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HTF DVD REVIEW: Will & Grace: The Final Season

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#1 of 9 Matt Hough

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Posted September 18 2008 - 09:00 AM


Will & Grace: The Final Season
Directed by James Burrows

Studio: Lionsgate
Year: 2005-2006
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 515 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English
Subtitles: CC
MSRP: $ 44.98

Release Date: September 16, 2008
Review Date: September 18, 2008


The Series

3.5/5

One of television’s most glorious ensemble casts plays for one final season together in season eight of Will & Grace. Eight years of playing off of each other’s strengths made the group one of the greatest in television history, at its best easily the equal of the ensembles of I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Friends. Sad to say, the eighth year didn’t find the show at its zenith: the writing is spotty, and there is a too great a reliance on guest stars to add interest to the episodes. Still, the core cast is always appealing even when the punch lines let them down, and the best episodes still remind us how great the show was during its first three years on the air.

The final season began with a live episode performed twice by the cast, once for the East Coast and again for the West Coast (the East Coast version is the one used in the DVD set; why the other wasn‘t included as a bonus is one of the mysteries of this haphazard box set as some jokes were altered for the second go-round, and the audience response in the second airing was much stronger and more encouraging). Another live episode “Bathroom Humor” was done similarly, but the use of the East Coast version this time is more understandable as the West Coast version contained a major snafu with one of the visual gags as the cast tried in vain to cover it. While watching both of these episodes, you’ll notice that Eric McCormack and Megan Mullally never break character. Debra Messing and Sean Hayes often do.

Lawyer Will Truman (Eric McCormack) had left his partnership at a prestigious law firm at the end of season seven after becoming disenchanted with his life (not the first time that had happened in the series). But he has some surprises in store for him as he learns that his wealthiest client Karen Walker (Megan Mullally) is not really a widow at all. Her husband Stanley had been in witness protection and one of his handlers Malcolm (Alec Baldwin) has now intruded into their lives and begins an affair with Karen. Meanwhile, Grace (Debra Messing) is still reeling from the dissolution of her marriage to Leo (Harry Connick, Jr.) while Jack (Sean Hayes) is enjoying a measure of celebrity from his new talk show “Jack Talk” on the Out-TV network. Through the season, Will tries to find happiness with a new boy friend (Taye Diggs) while still pining for lost love Vince (Bobby Cannavale), and Grace learns that she’s pregnant after a one night (one plane) stand with Leo. Though the show’s extended finale episode might not rank with the greatest of all-time, it showcases each star quite wonderfully (Megan Mullally’s tender warbling of “Unforgettable” probably helped earn her another Emmy for this episode).

Through the eight years of episodes, each of the core cast had won an Emmy, and the ensemble had shared the SAG Award (Hayes and Mullally won several individual SAGs for their continuing hilarious performances). Among the notable guest stars appearing in this final season are the already mentioned Alec Baldwin, Taye Diggs, Bobby Cannavale, and Harry Connick, Jr. along with Jason Biggs, Richard Chamberlain, Debbie Reynolds, Blythe Danner, Steven Weber, Stephen Spinella, Leslie Jordan (who won an Emmy this season for his recurring guest role as the outrageous Beverley Leslie), Andy Richter, Lily Tomlin, Brittney Spears, Wanda Sykes, Eileen Brennan, Sydney Pollack, Lesley Ann Warren, Josh Lucas, Bernadette Peters, and Kevin Bacon.

Here’s the lineup of episodes from season eight of the show:

1 - Alive and Schticking
2 - I Second That Emotion
3 - The Old Man and the Sea
4 - Steams Like Old Times
5 - The Hole Truth
6 - Love Is in the Airplane
7 - Birds of a Feather Boa
8 - Swish Out of Water
9 - A Little Christmas Queer
10 - Von Trapped (by far the best episode of the season)
11 - Bathroom Humor (the funny live show heavily dependant on slapstick)
12 - Forbidden Fruit
13 - Cop To It
14 - I Love L. Gay
15 - The Definition of Marriage
16 - Grace Expectations
17 - Cowboys and Iranians
18 - Buy Buy Baby
19 - Blanket Apology
20 - The Morning Son
21 - Partners ‘n Crime
22 - Whatever Happened to Baby Gin?
23 - The Finale


Video Quality

3.5/5

The final season of Will & Grace was filmed in high definition and broadcast in 1080i in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, but Lionsgate has opted to use the 4:3 masters created for the traditional “square” screen. That decision robs the season of both an expansive look and a sharper, more vibrant picture. Color levels are acceptable as are flesh tones, but sharpness is sometimes an issue, and there is some pixilation present in fine grain structures. The picture also seems to lack brightness a bit, too, especially the season premiere recorded live and looking rather underlit. Each episode has been divided into 4 chapters except for the final two episodes of the season which were longer.

Audio Quality

3.5/5

The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track places the dialog into the center channel and the jazzy, tinkly piano music score into the other speakers. It’s well recorded and more than adequate for a show that relies on a great deal of talking.

Special Features

2.5/5

There is one audio commentary in the set attached to the final episode. Creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, director Jim Burrows, and (arriving later) star Eric McCormack talk about the fashioning of that last episode. Surprisingly, the three executives don’t much care for the show and let their feelings be known as to why. Still, it's an interesting listen for fans.

The Season 8 outtake reel which contains some really hilarious faux pas runs for 8 ½ minutes.

The themed featurettes which have graced (no pun intended) every box set appear again in this last one. These take lines and shots from the season’s episodes and combine them into a montage around a central theme. There are twelve in this season’s box, and they can be selected separately or watched in one 25-minute bunch.

The other two bonus items were actually carried over from the separate DVD release of the final episode two years ago.

“The Final Bow” is a chaotically arranged 13-minute look around the set during the final show’s production and after the last show had been shot.

“The Last Words: Interviews with the Cast” is something of a misnomer as it also includes words from both the creators of the show and the director as well as the four central cast members and Shelley Morrison (Rosario). It runs 24 minutes in nonanamorphic widescreen. Most of this was filmed during the production of the penultimate episode “Whatever Happened to Baby Gin?”


In Conclusion

3.5/5 (not an average)

The final season of Will & Grace was not a complete triumph for the writers, but the best of the season ranks right up there with earlier seasons, and there is definitely a lot of heartfelt emotion that carries into the final half dozen episodes as the series reaches a lovely, nostalgic end. Unfortunately, Lionsgate has provided a rather perfunctory final season set that doesn’t offer fans the best possible quality of sound and picture, and while the extras trump what has been offered in previous sets, there are still goodies (like those West Coast editions of the live broadcasts) that completists would love to have had.


Matt Hough
Charlotte, NC

#2 of 9 Mike Frezon

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Posted September 25 2008 - 03:14 AM

Thanks, Matt!

Missed this review when it was posted.

It is a real shame that the decision was made--in 2008--to release this set without the 16:9 versions of the episodes.

I'm not even asking for an HD release...just the ability to see the episodes in widescreen. If there is a choice, I'm just not sure why they would decide to go 4:3. Haven't these people checked out the TV section in their local Wal-Mart lately? Posted Image

There has always been concerns about episodes being edited during the DVD production run of this series. Did you get any sense that some of the episodes in season 8 may be syndicated versions or edited in any way?

And I think you are spot on about the writing. I am still making my way through season 8 and I find those same occasional flashes of brilliance when the writing makes you think back on some of the hilarious episodes from the first few seasons.

Many of these episodes are new to me (as I never saw the program during its broadcast run). I will be sad when I'm done and I realize there are no new episodes coming.

There's Jessie the yodeling cowgirl. Bullseye, he's Woody's horse. Pete the old prospector. And, Woody, the man himself.Of course, it's time for Woody's RoundUp. He's the very best! He's the rootinest, tootinest cowboy in the wild, wild west!


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#3 of 9 Matt Hough

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Posted September 25 2008 - 08:47 AM

I didn't feel like anything had been cut, but I've been wrong before about these things so I wouldn't swear to it. I did watch the original broadcasts, but the years take a toll on one's memory (at least on mine).

The lack of widescreen and the non-inclusion of those West Coast broadcasts were my two biggest disappointments about this set. I guess they wanted the keep the entire season 1-8 consistent by using 4:3, but that's not a good excuse in my mind. Who cares if this entire season (and half of the previous season) had gone to widescreen? Give fans the best of what you have!

#4 of 9 TravisR

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Posted September 25 2008 - 09:22 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MattH.
I guess they wanted the keep the entire season 1-8 consistent by using 4:3, but that's not a good excuse in my mind.
I said it in another thread but is it possible that the show was intended to be seen at 1.33 and the 1.78 image just has empty space on the sides?

#5 of 9 Mike Frezon

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Posted September 25 2008 - 11:35 AM

That would be a question for the TDs and camera operators...but I would suspect they would tell you that the more likely scenario is that they were shot in consideration of 1.78:1 and retained a safe area of 1.33:1.

While that MAY seem like a semantical difference, it's not.

There's Jessie the yodeling cowgirl. Bullseye, he's Woody's horse. Pete the old prospector. And, Woody, the man himself.Of course, it's time for Woody's RoundUp. He's the very best! He's the rootinest, tootinest cowboy in the wild, wild west!


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#6 of 9 Matt Hough

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Posted September 25 2008 - 03:23 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by TravisR
I said it in another thread but is it possible that the show was intended to be seen at 1.33 and the 1.78 image just has empty space on the sides?

I don't think so. WILL & GRACE could have stayed at 4:3 for SD and HD broadcasts if they had chosen. FRIENDS did and SCRUBS did, both NBC shows produced during the same era. Since a conscious effort was made by the producers to produce and air a high definition broadcast for the last season and a half, there had to have been a reason to want the show to appear more expansive on the screen for those who could take advantage of it. I recorded a good many of those last two years, and if I could find a spare moment (increasingly rare), I'd fire those up to see exactly how the shots were framed and how James Burrows made use of the wider frame.

#7 of 9 David Rain

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Posted September 25 2008 - 08:57 PM

So they didn't include the alternate coast versions ? What are they headless ?!?!

As great as this show was during it's height it also became sometimes painful to watch in it's later years. There was really no excuse why such a beloved show and huge hit couldn't have continued to have consistently excellent writing until the end. I thought the series finale was truly awful, self-indulgent and made little to no sense.

Thankfully the first few years were blissful and make up for the series eventual stumble in later seasons. Long live Grace's girlie parts !
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#8 of 9 Mike Frezon

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Posted September 26 2008 - 01:59 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by David Rain
As great as this show was during it's height it also became sometimes painful to watch in it's later years. There was really no excuse why such a beloved show and huge hit couldn't have continued to have consistently excellent writing until the end. I thought the series finale was truly awful, self-indulgent and made little to no sense.

Thankfully the first few years were blissful and make up for the series eventual stumble in later seasons.

Certainly not the first show to have this happen. And it won't be the last.

The best way I can think to describe it as the show just gets "full of itself." Once the popularity and success comes it must be too rich a temptation to play up the actors'/characters' strengths at the expense of the formula that "got you there."

As soon as the show started using high-profile guest stars midway through its run, I considered that their "jump the shark" moment. As we've all noted, there were still some very funny moments in the later seasons, but they just seemed to take themselves too seriously after a fashion.

I just watched "Bathroom Humor" last night. After having seen it, I would love to see the "alternate version" from the west coast feed.

There's Jessie the yodeling cowgirl. Bullseye, he's Woody's horse. Pete the old prospector. And, Woody, the man himself.Of course, it's time for Woody's RoundUp. He's the very best! He's the rootinest, tootinest cowboy in the wild, wild west!


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Dieting with my Dog & Heart to Heart/Hand in Paw by Peggy Frezon


#9 of 9 Jim*F

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Posted September 26 2008 - 12:01 PM

For me, many of the episodes in Seasons 7 & 8 are painful to watch. My DVD collection stops with Season 6, which makes Karen's wedding in Las Vegas my "series finale" (the only minor problem being that it doesn't feature Grace since Debra Messing was pregnant at the time!!). My personal assessment of the seasons is:

S1 -- good: a number of funny moments, series is "finding its way"

S2, S3, S4 -- excellent: the peak years, many funny moments, celeb guests who are generally connected to the main characters (Debbie Reyonlds as Grace's mom, Sydney Pollack and Blythe Danner as Will's parents, Cher as Jack's...God??)

S5, S6 -- good: the beginning of non-sensical celeb guests (Jack Black as random doctor Karen goes to for a physical, Madonna as random person Karen moves in with for an episode, etc.), focus on Grace & Leo takes away from true comedy setup of the series

S7, S8 -- bad: a few funny moments, but overall just horrible





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