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Nanny: The Complete Series, The

Shout Factory // Unrated // May 26, 2015
List Price: $149.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted April 26, 2015 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
All of the flashy girl from Flushing you can take

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Classic sitcoms
Likes: The Nanny, Fran Drescher. Daniel Davis
Dislikes: Limited extras
Hates: Having to re-buy seasons

The Story So Far...
Fran Fine (Fran Drescher) was down in the dumps when her boyfriend dumped her and fired her from his Queens, New York wedding boutique. Going door to door to sell make-up, she ends up becoming a nanny to three sad-sack kids being raised by their cold theater-producing widower of a father. Her vibrant personality soon changes their lives for the better, as her warm but loud Jewish family becomes integrated with their repressed WASPy homelife. The sitcom ran for six seasons on CBS from 1993-1999, and has seen several DVD releases between 2005 and 2014, from two companies, resulting in the first three seasons being available on disc. DVDTalk has reviews of several of these sets.

The Show
The fish-out-of-water concept is an easy one to milk comedy out of in a sitcom setting. Try it with household help and you're traveling a road to frequent success, as seen on series like Mr. Belvedere, Who's the Boss? and this series, The Nanny. As Fran Fine, a down-on-her-luck cosmetics saleswoman, Fran Drescher injected some of New York's ethnic brashness into the upper-crust Sheffield home, headed up by British theater producer Max (Charles Shaughnessy, Days of Our Lives). Without a wife, he has his hands full with his three children, teenaged Maggie (Nicholle Tom, the voice of Supergirl on Justice League), middle-child Brighton (Benjamin Salisbury) and Grace (Madeline Zima, A Cinderella Story), the youngest one in therapy.

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 (Renée 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.

The DVDs
Spread over 18 discs, with a 19th for bonus content, the six seasons of The Nanny are packaged in three clear standard-width dual-hubbed keepcases with two dual-hubbed trays, with the bonus disc in a clear ThinPak case. The cases have double-sided covers with episode lists and airdates, and are held in a heavy, well-constructed slipcase. The discs have mildly animated, anamorphic widescreen menus, with options to play all the episodes and select shows. There are no audio options but closed captioning is included.

The Quality
For a series that's now more than 20 years old, these full-frame episodes look quite nice (though try to avoid watching them after viewing anything in HD, as the comparison does ‘90s broadcast TV no favors.) The color is rather well-saturated, capturing the bold hues of Fran's outfits, while never burning too bright. Skintones seem to be a bit on the pasty side, but that may be due to the cast more than anything. Though the image is a bit soft overall, the level of detail is reasonably high, while no noticeable dirt or damage. Digital distractions aren't a concern, though there can be some slight pixilation on thin dark lines.

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.

The Extras
The extras from Sony's release of the show's first season are carried over to this set, starting with three audio commentaries from Drescher on "The Pilot," "Imaginary Friend," and "I Don't Remember Mama." Considering how much she has to say about these episodes, Drescher is either very prepared or has a good memory, but considering she was both the star and producer, it makes sense that she knows so many details. Drescher's tone is very conversational, and the tracks have very few dead spots, making for three quality commentaries for fans of the series. There's some interesting background information shared along with plenty of her thoughts and feelings about the show. One story about how the series was picked up for a second season is almost unbelievable. Also, the choice of "Imaginary Friend" is not as random as it might seem, as Drescher explains during the track.

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
One of the classic sitcoms of the ‘90s, The Nanny follows the usual trajectory of any lasting sitcom, starting off well, growing strong quickly, before settling into routine, though this show skipped the inevitable slide into mediocrity and instead focused on stunt casting and wrapping up the show's core storyline, remaining entertaining until the end. The set's quality is fine and though there's not a lot of new bonus features, there are a few and they are somewhat substantial. For fans who bought the first three seasons, it will be hard to justify the cost of rebuying them to get the remaining three and the new extras,but if you held off, here's your opportunity to get all 146 episodes and the complete Nanny Fine story, a show that's compulsively re-watchable.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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