The Good

The Bad

Sweet Valley High: The Complete First Season centers on two identical twins, Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. Liz is the good one and Jess is the bad one. Since they look the same on the outside, they are able to easily fool people who don’t know them. This is something Jessica is seemingly very adept at because she’s usually trying to convince other people that she is Liz. You see, it seems that even though I think a majority of the people might find Jessica’s sassiness a tad hotter, it appears as if Liz’s quiet, homeliness is what usually wins her the day. Most of the time, it is Jessica’s penchant for wanting to “one-up” those around her, that ends up giving her all these problems. In short, she is her own worst enemy.

Okay, does my generally description of the show seem familiar? Because that’s the way I felt when I commandeered this box set. I mean, I don’t really know what I was expecting, and in many ways I knew what to expect having watched an episode here and there back in the mid 1990s. I mean, things could have been a lot worse. There are a lot less pretty looking girls to watch for 446 minutes, so I can at least count my blessings in that department. Also, everyone involved from the Winston Egbert character to the Enid Rollins character were all solid renditions of the “types” that you run into at some point in your life in school. Nobody is bad per se, I just didn’t think that there was anything about this material that really stood out. Nothing about the writing, the settings or even the acting that made me think, ”This show could be memorable”. I would probably feel differently had I grown up watching it. Had this shown been a part of my life like “Happy Days” or “Three’s Company”. As this is not the case, I watched this show more detached from it then anything else.

Something interesting that this show could have done was maybe include a special feature on how two identical twins, playing sisters on a TV show in front of millions of people, ended up affecting both Cynthia and Brittany Daniel as people. It could sort of come from a Dead Ringers angle in which we see how two people who were so intertwined, who lived so closely are doing today. This would have been so interesting to me because as this show had a decent TV life, I am sure that there are stories the sisters would like to share. I am sure that there are feelings that they had about “growing up” as sisters, as well is in front of TV cameras playing sisters that were clearly not emotions that could be displayed on a regular TV show. Now if this was Cable, a station like HBO or SHOWTIME would have a field day with something like this.

This box set contains interesting episodes, especially the “Uh Oh Seven” one where Liz is writing a story using characters from Sweet Valley based on the characters from any boilerplate “007” movie. It is probably the most interesting episode simply because we get to “go inside” Liz’s mind. Sadly, the majority of the episodes weren’t on this level. In fact, after awhile seeing Jessica sabotage Liz was just plain boring.

Overall, I found this box set to be a tad disappointing. For people that followed the show when it first aired on TV, I am sure that they will be more then satisfied. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.

Features

No special features came on with this box set and honestly, I find that to be a tad surprising. I feel this way because this show is based on Francine Pascal’s popular teen novels. It would have been nice to hear the authors take on this show. What she thought of Brittany and Cynthia Daniel’s portrayal of the main characters, how she felt the shows were executed, the screenwriters takes on her work, etc. Don’t misunderstand, with a box set I don’t usually mind if there isn’t not a whole lot of extras. This is because there are usually a bunch of discs, a decent packaging job and it just seems like any extras would have been an afterthought. Who knows what the creators of Sweet Valley High: The Complete First Season were using as a litmus test for including extras on this DVD, but something tells me that if this box set proves to have some mettle with the consumers, then we will certainly see a “supped up” second season box set.

Video

Aspect ratio 1.33:1. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the dreaded full screen again, but hey, what can you do? This is a TV show. Not that that means there is a loss of substantial quality it’s just that theaters have their screening standards and TV has theirs. There isn’t much more too it then that. The look of this show doesn’t seem to have changed much from teen shows that I sometimes flip through on today’s channels. Sure the outfits and music are different, people wear there hair in different styles, I guess I just mean the actual look of the show is the same. The lighting, the camera moves, the on screen blocking of the characters. Nothing about this show seems to want to step out or be daring. It doesn’t want to be risky, especially in the look of the show which is wholesome yet at the same time, as it is dealing with the subject matter of young ladies growing up, so it tries to project something of an edge. This edge would come in the form of the Jessica character who just on first glance alone, looks she is going to be trouble. This show is only dated by the time in which it was made. The DVD transfers look quite sharp and there is a clearness to this show’s presentation. A freshness that other shows around that time(ie. “Beverly Hills 90210”) didn’t seem to have. However, whatever freshness “90210” didn’t have, it certainly made up for in content.

Audio

Dolby Digital Sound. There is a Spanish language track and shows can also be viewed with Spanish subtitles. Adding the Spanish language track to a show taking place in Southern California is a brilliant little addition. I say this because I hail from Orange County. Many people think of this place as some white enclave. The term I hear most often is “Behind The Orange Curtain”. The fact that a show like this, with two girls who if they were “any whiter they’d be clear”, has a Spanish language track is very much an acknowledgment of the diversity of my fair city. I am not Spanish. I can’t speak the language, I am just impressed by a major company like Buena Vista Home Entertainment recognizing this. Not that they don’t, or wouldn’t or could care less...not that at all...I just think that having a box set like Sweet Valley High: The Complete First Season, contain a Spanish language track really says something about our growing cultural diversity, not just in OC, but everywhere.

Okay, now to the actual sound. Everything is in order here, I just think that the theme song for this show really could have used A LOT of work. It just sounds bad. Nothing about it would have kept me watching the show. The song is almost an embarrassment to the box set. I mean, what were the creators of the show thinking when they either A) created it or B) approved it. It just isn’t good. It’s not catchy. It’s not memorable. It’s just awful. In some ways, and I could be wrong, this show(not the box set) seems very thrown together. Seems very contrived. It obviously had an audience as IMDB states that the show did have a decent run, but if I didn’t know any better, I would say the only statement this show cared about were the bank statements.

Package

These two girls are really heard to tell apart. I know they are identical twins and everything, but looking at these pictures on the box set was really confusing for me at times. There is a shot on the front cover of the two sisters head to head, they’re both smiling(but of course Jessica has a bit more of a sassy smile) and at first I thought, “Hmmm...nice looking girls.” Now, looking at the picture with the aid of hindsight(screening the DVDs), I am sort of weirded out by them. I mean, you had the Olsen Twins playing each other when they were younger, and I guess they do it now(see New York Minute), but it never looks at weird as these sisters do. Underneath their picture is a silhouette of some people on the beach in mainly pink, orange, white and back colors. The back features the main cast of the show, with the two sisters again pitted against one another. This time Liz is smiling and Jess is not. Hmmmm...what is this supposed to mean? Inside are more pictures from the show, a listing of what episodes are on each disc as well as the same color scheme from the front cover. I think it’s interesting the way the pictures are laid out, it seems like the sisters are somewhat pitted against one another. In the show, this certainly works but I have to wonder about the effect that this may have had on them in their real lives? How it affects them today? Wow, it’s amazing what packaging can make you think about.

Final Word

Sweet Valley High: The Complete First Season is brain candy of the highest order. I am not sure why this is but I was expecting a little but more from this show. Not that it’s bad, I just didn’t think that it was that good. Nothing too out of the ordinary, nothing really groundbreaking, just two sisters in Sweet Valley growing up. Perhaps I have been reviewing too many DVDs of late that are just simply brain candy? Maybe I am yearning for something more and Sweet Valley High: The Complete First Season, sadly did not give it to me. Whatever the reason, I think that maybe if I was younger, if I was girl or could in anyway relate to the “sufferings of the upper classes”, I might feel differently.

My problem, which seems to be my problem with a lot of teen fare(especially shows like “Popular”, which I consider a direct descendent of Sweet Valley High: The Complete First Season, is that you have these characters who are beautiful. They would have to go to a planet populated by aliens not to be thought of as just totally hot. So when you see these people having problems or unable to cope with issues like a guy not liking them, or getting a bad grade, or whatever...it’s just a tad hard to believe. More to the point it’s a tad hard to really care.

So for Sweet Valley High: The Complete First Season, I give the DVD box set A for effort and a D for originality.

Sweet Valley High was released .