TITLE: THE DONNA REED SHOW - SEASON THREE
DVD Release Date: December 1, 2009 (Virgil Films)
Number of Discs: 4
Number of Episodes: 36
Running Time: 855 minutes
Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English; English subtitles
Special Features: Paul Petersen and Mary Owen Q&A; Fan letter to Donna; “It’s a Wonderful Life” photo tribute
The Stone family returns to DVD for another season with Season Three of The Donna Reed Show! Virgil Films brings 38 more episodes from the 1960-1961 season of the classic sitcom starring the legendary actress to a four disc DVD set. The Donna Reed Show stars Donna Reed as Donna Stone, a housewife that proves that a housewife is not just sitting at home watching Oprah and eating bonbons as Peggy Bundy made it out to be thirty years later. She is a hard-working manager of the Stone household, dealing with all of the difficult problems and issues that the Stone household faced on a daily basis. Carl Betz plays Dr. Alex Stone, the “man of the house,” and Shelley Fabares and Paul Petersen play the two children of the house. It’s a light-hearted family sitcom that basically puts the “woman of the house” in charge at a time where other family sitcoms were heavily male-centered.
Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:
A family weekend at Lakeview Lodge isn’t quite what the family is expecting in “Weekend.” Donna runs in to an old friend that she doesn’t recognize (but is determined to recognize) in “The Mystery Woman.” In “Donna Decorates,” we get to see what is perhaps the very first true crossover in sitcom history: Jay North appears as Dennis Mitchell (from Dennis the Menace) to help Donna redecorate her living room! Fortunately, Mr. Wilson (Joseph Kearns) is willing to save Donna’s redecorating experience from being a disaster. In “How the Other Side Lives,” Mary is jealous of a girl that was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but she finds out that the girl is jealous of her lifestyle too. Mary finds a new boy at school that is perfect--he looks like her father--in “Alex’s Twin.” Jeff just because quarterback on his school football team in “Higher Learning,” but an IQ test might just send him off to a school for geniuses.
Donna is off to a college reunion (yes, she went to college apparently) in “Donna Goes to a Reunion.” In “Someone is Watching,” one of Jeff’s friends decides to fake a leg injury to get attention from Donna, but why would he do that? In “Character Building,” Donna gives advice in an article that gets published, but then finds herself having to follow her own advice. Can the family let go of an old piano? Find out in “Variations on a Theme.” The family takes a trip to Hollywood in “The Stones Go to Hollywood.” Is a mother the perfect one to direct a school play? Apparently so, in “Donna Directs a Play.”
Jeff wants to go camping with his father in “Trip to Nowhere,” but when Alex is away for the weekend, Donna must fill in. Will he be happy with this arrangement? Donna has the job of “Americanizing” a Japanese wife of another doctor in “The Geisha Girl.” Tony Martin guest stars in “Tony Martin Visits,” where he decides to fight a speeding ticket thanks to some encouragement from Donna. Donna goes into business with a poodle parlor in “Poodle Parlor.” Donna wants Alex to be the head of the Board of Health in “Donna’s Helping Hand.” The family has a somewhat “taxing problem” in the epiosde “The Merry Month of April.”
Two boys toss a coin to decide who gets Mary in “Let’s Look at Love,” and she isn’t one bit happy about it. A good treasurer must keep up with money, but in “Jeff, the Treasurer,” Jeff seems to have trouble with this. Jeff is picked on by the school bully in “The Good Guys and the Bad Guys” and trouble could be brewing. Mary wants to learn to drive in “Mary’s Driving Lesson,” and it isn’t easy to teach her to do so. Alex decides to grow a mustache in “The Mustache,” and it is making things different in the Stone household. The season ends with “Mary’s Little Lambs,” where Mary decides to run a Saturday nursery school in the Stone house. How will crying children go with Alex’s desire to sleep in?
Just as was the case with Season 2, there is a bit to gripe about with the packaging. It looks cheap. Very cheap. The packaging is the same style of double-thick keepcase that we most often see on low-budget public domain releases, which this set definitely is NOT. As if that isn’t bad enough, the artwork for the packaging also looks somewhat cheap, with the focus of the cover art being Donna Reed sitting in a chair with her name on it. The focus of the cover art should focus more on the series, NOT on the star of the series. It isn’t quite as bad when you open up the set, though. The discs inside actually have very nice looking artwork on them, even though they are of the same style as the cover artwork. Clearly, the cover artwork style is good, but it just uses poorly selected images. The disc artwork has Donna on Disc 1, Carl Betz on Disc 2, Shelly Fabares on Disc 3, and Paul Petersen on Disc 4. Discs 1, 2, and 3 all contain ten episodes each, while Disc 4 contains eight episodes and the special features. There is a listing of all of the episodes along with original airdates, but unfortunately, no descriptions are provided, which would be a nice touch for this set.
Menu Design and Navigation:
The menus are rather basic, and look slightly more professional than the previous releases. The main menu has artwork similar to every other aspect of the set, and has options of Play All, Episode Selection, and (on Disc 4 only) Bonus Features. When you select an episode, you get a screen that shows five episodes at a time, along with a snapshot from the episode. There are no scene selection menus, nor are there any chapters placed within the episodes. It would be nice to see chapters in future releases.
Video and Audio Quality:
I really do wish that I could say that the set excels on video and audio quality after complaining about the packaging and menus, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Grain, vertical line scratches, contrast issues, ghosting, and snowy pictures are just SOME of the issues that plague the episodes. That isn’t to say that every episode has all of these issues, and furthermore, there are some episodes that look nearly perfect, but there are many issues such as these scattered throughout the set. The audio is usually loud and clear, but at times suffers from low levels and a tin can effect. Don’t count on being able to hear it by turning on subtitles or closed-captioning, either. Even though the previous sets did have these, they have been omitted for some reason this time.
Fortunately, I can say the news isn’t all bad. The good news is that not one 22 minute syndicated version slipped into the set this time. Every episode runs over 25 minutes. The bad news is that there are some issues that even I would have never imagined regarding the closing credits on SEVERAL episodes. For some reason, there is a major drop off in video and audio quality on the closing credits on virtually EVERY episode. For some episodes, it isn’t that big of an issue, because this isn’t where quality really matters. It is only a somewhat minor issue that many episodes have their original Screen Gems logo and the end of the closing music chopped off and replaced with various logos from Colex and Columbia Pictures Television from the 1980s, or the logo just chopped off and replaced with nothing. It becomes an even bigger issue, however, when closing credits just disappear. Yes, disappear. It doesn’t happen too often, but there are episodes where large chunks of the closing credits are missing, and one where the entire middle of the closing credits just randomly disappears. Even the list of guest stars is missing on the episode! Apparently, Virgil Films got some terrible prints of the closing credits somewhere. There is one positive about the closing credits on a few episodes, though, and I’m sure it was just a mistake (although a positive mistake): a few episodes have their original sponsor logos contained within the closing credits. Runtimes for each episode are as follows:
The Mystery Woman (25:45)
Donna Decorates (25:54)
The Love Letter (25:49)
How the Other Side Lives (25:46)
Alex’s Twin (25:43)
Worried Anyone? (25:49)
Higher Learning (25:50)
Never Marry a Doctor (25:46)
It Only Hurts When I Laugh (25:50)
The Model Daughter (25:45)
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (25:49)
Donna Goes to a Reunion (25:56)
Someone is Watching (26:02)
The Lean and Hungry Look (25:48)
Character Building (25:49)
World’s Greatest Entertainer (25:50)
Variations on a Theme (25:49)
The Stones Go to Hollywood (25:34)
Donna Directs a Play (25:50)
Trip to Nowhere (25:50)
The Geisha Girl (25:50)
The Busy People (25:50)
Tony Martin Visits (25:51)
Aunt Belle’s Earrings (25:51)
Poodle Parlor (25:50)
Mary’s Heart Throb (25:52)
Donna’s Helping Hand (25:50)
The Merry Month of April (25:50)
Music Hath Charms (25:31)
Let’s Look at Love (25:51)
For Better or Worse (25:50)
Jeff, the Treasurer (25:47)
The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (25:48)
Military School (25:52)
Mary’s Driving Lesson (25:51)
The Mustache (25:47)
Mary’s Little Lambs (25:51)
The special features on the set aren’t really numerous, and again seem to focus more upon the career of Donna Reed rather than the series itself, but there are some good special features. They can all be found on Disc 4. The first one is perhaps the best of the bunch, focusing on the series. It is a May 2009 interview (27:14) from Barnes and Noble in New York City with Paul Petersen and Mary Owen (daughter of Donna Reed). It is a very candid and fun interview that has many video clips from the series inserted throughout and has a very nice dedication to mothers everywhere at the end. This featurette is very well produced, and is a very bright spot for the DVD set. Next, we have a fan letter to Donna Reed from a World War II soldier, which was apparently a letter that meant a lot to her. It is fun to read for historical purposes, but the only problem is that it is handwritten and honestly difficult to read the handwriting. Finally, there is a photo gallery for the film that Donna Reed is very well known for, the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Mostly, we have promotional pictures (particularly posters) from the film. It is nice to see, even if the movie has nothing to do with the series itself.
The set is also said to have a special holiday greeting from the cast after the “Someone is Watching” episode, but I don’t really see this as so much of a special feature, but more as a nice thing to have included in the episode. Basically it is a brief tag before the closing credits where the cast holds up posters with the sponsor logos and tells the viewer to have a merry Christmas.
It all comes down to this: is it possible for me to recommend that you purchase a DVD set that is plagued with so many problems? Well, it is, and there is a good reason for that. Sure, this set has problems, and I wish that Virgil Films would rectify these issues in future releases, but the presentation of the episodes on this set is likely the only presentation of this series that we are going to get anytime in the near future, and the series is just too good to be ignored. This is a great series that gets short-changed in the modern era, and deserves more credit than it receives. In a way, I think that we have a tendency to be spoiled by perfect DVD releases (think of Image’s release of The Dick Van Dyke Show, for example) and expect every release of every show to be of the same level of quality. But the reality is that not every series can have a perfect DVD release due to financial issues and production issues.
It is a fun show to watch, and fans of family sitcoms, particularly those from the “golden age of television,” are sure to love this series. I’ve really found myself enjoying the series, despite believing that I wouldn’t enjoy it prior to watching it on DVD. DVD was my first true experience of watching the series, and I think many more fans could come to appreciate it through DVD, even if the DVDs could be better. I really hope that Virgil Films continues to release this series all the way through the final season, and that they bring us better quality on the future releases as well!
Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)
Video Quality: 3/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 2/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 4/5
-- Reviewed by skees53 on 11/28/09
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