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Friends - The Complete First Season Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 September 2002
I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but even after being a casual viewer for eight years I never really considered myself a “Friends” fan. However, I have to admit, I was completely won over by the time I finished this review, and can't wait for the next box set. Although, I have to admit, I could have lived without the monkey.

What's amazing about going back and revisiting the first season of “Friends” isn't so much what's different as how much of the series is the same. Even in the pilot, the spark is there. Chandler seemed to spring full-grown, like Athena, from the wit of the writers and comic timing of Matthew Perry. Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe is just as daffy and only slightly less coherent. Joey is everybody's best guy pal despite acting lows in such winners as “Freud!,” a musical about the German psychiatrist that makes the “Carrie” musical look like a brilliant idea. Cox's Monica starts off simply unlucky in love, but her obsessive need for order is stirring just under the surface and comes out full force when roommate Rachel moves the green ottoman without clearing it with her first. Rachel is clueless about how to survive without her parents’ money, or her fiancé's bland but respectable presence, but quickly charms largely due to Ross' devotion to her. And Ross is utterly sweet as the hapless, newly-divorced brother who gets a laugh every time he mentions his ex-wife is a lesbian.
Oh, and there's a monkey, too.

However, part of the fun of this box set is goggling at the differences, and spotting elements that would come back in later seasons. Ross' ex-wife Carol first appeared played by Anita Barone, instead of the more familiar Jane Sibbett. Gunther, seen in the background of Central Perk, has no lines and appears to harbor no secret crush on Rachel. And you can see Joey go from smarmy to sweet -- and also get slightly less intelligent -- over the course of the first half of the season. Chandler's on-again off-again romance with Janice, as well as his data processing job, which none of his friends actually understand, are the focus of several episodes. And there's something surreal about Monica's serial dating (“Invisible Man”’s Vincent Ventrusca makes his first appearance as "Fun Bobby" in the hilarious New Year’s Eve episode) knowing that she'll eventually marry Chandler.

The box set contains the full 22-episode season, including the original cut of the pilot, which ran eight minutes over the standard 22 minutes, and much of the restored footage has never been seen before. Commentary on the pilot by series producers Marta Kauffman, David Crane and Kevin S. Bright is entertaining and illuminating, and leaves you wishing they had taken the time to record commentary for all 22 episodes. It also makes it abundantly clear that the heart of the show has always been the writing paired with the strong acting ensemble. If the show hadn't come out of the gate so strong, who knows if it would be the mega-hit it is today.

The discs feature crisp and clean visuals, a real treat for fans who are used to seeing the episodes broadcast. There is remarkable detail, and while the image isn't 100% perfect, it's visibly cleaner than anything fans have seen thus far. Colors are saturated and warm throughout, with very little pixelation and edge enhancement. The sound mix is not hugely surprising, with dialogue crisp and easily understood and music coming through strong and clear from the rears. All in all, this is much higher quality than simply watching the episodes as they were broadcast.

The menus are simple and easy to navigate, and the packaging includes an episode guide including director and writer credits, as well as original airdates and brief synopses. While the discs aren't exactly "packed with extras" as the advertising claims, what extras there are are good ones. Aside from the commentary track on the pilot, the four-disc set also includes an interactive map of Central Park, the coffee shop that serves as a second home to the cast, and a trivia quiz that utilizes clips from the entire season. The "Memorable Guest Star Moments" would have been more effective if they had included some kind of commentary or even intro from the show's creators, and is instead simply clips of each of the high-profile guests from the first season, showcasing other NBC stars such as George Clooney, Noah Wyle and Helen Hunt in particular.

If you have almost 10 hours to spare, and are looking forward to spending it with your favorite fictional neighbors, then the box set is definitely a must-own.

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