Top positive review
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Great to see at last, but not perfect.
on 4 November 2010
It's great to see that this much-loved romantic comedy series (43rd in "Britain's Best Sitcom") has finally been released on DVD in its entirety. Just Good Friends is rare amongst sitcoms of its era in featuring a genuinely well-developed female character in the lead, and is worth seeing just for Jan Francis's excellent performance as vindictive, but vulnerable Penny. Paul Nichols is also good as Vince, and Sylvia Kay and the late John Ringham manage to steal any scene they're in as Penny's formidably middle-class parents.
As can be expected from the writer of Only Fools and Horses, the scripts by John Sullivan are sharp and witty, but also manage to make you genuinely care about the characters. It's also worth watching for the 1980s-ness of the fashion and so forth. In my opinion, the appearance of Georgina in series 3 rather spoils the original dynamic, and therefore series three isn't quite as good as the first two.
The DVD set contains four discs - one for each series, and one with the rarely seen feature-length 1984 Christmas special. They're all in their original 4:3 aspect ratio and the picture and sound are as good as a 1980s sitcom can be expected to be. Each set features episode selection and subtitles, but unfortunately that's it. The DVD packaging design is fairly bad - I'm not quite sure what they were thinking with the "Terry and June" font and boudour pink.
If I was being petty, it would have been nice for this (fairly expensive) release to have included the 2007 "Comedy Connections" documentary about the series as an extra, as this had quite a few interesting interviews with the cast and writer, which gave a good background to the series. I'm guessing it was probably left out because that programme features lots of clips from other shows, but its omission is a bit of a disappointment.
The big "discovery" of the release is the 1984 Christmas special. It's essentially a prequel film, being an hour and a half long and shot on film instead of the studio-based sitcom production 'look' of the main series. The special documents the backstory of Penny and Vince in the lead up to their meeting in the first episode of the series, and in a way, it would make sense to watch the special before the series episodes.
As noted by other reviewers, the opening party scene of the special is sadly spoilt by the legally required removal of the original Rolling Stones track due to rights issues, which unfortunately leaves almost the first 12 minutes of the characters' dialogue entirely silent and subtitled instead. The subtitles are a reasonable compromise in the circumstances, but it does make it a strange viewing experience. (Some people might suggest it would be sensible to watch the opening 12 minutes on YouTube, and then switch back to the DVD, but you didn't hear it from me...)
Overall, don't let my petty criticisms put you off buying this excellent series - I'm very glad that this has finally been released, and Eureka are to be congratulated for putting it all together in one package.