Judge Erich Asperschlager is not Rachem.
Our reviews of Friends: The Complete First Season (published June 11th, 2002), Friends: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) (published May 7th, 2013), Friends: The Complete Second Season (published September 16th, 2002), Friends: The Complete Third Season (published June 18th, 2003), Friends: The Complete Fourth Season (published August 8th, 2003), Friends: The Complete Eighth Season (published February 2nd, 2005), Friends: The Complete Ninth Season (published May 18th, 2005), Friends: The Complete Tenth Season (published November 28th, 2005), Friends: The Complete Series (Blu-ray) (published November 26th, 2012), Friends: The Complete Series Collection (published January 24th, 2007), Friends: The One With All The Babies (published April 26th, 2006), Friends: The One With All The Birthdays (published May 31st, 2006), and Friends: The One With All The Weddings (published May 10th, 2006) are also available.
"Your tailor is a very bad man!"
In the '90s, NBC had the two biggest sitcoms on television in Seinfeld and Friends. The duo did more than anchor the network's Thursday lineup. They also marked a divide in the history of sitcoms. On the one side, Seinfeld's high concept humor, which paved the way for single camera shows like Arrested Development, Community, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. On the Friends side, the continuation of the traditional studio audience format that still reigns supreme on CBS and basic cable.
For this and other reasons, Friends has gotten a bad rap. Not everything about the show holds up. It feels old fashioned in spots, often goes for easy laughs, and (fair comparison or not) just isn't as good as its "must see" counterpart. Even so, there's a lot to like about Friends: The Complete Second Season, hitting Blu-ray in a single season set following last year's release of the full series in HD.
Facts of the Case
It took a good chunk of Friends' first season for the show to catch on, but by the end of that year it was huge. Fans tuned into the second season premiere eager to learn the fate of Rachel's mad dash to the airport to declare her love for Ross. So begins one of the show's best seasons, a greatest hits collection of characters, running gags, and storylines that laid the foundation for the rest of the series. Ross and Rachel, Monica and Richard, Joey and Days of Our Lives, Phoebe and "Smelly Cat," Chandler and Joey's handsy tailor. It may not have your favorite episode, but there are way more hits than misses in the 24 entries included here:
It's hard now to look back at David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox, Matthew Perry, and Lisa Kudrow without conjuring images of post-series struggles, failed marriages, and career comebacks. Back in 1995, though, they were among the biggest stars on TV, and watching these old episodes it's clear why. Even if you don't love Friends, it's hard to deny the cast's chemistry. In large groups or paired off for subplot high jinks, these six characters banter, bicker, and gossip like real pals. Their rapport is why we care when Joey moves out of Chandler's apartment or when Ross and Rachel finally…you know.
In addition to the core group of characters, Friends: The Complete Second Season has plenty of celebrity guest stars, including Jean-Claude Van Damme, Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Chris Isaak, Michael McKean, and Charlie Sheen. Some pop by just long enough to feel like a sweeps week stunt—the post-Super Bowl episode is especially bad—but others make their mark on the series. Adam Goldberg didn't come back after his three-episode arc as Chandler's crazy roommate Eddie, but it's a memorable turn. Phoebe's half brother Frank Jr., played by Giovanni Ribisi, didn't join the cast until later seasons but he first appeared in Season Two at the end of Phoebe's quest to find her real father. The season's most important guest star is Tom Selleck, who plays Monica's older love interest, Richard. Their relationship feels like stunt casting at first, but builds to an affecting emotional climax in the season finale. Selleck's Richard never quite gels with the rest of the cast but he is cool and charming enough to be one of the best things about Season Two.
The big news when Friends arrived on Blu-ray were the transfers. Warner Bros. went back to the original 35mm source, giving fans their first look at the episodes in full widescreen, not cropped for 4:3 televisions—although sadly not the extended cuts previously available on DVD. The Second Season's 1.78:1 1080p video transfer is deceptive. It's about on par with modern HD sitcoms. The colors are vibrant and detail is decent, but it's hardly revelatory until you remember that this season is almost 20 years old. The widescreen presentation is nice in theory. The extra visual information doesn't change the episodes. It just fills your TV nicely. The audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1. It's not lossless, which matters more in A/V forum debates than it does in practice. The season looks better than it has before. It's up to you to decide whether the tradeoffs are worth it.
Speaking of tradeoffs, Friends: The Complete Second Season is also missing two audio commentaries, virtual apartment tour, and trivia game from the DVD. What's left are three weak bonus features:
• "Friends of Friends" (11:12): A collection of scenes from episodes you just watched, featuring Dan Castellaneta, Chrissie Hynde, Chris Isaak, Michael McKean, Giovanni Ribisi, Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Tom Selleck, Charlie Sheen, Marlo Thomas, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Fred Willard. The only reason to watch is to see what these scenes used to look like in fullscreen standard def.
• "What's Up With Your Friends?" (7:50): Gunther introduces this montage of moments for each of the six main characters.
• "Smelly Cat Video" (1:49): The uncut "Smelly Cat" video from "The One Where Eddie Moves In."
Friends is the Coldplay of sitcoms. Both get a crazy amount of hate, and both are things I enjoy at the right times and in the right amounts. Watching The Complete Second Season on Blu-ray is a mixed bag. The episodes look good, and the laughs are still there, but a lot has happened in TV comedy since 1994. The laugh track format hangs on by Chuck Lorre's sheer will, but for the most part single camera rules today. If that shift makes you rethink Friends, I suggest you hold judgment until you've had a chance to revisit the series in hi-def. It's not the ideal experience—with missing extended episodes and bonus features marring an otherwise excellent set—but it's worth a second look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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