Plot: What’s it about?
On September 22, 1994 the first episode of Friends aired and television was never quite the same. Now I won’t sit here and say that this show changed television forever, but when a show comes on the air that lasts a decade, wins multiple Emmy awards and inspires a spin-off (albeit not a successful one), you’re doing something right. Admittedly I was a late adopter to the show and it wasn’t until 2000 that I really first sat down and watched it. The show wasn’t yet on DVD, but Warner issued a special disc entitled The Best of Friends. In it were some of the hand-picked episodes from the first several seasons. I reviewed the disc and was a fan of the show from that point forward. What made the show work, like many others, was the chemistry between the lead actors (and in this case, there were six of them). Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Ross (David Schwimmer), Chandler(Matthew Perry), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Monica (Courtney Cox) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc). You know the names; heck there’s probably a generation of teenagers with names like “Phoebe” or “Chandler” because their parents were fans of the show. Friends inspired outfits, hairstyle – anyone remember “The Rachel?” And TV Guide has seen fit to rank it in the top 25 of all the television shows of all-time. Pretty impressive.
As the show opens, we meet the cast for the first time. And though a number of them already know one another, here’s a breakdown… Ross (David Schwimmer) has just been divorced from his wife who has become a lesbian, but also learns that she is pregnant with his child. Ross, a whiner, who pines for either his former married life or asking out an old infatuation from High School. Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) has just left her own wedding and is now running around lower Manhattan. Bumping into old friend, Monica (Courntey Cox), she moves in and starts her life over without the financial aid of her wealthy parents. This brings us to Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), the most spiritual of the bunch (and my personal favorite). Phoebe works as a massage therapist and plays guitar in her spare time. We also learn that she has an identical twin sister with whom she does not get along with. Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) are roommates, Joey is an aspiring actor and Chandler is a processor at a company. This first season really sets the stage for what they didn’t know at the time – but this would go on for another decade and make the Friends all household names.
Video: How does it look?
There’s both good and bad news for fans of Friends in that, yes the episodes are now available in full 1080p video presented in a 1.78:1 AVC HD image. That’s the good. The bad is that the “purists” out there will most likely want these to appear in the original 4:3, full frame aspect ratio. As for me, I really don’t care. Yes I’m sure if you were to sit there and compare the episodes side by side you might miss a bit here and there, but I’d rather the shows filled up my HDTV. Colors are bright and bold, there is a tad bit of grain in some of the interior shots, but by and large these look much better than their 4:3 counterparts (and I actually still have the original seasons, so I went back and checked them out). Contrast is strong, detail improved and all in all it’s the best they’ve ever looked. But fans will still want a choice, so if you’re one of those then this isn’t the set for you.
Audio: How does it sound?
When Friends hit DVD about a decade ago, it had been re-mastered in Dolby Digital 5.0 sound (no LFE) now, a decade later; we’ve got Friends in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Yep, that’s right it’s taken us ten years but we finally got that .1 channel! Yay! All kidding aside, the episodes really sound just about the same. Maybe they’re a little more robust on Blu-ray, but aside from the laugh track and the ever-so-familiar music that plays in the interlude, it’s really all the same.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Ok, now this might irk a few people. Warner released a box set of Friends in the 2012 Holiday season that had every episode. People were up in arms because the episodes weren’t the uncut versions (which ranged from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the individual episode), but only the same versions that aired on television. Warner is now going back and re-releasing these a couple of seasons at a time on Blu-ray and you’d think that the outcry would have prompted them to add the extra footage back in. Nope. Add to this that the footage was ON the original DVD sets released back in 2002! And if that’s not enough, some supplements were actually cut from this release. The only supplements found on this set is a commentary (the same one) on the pilot episode, “Remember Friends of Friends” which is a montage of guest stars and a trailer for the next season of the show. The interactive map and trivia quiz are both gone.