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Who's the Boss: The Complete First Season
Who's The Boss? was one of the most popular American sitcom staples of the 1980s and early 90s. It enjoyed a successful eight-year run between 1984 and 1992 (quite rare in today's turbulent television industry), and remained one of the more enjoyable "guilty pleasures" of its time. Like the similar Three's Company (which was just ending its eight year run when Who's The Boss? premiered, this is a show that gets by on charm over originality. Turning traditional gender roles inside-out, Who's The Boss? tried hard to push the envelope, to show audiences things they weren't used to seeing on television. For that, it's a show that largely succeeds despite the limitations of the sitcom genre.
For starters, you can't have a successful show without an interesting set of characters. Here's the lineup: single dad Tony Micelli (played, of course, by Tony Danza) is really struggling to make it in New York City. Soon, he decides to leave with his young daughter, Samantha ("Sam", played by Alyssa Milano), for the safer atmosphere of Connecticut. Shortly after, he scores a job at the home of single mom Angela Bower (Judith Light), where he pulls triple-duty as a housekeeper, a father to Samantha, and a father figure to Angela's son Jonathan (Jonathan Pintauro). Also present is Angela's mother, Mona (Katherine Helmond, Brazil), who dispenses sarcasm, dry humor, and sexual innuendo (a la Mrs. Roper from Three's Company). To further complicate things, a slowly budding romance between Angela and Tony is often hinted at, but the awkwardness of their professional relationship often gets in the way.
Sure, it's often predictable and shows its age, but Who's The Boss? really brought a lot to the table when it premiered in 1984. While television shows were well beyond the point of depicting married couples sleeping in separate beds, the balance of gender "equality" was nowhere near today's level. In a situation that likely shocked most viewers, Who's The Boss? presented a successful woman who rejected a male employee based on gender (in the pilot, Angela accuses Tony of being "the wrong sex"), but his willingness to provide for his daughter won her over. In many social situations, Tony is even looked down upon by other men for assuming a career that was (unfortunately) regarded as "woman's work". Despite this unusual premise, Who's The Boss? really clicked with audiences right from the start, and would soon become one of the most popular sitcoms of all time.
20 years after the show's premiere, Columbia/Tristar presents the complete first season of Who's The Boss? on DVD. These 22 episodes are spread out over three discs, and stand proudly as the first steps on this show's road to success. The included episodes are listed below, and the technical portion of the review will follow shortly after.
Disc One: "Pilot", "Angela's First Fight", "Mona Gets Pinned", "A Rash Decision", "Dinner For Two", "Truth in Dating", and "Sports Buddies". NOTE: This first disc also includes the Bonus Features in their entirety, which are listed later in the review.
Disc Two: "Samantha's Growing Up", "Paint Your Wagon", "Protecting the President", "Guess Who's Coming Forever?", "Angela's Ex (part 1)", "Angela's Ex (part 2)", "Eye on Angela", and "Double Date".
Disc Three: "Tony's Father-in-Law", "Just Like Tony", "Keeping Up With Marci", and "First Kiss".
For a complete list of episode recaps, please see the link at the end of this review.
I wasn't expecting a great deal here, but the video quality wasn't that bad. Actually, the pilot episode is the chief offender, as it doesn't look much better than a VHS tape. To its credit, the overall video presentation does improve as the season goes on, and the 1:33:1 full frame transfer looks quite sharp by the final episode. While the color palette is somewhat bland and detail is lacking in certain shots, these factors also improve later in the season. While I'm sure the uneven video quality can be blamed on the original source elements, the poor organization of the material may also be a factor. With nine 22-minute episodes on each of the first two discs (as well as a light amount of extra material on the first), this material could have been much more evenly organized, as not to raise doubts about compression issues. In any case, this set can't get by on video quality alone, but hey...it's a low-budget sitcom from 1983, so it can't be judged on the same scale as modern TV collections.
The overall DVD presentation was clean and attractive, if not slightly generic. The menus are simply laid out and easy to navigate, which is always a plus for TV show releases. Each 22-minute episode is presented individually, with roughly two chapters for each (and a handy 'play all' option). The packaging featured a nice fold-out digipak case with a slipcover, and a brief episode recap booklet was also included. While this overall presentation wasn't anything new and different, it did the job nicely.
The bonus features were extremely disappointing, and basically consist of a half-dozen or so Featurettes totaling roughly 12 minutes. To make matters worse, they're nothing more than fluffy "greatest hits" clips from this season! In order, these highlight clips include "Brooklyn Meets Connecticut", "Tony Micelli: Man of the House", Angela Bower: President of the Corporation", "Mona…Mona…Mona…", "And the Children…Samantha and Jonathan", "Opposites Attract", and "How Will it End?" These are practically useless in the context of this release, as they show nothing we haven't seen already. For starters, it would have been great to see some vintage behind-the-scenes stuff, new interviews with the cast, or even some audio commentaries. The lack of real bonus features really takes this release down a notch, and I sincerely hope that Columbia/Tristar tries much harder for Season Two. With more work, this release could have been a true highlight of 2004.
If you're a fan of Who's The Boss?, you've likely been itching for this release for some time now. Even if you're new to the show, this one's worth a look, if only to see how much television has changed in the last 20-odd years. While it doesn't deliver in spades (especially in the extras department), this collection does a reasonably good job of preserving this first season, and does so for a very affordable price. In short, this release isn't on par with modern TV compilations---or even some of the classics, for that matter. However, it does provide a solid amount of entertainment for the dollar, and that's what TV on DVD is all about. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable cartooning instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.