I think we've reached a point where NBC comedies are here today, gone tomorrow. Think of the recent list, "Jesse", "Tucker", "The Michael Richards Show" and a legion of others who escape from my memory already. And yet, years ago there seemed like there was promise. "Seinfeld" was a success, and although "Friends" was originally greeted as "yet another show about people in their 20's sitting around talking", here it is years later and, actually, even better than ever.
There have been pauses, breaks, delays. New hair styles from Aniston making news, attempts at movie careers (Schwimmer's one-two punch of "Kissing a Fool" and "The Pallbearer"), giant paydays on the front page, but the show has actually gotten better. If you're unfamiliar with the series (or simply don't have television?), it stars a cast of characters whose minor life events are successfully made engaging to watch through good comedic timing and solid writing. There's Chandler (Matthew Perry, "Three To Tango"), Joey(Matt Leblanc), Rachel(Jennifer Aniston, "Office Space"), Monica(Courtney Cox, "Ace Ventura"), Phoebe(Lisa Kudrow, "Romy + Michele") and Ross(David Schwimmer).
The disc contains some of the earlier episodes of the show - Disc 1: The Pilot, The One With Two Parts (One Hour), The One With All the Poker, The One Where Ross Finds Out, and The One With the Prom Video. Disc 2: The One Where No One's Ready, The One With the Embryos, The One With Ross's Wedding (One Hour), The One With the Thanksgiving Flashbacks, and The One Where Everybody Finds Out. There's some awkwardness some of the early episodes as it seems apparent that the cast was just starting to get in the groove of their characters and work with each other, but there are still some great moments.
Warner Brothers has issued two "best of" sets, much to the irritation of some of the shows fans, who would rather see the show released in full-season sets. Still, those who are casual fans will enjoy the ability to own these episodes - and hopefully there will be more sets that aren't "best of", but fill in the other episodes from these seasons. More than anything, these DVDs make for good entertainment on a Sunday afternoon when there's really nothing else on actual TV.
VIDEO: Warner Brothers offers "Friends" in the show's original full-frame presentation. I was quite impressed with how good these episodes looked. They're not flawless, but after the so-so showing of a couple of TV shows on DVD, these look particularly great. Sharpness and detail are very good throughout, and the earlier episodes look fairly consistent with the later ones. There's a few little problems throughout the shows that occasionally pop up such as a tiny bit of pixelation and edge enhancement, but these are not distracting, especially in light of how good the rest of the shows look.
Colors are rich and lively, and look solid and crisp without flaws. Flesh tones are also accurate and natural. Warner Brothers has really done a fine job - at their best, these episodes look superb.
SOUND: The episodes are presented in Dolby Digital 5.0 audio, and I was really suprised with how good they sounded. Certainly, it's a sitcom - it's not "U-571", but the mix of music and dialogue (and that constant laugh track) sounds particularly good here. Surrounds are nicely used, mainly to offer the music. The music sounds rich and clear, and the dialogue - certainly the focus on a sitcom, is clear and without any problems.
MENUS:: Menus are not animated, but the theme music plays behind the main menu.
EXTRAS: The music video for "I"ll Be There For You" and two featurettes. There is also extended footage on these episodes and cast/crew bios. It would have been nice if a commentary from the creators would have been included on at least the pilot and the ads for these episodes, as well.
Final Thoughts: Although these "best of" discs are maybe not what everyone wanted for "Friends", the presentation of these episodes is excellent with good audio/video quality. Recommended.