Norman Lear gets some amazing treatment on this release.
It it was a little hard navigating through all the content.The Norman Lear Collection is a 19 disc compendium featuring the first season of Lear's 7 most groundbreaking and culture effecting shows. They are:
- All In The Family
- Good Times
- The Jeffersons
- Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
- One Day At a Time
- Sanford and Son
Also included in this set are a plethora of new extras which make this release stand head and shoulders above all the TV on DVD releases that came before it. Here is a breakdown of the shows...
All In The Family
All In the Family is brilliant TV. It is a testament to Norman Lear's brilliance that he kept everything going for as long as he did. In the character of Archie Bunker he created what many magazines have referred to as the "beloved bigot". However to look at Archie Bunker as just that is just plain wrong. It's an easy dismissal of an important cultural icon and it serves nobody except special interests.
All In the Family on the surface is a situation comedy about Archie and Edith Bunker. Their daughter Gloria and her husband Michael live with them as he finishes up college. Gloria and Michael are liberals. Archie is conservative(often expressing his love for "Richard E. Nixon") and Edith falls somewhere between the two camps. It is here, in the differences of all the characters and their views, that show creator Norman Lear really was able to deal with the issues of that time head on. On top of that, the fact that many of the issues being talked about are still relevant in 2005 is further testament to what a cultural phenomenon a show like All In the Family is and was.
Good Times was a show that shocked audiences because in it's initial first run, it played very hard coming out of the gate. Focusing on the James, Florida, J.J., Thelma, Michael and family friend Willona, we get to see one aspect of African American culture through the Evans family. At a time in our country's history when segregation was not too many years removed, here came a show that said everything you think you know about this culture is wrong. What we see is a family it is always a paycheck away from ruin, but they never give up, never stop believing and never stop finding a way to laugh in both good times and bad.
The Jeffersons follows George and Louise Jefferson as they deal with "moving on up... to the deluxe apartment in the sky." Whether George is trying to swindle a building out from under Alan Willis, or trying to save one of his kidneys from donation, or using his apartment as a shelter for Harry, Tom and Helen when the heating is out in their building, this show always did it's best to derive inherent comedy from the situations it was putting across on screen. Filled with memorable characters, The Jeffersons was a show that examined race relations, while always keeping it's mind on turning preconceived notions upside down. There is a dynamic to this show that kept it sharp and witty.
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
In melding soap operas and sitcoms, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is one of the more interesting shows to ever make it on TV. Created and produced by Norman Lear this show focused on Mary Hartman (Louise Lasser) and the troubles she faced as chaos ensued around her. A killer is on the loose, people are being kidnapped and all Mary can think about is the "waxy yellow buildup" on her kitchen floor. Like a soap opera this show carried out it's storylines from episode to episode, so one can view the 25 shows that make up this set as something akin to a very big movie.
We begin with finding out that a flasher and some mass murderers are on the loose. This is Episode 1 and it doesn't get any saner after that. Later on we see Mary trying to save her marriage to Tom (Greg Mullavy), her best friend Loretta Haggers (Mary Kay Place) wants to make it in Nashville in the worst way, and her Grandfather has problems of his own. Amidst this there are fears of infidelity and the kind of soap opera-like camera moves that help bring across the ideas of this show.
While at times I thought Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a little too cerebral for it's own good, what amazed me was how easy it was too get into this show. It starts off and because it's different (especially if you're used to watching regular sitcoms), it is almost unnerving. Once you settle in and follow the stories, this show ends up being a very rewarding experience.
Maude: The Complete First Season is yet another social commentary/social satire offering from the mind of the brilliant Norman Lear. Spun off from the great All in the Family TV show, Maude is everything that Archie Bunker is not. On her fourth husband (Walter; Bill Macy) and with a live-in daughter (who also has a small child herself), in many ways this show still represents the American family.
Never shying away from controversy, Maude almost never censors herself. This show looks at such interesting issues as white guilt ("Maude Meets Florida"), fidelity ("Walter's Secret") and politics ("Flashback"). While I am sure that some people would see almost every episode of this show as social and political in some way, I think it's success was derived from the fact that it never left the comedy that far behind. With a run that ran from 1972 to 1978 what made this show stand out was the solid acting and writing. Yes, the screenplays were topical but you need good performances and a lot of levity to pull that off.
Maude: The Complete First Season did that in spades.
One Day At a Time
Once again, we get a very strong effort from Producer Norman Lear with One Day at a Time: The Complete First Season. This show follows Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) as a happily divorced woman who is doing her best to raise her daughters Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli). Moving to Indianapolis they soon become acquainted with the building Superintendent (and wannabe stud) Dwayne Schneider (Pat Harrington, Jr.), and Ann already has a suitor (Richard Masur) who wishes to marry her. Norman Lear was always great at exploring issues that were prevalent but not widely seen on the television airwaves. One Day at a Time is yet another example of this master's prowess.
Dealing with such themes as teen sexuality ("Ann's Decision," "All the Way"), adult sexuality ("Chicago Rendezvous,"), relationships ("David Plus Two") and divorce, One Day at a Time is yet another example of Norman Lear's finger on the pulse prowess. It isn't surprising that this show would have so many fans and that it would be widely anticipated for this DVD release.
Sanford and Son
Sanford and Son is one of those shows that never grows old. Still in TV Land's regular rotation this amazing piece of television pop culture chronicles the daily goings on of Fred (Redd Foxx) and his son Lamont (Demond Wilson) Sanford. These two men work out of their home which also doubles as a junkyard. Amidst the laughter that is had when this show tries to cross racial and social lines, what really comes through is the relationship between the father and son. What we have is Fred as the domineering often misguided patriarch who does everything he does because he loves his son. Lamont is often dismayed by his father's actions, but he always comes to realize that as a bad a situation as his dad has gotten them in, as off putting as his off color comments might be, his dad loves him and truly doesn't mean any harm. Rounding out this show is a cast of hilarious characters like Aunt Esther, Bubba and Grady and that always makes for interesting TV.
All In the Family
Never Before Release Pilots
As someone who has watched and re-watched most of the episodes for this show, I was like a savage animal when it came to watching these pilots. There names were:
- Those Were the Days
- And Justice for All
Why these episodes have heretofore not been shown to the public is anybody's guess but these things were just as good as the ones that made air. I have no idea what the thought process is behind what gets shown and what doesn't get shown. What I can say is that All in the Family is one of those shows that always seems to have had "it." There is such a depth and layering to all of the proceedings that it makes watching The Norman Lear Collection both fun and informative.
Sanford and Son
Everyone Loves A Clown Featurette
Norman Lear takes us down memory lane as he breaks down how this show came into existence. He talks about the power struggles to bring Fred Sanford to the small screen, how he got the network to buy into this idea and how Redd Foxx came to be cast. I really liked hearing about how Demond Wilson got cast. I say this because I think he is really good, but he seemed to (smartly) take a backseat to his on-screen father. This allowed Wilson to be a straight man and it worked to good effect during this shows lengthy run.
One Day At a Time
Ain't We Lucky We Got 'Em Featurette
Jimmie Walker and Norman Lear discuss this show and while no new ground is really broached, I found that it was just nice to sit back and listen to these guys talk. What would've been nice would have been a featurette, 10-15 minutes in length, that would have captured why James Evans (John Amos) really left this show. At first I heard it because he felt the show was becoming too dependent on Jimmy Walker's character saying "Dy-No-Mite!" in every episode. Then I have heard Norman Lear describe Amos as "impossible" to deal with during that time period. So, rather than me having to hash everything together, Sony, since you had everything in one place why couldn't you have done the work for me?
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
Movin' On Up Featurette
One thing I have always loved about The Jeffersons, something that I don't think anybody has ever keyed into about this show is just how amazing it is in a business sense. Here you have this man who is runs a very successful dry cleaning company, and in the 20 or so minutes that the show is playing, he is dispensing Donald Trumpisms years before Trump ever came on the national scene. While this aspect of the show isn't really touched in this featurette, what is talked about is how groundbreaking this show was in it's portrayal of African Americans. Yes, John Cassavetes and others got their first, but Norman Lear seems to be first to bring this reality to the masses at large.
Introduction by Norman Lear and The Legacy of a Television Revolutionary
All In the Family
1.33:1 format all the way folks. I know that on some releases, they try and "hip them up" by adding the widescreen in, but it seems like all you would get there is a loss of the picture on both the top and bottom portions of the screen. All In the Family is a show that needs to be preserved in it's original format. It is a TV institution. In my line of thinking, it is in many ways more important then the news. All these shows look outstanding. There is no pixilation, very few "video hits" and overall the colors remain consistent from scene to scene and episode to episode. I don't think that these DVDs should be cleaned up too much. Sure, I don't want to watch an image falling apart, but I don't want to see All In the Family all glossed up either. I think that the DVDs creators have struck a perfect tone between having the shows looks good, while not having them look so good that you can tell that there was work done to them. These episodes at 30+ years old look quite good. In fact there is even a glare that is created in certain moments of some of the episodes that many would look at as technical mistake. I certainly don't. It gives these episodes a sense of place and time. A reverential quality that only underscores this show's charm.
1.33:1 Full Screen. You know, I watch this show almost everyday on TV LAND, and it's weird that the DVD transfers here don't look too much better then when they air on that station. It's not that they look bad it's just that I guess when I screen things on DVD I just expect them to look better. The colors on the discs are very muted and not as bright as they usually seem when these shows are transferred. There were a few times where it seemed like the lighting and the clothing of the show clashed a bit, but these moments were very minimal. Overall, these discs look really good.
Full Screen - 1.33:1. There is a coziness to this show that I think stems from the fact that the majority of it took place in the Jefferson's apartment. It isn't ever claustrophobic which I think is even more amazing, because so much of the action takes place in the living room. Also, even with all the "loud" clothing that these characters wear, I am surprised how well all the images have held up through their transfer to DVD.
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
1.33:1 - Full Screen. This show looked good but it did have some of that 1970s sludge that sometimes occurs. The picture was sharp when things were still, but anytime there were sudden movements the lighting scheme seemed to create an odd pattern on the screen. Also, the camera movements whether it was a panning shot of the room, or zooming in on a character, really seemed to call attention to itself. However, the picture did hold up throughout this whole show and it seems like Sony even cleaned up these episodes a bit.
Full Screen - 1.33:1. The quality on this DVD's picture was okay. These shows are about 35 years old now and I noticed some of what I call the 1970s smear. What is surprising is that I haven't seen that on a lot of other shows from that time. It wasn't that noticeable, I just found that sometimes the lighting scheme created a moire pattern that was unbecoming. Still, all 22 episodes seem like they have been well compressed and the assets look like they have been cared for over the years.
One Day At a Time
Full Screen - 1.33:1. These shows looked terrific. At first I was a little nervous because the opening theme song segment seemed like it had been shot with the wrong filter. It was dark and almost hard to tell who the characters were. Once the shows themselves started playing everything looked great. The compression seems like it has sharpened all the images in the way that makes them not look overcooked. Sony seems to have gotten back on track from other TV on DVD releases I have screened.
Sanford and Son
Full Screen - 1.33:1. The quality of these DVD's was good. These shows are quite old but I didn't really notice any 1970s smear. I would have figured that any show from that time period would had that but it wasn't the case here. Mainly, I found that sometimes the lighting scheme created a moire pattern that was somewhat noticeable. Still, Sony seems like they have done a solid job with these episodes.
All In the Family
Dolby Digital. Coming from SONY, it would be almost criminal if these things didn't sound very good wouldn't it? Everything seems to be in order as far as volume and levels are concerned. I was able to turn my set up and just leave it at a certain volume and I never had to adjust anything. In fact, other then the opening theme song differing in certain volume levels, I never had to touch my controller or adjust anything at all. And I am not even sure that it was the volume levels that caused my adjustment. It might even have been Edith Bunker's high pitched cackles that caused me to have to adjust the audio? Who knows? Whatever the case, this was another good example of the DVDs creators not breaking something that didn't need fixing. It sounded just fine, and I think to try and clean it up anymore then it was would have done all the discs a big disservice. I also think that the use of "mood music", sparse as it was throughout all the episodes, really lends something to the effectiveness of certain points or themes. It was used so sparingly that when it was used, you really knew that there was a good reason for it. It was extraneous and it never made the characters or their situations seem hooky.
Dolby Digital. While there isn't anything really special happening in the sound department, I found that I had to turn these DVDs up a bit louder then I thought I would. Again, this probably says more about my set up then it does about the actual sound on the DVDs. They were not inaudible by any means. One thing I have noticed with these shows that are done like plays, is that they don't seem to have done retakes if a line was flubbed or delivered badly. I actually like this as there is a naturalness to the rhythms of the language and the comedy that really comes through.
Dolby Digital. Close Captioned. Language: English. The sound on these discs is pretty much what you would expect it to be a for a sitcom. By this I mean that isn't bad but it isn't great, however it gets the point of the scenes across and when you do the math on the amount of episodes contained in this 19 disc set, I think that makes the audio on these discs quite respectable.
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman
Dolby Digital. Close Captioned. The audio on these discs was good but ultimately forgettable. I was able to hear what the characters were saying quite well, and I didn't even have to turn up the audio on my TV that loud. In fact, when this show first began it was so quiet, I actually began adjusting the audio and looking at the cables on my DVD player to make sure that I had everything connected right. There's nothing here that will take your sound system out for a spin, but I don't think that that audience is going to be interested in that too much.
Dolby Digital - English. Close Captioned. The audio on this show can best be described as solid, if not spectacular. Nothing about the audio really grabbed me but lets define what we're talking about. This is a sitcom, it's designed to maximize laughs and to make us laugh. Did I hear all the jokes? Yes. Enough said.
One Day At a Time
Dolby Digital. Language: English. Close Captioned. The audio on this show was good. I love sitcoms because when they are at their best, when the characters are fully realized by good actors, they present themselves like tiny plays. I find that Norman Lear was always good at creating the material that gave actors the chance to shine, but he also found actors that were able to embody their roles correctly.
Sanford and Son
Dolby Digital. Close Captioned. The audio on these discs was good but nothing too amazing. I found that I was able to hear what the characters were saying quite well, and thankfully I didn't even have to turn up the audio that loud. The creators of this set seem to have leveled everything just right so that we are able to hear all the jokes and asides just as we should. Like I often say, there's nothing in the audio design that will take your sound system out for a spin, but I don't think that that audience is going to be interested in that for this release.
This might sound odd but I honestly don't really know how to describe this packaging. We are given a big brick of a case which gives us a picture or Norman Lear like something out of Apple ad. The front portion also lists out the name of this release and the shows that are contained in it. The back features a description of what this set contains, special features, and a layout of what is contained within this packaging. Inside the set are more pictures of Lear, more candid shots from all the shows and a description of where to find the special features. This set probably weighs a good three pounds but it is amazing sturdy and seems to offer a lot of economy as far as space goes. There is also a plastic covering that is part of the artwork that helps keep everything contained.
I honestly have to say that I think The Norman Lear Collection is probably the most important TV on DVD release since the medium was created. I know that people probably will think that this is a lot of grandstanding on my part but I honestly feel that if you never owned any TV on DVD, and you wanted to get a thumbnail of what that landscape had to offer, one could certainly glean a lot by owning all of the 19 discs in this set. In fact, if one were to take this release and put it in a time capsule they would be offering future generations the ability to revel in the brilliance of one of televisions ultimate masters.
That Norman Lear was so prolific isn't what is so amazing (even though he could certainly rest on those laurels). When one goes over the first seasons of all these shows they will be amazed at the sort of ideas and stories that are being broached. The social issues, the human issues, the comedic issues, etc.. All of it seems to meld together to make each season play in a pitch perfect way. This adds a lot of weight to the proceedings as we are consistently entertained and enlightened due to the information contained in this 19 disc set.
Lastly, I think it is just fine that all we have to draw on for this collection is the first season of these shows. One could argue that it's not a definitive collection because it doesn't include everything. One could also argue that it's all just repackaged to resell DVD sets that have been on the market for the past 5 years. However, what one cannot argue with is the fact that all of these first seasons contain wallops that will leave viewers with their jaws dangling. Norman Lear once said that no TV show should go past 5 seasons. The fact that most of these shows went beyond that is a testament to the magic that he captured when the shows were initially created.
The Norman Lear Collection is as groundbreaking a TV on DVD release as the shows contained within it.
Sanford and Son was released .