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Grade:  A-/B+

TV comedy

Rated TV-PG

In 1982, producers Glen and Les Charles were cruising along with their Taxi, having accelerated past All in the Family in 1979 to win the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series—a title the cabbie sitcom retained in 1980 and 1981. So hey, why not serve up another workplace/customer comedy?

The first episode of Cheers aired on September 30, 1982, and that week the Boston bar sitcom from James Burrows and the Charles boys finished dead last in the Nielsen ratings at #77. Nobody wanted to spend time in the fictional bar where “everybody knows your name,” even if Bostonians did recognize the location as the Bull & Finch Pub at 84 Beacon Street.   

But critics took notice. Three of the first-season’s smartly written episodes received Emmy nominations, and Glen and Les Charles won for “Give Me a Ring Sometime.” Cheers earned 13 total Primetime Emmy nominations that first season, with additional wins coming for Outstanding Lead Actress (Shelley Long), Outstanding Individual Achievement (Graphic Design and Title Sequences), Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series (James Burrows), and the big one: Outstanding Comedy Series. Cheers would also win Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1984, 1988, and 1990.

Viewers were another matter. Cheers didn’t crack the Nielsen Top 30 until its third season, though after that it became entrenched in the Top 10 and finished as America’s #1 most watched TV show in 1990-91, its ninth season. More recently, Cheers was ranked #11 on “TV Guide Magazine’s 60 Best Series of All Time”—a happy coincidence, considering the series ran for 11 seasons.    

So what made it so successful, despite the slow start?

Like any great sitcom, Cheers had smart writing, a great ensemble cast of endearing characters, and an adaptability that kept the show fresh when key actors left and new ones joined. But it had a solid core of characters to begin with: 

—Sam Malone, an ex-Red Sox pitcher and recovering alcoholic who owns the bar and thinks of himself as the Cy Young of skirt chasers (Ted Danson, who earned two Primetime Emmys for the role)

—Coach, his former coach (Nicholas Colasanto) who tends bar and does the best he can with a noggin that took too many fastballs back in the day

—Carla Tortelli (four-time Outstanding Supporting Actress winner Rhea Perlman), an abrasive, pugnacious waitress who has more children than she can keep tabs on

—Diane Chambers (Long), an educated new waitress who has an opinion about everything and struts her intellectualism, though she was hired because Sam a) felt sorry for her and b) found her attractive

—Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger), a mailman who considers his job to be right up there with first responders and prides himself in being an Encyclopedia Triviana (though he clearly makes most of it up)

—“NORM!” (George Wendt), who elicits a moniker cheer every time he enters Cheers because he spends more time there than he does at home.

After Colasanto died, Woody Harrelson brought a fresh take on the clueless character when he took over as bartender Woody from rural Iowa (and won an Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy). Then the creators felt another egghead was needed and brought in the character of psychologist Dr. Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), who would go on to have his own even more successful spin-off series, and fellow stuffed-shirt psychologist (and love interest) Dr. Lilith Sternin (two-time Outstanding Supporting Actress winner Bebe Neuwirth).

Shelley Long left after the fifth season, but the creators pulled a 180 and changed the dynamic so that Sam wasn’t just hiring another waitress—he sold the bar and bought a boat to sail around the world. And when that didn’t work out, he returned to a corporate-owned pub run by Rebecca Howe (Outstanding Lead Actress winner Kirstie Alley) and worked for “the man.” But some things never change. Sam still finds most women too attractive not to proposition, and in addition to the usual entanglements that drive sitcoms—the family relationships, love interests, worker conflicts, etc.—the creators developed a rivalry between Cheers and another Boston bar.

By Season 9 the series got a little soapy, with a corporate CEO (Roger Rees) needing to skip town and Rebecca wallowing in pity, but audiences loved it. That was the season Cheers finished in the top Nielsen spot.

This handsomely packaged set features all 270 22-minute episodes on 33 discs, housed in Blu-ray cases by season and contained in a reasonably sturdy cardboard slipcase. The audio-video quality is very good, but the bonus features appear to have been an afterthought. The longest one runs only a little over eight minutes, and most are brief talking-heads spots. The show deserved better . . . though maybe the most fitting tribute is that the Bull & Finch Pub, once cited by Boston Magazine as the best neighborhood bar, is now simply named Cheers.

But the final toast goes to Judy Hart-Angelo and Gary Portnoy for writing one of the best TV theme songs ever: “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.”

Entire family:  No (‘tweens and older)

Run time:  110 hrs 46 min., Color

Studio/Distributor:  CBS/Paramount

Aspect ratio:  1.33:1

Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA 2.0

Bonus features:  C-

Amazon link

Rated TV-PG for adult themes, sexual innuendo, and some language

Language:  3/10—This is network television, so the “damns” and “hells” and “asses” are fairly limited and equally innocuous

Sex:  3/10—The show frequently deals with adult relationships and Sam’s conquests or attempted conquests, but innuendo is the extent of it

Violence:  3/10—In 11 seasons there was only one fight in Cheers, and two instances of comic hold-ups and one comic choking—plus a poignant off-stage death

Adult situations:  5/10—The series is shot mostly inside a bar, so I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the premise itself is one big adult situation, with drinking mostly beer) and attempted seductions in the bar and elsewhere

Takeaway:  Cheers has the distinction of producing a role—Dr. Frasier Crane—that Kelsey Grammer would play for a record 20 years:  9 as a minor character on Cheers, and 11 as the title character on the spin-off sitcom Frasier


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Grade: B+/A-

TV comedy

Not rated (would be PG for adult drinking and smoking)

I Love Lucy was one of the early TV series that made the leap from vaudeville and radio to television. It began as My Favorite Husband, a radio program starring Ball and Dick Denning. But Lucy suggested that her TV husband be played by her real husband, who was then appearing as a panelist on the game show What’s My Line? The rest is TV history. I Love Lucy was an immediate fan favorite, finishing #3 in the Nielsen ratings its first year, and #1 seasons two through four, #2 their fifth season, then back to #1 again for the sixth.

Lucille Ball set the gold standard for physical comedy and character comedy playing opposite real-life husband and band leader Desi Arnaz in a sitcom that revolved around only four characters:  Ricky Ricardo (Arnaz), his wife Lucy, and their neighbors, Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). That is, two housewives prone to get into trouble, one fuddy-duddy who wore his pants up to his chin, and a Latin lover whose love for Lucy was sorely tested in just about every episode.

All of the episodes are fueled by Lucy’s frequent paranoia, jealousy, and her tendency to misunderstand things, to blow things out of proportion, or to scheme behind Ricky’s back to try to get her way—which often involves her best friend and her not-so-secret desire to break into show business, although she has no talent except unintentional comedy.

In 2002, TV Guide named the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, and I Love Lucy ranked No. 2 behind Seinfeld. Season 2 earned a Primetime Emmy for Best Comedy Show—one of four the show would receive over its 6-season run.

Season 2 includes one of the all-time greatest I Love Lucy episodes, “Job Switching,” and this Ultimate Blu-ray has it in both black-and-white and as a colorized bonus extra. This season the show made TV history with Ball’s pregnancy and two very funny episodes, “Lucy Is Enceinte” (when she tries to figure out how to tell her easily excitable husband) and “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” which drew the largest TV audience to date:  71.7 percent of American TV sets were tuned into the show so that people could see Lucy give birth.

To put that into perspective, more Americans watched this episode than the Eisenhower inauguration and Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation combined. It was the first birth on television, though censors wouldn’t allow the show to use the term “pregnant.” “Expecting” was the preferred genteel term in January 1953, and Little Ricky appeared on TV just 12 hours after Lucy gave birth in real life. So call this a comic reenactment.

Other notable Season 2 episodes include “Redecorating,” “Lucy Wants New Furniture,” “Never Do Business with Friends,” “The Camping Trip,” “The Handcuffs,” “Club Election,” and “Lucy Becomes a Sculptress.”  And it is a treat seeing one of the all-time great episodes in color.

All of the episodes are fueled by Lucy’s frequent paranoia, jealousy, and her tendency to misunderstand things, to blow things out of proportion, or to scheme behind Ricky’s back to try to get her way—which often involves her best friend and her not-so-secret desire to break into show business, although she has no talent except unintentional comedy. A number of episodes each season deal with the battle of the sexes that was fought in kitchens and living rooms across America, and all of the episodes will now seem sexist.

Some of the episodes also include what is now called “unfortunate cultural stereotypes.” In other words, this isn’t just TV history; it’s cultural history. This was the early years of television when not every family had a television set and relatives gathered to watch together during the Eisenhower years. The values are totally ‘50s, with Ricky’s relationship to his wife so paternalistic that the episodes might spark a few family discussions about then and now. And that’s not a bad thing.

All 31 uncut Season 2 episodes are included here on five discs, housed on plastic “pages” in a slightly wider Blu-ray case. Disc contents are listed on every disc label, and episodes and brief descriptions are also printed on the inside of the paper cover (which can be tough to read through blue plastic). As with the Ultimate Season 1 release, fans have the choice of watching the episodes with or without original commercials (some tobacco, by way of warning).

Entire family:  Yes

Run time:  791 min. (31 episodes), Black-and-White

Studio/Distributor:  CBS/Paramount

Aspect ratio:  1.33:1 (4:3)

Featured audio:  Dolby Digital Mono

Bonus features:  B+

Amazon link

Not rated (would be PG, for adult smoking/drinking)

Language:  1/10—A few mild expletives, is all

Sex:  1/10—Some kissing, but that’s about it

Violence:  2/10—Any “violence” is mild by today’s standards and tied to laughs

Adult situations: 2/10—Other than beer or cigarettes, some viewers might be shocked that verbal abuse and, once, spanking was used for humor purposes, and there are those outdated cultural depictions

Takeaway:  It’s a mystery why CBS hasn’t come out with a complete series Blu-ray, unless there are negotiation issues with Desilu Productions, because I Love Lucy is a classic as classic TV gets; in fact, how’s this for a classic TV fact: Desi Arnaz was the one who invented the rerun, airing several Season 1 episodes after the birth of their son in order to give his wife time to recover


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Grade:  A-

TV comedy

Not rated (would be PG)

From 1993-2004 the king of sitcoms was Frasier, a spin-off from the popular sitcom Cheers starring Kelsey Grammer as a pompous but endearing psychologist who reveled in his intellect and haute culture tastes, but also yearned to be “one of the guys.” Frasier won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series for each of its first five seasons and 37 Primetime Emmys over 11 seasons—though ironically it wasn’t a runaway hit with audiences. Its best showing came with Season 6, when Frasier finished as the #3 most watched TV show in America, behind Friends and ER.

In Boston’s Cheers bar, Grammer made arrogance endearing as he played a good-but-jilted doctor who hung out with a dim-witted Iowa bartender, a narcissistic ex-ballplayer, a know-it-all mailman, and an overweight, professional barfly. Sometimes you laughed with him, while at other times (most of the time, actually) the humor came at the doctor’s expense—a book smarts vs. street smarts face-off. In Seattle, fresh from a divorce from his domineering wife Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), Frasier found a fresh start as a Dr. Phil-style radio psychologist and acquired a new hangout: Café Nervosa, where he and equally effete brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) would indulge their cappuccino tastes and parade their knowledge in front of a generally apathetic public.

The show, with chapter tiles that played with puns, had two main sets. The first was KACL-Radio, where Frasier dispensed his psychiatric bromides and producer Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin) was a perfect “give it a rest” foil to his pompous side. Obnoxious sportscaster Bob “Bulldog” Briscoe (Dan Butler) took him down a few more pegs with his cuts and practical jokes, and restaurant critic Gil Chesterton (Patrick Kerr) was the uncomfortable mirror that showed reflections of what Frasier might be like without such irreverent and frequent shots to keep him grounded. Much of the at-work time is spent with Frasier talking to unseen call-ins with a host of problems, and much of the fun for fans is watching the end-credits to see what famous celebrities posed as the callers from week to week.

At home, the brandy-oriented Frasier met his match with his blue-collar dad (John Mahoney), a Ballantine-loving ex-cop who walks with a limp and has a live-in therapist, a Brit named Daphne (Jane Leeves). With dad and son facing off and Daphne offering her humorous third-party, third-culture take on things, it made for more dry humor. And Niles visited so often that it felt as if the four of them lived . . . and bantered there.

The Crane brothers were American bluebloods without the pedigree, lovers of the good life who aspire to be accepted by high society. It was their continuing lack of acceptance by the true snobs that make those of us in the hoi polloi tickle inside. The humor was twofold: highbrow verbal comedy delivered in droll fashion by the fussy Crane brothers, and comedy of character as the “average” viewer identified with the lowbrows in each episode that cut them down to size or highlighted their comparative ridiculousness. That was something that their father, former cop Marty Crane (Mahoney) relished pointing out with regularity. The show also heavily relied on misunderstandings and good intentions that backfired.

Not all of the show’s 11 seasons were great. By the ninth season, you can tell that Grammer and Pierce weren’t savoring their on-screen rivalry as psychiatrist brothers as much as in previous years. A number of the shows also don’t seem as crisply written as the best episodes from earlier seasons, and yet one of my favorite episodes, “Caught in the Act,” aired as Episode 15 in Season 11. In that hilarious outing, Frasier’s first wife, a kiddie show author-performer known as Nanny G, comes to Seattle and Roz begs Frasier to try to get tickets to the sold-out concert so she can take her niece. At a very funny booksigning event she and Frasier reconnect, the group gets their tickets, and the married Nanny G confesses to the doctor how unhappy she’s been. As the pair “reconnects” in a prop room at the venue, the show starts and the bed they’re in raises up to the stage via a mechanical opening. The rest plays out in typical Frasier farcical fashion.

Another very funny episode, “The Ski Lodge,” (Season 5, Episode 14) is a classic bedroom farce updated to contemporary times, as the gang goes to a lodge together with their respective mates or love interests, and all of their hopes for romance are scuttled by misunderstandings and room-hopping shenanigans.

Not all of the episodes involve sex. Some highlight the differences between father and sons, or track each son’s dating mishaps. Others revolve around their sibling rivalry and their need to out-do the other socially, whether in their snooty wine club or an exclusive country club. Others take place mostly in the studio and the various characters and call-ins that can make each day seem like a radio version of The Bob Newhart Show.

Most Blu-ray complete series are space-savers, but this set is actually a half-inch wider than the most recent DVD compilation. But this one is easier to navigate. The 263 episodes and bonus features are contained on 33 discs and housed in 11 standard blu-ray cases according to season. And those are all housed in a sturdy slipcase.  Alas, CBS disappoints again with episode titles only printed on each disc label, so finding favorite episodes won’t be easy.

Entire family:  No (‘tweens and older)

Run time:  5885 min., Color

Studio/Distributor:  CBS/Paramount

Aspect ratio:  1.33:1 (Seasons 1-9) and 1.78:1 (Seasons 10-11)

Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA 2.0 

Bonus features:  C+

Amazon link

Not rated (would be TV-PG for innuendo, some alcohol, states of undress, and some mild language)

Language:  2/10—A few mild swear words (damn, hell)

Sex:  5/10—Mostly innuendo, but “Caught in the Act” features an audience of small children and their moms as Frasier emerges in a diaper and pretends to be a baby, and in other episodes it’s clear that people are sleeping/have slept together, though the worst is seeing Frasier’s bare chest

Violence: 0/10—None

Adult situations:  3/10—mostly social drinking, though Daphne’s brother is a drunken soccer hooligan played for laughs; mostly sexual situations, with everything implied and nothing shown

Takeaway:  It’s nigh impossible to watch these episodes without thinking that Frasier has to be the most successful spin-off American TV series of all time


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Grade:  B+

TV comedy

Not rated (would be PG)

When Hogan’s Heroes first aired in 1965, it quickly became a hit. Though the show never finished higher than the 9th place it earned its first season, it fared better than most sitcoms that ran multiple years. While other shows suffered from tired or rehashed plots or felt the need to add new characters, situations, or sites to hold audiences’ attention, the writers for Hogan’s Heroes never seemed to run out of creative new ways for ranking POW officer Col. Hogan (Bob Crane) to get the best of his captors and sabotage the Nazi war effort.  Hogan’s Heroes was a success in every country but one:  Germany.

But in 2002, TV Guide released a list of the worst TV shows of all-time, and guess which show was No. 5 on the “bad” list? Yep. Hogan’s Heroes. So how can a smartly written show that was thrice nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series and earned two supporting actor Emmys end up on the same list as the consummately bad My Mother the Car and The Brady Bunch Hour? For the same reason that CBS chief William S. Paley balked at the series concept when it was first proposed. He thought the idea of Nazis as comic characters was reprehensible. Hogan’s Heroes aired three years before Mel Brooks gave us that hilarious “Springtime for Hitler” bit in The Producers. But more pointedly, Paley didn’t know the difference or draw the distinction between concentration camps and POW camps.

Paley couldn’t shake the image of emaciated human beings and crematoriums. But there was a distinction. POWs were mostly aviators shot down behind enemy lines, and they were kept in camps operated by the German air force, the Luftwaffe—not the SS, who ran the Jewish concentration camps. And as it turned out, all four actors who played the main German characters were all Jewish and more than happy to make the Nazis look ridiculous.

Political correctness aside, Hogan’s Heroes was popular then, and it’s obviously popular now, or else CBS/Paramount wouldn’t have produced this complete series Blu-ray. It’s still hovering close to 8 out of 10 on the Internet Movie Database, and I would submit that even if you haven’t heard of this show, the cast and smart writing are going to be enough to win you over.

For six seasons Hogan’s Heroes aired during the Vietnam War years, adding a little pro-Allies humor to the public consciousness. Crane was a natural as the affable but devious Col. Hogan who led a group of prisoners of war at a camp famous for never having had any successful escapes. Col. Wilhelm Klink (Werner Klemperer) held that record only because of Hogan’s help. It’s in the prisoners’ best interest to have the Germans thinking the Kommandant is the toughest in all Germany (though he’s really an incompetent,easily manipulated pushover), because it allows them to use Stalag 13 for a base of operations that would boggle the Germans’ minds, if they only knew.

Lift up a bunk and a staircase drops down to the second level. Lift up the dog house inside the “vicious” guard dog compound and there’s access to another series of tunnel operations. Sections of barbed wire fence raise and lower with the convenience of blinds, and a tree trunk outside the camp opens to admit people with the regularity of a revolving door. Hogan and his men have bugged Klink’s office and listen in on a radio that’s disguised as a coffee pot—the same device they use to communicate with an Allied submarine that picks up prisoners they help to escape. Think of Stalag 13 as a WWII version of the Underground Railway. Hogan’s voluntary POWs helped other prisoners, defectors, and the local oppressed evade capture and safely get out of Germany. As it turned out, they weren’t really prisoners, because they could leave any time. They were stationed there.

The two most lovable characters weren’t even part of Hogan’s team. Just as Don Diego/Zorro had the portly and comic Sergeant Garcia to “fraternize” with, Hogan gets along so famously with Sergeant Schultz (John Banner) that they could be brothers-in-law. Schultz’s trademark “I see Nuth-thing, NUTH-THING!” became a catch-phrase as popular as Fonzie’s “He-ey!” or Jimmie Walker’s “Dy-no-MITE!” It was also his code to live by: See nothing, report nothing, and just get through the war in one piece without being sent to the Russian front. That was his strategy, and so every week that Hogan and the gang would commit outrageous acts, Schultz would develop a deaf ear or a blind eye.

Klink, meanwhile, was a man who was promoted far beyond his natural intellect or ability. Compared to the scar-faced General Burkhalter (Leon Askin) or Gestapo Major Hochstetter (Howard Caine), the monocle-wearing Klink was as much of a pussycat and ally-in-spirit as Sergeant Schultz. Having those two incompetents caught up in a world beyond their control was a stroke of genius, because it made the show acceptable.

Over the years, loonies came and went—none more so than the “what, what?” by-the-book Colonel Crittendon (Bernard Fox), who didn’t quite get the point of the operation. Romantic interests included Klink’s secretaries Helga (Cynthia Lynn) and then Hilda (Sigrid Valdis), as well as spies and underground leaders like Marya (Nita Talbot) and Tiger (Arlene Martel). Even Klink had a love interest, though it was over his dead body: Burkhalter’s sister, Frau Linkmeyer (Kathleen Freeman). But from 1942 until the end of the war, Hogan’s heroes kept doing their part and enjoying life as best they could in the process.

The complete series Blu-ray collection features all 168 episodes on 22 discs that are housed in plastic Blu-ray cases according to season, with a protective slipcase holding them together. Those who bought the DVD complete collection will find the packaging alone to be reason to upgrade, but the picture quality is also more consistently sharp.

Fans weren’t all that thrilled with the bonus features on the DVD complete series release, but CBS home video added a few more bonus features to this set, among them radio segments, Air Force recruitment spots, some funny promos, and even a home wedding video shot near the set. The video quality is marginally better, while the sound remains not very dynamic. As with other boxed sets, the Blu-ray collection does take up less shelf space than the DVDs—but only by an inch and a half. The real reason to buy this set as an upgrade is the slight upgrade in video quality; the reason to buy this set if you don’t already have it is that as novelty sitcoms go, this one was darned good.

Hogan’s Heroes was also unique because the plots weren’t just hooks to hang the jokes on. Binge-watching all the episodes, you realize that the writers worked with a formula but successfully varied it week after week. Each episode involved a convoluted scheme to sabotage the Nazis that was as much fun to watch as the ensemble characters.

Entire family:  Yes

Run time:  4281 min., Black-and-white (Episode 1) and Color (remaining episodes)

Studio/Distributor:  CBS/Paramount

Aspect ratio:  1.33:1 (4:3)

Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA Mono

Bonus features:  B

Amazon link


Not rated (would be PG)

Language:  1/10—Hell, damn, and German words like “dummkopf”

Sex:  2/10—Some less-than-passionate kissing, sexual innuendos, and flirtations

Violence:  3/10—Shooting, bombs exploding, tanks crashing buildings, but mostly done for comic or summary narrative effect

Adult situations:  2/10—Some smoking and drinking, especially in scenes in the town

Takeaway:  Though McHale’s Navy got there first, Hogan’s Heroes was the better show and also superior to other military sitcoms that came out of the sixties—shows like Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. or F Troop.


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Grade:  A-

TV comedy

Not rated

Maybe it’s because the series is in perpetual rerun. Maybe it’s the popularity of Steve Carell ever since he turned up on moviegoers’ radar with The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Or maybe, like all classic comedies, it’s because the ensemble cast is fantastic from top to bottom. Whatever the case, younger viewers have discovered the American version of the popular British TV show, and Parrot Analytics reported that the audience demand for The Office (US version) is a whopping 36.3 times more in demand than the average TV series in the US.

The Office also might be the most successful American TV adaptation of a British television comedy ever—and that’s saying something, since Veep, Shameless, Sanford and Son, Three’s Company, and All in the Family were all based on Britcoms. It’s certainly the longest running, with 188 episodes first airing from 2005-2013.

Two years before this documentary-style sitcom was removed from the Netflix lineup in 2021, The Office was the most watched show on the streaming service. Even recently a Cosmopolitan writer intoned, “How dare you, Netflix?” Fans hold grudges, especially when they no longer know where they can see the show. Cosmo reported that the first five seasons of The Office are now free on Peacock, but you’ll need Peacock Premium/Plus (a paid level) to watch the rest of the show.

Or, if you don’t want to keep jumping from streaming service to streaming service like an Office groupie, you could just plunk down the cash to get the entire series on high-definition Blu-ray. It looks terrific and comes with a bundle of fun bonus features.

Everyone who punches in at the Scranton branch office of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company is a bona fide character. In 2007 and 2008 the show won for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series from peers at the Screen Actors Guild, but if it were up to fans they would have had a lot more trophies to put in their case. The series began with a solid core that established the character types and dynamics that would persist throughout the series’ long run, even with cast changes:

Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) was the regional manager and a walking illustration of the Peter Principle—which theorized that members of any hierarchy are promoted until they reach the level at which they are no longer competent. Michael was well intentioned but clearly starved for love and adulation. He was also the reason a company needs an HR officer, because he had a habit of making outrageous and insensitive remarks.

Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) was a salesman and also assistant to the regional manager, a name-only title that Michael created for his favorite disciple, who happened to be Amish and also ran a beet farm with his reclusive and equally odd brother.

Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) was the girl-next-door type who worked as a receptionist and, though shy and reserved, could be persuaded to help with office pranks. For six years or so her and Jim’s mutual office attraction added a romantic tension.

Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) was a salesman who was both a quintessential nice guy and an inveterate practical joker, with Dwight his favorite target and Pam the object of his affection.

Stanley Hudson (Leslie David Baker) was a salesman who made his quota and nothing more, with a dry sense of humor directed at anyone who disrupted his blissful routine. He also easily tired of Michael’s constant references to him being African American.

Phyllis Lapin (Phyllis Smith) appeared older and more reserved than she actually was, and her full figure was often the target of Michael’s unintentional insults—misplaced assurances that she’s actually attractive.

Meredith Palmer (Kate Flannery) was the wild one in the office, an openly flirtatious and promiscuous supply relations representative who could throw innuendos like others throw shade.

Angela Martin (Angela Kinsey) was just the opposite of Meredith, an ultra-religious conservative and cat-lover who sometimes smuggled one of her cats into her desk.

Kevin Malone (Brian Baumgartner) was the sweetheart of the group, a large, not-terribly-bright man whose humor, as with Michael’s, tended toward the juvenile.

Oscar Martinez (Oscar Nunez) was a gay Latinx man trying to keep a low profile, for the most part, though often Michael wouldn’t let him.

Creed Bratton (Creed Bratton) was the quality assurance guy who was a little on the shady side—or at least his eyebrow-raising suggestions suggested as much.

Other characters introduced later who logged a lot of episodes included Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling), Ryan Howard (B.J. Novak), Andy Bernard (Ed Helms), Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein), Darryl Philbin (Craig Robinson), and Erin Hannon (Ellie Kemper). Robert California (James Spader), Nellie Bertram (Catherine Tate), Jo Bennett (Kathy Bates), and Holly Flax (Amy Ryan) also had recurring roles, and Deangelo Vickers (Will Ferrell) appeared briefly.

A day at The Office could turn into just about anything:  challenges, drills, Olympics, debates, mandatory meetings, sensitivity training, demonstrations that had little to do with selling paper, “bonding” experiences, outings, romances—everything except for actual work, it seemed.

Each season in this set comes in its own Blu-ray case, and the nine cases are housed in a colorful slipcase. The 188 episode titles and two-line descriptions are printed on the insides of the covers, visible through the blue plastic cases—not the most convenient, but better than nothing.

Bonus features include in-character productions such as Dwight’s music video, Michael Scott’s Dunder Mifflin ad, Dunder Mifflin PSAs like “Rabies: The More You Know,” plus extended episodes, blooper reels, Office webisodes, original cast audition tapes, table reads, cast farewells, and commentary tracks. There’s a lot here for fans to enjoy.

Entire family:  No (younger kids won’t respond to the largely adult humor)

Run time:  4136 min. Color (counting bonus features, 75 hours run time)

Studio/Distributor:  Universal/NBC

Aspect ratio:  1.78:1

Featured audio:  DTS HDMA 5.1 (Season 1) and Dolby Digital 2.0 (remaining seasons)

Bonus features:  A

Amazon link

Not rated (would be TV-14)

Language: 4/10—The worst profanities are bleeped out, but there are plenty of lesser swearwords

Sex:  4/10—Innuendo and sex jokes in most episodes, plus some censored sex toys, censored/blurred topless flashing and male butts, talk of having sex, and references to all types of sex; some characters also make out on camera and have sex (we are led to believe) off-camera or behind a door, etc.; males are depicted shirtless and in boxer shorts from time to time. It was a network show, though, so everything made it past censors

Violence:  2/10—Wrestling, some punching, an attempt to beat up Jim that’s thwarted by pepper spray, and various accidents (getting hit by a car in the parking lot, parkour rough landings, a car driving into a pond, a shotgun being fired, etc.)

Adult situations: 3/10—Some vomiting, drinking, smoking, and drug references, with several characters implied to over-imbibe, politically incorrect stereotype humor,

Takeaway:  The British version of The Office only ran for 14 episodes, while this American version was just getting warmed up by then; the long run is a tribute to this comedy of character


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Grade:  A-

TV Comedy


So no one told you life was going to be this way?

Your job’s a joke, you’re broke

your love life’s D.O.A.

It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear. . . .

In February 1994, those lyrics kicked off a series about six unmarried friends in their 20s and early 30s who shared apartments and hung out together all the time, often offering emotional support and sometimes hooking up. Monica (Courtney Cox) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) were high school friends, just as Monica’s brother Ross (David Schwimmer) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) were also friends from the same area school. To that mix was added the streetwise but flaky Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and ladies man wannabe actor Joey (Matt LeBlanc).

Friends struck a chord with young adults because they could identify with characters who were out of school and in the “real” world, though they didn’t feel like real adults just yet because they were between being college students and being settled in jobs and marriages. A 2019 survey revealed that a whopping 19 percent of respondents age 18-34 had watched everysingle episode of the show, which ran for 10 years, while another 30 percent said they had watched most episodes. 

Given how many channels and streaming options there are, that’s pretty amazing. But the 35-54 year olds were even more devoted, with 17 percent saying they had watched all the episodes and 41 percent most of them. A Childwise report also noted that the comedy was the favorite program of young people in the UK, though few of the 5-16 year olds polled were even alive when the show was first broadcast.

Friends was rated #21 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest Shows of All Time. It finished #1 in Season 8 and placed in the Nielsen Top 10 every other year, though Emmy voters were slower to warm to the show. It finally won Outstanding Comedy Series that 8th season, when Aniston also won for Outstanding Lead Actress.

Thinking about how wildly successful the series has been, I can’t help but wonder if it’s in part because the show seems to check ALL eight characters of comedy, as described by Scott Sedita, even though there are only six characters in the show: 

Ross, with his Ph.D., is “the logical smart one” whose humor is usually tongue-in-cheek or ironic.

Chandler, with his man-child insecurity and bad luck with women, is “the lovable loser” who takes refuge in self-deprecating humor.

Neat-freak and control-freak Monica is “the neurotic,” given her OCD nature and how she can tell instantly upon entering a room if anything has been moved even slightly.

Joey is “the dumb one,” who often doesn’t know what’s going on, though Phoebe might also qualify at times.

“The womanizer or manizer” is clearly Joey again, who, unlike the other males Friends, has no trouble picking up women.

Rachel is “the materialistic one,” the spoiled one who came from money, has rich tastes, and seems to be more driven by money and nice things than the others.

Phoebe is “in their own universe,” a flaky hippie-style character who has her own ideas and ways of thinking and looking at things that can be a little “out there.”

All of which is to say, Friends is first and foremost a comedy of characters that are easy to love, supported by some very smart writing, rapid fire gags, situations that are actually comedic, and plots that are both self-contained in every episode but still progressive from episode to episode and from season to season. 

Friends: The Complete Series on Blu-ray includes all 234 episodes (plus two variations) on 21 discs, housed in three Blu-ray cases (#1—Seasons 1-5; #2 Seasons 6-10; #3 Bonus disk), tucked into a slipcase along with a full-color 36-page booklet that includes a list of episodes for the whole run and annotations to jog your memory. Twenty hours of bonus content is included, one-fifth of which is original and new to this release. Among them are the “Super-Sized” episodes from Season 7.

Fans of the show will enjoy this Blu-ray release, and if you haven’t gotten it yet, here are two reasons to do so:  1) You won’t be at the mercy of whatever streamers decide to make available, and 2) By upgrading your DVD collection with this Blu-ray set you will be able to watch Friends in high definition and save shelf space. The single-season DVD collections span 11.5”, while this compact Blu-ray complete series only takes up 2.75”. If you’re a collector or love having a home video library that you can watch commercial and hassle free, whenever you want, this set is a great investment. It looks great on Blu-ray. And yeah, no buffering every time extreme weather screws up the signal.

Entire family:  No (‘tweens and older)

Run time:  5192 min., Color

Studio/Distributor:  Warner Bros.

Aspect ratio:  1.78:1

Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1

Bonus features:  B

Amazon link


Rated TV-14

Language:  4/10—I may recall one F-bomb, but the majority of swearwords are milder curse (hell, damn, crap, damn, ass, etc.)

Sex:  6/10—Lots of innuendo, some references to sex parts, strip poker, characters in underwear, lots of sexual references and escapades, but after all is said and done very little is show—only implied, as people are under the covers, etc.

Violence:  2/10—Some adult bullying, reference to bullying, comic fighting, and the occasional punch

Adult Situations:  4/10—Lots of drinking, some smoking, suicide references, infertility, parental abandonment, sex changes, awkward adult situations, etc., as well as references to drugs and getting high—but little in the way of actual drunkenness that I can recall; people get married, they get pregnant (not necessarily in that order), they are surrogate mothers,

Takeaway:  Smart TV somehow manages to have it both ways:  classic and current, and Friends was a perfect example; recently Aniston said a “whole generation of kids” finds Friends offensive, but morality and sensitivity is ever-changing. Yes, there were episodes that were insensitive to people with weight issues, etc., but I hope we never get to the point where humor is so socially corseted that there’s no room for laughter


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Grade:  B+/A-

TV comedy

Not rated (would be PG)

It’s hard to believe people ever lived slower lives—especially at a time when folks can’t seem to spend a single moment without multitasking or yakking on cell phones in walk-and-talks that, despite their content (“I’m on my way to the grocery store now”), are conducted with West Wing importance. If you need a refresher course in slowing down, watch The Andy Griffith Show.

If Frank Capra had worked in television, I’m guessing he would have produced something along the lines of this folksy, feel-good, homespun situation comedy that offered an idealized portrait of small-town life. Never once during its eight-season run did the series finish outside the Nielsen Top 10, and its final season the show ended as the No. 1 watched show in America. I Love Lucy and Seinfeld were the only other shows to accomplish that feat.

The series, which ran on CBS from 1960-68, was ranked No. 9 on TV Guide’s list of 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. One thing that contributed to the show’s success was that it appealed to both rural and (sub)urban people, and white-collar as well as blue-collar workers. The writing was much sharper than other rural comedies that aired on television before or after it, and the aw-shucks sheriff without a gun solved problems with common sense and wit that was broadly entertaining.

The Town of Mayberry, North Carolina was a sleepy little backwater where Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Andy Taylor (Griffith) doesn’t drink, refrains from using harsh language, and seldom raises his voice. Before The Cosby Show got all sorts of love for modeling a kinder, gentler parenting style, the widowed Sheriff Taylor was showing an earlier generation a better way to raise kids and relate to people. With an aw-shucks demeanor, a bushel full of aphorisms, and a smile that could disarm all but the most hardened criminals, Andy spent much of his time dispensing common-sense advice to family, friends, residents, visitors, and yes, sometimes even criminals.

The writing for this character-driven comedy also featured some very funny lines, and a killer ensemble cast delivered them with verve. When you saw bumbling Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife (Don Knotts) and Floyd the Barber (Howard McNear) week after week, it was almost like living in a small town. You felt as if you knew them, and the show had a comfortable feel to it. Andy’s son, Opie, is played to perfection by a very young Ron Howard, while Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) is introduced in the first episode as the one who raised Andy and will now do the same with Opie. Fans of Father Knows Best were treated to Elinor Donahue (“Princess” from that earlier TV series) as a druggist and possible love interest for Andy in a five-episode arc.

This first season Griffith played Sheriff Taylor more folksy than he would in later years, and more than a few episodes ended with him sitting on the front porch with his guitar, serenading his “kinfolks.” In one classic episode, a state police task force uses the sheriff’s office as headquarters for an operation to catch an escaped convict, and they exclude Andy and Barney. But Andy plays a hunch and he and Barney end up catching the fellow, with the help of Andy’s leaky rowboat. Of course, the state officer in charge changes his tune about Andy and small town “sheriffin’.” That pattern would repeat itself with fun variations over the next seven years.

It’s tobacco country, so there’s occasional smoking, and fictional Mayberry is in the foothills of Appalachia, so there are poor folks who are accustomed to making their own liquor, no matter what the law says. But to underscore how relatively innocent it all is, in an episode titled “Alcohol and Old Lace” Barney and Andy follow a moonshine trail that leads them straight to a pair of sweet little old ladies. Meanwhile, town drunk Otis lets himself in and out of the jail, and Andy treats him as he is: a friendly neighbor who happens to have a problem with alcohol. Over time, even Otis becomes more than a town drunk, and viewers begin to embrace him as much as the other characters in this endearing ensemble.

For the first several seasons the producers clearly tried to give the show a boost by featuring a string of guest stars that included Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk), Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies), Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie), Alan Hale Jr. (Gilligan’s Island), Edgar Buchanan (Petticoat Junction), and Arte Johnson (Laugh-In). They were interesting, but in truth unnecessary. Fans would have kept tuning in regardless, just to see the Mayberry regulars.

After two solid seasons, CBS added more Mayberry characters, among them dim-witted mechanical wizard Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), schoolteacher/love interest Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut), the rowdy, bluegrass-playing Darlings (real-life bluegrass band The Dillards), and rock-throwing, poetry-spouting nut-case Ernest T. Bass (Howard Morris).

The 249 half-hour episodes (plus a faux pilot episode of Andy on The Danny Thomas Show and Opie on Gomer Pyle: USMC) are on 32 discs, with each season having it’s own Blu-ray case and a slipcase holding them all together. The first five seasons aired in black-and-white, and that’s how they’re presented here. The introduction of color coincided with Knotts’ departure, so it felt like an attempt to compensate fans for the loss of the three-time Emmy winner. As if to reinforce how much he meant to the series, Knotts earned two more Emmys for a pair of guest appearances that he made, bringing his total—and the show’s—to five.  

This show would easily have been an A-/B+ had Knotts stayed and had Nabors not left the show to star in his own spin-off, replaced by a game George Lindsay as Goober, not nearly as interesting a character as Gomer. But the series had a knack of elevating minor characters so that they had the kind of depth that made people care about them, and that helped the show continue to evolve and stay relatively fresh over the years.

For fans, it will be a real pleasure to pop in a disc and sit back and watch 6-9 episodes per disk, plus eclectic bonus features that include behind-the-scenes clips, the Howards’ home movies on the set, opening clips, and original sponsor ads. Blu-ray is a visible improvement over the DVDs, and can be enjoyed even when streaming signals or Internet connections are spotty.  I have only two complaints, and they have nothing to do with the show or quality of presentation. One is that the boxed set includes no master list of episodes or any annotated descriptions. All we get are lists of hard-to-read titles on the discs themselves. That’s it. My other complaint is that the plastic “pages” that hold each disc have pretty flimsy points of attachment. When my set arrived, at least two discs from each season case were loose. When you pay over $100 for a set, you expect better. Paramount/CBS, are you listening?

When you watch these episodes you’ll see so many that you don’t remember, simply because relatively few of the episodes are shown on TV in rerun. It’s like discovering the show all over again.

Entire family:  Yes

Run time:  6343 min. (249 episodes, 105.7 hours), Black-and-white (Seasons 1-5) / Color (Seasons 6-8)

Studio/Distributor:  CBS Home Entertainment

Aspect ratio:  1.37:1

Featured audio:  LPCM 2.0 (Season 1) / DTS-HDMA 2.0 (Seasons 2-8)

Bonus features:  B+

Amazon link

Not rated (would be G or PG for adult drinking and smoking)

Language:  1/10—Only occasional sanitized versions, like “dad gum it”

Sex:  1/10—Wholesome as can be, though there is a bathing suit contest in one episode

Violence:  1/10—Some “wrasslin’” and scufflin’, some black eyes, but the actual violence is mostly off-screen, just as guns are pulled but fired only occasionally

Adult situations:  2/10—Some adult smoking, drinking, and drunkenness

Takeaway:  This complete set came on the heels of the Blu-ray release of The Andy Griffith Show: Season 1; while those who bought that set might think they wasted their money, savvy classic TV fans know that when a studio tests the waters, if fans don’t respond there might not be another Blu-ray release


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Grade:  B-

TV sitcom

Not rated (would be G)

Some Christmas movies are best seen as a run-up to the holiday, while a few special ones become part of our family holiday traditions. Others, like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet Ultimate Christmas Collection, are best seen after the letdown of Christmas, when everyone is feeling slightly sad that the extended family that gathered has gone back to their own separate, hectic lives. This two-disc 70th anniversary DVD set is guaranteed to spark nostalgic feelings and thoughts, especially if you’re a fan of classic TV, old enough to remember television before streaming, or feeling nostalgic already about Christmases past.

For 14 years, Americans tuned in to watch The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a sitcom featuring former bandleader Ozzie Nelson, his singer-turned-wife Harriet, and their two boys, David and Ricky. It wasn’t exactly reality TV, but it wasn’t a straight fictional sitcom, either. Their TV house on 822 Sycamore Road was built to look like an exact replica of the Nelsons’ Hollywood home, and the episodes were mostly inspired by the Nelsons’ real lives, especially young Ricky’s, who had a propensity for lowering his head and driving full speed ahead, no matter what was involved.

Like today’s reality shows, the Nelsons played themselves and ad-libbed a certain amount, but there were still scripts that shaped each episode and you always suspected that when the cameras stopped rolling there was a side to this TV family that you never saw. I mean, name two siblings in America other than David and Ricky that never really fought! These guys were as polite to each other as they were to their teachers or parents, whom they addressed as “ma’am” or “sir.” As in “No, ma’am,” or “Yes, sir.” But I can’t think of a better way to get a feel for the Fifties than by watching The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and this Christmas collection will get more play and appeal to a wider audience than the regular episodes because of people’s natural curiosity about how families celebrated Christmas in earlier decades.

Ozzie and Harriet remained pretty much the same throughout this squeaky clean-cut series. Ozzie was the ever-smiling, often bumbling or hapless father who had a good relationship with his wife and sons, and who never raised his voice or got angry.  There seemed to be no secrets with this group, and no topic that was too small or too taboo to bring up. Ozzie always seemed to talk on a level that would have made him a great kiddie show host, especially when he wore those cardigan sweaters that Mr. Rogers later would discover. Harriet, meanwhile, was the always perfectly coiffed and poised matron who was the quiet voice of reason and the apron-wearing expert on social graces.

It’s the boys who did all the changing, Ricky especially. Viewers first saw him as a milder, 11-year-old version of Dennis the Menace–that twinkle-in-the-eye mischief-maker who was basically a good kid but had some pretty definite ideas about how to have fun.  Then, before you knew it, Ricky was caught up in the brand new rock ‘n’ roll craze and dressed like Elvis Presley for one Halloween episode. The pre-teens went nuts. The family had always been musical, with the boys playing multiple instruments, so it was a no-brainer for Ozzie to figure out how to incorporate Ricky’s playing into the show. His first musical outing aired on April 10, 1957, with “Ricky the Drummer.” Quickly, Ricky Nelson became a teen idol, and his father, who had the same sort of control over this show as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had over theirs, found ways to incorporate every single song somehow in the episodes. If there wasn’t a way to work in the song during the show, then it was tacked on at the end, like an epilogue or a bonus scene.



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Grade:  B-/B
TV Comedy
Not rated (would be G)

Until It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia pushed past them in 2021, with its 14 seasons The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet held the record for longest-running live-action television sitcom. And it still holds the record for most live-action sitcom episodes, with 435 filmed between October 1952 and April 1966. 

That’s pretty amazing, considering that the rival family sitcom I Love Lucy got all the love back in the day. Lucy earned 25 Primetime Emmy nominations and eight wins, while Ozzie and Harriet got justthree nominations and no wins. Lucy became the most watched TV show in America for four out of its six seasons, while Ozzie and Harriet managed to crack the Nielsen Top 30 just once (in 1963-64).

Call it another case of slow-and-steady wins the race. Lucy relied on manic, slapstick situations and comedy of character, while Ozzie and Harriet offered the kind of gentle everyday situational family-life comedy that made The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet a popular radio show from 1944-54. Looking back, it was as close as early classic TV programming came to the kind of loosely scripted reality shows that are popular now. Almost all of the episodes were scripted variations of real incidents from the lives of the Nelson family:  father Ozzie, mother Harriet, and sons David and Ricky. The opening title shot of a home exterior was actually the Nelsons’ home, and though interior shots had to be filmed on a soundstage, producers meticulously recreated the look of the interior of the Nelsons’ home. Ozzie was a stickler for realism, and the plots that viewers watched were often reenactments of family incidents or situations, with Ozzie directing 382 episodes and also writing 261 of the show’s scripts. The boys were 16 and 12 years old when the TV show began, so America watched David and Ricky grow up.



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Grade: B/B-
TV comedy
Rated TV-PG

All right, I’ll talk: I’m a big Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker fan. I think Airplane! and Top Secret! are hilarious, and The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! gets my vote for funniest laugh-out-loud movie ever made (sorry, Mel Brooks).

This trio of high school friends from a Milwaukee suburb specializes in visual puns, sight gags, “triples,” and running gags that expand with every repetition. David Zucker once told me they gravitated toward rapid-fire jokes out of self-defense. When they first created Kentucky Fried Theater they borrowed money from their parents and couldn’t afford actors, so they had to do all of the skits onstage themselves. They hated not getting laughs and went the rapid-fire route because they discovered it was easier to keep audiences laughing than it was to get them to laugh in the first place.

Police Squad! aired in 1982, with the trio pitching it as Airplane! but with the police genre. The title and opening sequence pays tribute to M Squad, a popular ‘50s cop show staring Broderick Crawford. There are some funny jokes here, but as with SNL or other sketch comedy shows there are some misfires as well. Police Squad! ran just six episodes, maybe because the trio’s brand of rapid-fire gags hang better on a model that’s full length.

That said, once you get past a first episode that’s not quite as funny as The Naked Gun, the others have their share of laugh-out-loud moments and plenty of smiles and groans. Groans? Yeah. Baseball announcer Steve Stone said it best: “Puns are like children. You love your own, and can’t stand anyone else’s.” You can almost create a drinking game out of predicting what visual pun will splash across the screen next after you hear a familiar expression that can be taken more than one way. A few of the gags are off-color, which is why this short-lived TV series carries a TV-PG rating. More

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