Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt, Anne Ramsay, Richard Kind, John Pankow, Lisa Kudrow,
Written by: Danny Jacobson, Paul Reiser, etc.
Directed by: David Steinberg, etc.
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 491
Date: 02/08/2005

The Mad About You Collection (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Not So Much

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This superior sitcom (1992-1999) coincided nicely with my relationship with my own one-time wife, tracing the time we met to the time we got married, and images of this television couple's messy but lovable life together often bucked up my courage. It's still a spectacularly funny show today, thanks mostly to excellent writing and superior comic performances by Paul Reiser (as "Paul Buchman") and Helen Hunt (as "Jamie Buchman") as well as hoards of brilliant supporting players and guest stars (Mel Brooks, Sid Ceasar, etc.)

Instead of doing the usual box set thing and beginning with "season one," Reiser and Hunt have selected their favorite 21 episodes for this four-disc set. That sounds like a great idea, and it is, to some extent, but their selections tend toward the serious side. In other words, they've chosen the episodes that make them the proudest rather than the ones that are the most fun.

Unfortunately, the box extends more toward the latter part of the show's run during the "Mabel" years, when, for me, the show began to lose momentum; the focus turned from the relationship between the two characters to their new baby troubles. Even so, some of these episodes contain priceless moments, such as Mel Brooks' appearance in "The Penis" (1997), and the entire length of the groundbreaking "The Conversation," which was shot entirely in one take without commercial breaks.

As for the earlier shows, the set includes the Pilot, which plunges directly into the series, then the follow-up, "Met Someone" (1992), which shows how Paul and Jamie met. "Our Fifteen Minutes" (1995) was another groundbreaker, where documentarian Paul is commissioned to shoot fifteen minutes of Jamie and himself living their lives like normal people. But as soon as the camera is turned on, all kinds of odd things happen. This episode includes arguably the single finest performance by Anne Ramsay as Jamie's sister Lisa. And "The Alan Brady Show" (1995) boasts a great performance by Carl Reiner as an old television legend.

It was nice to see this show again and realize how well it holds up, but the overall effect of the box set is one of bittersweet rather than joy. That may be fine for some, but for those who need a laugh, it may be better to wait for "Season One."

As for extras, Hunt and Reiser introduce each episode, though the introductions are full of clips, so it's best to watch them after you've watched the shows. The two actors/writers/producers also provide commentary tracks for certain episodes. We also get TV spots, featurettes and a blooper reel.

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