George Papdapolis (Alex Karras) and Katherine Calder-Young (Susan Clark) meet on a Greek cruise, and, after a whirlwind romance, return to Chicago. They’re a bit of an odd couple – she’s a blue-blood, complete with male secretary, and he’s an ex-football player. The cross-class romance is barely underway, however, when they suddenly find themselves the guardians of the unspeakably adorable seven-year-old Webster (played by twelve-year-old Emmanuel Lewis) after his parents die (George had agreed to be his godfather back in the day). All sorts of cute misunderstandings, cute heart-warming lessons and cute sentimentality then ensues.
There is no denying diabetic-shock-inducing cuteness of Lewis, though there is also something a little bit creepy about the way the camera presents him, shamelessly exploiting that cuteness for all its worth, offering up Lewis for the audience to cluck over as if he were some kind of ambulatory teddy bear. The humour, meanwhile, is typical of an 80s sitcom – banal jokes in tandem with a Serious Message. And some of the gags are, to put mildly, antediluvian. Oh, look! Katherine is a woman who can’t cook! Hilarious! For those with fond memories of the show, however, none of this will matter. But those who have no such memories are probably better off not forming them.
The transfer is fine. The problem is the source material. As with so many other TV productions of this sort, and from this period, this is a disc best seen on a smaller television set. The lines of resolution are painfully clear. Faces become featureless blobs in long shot. Up close, the detail becomes too strong, and Clark’s makeup appears unflatteringly harsh (even by 80s standards) with her skin adopting a rather ghoulish pallor. Again, though, this is, as far as I can tell, not a transfer issue – the disc is simply being brutally faithful to what was always there, just hidden in those more innocent, pre-HD and pre-big-screen days. The aspect ratio is, naturally, 1.33:1.
The soundtrack has faired a bit better. It’s mono, naturally, and the score is not one I care to have banging around in my brain, but the sound quality is fine. Distortion is minimal, and dialogue is perfectly clear. The passing years and developing technology, then, have not led to anything that grates against the ear.
Webster Trivia Game: Good for about thirty seconds, or more if you care to try again (the correct answers are not shown if you guess wrong).
Clearly, a trip down memory lane for viewers of a certain age. Not much by way of extras for them, but the fact that the series is on DVD will likely be itself a reason to celebrate.