DVD Release Date: April 21, 2009 (Shout! Factory)
Number of Discs: 4
Number of Episodes: 24
Running Time: approx. 630 minutes
Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English; Closed-Captioned.
Special Features: “Remembering Rhoda” featurette
“My name is Rhoda Morgenstern. I was born in the Bronx, New York in December 1941.” That was how Valerie Harper began every single episode of the first season of Rhoda, the first spinoff of the popular 1970s TV series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And now, that very first season of Rhoda is available on DVD, for the very first time! Season One contains all 24 episodes of the 1974-1975 season of the series on a four disc DVD set, just in time for the 35th anniversary.
Rhoda Morgenstern began as a character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but proved to be popular enough to earn her own sitcom by 1974. The series begins as she takes a vacation back home to New York and stays with her sister, Brenda (Julie Kavner). While staying with her sister, she meets a construction worker named Joe (David Groh) and they hit it off almost immediately. Things go so well that Rhoda decides to stay in Manhattan for a while, but as she emphasizes in her opening monologue, “New York, this is your last chance!” The series ran for five seasons on CBS and Rhoda and Joe eventually married each other... and then eventually divorced each other... but the series went on anyway. The show also stars Nancy Walker as Rhoda’s overbearing mother, Ida, and Harold Gould as her more understand father, Martin.
Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:
The series begins with “Joe,” where Rhoda visits her sister, Brenda, in Manhattan and finds romance in Joe, a construction worker that is the father of a child Brenda is babysitting. Will she ever go back to Minneapolis? Henry Winkler guest stars in “You Can Go Home Again,” where Rhoda needs a place to live in New York, and might just end up back in her parents’ home! Howard Hesseman guest stars in “I’ll Be Loving You, Sometimes.” It’s like an early version of a contemporary Ben Stiller movie when Joe gets to “meet the parents” of Rhoda in “Parents’ Day.” Mary Tyler Moore makes a brief appearance in “Pop Goes the Question,” where Joe finally pops the question to Rhoda... but it isn’t as romantic as she expects!
Linda Lavin guest stars in “The Shower,” where Rhoda has a wedding shower and not all goes well. Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Cloris Leachman, Gavin McLeod, and Georgia Engel all cross over from The Mary Tyler Moore Show in “Rhoda’s Wedding,” but when Rhoda relies on Phyllis to get her to the wedding, will she ever make it or will the bride have to take a romantic subway ride? Rhoda is, well, a little late in “I’m a Little Late, Folks.”
In “’S Wonderful,” Brenda has a wonderful new boyfriend, and somebody else thinks he is wonderful too--his wife! Joe and Rhoda need a little cash and Ida thinks Martin is the one to get it from in “Whattya Think It’s There For?,” but will he have the money? A man from Rhoda’s past asks her out for dinner in “Strained Interlude,” so how will Joe react? Rhoda learns a lesson or two about eavesdropping in “Everything I Have Is Yours, Almost.”
John Ritter and Norman Fell (before Three’s Company) make an appearance in the same episode in “Chest Pains,” where Ida is going to the doctor, for the first time in her life. Brenda decides to move to San Francisco in “A Nice Warm Rut,” but will she too tell New York that she is giving it one last chance? The season ends with “Along Comes Mary,” where Mary Richards comes to New York City--just in time for Joe and Rhoda’s planned romantic weekend!
There isn’t much to say about the packaging, aside from the fact that it is pretty standard for Shout! Factory, and I should be clear, the Shout! Factory standard is one of my favorites for standard packaging. Basically, we have a standard box with two slim cases inside. The cover art as a photo of Rhoda and even says “35th Anniversary Edition” on the bottom of the cover. Everything is presented in a purple color scheme. Inside, the two slim cases have the exact same artwork and there is a listing of the episodes on the back of each slim case. Each slim case contains two discs, with Rhoda on the artwork for Disc 1 (same picture as on the cover), Brenda on Disc 2, Joe on Disc 3, and Ida on Disc 4. Disc 1 contains episodes 1-6, Disc 2 contains episodes 7-12, Disc 3 contains episodes 13-19, and Disc 4 contains episodes 20-24.
This set also includes something that we sometimes do (and sometimes don’t) see with Shout! Factory releases, and that is an episode booklet. And this one is one of the nicest ones I’ve seen so far. The eight page booklet contains episode titles, descriptions, original airdates, writers, directors, guest stars, and for some episodes, evens a quote from the episode. They cover all of the bases!
Menu Design and Navigation:
The main menu on each disc has options of Play All and Episodes, as well as an option for the “Remember Rhoda” featurette on Disc 3. The closing theme music plays in the background on the main menu. All of the options are pretty much self-explanatory. When you select Episodes, you get a menu that lists all of the episodes, with the closing theme music from the episode “Rhoda’s Wedding,” which will be obvious because at the end of the each loop, you’ll hear an instrumental version of the song “Here Comes the Bride”-- a little awkward, really, but not a big deal. There are no scene selection menus, but there are chapter stops in all of the appropriate places.
Video and Audio Quality:
Now, I have to be the bearer of bad news. Up until this point, this DVD set has been fantastic, but everything completely falls apart here, rendering this set to be an incredible disappointment.
“The following episodes were complied from the best possible surviving masters. Unfortunately, there may be tape flaws unavoidable in the production of these DVDs.”
You’ll find that statement at the beginning of each disc. I’ll start with the less serious bad news. The video quality can be downright atrocious on some episodes. The picture jumps around, the black levels are all over the place, major debris all over the picture, and more. Truthfully, I have not seen many DVD sets with video quality quite this bad, aside from some series from the 1950s and early 1960s, when there was never an intention to preserve episodes in the first place. But to be fair, some episodes look great and nearly flawless, just a little aged. The audio is the same way... some episodes have audio tracks that sound terrible, incredibly muffled, low audio levels and other noticeable audio defects. But others aren’t QUITE as bad, though the entire set basically has below average audio quality throughout. Each episode is closed-captioned. In all fairness, Shout! Factory does include a disclaimer regarding the video on the set, saying that the set was made with the best surviving masters that could be found.
But here is where the REAL problem comes in, and fans are going to be outraged about this: most episodes on this DVD set are edited, syndicated versions. Let me repeat that: edited, syndicated versions. Before the outrage even begins, fans need to know how serious this is, and it is much more serious than they would expect. Apparently, whoever edited these episodes did a terrible job with the editing, because the cuts are PAINFULLY obvious (I’m usually not even the type of person that can tell something is edited) with scenes being cut at awkward places, and you can even see blank space for split seconds where scenes have been excised! Clearly, these episodes were made from edited masters in the early days of editing (probably the 1980s), where technology was incredibly limited, and the episodes suffer. Nearly 2/3 of the episodes are edited, unfortunately, and even those that have never seen the show in their entire life are going to notice these edits. Going back to the video quality, the episodes presented in their original, uncut forms generally look perfect as far as video quality is concerned. The edited episodes are the ones that have atrocious video quality, and that is not merely because they are edited.
With no further adieu, since the outrage has probably already begun from the purists, runtimes are as follows:
You Can Go Home Again (25:23)
I’ll Be Loving You, Sometimes (22:58)
Parents’ Day (25:53)
The Lady In Red (22:48)
Pop Goes the Question (22:50)
The Shower (22:52)
Rhoda’s Wedding (51:21)
The Honeymoon (25:28)
“9-E” Is Available (22:52)
I’m a Little Late, Folks (22:49)
Anything Wrong? (22:47)
‘S Wonderful (22:46)
Good-Bye Charlie (22:46)
Guess What I Got You For the Holidays (22:47)
Whattaya Think It’s There For? (22:41)
Not Made For Each Other (24:57)
Strained Interlude (25:32)
Everything I Have Is Yours, Almost (22:53)
Chest Pains (25:26)
Windows By Rhoda (22:53)
A Nice Warm Rut (22:52)
Ida, the Elf (25:02)
Along Comes Mary (25:33)
So, there you have it, 15 episodes out of 24 episodes are edited--nearly 2/3 of the episodes! At least “Rhoda’s Wedding” is unedited, as that has been released on VHS in an edited form previously. Also, it is nice to have “Rhoda’s Wedding” presented in the original one-hour format.
Unfortunately, I have no unedited episodes from any other sources, so I can’t attest to anything that is missing from any particular episode. But I did CAREFULLY go through one episode (this review would be hideously long and boring if I described all 15 edited episodes) to see if I could find anything that appeared to be edited, based upon the sloppy editing that was used from the series. I found the following edits (this list is probably not complete, these are just the most obvious ones), on the episode “Pop Goes the Question”:
03:36: Abrupt shift where hockey player asks Rhoda why she doesn’t want to go out with him; after the shift, we hear Rhoda talking about Joe as if she has been talking about him with the hockey player.
11:07: Rhoda and Brenda are talking about whether or not Ida would approve of Rhoda living with Joe, and suddenly we cut away to Brenda talking about how they just made a list of reasons against Rhoda living with Joe.
12:00: Rhoda says she is going to tell Ida about her and Joe living together “now,” which is followed with an abrupt scene change to her parents’ apartment with the doorbell ringing.
Clearly, somebody dropped the ball on this set, big time. I doubt that Shout! Factory is to blame, although I have a feeling that with a LITTLE more poking and prodding, they could have possibly obtained unedited masters for every episode. Maybe Fox is to blame, but then again, Fox acquired all of these MTM shows in 1998 from Pat Robertson upon the purchase of The Family Channel, and these episodes were surely in this condition before they obtained them. And maybe Pat Robertson is to blame, but then again, these episodes appear to have been edited in a time before he even purchased MTM. It is worth noting that there were a handful of VHS releases of Rhoda (as well as many other MTM properties) in the early to mid 90s that included syndicated versions of episodes, so this problem has existed even before Shout! Factory got involved. Whatever the case is, fans will be disappointed.
There is one minor featurette on here, but in the typical style of Shout! Factory, it is a decent one to watch. “Remembering Rhoda” (10:16) is a retrospective featurette about the development of the character, Rhoda, as well as the TV show. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t include any of the principal cast members. We just hear from James L. Brooks and Allan Burns. They mostly talk about the development of the series from The Mary Tyler Moore Show up through the “Rhoda’s Wedding” episode. It would have been nice to have gone a little further into the series though, and also it would have been nice to hear from some cast members, particularly Valerie Harper and Julie Kavner!
This was one of my most anticipated DVD sets of the year, and sadly, it has also turned out to be, in my opinion, the biggest disappointment that I’ve seen on DVD in a few years. Shout! Factory has impressed me with their release slate in recent months, and we should all be glad that they are releasing series that other companies wouldn’t even touch, but I think fans still have the right to be disappointed. Still, if you want to watch Rhoda, then this is about the only way that you’ll be able to do so. The set is at least adequate to watch the episodes and truly get the real meaning of each episode, but you may find yourself constantly wondering “what was missing there?” Or you may also be concentrating on the constant defects in the video quality.
Personally, I did enjoy seeing the episodes for the first time in years (the last time I truly watched the series was when Nick at Nite aired it over ten years ago) and was, for the most part, able to enjoy the set despite the many problems that plague it. But I can’t help but to wonder how much better this set would have been if it had been cleaned up and remastered, much like 20th Century Fox did with The Mary Tyler Moore Show a few years ago. Oh well. We should at least be thankful that Shout! Factory released this series, but it would be nice to see some improvements on future sets, eve though it appears that the problems are out of the hands of Shout! Factory. Some fans will be about as angry as Valerie Harper when she was fired and replaced by Sandy Duncan on her 80s TV series, Valerie, but anybody that can get beyond the edited episodes should attempt to do so.