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  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
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  • 2 Featurette
  • Music video

Friends Series 5 - Box Set

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 512 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

By the time its fifth successful season rolled around in 1998-99, the once-edgy sitcom Friends was starting to become more of a comforting companion than an odd but amusing neighbour. In a few short years its cast had gone from relative obscurity to international fame and enormous salaries, and all of them had to come to terms with that in their own ways. The show’s producers, meanwhile, had written themselves into a corner.

At the end of the fourth season, the cast travelled to London for the location shooting of several episodes that climaxed with the eternally awkward Ross accidentally saying the wrong name at the key point of his shotgun wedding to British girl Emily, a cliffhanger moment that took the Ross-Rachel relationship that had been done to death in previous episodes and gave it a whole new spin. But now what? The characters had to return to New York and their insular world of one apartment building and one coffee shop, and there was that tricky matter of Ross being hitched to a guest star who wasn’t about to move to the US to watch everybody else make more money than she did. The answer for Friends overseers lay in the Chandler-Monica relationship they’d flirted with in the previous season, and as a result the bulk of season five, especially once the Ross scenario is disposed of, gets its comedy from this new coupling (presumably one day they’ll all go out with people they don’t know, but that’s another story).

As a result season five offers some of the best examples of the way this show was able to skilfully blend light character drama with anarchic-to-the-mainstream comedy, with actor Matthew Perry amping the Chandler character up a notch for effect and Courteney Cox giving Monica more three-dimensional appeal. It’s the interminable Ross-Rachel stuff that bores throughout this season, and there would be plenty more of it to come in subsequent years as well (at the time of writing, it’s still dragging on at the end of season eight!)

Not surprisingly, the World Trade Center towers loom large in this season, being the focus of many of the scene-transition city-skyline cutaway shots; they have not been removed (rumour has run rife that this will be done for syndicated re-runs) though that’s no surprise given that the discs were put together two years before the tragedy. We’re willing to bet that you won’t be hearing Chandler’s plane-crash joke in re-runs, either.

The episodes included in season five, all running for a fraction over 21 minutes except for the final, 42-minute special episode, have the usual self-descriptive titles. They are, in order:

  1. The One After Ross Says Rachel
  2. The One With All the Kissing
  3. The One Hundredth
  4. The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS
  5. The One With the Kips
  6. The One With the Yeti
  7. The One Where Ross Moves In
  8. The One With All the Thanksgiving
  9. The One With Ross's Sandwich
  10. The One With the Inappropriate Sister
  11. The One With All the Resolutions
  12. The One With Chandler's Work Laugh
  13. The One With Joey's Bag
  14. The One Where Everybody Finds Out
  15. The One With the Girl Who Hits Joey
  16. The One With the Cop
  17. The One With Rachel's Inadvertent Kiss
  18. The One Where Rachel Smokes
  19. The One Where Ross Can't Flirt
  20. The One With the Ride-Along
  21. The One With the Ball
  22. The One With Joey's Big Break
  23. The One in Vegas

  Video
Contract

If you’ve already seen any of the season five discs, you’ll know what to expect as these are the exact same items; the full-frame 4:3 image in which the show is made is faithfully reproduced here, with some loss of clarity thanks to the necessary PAL conversion. It’s just like watching the episodes on broadcast TV, except on demand and without ads - the video encoding does not get in the way at all.

The picture quality itself is a mixed bag - this is obviously a pristine representation of what TV networks broadcast (the on-screen titles prove that), but the original film to tape transfers done before editing (the show is shot on 35mm film and edited on video) are predictably average, with the infamous “TV gauze” over the picture (possibly a deliberate inclusion) shown up in all its glory thanks to DVD’s crisp resolution. Watching through a composite video connection, by the way, this “gauze” almost vanishes.

Picture quality throughout, by the way, is substantially better than on the season six and season seven discs that we reviewed some time ago.

  Audio
Contract

The show’s stereo audio is reproduced here cleanly and without incident, just as you’d expect; it sounds better than TV thanks to the removal of the dynamic compression used by stations and the bandwidth limitations of broadcast audio, but to most people it’ll sound about the same. A single one of the 23 episodes here, though, has very compressed and distinctly lower-quality sound, probably taken from a backup source of some kind for some reason.

  Extras
Contract

There are extras on all six disc sides in this box set - but before you get excited, we should point out that each side’s extras section is 100% identical in a hilarious example of overkill. Here’s what you get six copies of in every box:

Friends Goes To London Featurette: A six and a half minute promo blurb for the show’s season four London episodes, which the extras menu proudly states are “available for purchase and rental from participating video retailers”. Gee, thanks. There are a few interesting behind-the-scenes glimpses here, but nothing that makes sitting through the “gee aren’t we popular in England” crap that drives the entire thing. And you, too, will want to curse David Schwimmer’s very existence if he says “London baby!” one more time.

Friends on Location in London Featurette: More of the same, but four minutes shorter. Get ready with that curse, you’re gonna need it.

Music Video: The show’s theme song (I’ll Be There for You) performed in its full glory by a band that desperately wants to be The Beatles (The Rembrandts). For most of the population, this is the very definition of pain.

DVD-ROM Content: A whole pile of ancient “PC Friendly” software that you’d have to be insane to install on a modern operating system. Three years is a long time.

  Overall  
Contract

Warner Home Video has released season five of Friends previously as three separate double-sided discs; this set packages all three in a newly-designed (and rather nicely-done) fold-out cardboard package at a reduced price. The asking price for this box, though, is still too high at $70, representing only a small discount on the already-overpriced single discs. It’s interesting to note that the six-disc season seven set (which contains the same amount of episodes, just adding “extended” versions of each) also costs $70 and represents a genuine worthwhile saving on buying the discs individually (which is probably why it’s sold out almost everywhere while season five and its counterparts remain on the shelf). We’d suggest $50 as the ideal top price point for this set.

One other thing - Warner in the US has started releasing box sets of Friends seasons with newly-minted 5.1 audio and longer cuts of the shows, as well as the odd commentary and other extras. They’re not even close to season five yet, but if you’re a die-hard fan of the show you need to be aware that this region 4 set contains the exact same discs that were released separately here - with the same September 1999 disc mastering date and everything.


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      And I quote...
    "Previously released as three separate double-sided discs; the asking price for this box is still too high."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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