Directed by James Widdoes, Gil Junger et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 601 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, 2.0 French
Subtitles: EHD, French, Spanish
Release Date: August 7, 2007
Review Date: August 2, 2007
John Ritter could be both an effective comic and dramatic actor. He won an Emmy for his smash comedy series Three’s Company and showed an excellent adaptation to more serious roles in his underrated TV series Hooperman and in the film Sling Blade. By the beginning of the 21st century, however, he was back to sitcomland in 8 Simples Rules (for Dating My Teenage Daughter).
Ritter plays newspaper columnist Paul Hennessey who finds himself having to be a part-time house husband once his wife Cate (Katey Sagal) goes back to being a nurse. He discovers himself at home with three rebellious children: teenaged daughters Bridget (Kaley Cuoco) and Kerry (Amy Davidson) and preteen Rory (Martin Spanjers). To say that the household is in a constant furor is putting it mildly, and his wishy-washy parenting skills often make things worse. The girls have a fiendish case of sibling rivalry going on (one’s an air-headed knockout and the other is a somewhat awkward but gifted middle child), but they often manage to pull the wool over dear old dad’s eyes by working together to bitch him to distraction.
Not having had any experience raising teenaged girls, I can’t say whether the behavior of these adolescents is typical of 21st century children with violently raging hormones, but I have to admit I was rather put off by the degree of disrespect and disobedience on display that is supposed to stand in for comedy. Storylines about cutting school, taking the family car without permission, and embezzling money from a part-time job may be standard fodder for hilarity in family sitcoms, but the writers for this show have made these problems seem like no big deal easily brushed away with a few kind words and some generous forgiveness without many consequences exacted for the bad decisions being made. Perhaps it’s curmudgeonly of me, but I didn’t find many of this season’s episodes very funny. More often than not, they seemed shrill and discomforting.
I also didn’t find the waste of expert comedy actress Katey Sagal very funny, at least for the first half of the season. The show has been thrown to the two daughters (neither very inventive actresses though they try hard) and their combative (bordering on mentally abusive) relationship with their father, but the basic formula of the girls getting into constant dilemmas (being accused of shoplifting, lying about sleepovers, constantly sneaking off without permission) and being bailed out by their father whom they then blame for their breaking the rules to begin with gets pretty tedious after a handful of episodes. The talent on display in this series deserved a sturdier, wittier vehicle than the somewhat tired formula of a hapless dad continually vying for field advantage against his two conniving daughters.
Here’s a rundown of the 28 (!) episodes included on the three discs. An asterisk (*) marks episodes that were above average in quality.
1 – Pilot
2 – Wall of Shame
3 – Bridget’s First Job
4 – Wings
5 – Son-in-Law
6 – Cheerleader
7 – Trick or Treehouse
8 – By the Book
9 – Two Boys for Every Girl
*10 – Give It Up
11 – Paul Meets His Match
12 – All I Want for Christmas
13 – Rory’s Got a Girlfriend
14 – Career Choices
15 – Kerry’s Big Adventure
*16 – Come and Knock on Our Door
17 – Drummer Boy (Part I)
18 – Drummer Boy (Part II)
19 – Cool Parent
*20 – Every Picture Tells a Story
21 – Kerry’s Video
*22 – Good Moms Gone Wild
23 – Career Woman
24 – Queen Bees and King Bees
25 – Bake Sale
*26 – The Doyle Wedding
*27 – Sort of an Officer and a Gentleman (Part I)
*28 – Sort of an Officer and a Gentleman (Part II)
To be fair, the show became less strident later in the season when guest stars began turning up in fun and interesting roles: Jason Priestley as a former race car driver and Robert Guillaume as his acerbic butler, John Ratzenberger and Shelley Long as nerdy neighbors with big hearts, Cybill Shepherd as Sagal’s recently separated sister. These stars along with recurring guests Larry Miller and Patrick Warburton as Ritter’s bosses at his newspaper added a less frantic tone to the proceedings making the show more generally palatable.
The series’ widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio has been faithfully presented here in an anamorphic transfer. The image is very clean but seems a little dark and lacks luster (given the cynical nature of the comedy, perhaps that’s justified). Sharpness is above average, and there is reasonable detail in the images. Flesh tones are realistic and colors accurate without seeming oversaturated. Each episode has been divided into 4 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English track is solid and well recorded. The rear channels aren’t used for anything except an occasional music cue and the audience response (laughter, applause, sighs, shrieks when there is kissing), but that’s not surprising given the verbal nature of the show. There is no hiss present nor any other audio artifact that might interfere with one’s listening experience.
A ten minute blooper reel is offered as the set’s only real bonus. The foul-ups are often funnier than the shows themselves, especially when we see the actors with their guards down where they seem like generally normal people rather than the scheming, heartless harpies and inept victims their characters generally are in the stories.
The first disc offers trailers of upcoming Disney films and DVDs including The Jungle Book, Ratatouille, Meet the Robinsons, Ugly Betty, Home Improvement, and The Invisibles.
8 Simple Rules did well enough during its first season to garner a renewal from ABC (it eventually ran three seasons but under unusual and tragic circumstances), so obviously a lot of people liked it. That it wasn’t something to my taste doesn’t mean that fans of the show won’t enjoy the set immensely despite its lacking any commentaries or featurettes on the making or history of the series.