George Lucas' American Graffiti kick started a wave of 1950's nostalgia in the mid-seventies, and the debut of a television series called Happy Days in 1974 rode that wave for a few successful years, earning itself a place in the upper echelon of seventies TV series.
Set around the exploits of one Ritchie Cunningham (future Oscar winning director Ron Howard) and his family, the series usually ended with a moral of some sort but was never so heavy handed that it felt preachy or goody-goody. Supporting characters like Henry Winkler as Fonzie and Anson Williams as Potsie Weber kept Ritchie in and out of trouble every week for almost ten years until the series was finally laid to rest in 1984.
There were plenty of spin offs (such as Fonzie records) and tie ins (like Happy Days comic books from Gold Key) and the show stayed in the collective viewing consciousness of generations to come thanks for plenty of syndicated reruns that continue on and off the air waves to this day. Emo band Weezer's Buddy Holly video caused an even younger generation to discover the show when the band digitally set themselves inside Arnold's Drive-In (Ritchie and company's favorite hang out) where they performed for the whole gang, meeting with much approval from Al himself at the end of their set. There was even an animated cartoon spin off called Fonz And The Happy Days Gang that ran for two years from late 1980 until 1982 on ABC during their Saturday morning cartoon programming.
Characters were phased in and out of the series but the Cunningham family remained the backbone of the series and it was here in the first season that we first came to get to know them. We'd eventually see them progress over the years, but it's these earliest episodes that best maintain the series' charm, humor, sincerity and wit.
Spread out over three discs, with six episodes on the first disc and five a piece on the other two, the episodes are presented in chronological order as follows:
- All The Way - Potsie sets Richie up with Mary Lou, a girl with a bad reputation around the school.
- The Lemon - Richie and Potsie put their money together to buy a car so they can score with chicks, but the car turns out to be, you guessed it, a lemon.
- Richie's Cup Runneth Over - Richie and Potsie go to Potsie's cousin's bachelor party and drink way too much booze.
- Guess Who's Coming To Visit? - Fonzie is all set for a midnight drag race and Richie and Potsie plan to sneak out in the middle of the night to go watch the event.
- Hardware Jungle - Richie's Dad wants him to watch the hardware store, but Richie and Potsie have already bought tickets to the big rock and roll show coming to town.
- The Deadly Dares - The Demons are a local gang known as the coolest guys in town. Richie and Potsie want in, but in order to get in they'll first have to complete a few initiation dares.
- Fonzie Drops In - Fonzie decides to go back to high school to get his diploma, but little does Richie know that Fonzie expects him to do his homework for him.
- The Skin Game - Ralph, Richie and Potsie score some fake ID's to go check out a stripper at the local burlesque show.
- Breaking Up Is Hard To Do - Arlene and Richie decide to throw in the towel and break up, but then they realize that there's no way they'll find new dates for the prom in time.
- Give The Band A Hand - Richie joins up with Ralph and Potsie to form a band to make some money, but their accounting skills aren't up to par and it turns out to be a poor investment choice.
- Because She's There - Richie gets setup on a blind date, only to find out that she's way taller than he is.
- In The Name Of Love - Cindy is the pretty new girl in town and Richie, Potsie and Ralph all want a shot at her. Too bad she doesn't like them, at least not in that way.
- Great Expectations - Richie meets a beatnik named Deirdre, and he decides to take up her cause with her.
- The Best Man - Howard's old army pal is getting married and the Cunningham's agree to host the wedding at their house. The neighbors are none too pleased with this development.
- Knock Around The Clock - Richie wants to join a gang called The Dukes until he finds out that they're the punks who stole Potsie's bike!
- Be The First On Your Block - Howard secretly decides to build a bomb shelter to keep his family safe, but soon the entire neighborhood finds out and people start talking about him.
The episodes are all presented in their original fullframe format, which is as it should be. Colors look nice and bright and aside from some grain, overall picture quality is quite high for a television series of roughly thirty years old. A few cuts are obvious between scenes but this is probably due to the source material more so than the actual transfer itself. Edge enhancement is almost non-existent and there aren't any problems with mpeg compression. I doubt a full restoration was done on any of the episodes, but at least they seem to be here in very nice shape and aside from the grain, things look good.
The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack doesn't sound any worse than the series did when it was shown on television. Some of the dialogue could sound a bit cleaner as a few bits and pieces here and there are slightly garbled but aside from that, the track is clean and clear. English closed captioning is included, but there are not subtitles provided for any other languages.
There are absolutely no extra features here at all, which is very disappointing.
While the absolute lack of any extra features at all is nothing short of disheartening, the series looks and sounds pretty good and thankfully it holds up well on DVD. Happy Days isn't just a TV series, it's a part of our popular culture and having the complete first season on DVD is a must for TV junkies and fifties-philes alike. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.