Shout! Factory // 1981 // 572 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 1st, 2012
I just figured out what Willis was talkin' 'bout!
More wackiness ensues, when pint-sized Arnold Jackson (the late Gary Coleman) struts his stuff! Along for the ride is Arnold's ever patient and lovingly rich father, Mr. Drummond (Conrad Bain); street-wise older brother Willis (Todd Bridges); and adopted older sister, Kimberly (the late Dana Plato). Find out what happens when Arnold tries to join the Gooch's private club! Thrill to Mr. Drummond finding out he has a love child from his time in The Korean War! Can Willis and Arnold get along while sharing a room? And what season is it again when Mr. T shows up?! Big laughs are headed your way with Diff'rent Strokes: The Complete Fourth Season!
For those who love it, this series has never gotten the respect it deserves. For the haters, it's far too fondly remembered, needing to be buried in the backyard alongside Webster and Small Wonder. Either way, there isn't a lot of in-between. Objectively speaking, the series offers a heaping helping of family values, social issues discussed in the fluffiest of ways, and a laugh track that makes it sound like the scripts were written by Mark Twain and Judd Apatow (seriously, the abuse of canned laughter is one of the biggest crimes in television history).
Diff'rent Strokes: The Complete Fourth Season is exactly like the previous three seasons, the cast taking a backseat to the increasingly annoying antics of a wisecracking Gary Coleman. I'd like to tell you the show featured characters who grew and changed, but much like the physicality of Gary Coleman, Diff'rent Strokes remains exactly the same no matter what season you watch. Sure, characters would often learn lessons, however minor; Willis experiences the consequences of selling drugs, Mr. Drummond takes a stand against racism, and everyone learns about fire safety (we have to wait until Season Five for Nancy Reagan to show up and tell us to "Just say no!"). But no one evolves in such a way that convinces us these are anything but one dimensional caricatures of real people.
As usual, Gary Coleman has his cute-as-a-button thing down to a science. He bats his eyes, flashes a smile, and the studio audience's hearts collectively melt. Unfortunately, it's impossible to watch the show and not think of the difficult times, disappointments, and ultimate demise Gary would eventually face. The same goes for Dana Plato. For such a fresh-faced girl-next-door, it's hard to believe her final moments would be succumbing to drug abuse inside a dirty motor home. At least we still have Conrad Bain, Todd Bridges, and Charlotte Rae (Mrs. Garrett) around, though I guess they'd make for a pretty weak reunion show.
Diff'rent Strokes never set out to revolutionize television; it was created to make families laugh. As corny as it can be -- and it was often very corny -- I have to laud the producers for trying to embed a message and social conscience. Be it racial tolerance or accepting family members as they are, the series tried its best to give viewers something to chew on. If you love the show, Season Four is a must. If you weren't ten years old in the 1980s, you can probably skip this altogether.
Presented in standard def 1.33:1 full frame, Shout! Factory has done a decent job making sure these 26 episodes look good. The series is now well over thirty years old and it often shows its age by way of defects and a lack of sharpness. Although the picture quality isn't going to win any awards, it should be sufficient for fans. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo mixes are what you'd expect from '80s television: flat, front heavy, and rather uninspired. Dialogue, music (including a catchy theme song co-written by future Growing Pains star Alan Thicke), and effects are all clearly distinguishable. We do get English closed captioning subtitles, but no alternate language tracks, and no bonus features.
Though Diff'rent Strokes has not aged particularly well, it's rather innocuous entertainment that won't harm your kids' brains. The same can't be said for a lot of drivel floating around television today. Except for The Walking Dead, which can teach your children valuable lessons about how to survive the eventual zombie apocalypse...ah, but that's another story for another review.
Not Guilty, man.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 572 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated