What do you get when an up-and-coming new minister in the British government meets up with his conservative and highly devious under-secretary, whose greatest concern is to derail any plans his new boss might have for reform of the ministry? Certainly not cooperation; while Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) might placidly utter the famous phrase "Yes, Minister," only his hapless boss, Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington), actually thinks that his plans are going to work out: the audience knows perfectly well that we're on our way to another humorous set of complications.
Yes Minister ranks highly as one of the most famous comedies to come out of Britain, but although I'd heard about the show, I'd never seen an episode of Yes Minister before starting to watch this set to review. As someone who's chronically uninterested in politics, I was afraid that the humor of Yes Minister would swoosh by over my head... especially if any of it was topical to the early 1980s when the show ran.
In that regard, I was pleasantly surprised. The first episode sets up the stage fairly well, with the hapless Jim Hacker installed as a newly appointed minister when his party arrives in power. The essential conflict is swiftly established: Hacker actually has some ideas about using his governmental post to actually govern, while the career civil servant Sir Humphrey is set on maintaining the comfortable status quo at all costs. So while Humphrey is nominally working for Hacker, we see from the start that he (and the rest of the staff) are really working against Hacker and Hacker's few real supporters (like his political advisor Mr. Weasel... I mean, Mr. Weisel). This face-off is the central pivot of Yes Minister: on the one hand, Hacker is eager and naive, and nominally in charge; on the other hand, Humphrey is experienced and cynical, and is the one who really runs things behind the scenes. Each episode sets up a problem or situation that is approached in quite different ways by the different people involved... as in "The Economy Drive," when Humphrey's apparent eagerness to go along with Hacker's idea of cutting expenses is really a cover for his plan to sabotage the entire program.
On the whole, I found Yes Minister to be reasonably entertaining and certainly watchable: the show, written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, offers snappy dialogue and plenty of witty lines for all the characters. For me, generally utterly uninterested in political commentary of any kind, it's saying a lot that I found quite a bit to be funny in Yes Minister; for those who come to the show with a liking for political satire to begin with, Yes Minister is sure to please. And indeed it did please audiences during its three-year run, winning the British Academy Award for Best Comedy during each of those years.
Yes Minister: The Complete Collection is indeed "complete," with all 21 episodes from the series' 1980-82 run appearing across four DVDs. Rather oddly, there's no indication in the chapter listing of where one season ends and the next begins: the episodes are simply numbered sequentially from 1 to 21.
The four discs of Yes Minister: The Complete Collection are packaged in a folding cardboard case that's about as wide as a typical double-wide keepcase. It's not terrible packaging, but won't stand up to wear as well as a plastic case.
Yes Minister looks amazingly good for a television program that's now more than twenty years old. The image is clean and clear, with colors and contrast looking solid throughout the episodes. I did notice a slight colored haloing effect once or twice, but it was both minor and short-lived. As seems to be a common problem in older British television programs, the outdoor shots look very worn and faded, but fortunately these are generally very short as well as uncommon; by far the majority of the show takes place indoors. Overall, I was pleased with the level of detail in the image, as well as by its "natural" and clean appearance.
All the episodes are presented in their original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1.
The soundtrack for Yes Minister is quite satisfactory. The dialogue is clear and clean, which is essential for a dialogue-based show like this one, with its frequent one-liners. The only fault I'd find is that the volume does tend to drift a bit low sometimes, with the effect of slightly muting the overall sound. I'm never all that keen on laugh tracks, but Yes Minister did originally air with one, so it's normal to find it on the DVD; fortunately, the laugh track in this case is relatively unobtrusive (as laugh tracks go) and generally doesn't overlap the dialogue.
Fans of the show will find several items of interest on the fourth disc of the set. "Sir Nigel Hawthorne Remembered" is a 42-minute tribute to the late actor, filmed in 1999 shortly before his final illness. This program covers Hawthorne's career as both a stage and screen actor, with clips from various performances as well as interviews. "A Short History of Yes Minister" is a five-minute piece that, as the title suggests, briefly discusses the origins and idea behind the show. Both of these special features are presented in anamorphic widescreen and are of excellent image quality.
The remainder of the special features include a three-minute interview with series co-creator Jonathan Lynn, from a 1981 television interview; biographies and filmographies for the principal actors and writers; and trailers for BBC America, Coupling, Father Ted, and French & Saunders.
With its worldwide following, the DVD release of Yes Minister has no doubt been eagerly awaited, and fans of the show will not be disappointed. Not only does The Complete Collection provide all the episodes from the series' three seasons, some of which apparently were never shown on U.S. television, but the image quality is excellent and there are some nice extras. It's recommended.