TITLE: THE FACTS OF LIFE - THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON
Release Date: May 4, 2010 (Shout! Factory)
Number of Discs: 4
Number of Episodes: 24
Running Time: 690 minutes
Running Time of Features: 24 minutes
Audio: English, Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles and Captioning: Closed Captioned
Special Features: The Facts of Life Goes to Paris movie; Know the Facts Trivia Game
We took the good a few years ago when the first three seasons of The Facts of Life was released, then we took the bad when no further seasons appeared to be on the horizon... but then, Shout! Factory came along to bring us more of The Facts of Life! The Facts of Life - The Complete Fourth Season is Shout! Factory's first release of the spinoff of Diff'rent Strokes, starring Charlotte Rae as a school dietician who was responsible for four young women who are growing up: Blair (Lisa Whelchel), Tootie (Kim Fields), Natalie (Mindy Cohn), and Jo (Nancy McKeon).
The show had a slow start with a cast that was too large to be in touch with audiences, but by the beginning of the second season, some retoolings helped the show become one of the biggest pop-culture hits in all of TV history. In the fourth season, Mrs. Garrett could be getting married, Natalie writes a controversial article about abortion, Tootie's brother has a drunken driving accident, and Blair and Jo are about to graduate from high school and move on to college! Will the facts of life still be about them as the series moves ahead? Before you know those facts, you'll have to see the fourth season!
The season starts with an episode that isn't actually an episode, but often considered part of the series, the movie "The Facts of Life Goes to Paris," where Mrs. Garrett and the girls head off to Paris for the summer, and have to make the best of things when plans go awry. The episode has typically aired in four parts in syndication, but is presented in the original format here. It aired on September 25, 1982 on NBC.
Just four days after that movie, on September 29, 1982, the regular season began with the episode "Ain't Miss Beholden," where Jo's scholarship is cut and she refuses to accept help from Blair's family. Natalie writes a story about a girl at Eastland who had an abortion in "The Source," but she made it up... although that doesn't necessarily mean that the story isn't true. Tootie may need a hearing aid in "The Sounds of Silence." In "The Oldest Living Graduate," Eastland's oldest living graduate returns to school to make a donation to the school... but Jo causes her to change her mind and make other plans for her money. Blair has a crush on the new delivery boy in "Different Drummer," but how will she react when she discovers he is mentally handicapped? Blair could be down in the dumps when the IRS audits her father in "Daddy's Girl." Jimmy Baio guest stars in "Academy II," where Natalie goes to the military academy to cover a boxing match.
Mrs. Garrett could be relearning one of the facts of life... marriage... in "September Song." Deborah Harmon guest stars in "Teacher's Pet," where Jo finds out that her favorite teacher is leaving Eastland, but not for the reason that Jo believes. In "Let's Party," Tootie thinks that her brother may have a drinking problem, but can she stop him before he causes an accident? Eve Plumb guest stars as Blair's sister who is about to become a nun in the two-part episode "Best Sisters," but one of the other girls may be on her way to the sisterhood as well. Rhoda Gemignani and Alex Rocco guest star in "Help From Home," where Jo is once again facing a financial crisis, this time it involves paying for college. The season ends with the two-part episode "Graduation" (presented in it's original one hour format), where Blair and Jo are ready to leave Eastland, but what will this mean for Natalie and Tootie?
It appears that all of the episodes on the set are unedited, with each one running around 25 minutes. I didn't really notice anything missing, in particular. Unlike most other Shout! Factory releases, the original closing logo (the blue Embassy logo) is missing on the episodes on the set that originally had them, and replaced with the current Sony logo, except on the season finale which has the original logo for some reason. It is not a big deal, though. Runtimes for each episode are as follows:
Movie: Facts of Life Goes to Paris (1:36:12)
4-01, 58. Ain't Misbeholden (24:59)
4-02, 59. The Source (24:58)
4-03, 60. The Sounds of Silence (24:57)
4-04, 61. The Oldest Living Graduate (24:59)
4-05, 62. Different Drummer (24:58)
4-06, 63. Dearest Mommie (25:01)
4-07, 64. A Woman's Place (24:58)
4-08, 65. Daddy's Girl (24:57)
4-09, 66. Academy II (24:59)
4-10, 67. The Sounds of Silence (24:57)
4-11, 68. September Song (24:59)
4-12, 69. A Royal Pain (24:56)
4-13, 70. Magnificent Obsession (24:58)
4-14, 71. Under Pressure (24:55)
4-15, 72. Teacher's Pet (24:57)
4-16, 73. Let's Party (24:54)
4-17, 74. Best Sister, Part 1 (24:56)
4-18, 75. Best Sister, Part 2 (24:57)
4-19, 76. Guess What's Coming to Dinner (24:55)
4-20, 77. Who's On First? (25:56)
4-21, 78. Help From Home (24:56)
4-22, 79. Take My Finals, Please (24:54)
4-23/4-24, 80/81. Graduation, Parts 1 and 2 (48:37)
The package artwork design is very similar to the two previous releases from Sony, but the packaging STYLE itself is quite different. The Sony releases used slimcases, but this time, we just have a standard Viva-pack, which appears to the packaging style that every company is slowly starting to adopt. It actually works pretty well for this set, though. The package art is designed to look like a notebook, and the theming is very nicely done. The cover has individual headshots of each of the girls (and Mrs. G., of course) and their names underneath them in a label that looks to be made with one of those older labelmakers, with a teal background. The back of the case has a bunch of butterflies and stars (designed to look like stickers), and a photo of the whole gang in Paris. Inside, each disc has artwork that also looks like the cover of a notebook, with one of the photos from the cover art on each disc (sadly, Mrs. G. IS left out this time), with Blair on Disc 1, Tootie on Disc 2, Natalie on Disc 3, and Jo on Disc 4. Episode titles and descriptions with original airdates are included on this set, and can be found inside the case (on both sides inside). Disc 1 contains the movie and episodes 58-60, Disc 2 contains episodes 61-67, Disc 3 contains episodes 68-74, and Disc 4 contains episodes 75-81. Additionally, Disc 4 contains the trivia game.
Menu Design and Navigation:
The menus on the set are very nice, and in fact even nicer than the ones used on the Sony releases. The main menu on each disc is animated and is slowly drawn out for you, appearing to be shaded in with a color pencil. The effects looked quite a bit like the menus on Shout! Factory's Punky Brewster release. The options on the main menu include Play All and Episode Selections, as well as an option to play the trivia game on Disc 4. The Episode Selections menu looks like a page out of a notebook, and the text is typed in a font that looks like handwriting, and there is even a photo from the episode next to each episode title. The theme song plays on this menu as well, and in fact, there is even a transitional effect between the main menu and the episodes menu. Another nice detail is the cursor that you use to move around the menus is a check mark... these menus are excellent! Shout! Factory is usually pretty good with menus, but this is even better than usual. Chapters are placed all throughout each episode at all of the appropriate places.
Video and Audio Quality:
The video and audio quality on this set is far from perfect, but on the other hand, it is as good as can be expected, and perhaps a little better than that. If you've seen the previous releases, there really is no change in the quality on this set. The weakest spot on the set is the movie, but still, it looks about the same as it does in syndication, with a bit of debris on the picture and some odd flickering at some points. The audio levels are also a little low on the movie. The episodes all look pretty good, though perhaps show a little bit of age (as videotaped programs tend to show that). The audio on the set is basically fine, being presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track (though it isn't exactly true stereo). Each episode on the set is indeed closed-captioned, something that is commonly missing on these Shout! Factory sets.
As already mentioned, the set does include the movie "The Facts of Life Goes to Paris," although it is questionable as to whether or not one would call that a special feature. Still, Shout! Factory didn't necessarily HAVE to include it, and including it as the original movie (as opposed to breaking it in to four parts) is a very nice thing to have on this set.
Aside from that, there is only one real special feature, a "Know the Facts" trivia game where you are given a quiz about the series that is 15 questions long. It is fun to play, but it doesn't have a lot of replay value to be honest. Some of the questions on the set are ridiculously easy, but some of them, I even struggled with. I ended up getting a B at the end of the quiz. After you answer each question, you'll find out if you are right or wrong by listening to an audio clip from the episodes.
It would be nice to see some other special features on upcoming sets, in particular, some commentaries or interviews. All of the cast members seem to be proud of the series (although Nancy McKeon likes to say she has "moved on," but I don't think she is ashamed of her work on here either), and certainly some of them could do some special features. Maybe Charlotte Rae could appear to do a non-traditional featurette offering motherly advice or something. Anything is possible right now, as the entire cast is still surviving! That is pretty rare for a series that began 30 years ago given.
Don't worry about the bad... this set is all good. I'm glad that this series appears to finally be unstalled on DVD, and hope that Shout! Factory gets out all of the remaining seasons... even the lesser quality episodes where Cloris Leachman replaced Charlotte Rae. Now if we could only get Shout! Factory to pick up Diff'rent Strokes and finish that on DVD, we'd all be happy. I would just like to see more special features in the future, but other than that, this set is virtually flawless. It is definitely worth owning for the many, many loyal fans to the series that are out there (I think that practically every member of Generation X grew up watching this series either on NBC or in reruns on USA), and despite being often dismissed as an example of a cheesy sitcom, sometimes a little cheese is good... and this one is great. The facts of life really are all about you!
Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 1/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 5/5
-- Reviewed by skees53 on 05/01/10
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