[clarissa] detailed STTW:S2 DVD review

Donald Lancon dcljr at obkb.com
Sun Sep 2 14:37:52 UTC 2007

UltimateDisney <http://www.ultimatedisney.com/archives-0807b.html>
reviews STTW:S2.

  August 21, 2007 - Our newest DVD review looks at "Sabrina, The Teenage
  Witch": The Second Season, Paramount's recent 4-disc release of the
  Melissa Joan Hart sitcom's 26-episode, 1997-98 TGIF run. With smart
  writing, a unanimously talented cast, sufficient effects, a big
  imagination, a consistently entertaining atmosphere, and a vast roster
  of noteworthy guest stars, the series holds up as plenty diverting ten
  years later. While the DVD boasts terrific picture and sound, it
  delivers no special features, loses a few scenes, and most
  unfortunately, drops almost all of the recognizable '90s pop songs the
  show regularly employed for montages and such. Read the full review.

The extensive (over 5000 words) full review is at the latter URL.

Some highlights [edits and my comments in square brackets]:

- - -

  [title info]
  [list of regular directors]
  [regular writers]
  [regular cast]
  [recurring characters/actors]
  [notable guest stars]

  Running Time: 562 Minutes (26 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
  1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Surround 2.0
  Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned
  Season 2 Airdates: September 23, 1997 - May 15, 1998
  DVD Release Date: July 31, 2007; Clear Standard-Width Keepcase
  Suggested Retail Price: $38.99; Four single-sided, dual-layered discs

  The fall of 1997 provided a rebirth for TGIF. ABC's Friday night
  programming block was beginning its ninth year on the air, [...]

  The other returning TGIF series was "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch", a
  sitcom starring Melissa Joan Hart which fared well in its debut
  season. How well? Well enough for ABC to employ a similar palette --
  teens and fantasy -- for its two new comedy programs, "You Wish" and
  "Teen Angel." [...]

  "Sabrina" was based on an Archie Comics series that achieved moderate
  popularity in the 1970s. [...] TGIF viewers weren't very likely to
  have connected Melissa Joan Hart's very '90s protagonist with
  Sabrina's print and Jane Webb-voiced animated incarnations of the
  past. They'd have been more likely to consider Sabrina a teenaged
  twist on "Bewitched", the 1960s-70s sitcom about a nose-twitching
  witch and her mortal husband.

  That isn't a far off comparison, as lighthearted situations, magic for
  laughs, and fantastic powers in an ordinary world are all in high
  supply for "Sabrina" as they were for "Bewitched." [...]

  Over the course of its seven seasons on the air, "Sabrina" underwent
  more cast changes than even longer-running sitcoms ever do; only Salem
  and her sarcastic feline [sic -- he obviously meant "Sabrina and her
  sarcastic feline, Salem"] would appear in all of the series' 163
  half-hour installments. [...]

  The single greatest overriding thread of sophomore season "Sabrina"
  involves the titular teen's year-long efforts to earn her witch's
  license. [...]

  "Sabrina" clearly adheres to a formula, but it is not one enforced
  strictly enough to grow tiresome. A typical episode involves a magical
  dilemma (often a spell that backfires or just goes wrong), which
  Sabrina must overcome and unquestionably learn from. [...] Even a
  humdrum "A" plot is usually spiced up with a reliable "B" storyline,
  frequently centering on Sabrina's quirky aunts. There is no shortage
  of puns. [...]

  Keeping things lively in Sabrina's two worlds is a universally
  talented cast. [...] The four leading teens are played by actors who
  were 19-21 years of age in Season 2 and each is confident in handling
  comedic material, especially Hart, who's given the most opportunities
  to shine.

  The adult actors bring even more to the table, complementing their
  younger cast mates by retaining some commonly adolescent shortcomings.
  [...] In voice alone, Bakay makes the lazy, opportunistic Salem an
  endearing cad of a cat, even when the animatronic puppetry might
  otherwise introduce doubt. [...]

  If the laugh track is to be trusted, the jokes of "Sabrina" are
  designed to elicit chuckles more than hearty guffaws. An honest move,
  the moderate audience response probably contributes to the sitcom's
  diverting nature, in stark contrast to today's broader, more
  physically-oriented comedies that crank up the volume of laughter
  bursts to 11 without an ounce of sincerity.


  Those who only enjoy TV shows that deliver the kind of extreme
  hilarity that can produce tears probably won't take to "Sabrina", but
  the rest of us can find plenty to appreciate in the series. The
  modestly-budgeted but sufficient visual trickery employed to convey
  magic holds up quite well ten years later. The scripts contain a level
  of intelligence not often found among present-day's primetime fare.
  The series embraces its sitcom nature, acknowledging the
  everything-resolved-in-22-minutes structure but packing in a lot of
  story and merriment. There's also an impressive roster of guest stars
  -- famous TV veterans, comedians, musicians, and other celebrities --
  that is put to good use in nearly every episode. [...]

  Nearly five months after the show made its DVD debut, "Sabrina, The
  Teenage Witch" returned to the format in Paramount's The Second Season
  release. The lack of a "Complete" in the moniker isn't merely a
  stylistic choice. Though the package at least makes it clear, this
  4-disc set is marred by a few scene cuts and a substantial number of
  pop song replacements. Viewers are asked to bid farewell to some of
  the hit '90s songs that featured into "Sabrina"'s soundtracks, such as
  Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping", The Mighty Mighty Bosstones' "The
  Impression That I Get", Savage Garden's "Truly Madly Deeply", OMC's
  "How Bizarre", and Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life." Also ousted
  are Canned Heat's "Goin' Up the Country", Henry Mancini's Pink Panther
  theme, Belle and Sebastian's "The State I Am In", and Salem singing
  the '60s "Wild Thing." At least most "live" performances are left
  intact, preserving songs from 10,000 Maniacs ("Rainy Days"),
  Backstreet Boys ("I Want it That Way"), and even Sabrina's
  quickly-formed Entry Number Five (who cover Blondie's "One Way or
  Another"). One exception is the Christmas episode "Sabrina Claus",
  which retains the audio excerpt and brief performance of Johnny
  Mathis' "O Holy Night", but drops his "Winter Wonderland" from a
  central montage, even cutting his singing bedroom cameo.

  Music nearly registers as a character on the show and the late-'90s
  setting of the series is considerably diminished by losing almost all
  of the pop tunes sampled. The series' typically salient montages are
  rendered far less memorable with the generic substitutions they are
  given. It's unclear who to get annoyed at for the edits: can one blame
  Paramount for being stingy or should one direct their irritation at
  the music studios, who often with no knowledge by the artist, demand
  additional fees for DVDs even if, well-married to a scene, the
  exposure is greatly to their benefit? I suppose many will argue that
  this is preferable to the route Paramount has taken for Melissa Joan
  Hart's pre-Sabrina Nickelodeon show "Clarissa Explains It All", which
  has been indefinitely shelved after just one season's release. But for
  anyone who remembers the original song selections, the edits are a
  severe disappointment. And they don't even allow "Sabrina" to reach
  stores at the types of low prices other studios are now treating
  catalog TV series DVDs to; Season 2 arrives with an SRP that's $9-$15
  higher than other recently-released '90s sitcom sets that haven't been
  subjected to such cuts.

  A star (*) denotes my ten favorite episodes from the season. A pair of
  scissors (x) indicates that at least one scene from the episode is

  Disc 1

  *1. Sabrina Gets Her License, Part 1 (21:41) (Originally aired
  September 26, 1997)

  2. Sabrina Gets Her License, Part 2 (20:59) (Originally aired
  September 26, 1997)
  [...] (Note: Though this episode runs shorter than the others, it
  sounds like all it may be missing is the opening recap of Part 1 added
  for syndication.)

  *3. Dummy For Love (21:42) (Originally aired October 3, 1997)

  *4. Dante's Inferno (21:42) (Originally aired October 10, 1997)

  5. A Doll's Story (21:42) (Originally aired October 17, 1997)

  6. Sabrina, The Teenage Boy (21:42) (Originally aired October 24,

  Disc 2

  *7. A River of Candy Corn Runs Through It (21:42) (Originally aired
  October 31, 1997)

  x8. Inna Gadda Sabrina (21:19) (Originally aired November 7, 1997)
  [...] (Notes: This episode aired as part of time-translocation-themed
  TGIF, with Salem's time ball antics also figuring in "Boy Meets
  World", "Teen Angel", and "You Wish!". Salem's exit to Philadelphia,
  the setting for "Boy Meets World", is dropped and it's not even
  replaced by the syndicated version's litter box conclusion, rendering
  this episode shorter than the rest and with an abrupt jump from the
  '60s back to the '90s.)

  9. Witch Trash (21:41) (Originally aired November 14, 1997)

  *10. To Tell a Mortal (21:42) (Originally aired November 21, 1997)

  11. Oh What a Tangled Spell She Weaves (21:39) (Originally aired
  December 5, 1997)

  x*12. Sabrina Claus (21:18) (Originally aired December 19, 1997)
  [...] (Note: The middle of Johnny Mathis' three appearances has been
  dropped, along with his rendition of "Winter Wonderland" that
  accompanied that central section. It's been replaced by an appealing
  instrumental "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.")

  Disc 3

  *13. Little Big Kraft (21:42) (Originally aired January 9, 1998)

  14. Five Easy Pieces of Libby (21:42) (Originally aired January 23,

  15. Finger Lickin' Flu (21:42) (Originally aired January 30, 1998)

  16. Sabrina and the Beanstalk (21:41) (Originally aired February 6,

  17. The Equalizer (21:42) (Originally aired February 13, 1998)

  *18. The Band Episode (21:42) (Originally aired February 27, 1998)

  19. When Teens Collide (20:52) (Originally aired March 6, 1998)

  Disc 4

  20. My Nightmare, The Car (21:41) (Originally aired March 20, 1998)

  21. Fear Strikes Up a Conversation (21:42) (Originally aired April 3,

  22. Quiz Show (21:41) (Originally aired April 17, 1998)

  *23. Disneyworld (21:32) (Originally aired April 24, 1998)
  One can easily see the hand that ABC's parent corporation, Disney, had
  in this episode, which is designed to promote the company's
  just-opened Animal Kingdom theme park. [...]

  24. Sabrina's Choice (21:41) (Originally aired May 1, 1998)

  *25. Rumor Mill (21:42) (Originally aired May 8, 1998)

  26. Mom vs. Magic (21:43) (Originally aired May 15, 1998)


  Like the '90s sitcom that it is, "Sabrina" is presented in 1.33:1
  fullscreen. Picture quality tends to be quite good, lacking the
  inconsistency, evident thriftiness, or overly digital look of some of
  its kin from other studios. It's a little grainy and doesn't boast the
  sharpness or detail of a feature film, but by and large, the visuals
  are pleasing to the eye and match the appearance of original
  broadcasts, only enhanced by DVD's higher resolution.

  The lone audio option is a Dolby Surround soundtrack, which serves up
  the typical sitcom mix with some very slight reinforcement on the
  theme tune, select music numbers, and the rare sound effect. The
  presentation is a slight cut above ordinary, with the elements --
  crisp dialogue, sharp sound effects, occasional song, and the unique
  laugh track of audience amusement in short, subdued bursts -- all
  registering terrifically. The biggest drawbacks are the lack of an
  English subtitles track (the provided closed captions do the job
  instead) and, once again, those unfortunate music substitutions.

  Disc 1's main menu reuses Melissa Joan Hart's iconic Season 2 front
  cover pose, but loses Salem. Special features, set up, scene
  selection? The DVD menus of Sabrina, The Teenage Witch: The Second
  Season offer none of these things.


  Sadly, there are no bonus features whatsoever found here. For a show
  that ended just four years ago that's popular enough to release on
  DVD, the empty extras slate is fairly inexcusable, though it's not all
  that uncommon for retired sitcoms. There definitely is no shortage of
  content that could have been provided, like the bumpers from the night
  that Salem hosted TGIF, a featurette on the comic books that inspired
  the series, or an episode from either the '70s or more recent cartoon
  series. We don't get anything of the sort, presumably due to a low DVD
  budget and an apparent hesitance to dabble in rights-wriggling.

  With no set-up options to worry about, the still, silent menu screens
  are just about as simple as possible, merely supplying a star or group
  cast image, a list of episodes on that disc and the ability to "Play
  All." Should you select the Previews button upon the insertion of Disc
  One, you're treated to a single promo which spotlights eleven TV
  comedy series of the past available on DVD from Paramount.

  The four discs of The Second Season are packaged in a standard-sized
  keepcase, with Discs 2 and 3 held in a swingable flap in the center.
  The transparent nature of the keepcase allows episode descriptions to
  be seen when the discs are moved. The only insert is an annoyingly
  unfixed, double-sided order form for Archie Comics subscriptions and
  the company's first ever Sabrina graphic novel. Chapter stops
  appropriately coincide with commercial breaks, with four per episode.


  "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch" is, at least in its second season, a
  pretty entertaining and fun modern sitcom. Unfortunately, shy of not
  being released at all, this '90s/'00s comedy has been treated to
  nearly the worst DVD treatment imaginable, with a few missing scenes,
  a slew of disappointing music replacements, non-competitive pricing,
  and nary a bonus feature. Fans are bound to be thrown into dilemma: is
  it worse to go without "Sabrina" on DVD altogether or to pay the
  relatively high asking price for an inferior presentation with the
  hopes that future seasons are made available, maybe even in a better
  fashion? That's one for you to decide, knowing that ABC Family airs an
  hour of reruns each weekday and that while the series and Season 2
  deserve moderate praise, this DVD release merits scorn for all but
  fine picture and sound.

  [links to related reviews -- 'Boy Meets World' and so forth...]
  [related products -- STTW TV movie, S1 DVD, soundtrack CD, etc.]

  Text copyright 2007 DVDizzy.com/UltimateDisney.com.

- - -

So, there ya go.  Now we know which episodes need to be digitized from
original, off-the-air versions!  Seems to me, the 2 STTW episodes marked
above as being edited, along with the other relevant content from the
TGIF-crossover night (see 8. "Inna Gadda Sabrina"), should fit nicely on
a DVD. :-)

 - dcljr

P.S. - Looking at those running times, notice how closely they stuck to
a c. 21:42 episode length (assuming that it's not the result of shaving
seconds here and there for the DVD release)!

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