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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Growing Pains - The Complete First Season
Growing Pains - The Complete First Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // February 7, 2006
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted February 4, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
The classic '80s sitcom wasn't as cheesy as you remember

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: The '80s, sitcoms
Likes: "Growing Pains"
Dislikes: Kirk Cameron

The Show
In one of the extras, it's said that the reason "Growing Pains" worked is because it featured five television stars. That certainly helped, but the secret to the show's success lies more in the dynamic of the family. Leaving the father at home and sending the mom out to work, while creating a very open home environment, made the show stand out from the pack of family sitcoms that emerged during he '80s.

Personally, the fact that the show was set on Long Island made it highly attractive to me, as I could easily relate to Ben Seaver, the youngest child, played by Jeremy Miller. But before popping these discs in to review, I couldn't remember much else, besides Mike Seaver (Kirk Cameron) and his garage apartment, and the theme song. Therefore, it was something of a shock when Mike yelled "I'm probably gay!" or when Jason (Alan Thicke) and Maggie (Joanna Kearns) traded sexual innuendos. This was no G-rated family comedy.

While Ben and Carol (Tracey Gold) are important parts of the show, providing the cute kid and teen girl factors, the focus is truly the parents, who try to juggle their careers while raising their kids, and Mike, who gets most of the laughs and all the girls. Cameron became a superstar teen idol thanks to the part, and the show knew to hitch its trailer to his star. As a result, the first season features a number of Mike-centered episodes, whether it's Mike babysitting, Mike's girlfriends or Mike and his many bad decisions.

Despite the importance placed on the Mike character, Jason and Maggie get plenty of play themselves, as the show truly revolved around their unique work and home lives, and the way they interacted with their kids. Their stories tended to be heavier than Mike's, tackling plots about their relationship and their careers. Kearns is good as the family foundation, as well as the local MILF, but Thicke really shined in this show, as his loving, but liberal Jason let him put his goofy sense of humor to good use.

Of course, while the stories and characters are a big part of your enjoyment, the way the show has aged 20 years later is key as well. Truthfully, I expected it to be cheesier, but thanks to a relatively adult sensibility in the stories about Mike and his parents, the show isn't half-bad. Sure, the fashion and pop culture references are very dated (check out the many Members Only jackets), and the very special episodes, about topics like death, are heavy handed, but it's hard to be timeless and relevant socially at the same time.

One of the more interesting aspects of the series, at least in the earliest episodes, is the amount of effort that went into the look of the series. Camera angles, including the use of cranes, are far more advanced than most series of the time period, and there's quite a different feel to the way the cameras move through a scene. This goes a way a bit as the first season progresses, but it's easy to spot to start.

Also interesting is the role of Carol, a part that is rarely seen today: the brainy teen girl. Sure, brainy teens are hard to find anywhere on TV, but the brainy teen girl is essentially extinct, making Carol's massive glasses a symbol of a bygone era. One has to think that today, she'd be in belly shirts and hiphuggers rather than the staid outfits the show puts her into.

As with most TV shows from the '80s, there's a fair bit of curiosity factor at work, and "Growing Pains" is no different. Among the guest stars in the first season are Olivia D'Abo, Dana Plato (as a slutty Madonna wannabe), Dennis Haysbert ("24"), Brian Robbins ("Head of the Class"), Dan Lauria ("Wonder Years"), Annette Funicello and Gordon Jump ("WKRP in Cinncinnati").

The 22 first-season episodes of "Growing Pains" are spread over four DVDs, with five on the first and fourth discs, and six on the third and fourth. The discs come packed in a three-panel, two-tray, slipcased digipak, with the DVDs overlapped and stacked two per tray. The packaging is well-designed, with plenty of photos, and an episode listing.

The DVDs have static, anamorphic widescreen main menus, which include options to watch the whole disc, select individual episodes or adjust the languages (a special feature choice is found on the first and last discs.) The episode-selection menus are text lists. There are no audio options, but there are English, Spanish and French subtitles, and the discs do have closed captioning.

The Quality
The full-frame video is encoded at a relatively high average of 6Mbps, and as a result, the show looks consistently good. The color, though a bit dull, and level of detail are good for a show from 1985, and there's no obvious dirt or damage. Video noise and grain is evident across the set, along with some edge enhancement.

The sound is delivered in a Dolby Digital 2.0 presentation of a mono mix, and sounds as good as one can expect. The dialogue is clear and the sound effects are just fine. There's nothing worth complaining about here.

The Extras
Warner Brothers actually provided a few decent bonus features for this set, starting with deleted scenes from the show's original pilot, which featured Elizabeth Ward as Carol Seaver, instead of Gold. It's so odd to see a well-remembered show in such a different way, including a violent outburst by Thicke, which makes this such a welcome extra. Putting the full pilot on the DVDs, which is rather difference from the first episode, would have been nice, but these scenes are the next best thing.

Created just for this DVD, "Seaver Family Reunion: S'mores and More" brings together the first-season main cast with writer/producer Tim O'Donnell for a half-hour backyard campfire chat about the show, while they toast marshmallows and make s'mores. Presented in letterboxed widescreen, it's one of the better informal retrospectives done for TV DVDs, thanks to the unique concept. It is, though, entirely positive, with some prime apple polishing, and no mention at all of what Cameron did behind the scenes.

The extras end with an OK 5:28 gag reel, featuring Cameron, Thicke and Kearns for the most part. Considering the quality of the Chyron included, this seems like an older compilation, but it's a nice inclusion either way.

The Bottom Line
Sure, time changes perspective, but I certainly don't remember the show the way it plays on these DVDs. Perhaps it's the later Cameron-controlled seasons that created the memories I have, but this first season is actually a good sitcom that balances the cutesy kids stuff with more adult material, while still keeping things light. The DVDs look and sound good for the show's age, and contain some decent extras for fans of the show, making it an easy recommendation for the show's followers. Hopefully, unlike the "Brady Bunch" DVDs, the "Growing Pains" discs keep up this level of content. Anyone else should be happy with a rental, at least at first.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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