“FRIENDS: THE COMPLETE SERIES”
Blu-ray widescreen, 1994-2004, unrated
Best new extra: Three retrospective documentaries with the show’s creators
“FRIENDS” WAS NOT so much a sitcom as it was a cultural phenomenon. Since its debut on NBC in early ‘90s, the show about six extremely attractive white friends living in New York has been ubiquitous. What with the high-waisted jeans, the “how you doin’” and the short, layered haircut (you know you had a Rachel), this thing was everywhere. It anchored the network’s Thursday night “Must See TV” sitcom lineup, starting out between “Mad About You” and “Seinfeld.” It’s easy to understand the show’s success; Ross, Rachel, Monica, Joey, Chandler and Phoebe were likable and really funny, even when they weren’t doing the most likable or funny things. You couldn’t help but root for them.
And now – again – all of the episodes are together in one set. This time remastered in high-def on Blu-ray. The episodes look and sound great, with bright colors and crisp light. However, this is not the first time the remastered versions have been available; high-def reruns started running on Nick at Nite last year, and on TBS and other channels in March of this year according to Warner Home Video. The show had always been shot in widescreen even in the ‘90s, but it was framed for standard televisions. So while tops of heads aren’t cropped in order to make it widescreen, extraneous things – an arm here and there -- sometimes make it into the loosely cropped shots.
Unfortunately for the die-hard fans of the series who seem like the target market for a set like this, the 236 episodes are as they originally appeared on NBC – not the extended versions that had been on previous DVD releases. So jokes and extra lines that may have been memorized over many viewings will be missing – a considerable drawback. However, all of the extras from those previous DVD editions are still here, including commentaries on 31 episodes from creators Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane. There are also some nice new extras, including a set of documentaries that reveal a bit about the show’s origin story, such as who was the first friend cast (Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe), who turned down a role for another one (Courteney Cox, who was originally offered Rachel), and whose role was nearly accepted by another actor who had been offered it by the studio (Matthew Perry as Chandler). Creators Bright, Kauffman and Crane take viewers through from the beginning, including the writing of the theme song – yep, sorry, that’s going to be in your head -- by Kauffman’s husband.
The bonus disc also includes one extended episode; “The One Where Rachel Tells Ross” originally included some plane-bomb humor, as strange as that is to imagine today. And it was slated to run in October of 2001. Well, 9/11 happened and that stuff was cut out. But here, the episode is put back together in its original intent. It does not seem to make a huge difference. Viewers can also flip through the original script for that episode, as well as some mid-2000s cast appearances on talk shows and a gag reel.
Notably absent on the set are any new extras involving fresh interviews with show stars David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc. There are interviews with some cast members, such as Melora Hardin, who once played a love interest for Ross; Maggie Wheeler, who played Chandler’s sometime girlfriend, Janice; and Elliott Gould, who played Ross and Monica’s dad.
The glossy black box the set comes in includes a holographic image flipping between the cast in the first year and then ten years later. Inside is a lined inset area that holds a big glossy book on thick stock listing the episodes and extras by disc, and hardcover book that holds the 21 discs, with a classy-feeling magnetic closure. In a way, the pretty packaging is fitting – the set’s offerings are primarily cosmetic.
— Judy Le