Friends appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on these Blu-Ray Discs. That’s a change from the original broadcast episodes, which went with 1.33:1.
Is this a big deal? Yes and no. On one hand, the wider ratio simply opens up the original footage to spread out to the side, so no cropping occurs. However, I’m a pretty strict OAR guy, so I’m not happy when a release changes the dimensions.
Leaving aside issues related to aspect ratio, I can say that Friends has never looked better than it does on Blu-ray. Not that this means it looked perfect, as a mix of moderate concerns arose across the various episodes. Sharpness tended to be up and down. Much of the time, the shows seemed pretty concise and accurate, but some instances of mild softness materialized, and rare shots appeared a bit blocky.
At least I saw no issues with jaggies or shimmering, and I noticed no edge haloes. I did get the impression the transfers used some digital noise reduction, though – especially in the earlier seasons. Grain was inconsistent but tended to be more prominent in later years, which seemed counterintuitive, as one would expect superior production values in the more recent seasons. I’d surmise that the Blu-ray’s producers used up most of their DNR budget trying to de-grain the earlier programs. I still saw grain for those episodes, but it appeared lighter than in later years.
No source flaws caused distractions, and colors usually looked quite good. The series opted for a natural palette, and the tones were mostly peppy and rich. Occasionally I thought flesh tones were bit too brown, and colors could be slightly dense, but they mostly came across as vivid. Blacks were acceptable; they could veer inky at times, but they tended to be fairly dark, and shadows showed reasonable clarity.
Make no mistake: the episodes lacked consistency and could run into problems. That said, given the standards of the source and the methods used to film these shows, I thought Friends looked great. I gave the Blu-ray a “B” as a compromise between how the shows look objectively and how they’ve looked in the past. You’ll never use these programs as demo material, but I still think they’re radically more attractive than they’ve ever appeared in the past.
One controversy: while the DVD season sets presented extended versions of many episodes, none of them appear here, at least not in HD; we get a few “Super-Sized” programs as a bonus, but they’re not up to the visual quality of the HD shows. This leaves the DVDs as the main place to find the longer Friends episodes.
Why did the Blu-ray go with the shorter broadcast versions of the shows? I’m not sure, but I’d think this occurred due to the editing methods used for the programs. I suspect that the extended episodes exist only in the video realm, while the broadcast shows were probably edited on film and could be more easily transferred to HD. This may not be correct, but it’s my guess that it would’ve required much more work to make the extended shows “Blu-ray ready”.
While the visuals were up and down, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Friends remained consistent through the series’ entire run. Overall, the audio was fine but without much ambition. Given the talky nature of the series, though, this was no surprise. Dialogue dominated the episodes and remained oriented toward the front center. As always, music presented solid stereo presence over the front speakers, and the surrounds echoed the tunes moderately.
Surround usage was modest and rarely made itself known. The back speakers essentially echoed the forward channels and did little else. This was general reinforcement that gave us a little dimensionality but not much more than that.
Audio quality was fine but not spectacular. The lines seemed concise and fairly natural, and I noticed none of the light edginess that occasionally popped up in the past. Effects seemed acceptably accurate, but they never taxed the track at all. At least no problems occurred with those elements, and the music came across as pretty bright and bouncy. The rock-oriented score sounded clean and distinct, and bass response was tight and fairly rich. Don’t expect much from the series’ audio, but the tracks worked fine.
How did picture and audio of the Blu-rays compare to the prior DVD sets? Audio was a little peppier solely because the BDs included an LFE channel; the DVDs were 5.0, not 5.1. Overall, they’re awful comparable, though, so don’t expect much extra punch.
On the other hand, the Blu-rays’ visuals bordered on revelatory. The shows now looked much more distinctive and dynamic than they ever appeared on DVD. While I’m not wild about the aspect ratio alterations – and some fans are upset we don’t get extended episodes – I still think the Blu-rays provide strong picture quality.
Across all 21 discs, we get a mix of extras. 25 episodes include audio commentaries. All of these come from the prior DVDs – here’s what we find:
Season One: The Pilot: executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. All three were recorded separately for this track, and the results were edited together. Some of the remarks related directly to on-screen activities, but most dealt with general issues.
Overall I really like this commentary. The three cover many topics that related to the series. We find out the program’s genesis and how the various main actors were cast. The participants also go over a mix of other interesting subjects in this brisk and engaging track.
Season Three: The One Where No One’s Ready, The One With the Football and The One With the Morning After: executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. In addition, art director John Shaffner shows up for “The One With All the Football”. The commentaries move briskly, and though they include a bit too much happy talk and praise, they still add some nice information about the series.
Season Four: The One With Chandler in a Box, The One With the Embryos, and The One With Ross’s Wedding: executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. “Wedding” provides the best of the three tracks, mainly because the participants discuss all of the challenges that came with shooting in England. Overall, the commentaries seem informative and well constructed.
Season Five: The One Hundredth, The One With All the Thanksgivings, and The One Where Everybody Finds Out: executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. They discuss the development of the Monica and Chandler relationship as well as their thoughts behind various areas. The tracks suffer from a little too much dead time, and we also get too much basic praise, but they help elaborate on the show fairly nicely.
Season Six: The One Where Ross Got High, The One That Could Have Been and The One With the Proposal: executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. “Proposal” provides the best of the three tracks, mainly because it delves heavily into the challenges of developing the Chandler/Monica relationship and that subject’s issues. Although I’ve generally enjoyed prior Friends commentaries, these seem spottier than usual. They presentemore dead air than I recall, and they also offer an awful lot of general praise. They still give us some decent insight into the series, but they appear somewhat flat much of the time.
Season Seven: The One with the Holiday Armadillo, The One with Joey’s New Brain and The One with Monica and Chandler’s Wedding: executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. In addition, costume designer Debra McGuire appears for “Armadillo”
“Armadillo” provides some nice notes about the episode’s inspiration from real-life, as we learn of the challenges Jewish parents have when it comes to dealing with Christmas and their kids. McGuire’s presence also adds good comments about the evolution of the characters’ wardrobes and the specific costumes for this episode. The best moments in “Wedding” delve into challenges of the scenario as well as other casting concepts for Chandler’s dad.
Otherwise, we get material that seems similar to prior tracks. The information occasionally seems useful and enlightening, but the participants go silent too often and don’t always offer interesting remarks. As in the past, the comments seem sporadically compelling but not consistently. Still, they include enough to merit a screening.
Season Eight: The One Where Rachel Tells Ross, The One With the Videotape, and The One Where Rachel Has a Baby: executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. There’s a little information about the impact of 9/11, and during “Baby”, Kauffman offers good notes about how her own pregnancy influenced the story.
Overall, we get material that seems similar to prior tracks. The information occasionally becomes useful and enlightening, but the participants go silent too often. That becomes a particular problem during “Baby”, which suffers from the most substantial gaps. The producers also tend to simply tell us how wonderful cast and crew were; Kauffman remains guilty of the most cheerleading. As in the past, the comments seem sporadically compelling but not consistently useful. Still, they include enough good material to warrant a screening.
Season Nine: The One With the Male Nanny, The One With Rachel’s Other Sister, and The One in Barbados: executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. We hear about the inclusion of guest stars like Aisha Tyler, Hank Azaria and Paul Rudd, various storylines, technical aspects of the fake Barbados shoot, and how the decision to do a tenth year altered Season Nine.
Overall, we get material that seems fairly similar to prior tracks. The first two tracks move pretty well, but “Barbados” sags at times due to too much dead air. We also find lots of laughing, particular from Kauffman. Nonetheless, these commentaries are reasonably informative. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but they’re a little better than usual.
Season Ten: The One With the Late Thanksgiving, The One Where the Stripper Cries, and The Last One: executive producers Kevin S. Bright, Marta Kauffman, and David Crane. We learn about production challenges, guest casting, script issues and story changes, logistical and technical topics, and finishing the series. As always, we get a fair amount of laughing and praise, usually from Kauffman, who also gets pretty weepy. There’s also a bit too much dead air during “The Last One”. Nonetheless, these commentaries remain generally informative and likable.
Footnote: I don’t know why none of Season Two’s commentaries appear here. The original DVDs included chats for two episodes; I can’t explain why those don’t pop up on the Blu-ray.
On Disc Two, Friends of Friends provides a guide to Season One’s many guest stars. We get a list of the 16 prominent actors, and we can also see short clips from their appearances; these run a total of eight minutes, 33 seconds. They’re a fun little way to spotlight the growing list of Friends notables.
The One with the Trailer of Season Two offers… a trailer for Season Two. It runs one minute, 17 seconds and appears in this set for reasons unknown. Future teasers at least manage to include some exclusive footage with a cast member, but this one simply gives us episode shots and an anonymous narrator. It’s useless, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to have it here.
Disc Four delivers another Friends of Friends. It covers 12 guests and fills a total of 11 minutes, 12 seconds. It functions just the same as the one for Season One.
Disc Four also offers a fairly pointless feature called What’s Up With Your Friends?. After a 23-second intro from James Michael Tyler as Gunther, we then get the chance to access six different sets of montages that fill a total of seven minutes, 50 seconds. With one per character, we watch some of their “greatest hits”. Maybe someone will like this, but it does nothing for me.
Disc Four finishes with a one-minute, 49-second Music Video for “Smelly Cat”. It’s a dance version sung by… I don’t know, but it’s clearly not Lisa Kudrow. It’s over the top in a late 80s way and mildly amusing.
Expect another Friends of Friends on Disc Six. It goes over Season Three’s guests and lasts a total of 10 minutes, 44 seconds. Lather, rinse, you know.
Disc Six also tosses in another What’s Up With Your Friends?. Running time eight minutes, 11 seconds, same format, still forgettable.
Disc Eight tosses in Friends Around the World. Hosted by James Michael Tyler, it looks at the series’ reception outside of the US. In this seven-minute and 36-second featurette, we meet fans in Sweden plus the voice actors for the Japanese and German translations of the show. It’s vaguely fun to watch some dubbed snippets, but otherwise this piece seems slight and fairly dull.
Shocker: Disc Eight throws in more Friends of Friends (8:10) and What’s Up With Your Friends? (9:08). Same stuff, different season!
Over on Disc 10, we find a good documentary called The One That Goes Behind the Scenes. This 42-minute and 29-second program follows the creation of “The One After Vegas”, the first episode from the sixth season. It mixes some brief interview segments with a variety of personnel as well as many excellent shots from the set and other “behind the scenes” places such as the room in which the writers collaborate.
It’s a genuinely inclusive show, as it covers the writing, the filming, and post-production, and it does so in a clear and compelling manner. The best aspects came from the set itself, especially when we’d see how the writing process continued even during the shoot; when gags didn’t get the desired response, the crew - including the actors - would work out something new right on the spot. Overall, this was a very interesting and informative program that I really enjoyed.
Also on Disc 10, On Location In London runs a mere two minutes, 16 seconds. We get some shots from around London plus soundbites from the actors – both regular and guest – as they tell us how much fun the show is. This provides a piece of promotion and nothing more.
Speaking of which, Gunther Spills the Beans offers a preview of Season Six. This one-minute, 31-second clip acts as nothing more than an ad for the once-upcoming DVD set. It made sense on the Season Five DVD set but seems less logical here, though I guess fans will like it since it includes exclusive footage of James Michael Tyler.
After a brief absence, Friends of Friends returns for Season Six. It runs 12 minutes, 31 seconds and improves on its predecessors – a little, at least. It still mostly consists of show clips, but it also includes comments from the actors involved; we hear from Elliott Gould, Christina Pickles, Maggie Wheeler and Jane Sibbett. They discuss their roles, working on the series, and fitting in with the main cast. Much of this seems fairly bland and generic, though Wheeler offers nice notes about how she developed the character of Janice. Nonetheless, this remains a pretty lackluster program.
Expect the usual material from the Gag Reel. This nine-minute and 37-second compilation shows the standard goofs and giggles shot during Season Six. It becomes pretty tedious and doesn’t offer much of interest.
Hosted by actor James Michael Tyler, Gunther Spills the Beans offers a preview of Season Seven. This 86-second clip is literally nothing more than a teaser.
Season Seven delivers another Friends of Friends, and it provides some information from a few guest actors. The 19-minute and 49-second featurette intersperses show clips and interviews with Morgan Fairchild, Alexandra Holden, Eddie Cahill, Cole Sprouse and Paget Brewster. They discuss their roles, working on the series, and attributes of the main cast. Much of this seems fairly bland and generic, and this becomes a pretty lackluster program.
Expect the usual material from the Gag Reel. This nine-minute and 26-second compilation shows the standard goofs and giggles shot during Season Seven. It becomes pretty tedious and doesn’t offer much of interest.
Hosted by James Michael Tyler, the Gunther Spills the Beans offers a preview of Season Eight. This two-minute, 11-second clip is just another teaser ad. Does that surprise you?
The Season Seven extras end with The Ones With More Friends: The Original Broadcast “Super-Sized” Episodes. As a ratings ploy, four of this year’s shows aired in longer versions: “The One Where Rosita Dies” (27:57), “The One Where They All Turn Thirty” (24:53), “The One With Joey’s New Brain” (28:27) and “The One With the Truth About London” (29:18).
The presentation of the “Super-Sized” episodes as an extra creates a question: what should be considered the original broadcast versions of these shows? If I recall correctly, these “Super-Sized” programs offered the respective episodes’ debuts, so shouldn’t they be considered the “original versions”? Perhaps the shorter cuts offered on the disc are regarded as the “real thing” and these are just supposed to be seen as alternates, but since the “alternates” aired first, that makes me consider them to be the “originals”.
Normally I wouldn’t care about the distinction – hey, they’re both available, right? Yes, they are, but not in the same quality. The “Super-Sized” versions have received no apparent remastering, so they’re substantially uglier than the shorter editions. I suspect fans will be torn but will opt for the more attractive episodes, even if they’re much shorter.
Disc 16 tosses out yet another Friends of Friends for Season Eight. In the 19-minute and 40-second piece, we hear from June Gable, Lauren Tom, David Arquette, Teri Garr, Bonnie Somerville and Debra Jo Rupp. They discuss their roles, working on the series, reactions to their characters, and attributes of the main cast. Much of this seems fairly bland and generic, and this becomes a pretty lackluster program.
Expect the usual material from the Gag Reel. This eight-minute and 37-second compilation shows the standard goofs and giggles shot during Season Eight. It becomes pretty tedious and doesn’t offer much of interest.
Hosted by James Michael Tyler, Gunther Spills the Beans offers a preview of Season Nine. This two-minute clip is another teaser. But you knew that.
Moving to Disc 18, Behind the Style: The Look of Friends presents a featurette focused on those subjects. In the 20-minute, eight-second piece, we hear from Debra McGuire, makeup artist Robin Siegel and hair stylists Jonathan Hanousek and Chris McMillan. McGuire talks about the “palette” and fashion sense chosen for the various lead actors, changes that developed over the years, the show’s tight schedule, and some specifics connected to particular episodes and outfits.
Siegel gets into each character’s makeup design and the interaction of makeup and clothes. Finally, McMillan and Hanousek get into the many different ‘dos found through the series’ run. All four cover the topics in a concise manner that helps make this a tight and enjoyable program.
Expect the usual material from the Gag Reel. This six-minute and 40-second compilation shows the standard goofs and giggles shot during Season Nine. We get a few retakes that are interesting since they let us take a minor glimpse at the way they shoot the series, but mostly this compilation just drags with the same old, same old.
Next come a music video that recasts the Flaming Lips’ song as “Phoebe Battles the Pink Robots”. This includes a few Wayne Coyne lip-synch shots with a lot of show clips. I don’t think the song’s lyrics change other than to substitute “Phoebe” for “Yoshimi”. It’s a cute idea but not very interesting in the end; it would’ve been much more intriguing if it did more to alter the original lyrics.
With only one season remaining, could this be our last Gunther Spills the Beans? Thankfully, it is. The three-minute clip sets up Season Ten. Adios, Gunther!
On Disc 20, one more Friends of Friends runs 17 minutes and four seconds. It concentrates on the guest contributions of actors Aisha Tyler, Paul Rudd and Christina Applegate. They talk about their casting, their characters, and working on the show. As usual, there’s a lot of praise, but we get more than enough insight to make this a worthwhile featurette.
Next comes a music video for “Joey Joey”. This layers that pop tune on top of Joey-centered show clips. It stinks.
Final Thoughts presents a reflective featurette. In the 25-minute and 30-second piece, we hear from the three producers as well as actors David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox-Arquette, and Jennifer Aniston. They talk about the series’ roots, casting and the early days, the characters and their interactions, and the end of the show. As one might expect, we get a lot of praise and happy talk here. Nonetheless, it includes a reasonable amount of decent information and acts as a nice send-off for the series.
Disc 20 finishes with Gag Reels for Seasons One, Two, Three, Four and Ten. Taken together, these run 41 minutes and 33 seconds, though about half of that comes from Season Ten alone. I rarely find these amusing. A few funny bits pop up here, and I like the occasional glimpses into the working processes on the show, but mostly these offer the standard goofiness and gags.
While everything discussed so far came from the full-season DVD sets, Disc 21 provides new, exclusive bonus materials. Under True Friends, we find three separate documentaries: “Friends from the Start” (27:50), “When Friends Become Family” (29:20) and “The Legacy of Friends” (10:46). Across these, we hear from Crane, Kauffman, Bright, Shaffner, McGuire, Gould, Pickles, Somerville, Wheeler, Holden, former NBC president Warren Littlefield, former Warner TV president/CEO Leslie Moonves, director Jams Burrows, co-executive producer Todd Stevens, Syracuse University Professor of Television and Popular Culture Robert Thompson, executive producer/writer Greg Malins, audience warm-up artist Jim Bentley, Friends ‘Til the End author David Wild, and actors Melora Hardin and James Michael Tyler. We learn about the series’ creation and development, characters and casting, shooting the pilot, various sets and costumes, the opening titles, the show’s success and growth over the seasons, guest stars and the program’s impact on pop culture, finishing the series and its enduring appeal.
Though split into three parts, these pieces essentially form one long documentary – but not one consistent documentary. Without question, “Start” fares best, as it gives us a nice overview of the series’ early days. “Family” and “Legacy” offer some good notes as well, but they tend to be fluffier and more oriented toward telling us how great/successful the show was.
Another alternate version of an episode arrives next. The Original Producer’s Cut for “The One Where Rachel Tells Ross” runs 22 minutes, five seconds; it opens with a 44-second intro that lets us know what changes were made to the program. The differences come from the scenes with Monica and Chandler at the airport; the original cut featured a bomb-related theme that was deemed inappropriate to air right after 9/11, so reshoots went with a more benign topic.
In addition to the “Producer’s Cut”, we find the Original Script for “The One Where Rachel Tells Ross”. This gives us a reproduction of the version used by the series’ script supervisor, so it comes with a variety of handwritten notations. It also includes some material excised from the final show. It’s a cool addition.
Next comes a music video for the Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You”. This is a pretty simple lip-synch performance clip, but it gets a little extra charge because the Friends cast members romp around the set. While it never threatens to become a great video, it offers more fun than most of its genre.
Some vintage clips come next. We get Friends Visit The Ellen DeGeneres Show (16:08) and Friends on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno (22:01). For the Ellen elements, we see David Schwimmer on the show right after the finale aired in 2004; Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc and Jennifer Aniston appear individually in 2005. Schwimmer chats about the series’ finish, while the other three play a game in which they’re supposed to remember their lines from the show. The first two are pretty bad at it, but Aniston does well. As an interview subject, Schwimmer seems awkward and not very interesting.
The Leno segment aired in June 2004 and reunites all the cast members. The three men chat with Leno first, and then the women follow suit, and we wrap up with all six together. They throw out some fluffy thoughts about the series and how wonderful everyone/everything was. It’s decent to have as an archival piece, but it’s not especially fascinating.
Finally, the set ends with another Gag Reel. “The One with the Never-Before-Seen Gags” goes for seven minutes, one second and shows the standard mix of goofs and giggles. Actually, it throws out a lot of (bleeped) profanity, which sets it apart from most blooper reels, but it’s still pretty typical stuff.
It’s still too early to know how TV history will regard Friends, but as I revisited the series for the first time in years, I must admit I found it to continue to offer good entertainment. Of course, some episodes work better than others, but the overall quality remains positive. The Blu-rays boast pretty solid picture quality along with adequate audio and a fairly informative complement of supplements. This “Complete Series” Blu-ray package becomes the best way to watch Friends.