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In 1994, NBC television premiered a show which it hoped would continue their dominance of Thursday night television. As Friends began its run then, I’m not sure NBC had any idea it would become the television institution that it has.

The Series
Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Joey. Their names have become such a part of pop culture that you don’t need their last names to know that I am referring to the six characters of Friends. They have become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that we can almost relate what has occurred in their lives for the last ten years. It seems as though we were there for Ross’ and Rachel’s first kiss, for the showing of the prom video, the Thanksgiving Day football game and the multitude of other situations the six have found themselves in over the years. Now, as the seventh season begins, Monica and Chandler find themselves engaged to be married, and the entire season unfolds with the impending wedding as a backdrop.

Friends: The Complete Seventh Season
And what a season it is! The seventh season is clearly one of the most creative and funny seasons the show has produced. After a few years of less than stellar episodes, this season brought the show back to it’s prominence among NBC’s “Must See TV” line-up. There are truly some hilarious episodes in the mix. During the season, we learn out many things about our group: Chandler hates dogs, Ross hates ice cream (“It’s just so COLD!”), Phoebe can’t ride a bike, Monica keeps a wedding book which she has had since she was a child (of course with the potential reception locations organized alphabetically, geographically and by square footage), Chandler once kissed a man and Ross once soiled himself. Each of these comes out during a season which also saw some other side storylines, such as Rachel hiring and then dating a young handsome assistant, only to have the relationship end at the conclusion of her 30th birthday party, Ross attempting to teach his son Ben about Chanukah, and the disastrous result of Monica’s wedding shower. The season ends on another of its famous moments (which I won’t reveal here), but the show really had (and has) a knack for keeping a waiting public talking about the season ending events during the summer rerun months.

There is not much that can be said about the cast of Friends that hasn’t already been said. I believe the show has been as successful as it has because of the obvious chemistry the cast members have for one another, and, perhaps as important, that they so easily integrate other characters into their world seamlessly. Guest stars such as Eddie Cahill (Rachel’s office romance Tag Jones), Elliot Gould and Christina Pickles, who portray Monica’s and Ross’ parents, and a host of others seem to have been on the show for years although their characters only last for an episode, a story arc, or the occasional guest appearance. The writing certainly has something to do with this, and it was extremely crisp and ‘fall off your’ seat funny during this season. It is not difficult to see why this show has lasted as long as it has.

Friends: The Complete Seventh Season
Video
Warner has done a good job with the video transfer of all of the Friends seasons. One of the advantages of the show is that it is filmed (as opposed to some sitcoms, which are video taped). This allows for a much clearer and sharper transfer on the discs. The colour levels are all done very well and the flesh tones are spot on. There are a lot of colours going on in the different sets (especially Monica’s, Chandler’s and Phoebe’s apartment), and yet they are never overwhelming or bleed into each other. Although the disc is in “standard format”, basically full screen, this is as it was filmed (indeed as all sitcoms are filmed) and there is nothing that appears to get lost or is missing in the frame. This is also, a clean transfer in regards to artefacts and dust/grain—a nice job video-wise.

Audio
Sporting a newly re-mastered Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround soundtrack, the season set on a sound level is also quite good. Dialogue is always kept at just the right level, and is always very audible and never drowned out by others or the laugh track. There is almost no crackling or hissing heard at any point during the presentation, and the music is strong but not overbearing. Being a sitcom, there is not much for the audio to do to “wow” us, other than to make sure that we hear the “witty banter” that occurs between the main characters, and thankfully the audio track come through in fine fashion.

Friends: The Complete Seventh Season
Extras
What has become the standard set of extras for the Friends season sets are present in here as well. One extra which is difficult to pin down are the numerous “never-before-seen moments” which are included. They are difficult to pin down because they have been seamlessly inserted into the various episodes and seem as though they have always been part of the episode. They are obviously present, however, as one can tell from the various episode lengths, which range from twenty three to as much as twenty seven minutes.

I am a sucker when it comes to bloopers or as they have been commonly called, “gag reels”. They are essentially something that is put together by the producers at the end of a season and shown at the season ending cast and crew party of blown lines, mess ups, actors laughing uncontrollably and other mishaps that occur during the taping of the season. Clocking in at nearly ten minutes here, the season seven one does not disappoint. I could watch this over and over again and probably be crying from laughter each and every time. For me, the gag reel is always fun.

There is also a “Friend of Friends” video guestbook which has interviews with some of the various guest stars who have made their way to the show. In this featurette, we hear from the likes of Eddie Cahill (the aforementioned Tag Jones, Rachel’s assistant/boyfriend), Morgan Fairchild (Chandler’s mother), and Cole Mitchell Sprouse (Ross’ son Ben). They all tell how wonderful it was for them to work with the cast, how well they all get along and welcoming they were to new additions and guest stars, and basically reinforce the fact that the series works because of the chemistry of the stars.

Friends: The Complete Seventh Season
A real brief extra is “Gunther Spills the Beans on Season 8”, which is basically the enigmatic waiter from the “Central Perk” coffee shop in a short promo telling you what to expect in the next season set.  At it’s core, a sales pitch to pick up the Season 8 DVD set.  Another standard extra has become the “trivia challenge”, and it is present here again. Appropriately it has to deal with answering questions about Monica’s and Chandler’s wedding. The questions were not terribly difficult (they never are, especially if you even remotely pay attention during the episodes), and the game does provide for a few moments of diversion, but once through the game and it is probably something you won’t view again.

The final special feature in the set is commentaries on three different episodes. They are done by the executive producers of the series, Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane. The trio go on about various titbits of the episodes and shows in general. They are very interesting and it is obvious that they have become quite comfortable with doing the commentaries. As commentaries go, definitely a winner here.

Overall
Warner’s began releasing the Friends DVDs as “Best of” discs. Once they saw the discs were selling and as they watched the TV shows on DVD genre explode, they quickly began releasing the series in season sets. Each of their Friends season sets has been a winner, but the true measure of whether or not to buy the set really lands with the originality, creativity and humour of the individual episodes. I am happy to say that with this set, we have “the one you will want to own”.


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