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Friends Series 6 - Volume 1
Warner Bros./Warner Bros. . R4 . COLOR . 164 mins . PG . PAL

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The art of the situation comedy may be a very, very hit and miss affair, but the creators and producers of Friends would have known they were on a winner from the moment the show went to air for the first time in the US back in 1994. It seems hard to believe now, but Australian viewers were denied episodes of Friends for quite some time back at the beginning thanks to some infantile wrangling between channels 7 and 9; since that was sorted out in 1996, though, the show has gone on to become a huge success in Australia just as it has in the rest of the world - and recently it also became the most financially lucrative syndicated show on US television as networks there scrambled for the rights to screen re-run after re-run of the seasons in syndication thus far. Meanwhile, as the cast and crew put together the eighth and final season of Friends, Warner has been busily issuing complete seasons on DVD for fans to digest at their leisure.

We’ll spare you the in-depth explanation of what Friends is all about here and in the other season 6 reviews - suffice to say that the show revolves around a group of neurotic 20-somethings who never go to work (though they do talk about it), never seem entirely happy and rarely date outside of their six-person social circle. In fact, they have very little in common with reality at all - perfect sitcom fodder, of course, and with the characters reduced to the most basic of histories and emotions, the writing teams can happily screw around with their heroes’ lives for comedic value, with a little bit of pathos thrown in to keep the audience hooked. Every character has their own role to play: Ross the immature, Joey the sleazy, Monica the neurotic, Rachel the vain and pretentious, Chandler the fumbler and Phoebe the ditz. A template it may be, but it’s served the writers well for many years.

This first DVD of episodes from season 6 contains, as all the Friends discs have up until now, eight of the season’s 25 episodes on a dual-sided DVD (four per side). The ones included here (named in the by-now-usual Friends style) are:

The One After Vegas: Drunken wedding antics aplenty in the aftermath of season 5; newcomers will be very, very puzzled as to what’s going on here. Note the amusing renaming of the entire cast and crew in the opening credits as a result of Courteney Cox appending her new husband’s surname to hers.

The One Where Ross Hugs Rachel: Monica and Chandler decide to live together, throwing housing arrangements into disarray and inevitably providing some wacky relationship-type fun.

The One With Ross’s Denial: Ross is, not surprisingly, in denial.

The One Where Joey Loses His Insurance: His health insurance, that is. This episode has more comedic spark than most recent Friends episodes.

The One With Joey’s Porsche: Rachel and Ross are still trying to sort out their Vegas-generated woes, while Joey becomes a surrogate Porsche owner. Another unusually sharply-written episode.

The One On The Last Night: Pathos aplenty as the housemates prepare to move.

The One Where Phoebe Runs: Phoebe goes jogging with Rachel, who is embarrassed by her Silly Run; meanwhile, Joey’s new roomie is Elle Macpherson.

The One With Ross’s Teeth: Overuse of a tooth whitener causes Ross some problems on a date.

  Video
  Audio
  Extras
Contract

Produced in 1999, you’d expect season 6 of Friends to scrub up well on DVD. But sadly, this is far, far from the case. The video quality across all eight episodes here can only be described as abysmal - the main problem, which affects all episodes, being the dreaded gauze-like “haze” that sits constantly on top of the image from start to finish. Buffy on DVD exhibits this slightly; here it’s impossible to miss. Friends is shot on 35mm film, with all of the footage transferred very, very quickly to video before an episode is edited together. Not surprisingly the telecine work is cheap ’n’ cheerful, and this may partially explain the haze covering the on-screen image. But season 6 looked far better than this when broadcast on television; possibly the presence of so much unwanted junk in the image caused problems during MPEG compression for the DVD. Things do improve picture-wise in episode 5 here, but only slightly - and that episode has a serious problem with over-saturation of reds, particularly on Monica’s jumper. The film image is not especially crisp, either, looking very soft much of the time. Could these episodes have been converted from NTSC for this release? While it’s impossible to say for sure, this does look to be the case here.

A 1999 big-budget TV show should look far, far better than this on DVD; as it stands, we’d rate this as only a fraction above the quality of a VideoCD or VHS tape.

Sound-wise, things are much better. The straight non-surround stereo soundtrack is clean, clear and dynamic throughout, sounding noticeably less dynamically compressed than the broadcast version, and with better frequency response. A French language soundtrack is included as well (sounding substantially less hi-fi than the English one, it’s not mentioned on the back cover) which should amuse those familiar with the show and greatly please anyone who’s, err, French.

There are no extras on the disc aside from some DVD-ROM content using the PC Friendly software system; since this reviewer has banned that company’s software from his PC for life thanks to one too many crashes, driver corruptions and other major problems, we can’t tell you what’s in there - but the 161 megabyte install file does appear to include ancient (1998) drivers for a variety of hardware MPEG-2 cards (beware) along with a copy of the years-old Internet Explorer 4 (no thanks) and as a result we can’t recommend that anyone with up-to-date systems install this software. Caveat Emptor.

Half-baked DVD-ROM content aside, though, it’s great as always to have access to an entire TV series on DVD (and the 21-minute run time of each episode here makes this Friends disc ideal as a quick, unchallenging time-filler); what a shame that the video quality here is so mediocre.


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  •   And I quote...
    "it’s great to have access to an entire TV series on DVD... what a shame the video quality is so mediocre."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
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    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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