There once was a show in Nantucket, as funny as pigs in a bucket. Judge Jim Thomas is his name, judging is his game...so why don't you just go read the review?
Between desire and madness, there lies…Wings
That rather odd line is from a network promo that parodied a Calvin Klein Obsession commercial. They used the same style, the same odd lighting, the same flowing clothes, everything, all leading up to that one line. It was brilliant. It's also not included on the DVDs, dammit.
Wings: The Fifth Season tries to let the characters (must…resist…obvious…don't go there…) spread their wings, with mixed results. (I'm weak; sue me.)
Another solid outing from our friends in Nantucket.
Facts of the Case
When last we saw the wacky guys from Sandpiper Air, things were settling down a bit. Older brother Joe (Tim Daly, Private Practice) had stopped competing with his brother Brian (Steven Weber, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) for the affections of bombshell helicopter pilot Alex (Farrah Forke, Heat). In this fifth season, things are starting to change: Brian is dealing with the joys and perils of monogamy, Joe starts thinking about expanding his business, and Helen Chappel (Crystal Bernard, Young Doctors in Love) finds an ultra-rich boyfriend.
We get twenty-four episodes on four discs:
Wings was pretty much the Rodney Dangerfield of NBC's "Must See TV" lineup. Spending the bulk of its eight-year run sandwiched between Cheers and ER, most people wrote it off as just the runt of the litter, a weak imitation of Cheers that only survived off the coattails of its bigger siblings. The reality, however, is that Wings was a solid show. It never reached the heights of an underappreciated gem like NewsRadio, for example, but the show combined sharp writing with quality acting week in and week out.
Reviews of the previous seasons pretty much covered the Cheers pedigree; no need to cover that again. I do want to say a few words about the cast though. Tim Daly and Steven Weber nail the brother dynamic throughout the series, and play off one another well. Weber's Brian Hackett is a walking mass of barely controlled impulses, and following those impulses generally gets him and everyone else into hot water. Daly's Joe Hackett, on the other hand, wishes Brian would act more responsibly, so that Joe can go nuts once in a while. That's the part that makes a control freak like Joe likable—he has the same impulses as Brian; he just does a better job of controlling them. It's no surprise that both have worked steadily since Wings ended—Weber, in fact, played one of the few consistently watchable characters on last season's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Thomas Haden Church (Sideways) plays the dim-bulb character that has become pretty much a fixture in sitcoms (Coach, then Woody, on Cheers, Bull on Night Court, Joey Tribbiani, Gilligan, etc.). This character often turns into a stereotype, but Church turns savant-mechanic/chef Lowell into a force of nature. Rolex should have timing as good as Tony Shalhoub (Monk), who plays Antonio.
Standout good episodes include:
• "Terminal Jealousy"—It's a slow day, and for jollies Roy drops insidious little hints in everyone's ears. Soon everyone is at each other's throats—until they discover the puppetmaster.
• "Joe Blows (part 1 and 2)"—Joe finally loses it, and heads down to Key West, leaving Brian trying to keep the airline afloat by himself. Part I features an odd nod to Sunset Boulevard.
• "2 Good 2 B 4 Gotten"—Joe's convinced that a former classmate has returned to stalk him, but no one will believe him. Valerie Mahaffey guest stars in a role that she would reprise several times in the remaining seasons.
• "Say Uncle, Carlton"—Carlton Blanchard (William Hickey, Prizzi's Honor), a rich, demanding customer who first appeared in the previous season, returns, along with his equally annoying nephew (Gilbert Gottfried).
• "Happy Holidays"—It's a somewhat uneven Christmas episode, but all is forgiven when Fay (Rebecca Schull), who has kept everyone busy with various holiday demands, starts channeling Captain Queeg.
As with the previous seasons, picture quality is decent. Colors are vibrant, and hold up better than I expected. There are no flaws that leap off the screen at you, just a slight graininess here and there. Still, you'd think that Paramount could take a small stack of gold-pressed latinum from their ill-gotten Star Trek gains and clean this stuff up! The sound is a basic Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, perfectly serviceable for a sitcom.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Extras. As in, there aren't any. Zip. Nada. Diddley. Bupkis. How cool would it be to get the main cast together for a commentary track for a couple of episodes? This show started many of these careers; surely they'd be interested.
Even a little thing like having the original theme music play over the menu would have been nice, but alas, it was not to be; all we get is silence.
With the benefit of hindsight (not to mention syndication), the parallels with Cheers are obvious. Given that most sitcoms, all the way back to I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show (the quintessential home and workplace comedies, respectively), have mined the same situations over and over again, some parallels are to be expected. But the most glaring examples always seem to occur with the two younger female characters, Helen and Alex. Helen's relationships are pretty similar to those of Rebecca Howe's: You know she's going to screw it up eventually, the only question is how. And Alex has one or two scenes here and there that were pretty much swiped outright from the "Sam chases Rebecca" days. To their credit, the writers keep the recycling to a minimum (particularly when most of them were writing for Cheers and Wings at the same time).
One other annoyance is to be found in small type on the back of the box: "Some episodes may be edited from their original network versions." "May"? The DVDs have been released; either episodes have been edited or they haven't. Usually when that happens, there's a problem with getting rights to incidental music used in the show. Music rights have been an ongoing problem for shows made in the '90s; if that's the case, tell us upfront what has been cut so that we can make an informed decision.
Wings: The Fifth Season doesn't quite measure up to the previous seasons, but it doesn't really matter. Sitting down with this set is like having a group of old friends stop by for a visit. Good times, people. Good times.
For its utter lack of extras on this otherwise good set, Paramount is hereby sentenced to fly AeroMass from now on.
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