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Case Number 05318

Buy Ellen: The Complete First Season at Amazon

Ellen: The Complete First Season

A&E // 1994 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Elizabeth Skipper (Retired) // October 6th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge Elizabeth Skipper wishes she spoke Whale.

Editor's Note

Our review of Ellen: The Complete Season Two, published June 15th, 2005, is also available.

The Charge

Back when she was straight…

Opening Statement

…or at least her character was. Maybe it's that I now know that Ellen—both the actress and the character—is a lesbian, or maybe it's that my gaydar is more honed than it was when I was sixteen and this first season of Ellen aired, because watching these episodes for the first time since then, I wonder how I ever could have believed Ellen as a heterosexual. She is thrown together with many a man in the 13 episodes of season one, and she has absolutely no chemistry with a single one of them. In fact, it's almost painful to watch her awkwardly try to pretend she's enjoying herself with them.

And, not to fall prey to stereotypes, but how could she possibly be straight with clothes like that?

Facts of the Case

The first season of Ellen, comprising 13 episodes, is the story of a group of friends: Ellen (Ellen DeGeneres, Finding Nemo), Adam (Arye Gross), Holly (Holly Fulger), and, for the first seven episodes, Anita (Maggie Wheeler).

• "Pilot"
Ellen has a tragic driver's license photo taken and goes to ridiculous lengths for a better one. Holly starts dating a new guy.

• "The Promotion"
Trying to kiss up to her boss, Ellen instead puts her foot in her mouth and ends up in a Mexican prison.

• "The Refrigerator"
Adam and Ellen decide to replace their old refrigerator. Adam is rear-ended and stumbles onto an insurance scam.

• "The Mugging"
Adam's date is mugged outside his building, but he's too afraid to help her.

• "The Anchor"
Ellen's new call-waiting gets her in trouble with her friend Audrey (who becomes a major supporting character in later seasons).

• "The Class Reunion"
Ellen and Adam pretend to be married for her high-school reunion, but the plan backfires when she meets an interesting man.

• "The Tape"
Anita and her boyfriend tape themselves having sex and stash the tape in Ellen's apartment. Meanwhile, Ellen worries that her date may have called her while using the bathroom.

• "The Boyfriend Stealer"
Ellen gets a promotion and supervises her first employee, Joe (who also becomes a major supporting character in later seasons). Holly's boyfriend hits on Ellen.

• "The Soft Touch"
Ellen impulsively buys a new car and gets the salesman fired when she tries to change her mind.

• "A Kiss is Still a Kiss"
Holly, Adam, and Ellen answer personal ads. Ellen's date is perfect until she discovers he's a terrible kisser.

• "The Go-Between"
Ellen sets Adam up with her boss and suffers the consequences.

• "The Hand that Robs the Cradle"
Ellen dates a guy who's eight years younger than she is.

• "The Houseguest"
Ellen's cousin, Tracy, visits and has a miserable time in Los Angeles.

The Evidence

When this first season of Ellen aired, it was called These Friends of Mine and was marketed as an ensemble show. It was supposed to be the next Seinfeld, but with gender reversal. As you will find if you watch this season, it didn't quite work. It had potential, but in its 13 episodes it never gelled into something that could be called funny.

Still, it had moments, glimmers of potential. When Ellen starts singing along to "Build Me Up, Buttercup," which is apparently playing while she's on hold, and Adam joins in, it's amusing. But when she is quite obviously finally taken off hold at the exact moment she's really started to get into the song, her reaction is priceless. And, of course, watching Ellen try to install her own water cooler jug, spilling it all over the kitchen before putting it in place, and then dispensing the one remaining drop into a glass and drinking it, shows a hint of her talent for physical comedy, when given the opportunity. If only those opportunities had been more prevalent in these episodes.

This lackluster season is accompanied by a mere two extras, neither of which does anything to improve the quality of this set. The first is an audio commentary on "Pilot" with Holly Fulger and Arye Gross. They're boring, and, frankly, I don't care about them. Why couldn't they get Ellen to talk about the show that propelled her to stardom? The second is text biographies of Ellen DeGeneres, Holly Fulger, Arye Gross, and Maggie Wheeler, although bios shouldn't count as extras.

Finally, the transfers are what can only be referred to as standard TV transfers. They're just good enough to be completely unnoticeable, which, when you think about, is all that can really be asked from a DVD of a half-hour sitcom. The full-frame video transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio transfer are, like so many before them, utterly adequate.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

At last, the studios are learning that TV shows on DVD need chapter stops too. For too long, hitting skip would take you to the end of the episode or to a random point in the middle, but not allow you to skip past the opening theme directly to the next scene (or, as in the first seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for some episodes it would and for others it wouldn't). Now, on sets like this first season of Ellen, we're finally beginning to see logical and consistent chapters. It's a minor detail, I'll admit, but for a semi-barebones release of a half-hour sitcom, it's a pleasant surprise.

Closing Statement

The only reason I can see to buy this set is if you've decided to buy the third and fourth seasons (aka "Ellen: The Gay Years") and you're a completist. Otherwise, I just can't imagine anyone finding these episodes funny enough to own. Spend your money on some Ellen DeGeneres stand-up comedy discs, instead, and watch the comedian where she really belongs.

The Verdict

Ellen is found guilty of squandering the efforts of a talented comedian, but because it then went on to change the face (and the sexuality) of TV for the better, it is hereby pardoned of this and all other crimes.

Case dismissed.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 25
Acting: 88
Story: 84
Judgment: 81

Perp Profile

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary on Pilot with Holly Fulger and Arye Gross
• Text Bios of Ellen DeGeneres, Holly Fulger, Arye Gross, and Maggie Wheeler


• IMDb

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