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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Only Fools and Horses: The Complete Series 1-3
Only Fools and Horses: The Complete Series 1-3
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // October 7, 2003
List Price: $79.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted January 7, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Program

Hype. Buzz. Build-up. Call it what you will, but it comes as no surprise that a first-time exposure to a beloved classic is sure to provoke pronounced responses from any would-be open-minded audience. To wit: recall the boatloads of neophytes whose first witness to Welles's Citizen Kane was via Warner's magnificent two-disc DVD release of 2002. Many were amazed by the film's bravado, its innovation in storytelling and the fractured, ominous narrative that set it apart from many films of its era. Yet there was that inevitable, cacophonous cry of "What's the big frickin' deal?!" After being bombarded with extreme platitudes of "Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made" from multiple respected sources, many first-time viewers could not reconcile the film they had just witnessed with the reputation of a popular culture icon that had been cultivated for decades.

So what exactly does this have to do with Only Fools and Horses? Quite a bit, actually. The sitcom, which premiered in September of 1981 and ran for seven seasons, emerged as one of the most beloved British television shows ever created. If you were to scour the Internet for information about the show, you wouldn't find it difficult to see the show described as "a national favourite", "a classic", "one of the very best British sitcoms of all time", "lots better than fruit cup", etc.. The show seems to have been a more beloved and endearing smash with viewers than with critics; it ranked #45 in the 2000 British Film Institute TV 100 poll (lagging behind such questionable stalwarts as The Jewel in the Crown and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?), but listening to the show's legion of fans describe their love of Only Fools and Horses makes it readily apparent that this program is the stuff of British pop-cultural legend.

So with all the love, all the accolades, this intrepid reviewer (who had never seen the show before) was skeptical. Really skeptical. This kind of extreme love for an unseen program always seems to result in apathetic disappointment. Thankfully, I needn't have worried. Only Fools and Horses not only came across as a warm and deeply funny program, it's simply a great show. 

Only Fools and Horses is set in working-class Peckham, and the show was centered on the comedic misadventures of the Trotter brothers, Del (David Jason) and Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst). Living in a cramped, dingy flat with their cheeseburger-loathing Grandad (Lennard Pearce), the duo eked a living mostly through cons and scams, using whatever resources they can in order to make a fast buck. Del , the older brother, is the smarter and more conniving one, always the wheeler-dealer, while simple, big-hearted Rodney is the slightly more sensitive soul of the pair.

Great television comedies come about through clever scripts and memorable characters, and Only Fools and Horses provides those in abundance. The barbed but good natured rapport between Del and Rodney is pretty much irresistible. The principal performers, who resemble Nathan Lane and the kid who played Nelson in Spring Break (respectively), are so believable and endearing in their roles that, after watching the first two episodes, I was instantly hooked. This is truly a wonderful show, and BBC's four-disc set of Only Fools and Horses: The Complete Series 1-3 is the perfect way for Region One viewers to get in on the ground floor.

The following episodes are included in this set:

Disc One - Series 1

  • Big Brother
  • Go West Young Man
  • Cash and Curry
  • The Second Time Around
  • A Slow Bus To Chingford
  • The Russians Are Coming

Disc Two - Series 2

  • The Long Legs of the Law
  • Ashes to Ashes
  • A Losing Streak
  • No Greater Love
  • The Yellow Peril
  • It Never Rains
  • A Touch of Glass

Disc Three - Series 3

  • Homesick
  • Healthy Competition
  • Friday the 14th
  • Yesterday Never Comes
  • May The Force Be With You
  • Wanted
  • Who's A Pretty Boy

The DVD

Video:

Only Fools and Horses was taped for British television, with some exterior scenes shot on film. The quality of the video is slightly disappointing but reasonably acceptable given the age and degradation of the original source material. The taped segments vary in sharpness, contrast, and vibrancy, while the filmed segments display some wear and fading. Compression noise and pixellation are noticeable at times: they packed a lot of episodes into each disc, and unfortunately it shows. Overall I'd say that the video is slightly problematic, but still eminently watchable.

Audio:

The audio is delivered in both Dolby Digital 2.0, and comes across as generally warm and satisfying. Dialog levels are clear and brightly rendered, although this tragically colonial viewer had to engage the subtitles more than once in order to decipher some of the more obscure accents and idioms. The presentation is monaural but is remarkably clear and enjoyable throughout.

Extras:

You will find all of the set's extras on Disc Four. The Story of Only Fools and Horses is a seventy-eight minute look back at the creation and production of Only Fools and Horses, and it's an absolute hoot. Writer John Sullivan, stars David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst, and others reflect upon the show with an infectious amount of anecdotes and affection.

The extras continue with three of the program's well-known Christmas Specials: Christmas Crackers, Diamonds Are For Heather, and Thicker Than Water. Collectively they run nearly an hour and a half, and the audio/video quality is on par with the rest of the episodes in this set.

There are also text biographies for the principal cast and crew of the series, a photo gallery consisting of video slideshow of stills from the show set to the theme that runs over the closing credits, and a Peckham Concise Trotter Dictionary, which provides definitions to some of the terms and colorful lingo used throughout the show.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed every last moment of Only Fools and Horses. True, several scenes and bits of dialog are somewhat dated by contemporary standards, but then again this is a twenty-three year old show. To place things in their proper perspectives, while Britons were chuckling at the witty exploits of the Trotter brothers, Americans couldn't get enough of the subtle intricacies of such delectable fare as Mork and Mindy. Eesh.

BBC's release of the first three seasons of the show in one set is a definite cause of celebration for Region One fans. Included are the first twenty episodes, three Christmas specials, and a wonderful documentary that is as entertaining as the shows themselves. I only wish that the video quality could have been improved. No amount of digital wizardry is going to make twenty-three year old videotape look smashing, but the amount of compression on this set is disappointing. Nonetheless, the quality of the programs almost makes up for this. For fans, this is a must-buy. I also recommend this highly for fans of British comedy, although first timers might want to give it a rental.

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