Our Judge Dennis Prince loves affable aliens but hates sinister syndicators.
Our reviews of 3rd Rock From The Sun: Season One (published October 5th, 2005), 3rd Rock From The Sun: Season Three (published March 15th, 2006), 3rd Rock From The Sun: Season Four (published May 24th, 2006), and 3rd Rock From The Sun: The Complete Season One (published November 2nd, 2011) are also available.
It starts with an Evil Dick and ends in a new dimension of inter-stellar stimulation.
And now it continues, the further adventures of four aliens from deep space who have adjusted (mostly) to their acquired bodies and continue to observe and interact with the curious species known as "human."
Facts of the Case
The alien infiltrators have successfully intermingled among mankind for a year now, making remarkable discoveries regarding the ways and wiles of the human species. However, as frail and fallible as they may be, humankind has dealt the alien visitors an unexpected element: emotions. Unexpectedly, these "feelings" that seem to plague and preoccupy the potential for human efficiency have likewise bedeviled the aliens, subjecting them to odd moods, sensations, and idiosyncrasies over which there seems to be little control. Recognizing this dilemma as a far more compelling experimental situation than previously anticipated, the aliens dive headlong into the total "human experience" in an effort to more deeply understand the Earthlings and provide a more well-constructed report to their superior, the Big Giant Head.
High Commander Dick Solomon (John Lithgow, Raising Cain) has now fully professed his deep love for the prickly Dr. Mary Albright (Jane Curtin, How to Beat the High Cost of Living), she who has finally requited his amorous appeals. Weapons Officer Sally Solomon (Kristen Johnston, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas) has re-visited her one-off fling with portly Officer Don Orville (Wayne Knight, Seinfeld) and the two continue to engage in their mutually narcissistic mating dance. Information Officer Tommy Solomon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 10 Things I Hate About You) continues to struggle with the unpredictability of puberty as well as alternately adore and abhor the girlfriend-thing he knows as August (Shay Astar, Ernest Scared Stupid). All the while, Communicator Harry Solomon continues to roam freely to explore the finer points of human culture, pop-culture, and minimum wage employment.
Not all is well to begin this new year on Earth, though, as Dick has been left imprisoned in a transparent box in the basement by the Evil Dick who was sent by the Big Giant Head to replace the former High Commander. As we soon learn, though, the Evil Dick is an imposter who gained transport to Earth as the result of a clerical error by the BGH administrator and who now has evil designs on the conquest of Earth. The original Dick is soon freed, though, and is able to pursue his mercurial romance with Dr. Albright. Other new human experiences await the alien travelers as they are confronted with the socially and emotionally confusing event known as the Holiday Season, the odd rites and rituals that accompany a wedding, the illuminating and illusory aspects of an election, and the complete and utter terror of experiencing dreams and nightmares (in vivid three-dimensional reality). This ain't no Sunday drive in the Rambler anymore.
By the premiere of the second season opener on September 22, 1996, 3rd Rock from the Sun had amassed a strong audience following, with enviable ratings that placed it among the top ten shows of its day. The show essentially—and successfully—drew upon the comedic crafts of clowning and slapstick, regularly featuring the characters in over-the-top theatrics that completely tickled viewers and studio audiences. On the increase were also the Stooge-esqe physical antics that became a staple of the show. The writers continued to reach for more outrageous situations while the cast clearly lapped up the zany goings on with zest and zeal.
Sensing the viewers would quickly tire the standoffish Mary Albright, the writers decided to explore the potential comedy of an affirmed and demonstrative relationship between her and Dick (with the season's most hilarious moment of spontaneity in a relationship surfacing in "Same Old Song and Dick"). Sally is given more material to work with as she continues to be smitten by the dubious assertions of Officer Don while unwittingly learning of the façade and frailty of male machismo. Tommy continues to cower under the endless stream of head games served up by obnoxious August but is also growing increasingly bored and bold in the face of his flighty female companion. Harry is allowed further freedom to explore whatever situations might present themselves, usually based in parody of (then) current trends and events. The humor continues to be fast and furious and is refreshingly free of the sort of venom and vitriol that is tiresomely passed off and comedy these days. The show became such a favorite within the entertainment industry that many recognizable personalities appeared in guest-star cameos including George Takei, Mark Hamill, Jay Leno, and Dennis Rodman. Because of its use of "classic" comedy elements, 3rd Rock from the Sun remains fresh and funny in its new DVD incarnation.
In this 3rd Rock from the Sun—Season 2 boxed set from Anchor Bay Entertainment, you'll find the following 26 episodes:
• "See Dick Continue to Run (Part I)"
• "World's Greatest Dick"
• "Guilty As Dick"
• "Will Work for Dick"
Each episode is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame format as originally televised. The color is vivid and brings each show to vibrant life. The compression artifacts apparent in the Season 1 boxed-set appear to have been corrected this time around although there is a low level of grain evident through most episodes (inherent in the original source material, apparently). The detail level is high (with the occasional unwanted moire effect) but, overall, the transfer quality is noticeably better than the previous boxed-set release. The audio is a recreation of the original Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix and it sounds great.
And what of that 3-D episode? Yes, this boxed set contains the closing 3-D adventure, originally broadcast on NBC as a one-hour season finale yet split into two 30-minute shows here (more on that during the Rebuttal Witness statement). The 3-D effect, originally created and televised using the Pulfrich method—using glasses that contain a dark lens and a clear lens, the image from the dark lens reaching the brain slightly slower than the clear lens, thereby creating the illusion of a 3-D effect—looks just OK. Don't expect anything near the eye-popping effects of a theme park or IMAX attraction but, as far as cardboard glasses in the home go, this looks all right and is certainly easier on the ol' orbs than the red/blue anaglyph method (as you saw in Spy Kids 3-D). The effects themselves, presented only during dream sequences a la 1961's The Mask, are more creatively managed utilizing evocative camera usage, digital effects, and ambient elements to provide natural elements of depth, much like Hitchcock used in Dial M for Murder and thankfully not as annoyingly imposed as in the likes of 1982's Jaws 3-D. You'll be prompted to put on or remove your glasses thanks to a superimposed signal that appears in the lower right-hand corner of the screen (modified here from the original broadcast's gloved hand placing the Barq's-sponsored glasses over the NBC peacock logo). For best effect, darken your viewing room and adjust your monitor's contrast and brightness a tad higher, then sit back and enjoy the reasonably pleasing result. Unfortunately, you'll be watching alone since this release only comes with a single pair of viewing glasses. If you still have pairs of Barq's Root Beer glasses (available from Little Caesar's Pizza restaurants at the time of original broadcast), you'll be happy to know those will still work. Unfortunately, neither the DVD insert nor the Anchor Bay web site provides any information on how to purchase additional pairs.
The extras in this set are very similar to those included on the Season 1 release, beginning with a sit-down interview with John Lithgow in which he discusses various aspects of the show, the fun he and the cast had on the set, and how grossly under-appreciated the writing staff was (despite the eight Emmy nominations—with 5 wins—in 1997, writing was never acknowledged). Next up are the various TV spots, those "bumpers" used to promote each week's episode. "Season 2 Highlights" is a short compilation of excerpts from the 26 episodes (and largely uninteresting). Then you'll enjoy ten minutes of Season 2 bloopers where the cast struggles to get through various scenes, the best being that revealing moment from "Same Old Song and Dick." Specific to the 3-D adventure, you'll see the behind-the-scenes featurette and bloopers for the "Nightmare on Dick Street" finale, the same material that was included in the special NBC-offered videotape. There's also an alternate ending to the 3-D episode. The included booklet is fully of witty material that you may enjoy reading and the outer slipcase features a talking chip similar to the first boxed-set, although the one reviewed here didn't work, apparently a common technical shortcoming of the slipcase design. As with the first release, there are no audio commentaries, sadly.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The big gripe about Anchor Bay's Season 1 release is that the set consisted of edited syndication-length episodes (excising around two minutes from each show). Here again, some of the Solomons' escapades have been left on the cutting room floor as these also appear to be from the same unwanted source. While most original episodes weren't available for cross checking, I was able to compare this version of the 3-D episode with the one I taped from the original broadcast. As stated, the original show was a one-hour "spectacular" yet is split into two shows here due to syndication editing and repackaging. I was able to determine that the Jehovah's Witness encounter from the original is missing in this DVD edition. Again, this is totally unacceptable, releasing altered episodes without any disclaimer to be found on the packaging or within the actual program material. The folks at Carsey-Werner seem to be unreasonably withholding rights to original broadcast-length material and it's a major problem.
3rd Rock from the Sun is still one of the funniest shows ever to reach the small screen and is definitely worth watching again. Sadly, the fact that these are shortened episodes makes it difficult to recommend a purchase here. Rent these discs, for certain, but purchase only if your life depends on it.
The cast and crew are again acknowledged and warmly thanked for providing a humorously candid view of the human condition through alien eyes. The folks at Anchor Bay Entertainment and Carsey-Warner Distribution are sentenced to further probing with sharp and shiny surgical instruments in an effort to discover why their misleading manner has gone as yet unchecked.
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