All In The Family, for those who aren't aware, starred Carroll O'Connor as bigoted loudmouth Archie Bunker, who lives in the suburbia of New York with his wife Edith (affectionately nicknamed Dingbat; Jean Stapleton), "little goil" Gloria (Sally Struthers), and liberal Polish son-in-law Mike Stivic (also known as Meathead; Rob Reiner). Though the ultra-conservative Archie was quick to refer to other races as 'spics', 'coons', and 'spades' -- words considered unusable on television and still powerful today -- his ignorance was so all-encompassing that he truly had no idea that he was a racist. Norman Lear, according to a 1972 article in Time, felt that "bigotry was most common and most insidious when it occurred in otherwise lovable people." Archie, despite being a bigot and seemingly unable to win a single argument, somehow managed to endear himself to much of American and become an overnight pop-culture icon.
All In The Family's influence on television is considerable. It was recorded in front of a live audience, which had not been done for a sitcom since I Love Lucy went off the air in 1957. All In The Family was shot on tape, also unheard of for a sitcom. One would never know that characters on television went to the bathroom before All In The Family, and references to sex up to that point were invariably vaguely implied. The series handled topics that often went undiscussed in many American homes, let alone on the white-bread world of network television -- rape, impotency, homosexuality, race relations, and atheism, to name a few offhand. Yet, All In The Family avoided becoming excessively preachy or seeming as if viewers were watching a dry lecture of some sort. Its success led to a number of spin-offs, the most of any series other than Happy Days progenitor Love, American Style. Its offspring include Maude (1972-1978), Good Times (1974-1979), The Jefferson (1975-1985), Archie Bunker's Place (1979-1983), Checking In (1981), Gloria (1982-1983), and 704 Hauser (1994). Between All in The Family and the number of series it inspired, at least one All In The Family-related series was in production every season without interruption from 1971 to 1985, an astonishing feat by any standard.
On March 26th, Columbia Tristar Home Video will release the first season of this groundbreaking series to DVD. The thirteen episodes in this three disc set are:
The 4x3 image is rather soft, and a variety of flaws associated with older shot-on-video material are present. Colors are perhaps the most problematic. Frames from the same shot and vieed just a second or so apart from one another can look vastly different. Some portions have a reddish, almost purple, tint, while an image all of a second or two away will look relatively normal. Slight fluctuations in color are common, though rarely as dramatic as this particular case. Fleshtones are also all over the map, as can be seen in the following pair of images. Archie's skin ranges from gray in some scenes to a near-orange in the title sequences. Some of this may be attributed to different lighting techniques used in various episodes, but it's still unusual.
Video noise is a frequent but mild annoyance, and old blips and lines appear at seemingly random intervals. Since they only flicker on screen for a fraction of a second, capturing examples for this review is rather difficult. Though most of the episodes seem to have a faint green or yellow tint to them, there are instances where it is more noticeable in part of the image than others.
Another frequently occurring problem is discoloration in the corners of the image. This will be most noticeable on sets with low overscan, but their outer glow can be spotted in a number of shots even on unadjusted televisions. The example provided isn't as extreme as other instances in the series. I watched these episodes on two different televisions (the 36" VVega I generally use for reviews and the rather uninteresting RCA 27" in my bedroom) and on my PC, and on all three, haloing around certain areas of objects was often noticeable.
All In The Family looks none too impressive on my 36" VVega, and I'd imagine my setup pales in comparison to those of many of the folks reading this review. Thirty years ago, the idea that anyone would watch television on sets as large as mine was laughable, especially on a format that offers the level of resolution of DVD. Though a couple of years have passed since I've watched any of this early episodes of All In The Family on television, the difference here did not strike me as being of the 'night and day' variety. Though I am unable to do a direct comparison, I'm confident that this set is representative of how the series appears on cable. It would not seem to offer a marked improvement in quality, and even episodes on VHS may teeter as being indistinguishable from what's presented here.
Audio: Considering that All In The Family debuted on television over thirty years ago, I would hope that its monaural origins would not shock most readers to the core. The audio quality is nothing stunning, but reflective of the way I'd expect that the series originally sounded. The 1.0 audio doesn't sound particularly muffled, though the range of the material is obviously not going to be extraordinarily expansive. Its limitations are most noticeable during Archie's louder tirades, Gloria and Mike's spats, and moments when the audience is really in stitches. These portions sound clipped in comparison to the rest.
The most glaring error occurs around the 23:11 mark on "Gloria's Pregnancy". There's a pretty terrible audio stutter, sounding as if someone had bumped into an old jukebox and caused a record to skip, though it is not accompanied by a similar jump in the video. I watched all thirteen episodes in their entirety and didn't notice anything that comes remotely close to this in terms of severity.
I've watched several mono DVDs in the past week, and All In The Family, even in comparison to them, seemed low in volume. I had to bump it up a few notches to sound passable, and maintaining that volume after switching discs turns out to be a headache with the now-overinflated burst of the trademark Columbia/Tristar DVD theme. The overall quality is nothing spectacular, but should suffice.
Supplements: Absolutely nothing, which is a severe disappointment. None of the numerous retrospectives that have been produced over the years are present, nor are there any interviews, television spots, vintage reviews from critics, footage from the unaired pilots, footage from its British television inspiration...nothing. The episodes aren't even divided up into individual chapters, and the always appreciated "Play All" feature, as was the case with Columbia/Tristar's The Larry Sanders Show, is sorely absent.
Conclusion: That All In The Family is among the most influential and important television series in the history of the medium is inarguable, and the $30 or so that this 3-disc collection seems to go for at most e-tailers is comparable to other sets of similar length. The only things separating this DVD of the first season of All In The Family from the easily accessible versions on cable are the increased length of episodes (nothing to scoff at, obviously) and storage on such a robust format. Whether or not those warrant that sort of expenditure is up to individual viewers, but I would more enthusiastically recommend this set to established fans of the series and collectors who have more of an archival mindset. All In The Family deserves more than it's receiving here, but this 3-disc set is still very much recommended.
BFS Entertainment is, for those interested in a marathon of some sort, releasing a three hour set of the previously mentioned Till Death Do Us Part. It shares All In The Family's $40 list price and street date.