If last year’s big box Blu-ray collection seemed daunting, Warner Home Video now has Friends' individual seasons coming to store shelves. The video quality of the first season is acceptable, though perhaps not as great as one would want for one of TV's most successful sitcoms. The fact the extended episodes aren't included remains a sticking point though, making this and future releases limited in their appeal to both fans and collectors.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 5.1 DD, Spanish 2.0 DD, French 2.0 DD, Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 9 Hr. 2 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 04/30/2013
Prepare to feel old.In just a little over a year, NBC’s hit sitcom Friends will be celebrating its 20th anniversary.Indeed, it was way back in September 1994 that David Crane and Marta Kauffman brought us a series about six, 20-something friends, trying to make their way through life and love in New York City. With its attractive cast, witty to nonsensical humor, and generally relatable characters, the show was an instant hit. The immediate popularity of the show of course led to watershed moments in the careers of its cast – Jennifer Aniston (Rachel), Courtney Cox (Monica), Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe), Matt LeBlanc (Joey), Matthew Perry (Chandler) and David Schwimmer (Ross).Re-visiting the series’ earliest episodes, it’s a given how young everyone looks (and how goofy some of the fashions were), but what’s really remarkable is how well the comedy bits hold up, even with some of the jokes and scenarios now pop cultural institutions. It’s also impressive how well defined the characters are from the outset, archetypes that quickly gained traction (and laughs) with the viewing audience, whether it was Chandler's boundless insecurities, Ross' unrequited feelings for Rachel, or Phoebe's ditzy non sequiturs. The first season also introduced now-classic episodes like "The One with the Butt," where Joey gets an interesting acting gig; "The One with the Boobies," where a naked vendetta begins among some of the friends; and "The One Where Rachel Finds Out," the finale where we finally see some forward movement in the Ross-Rachel romance. Though some of the show’s initial charm would wear a bit by the 10th season, it’s obvious NBC had lightning in a bottle with the show’s highly entertaining first year.Last November, Warner Home Video released all 10 years of Friends in a shelf-hogging Blu-ray collection, but unfortunately it included only the original broadcast episodes rather than the DVD releases’ extended versions. This proved a non-starter for many longtime collectors, who were expecting at least a 1:1 port to go with the upgrade in video quality. Not surprisingly, the individual Blu-ray release of the show’s first season doesn’t change any of that, making it another one to pass on for the majority of fans. For those who don't mind the difference, the first (and forthcoming) seasonal Blu-ray(s) will be worthwhile given competitive pricing.Friends: The Complete First Season on Blu-ray includes all 24 episodes that aired in the 1994-1995 TV season. The episodes are spread across two Blu-ray discs, with most episodes running just under 23 minutes in length.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Re-composed at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio from the original 35mm negatives, the 1080p, AVC-encoded video has a lot to like. Colors are rich and nicely saturated (though not always consistently color timed), black levels are appropriately inky, and contrast rarely looks compromised. Overall sharpness and detail is where the image stumbles, with the pilot looking the most rough around the edges. Subsequent episodes look noticeably more refined in general clarity, though shots can either be thick with grain or noticeably grain reduced. Establishing shots, sometimes using stock footage, can look especially dodgy due to some obvious upconversion. While the overall image quality is ultimately a bit of a letdown, considering the series’ success and popularity, the transfer does seem reflective of the show's more humble beginnings and of course the standard definition era in which it began.
Video Rating: 3.5/5 3D Rating: NA
Dialogue in the 640 kbps 5.1 Dolby Digital track is consistently crisp, clear and intelligible. Surround channels don't do much more than deliver music cues and audience laughter, the levels for which can seem a bit high. Bass activity is similarly overcranked, the low frequencies in the show's title song seeming especially boomy. Obviously I would have preferred a more subtle mix, but that's what you get sometimes with American, multi-camera sitcoms.
Audio Rating: 3/5
While the bonus material is on the meager side, it also mirrors what was included in the series collection Blu-ray and the individual season DVD from 2002.Pilot Episode Audio Commentary with Kevin Bright, David Crane and Marta KauffmanFriends of Friends (8:33, SD): Clips of cameos and guest stars from the season.Season Two Trailer (1:17, SD)Ultraviolet Digital Copy: Redeem by April 30, 2015.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
Warner Home Video delivers an acceptable, and thereby slightly disappointing, high definition presentation for Friends’ first, spectacular season. The special features are the same as what was previously available on various releases, but the problem remains the absence of the extended episodes. Those most likely to buy this single season release will be more casual fans interested in saving a little shelf space, while those committed to the extended versions will be sure to find it a waste of time.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
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