Warner Bros. // 1994 // 544 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // May 7th, 2013
"Your tailor is a very bad man!"
In the '90s, NBC had the two biggest sitcoms on television in Seinfeld and Friends. The duo did more than anchor the network's Thursday lineup. They also marked a divide in the history of sitcoms. On the one side, Seinfeld's high concept humor, which paved the way for single camera shows like Arrested Development, Community, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. On the Friends side, the continuation of the traditional studio audience format that still reigns supreme on CBS and basic cable.
For this and other reasons, Friends has gotten a bad rap. Not everything about the show holds up. It feels old fashioned in spots, often goes for easy laughs, and (fair comparison or not) just isn't as good as its "must see" counterpart. Even so, there's a lot to like about Friends: The Complete Second Season, hitting Blu-ray in a single season set following last year's release of the full series in HD.
It took a good chunk of Friends' first season for the show to catch on, but by the end of that year it was huge. Fans tuned into the second season premiere eager to learn the fate of Rachel's mad dash to the airport to declare her love for Ross. So begins one of the show's best seasons, a greatest hits collection of characters, running gags, and storylines that laid the foundation for the rest of the series. Ross and Rachel, Monica and Richard, Joey and Days of Our Lives, Phoebe and "Smelly Cat," Chandler and Joey's handsy tailor. It may not have your favorite episode, but there are way more hits than misses in the 24 entries included here:
* "The One with Ross's New Girlfriend"
* "The One with the Breast Milk"
* "The One Where Heckles Dies"
* "The One with Phoebe's Husband"
* "The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant"
* "The One with the Baby on the Bus"
* "The One Where Ross Finds Out"
* "The One with the List"
* "The One with Phoebe's Dad"
* "The One with Russ"
* "The One with the Lesbian Wedding"
* "The One After the Super Bowl (Part 1)"
* "The One After the Super Bowl (Part 2)"
* "The One with the Prom Video"
* "The One Where Ross and Rachel...You Know"
* "The One Where Joey Moves Out"
* "The One Where Eddie Moves In"
* "The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies"
* "The One Where Eddie Won't Go"
* "The One Where Old Yeller Dies"
* "The One with the Bullies"
* "The One with Two Parties"
* "The One with the Chicken Pox"
* "The One with Barry & Mindy's Wedding"
It's hard now to look back at David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry, and Lisa Kudrow without conjuring images of post-series struggles, failed marriages, and career comebacks. Back in 1995, though, they were among the biggest stars on TV, and watching these old episodes it's clear why. Even if you don't love Friends, it's hard to deny the cast's chemistry. In large groups or paired off for subplot high jinks, these six characters banter, bicker, and gossip like real pals. Their rapport is why we care when Joey moves out of Chandler's apartment or when Ross and Rachel finally...you know.
In addition to the core group of characters, Friends: The Complete Second Season has plenty of celebrity guest stars, including Jean-Claude Van Damme, Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Chris Isaak, Michael McKean, and Charlie Sheen. Some pop by just long enough to feel like a sweeps week stunt -- the post-Super Bowl episode is especially bad -- but others make their mark on the series. Adam Goldberg didn't come back after his three-episode arc as Chandler's crazy roommate Eddie, but it's a memorable turn. Phoebe's half brother Frank Jr., played by Giovanni Ribisi, didn't join the cast until later seasons but he first appeared in Season Two at the end of Phoebe's quest to find her real father. The season's most important guest star is Tom Selleck, who plays Monica's older love interest, Richard. Their relationship feels like stunt casting at first, but builds to an affecting emotional climax in the season finale. Selleck's Richard never quite gels with the rest of the cast but he is cool and charming enough to be one of the best things about Season Two.
The big news when Friends arrived on Blu-ray were the transfers. Warner Bros. went back to the original 35mm source, giving fans their first look at the episodes in full widescreen, not cropped for 4:3 televisions -- although sadly not the extended cuts previously available on DVD. The Second Season's 1.78:1 1080p video transfer is deceptive. It's about on par with modern HD sitcoms. The colors are vibrant and detail is decent, but it's hardly revelatory until you remember that this season is almost 20 years old. The widescreen presentation is nice in theory. The extra visual information doesn't change the episodes. It just fills your TV nicely. The audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1. It's not lossless, which matters more in A/V forum debates than it does in practice. The season looks better than it has before. It's up to you to decide whether the tradeoffs are worth it.
Speaking of tradeoffs, Friends: The Complete Second Season is also missing two audio commentaries, virtual apartment tour, and trivia game from the DVD. What's left are three weak bonus features:
* "Friends of Friends" (11:12): A collection of scenes from episodes you just watched, featuring Dan Castellaneta, Chrissie Hynde, Chris Isaak, Michael McKean, Giovanni Ribisi, Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Tom Selleck, Charlie Sheen, Marlo Thomas, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Fred Willard. The only reason to watch is to see what these scenes used to look like in fullscreen standard def.
* "What's Up With Your Friends?" (7:50): Gunther introduces this montage of moments for each of the six main characters.
* "Smelly Cat Video" (1:49): The uncut "Smelly Cat" video from "The One Where Eddie Moves In."
Friends is the Coldplay of sitcoms. Both get a crazy amount of hate, and both are things I enjoy at the right times and in the right amounts. Watching The Complete Second Season on Blu-ray is a mixed bag. The episodes look good, and the laughs are still there, but a lot has happened in TV comedy since 1994. The laugh track format hangs on by Chuck Lorre's sheer will, but for the most part single camera rules today. If that shift makes you rethink Friends, I suggest you hold judgment until you've had a chance to revisit the series in hi-def. It's not the ideal experience -- with missing extended episodes and bonus features marring an otherwise excellent set -- but it's worth a second look.
Review content copyright © 2013 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 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: 544 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated