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In its seven-year run on television, Party of Five managed to portray extreme emotions in a contained, tasteful, and level-headed way without sacrificing poignancy or richness. Aimed at a teen audience but with crossover appeal to most viewers, the series dealt with recurring themes of loss and disappointment, made all the more interesting because Party of Five's major characters, especially in season 1, are youthful siblings coping with the recent deaths of their parents in an automobile accident.
Shocked into a beyond-their-years awareness of the fragility of ordinary life and the importance of loyalty and loving bonds, the Salinger offspring--24-year-old Charlie (Matthew Fox), high schoolers Bailey (Scott Wolf) and Julia (Neve Campbell), 11-year-old Claudia (Lacey Chabert), and baby Owen (various infant actors)--bring a deeply felt, sometimes desperate gravitas to lesser but still significant misfortunes in relationships, peer pressures, and ambitions. On top of that, each has to take on responsibilities beyond their experience--hiring nannies, raising money for mortgage payments, etc.--and make sacrifices robbing them of formative experiences. Charlie, accustomed to adult freedom, has to rejigger his plans and move back home as a surrogate, and often resented, parent. (If he doesn't do this, his brothers and sisters could be separated and sent to foster homes.) Ultra-responsible Bailey, with little time for homework, buddies, or girls, loses perspective and gets hung up on an older, appealing nanny (Paula Devicq). Top student Julia's academic career fades as she seeks a second family among undeserving thrill-seekers. Claudia, a gifted musician, pawns her violin.
Despite all that drama, the essence of Party of Five is the Salingers' homing instinct, the way they survive internal and external conflict to find their way back to reassuring family rituals--among them weekly (free) dinners at the restaurant their late father owned. The 22 episodes on six discs in this boxed set typically test the Salingers' hopes, dreams, and mettle, and while stories can certainly be unsettling, a viewer is never left with serious worries that things won't turn out all right. Among the highlights are "Homework," in which Julia, having made plans to attend a party rather than salvage her failing grade in English lit, stays home instead to save Bailey's bacon by writing his difficult term paper. The powerful "Thanksgiving" concerns a face-to-face meeting between the Salingers and the drunk driver (John Rubinstein) who killed their parents. Most memorable is a suite of episodes featuring Megan Ward as Bailey's girlfriend, Jill, a possible drug addict whose fate rocks the startling season finale, "The Ides of March." --Tom Keogh
So ok, I'm guessing everyone who's reading this review already knows about how great the show was so I'll focus on the DVD.
But first, I'll start by addressing two other reviews here with low-star rankings. First, to the person who said it was a poor-quality DVD with audio out of sync and color blotches, etc., that's not true at all and is a common trait of off-brand DVD players or even budget versions of name-brands and especially computer-based DVD players (although I'm not sure which the reviewer was using.) What I can say however is *every* DVD here plays pristinely on all of my equipment, including a notebook with a DVD drive. Perfect colors, perfect syncing, everything. It actually looks clearer and more razor-sharp than the original shows that aired on TV showing they most likely went right from the masters right to DVD rather than converting to an interim step first.
Second, to the person who commented that they didn't like how the producers 'decided to strip the opening credits and song from the first disc' didn't follow the show (or just doesn't remember), nor did they listen to the commentaries by the producers or actors. If they did, they'd remember that there *was* no opening credits or theme song for the first few episodes because there wasn't enough footage of the show yet recorded to make the opening scene! These DVD episodes are literally exactly as they appeared on TV, missing openings and all, including calling the Bodeans' song 'Closer to Free' 'Closer to Five' in the end credits! This is exactly what was aired. That's the way DVD-from-TV should be.
Which brings me back to the DVD extras. I really like that there's both producer and actor commentaries for a few episodes, but I'd say too few. For example, there's only one on discs 1 and 2 (with five episodes on the disc) and none at all on disc 3.
Also, the two 'special feature' interviews at the end are almost verbatim dialog between them and seem to be the same interview just shot on different days on different sets and edited differently. This of course isn't the actual case, and I attribute it to trying to remember something from ten years ago, but it did seem a little redundant. (For instance, at least three separate times Scott Wolf explains what 'Just look at the dog!' means. I'm glad he did--better too much than not enough--but I wish they would have extended the interviews to cover more topics perhaps including more about the actual filming or how Lacey Chabert trained to look sooo da*n convincing playing that violin even though she admits she can't play even one note!
Something else that I can't figure out is why was Neve Campbell left out of the actors commentaries for the episodes? They never said. At first, I thought maybe she wasn't part of the DVD release at all, but she is in the extra features, plus she's ironically the only name mentioned on Amazon as a cast member (without clicking 'more') and is even named in the title on the site! Go figure!
So to sum up, I love these DVDs. Finally one of the best shows on TV is making a come-back for the DVD-lovers out there. Plus the bonus extra interviews, etc. just make them that much more appealing. (Again though, I do wish there were more from the cast and crew as far as commentaries of the episodes. Maybe seasons 2-6) But all the extras are the 'nice to haves'. The 'must haves' are the episodes themselves which are faithfully replicated exactly as they aired. Perfectly.
Watch all of the episodes and definitely go through the interviews and commentaries and you'll quickly see why it won a Golden Globe and was called by TV Guide 'The Best Show you're Not Watching!'
Ok... now will someone tell NBC to release Hidden Hills seasons 1 through 1 (smirk) on DVD! Man, I'm still ticked that didn't make it to season 2! What a hilarious show!!!
This show was wonderful. It had a phenomenal cast. It dealt with issues in a real way. The show was always honest with itself and with the audience, especially in the first season. Give the show a look and you'll find yourselves in love with the Salinger's as well.