shot on video, the series is often lacking in sharpness with colors all over the place and the occasional minor flaw. It isn't even the case of the show looking better with time; for some reason, Season 4 is extra blurry. Even considering the age and technically modest methods, the transfers are a bit subpar most of the time. The final three seasons, the ones handled by Shout! Factory, do look drastically better than their predecessors, boasting cleaner, better-defined, and more consistent visuals.
The spotty presentations somehow feel appropriate for a show embracing a working class aesthetic and embodying a decade whose fashions are easily questioned. I doubt you'll find it looking better elsewhere anytime soon. Still, it's definitely a little disappointing that this release passes up an obvious opportunity to unify and improve this sitcom's DVD treatment.

Sound is presented in Dolby mono 2.0 throughout and it is about what you'd expect. The recordings can't hide their age, but they are not too rough on the ears (Edith's singing, excluded). While it's unfortunate that English subtitles do not extend beyond the first two seasons, that is still two more seasons than would have been subtitled had Shout! handled this show from the get-go. Though the closed captioning logo appears on every disc, I could only get them to turn up on the last two seasons' episodes (and even then only on my DVD-ROM, since my Blu-ray player's HDMI connection prohibits CCs from displaying on my TV). It's better than nothing (which is what Shout! usually offers), but not as good as subtitles. Some consistency would have been nice and chances are that some of those who took to "All in the Family" in its original run now make use of such hearing impaired services.

Creator Norman Lear looks good at age 90 in this DVD's all-new interview. Sally Struthers is one of three core cast members looking back on the show in "Those Were the Days: The Birth of 'All in the Family.'"

BONUS FEATURES

Neither Sony's nor Shout! Factory's season sets included anything beyond the episodes. That changes with the addition of an all-new bonus DVD here,
which is without a doubt the coolest bonus features disc I've seen joining a TV show.

The extras begin with an all-new interview of creator/producer/writer Norman Lear (11:31), who turned 90 this year (but doesn't look it). He discusses getting the show on air, the sketch he wrote to open the 1971 Emmys, and the cast.

Next up come two documentaries reflecting on the show and celebrating its impact. Both were created for Sony's 2009 The Norman Lear Collection.

In "Those Were the Days: The Birth of 'All in the Family'" (27:00), Lear recalls drawing from his own interactions with his father and finding the actors for the parts. Jean Stapleton, Rob Reiner, and Sally Struthers add their voices to the mix, reflecting on their experiences and characters. The piece makes liberal use of standout clips from the show and its unsold pilots.

The original 1968 pilot "Justice for All" doesn't look like a television sitcom from any era. The second unsold ABC pilot, 1969's "Those Were the Days", has Archie square off with the Irish Dickie (recently retired NFL linebacker Chip Oliver).

"The Television Revolution Begins: 'All in the Family' Is On the Air" (30:40) essentially continues where the other piece left off. It looks at the show's reception from various groups who were able to accept and appreciate the satirical content. The actors dig a little deeper in reflecting on their characters and O'Connor is also seen in an archival interview. It's a little heavy on clips, but they are strong highlights.

Then, we get the two "All in the Family" pilots that ABC commissioned and did not buy, also both included on Sony's Lear Collection. Both feature O'Connor, Stapleton, and a script hardly changed from the one that actually made it to the air. In addition, the parts of Gloria, Meathead (an Irishman named Dickie), and Lionel are played by different actors. "Justice For All" (35:03) from 1968 gives Archie the surname of Justice and features some unusual lighting and camera work. "Those Were the Days" (27:41) from 1969 is more traditionally shot and suffers from a giggly, off-mark actress playing Gloria.

The 1982 spin-off "Gloria" made Sally Struthers' character an upstate veterinarian. "Archie Bunker's Place" kept Carroll O'Connor's antihero and his prejudices on television for another four years. The first episode makes this Murray Klein (Martin Balsam) his business partner.

Finally, we get the pilot episodes of three "Family" spin-off series, two of which have never before been released to DVD.

This pilot for "Gloria" (24:52), an ill-regarded spin-off to "Archie Bunker's Place" focused on Sally Struthers' character, was not picked up by CBS, but it would still make it to series by the fall of 1982 and run for a single season.
(This pilot, meanwhile, became a part of the "Archie Bunker's Place" syndication package.) Carroll O'Connor makes an appearance at the beginning to drop a freshly-separated Gloria and her son Joey (Christian Jacobs) off in rural New York to be an assistant to veterinarian Dr. Adams (Burgess Meredith).

"Archie Bunker's Place", which let Carroll O'Connor continuing to play his signature role for the four seasons after "Family" wrapped, was launched with this two-part episode "Archie's New Partner" (47:35; originally aired September 23, 1979). It finds a Jewish man (Martin Balsam) becoming Archie's equal partner as the bar expands to include a restaurant. Jean Stapleton does not appear here, but she would reprise her role in five Season 1 episodes before being killed off-screen at the start of Season 2. Stephanie Mills (Danielle Brisebois), the Jewish "niece" that Archie and Edith took in during the final season of "Family", remained a regular here.

Cherlyn (Maura Tierney) surprises Ernie (John Amos) and the Cumberbatches in the "704 Hauser" pilot episode. Cliff Cramp's family portrait is the focus of the set's one all-new DVD menu.

"704 Hauser" is a sitcom that ran on CBS in the spring of 1994. Centering on the Cumberbatches, a black family that lives in the Bunkers' Queens, New York home, the sitcom was cancelled after just five episodes had aired. Partially remaking the "Family" pilot, "Meet the Cumberbatches" (24:35 with a 0:53 Lear introduction) reverses and revises the four roles. John Amos plays the liberal patriarch, Lynnie Godfrey is his strong-willed wife, T.E. Russell is their politically conservative college student "Goodie", and Maura Tierney ("NewsRadio", "ER") plays Goodie's Jewish girlfriend. Gloria and Meathead's son Joey Stivic (Casey Siemaszko) visits his parents' old home.

The first discs of Shout! Factory's 7th and 8th season DVDs open with trailers that promote "Father Knows Best": Seasons 1-4, "Rhoda", and "Marcus Welby, M.D."

The discs originally authored by Sony, like Season 3 Disc 2, offer episode selection menus with preview stills. Shout! Factory's Season 7 DVDs play the theme song over their one and only menu page.

MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The brick of a box sure feels heavier than the 3 pounds my mailing was pegged at. Shout! packs the 28 discs into five clear, standard-sized DVD keepcases, doubling up two seasons per case (with sturdy trays) and the 9th with the bonus disc. Sharing the box with them is an insert for other Shout! classic TV DVDs

and a 40-page booklet titled "Those were the days..." whose cover offers an even closer look at the big box's cover artwork, a new Bunker family portrait by Cliff Cramp. The nicely illustrated booklet includes a synopsis for every episode on every disc plus a list of the bonus disc's offerings.

Before that, we get two thoughtful essays on the series. USC professor Marty Kaplan's "Archie's America, and Ours" examines Archie's bigotry without villainy, defending against critics from its original run and citing a number of social studies to prove their arguments wrong. "Those Were the Days" by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales celebrates the show for the changes it brought to the sitcom and the era that it reflected, singling out the aforementioned Season 6 episode as a personal favorite.

The first six seasons' DVDs are largely unchanged from their Sony releases, the discs' opening studio logo changed but otherwise their layouts (and English subtitles) intact. Season One, for instance, places just 4-5 episodes on single-layered discs (DVD-5s).

Chapter stops are lacking on the seasons originally released by Sony. Their static, silent, basic 4:3 menus have a consistent design, employing different cast shots and color schemes on Seasons 1-6. Shout!'s Seventh and Eighth season sets loop the theme song over their lone menus. The bonus disc's 16:9 menu plays it over the box's cover art painting.

Archie (Carroll O'Connor) and Edith (Jean Stapleton) share a tender moment in bed together in the series' closing scene. Meathead (Rob Reiner) and Archie (Carroll O'Connor) frequently butt heads, each holding steadfast to their generation's point of view.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though an unmistakable product of its time, "All in the Family" holds plenty of appeal today, both as a piece of entertainment and as a vivid reflection of 1970s culture, politics, and change. There are probably few television shows you like strongly enough to buy in full and there's a great chance you don't have the time or money for one that ran nearly an entire decade. Still, few sitcoms have the significance and clout of this one while still managing to make you laugh and care.

Shout! Factory's big box set doesn't eliminate the picture quality concerns of past seasons or add subtitles to seasons that didn't already have them. But its exclusive 4-hour extras disc is perhaps the most valuable bonus found inside a classic television show DVD. Obviously, as a couple of one-star customer reviews on Amazon passionately state (and comments echo), Shout! should make the bonus disc available to fans of the show who dutifully bought the seasons as they were released. Hopefully, they do that soon to spare that demographic the trouble of reselling their DVDs to pay for this.

As for those who have wanted to own the series but put it off, you are in luck with this fine collection, which is unlikely to be improved upon anytime soon. The price is steep and without heavy discounting, this big box will currently set you back more than bundling all the seasons by themselves. But the content is excellent and historic.

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Reviewed October 3, 2012.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1971-79 Tandem Productions, Sony Pictures Television, and 2012 Shout! Factory.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.