The Golden Girls is a very special television series; It’s well written, expertly acted, uproariously funny, and is built on a somewhat risk-taking premise -- the experiences of three senior-aged women cohabitating together, sharing in the events of one another’s daily life. On paper it would seem a sparse foundation upon which to build a humorous, let alone engaging, series. Yet The Golden Girls demonstrates that good characters and a good script can park us on the sofa and motivate us to learn to program the VCR. Beatrice Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White and Estelle Getty not only reward us with endless stomach-grabbing laughter…they also portray characters that at times feel so real and touching, that the effect is quite poignant, even moving.
Of course no TV show is perfect…so don’t go expecting miracles. But just ask any fan of the show and they’ll have little difficulty letting you know that this series well-deserved the Emmy Award it received its first season for “Outstanding Comedy Series”. Now if only they would release Designing Women on DVD…
|Packaging & Presentation...|
The First Season of The Golden Girls comes in a handsome fold-out cardboard case that fits nicely into an outer box-sleeve. The inner jacket that houses the three DVDs folds out into three sections. The packaging format then gets a little unorthodox: rather than each fold-out section securing a disc, the first section lists the complete contents of each disc, the third fold-out section holds disc “one”, and the middle section holds both disc two and three in such a way that disc two overlaps disc three and needs to be lifted out to gain access to the third disc. You’ll see what I mean when you get it. Not an obstacle but a little odd to have to remove two discs at a time when you wish to view contents on the third disc. The programs on each disc are also nicely printed on the silkscreen art each disc making it easy to see just what you’re getting into before the disc ends up wasting time loading in player.
Also worth mentioning is that each episode is preceded and followed by what appears to be its original opening and closing sequence, and the shows also appear to be unedited. One friend, a serious fan of the show, watching some of the episodes with me for this review commented: "I think there was more content in the show on DVD than what I remember from television... they must have edited it a little to fit the comercials on the version I've seen on TV."
What did you expect. Shot on analog video in the mid 1980’s before there was even a consciousness about a potential post-airwaves life for sitcoms such as this, the image quality of The Golden Girls is somewhat wanting…at least on a 106 inch screen.
Detail is…or the better way to phrase it is “Detail is not”. The detail, by definition, must be better than the VHS recording you made off of cable…but not by much. But then again I don’t think that the creators of this program were aiming for large-screen front-projection systems when they envisioned the show. Colors are somewhat drab, though flesh-tones are soothingly comfortable. Contrast seems generally relaxed and the picture lacks dynamic snap. Even if none of this is contradicting your expectations I think it is fair to mention these things because there are television shows, shot on video, from the same or earlier era that hold up quite well (The Muppet Show series, for instance, looks remarkably detailed, crisp, with gorgeously saturated colors and solid black-level and dynamic range). One gets the distinct impression that this DVD edition is being faithful to the source, so what I’m really describing for you is the quality of the image of the video medium on which it was recorded. I’m curious to see if shows from the later seasons “clear up” from what the first season reveals.
A disappointment? Not at all. We knew what we were getting…this was a 1980’s sitcom and the series on this DVD looks better than it ever has before to any consumer audience. And no commercials!
Picture Quality: 2.5 / 5
The audio is presented in 2.0 and sounds as if it is mono (depending on the way your decoder processes such audio you may hear it play through your L/R speakers or your processor may process it like traditional surround which will send all the audio information to the center channel). I've heard reports that the show was supposed to have stereo sound so I'm going to take some time and double check to make 100% sure if the auido really is 2.0 DD mono or just a 2.0 stereo signal with unusually weak channel separation. Stay tuned.
All in all the audio is “acceptable” for a dialogue-driven-mid-80's TV show but I found there to be a high-frequency roll-off in some of the dialogue that was frustrating. This improved as the series progressed and eventually wasn’t cause for distraction.
Ok, I don’t mean to be too harsh, and we both know that the mixing engineers weren’t trying to compete with the DTS track on the Extended cut of Return of the King. In its favor let me say that much of the dialog for the show sounds as though it was recorded “live” as the actors spoke on-set, which I find refreshing and much preferred over dubbed-dialog.
Just as with the video…my intuition is that the audio on this disc presents the program in the highest possible fidelity to the source tapes, so don't interpret my low score as a criticism of DVD mastering/authoring...the show looks and sounds on DVD as good as it can...
Sound Quality: 2.5 / 5
Hold me back. You get one. And it’s bad.
Didn’t sound too bad from the packaging: “Fashion Commentary” with Joan and Melissa Rivers who “provide their own unique brand of fashion critique in a hilarious featurette that pays tribute to the crazy, kitschy, wardrobes of The Golden Girls."
Their crapola-commentary pays anything but "tribute" to the show.
Just to be sure that I got the right impression of this lone “Bonus Feature” I invited over two die-hard Golden Girls fans…friends Billy and Steve. These two are serious, dedicated, no-nonsense GG fans: Waking up at odd hours to watch sought-after episodes…taking vacation hours to stay at home for GG TV-marathons…having seen every show at least six times… I knew that their impression would be the ultimate litmus test to gauge the merit of this feature from the perspective of the fan-base.
So after having laughed ourselves silly through a few key episodes I cued up the prized “Bonus Feature” on Disc three. Instantly all hints of frivolity vanished as we listed to Ms. Joan and Melissa rip on outfit after outfit...with only the canned laugh-track on the featurette to document when their wretched banter was supposed to be funny. Not only were their jokes not amusing. And not only did they take many of the outfits out of context as they tried to rip on the show’s choice of wardrobe (criticizing the show for selecting attire that, in the context of a given scene, was supposed to be over-the-top), but HELLO, why would any “fan” of the show want to sit there and listen to these two b_____s blast the very program that they love?
Making this choice of special feature even more perplexing is the fact that one of the show’s great charms is it’s stylish, cutting-edge fashion from the ‘80’s. The clothing and choice of colors, styles, and outfits for each of the women was a key hallmark of this show; a bold acknowledgement that women in their senior years still have the right to be sexy, beautiful, and stylish. It is a positive attribute of the program that deserved to have a serious commentary detailing the decisions behind clothing designs. And instead to have these two ignorant women…both dressed in outfits far less tasteful than anything you’ll encounter in the show, unfoundedly deride the program in this way was not only a pitiful excuse for a special feature, it was offensive.
Touchstone Television hear me and hear me well: Improve the special-feature content on your second season set. And here’s a thought…why not pick some bonus material that fans of the show will actually like. What about interviews with cast members? Out-takes? Behind-the-scenes information about directing and casting decisions? What about a [b]real documentary short showcasing the fashion element of the show? How about audio commentary for a key episode or two by some of the creative talent? Or at the very least, how about NOT including “bonus” material that pisses off the fans who like the show enough to actually buy the DVD? God I’m so smart. And I don't even get paid to do this. Hopefully the marketing folks in charge of the next season DVD release will get smart too.
Fans of the show know how great this series is and were chomping at the bit to get their hands on this DVD set without needing to read a DVD review. I don’t want my review…which might sound harsh (especially regarding the “bonus features”)…to discourage anyone from purchasing this fantastic program. My comments are intended to help you gauge your expectations of the technical quality of the image and sound, the merit of the extras, and, with any luck, to help the studio folks learn how to improve upon things (bonus material) with the next season DVD release. For the dedicated fans, just finally having the first season of episodes on DVD in a manner that allows instant-access without having to fast-forward and rewind and endure countless hours of comercials is more than enough reason to justify a blind purchase.
Ok Golden Girl Fans…your journey is at an end. Twenty years after it originally sailed through the airwaves the first season of The Golden Girls is yours to own on DVD! Pick it up and let me know what you think...