Boy, the way Glenn Miller played.songs that made the hit parade
Guys like us we had it made. Those were the days.
And you knew where you were then! Girls were girls and men were men
Mister, we can use a man like Herbert Hoover again
Didn't need no welfare state; Everybody pulled his weight
Gee, our old LaSalle ran great. Those.were.the.Days!
It was 1968, and Johnny Speight's BBS show "Till Death Us Do Part" had been stirring up controversy in the British Isles for two years: Alf Garnett, the show's lead character, was outspoken - always complaining about the Government, the Royal family, the Church, other religions, other races.and his very own family!
Norman Lear had the opportunity to develop an Americanized version of "Till Death Us Do Part" for US television, and took it. The result was not one but two pilots - both based on the same script - about the adventures of Archie and Edith Justice, played by Carroll O'Conner and Jean Stapleton, and their daughter Gloria and her husband Richard. These were shot in October 1968 (this first pilot has since been lost) and February 1969. Neither one of these set the world on fire at the network.
Third time's the charm
After recasting Gloria to Sally Struthers, and recasting/renaming her husband to Rob Reiner's Michael "Meathead" Stivic, and renaming The Justices to The Bunkers, CBS finally bought the series, and the third shooting of the same script - now titled "Meet The Bunkers" - finally debuted as a mid-season replacement on Tue, Jan. 12, 1971. Four months and 13 episodes later, the show was Lear's first bona fide hit of many. It would be a mainstay of the CBS lineup for 9 seasons, morph into the 3-year-long show "Archie Bunker's Place", and spin off four other series: "Maude", "The Jeffersons", the short-lived "Gloria" (21 shows), and the even-shorter-lived (6 shows!) "704 Hauser Street". It was known as a show that dared to broach subjects that network TV had never approached before (race relations, women's lib, homosexuality, layoffs, unmarried couples, etc.), and also for its many TV firsts (the most infamous of which has to be the 1st audible toilet flush, heard in episode 12).
Like his predecessor across the ocean, Archie Bunker had definite opinions about everyone and everything. He was an outspoken bigot, and called people of other races and religions every despicable name that the network censor would allow them to air: (dare I be politically incorrect to name these words now?) "Pollaks, Spics, Spades, Dagos, Hebes, Gypsies, Fairies, and Pinkos" all got blasted in Archie's wake.
A coworker of mine, upon hearing I was going to review this set, was aghast that anyone would want to "preserve that show on DVD". I found that he meant Archie's bigotry. I responded that Archie's behavior was meant to represent all the wrong ways a person can act, and that this was continuously justified by the astounded reactions of the characters that surrounded Archie, and their efforts to correct him.
This is how I always viewed All In The Family. Growing up and watching this show, I found that Archie was a shining example of what not to be. I listened and learned from the stories, and I learned to keep my mind open - or I like to think so anyway. But Archie did have good lessons to teach that had nothing to do with race and politics. The value of loving family, for example: no matter what his outward appearance was, he was deep down a working-class man who labored hard to provide for and love his wife, his daughter and even his son-in-law.and others who came to the show later.
Earlier I mentioned "The Jeffersons": it's worth noting that Lionel Jefferson showed up in the very first episode of All In The Family (his eye-rolling takes are a sight to behold!), while mother Louise "Weezie" Jefferson didn't appear until episode 8, and father George didn't show up for a couple of seasons! Although he had a good substitute in Henry Jefferson, Louise's brother-in-law and also equal to the task of facing down Archie Bunker, as is seen in the final show of the rookie season.
The DVD's: "The Complete First Season"
Columbia has delivered a 3-disc box set containing all 13 episodes that ran in the shortened debut season. The box states a running time of 286 minutes, which led to concerns that these episodes were cut (since this amounts to approx. 22 minutes per show). Let me alleviate that worry right now: the actual running time of the set is 338 minutes:
Disc 1 (104 Minutes)
25:53 #01 Meet the Bunkers
25:52 #02 Writing the President
26:16 #03 Oh, My Aching Back
25:38 #04 Judging Books by Covers
Disc 2 (104 Minutes)
26:07 #05 Archie Gives Blood
26:06 #06 Gloria's Pregnancy
25:59 #07 Mike's Hippie Friends Come to Visit
26:13 #08 Lionel Moves Into the Neighborhood
Disc 3 (130 Minutes)
25:49 #09 Edith Has Jury Duty
26:12 #10 Archie Is Worried About His Job
25:37 #11 Gloria Discovers Women's Lib
26:04 #12 Success Story
25:51 #13 The First and Last Supper
The package is a tri-fold cardboard "digipak", exactly like that used for the other recent Columbia TV-on-DVD effort, "The Larry Sanders Show". It has an episode insert that floats freely in the folds of the disc holders, as no pocket to keep it in has been provided by the design. Unlike similar digipaks from other studios, there is no outer sleeve that the digipak resides in: it folds up and you plop it on your shelf! Here is a look at the packaging.
Menu Design & Navigation:
This is about as simple as it gets. When you load up the disc, it brings up the Columbia logo, and then brings you to the main menu. You have 2 choices: "Choose Episodes" and "Subtitles". Choosing the latter lets you pick English, Spanish, or None. Or you can return to the main menu.
Picking "Choose Episodes" will bring up a pictorial reference to each of the shows on the discs, with the 3rd disc split into two episode choice screens due to the extra episode. Each menu screen is accompanied by a handsome background design featuring different main characters from the show.
There is no "Play All" choice on these discs. This is a horrible oversight, if you ask me. This should be simple for the author to program, easy to provide.and perfect for us couch potatoes who want to waste a few hours strolling down memory lane with our own homemade marathons. Columbia would do well to add this simple feature to all of their future TV titles.
Choosing an episode brings up the FBI warning screens (which you can fast-forward past) the 1st time you choose a show. Then a dark screen brings up the announcers voice: "From Television City in Hollywood".fade-in to Archie and Edith at the piano, singing the classic opening theme song.
It's a neat song .but 13 times in a row gets tiresome! Unfortunately, Columbia provided no chapter stops within the individual episodes. It may not seem needed for a show under a half-hour, but other TV product provides them (M*A*S*H, for example). Here it would be helpful to just skip past the opening credits. But pressing that skip button takes you to the menu! At least you can hit the fast-forward button to get past their singing, when you grow weary of it.
What a rotten first impression. I had a hard time comparing this to other television shows on DVD. All In The Family exhibits a video softness that I'm just not used to, with a sort of crosshatch pattern evident in almost every scene, especially in the flesh. Additionally, there are haloing effects, strongly suggestive of edge enhancement techniques, which show up in high-contrast situations.
BUT: As the announcer informs you at the closing credits of the 2nd episode onward, "All In The Family was record ON TAPE before a live audience". It was broadcast over-the-air for what generally at the time was a console TV smaller then 23". This show was never finished on film as many of its counterparts from that era were. It was shot on, and finished to, analog videotape 32 years ago. Analog videotape WILL degrade over that period of time, no matter what kind of "remastering" technique Columbia may or may not have attempted.
If the haloing is indeed from edge enhancement, then we should perhaps praise Columbia for attempting some kind of digital improvement to the original elements. There's no telling how bad this show might look if they attempted to do nothing at all!
The colors are sharp and vibrant most of the time, with only some few episodes (notably #5) having an incorrect color balance with unnaturally red flesh tones. On a couple of episodes on Disc 3 there can be seen some color bleeding that is reminiscent of some compression issues.a definite possibility since Columbia put these out on single-layer discs.
Also evident are the issues of video dropouts throughout the shows. You will see these appear as a fraction-of-a-second "streaking" effect, starting 44 seconds into the first show's opening credits (a minor one in the upper right, that you really have to look for to catch). These are surely part of the degraded original elements, and could not be easily (or cheaply) cleaned up for the DVD's. Here's an example of a more noticeable one, 17:52 into the first episode on Disc 1.
These artifacts are distracting, but never so much so as to have taken me completely out of the show, and - I hate to say it - you'll get used to the softness pretty quickly.
All-in-all, I think it's fair to say that - while this show does look "bad", and the casual purchaser won't care why it looks noticeably worse than, say, the M*A*S*H DVD's - it looks as good as it probably can. It's not fair to compare this to contemporary television shows, nor is it fair to compare it to shows like M*A*S*H, the original Star Trek, or Twin Peaks.all of which were finished to film and therefore have a wider range of remastering techniques available to them.
Acknowledgement: My deepest thanks go to fellow Home Theater Forum member Peter Apruzzese, whom I quoted very liberally above. He assisted with many of the technical aspects of the video issues I mention, and describes himself as "a long-time film collector (16mm, 32mm, laserdisc, & DVD) and working for over 22 years in a variety of technical and entertainment areas (movie theaters, video wholesale, etc.)".
All In The Family was broadcast in mono, and these DVD's don't change that presentation in the slightest. Although my player's front panel indicated a stereo soundtrack, when accessing the sound via my Stereo Television I only got any real output from the left speaker. When I switched to the Receiver, all sound was channeled exclusively through the center.
I detected an echoing effect during the first episode, "Meet the Bunkers". It was slight, and I probably wouldn't have noticed it at all except that I was doing this review. Listening for anything similar in later episodes revealed no weaknesses to me: it sounded no different than a broadcast would.
The only other audio issues were the occasional audio dropouts. They were less frequent than the video dropouts, but somewhat detectable.
The most noticeable audio glitch occurred near the end of Episode 6. At 23:10 into the show, the video is broken into some barely noticeable horizontal bands, but Edith sounds lower than she ought to for a second, and then a moment later when Archie yells something at her and Meathead, there is a very large, loud echo effect to it. But it is normal again by the next time anything is spoken. Again, it is probably from the degrading of the original analog videotape elements.
All-in-all, minor issues and a sound job done well enough for what this set represents.
There are none to speak of, unless you count the subtitles (I don't).
There has been some speculation as to whether the one known-to-still-exist pilot (the 2nd one, "Those Were The Days" - 1969) would be included in this set. Perhaps it was hidden as an Easter Egg? It's not. At least not that I can find. If it's there, it's very well hidden. As I've said before, the menus are very simple, and neither can I detect extra files on the disc by using unusual search methods.
This TV show is special to me. Toward the end of its original run on CBS, my entire family made a point of catching it when it aired on Sunday nights, something we didn't do for too many shows. So you can imagine my disappointment that the video quality wasn't - and couldn't be - perfect.
Nevertheless, having watched the first 13 episodes, I have gotten over my disappointment over the video quality, and can recommend that you pick up this set. The Bunkers and The Stivics are still very relevant to today's issues.
They also serve as a time capsule of the little differences from life these days to life in the 70's. Walking everywhere you went, dropping a letter in the mailbox and making sure you "jiggle", getting your fish at one store and your beef at another during a time when supermarkets were virtually unknown, and going to a bank on a weekday to get money instead of using the ATM any time you feel like it. When "Tricky Dick" Nixon was firmly running the country and getting no respect, but still years before his Watergate involvement was brought to life (I can't wait for THOSE episodes to come out). Hearing Mike and Archie discuss the celebrity of Jack Lemmon vs. John Wayne, and seeing Gloria tote the groceries in a very old-style personal shopping cart. I spent the first 9 years of my life in Brooklyn, NY during this same time period of history that we watch these TV characters reside in Astoria, Queens, NY.and boy does this bring back memories!
Even if your memories of the show are less personal, or if you have never seen this excellent show, then let me highly recommend that you give it a try. My wife, Stephanie, is 11 years younger than I am, and had only caught the occasional snippet of an episode here and there while flipping around. She found herself enjoying these shows, too.especially the hilarious final one of the 1st season!
I find myself looking forward to The Complete Second Season.
P.S. - ever wonder what an "old LaSalle" was? It was a pre-WW2 automobile! Gee, it ran great!!
My thanks to Jordan Nutson, who wrote in with information about the "Gloria" spin-off. This review was edited on 10/7/02 to accurately reflect that information.