Judge Christopher Kulik hereby declares all sitcoms dealing with menstruation and menopause to be passed.
What do Lana Turner, Carole Lombard, Kim Novak, Lassie, and Cybill Sheridan all have in common?
On January 2nd, 1995, actress Cybill Shepherd would find herself back in the spotlight, this time as executive producer of her own self-titled, semi-autobiographical show. The former model had already made a name for herself with such great films as The Last Picture Show and Taxi Driver. In the mid-1980s, she nabbed the role of Maddie Hayes in Moonlighting opposite a pre-Die Hard Bruce Willis. However, it was Cybill, the latest show from The Carsey-Werner Company (the mastermind producers behind The Cosby Show and Roseanne) which would give Shepherd complete creative control over her own show.
The ratings were phenomenal. The comedy was sophisticated. The cast was irresistible. The show won Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards. Everything seemed to fall into place for Shepherd, as she was starring in a sitcom which wasn't just very funny but also had the guts to break down walls which had previously been censored. She dared to speak honestly about the reality of actresses over 40 struggling to find work, and even addressed women's health issues regarding menopause, periods, and breast cancer. In its own unique way, Cybill was groundbreaking television. And it was cancelled without warning when it was at its most popular.
What happened? Did Shepherd bite off more than she could chew? Did the network get antsy over the show's mature, mildly controversial nature? Or, was the on-set tension between the show's two leading actresses unbearable enough to call it quits? It might have been a little of everything. According to Shepherd, however, it was solely CBS' decision to give the show the axe (immediately concluding a cliffhanger!), because of its increasingly feminist tone and the strong sexual overtones. Cybill's shining moment lasted over three years, yet it seemed to be forgotten within a few years, with shows like Sex And The City eventually picking up the dangling threads. A sad conclusion indeed, not only ending on an unresolved cliffhanger but also not even granted syndication!
Thanks to the wonders of DVD, we can now revisit this gem…even if the treatment is lukewarm at best. Cybill Shepherd herself has fought over a decade for her baby to go digital, and she would probably agree that the victory is hollow. Instead of the complete first season being offered, First Look Studios gives us a "collector's edition," which contains a selection of episodes from all four seasons. That isn't the worst of it, either. Music licensing issues have prevented Cybill's rendition of the Gershwins' "Nice Work If You Can Get It," from being included over the opening credits of each episode, causing a style imbalance on what is original and what has been changed. This is all I'm saying: if overrated slop like Friends can get full season DVDs, then why not Cybill? The latter may not have been popular as the former, but the ratings and awards were damn close to be equal.
For better or worse, however, Cybill: The Collector's Edition, Volume 1 does provide newcomers an adequate-enough introduction to a superior sitcom. Much of the show's comic mileage came from the steaming chemistry between Cybill Sheridan (Shepherd's character) and her hard-drinking, shopaholic sidekick Maryann Thorpe (Christine Baranski, Mamma Mia!). However, Shepherd also got tremendous support from actors Tom Wopat and Alan Rosenberg (who played her ex-husbands) and Dedee Pfieffer and Alicia Witt (who played Cybill's daughters). Still, the real star is Oscar-winner Alan Ball (American Beauty), who wrote many of the show's episodes. Among other things, he supplied sharp wit, girl-power plugs, sardonic class, and biting jabs at Tinseltown to give the show a flowering freshness which was sorely lacking in other 90s sitcoms. For once, here was a show that was smart, sassy, and sexy—yet also intelligent and rebellious—which tapped into women's issues in such a way that even men championed it all the way to the end. Rarely has a show like Cybill nailed feminism to the wall, even if its attitude was largely liberal.
This Collector's Edition contains two discs, with the first containing ten episodes. The first episode ("The Last Temptation of Cybill") is the lone addition from the initial season. It focuses on our heroine dating a younger man (Kevin Sorbo of Hercules fame) who she's been working with on a play…even though she's also currently dating her second ex-husband Ira again; in the meantime, Maryann gets fixated on a naked Elliott Gould via a telescope. Other episodes touch upon Maryann's relationships with Cybill's first ex Jeff ("Bringing Home The Bacon") and her own ex, the aptly named Dr. Dick ("Where's A Harpoon When You Need One" and "Ka-Boom"), who was unseen and always determined to humiliate the ladies. Cybill's youngest daughter Zoey decides not to go to college ("Educating Zoey"), Jeff wants Cybill to be his stereotypical leading lady in a movie where all she does is scream ("Kiss Me You Fool") and Cybill is shocked to discover her face was placed on the cover of The Last Picture Ho ("Cybill Does Diary").
I get a sneaking suspicion First Look merely wants to "test the waters" with this collection. Like the music issues, it really all boils down to the Benjamins. In other words, if this set doesn't sell, then there will be no more volumes…despite the fact that the entire series has already been released on Region 2! Their insistence on not putting the complete first season is really annoying, especially since the continuity is all over the place. For example, Zoey is dating a busboy one episode and in the next, she's ripping up his picture after dating him for months; plus, by the time of the seventh episode, Cybill's married daughter Rachel is gone for no rhyme or reason. The worst effect, however, is the whetting of the appetite without much to consume; even the three bonus episodes on disc two (along with brief interviews with Cybill herself) simply gets the viewer hungering for more.
As for the technical specifications, all of the episodes are presented in their full frame television format. The prints themselves are clean and colorful, with hardly any defects. Audio is more than serviceable in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, and while there are no subtitles most of the episodes are closed captioned. The Cybill interviews are barely interesting, as they insist on utilizing many clips from other episodes not included on the set, which only adds to the anticipation to watch more. Despite her welcome presence, you'd be better off getting the entire series in the Region 2 box set (which is freshly available from Amazon.co.uk), provided you have a Region Free player or laptop to play them on.
While Cybill and her wonderful show are free to go, First Look is found guilty of a lackluster Collector's Edition and is hereby ordered release full seasons from now on with more extras. Court is adjourned!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
• Cybill Shepherd Interview
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