All of the flashy girl from Flushing you can take
The Story So Far...
In a sitcom coincidence, Fran arrives at the uptight Sheffield residence to sell make-up to the lady of the house, just as Max is looking for a nanny for his out-of-control children. A resume hastily written in lipstick is all it takes for Nanny Fine to join the household, which also includes her fellow servant, butler Niles (Daniel Davis), and Max's business partner CC (Lauren Lane), who will become her friendly nemesis. The sitcom takes a bit of Who's the Boss? (the servant/employer will-they-won't-they relationship) and combines it with touches of I Love Lucy (Fran constantly attempts to be part of Max' business) along with a heavy focus on Jewish culture and stereotypes to create a show that's legitimately classic.
The rhythm of the comedy is heavily old-school, following the setup/punchline construction, but the main adult cast, particular Davis, a master of deadpan delivery, all worked it to the hilt. Drescher's character walks a fine line between sexy and goofy, confident and insecure, which makes her reactions to any situation unpredictable yet consistent. Her ability with physical comedy adds a dimension to her performance that drew positive comparisons to Lucille Ball. As Maxwell Sheffield, Shaughnessy hits the right notices of wealth, while showing tremendous chemistry with Drescher both in comedic and romantic matters. However, it wouldn't be half the show it is without Davis and Lane, whose caustic sniping is often a highlight of any given episode.
While Fran's life with her new employer and his family is the main thrust of the series, her relationship with her own family and friends is key as well, and when her two worlds intersect, it can be even funnier, as Fran can fake the class of Max's social circle, but her mother Sylvia (Ren้e Taylor) is pure Queens, as are Fran's grandmother Yetta and Fran's dimwitted best friend Val. While they can be embarrassing for Fran, they are her support and represent her roots, which is where you see the stereotype comedy come from, particularly the frequent use of Yiddish and an obsession with Barbra Streisand (culminating in an appearance (in impersonator form and in Drescher form.) They also make for some of the best parts of the series as Yetta's senility is hilariously played for laughs along with Val's ignorance, while Sylvia is the archetypal Jewish mom and tremendous opposite just about any other character on the show (though one wonders why it seems like as of season two the Fine women all almost live at the Sheffields' house.) There's nothing groundbreaking about any of this Catskills-style comedy, but it is consistently well done.
One of the elements of the show that actually is unique, specifically as the seasons rolled on, is how it would have fun with the very concept of the show, often dipping into fantasy or homage. Part of it was the fun of treating Drescher like a Barbie doll, as her costumes were consistently over the top, especially when going off the rails, like when Fran becomes a muse to a musician and dressed in a sexy all-leather outfit, when she played her mother in a flashback, in her 60s finest, or when she imagines having a big family and becoming Shirley Partridge. But there was a sense the show would try anything, be it transforming the series into The Dick Van Dyke Show (complete with black and white), telling jokes in subtitles or producing full-on musical numbers. The series also enjoyed playing with meta comedy, giving a wink to the audience that they know it's a TV show, noting the ridiculous nature of what was happening (often comparing situations to other TV shows, with one episode "When You Pish Upon a Star" piling on the commentary.) At one point, Fran even meets the real-life Fran Drescher, who plugs the very show she's on.
Though some people may not enjoy the traditional comedy of the series (which is still streets ahead of anything CBS is doing today) it's all very well-done, even if the comedy involving the kids can come off as a bit awkward in the early seasons, as the young actors find their voices. If there's anything that just doesn't work, aside from "The Chatterbox," one of the most legendarily obvious (and bad) backdoor pilots ever, it's the frequent topical references, which will leave anyone without a well-functioning knowledge of 90s pop-culture, particularly the Clinton White House, often wondering what the joke is (as with the appearances by Roger Clinton.) Though the references are often very 90s, the guest stars are mostly timeless, as the show's show-biz setting and classic sitcom sensibilities lent themselves to an incredible array of guest stars, including Cloris Leachman, Dan Aykroyd, Rita Moreno, Joe Bologna, Patti Labelle, Ben Vereen, Wallace Shawn, Bob Barker, Tyne Daly, David Letterman, Michael McKean, Alex Trebek, Lainie Kazan, Milton Berle, Lorna Luft, Jane Seymour, Marvin Hamlisch, John Astin, Rosie O'Donnell, Elizabeth Taylor, Joyce Brothers, Monica Seles, Burt Bacharach, Jason Alexander, Nora Dunn, Donald Trump, Joan Collins, Jay Leno, Jon Stewart, Bette Midler, Ed Begley, Jr., Pamela Anderson, Celine Dion, Roseanne Barr, Elton John, Brian Setzer, Lisa Loeb, Chevy Chase, Scott Baio, Michael Bolton, Dick Martin, Ray Romano (playing his Everybody Loves Raymond character), Maria Conchita Alonso, Chris Elliott, Hal Linden and, in one Love Boat-worthy celeb fest of an episode, Whoopi Goldberg, Estelle Getty, Coolio, Howie Mandel, Martin Mull, Caroline Rhea, Rita Rudner and Bruce Vilanch. Two guest stars stand out though. One was surprising for fans of monologuist Spalding Gray, as he was a semi-regular at one point, playing Fran's therapist in nine episodes, bringing his quirky personality to the series. The other is incredibly out-there, as singer Ray Charles plays Yetta's fiancee in several episodes. He doesn't do a whole lot in the role, though he does sing a song in one episode, but his presence alone, in a couple with Yetta, that makes him so memorable. Surprisingly, there are no notable big stars making early appearances in the series.
Unlike so many sitcoms, there's a legitimate story arc to The Nanny, as Fran works her way into the lives of the Sheffields, both the kids and the father, and overcomes the will-they/won't-they storyline (which becomes entirely ridiculous toward the middle two seasons, as Fran and Max's relationship moves forward and is then walked back.) The kids grow and mature, with Fran's influence, over the course of the series, and the adversarial connection between Niles and C.C. morphs into something...else. The final two seasons focus on the after-the-will-they, putting a fine cap on the series, even if the energy the flirtations gave the show are gone. In fact, the show's predilection for heart-tugging plot points ramps up on the back nine, with a number of downbeats. However, after four-plus seasons with the Sheffields, the show earned the goodwill to make it through to a proper ending despite delivering less laughs. It may not have been as funny as it had been earlier, but it was still enjoyable.
No one's going to be surprised by the Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks included in this set, which are clear and clean, but which offer nothing more than your standard TV audio. The laugh track doesn't dominate the dialogue or music, making for a quality presentation.
On the bonus disc, the 21-minute full-frame featurette, "The Making of The Nanny," returns, offering a well-edited look back, including solo interviews with Drescher and her ex-husband and production partner Peter Marc Jacobson, the three kids, now grown-up, and Grandma Yetta, Ann Morgan Guilbert. Some of the info is repeated from the commentaries, but the added viewpoints and accompanying clips from the show make for a fun remembrance of the show.
New to the set is a pair of conversations between Drescher and Jacobson, "The Unique Vision of The Nanny" (29:56) and "The Nanny Finds a Home" (28:46). Why they were split into two is unclear, as there's nothing really differentiating the two pieces, which cover a variety of topics related to the show, including the character's style, the show's origins, how the sitcom business has changed since the show aired, the guests on the show, casting, and general discussion of the series. Some of the more interesting points focus on how the show was changed in syndication and the effect of audience testing and timeslot shifts on the show. There's some repetition from the other pieces, but it's a good listen.
One extra that's not listed on the box is "The Nanny Reunion: A Nosh to Remember" a 42-minute special produced by Lifetime in 2004. Drescher holds a get-together at her home for her former castmates (with the exception of Davis, who doesn't attend.) The friendly relationship between the actors is obvious as they chat and eat (joined by a special guest.) The best parts of the show are the bloopers and home videos they watch as part of the party. More of these would have been very welcome.
Also included is a 24-page booklet with an episode guide featuring descriptions and airdates, with stills from the show and promo photos.
The Bottom Line