Season 5 of this most well-meaning of sitcoms finds a major change. With the cast now having aged to the point that not all the girls could reasonably be in high school together, Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) opens Edna’s Edibles, a bakery-slash-coffee-shop, and the opening two-parter establishes the new status quo (essentially doing whatever is necessary to keep the main characters together). Otherwise, things proceed as they always have, with each story combining standard sitcom hijinks with Important Life Lessons and forays into weighty subjects. So, for example, the friendship between Natalie (Mindy Cohn) and Tootie (Kim Fields) hits a rough patch when Natalie’s reaction to being asked out by Tootie’s cousin is perceived, by Tootie, to be racist.
The series’ flaws and strengths are much as they always were. On the one hand, the commitment to deal with serious issues is commendable, and the actual integration of these themes into the structure of the stories is fairly smooth. On the other, the performances are thuddingly broad, and the dialogue (and its attendant jokes) is both chronically and acutely awful. In the final analysis, only viewers who have retained a devotion to the show will really be able to get much out of this.
The transfer is solid, but the source material is simply not something that translates well onto modern television screens. So the image is sharp and the colours are strong, but pixelation and other flaws in the original video are also quite apparent, in a way that they wouldn’t have been in the mid-eighties. The picture is certainly watchable, but it is, much like the writing and performances, showing its age. The aspect ratio is the original 1.33:1.
Not really much one can say about a mono audio track from this era. It is what it is, and that means the dialogue is clear. That dialogue is also pretty much the only sound design one is going to get, apart from the Live Studio Audience laughter and the occasional scene-bridging music, so there isn’t much either to get wrong or get right. In any event, the track doesn’t offend the ears, and that’s good enough.
Another release for nostalgic fans, then, though they might be disappointed by the lack of extras.