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NED AND STACEY
Season One

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Thomas Haden Church, Debra Messing, Greg Germann, Nadia Dajani
Creator:  Michael J. Weithorn
Audio:  Dolby Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  Retrospective, Pilot Commentary
Length:  535 Minutes
Release Date:  September 20, 2005

"Remember me?"

"I'm not sure."

"I'm the person you exploited without a TRACE of conscience."

"You're gonna have to be more specific."

Shows ****

Sometimes I really love my job as the webmaster of a DVD site.  Even after many years, when DVD has grown from a novelty to the mainstream medium, I occasionally find a nice surprise waiting for me.

One of the nicest was learning that Ned and Stacey was coming to disc.  This was one of the funniest shows to come out in the 90s.  It was instantly critically acclaimed when it hit the airwaves on Fox, and became one of the last must-see television shows for me and some of my friends.  But it got joggled about on different nights and time slots (always the kiss of death for a TV show), and by year two, it was no more.

I didn't figure a show that, for lack of a better word, failed, would reach DVD.  But sometimes wishes come true, and a great program that got prematurely euthanized has a chance to reach its elusive audience on video.  It really is a show that deserves a second look.

The premise?  Ned Dorsey (Church) is a promising young ad executive.  Stacey Colbert (Messing) is an aspiring journalist trying to make a life for herself in the big city.  They get set up by her sister Amanda Moyer (Dajani) and her husband Eric (Germann), Ned's best friend, and take an instant dislike to one another.  But soon, they find out they need each other...Ned needs a wife in order to get a big promotion in his company.  Stacey needs his posh apartment to get away from her parents and start her career.  So they reluctantly agree to get married for two years and try and pose as a happy couple in order to straighten out both their lives.  Only Amanda and Eric are in on the deception.

It was a great idea for a sitcom, and the first year was filled with 24 episodes that explored the concept in constantly fresh and funny ways.  Each show was a highlight, but just to name a few favorites:  one has Ned and Stacey taking up with a new friend, only to collapse into jealous trickery with one another over him.  In another, Ned has to "offer it up" to a sexy important client while dealing with Stacey's moral objections.  A big laugh fest came when Stacey's old high school rival appears on the scene, and she tries to impress her with her "married life", only to have it backfire when the gal seduces Ned!

I also loved when Ned hires a beautiful but not-too-bright supermodel for a commercial, only to have it go terribly awry when Stacey unwittingly interferes.  Or when Ned loses Stacey in a poker game...yikes!  There's also Ned's stubborn refusal to attend to his gallbladder, Stacey using Ned to try and get a position with a major magazine, and the night when a fed-up Stacey decides to call a premature end to the wedded bliss.  It's all great.

There are a couple of classic holiday episodes as well...you'll howl when Ned and Stacey inadvertently hook up at a Halloween costume party, or the Thanksgiving night where everyone ends up paired up with the person they'd LEAST like to be with.  Or the New Year's Eve party that finds the couple out in the street and away from their own party.

One of the funniest and most referenced aspects of the show started midseason, and fans referred to it as the "death take".  While the closing credits would roll, a fake outtake would play in which one or more of the characters would meet an untimely end.  Guessing who would get it and how became one of the great pleasures of the program!

The show was brilliantly written and superbly acted.  The cast was first rate, with future Oscar nominee Church a perfect foil for future Will and Grace star Messing, and vice versa.  Throw in Germann and Dijani, and you have a foursome that to me was even better than Seinfeld's quartet or Friends' sextet.  The chemistry was great, and the comic timing impeccable.

It was a sad but expected day for me when the show finally wrapped.  As mentioned, I kind of knew when the time slot was skipping around that the days were numbered for television's most unusual married couple.  But at least now one of my fears has been extinguished.  I don't have to worry that Ned and Stacey will be forgotten.  DVD will give it the fair shake that the network failed to deliver, and as more and more people check out this first season, we fans will be vindicated.

Video ***

"Why can't straight men be...I don't know...more gay?"

Pretty good, as far as TV goes.  The digital transfers keep the color schemes well intact, with good detail and rendering of tones.  A little bit of grain is noticeable here and there, and a slight touch of compression is apparent in a few completely still shots (like the outside of the apartment building), but overall, a well done job registering few complaints.

Audio ***

"Hey, who do I have to sleep with to get some ruggula around here?"

The soundtrack was fairly impressive considering the content is a dialogue-driven sitcom.  Spoken words are clean and clear, the strange funky music breaks are lively, and overall dynamic range is better than you might expect.

Features **

"IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT'S GOOD AND HOLY, CUT THIS DEMON OUT OF ME!!"

Two extras, essentially, but both are entertaining and enjoyable.  You can listen to a commentary by creator Michael J. Weithorn on the pilot episode, who discusses how the show came to be and the cast members and such.  There is also a retrospective documentary featuring new interviews with him and all four principle cast members.

Summary:

Television, like life, is often unfair in that sometimes the good ones are taken from us far too soon.  Ned and Stacey remains one of my all time favorite shows despite its premature end.  With a terrific premise, solid writing and a wonderful cast of characters led by the unflappable Thomas Haden Church and the spirited Debra Messing, if any program deserves to find new life on DVD, this is the one.  Enjoy the show!

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