While the lack of episodes on each season 7 disc of the globally popular sitcom Friends might not be as appealing to impulse buyers as they are to die-hard devotees of the long-running series, one thing that will undoubtedly impress many is the sheer speed with which Warner Home Video have been getting the discs out and onto store shelves - if only other companies could be this comprehensive and quick when it comes to releasing their own TV shows on DVD.
The third disc in the season 7 collection once again offers four episodes (in this case, episodes 9 through 12), and offers them twice - on side A in the 21-minute versions that aired in the US, and on side B in “extended” versions that add enhanced audio and a minute or two to the running time, something that may or may not be important to you depending on how excited you get about the series in the first place. See our review of disc two in this series for our Special Extended Rant about Warner’s new Friends DVD policy. The extra running time on the “Extended Episodes” side of this third disc amounts to a mere five minutes.
The episodes on this third disc - from a season where the writers increasingly seemed to be big on silly or trivial plots and short on story arc, which once again may or may not be a good thing - are:
The One With All The Candy: In a desperate attempt to be liked (despite the fact that she’s already well, well liked by her other Friends!) Monica makes up a batch of candy and offers it to her neighbours, who soon become somewhat addicted and claw at her door in the hope of another candy fix (one of these scenes offers what’s probably the funniest exchange of this season). Rachel continues to ogle Tag (if only his surname was Price, we think wistfully) and Phoebe attempts to ride a pink bike.
The One With The Holiday Armadillo: Ross is trying to teach his son Ben about the Jewish festival of Chanukah, but Ben is more interested in Santa Claus - and, of course, presents. Don’t ask about the Armadillo, but do admire the costume, which is suitably odd. Phoebe, meanwhile, wants Rachel to move back in with her, and tries to get Joey to annoy Rachel out of their living arrangements. This episode tries a little too hard to be heartfelt, but does have the dubious advantage of sharing a major plot point - and song - with South Park!
The One With All The Cheesecakes: Phoebe’s former boyfriend, who looks a lot like Hank Azaria, returns from the wilds of Russia for a day, but plans for a date are typically fraught with difficulty. Meanwhile, Rachel and Chandler (ever notice how most things in this show happen in pairs? Spooky!) steal cheesecake from their neighbour. Well, we did tell you the plots were getting a little silly.
The One Where They’re Up All Night: Chandler and Monica stay… up all night! (Bet you didn’t see THAT one coming). Meanwhile, Rachel and Tag continue their comedic canoodling, Ross and Joey find themselves roofbound, and Phoebe battles an incessantly beeping smoke alarm (and as someone who recently had to battle exactly the same thing for three days solid, let this writer assure you that it is Not Fun At All - and thanks, by the way, to the Melbourne Fire Department for the loan of the ladder!)
Like the previous disc in the season 7 collection, the video quality here is a step up from the earlier season 6 discs - though in this case, the first episode suffers from slightly poorer-quality telecine work. Again, the average bitrate on the extended-episodes side of the disc is notably higher than it is on side A, probably explained by the 5.0 audio stream on that side of the DVD.
Audio is straight stereo on side A and Dolby Digital 5.0 on side B, and aside from the discrete nature of the 5.0 track there’s really very little to separate them - this is not the kind of material where full-scale surround sound is going to be essential, and in fact the increased presence of the constantly-cackling studio audience may annoy you more than ever when they’re reproduced with such clarity.
Extras are again limited to the PC Friendly software and a Flash-based set of web links; don’t even bother unless you’re in desperate need of a software DVD player for your Windows PC.