Maybe it's just that ultra-catchy theme song or the refreshingly real title character, but in any case, I was thrilled to learn that these DVD's were arriving in January 2009. It's been long overdue, especially since it hasn't even been shown on TV since I was a kid, so the timing is great to finally have it immortalized through the DVD's!
For those who grew up with the show and remember it as a blast from their 1990's past, this has been a great way to kick off the new year! I was very happy to purchase this over the weekend (at a very good price, too), and it brings back fond memories of those good old '90's classics that will never again be matched by anything. Of course, considering all the reality TV and other "the way teens really are" junk that airs these days, it doesn't seem like most screenwriters are challenging themselves to meet the original standard that was set by television shows from decades past.
Just in case you aren't familiar with show's basic premise, Blossom Russo was a young teenager in a house full of men after her mother Madolyn (interesting spelling, huh?) took off, leaving her entire family behind, to pursue a singing career in Paris. Four years have already passed since this stressful family event occurred, meaning that the writers were able to bypass the deserted husband and youngsters' initial shock and anger, but there was still plenty to explore with how the four of them were coping a few years down the road. It was no easy task for Nick Russo to finish raising three kids on his own, especially since he was dealing with one son who was a recovering drug addict, another underachieving teenage son who acted more like a kid than most kindergarteners, and an impressionable young daughter who was right in the wings of adolescence (one of the scariest things in the world for most dads, especially when boys start coming into the picture).
The series started out fairly low-key, focusing mainly on Blossom and featuring her father and brothers as supporting characters in her life. It was indicated that Madolyn still had telephone and postcard contact with her children, although this was not at all central to the rest of the story, at least not at this point in the series, and the attention was placed largely on Nick and the kids, not their mother/ex-wife's whereabouts. Also, once the second season started, the writing became somewhat more quirky, complete with various dream/fantasy sequences (watch for the infamous "Rockumentary" episode, filmed almost entirely in black and white, which established a more exaggerated form of the unorthodox style that the show gradually took on). The script also began juggling more subplots and characters at a time, including the kids' maternal grandfather Buzz, whose thick sarcasm makes it easy likening him to Frank Barone on "Everybody Loves Raymond." Exploring the relationship between a divorced man and his ex-wife's father is something that most family sitcom writers wouldn't even bother to attempt, let alone develop over more than just a few episodes. In typical "Blossom" fashion, though, the challenging and the controversial were unveiled, and the audience got a refreshingly honest look at how Nick had to set aside his own bitter resentments in order to let his children have their grandfather in their lives.
Things were tough for the Russos after Madolyn split, but their home life wasn't exactly worthy of complaint, either. The household was run by a strong and loving father, and the older brothers were two decent, caring guys who would do anything for their younger sister. Blossom was forced to enter those rough teen years without a mom to talk to or ask questions, but again, her dad and siblings were always there when it really mattered. The first two seasons watched them slowly adjust to their new situation and begin feeling like a family again. That much about the series is pretty clear, but now that it has come to DVD about 13 years since the final episode aired, the intended audience is a little trickier to identify. Also, as I've already mentioned, the show has not aired in reruns on TV for years, so adults who don't remember much about it may be tempted to think that it's appropriate for their children to watch, much like "Full House" and "Punky Brewster," both of which have attracted whole new audiences through their DVD releases. One thing is for sure, though: "Blossom" is much edgier TV entertainment, experimenting with some controversial storylines that include drugs, alcohol, sex, messy divorces, recovering addicts who fall off the wagon, and all those things that you wouldn't necessarily expect from a family-oriented show of its time. I was pretty shocked at some of the sexual innuendos, including a scene where the Russo kids wondered if Nick's attractive new girlfriend would eventually become their stepmother, and Joey showed no shame in saying, "You think we could get her to spank us?" Needless to say, you probably wouldn't want to plop your elementary-aged child in front of the screen with dialogue like that in one episode after another (and trust me, some plot material and visual images got pretty racy).
It's actually fascinating that the show got away with some of the things that it did, but then again, the face of family sitcoms was changing rapidly at the time, and writers began deciding that completely squeaky-clean scripts should be "humanized" with funnier, slightly more permiscuous material. "Blossom" was one of the first family series to do this, and now that more risque shows like "Two and a Half Men" are so widely successful, it's interesting to note how the sitcom world started turning in the early 1990's. Getting back to my original point, though...in my opinion, I'd have to say that these DVD's are primarily geared toward the original fans, and while there are other younger generations who may enjoy it (it's ultimately up to the parents to decide if they think their children can handle it), you almost have to have experienced it previously in order to really appreciate it.
Again, in terms of the more mature plot threads, oldest brother Anthony was a former alcohol and substance abuser, which represented one of the most heartbreaking stories in the series. He had been clean for over a year when the show started and was finally beginning to thrive again (despite being somewhat reluctant to admit that he was actually ready to take the next step in life), but those former skeletons returned to haunt him when it came to rekindling old friendships and looking for work. The writers obviously trusted the audience to understand and respect some more grown-up, "real-world" material in these storylines, and Anthony's issues represented what several shows were too scared to expose. Blossom was portrayed as the show's moral compass, but even she slipped on more than one occasion, including an episode where she and her best pal Six considered drinking in their hotel room during a school trip, and another episode where they brought home some marijuana that they found on the bus. Russo patriarch Nick was a generally good man who worked hard to take care of his family and cope as a single father, but he was constantly forced to make difficult decisions, many of which were undermined by his children (and sometimes even the audience) over a succession of episodes.
Of course, there is plenty to love and respect about the series as a whole, and while the writers did touch on more serious social topics, most of the situations were idealized to accommodate the show's generally "family friendly" label. Despite the abandonment of her mother during her formative years, Blossom was remarkably well-adjusted, with acts of rebellion that were only occasional and short lived, then quickly forgiven and forgotten. Her relationship with her father was also one of those quieter, yet magical assets to the show, and come to think of it, it's one of the only things I remember vividly from the show's original run. Even when I was younger, I was able to sense that special bond that existed between them and was completely separate from the relationship that Nick had with his sons. Seeing as Blossom was his only daughter, she represented the little girl that he adored and desperately wanted to protect. Terms such as "practically a saint" and "a gift from God" were the descriptions that Nick had on hand for his daughter during these early seasons, while Blossom referred to him as "inspiring" and "one of the cool guys that everybody admires". Sure, it's little cheesy, but it also happened to be the heart of the show in many ways, so I'm willing to take it.
The cast is solid, with each individual actor meshing well with the rest of the group. Leading lady Blossom was scripted to be somewhere in-between the Queen Bees and the nerds, and Mayim Bialik was perfect in projecting that image. Maybe she was slightly more on the dorky side, but she was always comfortable with herself, and she earned a lot of points for setting that example. Her style was quirky yet lovable (the opening credits let you know, right off the bat, that the next thirty minutes are going to be a lighthearted retreat), and her overall character managed to be admirable without being too overdrawn or sappy. Joey Lawrence pulled off the "teen hunk" status for younger female viewers without having to even exert much effort (most of his one-liners make me crack up no matter how often I watch it), and Michael Stoyanov succeeded with his much different, yet equally likable character. Anyone who has ever had to accept and conquer the mistakes of their past will easy identify with his story. Ted Wass was also well cast in what ended up being his final acting gig before he switched to directing, and while maintaining a fine balance between hip and responsible, he was as much of a respectable TV dad as anyone else out there. Then, in the tradition of actresses like Andrea Barber on "Full House" and Emily Osment on the more recent "Hannah Montana," Jenna von Oy tackled the "best friend" role with grace, while clearly demonstrating enough talent to have her own show. I love her performance in these early seasons, and with some of her scenes--specifically though with her and Bialik acting like goofy, giggly teenage girls--I often wonder how they managed to keep a straight face during the filming process.
A slew of recognizable guest stars were present in Seasons 1 and 2, including Eileen Brennan, Tori Spelling, Tiffani Amber-Thiessen, "Golden Girls" icon Estelle Getty in a crossover role, and perhaps most notably, Phylicia Rashad--also known as Clair Huxtable--one of the most acclaimed and beloved TV moms ever. She appeared briefly in the first episode (not the original pilot, but the first episode with all the established actors and characters), in a controversial scene that almost had the network threatening to not air the episode unless it was edited out (more information on that is provided in the audio commentary for "Blossom Blossoms"). So you know that the guest stars are going to be good, and if you are an avid fan of the classic sitcom "The Golden Girls," you will notice at least a handful of actors who appeared on that series at some point or another (both shows had the same executive producers).
As for the actual packaging and other such details...I have to say that Shout Factory did a nice job bringing these episodes to DVD. You can count on Shout to resurrect some of the best old school TV shows and transfer them to DVD with care. The episodes look great, considering they were filmed almost 20 years ago. The outer packaging holds three thinner jewel cases on the inside, just like they did with shows like "Full House" and "Beverly Hills, 90210." Each one carries two discs, and the cases list the episodes on the outside. There is also a little insert that provides a brief synopsis for each episode. As far as I know, all the episodes are featured as they were originally broadcast, without any edits, but then again, it's been a heck of a long time since I saw this on TV, so it would probably be better to ask someone who watched it from the very, very beginning. Although some of the scene transitions appear choppy, I think that was just a sign of a 1990's series that was early in its run and using the same fade-in and fade-out techniques over and over.
The special features are also outstanding, especially in light of the fact that many shows (specifically those that aired a long time ago) don't include any at all. First up is the original pilot episode--which is listed as a bonus feature instead of with the regular episode lineup--which you will understand as soon as you see it. The pilot is so different from the rest of the series (the father is played by a different actor, the two older brothers have awkward new names, and Blossom's parents' marriage is rocky, yet intact). It does little else than provide some groundwork for how the writers wanted to convey the title character through a video camera diary and personal narrations. It also provides a glimpse at what the series might have been like if, instead of depicting the pitfalls of divorce and maternal abandonment, they had explored the more strenuous side of marriage that most sitcoms didn't express until "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "King of Queens" came along. All in all, the pilot didn't do much for me, and I was too bored to even watch the whole thing, but in order to release a "complete" season set, including it in this collection was paramount.
Audio commentaries were also recorded for three episodes, and the co-stars that participated are Mayim Bialik, Jenna von Oy, and Joey Lawrence. Series creator Don Reo is present for all three commentaries, as well. At least 80% of all three commentaries found the participants laughing hysterically at the general silliness of the dialogue they were given 20 years ago, but they also offer some nice insights on their experiences filming the show.
Also included are three featurettes, where several more cast members discuss the show, its content, the wardrobe, why Ted Wass almost turned down the role of Nick Russo, and why the casting crew originally didn't think that Joey Lawrence would be good enough as the teen heartthrob. (Imagine that!) One of the nicest bonuses, however, is the one where Mayim Bialik and Jenna von Oy sit down together to discuss their on-screen friendship and address the age-old question that they are still asked constantly: "Were you as close in real life as you were on the show?" This featurette seems particularly honest and refreshing to watch, since neither actress bothers to act fake or pretend that they were, like, the bestest friends in the entire world when the cameras stopped rolling. The girls acknowledge that yes, they spent time together during filming and engaged in some of the same activities, such as dancing classes, but they also respected each other's physical space, and while their TV characters were virtually inseparable, they didn't feel the need to sit there and act like they were the exact same way in real life.
Despite the absence of subtitles on the DVD (it may take several written complaints from consumers before Shout Factory addresses that with their products), this one is definitely worth buying if you're a fan. It may not be entirely appropriate to share with younger kids, and today's teens--who grow up idolizing more angsty shows like "Gossip Girl" and "Secret Life of the American Teenager"--may find it a bit outdated. Again, though, it's a perfect gift for those who grew up watching it, and in essence, they are the ones that the manufacturers had in mind with this DVD set.
For me, the best thing about having this collection is that I only recall bits and pieces of some episodes, and there are others that I don't remember at all, so revisiting them through the DVD's has been a truly enjoyable experience. I have plowed through the first three discs in three days, and I look forward to finishing the rest. This means that Shout Factory just has seasons 3-5 left to bring to DVD, and I am sure that sales will be good enough to have them out as soon as possible. Given the nostalgic charm and quality of these first two seasons, I am not at all worried about future releases, and in fact, I'm confident that sales will "surely shine"! So "stop all your fussin', slap on a smile," and enjoy Seasons 1 and 2! Waiting for Seasons 3-5 is going to be tough, but I guess I'll find a way to manage!