As one of the longest-running and most successful American sitcoms in television history, David Crane and Marta Kauffman's Friends (1994-2004) amassed a huge following during its ten-season run. Revolving around a group of six friends in New York City, the series never explored much new territory in the genre; instead, it simply persevered with sharp writing, entertaining stories and memorable moments. Fans of Friends grew to love the characters as they waded through the confusing late twenties / early thirties stage of life, from the earliest glimpses of real independence to the reality of settling down with a family (or staying single, whatever). Through weddings, births, new jobs, holidays and plenty of running gags, the polished formula and popular momentum made Friends an easy sitcom to get comfortable with.
Beginning in 2002, each season of Friends was released on DVD, as well as several themed compilations aimed at more casual viewers. Die-hard disciples may have even shelled out for the Limited Edition Box or the 2006 Complete Series Collection, both of which have since gone out of print in their original format. Either way, Friends on DVD was pretty much a no-brainer for fans of the series: though earlier seasons suffered from poor video compression and the extras weren't all that revealing, the low-priced collections were huge sellers. Long story short: if you like Friends, you own most or all of it on DVD already.
Now, with the development of high definition home video (hardly a household word in 2002, barely a pipe dream in 1994), Warner Bros. has served up Friends on Blu-ray for the next generation...or, more likely, for the older generation to buy yet again. Oddly enough, portions of the overall experience are in reverse order this time around: not only did Warner Bros. release the Complete Series Blu-ray Collection before season sets like this one, but the episodes are now shown in 1.78:1 widescreen. Even more, these also represent the original broadcast versions, while the older DVD counterparts were often extended by a few minutes. So, to recap: now you're getting more picture, but less total content. Confused yet?
Well, you won't be for long. Soon enough, this Season One collection settles into a comfortable groove: these 25 episodes hold up quite well, and they're now divided on two discs for easier marathon viewing. So, assuming you're going the season-by-season route, you'll eventually get the whole series for about the same price, minus a bonus disc with two hours of new or rare supplements. It's basically a toss-up, and you've probably made your decision already. If you haven't, keep reading for the full breakdown.
Disc One: "The Pilot" (AKA "The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate"), "The One with the Sonogram at the End", "The One with the Thumb", "The One with George Stephanopoulos", "The One with the East German Laundry Detergent", "The One with the Butt", "The One with the Blackout", "The One Where Nana Dies Twice", "The One Where Underdog Gets Away" and "The One with the Monkey".
Disc Two: "The One with Mrs. Bing", "The One with the Dozen Lasagnas", "The One with the Boobies", "The One with the Candy Hearts", "The One with the Stoned Guy", "The One with Two Parts, Part 1", "The One with Two Parts, Part 2", "The One with All the Poker", "The One Where the Monkey Gets Away", "The One with the Evil Orthodontist", "The One with the Fake Monica", "The One with the Ick Factor", "The One with the Birth" and "The One Where Rachel Finds Out".
Season One Episode Summaries (via IMDb)
NOTE: The discs included in this release are the same as 2012's Complete Series Blu-ray collection, save for the disc art.
Video & Audio Quality
As previously reported, Friends on Blu-ray is presented in an expanded 1.78:1 aspect ratio and has been modified from its original 1.33:1 format. In most cases, the main difference is more empty space on the sides (just look at the screen caps), and I'd imagine that the reason for this decision is that, at the very least, fans would be getting something a little different. As for the image quality itself, Friends looks good but not great in high definition, with inconsistent colors and grain levels...but hey, at least it wasn't shot on video, right? For the most part, what we get represents a passable and relatively pleasing image (especially compared to the original DVD release), though not without a few color inconsistencies and other minor distractions. Overall: it's nothing to write home about, but also nothing to lose sleep over.
DISCLAIMER: This screen caps in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
More so-so news on the audio front: it's presented in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 (a very modest upgrade from the DVD's 5.0); not surprising, as Warner Bros. typically avoids lossless audio on catalog TV collections. The dialogue is still clear and easy to understand, but the music cues still don't have much in the way of dynamic range.
Even on our first viewing, my wife commented how the theme song just sounded flat, and I couldn't help but agree. Though less audio space translates to better picture quality and more episodes per disc, it's hard to say if the sacrifice was worth it. Optional 2.0 dubs are provided in Spanish, French, German and Portuguese, as well as nearly a dozen subtitle options (including English SDH).
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
Seen above, this two-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase with a matching slipcover and an Ultraviolet Digital Copy redemption code. The menu is easy to navigate, much like the original DVDs...and hey, at least we get chapter breaks this time. Remember when those counted as "Bonus Features"?
Everything from the original DVD release, which isn't saying much. These recycled extras include a stitched-together Pilot Episode Audio Commentary
with producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane; the "Friends of Friends"
guest star lineup (9 minutes); and a Trailer
for Season Two of the series (1 minute). Don't shoot the messenger, but those looking for new bonus features will have to shell out for the Complete Series
Blu-ray collection, which includes just over two hours' worth of stuff.
Friends remains one of the most popular shows of its era, and this first season offers a great beginning that leaves just a little room for improvement. But for the most part, Warner Bros.' Blu-ray treatment of the series has been questionable at best: while the remastered image easily trumps its DVD counterpart (assuming the aspect ratio change doesn't bother you), almost everything else hasn't changed. In fact, there's even less content since these are the broadcast versions and not the slightly extended episodes as seen on DVD. Essentially, this is a modestly different version of a popular favorite...and if that's worth $20, go for it. Recommended, but only if you're not interested in the Complete Series collection.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.