Friends: The Complete Series (Blu-ray) (1994-2004)
Not Rated Warner | 90h 0min

Review By: Matt Brighton | November 7th, 2012

Plot: What’s it about?

On September 22, 1994 the first episode of Friends aired and television was never quite the same. Now I won’t sit here and say that this show changed television forever, but when a show comes on the air that lasts a decade, wins multiple Emmy awards and inspires a spin-off (albeit not a successful one), you’re doing something right.Admittedly I was a late adopter to the show and it wasn’t until 2000 that I really first sat down and watched it. The show wasn’t yet on DVD, but Warner issued a special disc entitled The Best of Friends. In it were some of the hand-picked episodes from the first several seasons. I reviewed the disc and was a fan of the show from that point forward. What made the show work, like many others, was the chemistry between the lead actors (and in this case, there were six of them). Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Ross (David Schwimmer), Chandler(Matthew Perry), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), Monica (Courtney Cox) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc). You know the names, heck there’s probably a generation of eenagers with those names because their parents were fans of the show. Friends inspired outfits, hairstyle – anyone remember “The Rachel?” And TV Guide has seen fit to rank it in the top 25 of all the television shows of all-time. Pretty impressive.

I’d find it pretty difficult to believe that there’s anyone in the United States that hasn’t at least seen one episode of the show. But I’m sure that somewhere, out there, there’s someone. And while it’s hard to summarize an entire series in a single review (we have 9 of the 10 individual seasons reviewed on the site, not sure what happened with season six), I’ll do my best to be brief yet descriptive. Monica (Courtney Cox) is a chef, she’s roommates with Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), both of who live across the hall from Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) an actor. Monica’s brother, Ross (David Schwimmer) is a professor at the local university and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) a masseuse is probably the black sheep of the bunch. Of the six, Phoebe and Joey are the ones that didn’t know one another prior to the living arrangements. Monica, Ross, Chandler and Rachel had prior relations. In the early seasons Ross pines for Rachel and their on again/off again relationship is one that lasts throughout the show. In later seasons Monica and Chandler fall in love and get married. Phoebe and Rachel both give birth, Phoebe is a surrogate for her brother and Rachel and Ross have a child at the end of the eighth season.

As with any situation comedy, the writing takes front and center, but it means nothing if the actors can’t pull it off. These did. Each week the gang would get themselves into predicaments all the while either hanging out at Monica and Rachel’s place or their local coffee house, Central Perk. There was no shortage of guest stars with the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tom Selleck, Paul Rudd, Giovanni Ribisi and Kathleen Turner (who plays Chandler’s father turned mother after a sex change operation). Friends came into the television season as a replacement for Cheers, a show that inspired a spin-off of its own, Frasier, and was part of one of the strongest nights of television along with Seinfeld. Friends filled the void left by Cheers very nicely and was essentially an instant success both critically and commercially. It made household names of its six stars and though Jennifer Aniston is the one who really hit it big, the other five are still enjoying the success brought on by the show.

There were some who felt the show somewhat overstayed its welcome. It ran a decade and many felt that the last few seasons weren’t really needed. Of course NBC would disagree as the show was still a ratings juggernaut up to its finale, which aired on May 6, 2004. The show serves as somewhat of a time stamp as we see these characters emerge from their early adulthood and discover life, love and happiness and experience what life really has to offer. Of course it was entertaining as well. Friends not only made household names of its stars, but made them extremely wealthy as well. Each member of the cast was making $1 million an episode of the last season or two, so I think I’d show up for work too! While it’s unlikely that a show like this will come along anytime soon, it does take some really bad shows to realize how good Friends really was. Odds are that any viewer had at least one character they could relate to and given the size of the lead cast, it can be said that the style of the show certainly served as a template for shows to come.

Video: How does it look?

When I got the press release for this offering, my first thought was “I wonder if they’ll keep it 4:3 or make it 16:9?”  Yes, really.  That’s the way a DVD/Blu-ray reviewer thinks.  Well as it turns out, Warner has taken each of the 236 episodes and has given it a new digital transfer and has “enhanced” it for widescreen televisions.  No doubt this will be met with some controversy and it won’t be the only thing (more on that later).  Now I realize that messing with aspect ratios can be risky business, but we are talking about a television series here.  Paramount did a fine job with their first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and they decided to keep the aspect ratio 4:3 and that’s a decision I agree with.  So, for me, I was actually fine with these new 16:9 AVC HD transfers and the result is pretty pleasing.  Colors are bright and bold, the purple walls of Rachel and Monica’s apartment look radiant.  The wardrobes, though dated, look pretty good.  Chandler’s hipster clothes aren’t really challenged with vertical lines.  Grain is virtually non-existent and the series seems to have more of a “glossy” look and feel to it.  After all, had this show been made now, it would be in HD so maybe this is Warner’s way of trying to “update” the show?  Who knows.  What I can say is that it looks pretty good to me.  Then again, maybe I’m easily impressed.

Audio: How does it sound?

While some other television shows out there have very robust DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks, Warner has given Friends a simple, yet effective Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.  The vocals are consistent throughout the entire series with the show’s theme song taking front and center (and I assure you it gets very old after about the tenth episode).  The front stage takes the burden of the audio with surrounds chiming in on occasion, mainly for the cut scenes and transition music.  Vocals are clear and crisp with no distortion in the least.  Truthfully, it’s kind of hard to mess this one up so I got what I expected here.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Ok, now time for the controversy…as any fan of the series knows, each and every season has been available on standard DVD for years.  The show has been off the air (as of this writing) for eight and a half years.  When Warner released the individual seasons on DVD, they added in some extra footage in every (or almost every) episode.  I really didn’t think much of it at the time, but after watching episodes on DVD and then catching a re-run on TV, I’d notice if a line or two was cut out.  I can’t really cite any specific examples, but if you’ve seen the extended versions of the episodes, you’ll most likely notice.  For whatever reason, Warner has only given us the broadcast episodes for this Blu-ray set.  So while purists might enjoy having what was originally broadcast, those of us who have seen that there’s more out there (and available on disc) might be a bit miffed.  This isn’t really anything new with Warner, though.  They did the same thing with the Lord of the Rings movies, only giving us the theatrical cuts on the first Blu-ray offering and again with the Harry Potter set, giving us the theatrical cuts of the films in spite of the fact that their “Ultimate Editions” contained the extended cuts of the films.  This leads me to believe one of two things: either Warner is incompetent (which I doubt) or it’s all a marketing scam to get you to buy the same thing again. In a year will we get Friends: The Complete Series (now with extended footage!)?  Who knows.  But, bottom line, if you’re expecting these to be upgrades to the already-available DVD’s, it’s not.

This 21 disc set does contain all of the same bonus features that were found on the previous releases and since we’ve covered those, here are the links (again, I have no idea what happened to Season Six): Season One, Season Two, Season Three, Season Four, Season Five, Season Seven, Season Eight, Season Nine, Season Ten.  There, go check those out.  Being a new set, there has to be something more to offer than upgraded video and missing extended scenes, right?  Of course!  There are a few hours of new supplements, so let’s dive right in.  “True Friends: Documentaries” are some retrospective features with the cast looking back at the show and how it changed television. “Friends from the Start” shows us of the series’ creation and getting that oh so perfect cast.  “When Friends Become Family” as we hear from the writers as they discuss some of the show’s more influential episodes from selected seasons.  “Legacy of Friends” shows us of the show’s ending, how it influenced future television shows and the cultural impact it had.  We then move onto “The Original Producer’s Cut for ‘The One Where Rachel Tells Ross’” and as any fan knows, this was probably one of the most iconic episodes of the entire series.  We get an introduction by Kevin Bright as he tells us why it was edited for airtime.  In addition, we get the original script for the same episode.  We get some scenes from the Ellen Degeneres show and the Jay Leno show from 2004 and 2005.  There are some episodes with extended footage from the “Super Size” episodes from Season Seven (2000-2001 season) shown in their entirety.  We also get a gag reel of sorts and the music video for the one hit wonder band “The Rembrants” and their iconic theme song “I’ll Be There For You.”

Disc Features
  • (1.78:1) Aspect Ratio
  • Video Codec: AVC
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Audio Commentary
  • Deleted Scene(s)
  • Featurette
  • Documentary
  • Digital Copy
  • 21 Disc Set
Friends: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)