The Art of the Sports Super Agent.
Enjoyable, but not brilliant, The Best of Arli$$ is a mixed bag—always amusing, but never hysterical, always witty, but never exceptional. Good production values and an all-around funny television show, nevertheless, make this a good bargain for any interested in getting on the Arli$$ bandwagon.
Facts of the Case
Arliss Michaels (Robert Wuhl) is the superagent to the stars. In the high-energy, multi-billion dollar world of professional sports management, Arliss is lawyer, advisor, friend, enemy, nursemaid, adversary and ruthless business man to a score of famous athletes under his wing.
Though being paid to represent his clients' "best interests," Arliss Michaels Management—Arliss himself, his partner Kirby (Jim Turner), his personal assistant Rita (Sandra Oh), and financial officer Stanley (Michael Boatman)—manage to strike a comedic balance between furthering their clients' careers and selfishly profiting from their manipulation.
This "best of" collection contains 13 episodes from the seven-season HBO show. In addition, a "who's who" cross section of sports celebrities grace these episodes, including Marcus Allen, Ernie Banks, Yogi Berra, Roger Clemens, Tonya Harding, Juwan Howard, Roy Jones Jr., Tara Lipinski, Tommy LaSorda, Cheryl Miller, Pete Sampras, George Steinbrenner, Dave Winfield, and Barry Zeto. There are some other, not-as-special "regular" guest stars, too—Ed Asner, Seymour Cassel, James Coburn, John Rhys-Davies, and Joe Pantoliano, to name a few.
I remember the first time I saw Arli$$. Now, being Canadian and all, nobody had HBO back in the day; that is, until satellite dishes became as commonplace as say, rooftops.
I was in a hotel room, on a trip years ago, and the hotel room had HBO. This was exciting. I wasn't exactly clear on what HBO was, exactly, but darn it, it seemed to have a lot of cursing.
Sign me up, I thought.
A show named Arli$$ came on. The first thing that I said was, "Holy crap, that's Knox from the Batman movie!" ("That," being Robert Wuhl.) Part curiosity, part loyalty to his shtick in Batman, I kept myself tuned in to the show.
The second thing I said was, "Holy crap, that's Sandra Oh!" (Sandra Oh, being a very talented and prolific Canadian film actress, who I was personally fond of.)
So right away, I said to myself, "I like this show. It's about sports, but that's all right, because I like this show." Determined, I watched episode after episode, until my brother got irritated and took the remote. He said, "Dude, this show sucks," and put something else on.
That was then, and this is now. What I remember of the show was indistinct
and delusional, so I went into the show with an open mind, as if watching it for
the first time. And I was surprised, personally, by the amount of heart in it.
While masquerading as a self-serving, fairly crude sports show, the series has a
surprising level of depth—not particularly deep, but deeper than I
originally gave the show credit for. Arli$$ is actually amusing and
fairly touching, convincing, but rarely corny.
The visual quality of the show fluctuates—colors are good and well represented, but the tonal qualities can shift dramatically from shot to shot. Contrast, likewise, is also good, but shots become more and less grainy, depending on location. At times, the transfer quality is good; other times, not so. Like the other HBO Sex And The City DVDs, the show suffers from a graininess issue, but either the transfer is better, or the problem is simply less evident in Arli$$.
Ironically, segments of the show filmed on video come across cleaner, more vibrant, and more visually pleasing than the majority of the show, which is recorded on film. There is a good reason for this, I am sure, but unfortunately, it eludes me.
The sound is full and rich, mixed in the center channel strongly. Music is well balanced; ambient noise is distinct, but not overpowering. The Dolby 2.0 Surround mix (in both English and Spanish) is mixed well—dialogue is always clear and audible and pleasant to the ear. The sound, as a whole, gets thumbs up.
The episodes selected are of very good quality, which, for fans of the show, include:
That being said, here is what we can learn from The Best of Arli$$: the second and third season of the show sucked, obviously.
Please note, also: the episode listing for the box set is not listed on the external packaging, so unless you read it here before you buy it, you are throwing yourself upon the mercy of HBO and their definition of "best."
Speaking of external packaging, if you were to read the back of the box, here is what you would read: "DVD Added Value! Audio Commentary by Robert Wuhl, Jim Turner, Sandra Oh and Michael Boatman!"
While added value aplenty is certainly implied, the discs absolutely fail to follow through on such lofty unreasonable claims, apparently. What the nice, smart looking packaging fails to inform the consumer is that the "DVD Added Value" yuk-track appears on only one lousy episode, appropriately titled "Moments to Remember."
While I am sure the HBO legal department is sleeping soundly at night, content in knowing that absolutely no law has been broken whatsoever, as a potential consumer, I hate this kind of disinformation. Misleading potential customers is never good business on the long term.
Despite these snafus, when all is said and done, this is an excellent purchase for those who are casually interested in the show, or say, people who saw it once or twice in a hotel room, then forgot about the show for four years (not naming names). Just be sure that you know what episodes you are actually buying, and what "value" you are actually getting.
I found all the episodes to be of excellent enjoyment quality, with little give and take. I actually found the introspective episodes ("Cause and Effect," specifically) to be the most enjoyable—though there are more introspective episodes than extroverted. The manufacturers have selected the best of the heartstring-tugging, socially relevant episodes, it would seem, which is fine by me.
Arli$$ is very much the unintentional spiritual sibling to Sex And The City. While the latter show succeeds based on witty writing, a fair amount of profanity, strong four-person chemistry, and focusing on an appealing subject matter for its gender and age audience, so succeeds Arli$$ (though the show is more often compared to The Larry Sanders Show). The show is even narrated in exactly the same formula—an introspected, omniscient narration by the show's main character, with a moral at the end of every episode.
But forget about that. I mean. This is a show, written for guys, about sports.
This is a no-brainer, for certain. It is a sure bet that basing a show around sports, like basing a show around sex, will make slaves of entire demographics. And yet, Arli$$ never seemed to have the "oomph," the impact, or the cultural relevance that Sex And The City had. (Sex And The City is just a better show. That is my explanation.)
Despite never having seen its proper due, The Best of Arli$$ is an enjoyable offering—its energetic style, funny (if occasionally lowbrow) sense of humor, and countless sports celebrities have made Arli$$ a show worthy of admiration, if not of accolade.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While admittedly an amusing and long running series, it often lacks the grace and charm of some other, more affluent television shows. A lot of times, the show feels thin and overworked. Probably the most annoying gripe is the sentimental, requisite "moment of introspection" music that swells over every single faux-dramatic moment.
While this is not a capital offence (name a television show that doesn't swell the violins over the sappy parts), irritatingly, they use the exact same score for every single dramatic moment. Watching 13 episodes of Arli$$ back-to-back and hearing the same sentimental heartstring tugging music over and over causes the "all-work-and-no-play-make-Adam-a-dull-boy" part of my brain to switch on to autopilot.
The second gripe is the internal navigation. The Best of Arli$$ contains no "play all" feature, which makes extended viewing annoying. Before, this may have been a gracious luxury, but nowadays, every television show DVD set has this feature and one simply grows accustomed to it.
Secondly, each episode occupies only one chapter, which means that navigating a particular episode puts you at the mercy of your DVD player. Those with 400x jog shuttles are surely laughing with mirth, but us poor fools with mere 30x players? Well, we spend a lot of time being annoyed.
Compared to HBO's comparable offering of Sex And The City on DVD, the Arli$$ presentation is on par in terms of production values, but is sorely lacking in technical features.
And since we're griping over here—a "best of" DVD set?
The show must have more casual fans than die-hard ones, because nothing annoys people more than "best of" collections. Most fans want full, uncut seasons of television shows, with lots of extras. And this ain't it.
In the same sense that girls can force their boyfriends to watch Sex And The City, the boys will, for the most part, find enough within the show to enjoy themselves, so goes Arli$$.
While a show centered around a sports superagent may not be your cup of tea, there is a lanky, schoolboy charm to the show, and even those diametrically opposed to the ideology of the show should find enough charm and wit within to have a reasonable good time.
The DVD presentation is tailor-made to attract and lure casual watchers of the show, with its arbitrary selection of 13 "best of" episodes—all very enjoyable, all very well written and executed, but fans of the show be warned: this may not be what you are looking for.
While the "best of" DVD box set format manages to alienate more die-hard fans than it appeases, The Best of Arli$$ is apt to sway the casual, the curious, or the mildly interested into the show.
For those curiosities that are mildly piqued, the court hereby issues complimentary copies* of The Best of Arli$$ for personal use. However, the court does not condone the large-scale migration of serious fans to this DVD, and advises holding out for a more serious offering from HBO.
The court is out like a fat kid playing dodgeball.
* = no actual complimentary copies
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Robert Wuhl, Jim Turner, Sandra Oh, and Michael Boatman
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