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Friends: The Complete Series Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 4 Todd Erwin

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Posted December 29 2012 - 06:33 PM

Warner Brothers has remastered NBC’s iconic 1990s sitcom Friends in high definition with generally positive results, porting over many of the special features from the previous DVD individual season releases plus three hours of new bonus content for this complete series set on Blu-ray.





Friends: The Complete Series


Studio: Warner Home Video
US BD Release Date: November 13, 2012
Running Time: 5192 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 2.0 (French, German, Spanish)
Subtitles: English (SDH), Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Japanese, Norwegian, French, Swedish

Series: 4 out of 5
Thursday evenings used to be a powerhouse for NBC in the mid-1990s thru mid-2000s, dubbed Must-See TV, consisting of such popular series as Seinfeld, Mad About You, Frasier, Scrubs, ER, and one of the most popular and successful sitcoms in recent history, Friends. The brainchild of David Crane and Marta Kauffman (Dream On), the series followed six twenty-somethings living in Manhattan: struggling chef Monica (Courteney Cox), spoiled rich girl trying to make it on her own Rachel (Jennifer Anniston), Monica’s paleontologist brother Ross (David Schwimmer), would-be actor Joey (Matt LeBlanc), jokester Chandler (Matthew Perry), and would-be musician Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow). The show was an instant success, finishing in the Nielsen top ten across most age groups consistently and racking up 63 Emmy nominations during its entire ten-year, 236-episode run.

As successful as Friends was on NBC, it would mark the end of an era for the once proud network. Possibly due to increased production costs associated with this and other successful series (Seinfeld, ER, etc.), the peacock network was cutting back on development costs of new series (evident in the revolving door of failed series that followed the Friends and Seinfeld timeslots), and Thursdays were never quite the same ratings-wise when Friends, Seinfeld, and ER finished their series runs, with the network investing more in non-scripted series such as Fear Factor, Deal Or No Deal, The Apprentice, and The Contender.

As for this Complete Series set, the episodes are presented in their original broadcast versions, and not the extended cuts featured on the previous DVD releases. Die-hard fans may have a problem with this issue, but in Warner’s defense, the high-definition remastering was likely commissioned more for worldwide television syndication purposes than for Blu-ray sales. However, a more prominent disclaimer on both the packaging and discs would have been appreciated.

Video: 3.5 out of 5
Viewed for years in a 4:3 aspect ratio, these newly composed 16:9 high-definition transfers (from the original 35mm negatives and compressed using the AVC codec) become less problematic as the seasons progress, as it becomes more obvious that the 16:9 safety area was taken into consideration by the camera operators (earlier seasons feel either claustrophobic with less head room or the edges appear unused). Detail, overall, is somewhat soft, particularly in long shots, and film grain sometimes compromises the image. Noise reduction is used and evident from time to time, adding to the overall softness issues. Colors and contrast are consistent within each season, improving as the series progresses.

Audio: 3.5 out of 5
In a step backwards from other recent Warner TV-On-Blu-ray releases, Friends arrives on Blu-ray in a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 remix encoded at 640 kbps. Dialogue is clear and intelligible, reproduced mostly in the center channel. Surrounds are used mostly for ambient music and live studio audience reactions. A main complaint of the soundtrack is with the laugh-track itself, occasionally sounding canned.

Special Features: 3 out of 5
Friends: The Complete Series comes housed in an outer-box the same size as most of Warner’s massive box sets (such as Casablanca and Singin’ In The Rain) with a nice lenticular front that provides two alternate photos of the cast. A 36-page full-color booklet includes a letter from the show’s executive producers on the pilot, production photos, and a disc-by-disc episode and special features guide. The 21 discs can be found in a hard-bound book that is slightly smaller than the outer box, and each disc is kept in a glossy half-sleeve (two per page) similar to the ones used in Lucasfilm’s Star Wars and Indiana Jones sets. Most of the special features from the previous DVD releases have been ported over, although the two commentary tracks from Season Two are apparently missing in this set.

Disc 1:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The Pilot

Disc 2:
Friends of Friends (SD, 8:33): Highlight reel of cameos and guest stars from season one, including Hank Azaria, George Clooney & Noah Wyle, Morgan fairchild & Jay Leno, Jill Goodacre, Elliott Gould, Jennifer Grey, Helen Hunt, Jon Lovitz, Christina Pickles, Leah Remini, Harry Shearer, Jonathan Silverman, Fisher Stevens, and Brenda Vaccaro.

The One With The Trailer of Season 2 (SD, 1:17): DVD trailer for season two.

Disc 4:
Friends of Friends (SD, 11:12): Highlight reel of cameos and guest stars from season two, including Dan Castellaneta, Chrissie Hynde, Chris Isaak, Michael McKean, Giovanni Ribisi, Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Tom Selleck, Charlie Sheen, Marlo Thomas, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Fred Willard.

What’s Up With Your Friends? (SD, 7:50): Character highlights from seasons one and two.

Smelly Cat Music Video (SD, 1:49): The complete, uncut music video.

Disc 5:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One Where No One’s Ready

Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane and Art Director John Shaffner for The One With The Football

Disc 6:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One The Morning After

Friends of Friends (SD, 10:44): Highlight reel of cameos and guest stars from season three, including David Arquette, Billy Crystal & Robin Williams, Jon Favreau, Sherilyn Fenn, Teri Garr, Giovanni Ribisi, Isabella Rossellini, Debra-Jo Rupp, Tom Selleck, and Ben Stiller.

What’s Up With Your Friends? (SD, 8:11): Character highlights from season three.

Disc 7:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One With Chandler In A Box and The One With The Embryos

Disc 8:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One With Ross’s Wedding (Part One and Two)

Friends Around The World (SD, 7:36): A look at how the series is viewed internationally, specifically Japan, Sweden, and Germany.

Friends of Friends (SD, 8:10): Highlight reel of cameos and guest stars from season four, including Paget Brewster, Tom Conti, Sarah Ferguson, Penn Jillette, Charlton Heston, Hugh Laurie, John Bennett Perry, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Jennifer Saunders, June Whitfeld, and Olivia Williams.

What’s Up With Your Friends? (SD, 9:08): Character highlights from season four.

Disc 9:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One Hundredth and The One With All The Thanksgivings

Disc 10:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One Where Everybody Finds Out

The One That Goes Behind The Scenes (SD, 42:29): Documentary on how the series is produced that originally aired on the Discovery Channel.

Friends: On Location In London (SD, 2:16): A very brief look at shooting the season four finale in London. What it is doing on the last disc for season five seems a bit odd.

Gunther Spills The Beans (SD, 1:31): Central Perk manager Gunther provides a quick sneak peek at season six.

Disc 11:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One Where Ross Got High

Disc 12:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One That Could Have Been (Part One and Two) and The One With The Proposal (Part One and Two)

Friends of Friends (SD, 12:31): Interviews with guest stars Elliott Gould, Christina Pickles, Maggie Wheeler, and Jane Sibbett.

Gag Reel (SD, 9:37): Goofs and giggles from season six.

Gunther Spills The Beans (SD, 1:26): Central Perk manager Gunther provides a quick sneak peek at season seven.

Disc 13:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane and Costume Designer Debra McGuire for The One With The Holiday Armadillo

Disc 14:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One With Joey’s New Brain

Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One With Monica and Chandler’s Wedding (Part One and Two)

Friends of Friends (SD, 19:49): Interviews with guest stars Morgan Fairchild, Alexandra Holden, Cole Sprouse, Eddie Cahill, and Paget Brewster.

Gag Reel (SD, 9:26): Goofs and giggles from season seven.

Gunther Spills The Beans (SD, 2:11): Central Perk manager Gunther provides a quick sneak peek at season eight.

Super-Sized Episodes: During the February 2001 sweeps period, NBC aired four extended episodes.
The One Where Rosita Dies (SD, 27:57)
The One Where They All Turn Thirty (SD, 24:53)
The One With Joey’s New Brain (SD, 28:27)
The One With The Truth About London (SD, 29:18)

Disc 15:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One Where Rachel Tells Ross and The One With The Videotape

Disc 16:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One Where Rachel Has A Baby (Part One and Two)

Friends of Friends (SD, 19:40): Interviews with guest stars David Arquette, June Gable, Teri Garr, Debra Jo Rupp, Bonnie Somerville, and Lauren Tom.

Gag Reel (SD, 8:37): Goofs and giggles from season eight.

Gunther Spills The Beans (SD, 2:00): Central Perk manager Gunther provides a quick sneak peek at season nine.

Disc 17:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One With The Male Nanny and The One With Rachel’s Phone Number

Disc 18:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One In Barbados (Part One and Two)

Behind The Style: The Look Of Friends (SD, 20:08): Costume Designer Debra McGuire, Hair Stylist Jonathan Hanousek, and Makeup Artist Robin Siegel discuss the look of the series.

Gag Reel (SD, 6:40): Goofs and giggles from season nine.

Phoebe Battles The Pink Robots Music Video (SD, 2:08): The Flaming Lips perform their song with help from Lisa Kudrow.

Gunther Spills The Beans (SD, 3:00): Central Perk manager Gunther provides a quick sneak peek at season ten.

Disc 19:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The One With The Late Thanksgiving and The One Where The Stripper Cries

Disc 20:
Audio Commentary by Executive Producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane for The Last One (Part One and Two)

Friends of Friends (SD, 17:04): Interviews with guest stars Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, and Aisha Taylor.

Joey Joey Music Video (SD, 2:37): Clips of Matt LeBlanc as Joey set to music.

Friends Final Thoughts (SD, 25:30): The cast and crew reflect on the ten-year run of the series.

Flashback Gags Season One (SD, 5:23)

Flashback Gags Season Two (SD, 6:29)

Flashback Gags Season Three (SD, 4:32)

Flashback Gags Season Four (SD, 5:03)

Gag Reel Season Ten (SD, 20:05): The gag reel from the final season features a three minute introduction by Conan O’Brien

Disc 21:
Friends From The Start (HD, 27:50): Executive Producers Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane, Art Director John Shaffner, former NBC President Warren Littlefield, former Warner Television President Leslie Moonves, Director James Burrows, and guest stars Melora Hardin, Elliott Gould, and Christina Pickles discuss the genesis, development, and casting of the show, the storylines, and the production design of the series. Unfortunately, none of the main cast members participated in this documentary.

When Friends Become Family (HD, 29:20): Many of the same participants from the previous documentary discuss the popularity and enduring success of the series.

The Legacy of Friends (HD, 10:46): Many of the same participants from the previous documentaries discuss the longevity and finale of the series.

The One Where Rachel Tells Ross (Original Producer’s Cut) (SD, 22:49): Much like the pilot for 24, this episode of Friends needed to be trimmed due to the tragedy of 9/11. The episode appears here in its originally intended version.

The Original Script for The One Where Rachel Tells Ross: The original script can be read page by page on screen, but I found the print and handwritten notes too small to read even on a 56-inch screen.

I’ll Be There For You Music Video (SD, 3:09): The Rembrandts perform the Beatles-esque theme song with some help from the Friends cast.

Friends Visit The Ellen DeGeneres Show (SD, 16:08): David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, and Matt LeBlanc appear individually on Ellen’s talk show.

Friends on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (SD, 22:01): Jay Leno hosts a special episode of The Tonight Show from the Central Perk set with the cast of Friends that aired the same night as the final episode.

The One With The Never-Before-Seen Gags (SD, 7:01): More outtakes from the series.

Overall: 3.5 out of 5
The legendary 90s sitcom arrives on Blu-ray in an acceptable, but not stellar, high-definition presentation, with most of the same features from the DVD releases, plus some newly created documentaries. Fans of the series will need to decide if they want to spend the nearly $300 retail price (although as of this writing it is selling for as low as $180) to upgrade from their DVD sets (which include extended episodes not found on this Blu-ray release), and if they have the shelf space for the odd-sized box and book.




#2 of 4 andrew markworthy

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Posted December 31 2012 - 05:36 AM

Many thanks for the review, which I found extremely helpful. Please don't take this as an insult, but it made me decide not to buy it. I can see Friends in HD everyday on one of the satellite channels, and the only incentive to have it on disc would be if they were the full-length versions. If not, then where is the value-added? I think disc manufacturers have to wake up to the fact that with so much cloud programming, discs have got to offer more. This is, I would suggest, a case of dropping the ball big time.

#3 of 4 Ethan Riley

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Posted December 31 2012 - 07:52 AM

Sadly...I have to agree. :(
 

 


#4 of 4 Mike Frezon

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Posted July 06 2013 - 07:14 PM

Ah well.

 

Sorry to read about the shortcomings of this set as I purchased it on impulse the other day at a local store.  My wife and I were looking for a series to enjoy.  And we know very little about Friends except for how crazy popular it was during its run.

 

On some recent visits to the gym, I caught some random episodes of Friends and enjoyed them.  Somehow the two of us got through 1994 to 2004 without ever watching a first-run episode.  Oh yeah, maybe it was raising two kids that got in the way.  :biggrin:

 

So, the deal I got was the following.  A store I frequent (FYE--a TransWorld store) had a used copy of the Blu set for $168.  I also had a coupon for 25% off...bringing it down to $126.  I then have a "membership card" for the store entitling me to another 10% off...bringing the total price down to $113.40.  It seemed like a pretty good deal for ten seasons of shows...totaling 236 episodes.  Certainly cheaper than what I could even buy used DVD individual seasons for.

 

I agree with all sentiments expressed above.  It's too bad that the full episodes weren't presented in HD.  But it's true, isn't it, that the four full epidoes are included in the set in SD? 

 

I'm not a fan of the unique package shape either...but I'm more concerned about the presentation--which is why I opted to splurge on the Blu set. 

 

We hae watched the first few episodes.  It seems as if things are really picking up after a shaky plot, etc.  I am not concerned that we will end up enjoying the set...but I do find the music and audience laughter audio as substantially louder than the dialogue.  It is a situation that has really been bothering my wife's enjoyment of the show.  And, yes, the laughter does, indeed, sound like a canned laugh track.  I did NOT notice this on the few episodes I caught recently at the gym.  In fact, I would have been hard-pressed to say there was audience laughter during those episodes I watched. 

 

Well, I still think I got a good deal and am looking forward to being able to plow through this entire series at our leisure...  :thumbsup:


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