Tuesday, October 30, 2007

America's favorite family

By now, it all seems a bit remote. But back in the 1950s, the Nelson family -- Ozzie, Harriet, David and Ricky (later Rick) -- were the type of family we all wanted to be.
They seemed to have it all -- a nice house in a respectable neighborhood, a husband and head of the household who spent a lot of time at home (and was never was seen going to work), a wife who was a dedicated homemaker and mother, and two sons, well-behaved boys who respected their elders.
They weren't the Ricardos with the crazy redhead. Or the Cleavers with the goofy, mischievous kid. Or the Brady Bunch with the rambunctious family.
They were the cool, calm and collected Nelsons. They were a comfort zone for TV fans of that decade.
That becomes very clear when watching "The Nelson Family Presents The Best of the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" (Shout Factory) and "The Essential Ozzie & Harriet Collection" (Mill Creek Entertainment), two recent releases spotlighting the venerable series.
Fans will want to pick up both, and for different reasons.
"The Nelson Family Presents The Best of the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" from Shout Factory is the first authorized release of shows from the series. The four-disc set features 24 of the show's 435 episodes in chronological order taken from the show's masters. The set includes commentary on a few episodes by David Nelson, the only member of the televised family still living, and Sam Nelson, a member of the Nelsons rock group and the son of the late Rick Nelson. It also includes some Nelson home movies, a trivia quiz and a documentary on the family.

What it doesn't include, though, is the full length versions of the shows with commercials. That's where "The Essential Ozzie & Harriet Collection" (Mill Creek Entertainment) comes in. This charming set rounds up 100 shows, almost a quarter of the series, on 12 discs. Unlike the Shout Factory set, the shows are complete and many include the original commercials, some of them done by the Nelson family members themselves. (Hearing Harriet rave about Aunt Jemima Pancakes or Kodak now-vintage cameras is wonderfully charming and adds an interesting historic perspective since, in the case of the Kodak cameras, those cameras have long been abandoned by more modern cameras.)
While the Shout Factory release is authorized and is the better quality of the two, the Mill Creek set is very watchable, with only occasional rough glitches. The overall difference in quality between the two overall is minimal.
The dilemmas faced by the Nelsons were never more earth-shaking than Ozzie trying to remember if he had to go bowling that night or trying to hide a present from Harriet.
Still, in the cool, calm and relatively collected '50s, "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" reflected what we all wanted to be. That dream would be shattered in the turbulent '60s, but at least while Ozzie and Harriet were on the screen, all was right in the world.
In 2007, it seems like a fairy tale or life in a fantasy land. And maybe that's what keeps the series still enjoyable, even though we know life will never be that simple again. It was once upon a time -- or at least this series made it seem that way.

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