DVD Reviews: The Colbys, Welcome Back, Kotter & Hill Street Blues

TV in the late ’70s and ’80s gave a full picture of life in America. People flocked to the small screen to glimpse lifestyles of the rich and famous and the busts of the small time hoods. Network TV weren’t showing only police procedural dramas. There was a variety and cool shows didn’t only have 10 episodes a season. Now Shout! Factory has brought three fine examples of the era onto DVD with The Colbys: The Complete Series, Hill Street Blues: Season Five and Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Third Season.


The Colbys: The Complete Series was Dynasty‘s attempt to have a West Coast spin-off. Dallas has spawned Knots Landing in 1979. The series lasted 14 seasons. When Dynasty claimed the primetime soap opera crown in 1985, it only seemed natural to launch a second hour of scandal and scorn among the wealthy. The Colbys was originally called Dynasty II: The Colbys since they didn’t want viewers to think it was about some other Colbys. The spin-off element is Fallon Carrington Colby (Emma Samms) who has married Miles Colby (Grease II‘s Maxwell Caulfield). What makes this a torrid soap opera is the truth that her new husband is her ex-husband’s cousin. Jeff Colby (John James) isn’t quite happy that Fallon is the kudzu constricting his family tree. There’s plenty of top dollar backstabbing involving family events. The producers packed the series with major stars including Charlton Heston (Planet of the Apes, Katharine Ross, Joseph Campanella, Ken Howard (The White Shadow), Tracy Scoggins,
Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island), Michael Parks (Kill Bill) and Barbara Stanwyck (The Big Valley). They amped up the fashions to be puffier than Dynasty. Sadly the show only lasted two seasons. All 49 are on the boxset. There’s even new interviews with John James, Maxwell Caulfield and Stephanie Beacham to explain the expectations. The show ended with an alien abduction so there was no limit to the drama. If you bought all the episodes of Dynasty, The Colbys: The Complete Series is a must have to feel complete in your ’80s fashions.


Hill Street Blues: Season Five was a time of major change at the station house. Sgt. Stanislaus Jablonski (played by Robert Prosky) took over morning role call. He was a prickly and contentious leader who overspoke his mind. Det. Harry Garibaldi (thirtysomething‘s Ken Olin) was given a partner in Det. Patsy Mayo (Mimi Kuzyk). Their chemistry seemed to set the stage for some of the relationships Steven Bochcho would bring to NYPD Blue. There’s a good mix of outrageous cases with sinister crimes. Early in the season a guy is caught stealing bags of ice and an ice cream truck. Sure it seems like a goofy crime on a hot summer day, but then his motivation is uncovered. There’s a running storyline about a local convict being executed and certain members of the force taking sides on capital punishment. Hill Street Blues is one of those series that works best on DVD since you’re able to keep up with the episodes. There’s just such a richness to the cast and stories that require a chance to watch them in order even if they aren’t serial in a traditional sense. You don’t want to rely on a cable channel running them properly. The show holds up. There’s only two more seasons to be released individually.


Welcome Back, Kotter: The Complete Third Season captures John Travolta at the moment he exploded as a major movie star. He was in the middle of dominating movies, music and pop culture with Saturday Night Fever and Grease. However he couldn’t quite quit his dayjob of being Vinnie Barbarino, a lifelong high school student. Even being the most popular star on the planet, Travolta wasn’t the big focus of the third season. That honor belongs to the fresh arrivals on “And Baby Makes Four.” Turns out Julie (Marcia Strassman) has twins for Gabe (Gabe Kaplan). Vinnie does have issues when he isn’t allowed back in the 11th grade. But all people care about is the twins. The comedy is that the couple is clueless about the twins until they second pops out. Medical science has progressed in the last four decades. Twins don’t quit fit in the tight apartment. When Julie’s parents visit, Gabe has to discover a new space for his bed. “The Deprogramming of Arnold Horshack” has him join a religious cult. As if he’s better off stuck in high school for ete rnity. “What a Move” finally lets Gabe find space for his now huge family. “Kotter for Vice-Principal” promotes Gabe to a new job so that he can afford diapers. “A Sweathog Christmas Special” will warm your TV set between viewings of the video yule log. “There’s No Business” is autobiographical as Gabe finds success as a stand up with routines about his family and the Sweathogs. Will he quit the low paying work of an inner city public school system for a chance to be a sitcom star? “The Return of Hotsy Totsy” has an old classmate find a job shaking her moneymaker. Can Gabe talk her into going back to school so she can get hired as a Hooters waitress? This was the last glory year for Welcome Back, Kotter before the high cost of fame set the series on fire.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers look great for both Hill Street Blues and The Colbys since they were shot and post-produced on 35mm film. Welcome Back, Kotter was shot on standard definition video so it look fine for the source. The audio for all three shows is Dolby Digital Mono. The levels are fine. All three shows are Closed Captioned.

Interviews with John James, Maxwell Caulfield and Stephanie Beacham are featured on The Colbys: The Complete Series.

Shout! Factory presents The Colbys: The Complete Series. Starring: Charlton Heston, Katharine Ross, John James, Emma Samms & Maxwell Caulfield. Boxset contents: 49 episodes on 12 DVDs. Released: May 12, 2015.

Shout! Factory presents Hill Street Blues: Season Five. Starring: Daniel J. Travanti, James B. Sikking and Betty Thomas. Boxset Contents: 23 episodes on 5 DVDs. Released: May 26, 2015.

Shout! Factory presents Welcome Back, Kotter. Starring: Gabe Kaplan, John Travolta, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Robert Hegyes & Ron Palillo. Boxset contents: 27 episodes on 4 DVDs. Released: May 26, 2015.

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