They were the most manufactured of all the fake pop acts. Compared to them, the pre-fab four failings of The Monkees sounded like the second coming of Sgt. Pepper. And their sitcom was more wimpy than winning, making wholesome homespun junk like My Three Sons play like a perverted version of All in the Family. Yet The Partridge Family was that rare combination of great music and charming performances that overcame many of its otherwise obvious televisual shortcomings. It's a classic in the rethinking, a show that just gets better with time and attention. Back in May, Columbia/Tri-Star released the complete first season set of this seminal 70s sitcom. Now, they are back with the second series of this sensational show.
From the point of plot, The Partridge Family was very basic. Within the unified tribe was mother Shirley (Oscar winner and Broadway star Shirley Jones), a widow with an angelic voice. She lorded over her two eldest children, Keith (real life stepson David Cassidy) and Lori (Susan Dey). Following up the rear was wisenheimer Danny (Danny Bonaduce) and the seemingly talentless duo of Tracy (Suzanne Crough) and Chris (new actor Brian Forster). Managing the band was human sad sack Reuben Kincaid (Laugh-In alum Dave Madden) perhaps the only successful record exec who looks like he sleeps in his one and only suit.
The narrative arc of the second season had the Partridges' dealing with the trappings of fame while trying to keep the decidedly domestic aspect of their life afloat. Shirley and Keith still seem to get the most material, but there are attempts to offer the rest of the family their own forums as well. Actor Danny Bonaduce also begins what will eventually be one of the most amazingly awkward teen transformation periods in the history of the medium. You can just start to see his gangly growth spurt starting, one that will take him from devilish imp to puffed up blimp rather quickly in Season 3.
The following episodes are included in this three disc set:
1 - "Dora, Dora, Dora": Reuben agrees to let a beautiful blond bimbo perform with the group, even though she is completely tone deaf.
2 - "In 25 Words or Less": A promotion goes horribly awry when the winner of a 'Spend a Week with the Partridges' contest turns out to be a bitter old lady.
3 - "A Man Called Snake": Over her family's objections, Laurie decides to go out with a charming, if still rather ragged, motorcycle gang member.
4 - "The Undergraduate": A young college boy becomes smitten with Shirley when she returns to campus to continue her education.
5 - "Anatomy of a Tonsil": When Danny faces the removal of his tonsils, he worries he'll die - or worse, that he'll never be able to sing again.
6 - "Whatever Happened to Moby Dick?": Hoping to cash in on the ecology movement, Danny suggests the family put a whale on their next album.
7 - "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Partridge": When Keith tries to step up and play responsible male role model for his siblings, they rebel against his less than successful attempts.
8 - "Days of Acne and Roses": The family decides to help nerdy delivery boy Wendell who just doesn't know how to relate to girls.
9 - "A Tale of Two Hamsters": Another of Danny's get rich quick schemes causes an overabundance rodents to reek havoc on the Partridge's concert tour.
10 - "Forty Year Itch": Shirley's mom and dad are threatening divorce - Grandpa's gone groovy - and its up to the clan to patch them up.
11 - "I Can Get it For You Retail": Keith's private possessions are up for grabs as Danny runs a heartthrob-related garage sale to raise money for a gift.
12 - "Guess Who's Coming to Drive?": The Partridge Family faces a potential crisis when they learn their new bus driver is a paroled criminal.
13 - "Don't Bring the Guns to Town, Santa": While trapped in an old ghost town, the Partridges imagine themselves in a Yuletide western.
14 - "Where Do Mermaids Go?": When a ditzy dreamer named Jenny leaves the family $1 million, the Partridges face a fundamental moral predicament.
15 - "Home is Where the Heart Is": Reuben becomes a surrogate babysitter for Chris and Tracy when they run away from home.
16 - "Fellini, Bergman and Partridge": Keith decides to become a moviemaker, and he actually thinks he's succeeded - that is, until his first film is shown.
17 - "Waiting for Bolero": Keith decides he needs to live on his own. But being a responsible adult requires a little more than a swinging bachelor pad.
18 - "I Am Curious Partridge": Danny supplies the local paper with a wonderful bit of juicy - albeit it false - family gossip...with Keith and Shirley as the prime targets.
19 - "My Heart Belongs to a Two Car Garage": An artist hired by the family to paint their garage gives them a scantily clad woman female study instead.
20 - "H-E-L-L-L-L-L-P": It's a camping trip from Hell - or at least, that's who the men see it when the Partridge gals head out into the wilderness.
21 - "Promise Her Anything, But Give Her a Punch": It's Danny vs. Keith as the younger brother's betrothed, Gloria Hickey, would rather go out with his teen idol sibling.
22 - "Partridge Papers": Laurie is mortified to discover that Danny has turned over her diary to the school newspaper - and they are threatening to go public.
23 - "All's War, In Love and Fairs": While on their vacation, the Partridges agree to play at a Native American fair after seeing the shocking conditions on the reservation.
24 - "Who is Max Ledbetter, and Why is He Saying All Those Terrible Things?": A psychic swindles Keith and Danny, foretelling family doom as he drains their wallets.
By Season 2, The Partridge Family was finding it hard to keep itself centered. On one hand, the public had embraced the show, making it a sizeable hit. But most of that attention came from pop chart success, and with The Partridge Family Album and Up to Date long tapped out of airwave-friendly facets, the sonic situation was shaky. Sound Magazine was another excellent LP outing, but it didn't have the instant smash hits that radio - and ratings - relied on. Shopping Bag would second that ideal. So it was now up to the series itself to pick up some of the momentum. Thanks to a combination of guest stars, gimmicky plots and overall good-natured family friendliness, the season was salvaged.
Oddly enough, not much changed in The Partridge Family 2.0 universe. Instead, the show simply recognized it's obvious strengths and capitalized on them. Susan Dey, kind of a cipher during the first season, really came into her own over the course of series two, blossoming into a satirical, Cher-like counterpart to David Cassidy's cracked crooner. As usual, Danny Bonaduce got to play the precocious, money-grubbing goof that he perfected in the original episodes, but now his mannerisms were more finely honed, allowing his frugality to be both funny and fresh. Chris - even in the guise of newcomer Brian Forster - and Tracy are still noxious non-entities, more important to the band dynamic than any of the comedy. And sitting at the center of it all were the threesome that held the show solidly together - Shirley Jones, Cassidy and miserable manager Reuben Kincaid (the magnificently under-appreciated Dave Madden). With each one playing a different facet of funny exasperation, the Partridge parameters were well established and still highly entertaining.
There were some new elements added to the show in the second season. For example, the Partridges' political ideals began bubbling to the surface more significantly. Issues revolving around the elderly ("In 25 Words or Less"), the environment ("Whatever Happened to Moby Dick?"), divorce ("The Forty Year Itch"), the criminal justice system ("Guess Who's Coming to Drive"), the dying hippy movement ("Where Do Mermaids Go?"), censorship ("My Heart Belongs to a Two Car Garage") and the plight of Native Americans ("All's War, In Love and Fairs") permeate even the most crazy, slapstick narrative. Sometimes, as with the reservation conditions in "All's War...", the message can be artificial and a bit overwrought. Other times (as in "Mermaids" and "Drive") it is kept as a cleverly concealed undercurrent, giving the usually lightweight series a nice bit of social conscious and context.
The acting also deserves another round of accolades - specifically that of David Cassidy. Though many people don't recognize it (it usually gets lost in all the teen idol falderal) Cassidy created a classic comic character in Keith Partridge. Here is someone who is a smooth, suave onstage performer who secretly seethes with unresolved anxiety and insecurity in his regular life. For someone seen as incredibly attractive and extroverted, Cassidy instead created a superstar uncomfortable in his own skin. No one played personal discomfort better than Cassidy, whether it was learning that Danny had slandered his name all over town ("I Am Curious, Partridge"), trying to play 'parent' to his brothers and sisters ("Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Partridge"), or working out his auteur issues ("Fellini, Bergman and Partridge"). It is a shame that the overwhelming success of his singing career pigeonholed this magnificent comedic actor. It is easy to see Cassidy playing different variations of this kind of crackpot, using it as the foundation to a long career. Sadly, this was not the case.
Indeed, it is depressing to consider that a lot of The Partridge Family's fate was tied up in the tunes. It was almost as if the series had no viability beyond the Billboard charts. Arguably, a million selling album or single had far more financial impact than a middling sitcom, but the show was - and continues to be - such a sunny, funny look back at the early part of the 70s that dismissing the later seasons due to lack of hits is hogwash. Though it would eventually resort to some EXTREME stunts to stay alive among the Nielsen throng (yep, that retard Ricky is just a few scant shows away) the first two seasons of The Partridge Family are pure pleasure. Thanks to DVD, here's a chance to revise its regularly ridiculed reputation.
While it's hard to call these 1.33:1 transfers reference quality, they sure look amazingly good considering that the last time many of us saw them, they were filtered through the varying picture problems of a standard network broadcast. While an occasional episode is a little faded, the rest of the installments all have a clean, crisp feeling to their visuals. The colors are correct and the contrasts preserve important details. Most importantly, these are uncut, non-syndication versions of the show, so you get anywhere from two to four minutes of additional footage that is usually excised to make room for mindless Madison Avenue drivel.
With music being an integral – nay mandatory aspect of every Partridge Family episode, one would expect Sony to go all out and remaster the audio to provide optimum sound for both dialogue and songs. Well, the sad news is that The Partridge Family: The Complete Second Season relies on technology from over three decades ago to present its aural aspects. The Dolby Digital Mono does sound clean and crisp, but there is a real lack of depth. On a decent home theater system, the pure pop tones will definitely stand out, but everything else will remain flat and kind of lifeless. While one imagines that true aficionados of the show might have balked at the notion or remixing these "classics", the 1970s were just not a kind decade to the decibel set.
Sadly, none are offered. The first DVD contained a wealth of material, from interesting interviews to so-so commentary tracks. Here, we receive a set of "previews" (read: product trailers) and that's it. Such a shame too. If any show needed contextual clarity - from how it handled success to the entire cast's concern over the music eclipsing the series - it is this one. Sony strikes a definite sour note with this lame digital package.
Unencumbered by the need for chart success, removed from its hippy dippy era, and proudly viewed through the misty watercolor memories of necessary nostalgia, The Partridge Family: The Complete Second Season is a Highly Recommended romp. Buried inside the stellar pop songs, the oddly liberal political leanings, the substantial schmaltz and glorified goofiness is a well acted, well written show that has something significant to say about family, fame and friendship. Nowadays, a series like this would be nothing more than a marketing campaign for a CD or MP3, and in many ways, the Partridge's suffered the same fate. But unlike our current consumer mindset, the makers of this engaging show understood that there was more to programming than product. They needed something substantive behind the shill. The Partridge Family sitcom was indeed that redemptive delight.