Jane! Judge Bill Treadway is caught in the space treadmill again!
Our review of The Jetsons: Season 2, Volume 1, published June 2nd, 2009, is also available.
Go back to the future—and meet the original space-age family!
With the success of two Hanna-Barbera box sets, Warner Bros. has decided to return to their vast libraries for another trip down memory lane. While the initial March wave featured two of the most popular animated series of all time, Warner Bros. has now opted to showcase one of the so-called minor series. The Jetsons has never commanded great respect in the world of television, yet it has a cult following whose loyalty inspired a revival 23 years after the first season premiered. The long-forgotten first season is finally available in a fresh DVD box set. Is the show worth a reappraisal?
Facts of the Case
Although the show is not as well known as The Flintstones, the basic story for The Jetsons is still familiar to devoted animation fans. For the uninitiated, here is a brief description:
In futuristic Orbit City lives a family of five named the Jetsons. Patriarch George works three-hour days for the Spacely Sprockets factory, run by the cantankerous Cosmo Spacely. George's wife, Jane, tends to her push-button home and complains about what hard work it is. Teenage daughter Judy is a typical American teenager. Well, as typical as girls from the future can be. Six-and-a-half-year-old Elroy is a boy genius, always tinkering with technology to make great leaps in the future. Always tagging along is his faithful dog, Astro.
If there's one Hanna-Barbera series that hasn't commanded much respect, it's The Jetsons. The program has suffered from comparison with the more popular Flintstones, and it is easy to see why. Both debuted as prime-time animated series in a time when the format was in its infancy. Both deal with a family in a defining time period and use their premise to lampoon then-contemporary life. However, it is unfair to compare the two programs. The Flintstones was a much more straightforward comedy, laced with satire and rich gags. The Jetsons is a much more cerebral show, tilted more toward fantasy/sci-fi than straight comedy.
Why did The Jetsons only last the 1962-63 season while its companion show retained intense popularity? I think the basic premise had a great deal to do with it. While comedy appeals to all types of demographics, science fiction has a limited appeal. Even when you add comic satire to it, there are only a certain number of people who would be willing to watch a program with a futuristic premise. Well, you might ask me "Bill, what about Lost in Space?" One could make an argument that this series disproves my theory, but it only lasted three seasons, remember, and those seasons were ratings challenged. Plus it was live action, which has always been easier for viewers to accept than animation. Also, keep in mind that the television landscape has always been a changing one. Bill Goldman summed it up quite nicely in his book Adventures in the Screenwriting Trade: "No one knows anything."
I have always liked The Jetsons. While I concede that it is nowhere near as great as The Flintstones, it is a likable, often entertaining program. Granted, there are a few dud episodes here, particularly when the writers try to stretch a five-minute sketch into a full 24 minutes. For the most part, however, the episodes are well written, with wit and humanity. The vocal talent is strong, particularly George O'Hanlon as milquetoast George Jetson and Mel Blanc as Spacely.
The rebirth of The Jetsons occurred when the show debuted in syndication in 1985. In order to mesh with the newly made episodes, Hanna-Barbera made changes to the original first-season episodes for those airings. They changed the original theme music so that it had a more uptempo beat. They also added title cards to identify the actual authors of the scripts as well as the titles of each episode, and they edited some scenes to accommodate commercial breaks. Finally, they dropped the original end credits in favor of a more accurate credit sequence. For the DVD, Warner Bros. has reached a compromise. They have reinstated the cut footage, end credits, and original theme music but have retained the1985 title cards. I applaud Warner Bros. for leaving the title cards in, since the original 1962-63 season only credited one author: Tony Benedict. While Benedict did write several episodes, the fact is that many writers were responsible for the Jetsons' adventures, among them Harvey Bullock and R.J. Allen, who scripted the horrible 1969 adaptation of Woody Allen's Don't Drink the Water, and Howard Morris, who contributed vocal talent to the program. (Trivia note: Morris directed the aforementioned Water.) It is nice to see the real authors get their due after years in uncredited limbo.
Before we move on, I must add that the less said about Jetsons: The Movie the better.
All 24 episodes from the first season are presented complete and uncut on four discs. Ratings are on a scale of one to five stars. Those of you expecting to see Elroy's cute alien pal Orbitty here should turn around. He appeared much later, when the second season of the program debuted in 1985. So if you purchase this set in anticipation of seeing him, don't say I didn't warn you.
•"Rosie the Robot"
•"A Date with Jet Screamer"
•"The Space Car"
•"The Coming of Astro"
•"Jetsons Night Out"
•"The Good Little Scouts"
•"The Flying Suit"
•"Elroy's TV Show"
•"A Visit from Grandpa"
•"Astro's Top Secret"
•"The Little Man"
•"Jane's Driving Lesson"
•"Miss Solar System"
•"TV or Not TV"
Warner presents The Jetsons in full frame. One of my main complaints about their Flintstones box set was the lack of restoration of the episodes themselves, and I'm sorry to report that the situation has not changed in this release. No cleanup was done on the episodes whatsoever. You will see an abundance of scratches, specks, and assorted blemishes throughout. However, there are some good things to report about the transfers. The colors look sharper, bolder, and brighter than they have in years. If you've seen them on television or video, just wait until you see these episodes here. Also, the source material was much better for The Jetsons than The Flintstones. Although the aforementioned dirt is still present, it isn't as overwhelming or plentiful as in The Flintstones.
Audio is a mediocre Dolby Digital 1.0 mono mix. I understand that the original program was mixed for monaural sound. However, does that provide a good enough reason to skimp on the sound mix? The audio sounds tinny and flat, with the exception of the main title sequence. I've heard some incredible mono mixes for television. Why not make the extra effort to make sure the audio sounds good?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you've read previous reviews of Hanna-Barbera box sets, you'll know that extras are a department that desperately needs improvement. They haven't improved on the formula yet. The best of the extra features are two commentary tracks by Janet Waldo, the voice of Judy Jetson, located on "Rosie the Robot" and "A Date With Jet Screamer." Waldo's commentaries are informative and entertaining. I wish she had sat down and recorded more, but I guess we cannot get everything we want. Oh, well.
Three featurettes are also included. The first, "The Jetsons: The Family of the Future," is your standard making-of puff piece. Despite interviews from Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna, and Waldo, this all too brief featurette is no more informative than a brief article in your local TV Guide. The other two featurettes, "Rosie the Robotic Maid" and "Space-Age Gadgets," are cut-and-paste jobs. If I wanted to see clips from assorted episodes tacked together with pedestrian narration, I'd go to a museum. I hope Warner Bros. get their act together and prepare a decent documentary for the second season release.
A cool interactive character bio gallery and previews for other Warner Bros. releases wrap up the extra content for The Jetsons: The Complete First Season. Unlike The Flintstones, there are no television promo spots or vintage commercials here.
The opportunity to own the complete first season of The Jetsons will be too great for some to pass up. However, I wish Warner Bros. hadn't set the retail price as high as they have. $64.95 is way too much money for a program that is still airing on cable television. The fact that no restoration was done on the original masters disturbs me, and with the exception of the commentary tracks, the extra content is pretty much a joke. The main virtue of The Jetsons is that it features the original, uncut versions of the episodes. However, I'm not sure it is worth spending $64.95 just for that.
The program itself is innocent, but Warner is once again found guilty of the same charges The Flintstones: The Complete First Season brought before this court. Let's hope they finally get the hint and get on the ball when it comes to bringing classic television to DVD.
This case is now closed. May God bless you all and no one else.
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