I was never a regular watcher of Party of Five when it first aired on FOX television from 1994 to 2000. I may have followed it for a season or two, at most, and gradually became a sporadic viewer at best. Not that it was a bad show, mind you. It was one of those situations in which you miss a few episodes here, a few episodes there, and suddenly you're miles behind each and every one of the show's subplots.
A shame, really, because Party of Five was a pretty good show. The series dealt with the trials and tribulations of the Salinger siblings: Charlie (Matthew Fox), at 24, the eldest of the clan, Bailey (Scott Wolf), the jock, Julia (Neve Campbell), the beautiful if unsure of herself highscooler, Claudia (Lacey Chabert), the adorably precocious and artistically gifted youngster, and the baby Owen (various infants), who generally burps and poops a lot. As the series started, the five had just begun coming to grips with the autombile-accident deaths of their parents, who had been thevictims of a drunk driver. The group not only had to deal with the loss of their parents, but with the reality of life on their own. Charlie was thrust into the role of de facto parent and guardian, responsible for the livelihood of four minors. He develops a relationship with Owen's nanny (Paula Devicq), an event that is ripe with joy and frustration, a theme that runs rampant throughout the series.
It's really interesting to remember that when Party of Five first hit the airwaves, it was not an immediate success. At the time, FOX was flying high with such cheesy, smarmy, skin-laden and lightweight primetime soap-operas as Beverly Hills: 90210 and Melrose Place, and the relatively straight-laced Party of Five was definitely not cut from the same cloth. Series creators Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman, who had both worked as producers on the NBC drama Sisters, developed a show with more dramatic weight, portraying the existence of five siblings suddenly forced to live on their own with equal parts laughter and heartache. Although the cast is impeccably attractive, the characters felt like people (albeit rather pithy ones) rather than caricatures. Party of Five featured teens and young adults, but never felt like a "teens and young adults" show. The show won critical raves but not immediate popular success. Its cult status was elevated after it won a Golden Globe award for Best Television Drama, and the series at long last became a ratings success. It certainly raised the awareness factor of Neve Campbell, who would go on to find success in the Scream films and the camp classic Wild Things.
The following twenty-two episodes are included in this 5-DVD set:
Party of Five: The Complete First Season is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The transfer is pretty problematic. The overall image suffers from excessive compression noise and shimmering, the result of cramming upwards of five episodes per disc. There is some softness and lack of image detail, noticeable edge-enhancement, and a stable if rather muted color scheme. Contrast levels are adequate are deep blacks are moderately impressive. Overall, the image is mostly acceptable but disappointing.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, and presents a reasonably acceptable soundtrack. Dialog levels are impressively clear and bright, while surround effects are used to effectively highlight background and ambient noise without overloading the front stage. The show featured mid-90s alt-rock songs throughout its soundtrack, and these come across with acceptable range and punch.
There are some worthy extras of note on this disc. Cast and creators provide separate audio commentaries for the following episodes: Pilot, Thanksgiving, and The Ides of March. As is usual in these cases, the cast commentaries (featuring Matthew Fox, Scott Wolf, and Lacey Chabert) are the "chummier" of the two, while the creator commentaries (featuring Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman) provide more sedate if warmly-recollected anecdotal and technical information.
Disc Five contains two featurettes: Party of Five: A Look Back is an hour-long retrospective that examines the history and development of and reaction to the series, featuring the creators and stars of the show. This extra will probably be the favorite of any Party of Five fan. Creators Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman and stars Scott Wolf, Lacey Chabert, Neve Campbell, and Paula Devicq are all heavily featured throughout the retrospective, which is both quite detailed and extremely heartfelt. You really get the sense that these people loved the show. The second featurette is Party of Five: A Family Album, which runs nearly seventeen minutes in length. This segment focuses heavily on the first season, culling interviews with the cast and creators featuring their recollections of their initial year on the air. This feature repeats of a lot of information found elsewhere on the disc, but it nonetheless makes for a fairly affectionate addition.
Finally, there is a set of previews for 50 First Dates, Contemporary TV Trailers, Dawson' Creek, Go, and The Company .
I can recommend Party of Five: The Complete First Season, but with reservations. I didn't care too much for the presentation of the material. While the audio was pleasant, the video was a tad too compressed for my liking. Still the quality of the shows and the supplemental material definitely make a case for this set. I can understand and thoroughly appreciate Columbia Tristar's efforts to keep the price point below $50 retail, as well as include quality, value-adding supplemental material, but perhaps a sixth disc should have been included to smooth out the bit rate. Nonetheless, Party of Five fans will definitely enjoy their time revisiting the Salingers.