John Ritter never really had much of a chance in his early career to show just how good his acting chops could be. Let’s face it. While Three’s Company had quite a loyal following, it was never mistaken for anything more than a parody. Ritter was never asked to stretch himself here, and the role likely cost him better opportunities over the years. Fortunately, while 8 Simple Rules wasn’t a great show either, it did offer quality enough work to allow Ritter to thrive. Unfortunately he would not live long enough to reap the rewards he was earning for himself. Who knew Katey Segal wasn’t a one trick pony riding on the coattails of Peg Bundy? Who also knew you could find teenage girls who could act and satisfy the “other” attributes often necessary from female actors on television these days. The casting on this show is well above average. The supporting cast also includes James Garner, in a very refreshing role for the aged icon. David Spade joined the show halfway through this season as Cate’s nephew C.J. He’s the kind of guy who can’t stop getting in trouble.
There is nothing worse than forced comedy. You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? You can see a character reaching so far for a joke, it’s a wonder their lips don’t have stretch marks. Good comedy flows naturally. You don’t have to work the jokes into the tapestry; the tapestry is the joke. Family sit-coms have been done to death. There isn’t an angle that hasn’t been explored from the Father Knows Best all American family to the dysfunctional Bundy family from Married With Children. We’ve had the musical Partridges and the 2 dads nontraditional families popular in the 1980’s. So how do you make a tired old concept work? You don’t try so hard, that’s how. Let the dynamic between the characters sell the story. There aren’t any gimmicks here, and sometimes plain vanilla tastes like heaven on a hot summer afternoon.
8 Simple Rules is presented in an amazing 1.78:1 widescreen format. This looks great. Colors are dynamic and black levels are rock solid. I have never encountered a sit-com with this kind of image quality. Sadly, I never watched the show when it aired, so I’m not sure if it was broadcast in this form, but either way this is, I hope, a precedent-setting video presentation.
Even though the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is not ambitious or aggressive at all, it is again laudable that a sit-com be given such serious treatment. Dialog pretty much dominates this mix, meaning it all lives in the center speaker with the rest in your front mains. Again, this is trend setting stuff that I hope is carried forward from here.
I really hoped for a John Ritter tribute here.
Of course, we all know why this season is such a hallmark for not only the show, but the world of comedy. Very early in the season John Ritter unexpectedly died. The show decided to keep going and deal with Ritter’s death through the death of his character, Paul. They handled the situation with a lot of class and stayed respectful to Ritter and his work. The two part episode Goodbye does a fine job of dealing with the loss of both the actor and the character. The event would leave its mark on the remainder of the season as the family deals with their loss. It’s the season no fan should be without. They never let the tragedy interfere with a good joke. That’s how Ritter would have wanted it. “Step right up and see the grieving widow.”