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Friends: The Complete Series
Click on image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p ResolutionFriends is one of the greatest sitcom series in television history and it is finally available to own in one beautifully packaged complete series Blu-ray collection that is going to skyrocket to the top of Christmas wish-lists this Holiday season. The series ran for ten beautiful years and, yes, it is now available to own in a collection that collects all ten of those years in high definition glory. What a show... and undeniably awesome sounding collection.
Friends is a sitcom series that followed the spirited friendships, lives, and romances of the six main characters: Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Chandler (Matthew Perry), Monica (Courteney Cox), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Ross (David Schwimmer), and Joey (Matt LeBlanc). These characters became the friends of television audiences everywhere as we got to experience everything significant (and not so significant) in their lives in Manhattan. The good stuff. Miserable moments. The comedy. The drama. Friends was a beautifully written series of massively successful proportions. It's arguably the greatest sitcom ever (well, it's at least definitely tied with a similarly-fashioned series named Seinfeld).This is a series that had a significant impact regarding the pop-culture landscape and it even warmed the audience spirit and entertained viewers of all ages. In some ways, Friends even changed the television landscape altogether and helped to redefine it as something new and exciting everywhere. Friends has remained one of the most popular and endearing series of network television throughout many years of syndication and it will undoubtedly continue, considering the fact that there is going to eventually be many generations of fans who love Friends.
It's doubtful that this series will ever fade away into pop-culture obscurity. Friends was brilliant television when it originally aired and it holds up today as one of the most easily re-watchable and entertaining series around. Some might want to refer to it as a "warm blanket". I certainly don't mind calling it that sometimes.
Seriously, Friends is something that has always brought me comfort over the years and it has for millions of other fans too. If you haven't jumped onto Friends fandom and its joyful choo-choo train yet, then now is a perfect time to become an acquainted fan. For we will always live in a world where we need friends and Friends is something we can rely on to always be there to remind us.
As far as television sitcoms go, Friends is a masterpiece. With amazing writing and actors who brought their characters to loveable and unforgettable life week after week and year after year, I cannot think of another series that did a better job of crafting great memorable moments, thrills, and excitement than this remarkable series managed to accomplish for ten years in a row and it did so without ever failing or letting audiences down. Friends always hit a home run and took home the gold.
The Blu-ray Collection:
Friends: The Complete Series arrives on Blu-ray with only the original broadcast versions of the episodes and not in any other form (either extended or syndicated). Fans can rest easy knowing that the set at least contains these episodes as they were originally broadcast for the first time, and it does not include the trimmed for syndication versions. However, fans are likely to be confused as to the lack of extended cuts. The extended versions of episodes were found on previous DVD editions of the show.
Extended episodes have not been included on this release following Warner Bros. indication that the DVD scenes reinserted into episodes to form those extended cuts utilized materials that were not available to create High Definition elements for the extended scenes. In other words, former sequences that had been expanded were likely edited onto videotape and the original masters no longer exist. It's what most likely happened with this uncommon scenario. Thus, Warner Bros. has not included them because these scenes would have been in 4:3 full frame and in standard definition. I imagine that the studio would have also had to reassemble these versions (which may have been somewhat cost-prohibitive for the Blu-ray release).
I can sense many fans already groaning about this aspect of the release. I hear you. This is an issue that no fan will want to face. Unfortunately, it's one of the aspects of the set that should ultimately be taken into consideration. If you are a fan looking for the extended episodes only and can't live without them it's something to consider when weighing in on the pros and cons concerning this release. I still insist that it's worth considering this set. Yet individual fans will have to
In a perfect release (given the quality situation with the extended material masters), Warner Bros. would have included the DVD discs within this set so that all fans would be able to at least have the option to switch between the extended and original broadcast versions. This option would be beneficial to fans in the video department area as well because then a fan could choose between viewing the high definition widescreen presentations and the original 4:3 full frame versions (see the video section for more details).
Click on image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p Resolution
Fans might get upset over the shortcomings of this set. I can understand that. It does have some shortcomings, and because this show is an absolute favorite for so many fans (myself included) to say that the complete series release on Blu-ray (which has been a highly anticipated set) has some flaws and is not an entirely flawless release is going to be annoying for many of you out there. It's understandable.
On the flip-side is the fact that most fans of Friends already own the DVD season sets. I was a fan that had previously collected all of them. If you are one of the many fans who had already collected the DVD editions of Friends and the issues present on this set bug you enough that there's a desire to switch back and forth between the DVD and Blu-ray editions then you can keep the DVD's you likely already own while enjoying the fact that the Blu-ray presentation exceeds every previous presentation in terms of overall picture-quality. The DVD editions of Friends never looked that great to begin with and the Blu-ray presentation is unquestionably superior.
This set isn't perfect. I can't argue that it is a perfect set because it's got a lot of issues that undoubtedly will annoy some buyers. What I will say is that I have never thought that this incredible series would ever arrive on Blu-ray in High Definition and that it would look as amazing as it does on this Blu-ray release.
Keep expectations in check and the PQ will actually amaze many fans. I had chills up and down my body while experiencing Friends in HD for the first time. It's a brand new experience and I was thrilled to know that I had the entire series this way. I was never happy with the PQ on the original DVD releases and even less happy when I saw what they looked like on my HDTV. I was thrilled that a Blu-ray set was announced. I was thrilled that it was released. I am thrilled owning it. Friends: The Complete Series is a huge step forward in the television on Blu-ray marketplace and a must own set for those fans who are OK with the issues present on this otherwise impressive and worthwhile release.
Friends arrives on Blu-ray with 1080p widescreen transfers remastered from the 35mm film elements. This is the first time Friends has ever been released on home media in widescreen. Friends was only released on DVD in the original broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame.
Many fans will undoubtedly find this confusing. For this Blu-ray release, Warner Bros. went back to the original film elements and restored them for superior picture quality. During the process, they also made the series open-matte (where the sides are opened up) so that more information can be seen on the left and right and thus creating a widescreen image.
When the widescreen episodes first appeared on syndicated television, some fans took notice that the episodes occasionally featured annoying and out-of-place elements (such as boom mikes and camera operators and the ends of the sets). That sounds awful. Luckily, Warner Bros. worked to resolve these issues by cropping the occasional problematic shots. This leaves fans with an odd camera angle or framing issue every once in a while but for the most part this solved the main issue with opening the series up for a widescreen presentation and the major issues were then addressed effectively.
Of course, the fact that Warner Bros. had to go back and fix some scenes by cropping them to prevent awkward moments such as camera-people showing up on screen begs the question of why the series was transferred to widescreen to begin with. This is clearly not the original TV broadcast ratio that was used for the High Definition release. Some fans are probably crying malarkey right now.
I was surprised by my reaction to the widescreen transfers. I was having mixed feelings about this effort prior to watching episodes on the release and what I can say might surprise you. As someone who has been a longtime supporter of O.A.R. presentations and nothing else, I was surprised by how beautiful Friends looked in widescreen. It's a good thing Warner Bros. removed information that was detrimental to certain shots, but for the most part this was essentially like viewing Friends for the first time again. Friends seemed to feel just fine.
Click on image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p Resolution
Moving past the aspect-ratio issue (which may either thrill or annoy you), the actual PQ is dramatically improved over the quality on the previous DVD sets. The earlier seasons in particular were significantly upgraded by getting the boost to High Definition.
It's not a stunning picture quality improvement worth ranking with modern films or a completely restored film classic but when one considers the fact that Friends is a newly remastered 90's television sitcom it feels difficult to not appreciate the newly remastered presentation and it actually seems hard to overlook the limitations of the source material (which is something I would suggest considering in this equation as well).
The picture quality is grainy and has some softness overall. Yet it's a decidedly film-like transfer for each episode, there are no issues with abundant DNR or other manipulations, and everything looks free of any dirt or other problematic issues of the sort. There are also some minor issues in regards to color and contrast during many of the episodes, and this will be bothersome to some. However, these aren't deal-breaker issues. Mostly, I thought the show looked beautiful. There are some issues bust most of these issues are inherent to the time of the production and to the source material.
Friends hasn't received a lossless upgrade in the audio department for the Blu-ray release. It's only presented with standard Dolby Digital 5.1; the same kind of audio that one can hear on a DVD edition of the show. It's nothing stunning. There are few sound effects and mostly it's a surround field used for the laugh-track and music only.
I am disappointed by how little effort went into bringing the audio quotient up to date for this show. However, I also wonder if the effort would have been even necessary for this type of show. I have to at least consider this aspect.
As much as I would have loved to have a much more immersive surround field and lossless sound for Friends, I also can't help but wonder if it would have even benefited the material. Nothing about the audio presentation necessarily warrants a better presentation sound-wise. Friends: The Complete Series might just be a rare Blu-ray release where it's not actually a massive deal to most fans that the studio didn't deliver a higher-quality lossless audio mix.
Friends: The Complete Series carries over the extras from the previously released DVD season sets, except that it doesn't include the extended episodes from the previous DVD releases (see detailed information in the main body of this review). The release is also inexplicably missing two commentary tracks from season two. Friends: The Complete Series comes packaged in a deluxe black box that is magnetized to hold it closed, and it has a lenticular cover which goes between a cast photo from an early season and from the final 10th season. It's a cool effect to enjoy as far as lenticular effects go but it does cause the set to look a bit off when displaying Friends: The Complete Series prominently in your collection. Your Mileage May Vary here.
The discs are housed in a hardback book style packaging inside of the hard outer box design, although there's no written content included in this part of the package. The discs are stored within paper-sleeve style slots through several pages. Each season takes up one page and is presented across two color-coordinated discs.
There is a separate mini-book that contains an introduction for the Blu-ray set that was written by Kevin Bright (executive producer), Marta Kauffman (co-creator, executive producer) and David Crane (co-creator, executive producer). The book then contains a season by season breakdown for every episode with titles, writing/directing credits, brief descriptions, and commentary info. Special features are also listed for each respective season and for the bonus disc. Lastly, some beautiful promotional pictures of the cast have been included on several sheets throughout the booklet.
There's about twenty hours worth of supplements included on the Friends: Complete Series release (many of these hours consist of commentaries and SD supplements from previously released sets). There's still a lot of material here but it's perhaps a tad less than fans would expect for a series this essential.
Click on image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p Resolution
Each commentary is with Kevin Bright (executive producer), Marta Kauffman (co-creator, executive producer) and David Crane (co-creator, executive producer) unless otherwise indicated. Certain episodes contain the three usual commentators and select guests.
The following episodes include commentaries:
Season 1: Pilot
Season 3: The One Where No One's Ready, The One With the Football (featuring Art Director John Shaffner), The One the Morning After
Season 4: The One with Chandler in a Box, The One with the Embryo, The One With Ross's Wedding
Season 5: The One Hundredth, The One With All the Thanksgivings, The One Where Everybody Finds Out
Season 6: The One Where Ross Got High, The One That Could Have Been
Season 7: The One With the Holiday Armadillo (featuring Costume Designer Debra McGuire), The One With Joey's New Brain, The One With Monica and Chandler's Wedding
Season 8: The One Where Rachel Tells Ross, The One With the Videotape, The One Where Rachel Has a Baby
Season 9: The One With the Male Nanny, The One With Rachel's Other Sister, The One in Barbados
Season 10: The One With the Late Thanksgiving, The One Where the Stripper Cries, The Last One
The following video supplements are included across the seasons and are presented in 1.33:1 full frame (as presented on the original DVD releases):
Friends of Friends Guestbook contains clips of guest star appearances and includes interviews across the seasons.
What's Up With Your Friends? are brief montages of the characters and each section features clips highlighting the various seasons.
The One with the Trailer of Season 2 is a season two trailer (exactly as it sounds with Friends lingo).
The Uncut Version of "Smelly Cat"
Friends Around the World is a brief look at dubbed versions of Friends from around the world.
The One That Goes Behind the Scenes is a reasonably extensive fifty-minute documentary by Discovery Channel that details the production of the show and takes audiences inside how it's made in the writer's room and on set. This documentary features many interviews and insider footage that makes it a worthwhile supplement for fans.
Friends: On Location in London is a two-minute long look inside the Friends detour to London.
Gunther Spills the Beans and takes a look at the future of Friends.
Things get a bit more confusing at this point. The supersized episodes broadcast during season 7 are not presented on this set in High Definition and are instead included in Standard Definition within the bonus features.
They are included on the Season 7 set under the tagline of "The Ones with More Friends". I can only guess that these episodes were edited in SD. Nothing else makes sense to me as to why these particular episodes are excluded from being in HD in the original broadcast versions.
Instead, the episodes are presented in an edited broadcast form in high definition. Luckily, those other supersized episodes from the rest of the series don't have this problem and are presented with high definition transfers throughout the rest of the set.
Behind the Style: The Look of Friends is a twenty-minute long documentary about the costume designer, makeup artist, and hair stylist who bring top quality work on to the show and how it contributes to the success of Friends.
The last substantial season-set extra is for the final season. It's entitled Friends Final Thoughts and it offers audiences twenty-five minutes of reflections about the show from the creators and cast that made it brilliant for ten seasons.The remaining season-specific extras include Gag Reels from Seasons 1 through 10 (excluding the fifth season, which never received one) and two music videos: Joey Joey (featuring Matt LeBlanc) and Phoebe Battles the Pink Robots (a reworked version of The Flaming Lips own Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots).
Exclusive Blu-ray Bonus Disc Supplements:
Friends: The Complete Series includes an exclusive bonus disc that is only included in this Blu-ray edition of the series. The main inclusion, the "True Friends Documentaries" are presented with 1080p High Definition transfers.
True Friends Documentaries: Friends from the Start, When Friends Become Family, and The Legacy of Friends. These three documentaries explore the development of the show, its cast's unity and chemistry and how that helped to define the show as the gigantic success it became, and the lasting impact of the series. All told, these three documentaries offer over an hour of new material for Friends fans. Unfortunately, there are no appearances from the original cast leads.
The Original Producer's Cut of The One Where Rachel Tells Ross is presented in Standard Definition. This is the first time this cut of the episode has been made available. It had been altered before broadcast because of a scene that was filmed involving an airport bomb joke, something which had been filmed prior to 9/11. The script for this episode is also included.
Friends Visit The Ellen DeGeneres Show (16 min.) is a sit-down with Ellen for some of the Friends actors. The interviews were recorded separately but this should still be an exciting supplement for fans of Friends and Ellen (who had her own awesome sitcom, of course).
Friends on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (22 min.) starts off with just a few of the main Friends cast members joining Jay Leno as they watch the series finale before it become the farewell featuring the entire cast on stage.The final inclusions on this disc is The One with the Never-Before-Seen Gags; a compilation of newly released comedic gag moments and the music video for "I'll Be There for You" by The Rembrandts. For the record, the opening theme song for Friends still moves me after all these years.
Friends has finally arrived on Blu-ray. The good news? Friends has finally arrived on Blu-ray. The episodes have never looked better before. The bad news? None of the extended episodes included on DVD before are included here. None of the episodes are presented with a lossless audio presentation. The episodes are technically not presented with the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio (although... Friends does look so amazing in widescreen you might not even care about this at all). The set includes fewer brand-new extras than some were anticipating. The good news? Friends has finally arrived on Blu-ray. The episodes have never looked better before.
Yeah, I just repeated the good news. I did that because I don't want to overshadow it with the bad news regarding this set. The bottom line is that this set is the best way to experience this series if you don't mind the episodes being presented in open-matte widescreen with some occasional framing hiccups, the loss of extended episodes that were presented on DVD in previous releases, and if you are OK without lossless audio on the episodes and without a massive amount of new bonus features. I get that this sounds like a lot of issues, but it is definitely not worth passing on this set because of them.
This release doesn't hit a home run but for what it's worth it's one of the best and most exciting Blu-ray releases for a television series to date. It presents one of television's greatest series in a way that is immeasurably better than any previous home video release when it comes down to picture quality. This collection may end up being considered as one of the most controversial Blu-ray releases, but I love the set and am happy owning it this way. I expect there are many Friends fans who would be thrilled owning a collection of every episode in High Definition. Warner Bros. has released a set that is absolutely worth owning. You just have to overlook certain hiccups and make those purchasing decisions accordingly.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.