Chris Hicks: Groundbreaking 'All in the Family' newly released in complete DVD box set
Fans of “All in the Family” can find every episode and loads of bonus features in a new DVD box-set release of the seminal TV series on store shelves this week.
“All in the Family: The Complete Series” (Shout! 1970-79, 28 discs, $199.99, 213 episodes, new interview with producer Norman Lear, two documentaries, two original pilots; pilots of spinoffs “Gloria,” “Archie Bunker’s Place” and “704 Hauser,” 40-page booklet). Younger people may not realize just how influential, intelligent and laugh-out-loud funny “All in the Family” was — and still is. But all it takes is watching a few episodes. Nothing today comes close to its quality, and blue-collar sitcoms that followed and allegedly aimed for the same sensibility missed the point and instead merely wallowed in crass gags. Think “Roseanne” and “Married With Children.”
When “All in the Family” debuted in 1970 — focusing on uneducated right-wing bigot Archie Bunker (brilliantly played by Carroll O’Connor) and his ditsy but guileless wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), along with their innocent daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers) and her left-wing hippie college-student husband Mike, aka “Meathead” (Rob Reiner) — new ground was broken in ways that were initially a bit off-putting.
It it’s first year, the ratings were abysmal and the show was in danger of being canceled. But summer reruns brought in surprisingly big numbers and when Season 2 got going, “All in the Family” shot up to the No. 1 spot and stayed there for five successive seasons. And for the rest of its nine-year run, it never fell below 12th place.
Although it was sometimes an uncomfortable mirror to society, the show was also so smart and so hilarious that the viewing audience couldn’t help but embrace it, sparking weekly water-cooler discussions, especially after some of its more controversial episodes. Audience members were also forced to re-examine their feelings regarding people of other races and cultures. And thus the thought-provoking sitcom with dramatic themes was born.
“The Streets of San Francisco: Season 5, Volume 1 & Volume 2” (CBS/Paramount, 1976-77, six discs, $89.98, 24 episodes). Michael Douglas leaves the show following the two-part opener as Karl Malden gets a new partner, Richard Hatch. Douglas’ departure signaled the death knell for this popular police procedural but the final season’s scripts are well written and performed, making for a satisfying wrap-up. (Each 12-episode volume is also available separately, $42.99 each.)
“Copper: Season One” (BBC, 2012, three discs, $49.98, 10 episodes, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes). The first original scripted series for the BBC America cable channel is filled with interesting ideas and boasts a fine cast led by Tom Weston-Jones as a police detective in 1864 New York. Set roughly during the same period as the AMC cable show “Hell on Wheels,” but at the other end of the country, this show is equally dark, brooding and grimy. And like that show, its anti-hero protagonist takes some getting used to.
“Upstairs Downstairs: Season Two” (BBC, 2012, two discs, $34.98, featurette). The second season of this reboot of the beloved ’70s series finds London uneasy as World War II looms, and the Eaton Place household, though it seems to be running smoothly, is burdened by secrets of both the family and the servants. Nicely rebuilt version of the show is enjoyable for fans of British soap operas.
“Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 1995” (BBC, 1995, two discs, $34.98, eight episodes, hourlong special: “The Man Who Nearly Knew Pavarotti”). Wacky British sitcom adventures of Foggy, Compo and Clegg as they get involved with an amateur astronaut, a mysterious motorcyclist and a hermit discarding his van. The special features Norman Wisdom as a would-be pianist with stage fright.
“The Kathy Griffin Collection: Red, White & Raw” (Shout! 2009-2011, $24.97, seven episodes, deleted scenes). Seven of Griffin’s TV specials, uncensored and profane, for fans of the foul-mouthed comic.
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