Mill Creek Entertainment // 1996 // 451 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // November 2nd, 2011
As many intelligent people know, aliens are all around us.
Like Katy Perry or texting while driving, re-releases of shows that have been available for years have become pervasive parts of our culture. 3rd Rock From the Sun: Season One was first released on DVD in 2005 (and reviewed quite nicely by retired Judge Dennis Price); now Mill Creek has decided to release it again. It looks and sounds pretty much the same, and even has the same extras. So why the double-dip? Anchor Bay only had the rights to the syndicated episodes, which knocked about two minutes off of each episode. Mill Creek offers us the unedited versions, as they were originally broadcast on NBC in 1996.
3rd Rock From the Sun is about four aliens whose mission is to study the inhabitants of various planets by taking the form of the dominant life and blending in to the best of their abilities. On Earth, this means they take the forms of humans, call themselves the "Solomons" because they saw the word on a truck, and rent an attic apartment in Ohio.
Dick is the High Commander, as he constantly makes sure everyone remembers, and takes a job teaching physics at a local college. He is brash, bold, self-centered, and completely oblivious to the sarcasm and odd looks he continually receives from the humans around him. John Lithgow (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) wasn't known as a comedic actor at the time, but his timing, voice, and physical comedy skills are all superb. Season One is an interesting study in the growth of his comedy education; at times he channels John Cleese, while at others he does a spot-on Christopher Lloyd impersonation, but by the end of the season he has a pretty firm grasp on his own unique style.
Sally is second in command, and was the loser in the body-picking competition and so had to become the female. Kristen Johnson (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) is great in a role she clearly enjoys. Sally has the longest character arc since she has to deal with her base "destroy things" instincts that compete with the new maternal/nesting/helping emotions, which gives Johnson leeway to be hard or soft depending on the moment.
Tommy has a similar dichotomous nature; his alien self is the oldest of the crew, but he ended up in the youngest body. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) does a good job of being a 13-year-old, but either he or the writers missed a huge comedy mine with the character; as an ex-leader and combat veteran, he should be wise beyond his teenaged years. Tommy carries no aged nuance whatsoever, maybe because the old alien is enjoying feeling so young.
Harry is the dingbat of the group, along because they had an extra seat and he carries a transmitter in his head so they can send status reports. French Stewart (Rain From Stars) seems built for the part. His constant squinting and nasal, monotone voice might have been annoying from a different actor, but Harry is quite often the funniest person in the room. Some of the best parts of the show deal with Harry's attempts to hold down a job.
There are very few things not to like about 3rd Rock From the Sun. It quite brazenly holds a mirror up to our society and explores our pimples, pustules, and pits. Over fifteen years after the show started, every part of it still rings true. I do wish it was more of an ensemble show, but the truth is that it is Dick-centric. Sure, all the characters get some minor plotlines, but the main thrust of the show always involves Dick. Even the episode names reflect this (e.g. "Post Nasal Dick," "Truth or Dick"). The show's biggest struggle is an inability to end a scene gracefully. The writers went for a big laugh before each commercial break, and the effect when watching without commercials is a rather abrupt cut and a lack of resolution to the previous scene.
The full frame picture retains its varied color palette, but the picture is a tad grainy. The 2.0 stereo sound is nicely balanced for the most part. There are moments when the sound and the actors' lips don't quite match up, and the live-audience laughter is a bit overwhelming in the early episodes, but becomes much less obtrusive as the season goes on.
Extras are basically the same as the previous release, but having extras at all is a step up from the usual Mill Creek release. They include short one-sided "interviews" with the cast wherein they answer basically the same set of questions, and therefore give very similar answers; bloopers; a short "behind the scenes" collage; and a highlight package that shows some of the funnier scenes from the season.
Like every true classic television series, 3rd Rock From the Sun is just as fresh now as it was when it first ran. Whether you really love the show and have been waiting years for the full version to become available, or you kinda like it and will watch it occasionally, or even if you're just a little curious about it; go ahead and get it. It's one of the better comedies in television history, and it's ridiculously cheap on Amazon. Use the link above to get there.
Report to the Big Giant Head: 3rd Rock From the Sun: The Complete Season
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 451 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated