It was only a matter of seasons before the astonishingly popular The Cosby Show would yield its first spin-off, and it only stood to reason that that offshoot would belong to Ms. Lisa Bonet. Her Denise Huxtable character spent The Cosby Show chugging through high school, so when it came time for Cliff's second daughter to head off to Hillman college, it was time for A Different World.
Me, I never really cared for the show. I watched The Cosby Show because I loved the Cosby-schtick. Ms. Bonet was never much of an actress or a personality, so after only a few early visits with A Different World, I just tuned out. A recent revisist with the show's inaugural season tells me that I probably made the right decision by playing video games after The Cosby Show was over. (I only played for a half-hour; Cheers was on at nine!)
The show presented Denise Huxtable in a college environment that exists only on television. Maybe I'm just insane, but when I watch A Different World I see an African American take on The Facts of Life, which is fine, even if neither show was ever actually funny. Every few weeks something timely or "topical" would rear its formulaic head, and we'd get twinkly mood music spread across a broadly-drawn and mawkishly "very special" episode. Standard sitcom fare all the way.
Backing up Ms. Bonet was a collection of one-note goofballs: Whitley the prissy, snooty, arrogant bitch, Jalessa, the older, wiser "grown-up" coed, lovesick nerd Dwayne Wayne, etc. Toss in Loretta Devine as a doting R.A., and a few recurring characters ... and still you don't get 1/5th of the laughs that you would by watching The Cosby Show.
I'm well-aware that A Different World has its contingent of long-adoring and faithful fans, which is great. But those fans might want to know that this Season 1 set doesn't even offer the original broadcast episodes. Far as I can tell, all (or nearly all) of the episodes were transferred onto DVD from syndication cuts, which means you're getting about two minutes snipped from every episode. Frankly it amazes me that a 40-year-old show like Bewitched can hit DVD in an unaltered form, but a dinky little sitcom from 18 years ago arrives on DVD in a chopped-up format. Weird.
Reconicilable Differences (09/24/87)
Porky De Bergerac (10/15/87)
Those Who Can't ... Tutor (10/22/87)
War of the Words (10/28/87)
Rude and the Snow Queen (11/05/87)
Sometimes You Get the Bear, Sometimes the Bear Gets You (11/19/87)
If Chosen, I May Not Run (12/03/87)
Romancing Mr. Stone (12/10/87)
The Gift of the Magi (12/17/87)
Does He or Doesn't He? (01/07/88)
Advise and Descent (01/14/88)
The Prime of Miss Lettie Bostic (01/12/88)
Wild Child (02/04/88)
Dr. Cupid (02/11/88)
The Show Must Go On (02/18/88)
Mr. Hillman (02/25/88)
Speech Therapy (03/10/88)
Clair's Last Stand (03/24/88)
If Only for One Night (04/28/88)
Come Back, Little Eggby (05/05/88)
My Dinner with Theo (07/07/88)
Video: Episodes are presented in their original full frame format, and picture quality is a bit fuzzy, but more than watchable enough.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0.
All of the supplemental stuff is packed onto a fourth disc:
Worthy of interest to the diehard Different is a "lost" season 6 episode called Homie, Don't You Know Me? Although it's since been broadcast in syndication, this episode (which features guest appearances by Tupac Shakur & Jada Pinkett-Smith) never did air on NBC.
Next up is a featurette with the rather unwieldy title of E! Entertainment & UNCLE Film + Television presents "I Was a Network TV Star!" This is a 22-minute episode of an E! show in which cast members meet up and look back over their time in the sun. Filled with interview segments (with Dawnn Lewis, Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, and a few others) and old war stories, this is absolutely a cool inclusion for fans of the show.
Rounding out the supplemental section is a 5-minute blooper reel, a trailer for The Cosby Show: Season One, and a 14-page insert booklet full of production notes and episode information.
No, I've got nothing against the idea of "spin-offs" in general, and yes, I think it's great to have a sitcom that highlights and celebrates an often-unseen side of African American culture ... but A Different World, saddled with a fairly unlikable leading lady and a broadly-drawn collection of cardbord-cutout supporting characters, just doesn't make me laugh. Good intentions and multi-culturalism are great and all, but a comedy's first goal is to, y'know, make people laugh.