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WINGS
The Complete First and Second Seasons

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Timothy Daly, Steven Weber, Crystal Bernard, David Schramm, Rebecca Schull, Tomas Haden Church
Director: Noam Pitlik
Audio: English stereo
Subtitles: English close captions
Video: Color, full-screen
Studio: Paramount
Features: Trailers
Length: 642 minutes
Release Date: May 23, 2006

"Pilots feel sort of special about their planes."

Episodes ****

One of the seminal television shows of the 1980's was Cheers.  Developed by the production team of David Angel, Peter Casey, and David Lee, this sitcom chronicled the mishaps and misadventures of a lovable bunch of eccentric characters who congregated in the same intimate bar on a regular basis.  With a sprinkle of romantic friction, a regular dash of wise-cracks, and a handful of complete muppets as customers, the producers had created the perfect recipe for a deliciously fulfilling sitcom.  But as Cheers ultimately began to wind down its series run, these producers sought to re-capture the same magic with new sitcom.  The result was Wings.

Certainly, Wings followed the formula that made Cheers such a crowd-pleaser.  Wings too was set in a place where "everybody knows your name," in this case the small island community of Nantucket.  Wings chronicled the slapstick struggles of the Hackett brothers, no-nonsense Joe (Timothy Daly) and pure-nonsense Brian (Steven Weber), as they struggled to keep their privately-owned charter flight business afloat.  Joe was an obsessive-compulsive oddball à la The Odd Couple's Felix Ungar, while Brian was a ladies' man whose romantic exploits regularly landed him (and pretty much everyone else) into a heap of trouble. 

Helping to maintain some semblance of order at the Tom Nevers Field airport was a supporting cast as endearing as anyone from Cheers.  Sandpiper Air's bubbly if outspoken receptionist Fay (Rebecca Schull) handled passenger details and generally straightened out the Hackett brothers' usual predicaments.  Airport mechanic Lowell (Thomas Haden Church) was a handy jack-of-all-trades, if also a bit of a spacey idiot savant.  The local lunch counter girl Helen Chappel (Crystal Bernard) provided the show's down-to-earth romantic interest, although she held firm to a very strict and inflexible rule about not dating pilots.  She was also never afraid to unleash a virtual salvo of verbal quips whenever things got too out of hand at the airport, as frequently occurred. 

Sandpiper's sole rival on Nantucket was Aeromass, an airline operated by portent and sardonic Roy Biggins (David Schramm).  Regularly delighting in Sandpiper's woes, Roy wasted few opportunities to berate the Hackett brothers for their apparent lack of business acumen.  Perhaps he had a point, considering that Aeromass operated six planes on the tarmac versus Sandpiper's one dinky little Cessna 402.

Premiering in April 1990 as a mid-season replacement, Wings showed enough promise during its shortened first season to earn a spot in the regular line-up the following fall.  This DVD box set assembles all episodes from the first two seasons of Wings.  Read on below for synopses of these first twenty-eight episodes!

1) Legacy

"Are you kidding?  Hire you?  I'd rather crash this plane!"

Joe Hackett is tired and overworked.  At the insistence of childhood friend and now airport counter girl Helen Chappel, Tim finally calls up his long-estranged brother Brian, who of late has been piloting charter flights around the Carolinas.  For six long years, the two brothers have harbored a grudge against one another, understandable considering that Brian ran off with Joe's former fiancée, Carol.  But what goes around comes around - Carol has since left Brian for another man.  

In light of their mutual relationship woes, Joe and Brian conclude that blood is thicker than water and re-unite to run Joe's fledgling Sandpiper Air as family once more.

2) Around the World in Eighty Years

"I went, I played, they yawned."

Helen is not just another pretty blonde.  She is also an aspiring cellist.  When she scores an audition with a symphony, Helen must decide whether to follow her dreams of becoming a successful musician or whether to remain behind a lunch counter in an anonymous small town.  Tough choice?

Meanwhile, Fay befriends a retired pilot who has been fulfilling his own lifelong dream of flying around the world.

3) + 4) Return to Nantucket

"That woman lived to humiliate me."

Just when Joe and Brian have finally settled their differences, in walks a femme fatale from their past - Carol!  In this two-part episode, the Hackett brothers must summon the strength to resist the obvious temptations of this home-wrecking hussy.  Can our two fly-boys do it, or will they resort back to schoolboy bickering ways over a woman?  Not to be rendered irrelevant, Helen herself finds an excuse to slap a pie into Carol's face, payback for all those high school days of misery.

5) There Once Was a Girl from Nantucket

"Was that you being charming, Brian?  Cuz I guess I gagged and missed it."

Luckily for all, Carol departs for London.  So now, Brian vows to remedy Joe's virtually non-existent social life by setting him up on a blind date with a gal named Cindy.  Too bad this new disreputable lady in question is the personification of ditzy and comes with, shall we say, a lot of baggage!

A pre-Will & Grace Megan Mullally guest stars as loose-hips Cindy.

6) All for One and Two for Helen

"I wasn't spying.  I was just watching your every move without you knowing it."

Avid basketball fans Joe, Brian, and Helen are the lucky recipients of free tickets to a Celtics game.  But Joe has also promised to attend Fay's "Save the Owls" meeting the same evening.  What's more important to Joe, saving some hooters from Roy Biggins' desire to build a new hanger over their nest, or keeping an eye on lusty Brian lest he make the moves on Helen?

7) The Puppetmaster

"Pilots and commitment don't mix."

This episode marks the start of the second season of Wings.  Brian is back to his familiar tricks, trying to talk Helen into going out with him.  There's just that minor setback about Helen never dating pilots.  Still, where there's a will, there's a way!

8) The Story of Joe

"I'm a damned good pilot, and I'm proud of it!"

Cheers regulars Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin are a couple of fellas out for a fishing trip on Nantucket Island.  Sandpiper Air is their chosen mode of transportation, even if there is no cocktail service on-board.

Meanwhile, an aviation magazine reporter interviews Joe about Sandpiper Air.  A favorable article could mean good publicity and more business for the independent airline.  Unfortunately, Joe's dull and monotonous lifestyle pales in comparison to Brian's wild and crazy past, and what reporter can ever resist sensationalism over blandness?  Soon enough, Joe finds himself on the sidelines watching his younger brother steal the spotlight...again.

9) A Little Nightmare Music

"If I'm not a cellist, I'm....I'm a waitress."

An acclaimed conductor has arrived in Nantucket.  Sensing a golden opportunity, Helen pulls out all the stops trying to get an impromptu audition, even if that entails sabotaging the maestro's honeymoon plans!

10) Sports and Leisure

"You people must really think I'm pitiful."

Everyone knows how to relax except Roy Biggins.  So, to make him feel better liked, Fay invites Roy to join in some leisurely fun with the rest of the gang from Tom Nevers Field.  But as the adage goes, you cannot change a tiger's stripes!

11) A Stand up Kind of Guy

"I hate it when someone knows me and I don't know them."

Joe has been asked to be the best man for the wedding of a former high school classmate he doesn't remember.  Apparently, no one else on the island seems to remember the mystery man, either!

12) It's Not the Thought, It's the Gift

"You're trying to one-up me!"

Helen's birthday is coming up, and the Hackett brothers compete to see who can buy her the biggest or most expensive gift.  Maybe Helen will be so pleased with the best gift that she will go out on a date with Joe or Brian.  Or is that merely wishful thinking on the brothers' part?

13) Hell Hath No Fury Like a Policewoman Scorned

"She's a woman.  I'm me.  Fill in the blanks."

To get out of paying for dozens of parking tickets, Brian romances a policewoman.  That's all fine and dandy until he decides to break up the relationship.  Here's a handy tip - think carefully before pulling a fast one over on a woman with handcuffs in her pocket, a gun on her belt, and the law on her side!

14) High Anxiety

"If I'm not a pilot anymore, than what am I?"

The continual strain of running a small airline finally clips Joe's wings.  With his blood pressure sky-high, Joe is grounded by the field doctor.  Is this the beginning of the end for Sandpiper Air?  Will Joe Hackett finally be resigned to selling his airline to competitor Roy Biggins?

This fine episode, a highlight of the second season, epitomes the heartfelt qualities that made Wings such wholesome family entertainment.

15) Friends or Lovers

"Wanna go out on a date?"

Joe remains grounded.  Recruitment for a new pilot is going poorly, and Joe must rely on overworked Brian to handle all the flying duties.  The good news is that, strictly speaking, Joe isn't a pilot anymore.  Does that mean Helen will now agree to go out on a date with him?

16)  There's Always Room for Cello

"Your hormones are blitzing your brain out."

There's a new pilot for Sandpiper Air - Kenny McElvey!  Okay, he's just a teenaged kid barely out of braces, but with the pathetic wages that Joe can afford to pay, Kenny is better than nothing!

Meanwhile, Roy's son, R.J., wants to take music lessons with Helen.  Roy thinks R.J. has the hots for Helen, but the real reason may come as a surprise to Roy!

17) A Terminal Christmas

"This is the worst Christmas ever."

Everyone has plans for Christmas except Fay, who has no one with whom to spend the holiday.  Surely her friends from the airport will find a way to include Fay in their festive cheer.  After all, she is practically like one of the family!

18) Airport 90

"Miss 'I-don't-date-pilots' wants to be one?"

Joe starts a flying class, and Helen enrolls just for kicks.  Due to a bizarre alignment of the constellations, she unexpectedly finds herself flying solo in Joe's plane while he frets away in the control tower, trying to talk her through the landing.  Maybe Helen should have paid more attention in class!

19)  Love is Like Pulling Teeth

"When you're dating someone, you kind of hope they'll be there for you when you need 'em."

Joe and Helen are now officially going steady.  Being in a relationship means making sacrifices for the sake of love.  For Joe, that entails taking care of an ailing Helen instead of watching a big ball game with the rest of the guys.  Can Joe hack it?

20) The Tennis Bum

"You know, for a man, your forehand is pretty weak."

Brian challenges Fay to some tennis.  Imagine the blow to his ego when a virile ladies' man like Brian loses the match to an arthritic senior citizen like Fay!  Twice!

21) My Brother's Back - and There's Going to be Trouble

"Acupuncture?  Why don't we just wave a dead chicken over him?"

This episode is one of the comic highlights of the second season.  Joe throws out his back, and while he's recuperating, Brian attempts to run the business, albeit most chaotically.  Sandpiper's plane goes missing, and this episode's hilarious climax is clearly a tribute to the famous cabin-stuffing sequence from the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera.  How many people can actually fit in a small commuter airport lobby?  The answer includes a pack of travel agents, a farm animal, the police, a marching band, and even a psychic!

22) Plane Nine from Nantucket

"Na-nu!  Na-nu!  Na-nu!"

Joe and Brian believe they have just had a close encounter with a UFO.  After Brian files a report with the F.A.A., the Hackett brothers become the laughing stock of Tom Nevers Field.  Surely there must be a better way to drum up some publicity during the off-season?

23) Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

"What were you expecting, diamonds?  Little gold digger!"

This episode marks the initial appearance of Tony Shalhoub (cable television's Monk) on Wings.  While his role is restricted here to a cameo, Shalhoub would become a popular regular cast member in later seasons of Wings as quirky cab driver Antonio Scarpacci, the perfect comedic complement to Haden Church's off-beat Lowell.

In this episode, Joe and Helen plan to celebrate St. Valentine's Day by arranging to meet at their "special place."  Helen heads to an Italian restaurant while Joe erroneously heads to a Lovers' Lane locale.  What we have here is a failure to communicate!  As a result, Brian gets dragged away from his own date with a lingerie saleslady to straighten out this lovely mess!

24) Love Means Never Having to Say Geronimo

"Someone has to tell him that we are not the Three Musketeers anymore."

Joe and Helen have difficulty spending quality time together with Brian always hanging around.  When Brian finally gets the hint, he rebounds by impulsively deciding to marry a woman he has just met.  Will there be a double wedding with Joe and Helen, too?

25) All in the Family

"Fair?  Welcome to the world of romance, toots."

Last episode's temporary insanity having worn off, Brian remains a single man.  When his latest date turns out to be the mother of young Kenny, Sandpiper Air's adolescent pilot, Brian has a lot of explaining to do!

26) Mother Wore Stripes

"I told you, I was a lousy mother."

After nearly two decades of absence, the Hackett brothers' mother returns to Nantucket for a visit.  While Brian is pleased to see her, Joe still resents her for abandoning the brothers as children so many years ago.  Can Joe Hackett finally let bygones be bygones and bury the hatchet?

27) Murder, She Roast

"Delicious? It's to die for!"

While the previous episode was one of the season's more touching installments, Murder, She Roast is another of its comic highlights.  After watching a crime report on television, paranoid Brian suspects that Fay is the notorious "Culinary Killer," a serial murderer whose M.O. is death by poisonous food.  After all, Fay has been a widow three times.  Things get positively dicey when Brian moves in with Fay for a few days while the Hackett house is being fumigated.  It's a matter of choosing one's poison - noxious gas at home, or toxic food at Fay's.

28) Duet  for Cello and Plane

"It's kind of hard to cha cha without a partner."

Joe and Helen have important decisions to make now that their relationship has hit a crucial crossroads.  What does Joe treasure more, flight time with his Cessna or quality time with Helen?  As for our favorite lunch counter gal, she has been offered a position in a state orchestra.  Will she stay in Nantucket to remain with Joe or move away to follow her dreams of becoming a concert cellist?

This episode ends with a poignant cliff-hanger (but only after a hilarious lovers' quarrel).  The current crisis in Joe and Helen's relationship would have to wait until Season Three of Wings before being resolved...maybe.

Over the course of its first two seasons, thanks to solid writing and character development, Wings demonstrated ample staying power.  Over its next six seasons, Wings would evolve beyond its initial label as just "Cheers in an airport" to develop a cheerful and distinctive identity of its own.  Wings made Nantucket Island, with its pleasant coastal shores and friendly community, the very rosy portrait of old-fashioned, small town Americana.  While the sitcom was always safe and a bit sugary, is wholesome family entertainment such a bad thing, particularly now in this network television environment of voyeurism and reality television ad nauseam?

Video *

Just dreadful.  The video quality of this four-disc set can be described charitably as sub-broadcast television quality.  These discs are to be viewed from afar on a small-screen TV.  Watching on a state-of-the-art television will only expose the embarrassingly low-res, grainy, and decidedly pixelated nature of the transfers.  Just observe the box set's back cover art for a sample of the general appearance of these episodes.  At least the show remains watchable, if marginally so.

Audio ***

The stereo sound quality fares better and at least attains broadcast television-quality.  Fortunately, from an audio standpoint, there is nothing here to detract from the experience of enjoying Wings.

On a side note, the theme music that appears in the show's Masterpiece Theatre-style opening credits is an adaptation of Franz Schubert's Piano sonata No. 20 in A Major.

Features ½*

Aside from trailers for boxed sets of various television seasons of The Brady Bunch, Charmed, and MacGyver, there are no true bonus features on this four-disc set.  However, synopses and original airdates are provided for each of the twenty-eight episodes in this set.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Although Wings was a CBS/Paramount production, it actually aired on NBC.

Summary:

Wings deserves better than this box set.  Perhaps CBS/Paramount will see fit to remedy the flaws of this release for the third season DVD release of this entertaining and wholesome 90's sitcom.

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