News Column

'Fridays' finally makes a DVD debut

August 6, 2013

YellowBrix

The late-night sketch-comedy series "Fridays" finally makes an official DVD debut on Tuesday in a 16-episode "Best of Fridays" package.

While pieces from the show have appeared in some other DVD collections, the series as a whole has been held off. John Moffitt, executive producer of the series, says in the new set that the delay was "for various reasons which we won't get into." In 2006, he told me that some of the performers had clauses in their contract forbidding release of their work on home video. Other accounts have named Michael Richards or Larry David as the roadblock.

On the DVD, Moffitt says that things changed after a reunion of cast and crew, including both David and Richards. So now at least there is a selection from the series, which aired on ABC from 1980 to 1982, including the series premiere and the notorious Andy Kaufman episode, in which the comedian appeared to rebel against the content of a sketch and began a live, on-camera brouhaha.

Most of the cast _ Richards, Melanie Chartoff, Mark Blankfield, Darrow Igus, Brandis Kemp, Bruce Mahler and John Roarke _ gathered for a conversation about the show, which is included as a DVD extra. Cast member Maryedith Burrell is interviewed separately in another segment. David is not involved. Another extra has writers talking about their work, and there is a segment on the Kaufman saga (which also comes up in the cast discussion).

While the DVD is an interesting historical document, the show itself remains only intermittently engaging. The first episode faced head-on the comparisons that would be made to "Saturday Night Live," which had premiered five years earlier, but not in a particularly deft way.

Richards, later famous for his work on Seinfeld, had some memorable turns, and David's grumpy-guy persona, later honed in his off-camera work on "Seinfeld" and his performances on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," is evident. Roarke was a terrific impressionist, and Chartoff _ now better known as a voice actor _ did well. The show also argues for its inventiveness in the extras and the episode selection. But a lot of times the sketches were theoretically interesting yet flat to watch, and sometimes they weren't even that interesting.

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Tom Cruise's big adventure "Oblivion" arrives Tuesday (Universal, $29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray/DVD/digital combo), Cruise patrols a sector of a future Earth devastated after an alien invasion, but a series of events lead to his discovery of stunning truths about his craft, his world and himself. An abundance of impressive images do not make up for a story too slim to sustain a movie. And what story there is proved far too easy to predict.

Extras include deleted scenes, audio commentary and making-of segments.

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If you are a fantasy and science-fiction fan, you will be better served by "A Boy and His Dog: Collector's Edition" (Shout! Factory, $26.99), a Blu-ray/DVD combo that marks the 1975 film's Blu-ray release. Like "Oblivion," it's a post-apocalyptic tale, this time about a young man (Don Johnson) navigating the wasteland with Blood, his telepathically communicating dog. But, based on a novella by science-fiction legend and Painesville native Harlan Ellison, it is clever, surprising and blessed with one of the great endings in fiction.

Extras include a conversation between two world-class talkers, Ellison and L.Q. Jones, who wrote the screenplay and directed.

As long as we're talking about literary works, I should make note of "On the Road" (IFC, $24.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray), the recent adaptation of Jack Kerouac's classic novel. A strong cast includes Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams and Elisabeth Moss _ not to mention Kristen Stewart showing yet again that, when outside "Twilight," she is capable of good acting. But as hard as the film tries, and as visually inventive as it occasionally is, "On the Road" still ends up making the argument that the book can't make a solid transition from page to screen.

Then there's the Blu-ray debut of "Smiley's People" (Acorn, six episodes, $59.99), the 1982 TV adaptation of John le Carre's novel. Alec Guinness again plays spymaster George Smiley, reprising the role from the TV version of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." (Gary Oldman played Smiley in the 2011 big-screen version of Tinker Tailor.) Guinness is again masterful in the series, which has previously been released on DVD. The Blu-ray set adds about an hour of deleted scenes to previously released extras.

One of the more famous box-office disasters is "Ishtar," which makes its Blu-ray debut on Tuesday (Sony, $19.99). But its reputation is at least partly undeserved because, as written and directed by Elaine May, it has a very, very funny first part. That focuses on the thoroughly inept songwriting team played by Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty, who come up with some of the most hilariously awful tunes ever.

Fans of HBO's "Veep" and the big-screen political comedy In the Loop will want to grab "The Thick of It: Seasons 1-4" (BBC, $79.98 DVD), the British-politics comedy that set those other shows in motion, all from the inventive mind of Armando Iannucci. Foul-mouthed, cynical and often very funny, the box includes episodes from the four seasons to date and two specials, along with commentaries, deleted scenes and other extras.

Also of note: The lavishly packaged, multi-movie "Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection," originally scheduled for release Tuesday, has been postponed until September because of some mislabeling of discs and other production issues.

Down video road: Aug. 20 brings DVD releases of the 10th season of NCIS, the fourth season of "NCIS: Los Angeles" and the fourth season of "The Good Wife."

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Rich Heldenfels: rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com

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(c)2013 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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