Judge Dennis Prince truly believes in the long-lasting potential of a mutually caring relationship...provided beer and the TV remote are always within easy reach.
Our reviews of Mad About You: The Complete First Season (published December 3rd, 2002), Mad About You: The Complete Fourth Season (published June 23rd, 2010), Mad About You: The Complete Fifth Season (published November 17th, 2010), and The Mad About You Collection (published March 2nd, 2005) are also available.
Everybody loves a lover…sometimes.
Fans are breathing a sigh of relief now, seeing that the previous "best of" collection didn't signal an abandonment of proper full-season releases. Following the delivery of the Season One and Season Two compendiums, Sony veered and elected to offer a "choice cuts" set that made it appear the first two seasons of Mad About You didn't do well. But, the ship has been righted, it appears, with this release of Mad About You—The Complete Third Season. So, after a brief hiatus, we rejoin the Buchmans, Paul and Jamie, in their third year of the adventure called "marriage."
Anything can happen.
Facts of the Case
Paul (Paul Reiser, Aliens) and Jamie (Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets) continue their day-to-day exploits as they work to foster and maintain their union amid the trip-ups and trappings of New York City life. Paul's a marginally-employed filmmaker and television director, while Jamie continues work in public relations. To that end, we find the two are still products of their work identities (a common malady afflicting DINKs in the 1990s): Paul is obsessive about risk aversion and careful planning and preparation in everything he does, often to the point of inertia, while Jamie is so manically concerned with how she's perceived by others that she often relinquishes control of her actions to those around her (although she'd never come out and admit it). As they struggle with their own inner conflicts, they also must juggle the emotional baggage that comes by way of Jamie's terminally unemployed sister, Lisa (Anne Ramsay), Paul's cool but clueless cousin, Ira (John Pankow), and both sets of parents. The most adjusted among, truthfully, is Murray, the dog. But Paul and Jamie must be madly in love with each other because, really, why go through all of this?
It's not by accident that Mad About You became one of the most talked about sitcoms of the 1990s, securing 22 Emmy nominations and converting 12 to actual wins over its 8-year run (and that's just the Emmys, mind you). Unlike its peer of the day, Seinfeld, the program hit its mark quickly within its premiere season thanks to the exaggerated yet still incisive sensibility it brought to the matter of marriage and life in the big city. From the show's first episode, the characters of Paul and Jamie work well even though they're not terribly in sync, demonstrating the "getting to know you" phase of the marital commitment. In fact, the humor of the first season is driven by the conflict and confusion that occurs with each "first" that is consummated by the newlyweds. When Season Two rolled around, Paul and Jamie were more accustomed with one another yet were in the realm of "if I had known then what I know now." The amusing anecdotes they act out on the small screen continue to strike chords of familiarity with those of us who have traveled down this road ourselves, therefore ensuring the likeability of the often flappable but always faithful couple. Actors Reiser and Hunt fit this progression of their characters well since they were similarly learning one another over the course of the two seasons. Their natural chemistry worked well to launch the series in the first place (just as with an actual dating couple that decides to take the plunge), but it was apparent the two were not entirely in a groove—that was a benefit to the sort of comedy at hand, by the way.
With Season Three, we see the act getting tighter, the timing becoming more precise, and the exchanges of facial expression able to carry the comedy of a scene. The formula is the same, that being our quirky and quippy couple that is still struggling with personal neuroses and the effect those have on the relationship. They pause along the way to take the park bench view of the relationships around them, learning from more experienced duos who impart nuggets of advice to reassure Paul and Jamie that their situation is no different than any other pairing that has gone before them. To that end, although the show is bent toward the farcical side, obviously, it's still grounded in the reality of relationship dynamics and provides an opportunity for viewers to look on and laugh having already been there and done that. Clearly, the two best episodes on hand, in my opinion, are "Giblets for Murray" in which the dog decides to make an early meal of Jamie's first-ever turkey dinner as she nervously prepares for her first hosting of both families. Second to this one is "Our Fifteen Minutes" in which the self-conscious couple struggles to act naturally as they attempt to capture fifteen minutes of honest interaction. The two-part season finale takes an interesting spin on the premise set forth in It's a Wonderful Life and closes the season on a reasonably high note.
As previously mentioned, those who had faithfully followed the show during its initial run will be glad to see this new full-season set available to own. In this three-disc boxed set, you'll find all 24 episodes of the third season, as follows:
Each episode is presented in the expected original 1.33:1 full frame format, but what's unexpected is the poor image quality. Perhaps this is what we might call the "HD effect," but with picture quality getting better and better these days—either in broadcasts or via upconverting DVD players—the quality of these episodes looks pretty shoddy. I'm sorry to report it but the halo effect is everywhere here in a way I simply didn't expect. Edges are soft and wobbly and the colors, therefore, tend to bleed everywhere. Naturally, the detail level is, well, sub-standard. Given we've seen excellent transfer quality in the previous Mad About You DVD releases, it seems this is just an indifferent approach taken during the mastering process. With that, I'm "Mad At You," whoever was responsible for quality control—that is, lack thereof—on this set. The audio fares much better, preserving the original Dolby Stereo Surround of the original airings. There are no extras, a situation which could be pardonable had efforts been directed at the image itself.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some say that Mad About You is too simple in its approach and relies on formula-driven storylines to deliver its "careful comedy." Clearly, the show works from a framework that entails numerous intertwining story threads in a way that will assure eventual collision (and that, how they say, is when the "hilarity ensues"). This, of course, is the prescription for longevity in the sitcom realm, provided the adopted pattern satisfies viewers (and here, it does). Danger comes, as does swift cancellation, when a show attempts to veer away from its viewers' expectations, intent upon becoming "more relevant" and "more socially responsible" in its message. Mad About You succeeded in avoiding this temptation in the first two-thirds of its run, ultimately falling into the trap of needing to say more in each episode towards the end.
When the humor is light, airy, and even silly, the show works well because it can faithfully represent the trials and tribulations of married life without becoming overly preachy. In fact, it could even work as a sort of therapy to some, offering an absurd look at common marital conflicts and suggesting that a bit of applied silliness might just put matters properly into perspective.
If you're married, you get it. If you've never been married, then this probably isn't your slice of cake.
The hiatus has been a long one but finally we get Mad About You—The Complete Third Season. Fans who have patiently waited for this release won't be disappointed by the show's content, but they should be prepared for a less-than-stellar transfer. Just don't tell Paul and Jamie—it'll likely set them back three years, emotionally.
The cast and crew of Mad About You are found not guilty but the team over at Sony are hereby sentenced to three years of Marriage Encounter therapy.
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