We're concerned that our own Judge Dennis Prince may have been abducted and probed by marauding aliens; this is the first ever review where he's awarded a judgment scoring of 100. We'd better check the basement for pods, too!
Our reviews of 3rd Rock From The Sun: Season Two (published October 25th, 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.
Female Caller: Gary, I have been sucked up by aliens many times.
And so it begins, the adventure of four aliens from deep space who have acquired human bodies and are on a mission to assimilate among mankind to learn more about the quirky and capricious Earthlings. Carefully disguised as three normal men and one woman, the aliens are assured they can move among this planet's inhabitants without being discovered.
High Commander: Everyone fully formed?
Facts of the Case
Having safely landed and acquired human form in the area of Rutherford, Ohio, the aliens set about to mix in and fit in to better study Earthlings. Their High Commander, Dick Solomon (John Lithgow, Blow Out, Twilight Zone: The Movie) gains himself a faculty job at nearby Pendleton State University; highly decorated Lieutenant Sally Solomon (Kristen Johnston, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) is an accomplished military leader attempting to appear a normal domestic female, just as soon as he/she can get used to having breasts; Senior Information Officer Tommy Solomon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Treasure Planet) is trying to manage a convincing appearance as a 13-year-old high school student while simultaneously trying to tame the perpetual "circus in [his] pants"; and Transmitter/Receiver Harry Solomon (French Stewart, Love Stinks) came along because, well, there was an extra seat on the aliens' interplanetary craft. Now he busies himself with deciphering human behavior and pop culture pontifications.
The troupe rents an attic apartment from the once-voluptuous, now varicose Mrs. Dubcek (Elmarie Wendel, Rumpelstiltskin) who, despite the Solomons' strange behavior and odd inquiries, serves as unwitting den mother, patiently explaining the ways and means of the human race as she vainly attempts to retain an arthritic grasp on her own fleeting youth. Meanwhile, back at the university, Dick is captivated and ultimately enraptured by the self-absorbed and slyly seductive Dr. Mary Albright (Jane Curtin, Saturday Night Live) while unknowingly annoying the outspoken office secretary, Nina Campbell (Simbi Khali, She TV). And while all those around them waver between annoyance and affection for these odd Solomons, the travelers persist in making sense of the whole human race.
And ya gotta wish them a lotta luck, 'cause no one here has been able to figure out mankind yet.
3rd Rock from the Sun appeared as a mid-season replacement in January 1996 and proved to be a most welcome breath of fresh air (this was at a time when prime-time slums like Melrose Place and Beverley Hills 90210 were stinking up the otherwise creative airspace of Mad About You and the enduring The Simpsons). While the hyper-cynical attitude that would ultimately stigmatize the smug 90s was yet to fully infiltrate our culture, 3rd Rock from the Sun presciently arrived to hold up a mirror to each of us for a fast self-examination. Somehow, TV audiences enjoyed such auto-analysis because this mid-season sleeper ran for six years and delivered 139 episodes.
The show's charm clearly lies within the cast that delivered it. The usually dour and villainous John Lithgow leaped out of his usual character and delivered an absolutely spot-on performance as the vainly over-confident yet analytically self-deprecating High Commander. Although Information Officer Tommy was significantly older, Dick reminds his former superior that, on Earth, size matters. When not commanding his counterparts to mingle among the Earthlings and learn all there is to know about them, Dick is busy trying to make sense of these distracting and new-found "feelings" that seem to run counter to what his superior intellect would ordinarily tell him. Always eager to experiment within the vast conundrum known as the human condition, Dick throws himself headlong into every experience, from pretentious faculty parties to hypocritically aggrandizing women's rallies to struggles with his own mid-life crisis. Through it all, Lithgow as Dick sails unrestrained into every situation and, thanks to an unexpected precise comedic timing, generates the shows biggest laughs. His foil, the aloof Dr. Mary Albright, is played with sneering insensitivity (with the occasional chink in the armor being unwittingly exposed) by former Not Ready for Prime-Time Player, Jane Curtin. Borrowing from her steely-eyed Weekend Update alter-ego, Curtin's mouth fires like a loose cannon, inflicting verbal assault and emotional fallout wherever the opportunity might arise. The pleasure in this is watching how the clueless Dick constantly—if not unknowingly—thwarts Dr. Albright's assailing nature.
Back at the apartment, Kristen Johnson likewise throws herself into the role of a formerly male military leader now inhabiting the big sexy body of a bodacious bombshell. Johnson plays the innate clumsiness and discomfort that we'd expect to accompany a recent bodily acquisition like this apparent ease and deft comedic mannerism. While she's certainly a sight behold, she's also an imposing character to contend with. Whether she's being sexy or sadistic, Johnson fills out the role of Sally in all the ways and in all the right places. (This first season also introduces Wayne Knight's character of the bumbling-but-bold Officer Don Orville to whom Sally takes an unexpected liking.)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt started the series at the young age of 14 yet showed a command over the material and his character, the painfully pubescent Tommy, from the first episode. Whether well trained or just a fast learner, Levitt played his role well, from reeling in reaction to the uncontrollable pangs in his nether region to behaving as the dutiful doormat to the obnoxiously enlightened girlfriend, August. French Stewart, as Harry, plays bewilderment to the highest level of near self-implosion. With squint-eyed innocence and un-metered awkwardness, Stewart delivers an unexpected hit performance that would later land him additional appearances in commercials and voice-over roles. Although initially regarded the tag-along on the mission, it later becomes clear that Harry is the ever-important psychic link to the aliens' highest commander, The Big Giant Head.
As for the rest, Simbi Khali has a rapier wit and a razor-sharp tongue in her portrayal of Nina while Elmarie Wendel sashays about with the confidence of an erstwhile elegance, beautifully unaware of the toil time has taken on her outer appearance. In all, it's an ensemble cast that assembled perfectly to deliver genuine, non-stop laughs that are just as relevant and even more enjoyable today. The show hit its stride in the very first episode and never flinched over the course of its flagship season. Inside this long-awaited boxed set release, you'll find these first 20 episodes waiting:
• "Brain and Eggs"
• "Lonely Dick"
• "Angry Dick"
• "Selfish Dick"
Each episode is presented in a 1.33:1 full frame format as originally televised and each looks generally quite vibrant. There were some rather noticeable compression artifacts (bordering on distracting) in the way of macroblocking during the set's first several episodes but, thankfully, that problem seemed to subside deeper into the second disc. The colors are certainly rich and robust while the detail level is high (with the occasional unwanted moire effect visible). The audio is a recreation of the original Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix that sounds great and is well balanced to maintain clarity and intelligibility among the show's score, sound effects, laugh track, and dialogue.
The extras, all found on Disc Four, are generous indeed (though not necessarily "out of this world"). First up is a fun blooper reel, complete with running frame references on screen. Following that are some additional behind-the-scenes clips that are fun to see, watching the cast interact both in and out of character. There's a whole bevy of individual cast interviews (each runs just under five minutes) where the actors provide responses to questions of various sort from an off-camera interviewer. There's nothing terribly fascinating in these one-sided chats but they're entertaining just the same. Then there's a 10-minute highlight reel of compiled excerpts from the Season One episodes and DVD-ROM content where you, too, can read along with the Solomons thanks to four printed teleplay transcripts (available in Adobe Reader .pdf format). Each disc includes a static episode selection menu which includes NBC promo spots for each episode (unfortunately, they're not all first-run promos). Sorely missed, though, are audio commentaries.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So in case you've been living under a rock or have just returned from a sojourn to the stars, the major grumble against this otherwise well-constructed presentation is the fact that the episodes presented here are the shortened syndication versions. Yes, a tidy two minutes have been surgically excised from each episode, rendering this set about as appealing as home-made VHS copies (unless those would be first-run, non-edited episodes). Anchor Bay isn't readily 'fessing up to this injurious insult and is even fudging this fact with misleading box text reading, "…these 20 full-length episodes…" Lie! This is fast becoming the bane of long-awaited TV-on-DVD releases. Anchor Bay has some explaining to do and reparations to make before the release of the Season Two set, slated for October 25, 2005. However, this seems to be the studio's sole official response to the unacceptable situation:
"The issue that exists is the originally aired episodes vs. syndicated episodes. We were only permitted to distribute the syndicated version of the series, which is what is on the DVD. Carsey-Werner (the licensor of the series) maintains the rights to the originally aired broadcast & it is their decision whether or not those will ever be released. If we are ever able to secure these rights from them, we will certainly do so."—Anchor Bay
That's fine, but clearly Anchor Bay is reticent to be so forthcoming in their release notes, knowing this situation will not sit well with impassioned collectors and will surely impact sell-through rates. I wonder what Dick might have to say about this unscrupulous human trickery?
3rd Rock from the Sun is certainly a "laugh out loud" pleasure to behold as the laughs are rib-tickling and rapid-fire. The syndicated edits are not terribly obvious but the mere knowledge that these episodes are incomplete immediately mars this release and keeps it from being truly desirable and worthy of a position of high esteem in a collector's library.
The cast and crew are hereby acknowledged and warmly thanked for providing us frail humans another opportunity for self-examination of the most hilarious kind. For the folks at Anchor Bay Entertainment and Carsey-Warner Distribution, well, may they be duly probed, prodded, and violated for their lack of sincerity and requisite shame over trying to pull a fast one over the lower life-forms known as "consumers." Appalling!
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