A spin-off from "Diff'rent Strokes" (the first episode has a guest appearance from the Drummonds, no less) and incredibly popular (and of course "Family Guy" has referenced it on a number of occasions) on its own during its run, "Facts of Life" had an impressive run that lasted from 1979-1988. The series saw Edna Garrett (Charlotte Ray) becoming the housemother at a popular boarding school, watching over the girls and teaching them those facts about life. Just about every episode had the girls facing a serious subject (drugs, dieting, sex, acceptance, friendship and adoption are just some of the subjects the show tackled over the years) and trying to overcome their issues before the credits rolled.
Although the series had quite a few speaking parts in the first season, the producers smartly narrowed the focus for the second season, where the main characters are the ones that audiences would follow for years - rich girl Blair (Lisa Whelchel), gossipy Tootie (Kim Fields), funny Natalie (Mindy Cohn) and the newcomer, bad girl Jo (Nancy McKeon). As different as the girls were - in attitude, outlook, background and more - they quickly find that they can rely on one another through both the good times and bad as they learn, well...you know.
Season four ended with Blair and Jo graduating, leaving Tootie and Natalie nervous that they wouldn't all be friends anymore. The fifth season opens with a two-parter entitled "Brave New World", which follows Blair and Jo as they adjust to college life, as Jo finds out she may not have enough money to cover living in the dorm. While certainly a bit predictable, the series comes up with some amusing bits, such as having Tootie and Natalie try to appear older when visiting. Meanwhile, Mrs. Garrett is frustrated with having to work for someone else and takes the opportunity to open a gourmet food shop. Soon enough, the girls end up moving in with her again.
The rest of the season sees a lot of similar style episodes as previous seasons. Some heavier issues are covered, as well as lighter moments throughout. A lighter episode includes "Gamma Gamma", where Blair decides she wants to join a sorority and hires Mrs. Garret to cater a party, but ends up firing her for making food that was "last month's" trend. Another humorous episode include "Big Fish/Little Fish" where Jo is suddenly the most popular girl at college instead of Blair. The episodes do tend to get a bit heavier as the season progresses. A new focus of conflict is Mrs. Garrett's Shop, Edina's Edibles. In several episodes, the shop runs into some problems but the group always pitches in into to ensure it doesn't close.
While Jo and Blair seem to be more of a focus in this season, Tootie and Natalie have some standout episodes including "Advance Placement," and "Next Door." In "Advance Placement," Natalie's ego starts to upset the girls after she enrolls in a college class despite being a junior in high school. In "Next Door," Tootie meets a young boy who's instructed to go home right after school and not come out until his mom gets home. When there's a gas leak, no one can convince him it's okay to come out except Tootie.
By season five, "The Facts of Life" had grown well-established, and while the series could have easily "jumped the shark" with the girls getting older and some of them heading to college, the transition is handled reasonably well with this enjoyable fifth season (although it's rather remarkable that the show was able to go on for another four seasons after this one.) The season concludes with a two-part finale that's heavy on the flashbacks from prior seasons.
5- 1 21 Sep 83 Brave New World (1)
Mrs. Garrett's fed up, Tootie and Natalie are distraught, Jo faces expulsion from college, and Blair is oblivious to it all in this first episode of a special two-part story.
5- 2 21 Sep 83 Brave New World (2)
The opening of Mrs. Garrett's own gourmet shop solves her problems with Eastland--but leaves in her wake a tidal wave of housing troubles for Tootie, Natalie, Blair and Jo in the conclusion of a two-part episode.
5- 3 28 Sep 83 Gamma Gamma or Bust
Blair recommends Mrs. Garrett to cater a rush party for the sorority she's pledging, but then, in a fit of anger, fires her.
5- 4 12 Oct 83 Just My Bill
Jo's in love, but when her "regular" guy turns out to be a rich kid, resentment sets in--and so does Blair's plan for masking Jo's rough edges.
5- 5 19 Oct 83 What Price Glory?
Tootie discovers that her boyfriend, a college-bound star athlete, is illiterate.
5- 6 26 Oct 83 The Halloween Show
Halloween hysteria sets in when a customer mysteriously disappears, and the girls fear that Edna may have ground him into her famous homemade bratwurst.
5- 7 02 Nov 83 Advanced Placement
High school junior Natalie is permitted to enroll in a college course, and her overblown feeling of superiority becomes a problem for Tootie, Blair and Jo.
5- 8 09 Nov 83 I'm Dancing as Fast As I Can
Blair and Jo plan a birthday surprise for Mrs. Garrett at a male exotic dance club.
5- 9 16 Nov 83 Small But Dangerous
Mrs. Garrett and the girls befriend Kelly, a fast-talking street punk, and wind up victims of her scheme to extort protection money.
5-10 30 Nov 83 Store Games
The girls resort to espionage in their efforts to save Edna's Edibles from financial ruin when a competing store woos away all of Mrs. Garrett's customers.
5-11 14 Dec 83 The Second Time Around
Jo's plan to reunite her divorced parents hit's a snag when her father announces he's contemplating marriage to another woman.
5-12 21 Dec 83 The Christmas Show
Blair fails to trick Jo into accepting a monetary gift that would allow her to spend the holidays with her mother, but she does devise an offer in the true spirit of Christmas that Jo can't refuse.
5-13 28 Dec 83 Chain Letter
The girls' haphazard work habits initiate a chain of "horrors" that could lose them their jobs and head to the closure of Mrs. Garrett's gourmet shop by the board of health.
5-14 04 Jan 84 Next Door
Tootie is the only one who may be able to talk a wary seven-year-old "latchkey kid" out of his apartment during an emergency evacuation.
5-15 11 Jan 84 Crossing the Line
Natalie and Tootie's relationship is jeopardized when Tootie questions Natalie's reasons for accepting a date with Tootie's cousin Michael.
5-16 18 Jan 84 All or Nothing
Jo faces a harsh lesson in political reality when she's elected to the Langley College Board of Regents and then battles with them.
5-17 01 Feb 84 A Death in The Family
The unexpected death of her father poignantly brings to light the strength of the bonds that link Natalie to her Peekskill "family".
5-18 08 Feb 84 Big Fish/Little Fish
Blair suffers an identity crisis when she realizes Jo has taken her place as the most popular girl at school.
5-19 15 Feb 84 Star at Langley
Blair is forced to compete for her boyfriend Cliff's attention when a popular movie star enrolls at Langley.
5-20 22 Feb 84 Dream Marriage
A startling marriage proposal ignites a dream into the future and forces Blair to reevaluate her goals.
5-21 29 Feb 84 Mother and Daughter
Tootie's inability to communicate with her mother sparks an explosive confrontation.
5-22 14 Mar 84 All by Herself
Blair's overzealous efforts to usurp all of cousin Geri's responsibility for organizing a charity auction.
5-23 21 Mar 84 Seems Like Old Times
Jo gets an unexpected visit from her former Brooklyn boyfriend, which reignites her flame for him.
5-24 02 May 84 Joint Custody
The future of Edna's Edibles is unexpectedly jeopardized by the troubled marriage of Mrs. Garrett's son.
5-25 09 May 84 The Way We Were (1)
As the school year closes, the girls take time to reminisce about the good times--until Jo and Blair go at it again for what may be the last time.
5-26 09 May 84 The Way We Were (2)
When Tootie and Natalie try to convince Jo and Blair that they shouldn't let a minor mishap ruin the friendship they've developed over the years, their advice seems to stir up more trouble than it solves.
VIDEO: "Facts of Life" is presented by Shout Factory Home Entertainment in 1.33:1 full-frame, the show's original aspect ratio. Considering the age of the series, "Facts of Life" looks surprisingly decent. Sharpness and detail aren't remarkable, but the picture at least looks mostly crisp, with only the occasional touch of softness.
A few minor instances of wear and some slight shimmering appeared on occasion, but the presentation otherwise looked clean and clear. Colors looked natural and nicely saturated, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The show is offered here in basic mono audio, but the sound does come across well, with no distortion or other issues.
Final Thoughts:The changes in this season of "Facts" are handled rather well, and the season offers a nice mix of comedy and drama. The DVD set offers fine audio/video quality, but no extras are offered. Recommended for fans of the show.