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Forever Funny: T.V. Sets DVD Review

Buy Forever Funny: T.V. Sets Special DVD Collection from Amazon.com Forever Funny (1951-1993)
Series & DVD Details

Featured Series: "I Love Lucy", "The Odd Couple", "The Honeymooners", "Taxi", "The Brady Bunch", "Frasier", "Cheers"

Directors: James Burrows, Marc Daniels, Jerry Paris, Frank Satenstein, John Rich / Writers/Creators: Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr., Garry Marshall, Jerry Belson, Marvin Marx, Walter Stone, James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis, Ed. Weinberger, Sherwood Schwartz, David Angell, Peter Casey, David Lee, Glen Charles, Les Charles, James Burrows

Cast: Lucille Ball (Lucy Ricardo), Desi Arnaz (Ricky Ricardo), Vivian Vance (Ethel Mertz), William Frawley (Fred Mertz), Tony Randall (Felix Unger), Jack Klugman (Oscar Madison), Monica Evans (Cecily Pigeon), Carole Shelley (Gwendolyn Pigeon), Larry Gelman (Vinnie), Ryan MacDonald (Roy), Al Molinaro (Murray), Garry Walberg (Speed), Jackie Gleason (Ralph Kramden), Art Carney (Ed Norton), Audrey Meadows (Alice Kramden), Joyce Randolph (Trixie Norton), Judd Hirsch (Alex Rieger), Jeff Conaway (Bobby Wheeler), Danny DeVito (Louie De Palma), Marilu Henner (Elaine Nardo), Tony Danza (Tony Banta), Randall Carver (John Burns), Andy Kaufman (Latka Gravas), Talia Balsam (Kathy Consuelos), Robert Reed (Mike Brady), Florence Henderson (Carol Brady), Ann B. Davis (Alice Nelson), Maureen McCormick (Marcia Brady), Eve Plumb (Jan Brady), Susan Olsen (Cindy Brady), Barry Williams (Greg Brady), Chris Knight (Peter Brady), Mike Lookinland (Bobby Brady), J. Pat O'Malley (Mr. Tyler), Joan Tompkins (Mrs. Tyler), Dabbs Greer (Minister), James Millhollin (Mr. Pringle), Kelsey Grammer (Frasier Crane), Jane Leeves (Daphne Moon), David Hyde Pierce (Niles Crane), Peri Gilpin (Roz Doyle), John Mahoney (Martin Crane), Ted Danson (Sam Malone), Shelley Long (Diane Chambers), Nicholas Colasanto (Ernie "Coach" Pantusso), Rhea Perlman (Carla Tortelli), George Wendt (Norm Peterson), Michael McGuire (Sumner Sloan), John Ratzenberger (Cliff Clavin)

Running Time: 173 Minutes (7 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono/Stereo (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Airdates: October 1951 - September 1993
DVD Release Date: May 26, 2009; Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
Black Keepcase; Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)

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"Well, the way they make shows is, they make one show. That show's called a pilot. Then they show that show to the people who make shows, and on the strength of that one show, they decide if they're going to make more shows. Some pilots get picked and become television programs. Some don't, become nothing." - Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction

Fifteen years ago, Samuel L. Jackson's afroed hitman offered the above explanation to his partner in crime Vincent Vega.
He certainly could have varied his diction a bit, but the substance of the mini monologue is accurate nonetheless.

Many pitched shows don't even get to film a pilot. Those that do get one shot to prove their ideas are strong enough to support a series. Most of those never make it on the air. For those that are picked up, the odds of them sticking around for a long run are quite against them, especially today. And yet, there are new scripted television series every fall, a few of which will find the audience and creativity needed to enjoy a successful, prosperous run. Most of these classics began with that single test episode.

Dipping into its vast CBS television library, Paramount Home Entertainment delivers Forever Funny: T.V. Sets, a single disc holding the premiere episodes (four of them, pilots) of seven of the most popular and enduring situation comedies of all-time.

Lucy (Lucille Ball) and Ethel (Vivian Vance) rack their brains to think of a single man they can invite dancing in "The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub", the first aired episode of "I Love Lucy." The Brady Bunch becomes The Brady Bunch as Mike (Robert Reed) and Carol (Florence Henderson) marry in front of their combined total of six children.

Dating from the early 1950s ("I Love Lucy") through the mid-1990s ("Frasier"), the chosen series are each among the lucky few to have racked up accolades while making their marks on pop culture. All but one of the shows accrued over 100 episodes, running for 5 seasons or longer. The two most recent shows ("Cheers" and its spin-off "Frasier") remained active for 11 seasons; their highly-rated back-to-back run spanned 22 years and totaled over 500 installments. The one exception to longevity, "The Honeymooners", lived on for years in "The Jackie Gleason Show" sketches, while its original "Classic 39" episode run is still treasured.

Some of the shows are considered artistic achievements. "Taxi" won 3 to 6 Emmy awards for each of its five seasons. "Cheers" garnered 27 Emmys over the years as every core cast member was recognized with at least a nomination. "Frasier" experienced Emmy victory 37 times. On the other hand, one featured show -- "The Brady Bunch" -- never got so much as one award nomination of any kind until 15 years after it left the air. And yet, that family sitcom is considered legendary television.

It's probably too soon to lump "Frasier" in the same league, but most of the others boast an extraordinary reach. Consider how few films, songs, and current events from 1951 are remembered by the general public and then try to find someone who has never heard of "I Love Lucy."

All seven respected series have come to DVD before, and all but "Taxi" have been released in their entirety. If you love any of these sitcoms, you probably own at least their first season DVDs and therefore their episode featured here. But anyone who has refrained from collecting the shows due to cost, interest, or overwhelmingness should probably take notice of this new disc. Though multi-series compilations may not be as easy to market as a single brand name and cast shot (and I'm not sure the title-juggling mime/clown cover helps), Paramount is aiming this impulse-priced disc at drugstores and groceries. The studio reports being pleased with last fall's water-tester, Holiday Treats, which held 8 sitcom Christmas episodes. Next week, we get both Forever Funny (whose lineup includes 5 of Holiday's eight shows) and Action Packed (bearing four drama premieres). Other "T.V. Sets" discs are currently in the works, including science fiction and crime/law ones.

The episodes here are arranged loosely chronologically, with a few swaps that don't necessarily make sense.

Moving their date from the laundry room back to the apartment, Felix (Tony Randall), Oscar (Jack Klugman), and the Pigeon Sisters (Monica Evans, Carole Shelley) are surprised to see one Poker Night straggler in "The Odd Couple" premiere "The Laundry Orgy." Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) is surprised to find his new television set being enthusiastically watched by Captain Video devotee Ed Norton (Art Carney) in "TV or Not TV", the first of the 39 classic "Honeymooners" episodes.

1. I Love Lucy: "The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub" (23:46) (Originally aired October 15, 1951)

This show about a married New York couple (played by real-life spouses Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) was the most-watched on television for much of its six-season run. On the short list of serious contenders for the title of Best TV Show Ever, this tends to be the oldest and one of the only ones headed by a female.

In this episode, landlords/neighbors Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) wish to spend their wedding anniversary in different ways. When they can't reach a compromise, Ethel and Lucy (Ball) look for dates for a night of dancing at the Copacabana. When they discover Fred and Ricky (Arnaz) are doing the same for boxing fights, the ladies seize an opportunity, disguising themselves as hillbillies and acting strange.

2. The Odd Couple: "The Laundry Orgy" (25:40) (Originally aired September 24, 1970)
ABC's sitcom spent five seasons on the premise established in Neil Simon's play and film. Divorced back into bachelorhood, fussy neat freak Felix (Tony Randall) and careless slob Oscar (Jack Klugman) see their opposite personalities clash while sharing a New York City apartment.

Felix and Oscar try to figure out how to keep their dates with the Pigeon Sisters (Monica Evans and Carole Shelley) without cancelling Poker Night. The two sets of roommates make a party out of doing their laundry together. When they get back to the apartment, though, the odd couple bickers.

3. The Honeymooners: "TV or Not TV" (25:59) (Originally aired October 1, 1955)
Another 1950s New York City married couple features here, this one being modest-living apartment dwellers Ralph (Jackie Gleason) and Alice Kramden (Audrey Meadows). The often at-odds pair had already been seen in over 80 sketches on "The Jackie Gleason Show" (and before those, 7 on "Cavalcade of Stars").

In this episode, Alice wants to own a TV and complains that Ralph is too cheap to buy one. He comes up with the idea for him and friend/neighbor Ed Norton (Art Carney) to go halves and share the set. Needless to say, comic complications arise when Ed wants to wear his space helmet watching Captain Video and Ralph does not.

Alex (Judd Hirsch) explains the situation with his daughter to Sunshine's newest cab driver Elaine (Marilu Henner) in "Taxi" pilot "Like Father, Like Daughter." Seattle radio shrink Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) is surprised to get a call from a Martin who sounds just like his father in "The Good Son."

4. Taxi: "Like Father, Like Daughter" (24:40) (Originally aired September 12, 1978)
The sitcom got more modern and mature with this workplace ensemble series that continued to win high critical acclaim despite experiencing major drops in viewership after two seasons.

The drivers of New York's Sunshine Cab Company take advantage of a pay phone that lets them keep their change, but Alex (star Judd Hirsch) is reluctant to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter. Elaine (Marilu Henner) comes to work there "part-time", as does a fresh-faced fare (Randall Carver).

5. The Brady Bunch: "The Honeymoon" (24:41) (Originally aired September 26, 1969)
Nerves run high as Mike (Robert Reed), Carol (Florence Henderson), and their respective sets of three same-sex children prepare for the Wedding Day that will bring them all together. The ceremony goes well, until the Brady boys' dog Tiger and the Brady-to-be girls' cat Fluffy (her only appearance) create chaos. Stricken with guilt on their honeymoon, the newlyweds come up with an idea to make good with their kids.

6. Frasier: "The Good Son" (23:42) (Originally aired September 16, 1993)
Settled into Seattle, call-in radio psychiatrist Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) reluctantly opens up his apartment to his father (John Mahoney) and the live-in home care specialist (Jane Leeves) he now needs.

7. Cheers: "Give Me a Ring Sometime" (24:54) (Originally aired September 30, 1982)
Our introduction to Sam Malone's (Ted Danson) Boston bar Cheers, its eclectic staff, and regular patrons is experienced alongside Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), an intellectual woman excited by her imminent plans to fly to the Caribbean and marry the professor she assists. When that doesn't pan out, she accepts a waitress job at the bar.

Cheers bartender Sam Malone (Ted Danson) looks and listens on while imminent love interest Diane (Shelley Long) gets some heartbreaking news from an airline attendant. From this one menu, you can access anything and everything found on "Forever Funny: T.V. Sets."

VIDEO and AUDIO

All seven shows are presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen, the standard television aspect ratio until recently. Naturally, one finds greater variance here than on most DVDs. That is most evident in comparing the two black & white shows. "I Love Lucy" looks amazingly clear and sharp, but then it was shot on 35mm film as opposed to the usual cheaper methods. Said methods were employed on "The Honeymooners" and it shows.
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Adding to inherent kinescope limitations, some vertical lines remain fixed over the screen the whole time and a few scattered artifacts turn up. "The Odd Couple" is marked by a few sparse marks and a very faint flicker. But it generally pleases, while "The Brady Bunch" and "Taxi" do even more. Of the two most recent shows, "Frasier" has somewhat of a video appearance that seems to render it softer and fuzzier than ideal, but "Cheers" looks terrific with its vibrant colors and pleasing contrast.

With no secondary audio tracks, toggling is a non-issue, but even checking the DVD's audio is prohibited. Still, my DVD-ROM confirmed what I suspected that each track is encoded in two channels. People don't expect whiz-bang from sitcoms, but the sound palettes do run deeper than dialogue; there are laugh tracks and music features prominently in most of the shows, especially "Odd Couple" and "Taxi." The mixes are as satisfactory as the picture generally is, with the one exception again being "Honeymooners", whose audio is very quiet and muffled. The biggest disappointment regarding the sound is Paramount's usual one: there are closed captions but no English subtitles.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

There are no bonus features or previews, only a single static menu screen enabling episode selection or complete continuous playback. Show logos adorn pastel colored eggs, suggesting the disc would have been apt for Easter gift-giving had it come a couple of months earlier.

Though no inserts are found inside the keepcase, the back cover supplies cast photos, 1-sentence synopses, air dates, and episode titles. What more could a person want?

Dressing and acting up, Lucy and Ethel (Vivian Vance) have laughs at the expense of Ricky (Desi Arnaz) and Fred (William Frawley). Mike and Carol's honeymoon party numbers twelve counting six kids, Cindy's doll, Fluffy the cat, Tiger the dog, and Alice the maid.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Forever Funny is like a public domain compilation you might find for a dollar or two, but instead of old, largely forgotten programs looking like crap, you get 7 shows nearly all considered classics presented in the high quality you'd expect from one of the big studios. One more premiere episode would have been nice (matching Holiday Treats' total) and another two could have fit without pushing the disc's compression any. Still, this amounts to quite a nice and historical sitcom compilation for just about $10. Even if you have a couple of these shows' first seasons on DVD, the refreshing variety, great selection, and appeal of having the premieres gathered together could still be worth the low asking price for sitcom lovers.

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Reviewed May 17, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1951 Desilu Productions, 1955 Jackie Gleason Enterprises, 1969 Redwood Productions,
1978 John Charles Walters Productions, 1982 Charles/Burrows/Charles Productions, 1993 Grub Street Productions,
1951-1993 CBS Studios, Inc., Paramount Television, and 2009 Paramount Home Entertainment/CBS DVD. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.