Release Date: January 25, 2011 (Shout! Factory)
Color / 1983-1984
Number of Discs: 3
Number of Episodes: 22
Running Time: 450 minutes
Running Time of Features: N/A
Subtitles and Captioning: Closed-Captioned
Special Features: Webster Trivia Game
George and Katherine Papadapolis (Alex Karras and Susan Clark) have just returned from their Greek honeymoon to their new home and life. They're not exactly the perfectly matched couple; he's a former football player and she is a wealthy socialite. But other than that, it looks like it'll be a fairly normal lifestyle... until "then came" their surprise. Seven-year-old Webster Long (Emmanuel Lewis) shows up at the front door of the apartment after George's recently deceased best friend leaves him in George's custody. Not only that, but this kid is also of a different race from George and Katherine: they are white, and he is black. The unexpected surprise is greeted with a bit of confusion at first, but George and Katherine quickly realize that Webster is a perfect fit for their home, even if neither of them know anything about raising a child and are learning along the way.
The series is a pop-culture smash hit of the ‘80s, and gave us the popularity of Emmanuel Lewis that we see today. Running from 1983-1989 (until 1987 on ABC, then first-run syndication), the series was similar, in a sense, to the premise of the series Diff'rent Strokes, but taking on a much lighter hearted approach, and being geared more toward a younger audience (particularly in later seasons). Now, for the first time ever on any home media format, you can own all 22 episodes of the first season of this pop-culture hit on a three-disc DVD set!
The series begins with "Another Ballgame," where George and Katherine return from their Greek cruise to find their surprise: Webster! George and Katherine are preparing for Webster's birthday in "Happy Un-Birthday," but can you really trust a kid who just moved in to your home when he tells you it is his birthday? Webster is going out for peewee football in "Consulting Adults." In "Katherine's Swan Song," Katherine begins to worry that Webster doesn't like her. We all know why Webster is living with the Papadopolis', but as we learn in "Saying Goodbye," nobody ever told him where his parents were--and he's waiting for them to come home. The Papadopolis household gets a guest in "The Green-Eyed Monster," but Katherine is less than thrilled. Webster tries to set up a wedding for George and Katherine (a more formal one) in "Second Time Around." In "Travis," Katherine begins to worry that she and George are not the right parents for Webster.
Webster is denied a spot in a talent show in "That's Entertainment," but it may lead to bigger things when special guest star Ben Vereen steps in. Katherine is Webster's new art teacher in "Educating Katherine," but Webster's efforts to make her feel better go all wrong. Webster has to learn to get by without his teddy bear in "Teddy Bear Scare." In "A Question of Honor," Webster makes friends in the big leagues: the nine year olds. But it isn't a very good thing for him. The family gets game show fever in "Don't Jump George." Webster's tonsils have to go in "George the Patient in Spite of Himself." In "Maybe Baby," Webster wants to have a baby brother or sister, and is determined to know how to get one.
George and Katherine panic after they can't find Webster when they fail to pick him up after school in "Missing." In "Secrets of the Night," Webster is hiding a secret from George and Katherine that he is just too embarrassed to admit. Webster learns about the Special Olympics in "Special Friends," but he doesn't quite understand what a disability is. Ben Vereen appears again (this time as a character, Webster's uncle) in "Uncle Phillip." Jerry (Henry Polic II) grasps for his unrealized potential in "More Than a Memory." In "Dreamland," Webster has a nightmare about a composition that he wrote for school. Bobby Jacoby guest strs. The season ends with the cliffhanger episode, "Webster Long: Part 1," where Uncle Phillip (Ben Vereen) is back in Chicago, and he wants something to take home: Webster.
The episodes on the set MOSTLY appear to be unedited, although two episodes (episode 20 "More Than a Memory" and episode 21 "Dreamland") clock in at just under 23 minutes. As far as I could tell, though, it didn't seem that anything was missing. However, I have no way to compare these to the original airings, so I cannot say for certain. Runtimes for all of the episodes are as follows:
9. "That's Entertainment" (24:42)
10. "Educating Katherine" (23:38)
11. "Teddy Bear Scare" (24:42)
12. "A Question of Honor" (24:42)
13. "Don't Jump George" (24:41)
14. "George the Patient in Spite of Himself" (24:41)
15. "Maybe Baby" (23:41)
16. "Missing" (23:40)
17. "Secrets of the Night" (23:32)
18. "Special Friends" (23:41)
19. "Uncle Phillip" (23:40)
20. "More Than a Memory" (22:50)
21. "Dreamland" (22:41)
22. "Webster Long: Part 1" (23:40)
The set comes in a standard Viva-pack case. The cover art has a photo of just Webster by himself, and on the back, we have a brief synopsis of the series, along with two snapshots from the episodes and a cast photo with all three of the main characters. Inside, we have the three discs, with a photo of Webster on Disc 1, Katherine on Disc 2, and George on Disc 3. Behind the discs, there is a listing of episodes and original airdates, but there is also an insert that gives descriptions and guest stars for all of the episodes. Disc 1 contains episodes 1-8, Disc 2 contains episodes 9-15, and Disc 3 contains episodes 16-22, as well as the special feature.
Menu Design and Navigation:
The menus are simple, but still very nicely done. Each disc begins with a brief scene from an episode on the disc (like the Mr. Belvedere DVDs) and then fades to a menu that has more videos from the episode with the closing theme song playing in the background. The options are Play All and Episodes, as well as Trivia Game on Disc 3. Once you select Episodes, you simply get a screen that lists all of the episodes. Chapters are placed in all of the appropriate places.
Video and Audio Quality:
Considering the age of this series and how much it has been seen on TV in recent years (in other words, not at all), I was very impressed with the video and audio quality on the set. It is by no means perfect and does show some age, but for the most part, it is pretty crisp and clear throughout. The colors do appear to be a bit washed out at times, but it isn't terrible at all. The audio is loud and clear, although it is not the most exciting sounding track out there. Still, it is very good. Each episode is closed-captioned.
I'm a little disappointed in this area. There is only one special feature, and it isn't really all that great. All we have is a Webster Trivia Game, which basically is just a brief on-screen quiz about the episodes contained on this set. Once you complete the quiz (I don't really know what the "passing" score is), you just get a confirmation that you passed the quiz. Quizzes are fun for DVD sets, but they shouldn't stand alone. Perhaps some kind of reward like a bonus featurette (even something minor like an original promo) would have been nice. But there is no such reward here. It would have been nice to have seen the cast participate in some sort of interview for this set as well.
I never thought this series would make it onto DVD, and I really mean that. It definitely has a place in pop-culture, but unfortunately, the series has somewhat gotten lost in the shuffle and it hasn't had the lasting impact that it should have had. Fortunately, Shout! Factory is giving us an opportunity to see the series again, and it is also a positive sign that they managed to get a deal with CBS Home Entertainment to release this. Hopefully other series from their library will come too, including future seasons of this series.
Those who remember the show will definitely want to check this out on DVD. Some fans will argue that this is one of those series that they fondly remember and are anxious to see, but are disappointed when they see what they were missing, but I think a lot of people who liked the series WILL want to see it again. It is a fun and light-hearted series that epitomizes everything about the ‘80s, all the way down to essentially retooling the premise of the series Diff'rent Strokes. I haven't seen the series since it last aired on national TV (USA Network, WGN) over a decade ago, and I found myself watching some of these episodes like it was my first time seeing them. And for me, it was a fun trip down memory lane and I hope season two comes out soon!