Warner Bros. // 1994 // 576 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 7th, 2013
You can never have enough friends.
Come and see where it all began with Friends: The Complete First Season!
Witness the evolution of six friendships that will eventually span almost an entire decade of love, laughter, and lattes! Revisit the patrons of Central Perk, including anal retentive Monica (Courtney Cox, Cougar Town), her nerdy brother Ross (David Schwimmer, Madagascar), rich girl-turned-blue collar waitress Rachel (Jennifer Aniston, Horrible Bosses), sarcastic Chandler (Matthew Perry, The Whole Nine Yards), dimwitted Italian Stallion Joey (Matt LeBlanc, Episodes), and new age flake Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow, Paper Man). From wacky twin sisters and crazy pet monkeys, to seeing each other accidentally in the nude, these Friends will be there for you!
If there is any single show that defines the 1990s, I'd argue that Friends is it. Although Seinfeld was certainly a monster hit as well, I think that Friends is the show that the majority think of -- if not wholly embrace -- when they look back on the decade of Starbucks, parachute pants, and Color Me Badd. The show was such a hit that it's influence can be felt almost two decades after it first aired; from How I Met Your Mother to Happy Endings and beyond, other shows are still trying to emulate Friends and its winning formula by throwing together a bunch of twenty-somethings and watching them comically flounder through life's trials and tribulations.
Friends: The Complete First Season holds up, but after twenty years it's starting to show its age. I'd like to tell you that the cast clicked from the first frame, but considering how burned into my memory these characters are, I can't really separate seeing the show with new eyes in 1994 and having such a history with it in 2013. Certainly the writing, while sharp for the time, has been dulled over the past two decades. Although the show is still amusing to watch, the freshness factor is very limited. The humor doesn't come from huge belly-laughs but from a more appreciative place, especially those who are connoisseurs of the show. Friends is almost like a warm blanket that you can snuggle up with because you know exactly what you're going to get.
One thing that's clear is that the actors are still trying to find their characters as the first season moves on. Matt LeBlanc's Joey isn't quite as dim and obtuse as he became in the later seasons. Courtney Cox's Monica is less OCD in this first season (she became more of a harpy as the series went on). David Schwimmer's Ross is a still a sad sack, but his character feels ill-defined throughout the first season (as does the lesbian sub-plot, as the show struggled to figure out what to make of homosexuality in an age where it wasn't as embraced as it is today).
Breakout star Jennifer Aniston -- arguably the most successful Friend from the show -- is amusing as Rachel Green, finding just the right balance between being a bratty rich girl and realizing that finding yourself means making in on your own two feet. The two characters who feel the most like themselves are Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe and Matthew Perry's Chandler; both actors seem to know right off that bat how their characters should act.
The episodes here get better as the show progresses forward. The pilot episode, while funny, seems slightly dulled; it was clear the writers were still trying to find their sea legs (as well as the character's voices). As we move on in the first season viewers come across episodes that are now considered classic, like Chandler seeing Rachel nude and the girl's burning mementos of their past relationship on Valentine's Day. Like a lot of sitcoms that became monster hits, Friends would end up leaning a little heavily on the crutch of having "cameo" appearance by famous faces. Bruce Willis, Tom Selleck, Marlo Thomas, Elliot Gould, Greg Kinnear, Danny DeVito, and Kathleen Turner would all make eventual appearances. Yet the core of why this show is so funny and beloved is the six main stars; the young actors really do seem to share a camaraderie that can't be faked.
Friends: The Complete First Season was originally shot in 1.33:1 full frame because, hey, this was 1994 and no one knew that in less than twenty years most of us would have widescreen HD televisions. Interestingly, Warner has decided to crop these 24 episodes (spread over two Blu-ray discs) to 1.78:1 widescreen in 1080p and, while Friends has never looked better; it also has been tweaked slightly to fit on most viewer's television sets. The film elements here are in pretty good shape, although they certainly show some limitations; there's softness to the image that can't be denied, and very small imperfections abound. That being said, the show certainly looks good for being almost two decades old. The soundtrack for each episode is presented in Dolby 5.1 Surround in English. There are optional subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Bonus features include a lone commentary track on the first episode by executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane; a short featurette ("Friends of Friends") on cameo/guest stars, and a promotional trailer for Season Two on Blu-ray.
Friends may be over, but fans will be thrilled that it's always open for a visit...now in HD!
Worth the upgrade, if you've got an HDTV and really want to see Marcel the Monkey in 1080p!
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 576 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated