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The Facts of Life - The Complete First and Second Seasons


TITLE: THE FACTS OF LIFE - THE COMPLETE FIRST AND SECOND SEASONS


Info:

DVD Release Date: May 9, 2006 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Color / 1979-81
MSRP: $39.95
Number of Discs: 4
Number of Episodes: 29
Running time: Approx. 707 Minutes
Running time of Special Features: Approx. 22 Minutes
Audio Tracks: English - Dolby Digital - Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English; Closed Captioned
Special Features: Remembering "The Facts of Life" Featurette, After Facts Featurette


Introduction:

A spin-off of the tremendously popular show "Diff'rent Strokes," The Facts of Life is the hilarious series that follows housemother Mrs. Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae) and her mission to instill values in the girls of Eastland School. The large first season cast included John Lawlor, Jenny O'Hara, Lisa Whelchel, Felice Schachter, Julie Piekarski, Kim Fields, Molly Ringwald, Julie Anne Haddock and Mindy Cohn. By the second season, the show focused on Mrs. Garrett and just four Eastland girls - spoiled Blair, gossipy Tootie, wise-cracking Natalie, and newcomer to the group, rebellious Jo (Nancy McKeon). Under Mrs. Garrett's guidance, these four go from wide-eyed school girls to mature young women...all while learning The Facts of Life! Guest stars include the cast of "Diff'rent Strokes," Helen Hunt and Richard Dean Anderson of TV's "MacGyver."


Show History:

The Facts of Life first aired on August 24, 1979, on NBC as a spin-off from the network's phenomenally-popular sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes" on which Charlotte Rae played Mrs. Garrett, housekeeper to Philip Drummond's household. On The Facts of Life, Mrs. Garrett becomes a dorm housemother at Eastland, an exclusive girl's boarding school, where she acts as confidante and surrogate parent to the girls in her charge. The first season involved Mrs. Garrett adjusting to her new job and featured storylines involving the numerous issues besetting teens like dieting, adoption, athletic competition, divorce, and drugs.

Needing to sharpen its broad focus, in the second season Mrs. Garrett became the school's nutritionist and the series concentrated its attention on four girls in Mrs. Garrett's charge: the wealthy and spoiled debutante Blair Warner (Whelchel), the wisecracking Natalie Green (Cohn), the sassy Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey (Fields) and the newly-introduced character of working class tough girl from the Bronx, Jo Polniaczek (McKeon), who offered a dynamic counterpoint to the other uppler-class teens and gave the series renewed energy and life.

After its somewhat slow start (it ranked #74 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1979-80 season), The Facts of Life found its niche and became a sucess, ultimately becoming the longest-running sitcom of its time on television with 209 episodes, despite numerous timeslot changes over the course of its nine seasons from 1979-88. ABC aired a reunion movie on November 18, 2001.


Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:

The first four episodes of the series aired from August-September 1979. The 9 remaining episodes aired from March-October 1980 to complete the short first season. Season 2 premiered on November 19, 1980. A total of 16 season 2 episodes were produced.

Memorable episodes in the first and second seasons included "I.Q.," in which Tootie finds a copy of her friends' I.Q. scores and reveals the informatin to the girls, with unexpected results. In order to impress a blind date, Sue Ann goes on a crash diet, placing her health in jeopardy in "Dieting." Blair and Sue Ann join an exclusive clique of girls at another dorm, but they're not quite ready for the group's favorite pasttime - smoking marijuana in "Dope." In addition to her new responsibilites as school nutritionist, Mrs. Garrett has her hands full when she decides to make roommates of streetwise new student Jo and snobbish Blair in "The New Girl - Part 1." A ridiculous bet between Jo and Blair lands the girls in jail - and expelled from Eastland School in "The New Girl - Part 2." Expecting an invitation to the country club cotillion, Blair is shocked to learn that her childhood friend Harrison has invited Jo instead in "Double Standard." Her Eastland schoolmates try to dissuade her from marriage when Jo's steady boyfriend Eddie proposes in "Teenage Marriage - Part 1." Mrs. Garrett and the girls attempt to delay the marriage until Jo's mother can be contacted, but Jo and Eddie get wind of their plan and rush off to elope in "Teenage Marriage - Part 2." Blair joins Countess Calvet's cosmetic company as a sales representative and gives Natalie a glamorous - but expensive - makeover in "Bought & Sold."

Notable guest stars included the Diff'rent Strokes cast (Conrad Bain, Todd Bridges, Gary Coleman, and Dana Plato) in "Rough Housing." Robert Alda played Mrs. Garrett's ex-husband, Robert Garrett, in "The Return of Mr. Garrett." Helen Hunt guest starred as Emily in "Dope." Gary Coleman returned as Arnold in "The New Girl - Part 1." Geri Jewell makes her first appearance in the recurring role of Blair's cousin, Geri, in "Cousin Geri." Dick O'Neill appeared as Henry Douglas in "Shoplifting." Clark Brandon played Jo's boyfriend, Eddie, in "Teenage Marriage - Part 1" and "Teenage Marriage - Part 2." Alex Rocco makes his first of many appearances as Jo's father in "The Secret." Zsa Zsa Gabor played Countess Calvet in "Bought & Sold." Todd Bridges returned as Willis in "Bought & Sold." Richard Dean Anderson guest starred as Brian and Ja'net DuBois was Ethel in the failed spin-off attempt "Brian and Slyvia."


Packaging:

This 4-disc set contains all 29 episodes from the first (1979-80) and second (1980-81) seasons. The DVD cover art (pictured above) features solo shots of five of the cast members in different colored backgrounds with white edges: Lisa Whelchel, Nancy McKeon, Charlotte Rae, Mindy Cohn, and Kim Fields. The Facts of Life logo is in yellow at the top of the box. My initial impression of seeing the photos of the cover was that is looked kind of amateurish. I would have preferred to see them just use a Season 2 cast photo on the cover. It really looks better in person though, and the colors will make it stand out in stores. Lisa Whelchel's photo on the cover looks like it was reversed, as the Eastland logo on her uniform is backwards. On the back of the box, there is nice color cast photo of the Season 1 cast and 2 smaller photos from the episodes. Lisa Whelchel and Julie Piekarski (both in incredibly short shorts) and Mrs. Garrett are in one photo, and Mindy Cohn massages Charlotte Rae's neck in the other. There is also a summary of the show, a listing of the special features, and the DVD specs on the back cover. Lisa Whelchel is on the spine of the box.

Two slim cases slide out from the left of the thin cardboard box. Slim case #1 is light green, and it has a season 1 cast photo of the girls in their athletic Eastland uniforms and Mrs. Garrett blowing a whistle and holding a basketball. Slim case #2 is light blue and has a Season 2 cast photo of the girls in their regular Eastland uniforms. On the back of the slim cases, the episode titles and short summaries are given. It would have been to see them list the original broadcast airdates and highlight some of the notable guest stars. Inside the cases, there are some additional light green and blue tinted cast photos. The photo inside the second case looks to be from past Season 2, but that's not a big deal. The actual discs have solo photos of various cast members with different colored backgrounds. Disc 1 is orange and has a picture Julie Piekarski and contains episodes 1-6 and the special features. Disc 2 is light green and has a photo of Molly Ringwald and offers episodes 7-13. Disc 3 is purple and has a picture of Lisa Whelchel and holds episodes 14-21. Disc 4 is yellow and has a photo of Nancy McKeon and rounds out the set with episodes 22-29.


Menu Design and Navigation:

The menus are very colorful and easy to navigate. All of the menus have a school theme, with lockers in the background. Disc 1's main menu has the Facts of Life logo in pink on the left-hand side of the screen and 5 photos (Lisa, Nancy, Charlotte, Mindy, and Kim) on the right. There is an Eastland pennant and various other items in the locker. The other disc main menus have different colored backgrounds and feature solo shots Lisa Whelchel, Mindy Cohn, and Charlotte Rae. The Facts of Life logo is in various colors. There are options for "Play All Episodes," "Episode Selections," "Special Features," and "Previews" (the Special Features and Previews are only for Disc 1). There is a green circle next to the episode you highlight that turns black upon your selection. When you select "Episode Selections," it takes you to a sub-menu that has an individual photo of one of the cast members, and the episode titles are listed vertically on the right. There is a bracket next to the episode you highlight. Julie Pierkarski is on the Disc 1 sub-menu, Molly Ringwald is on Disc 2, Nancy McKeon (in her military fatigues) is on Disc 3, and Kim Fields is on Disc 4. There are no separate menus for scene selections. There are well-placed chapter stops after the opening credits, traditional commercial breaks, and before the ending credits.


Video and Audio Quality:

The video and audio quality is about what I expected. Overall, the picture quality is pretty sharp, and the colors are bright. The episodes are in their original fullscreen format. These episodes looked better than what I've seen on Nick at Nite, Hallmark, or on the USA Network in recent years, so Sony likely has remastered them for this set. Since the show was shot on videotape, there is none of the dust or debris you find with shows shot on film. All of the episodes appear to be unedited, running around 23-24 minutes in length. The first episode is only 23:03, but that matches the time on the episode aired on Comcast's On Demand service and on Columbia House's VHS tape. The episodes are not spread really evenly, but I didn't notice any compression issues. The way they have the episodes on each disc makes sense though, with the start of Season 2 on Disc 3 and a non 2-part episode at the start of Disc 4. The episodes are presented in their original broadcast order. There is only a Sony Pictures Television closing logo. Maybe we'll see some Embassy logos (including some plastered on the end credits) on future releases.

The Dolby Digital Mono audio track is typical of many other sitcoms of the late 1970's and early 1980's. It is generally at a good volume, and the dialogue is easy to understand. Some of the sets like the cafeteria were quite large, so the actors might have had to speak up sometimes. The slightly different opening theme credits, with the Diff'rent Strokes cast members, are included on the first episode. Charlotte Rae sang part of the theme song in the first season. The second season theme and on was sung by Gloria Loring. Closed captioning is available on all of the episodes.

Here is the episode breakdown by disc and the running times:

Disc 1
---------
1. Rough Housing (23:03)
2. Like Mother, Like Daughter (24:18)
3. The Return of Mr. Garrett (23:37)
4. I.Q. (24:21)
5. Overachieving (23:47)
6. Emily Dickinson (24:19)

Disc 2
---------
7. Dieting (24:24)
8. The Facts of Love (aka Sex Education) (24:18)
9. Flash Flood (24:18)
10. Adoption (24:08)
11. Running (24:19)
12. Molly's Holiday (24:19)
13. Dope (24:19)

Disc 3
---------
14. The New Girl - Part 1 (24:33)
15. The New Girl - Part 2 (23:58)
16. Double Standard (24:43)
17. Who Am I? (24:45)
18. Cousin Geri (24:44)
19. Shoplifting (24:44)
20. Teenage Marriage - Part 1 (24:44)
21. Teenage Marriage - Part 2 (23:50)

Disc 4
---------
22. Gossip (24:45)
23. Breaking Point (24:45)
24. Sex Symbol (24:46)
25. The Secret (24:44)
26. Bought & Sold (24:23)
27. Pretty Babies (24:25)
28. Free Spirit (24:25)
29. Brian & Sylvia (24:24)

Note: The Facts of Life pilot episode, "The Girls School," which aired as part of Diff'rent Strokes, is not included on this set. You can find it on Diff'rent Strokes - The Complete First Season.


Special Features:

There are two featurettes found on Disc 1.

Remebering The Facts of Life (18:27) - This featurette has new interviews with Kim Fields, Casting Director Eve Brandstein, Lisa Whelchel, Felice Schachter, Mindy Cohn, Julie Anne Becker (Haddock). Various topics are covered including how the show was developed to be built around Charlotte Rae, working with Charlotte Rae, the casting of real teenagers, Felice Schachter's casting, how Lisa came up with her character and auditioned for the role, Kim's casting and her comedic timing, Mindy Cohn's casting, Molly Ringwald, Julie Anne Haddock, Julie Piekarski, how the the show was revamped after the first season and the cast was cut, and Nancy McKeon.

Overall, this was a well produced special. It had some cool background music, and I liked how they showed little video clips from the show when each cast member was first interviewed. It was great to see new interviews with some of the cast members. There probably isn't any new information for any die-hard fans, and it doesn't go into great depth. Only about the last 4 minutes or so is about the second season, so the focus is mainly on the first season. I think that it was more geared to new and casual viewers. It was nice to see Felice Schachter and Julie Anne Becker (Haddock) interviewed. I don't think I've ever seen an interview with Julie Anne. Everybody looks great. It is hard to believe the show premiered over 25 years ago, and it has been nearly 20 years since it ended.

After Facts (3:50) - Felice Schachter, Julie Anne Becker, Mindy Cohn, Kim Fields, and Lisa Whelchel talk about what they've done since they were let go from the show or it ended. Everybody who has followed the cast probably knows what Mindy, Kim, and Lisa have been up to. There have been some updates on Felice online, but I've never seen anything on Julie Anne. Time to update the where are they now? section for them.

Who was missing from the featurettes? Charlotte Rae - She was interviewed for the first season DVD release of Diff'rent Strokes, just two years ago. I was really surprised to see her not here. Julie Piekarski - I was surprised they were able to get the other first season girls and not her. She was my favorite season 1 cast member, so it was a disappointment she wasn't included. Molly Ringwald - I've not seen her talk a lot about The Facts of Life. She probably doesn't regret being letting go from the show because of her 80's film hits. Nancy McKeon - She didn't participate in the 2001 reunion movie, so it shouldn't be a shock she wasn't interviewed. I don't think she necessarily minds talking about the show, but she doesn't want it to be the only role she is known for.

Some cast audio commentaries would have been fun to hear. Logistics may have been a problem. It seems like the interviews were conducted in various parts of the country. Lisa's was in Dallas, Felice was in New York, and the rest were likely in Los Angeles. Maybe we will see some more interviews and bloopers/outtakes in future releases.

There are also some Bonus Previews for some other Sony DVD releases: I Dream of Jeannie (:51), Gidget and The Flying Nun (1:33), Ladies Night TV (1:55), and '80s Hits (2:52). The Ladies Night TV preview would lead you to believe that we'll be seeing Maude and One Day at a Time on DVD soon.


Final Comments:

You take the good (quality, unedited episodes and a good value under $30), you take the bad (so-so cover art and a lack of in-depth special features), you take them both and there you have The Facts of Life - The Complete First and Second Seasons. I think fans of the show will be pleased with this release. It has been such a long wait for this series to come to DVD. I think it was a wise decision to package the first and second seasons together. The special features won't blow you away, but it is always nice to see recent interviews with as many cast members as they can get to participate. I don't care what other people think. The show still holds up, and it is as fun to watch now as it was as a child of the 80's. It had a lot of impact and influenced many people. The clothing and hairstyles have changed, but a lot of issues are still relevant today. For those of you who may only like the later Edna's Edibles and Over Our Head seasons, I think it is important to show your support for this first release. Hopefully strong sales will lead Sony to release future seasons at a fast rate. A season every 6 months or so would be very nice and would satisfy the large fan base.


Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)

Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 1.5/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

-- Reviewed by Todd Fuller on 04/25/06

To purchase the DVD, click below and help support SitcomsOnline.com:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000EQ45BU/ref=nosim/happydaysonline4-20

Questions or comments about this set? Post on our message board:

http://www.sitcomsonline.com/boards/showthread.php?t=170724

For much more information on the show, visit our extensive fan site: The Facts of Life Online


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