The subscription price of one year's cable service ($840 US) buys a lot of comdey DVDs. Most fans who purchase DVDs keep their cable expense, but upon evaluating the extra expense -- what is the point?
Microsoft's founder Bill Gates said in June 2004 that "DVDs will be gone" in 10 years time. Don't worry, Gates lacks cultural awareness as he also said in 1995 that the Internet "was sure to fail," he should stick to what he knows best -- Monopoly. Television viewers can purchase nearly all of their favorite comedy sitcoms on DVD and never watch broadcast again. (I cancelled cable three years ago and still spend less on building my DVD library.)
Customizing your comedy DVD collection is nearly as important as decorating the interior of your living room. Plan your DVD collection in the way you'd select your furniture or paint color. For example; I truly enjoyed "Three's Company" in the 1970s however, as popular as it once was, watching any episode today holds no surprise and no twist. Contrarily, and even after 30 years, watching episodes of "Are you being served?" still produces laughs and captures unique characterization that entertain as much today as they did in 1975. Chose your comedy DVDs wisely. Think: Is this sitcom one I want for the hell of it, or will I still laugh after watching 40 times? Perhaps cable reruns are sufficient for your budget and preferences.
Televised sitcoms in the United States have changed a great deal in the past 50 years, or at least as much as Roseanne Barr's weight. Network comedy shows come and go as often as commercials. Only soap operas maintain their standing for long-running airtime. Sitcoms in Great Britain follow different format and, in the long run, may be more entertaining to watch on DVD. As popular as "Roseanne" was in the U.S., let's be real, anyone can gain 100 pounds and spit out one-liners. Roseanne Barr is not funny to watch over and over again in a comedy rerun. True sitcom "comedy" is far more innovative than stand-up. Kudos to Barr though, with her waist slim, she is now one hot looking babe.
I could see myself, someday, growing old of "I Love Lucy" if only because I have seen every episode dozens of times and know the scripts as well as if I'd written them myself. I do however intend to collect as many "I Love Lucy" episodes as possible on DVD. I was not a fan of "The Dick van Dyke Show" until a teleplay writer mentioned how well written the 1960s sitcom was, so, I purchased the first two seasons on DVD. He was correct. As an adult, I truly appreciate "The Dick Van Dyke Show" as exceptional comedy . I find Van Dyke's, Mary Tyler Moore's, and Rose Marie's acting and Carl Reiner's (and Jerry Paris') writing superb for reruns. It is now a staple show in my collection. Van Dyke and Lucille Ball were not afraid to mess-up their hair in front of the camera. Current sitcoms "Friends" or "Everyone Loves Raymond," where actors read lines and pretend to be people we know, simply miss the beat for long term laughs -- especially for the price of a DVD or cable.
The Author's Comedy DVDs:
All in the Family
Are You Being Served
Are You Being Served Again?
Keeping Up Appearances
The Vicar of Dibley
I Love Lucy
The Dick Van Dyke Show
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The Thin Blue Line
Sanford and Son
The Carol Burnett Show
The Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour
British comedy relishes camp and actors stretch their characterization to the limits. Writers and directors may sometimes plan for one actor to steal the show, such was the case in "Are you being served?" where the role of Mr. Lucas (Trevor Bannister) was intended to become the show's comic lead. However, and to the surprise of the show's creators, it was the role of Mr. Humphries (John Inman) who stole the show for its 11-year run.
John Cleese of "Fawlty Towers," and Joanna Lumley of "Absolutely Fabulous" (AbFab) are superior examples of characterization on script. Both "Fawlty Towers" and AbFab are outrageous comedy shows worth watching over and over again. Exquisitely written and acted, these shows portray convincing characters that are inherently funny and at times shocking, even in rerun. When actors transcend script writing and become characters worth preserving in our collections, you are sure to have a classic DVD you'll enjoy for years to come. AbFab caters to an adult audience for the carefree (implied) use of drugs and booze. Nonetheless, Jennifer Saunders and Lumley team as historically funny characters to create modern day Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz.
Saunder's professional partner, Dawn French, produced and starred in "The Vicar of Dibley," a British comedy series that is not only tearfully touching at times, but hilarious for depicting a farming town and the food-addicted, female fictitious Vicar of Dibley. "The Vicar of Dibley" is one of my favorite sitcoms and I hope French will produce another season (rumor is, that is unlikely.)
Norman Lear, 82, produced several U.S. comedies including the most successful black American sitcoms (pre-Cosby,) "Good Times," "The Jeffersons," and "Sanford and Son." For the era, as the U.S. continued to struggle with social acceptance of blacks, Lear's shows acted as social time capsules in comedy. Lear's "All in the Family" was based off a popular British comedy show and set the bar for television sitcoms in the 1970s in the U.S., providing both shock and laughter to opposing political views. "All in the Family" was the first U.S. show to use epithets and swear words. The show also addressed women's liberation, rape, breast cancer, and impotence.
Lear was lucky. It is impossible to picture any other actors filling the Bunker's shoes. "All in the Family" used a team of actors who, unlike those of "Friends," were aware of the impact their characterization held with audiences. In watching "All in the Family" on DVD today, (Jeanne Stapleton,) Edith Bunker's role noticeably changed in season No. 2. Stapleton dumbed-down Edith from season No. 1, and thus secured her place in television history as the "dingbat." Only one television character, a "goofball red head," proved wackier; Lucy Ricardo.
To this day, no live audience performance of a U.S. comedy shed as many tears as one "All in the Family" episode: #183, The departure of Mike and Gloria Stivic with their son Joey at the close of the 1978 season.
"The Jeffersons," a spin-off from "All in the Family," was the black version of the very white Bunkers. George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) is the neighbor you hope to avoid even 20 years after the show ended. As a teenager, I attended many live performances of "The Jeffersons" and enjoy watching these reruns on DVD.
Before you build your DVD library, think of their longevity as they apply to your comedic taste. Why add more clutter? DVDs replace bulky, poor resolution video tapes. How many of those tapes have you watched? Laughing at a television show today might be funny the first time around, but if you don't laugh a second time that show has not earned the price of a DVD.
For viewers in the USA you can shop for British comedies on BBC America or Amazon.com
"'Yes Minister' is fabulous too! Especially with Tony Blair as PM :-)"
Editor's note: T&A enjoys "Yes, Minister" too.
"The Brady Bunch is in the top 20, you didn't list it. It should be on DVD soon."
"It is funny to watch 'All in the Family,' the Bunkers similar to old French [people.]"