It seems that the #1 way to get classic television on DVD these days is through programs like the Warner Archive, which, true to their name, archive some fan favorites from TV's past without worrying about the overhead of in-store marketing or sales. What's even better is that series that I might not have ever expected to see on DVD -- even if they're quite good -- seem to make the Archive cut.
Alice is a series that, for whatever reason, hasn't been syndicated or repeated as much as M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All In The Family, Happy Days or other 1970's favorites; or maybe it was, and I never quite caught it and/or was too young to like it. As such, I hadn't ever really seen much of it, beyond a "TV Favorites" release Warner Home Video put out a few years ago with only a small handful of classic episodes. Earlier this year, the Warner Archive brought out the complete first season of Alice, and it must have done well because Season Two was recently released, and that's what I'm reviewing here.
Second seasons are often a good indicator of what a show is like because the initial kinks are worked out and the writers know what works and doesn't work. A show like Alice, admittedly, is a little formulaic: Alice, Vera, and Flo work for Mel at Mel's Diner, and then step 2 is "Mel says something insensitive to tick them off" or "some wacky character - sometimes a celebrity - comes into the diner." Throw in Alice's son Tommy a few times, and sometimes you'll even see where Alice lives. Despite that repetition, that comfortability makes the show even more enjoyable to watch rather than worse. It's nice to know what to expect, and clearly audiences agreed, as this show lasted for 9 seasons.
Celebrity guests are very much of their time. George Burns (!) makes a guest appearance where Vera actually thinks he is God from "Oh God" -- more than twenty years before Joey Tribbiani was mistaken for Dr. Drake Ramoray. Popular 70's movie star and musician Jerry Reed appears with a connection to Flo. Another celebrity who shows up is Desi Arnaz. I actually did not know he made sitcom guest appearances after Lucy so this was a nice surprise, although his delivery and chemistry with the other actors wasn't the same as it was with Lucy, in his older years. On a similar note, I didn't realize that some of the Alice writers came from I Love Lucy.
I had a laugh when they talked about their salaries being only $2.35 an hour and wondered how cheap rent must have been back then. I'm thoroughly amused by the dimness of Vera and the sassiness of Flo, who exclaims "Kiss Mah Grits" to anyone who upsets her -- usually Mel. Mel is an odd character because he's kind of unnecessarily grouchy and mean to the ladies, though you see he cares for them a lot. I guess it's one of those sitcom things you're not supposed to think about. Linda Lavin as Alice is a easy-to-relate-to lead character and a talented actress. Phillip McKeon, who plays her son, is exactly how I'd picture "Jo Polniaczek as a boy"... I can't help but think of his more famous sister when I see him.
If you're unfamiliar with the show, Alice is a widowed mother who goes across the country to start a career in showbiz, but somehow ends up working at a diner to make ends meet along the way. Vera and Flo are her co-workers at the diner, and Mel is her boss. Most of the action takes place on the diner set.
The DVD set is one that I'm liking a lot, but I have to admit my first impression was not very good... the video quality on the opening titles is horrible. Letters are jagged and pixelated, and I thought there was something wrong with the DVD. Then I saw that the closing credits did the same thing as soon as the freeze frame starts. I am assuming that this isn't the fault of the DVD manufacturing, but instead is actually how the show originally aired, with really badly rendered titles. The episodes themselves look fine, but if you get this set and see the titles look bad, don't be alarmed.
This is a very easy show to watch, marathon, and enjoy, and I can see it being one that I'd have on multiple times just because it is comfortable and fun and it makes me laugh. The Alice Season 2 DVD contains all 22 episodes from the season, plus two episodes that were produced for Season 2 that actually aired during Season 4. Those episodes, "The Reporter" and "The Bus," contain different opening titles with an updated theme song.
You can purchase Alice Season 2 from the WB Shop. Hopefully it will sell well so we can get Seasons 3 and beyond... I'd really like to see more, and sales on DVD's like this could encourage them to put out more classic sitcoms.