A spin-off from Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life centered around four residents of the Eastland Academy for Girls and their headmistress, Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae). The four girls were characterized in strokes as broad as they way their physical types were presented: Blair (Lisa Welchel), rich, spoiled and blonde; Jo (Nancy McKeon), tomboy and brunette; Tootie, nosy and African-American; Natalie (Mindy Cohn), fun-loving and overweight.
The actual humour in the series is pretty pitiful – in other words, standard sitcom quips that might pass for wit if you’re about five. However, like its parent show, it would consistently tackle difficult subjects. In this season, that means the likes of abortion, drunk driving, and hearing loss. Nothing subtle, and much that is painfully earnest here, but at least there is also a little bit of ambition in the stories, so credit where credit is due. The lead-in to the season was the TV movie, The Facts of Life Goes to Paris. While the dire nature of the humour is even more apparent here, now that the laugh track has been stripped away, the shooting was actually done on location, which is, frankly, more than I was expecting.
The movie is shot on film, while the season itself is done on video. The former looks pretty grainy and soft. The colours get by, but overall this is picture quality that the viewer has to deal with, rather than enjoy. The season looks cleaner and a bit sharper, but grain and pixelation are issues, and the reds tend to bleed. These aren’t necessarily problems with the transfer so much as they are reflections of how much better television screens and broadcasts are today. What would have been fine on a 21” screen with rabbit ears now has every flaw magnified.
Time has been a bit more kind (or, more accurately, a bit less cruel) to the sound. It’s basic broadcast-quality mono, circa 1982, and is singularly unremarkable, but that’s about all one could hope for. It’s clear enough, and doesn’t offend the ears, so that will do.
The movie is listed as a special feature, but that’s like calling sound and picture special features, too. Its presence should be a matter of course, and it absence would have been a problem. So the only real extra is…
Know the Facts: A trivia game. It has 15 questions covering the first four seasons. It should keep viewers entertained for about a minute.
For the loyal fans only, but then, this is hardly aimed at anyone else.