In 1970, CBS refused to allow the character of Mary Richards in THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW to be portrayed as a divorced woman; roughly a decade later, CBS promised that STOCKARD CHANNING IN BEST FRIENDS would boldly go where no sitcom had gone before: a (nearly) divorced woman would start a new life and stand on her own. Stockard Channing's charming personality and exceptional comedy timing would make for a promising weekly show. Unfortunately (for Channing and for us), that promise was merely a premise and JUST FRIENDS barely touched upon what the show was meant to be about.
JUST FRIENDS is really no better or worse than most sitcoms; it serves as an innocuous time filler that soaks up 25 minutes. The humor depends mostly on insipid jokes about California living, but Channing (as Susan Hughes) and the rest of the cast are likeable and can even make the unfunny jokes seem funny (Mimi Kennedy is a riot as Susan's spoiled rich sister-like Phyllis Lindstrom, we enjoy her because she has no idea of how ridiculous she is). The single worst idea for the show was to have Susan work at a Beverly Hills health club (not a good foundation for comedy-once you've done the obligatory "fat jokes", you're finished). Part of what gained our empathy for Mary Richards was observing her flounder and succeed in her job tasks and eventually become proficient in her work. When Susan asks for a raise, her boss agrees that she has perfected her duties as an assistant manager and that takes place on the second episode! Channing wanted better, and reportedly she requested that the show be taken off the air and overhauled.
JUST FRIENDS (whatever that meant) was dropped, and THE STOCKARD CHANNING SHOW gave Susan a new last name and a much better vocation. As a consumer advocate's assistant, Channing is allowed to do what she did so well in THE GIRL MOST LIKELY TO... and SWEET REVENGE: play broad caricatures in various disguises (Channing may have been better suited to follow in the footsteps of Carol Burnett rather than Mary Tyler Moore). Ron Silver is a great foil for Stockard Channing. Brad and Susan are competitive and flirtatious and their energy carries the show.
This double DVD is presented nicely. The image is a bit pasty (typical for taped shows of the period) and there are intermittent drop-outs, but these facts are listed on the box. If it's a choice between less than perfect quality and not at all, I'll deal with a few imperfections. The price is certainly reasonable.
Stockard Channing is a remarkable actress and it is a joy to watch her even in this show; if you can overlook the fact that the material is beneath her talent, you might catch yourself having a good time.