Drop The Dead Donkey: The Complete 1st Series
1990 Channel 4 sitcom set in a newsroom. Read Lewisohn if you need more background; let's get on with the DVD, shall we?
The cover artwork is lovely... but, for some reason, there's an irritating cardboard slip with exactly the same design over the plastic case. I have no idea why, as it's just an added expense, and do nothing but irritate - all it means is you have to slip it off and then open the DVD case. The actual picture discs themselves are lovely, with the same design as the DVD cover. Overall, very classy. Even the blurb on the back is well-written - in stark comparison to A Bit Of Fry And Laurie...
Lovely. Yeah, so there's no flyover across a 3-D newsroom, but the simple text menus are well-designed, with some lovely black and white pictures of the cast.
The only criticism I really have is with the scene selection; four chapter points per 25 minute episode just isn't enough. Six, or even eight, would have been more appropriate.
Before we get onto the actual episodes, a word about presentation. The versions here are actually the repeat edits shown a few years back, with a voiceover and newspaper headlines appended to the start of the episode to add context to the topical stuff. This is most welcome. What's rather less welcome is that the episode titles have been added to the opening credits, underneath the programme title. This is stupid in any number of ways. If it wasn't needed on the original broadcast, why is it needed now? I want the shows as originally broadcast - true, this is hardly the most important thing in the world, but it's just so... unneccessary - especially when the DVDs give the episode titles in the menus anyway. Even worse, the new caption is better quality than the original ones, so it looks rather out-of-place and pasted on.
On the other hand, unlike some releases, the End of Part One/Part Two captions are present and correct. Thank fuck these haven't been removed - quite apart from wanting the shows as broadcast, they're part of the pace and punctuation of the show, and vitally important to the joke into each break. It would also be very difficult to edit them out without making a mess of the programme in any case - not that it stops some DVD-makers...
Now... the episodes. Some sitcoms take a while to get going, but DTDD hits the ground running - it is superb from the opening five minutes of the very first episode. As with The Trap Door, I can't give full appreciation of the series in a DVD review; it deserves a separate article. Suffice to say that everything - plots, jokes, characterisation, blend together to create one of the best sitcoms of the 90s. And the start of Death, Disaster 'N' Damien is possibly the most tasteless sitcom moment ever, and yet hilarious at the same time.
Oh, and the opening titles are the best ever in anything.
I do, however, have to take issue with some comments made about this release - namely, that the topical elements have rendered the programme dated. This is pure 100% unadulterated prime-cut bollocks. Firstly, the vast majority of the show are either jokes about the media in general, stuff that would happen in any office, or pure character comedy. The topical moments are just that - moments. The episodes aren't built around them - they're about three minutes of each show, and completely unrelated to the actual plot or character stuff.
More to the point, the jokes are explained. You've got the topical stuff referenced in the little recaps at the start of each episode, and the joke is usually obvious in context anyway. And besides - in general it's healthy to, you know, take interest in past news events. You should have the frame of reference to know all you need to know anyway - it's only 1990, for God's sake. It seems that some people just can't cope with a programme that makes references to Thatcher being in power.
Of course, there's a separate issue here, which is - is "dated" such a bad thing anyway? Seeing as I don't think DTDD has really dated, it's a moot point - but there's a whole debate here that I'll come back to at some point.
Series Introduction: Oh, joy. As you select the first episode, Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin pop up instead, to give some context to the topical elements of the show. Along with the additional voiceover at the start of each ep, this is a textbook example of how to present a "topical" show on DVD (although as I said above, it isn't really that topical at all) - one can only hope that some day Spitting Image is treated in the same way.
Unbroadcast Pilot: Hooray! Unlike a lot of sitcom pilots, this was never intended to be broadcast - it was meant as a runthrough to practice adding the topical jokes. This is apparent from the fact that Gus and Sally are present, and part of the team from the start, rather than introducing them as the actual series did - the whole point being to see how the whole cast worked together. Interestingly, although some of the dialogue is reused in the actual series, the main plot (about computer hacking) never was.
The show seems to be despised by the cast, but it's remarkably well-formed - all the characters are their usual selves, and the look of the show is nailed from the start. About the only problem is it's not particularly funny - not embarrassingly so, but enough to look pretty poor compared to the proper eps in the series. The image quality is also notably poorer compared to the series proper - a softer image, with nasty black and white interference at the bottom of the screen - but it's hardly unwatchable.
Oh, and: the music. Aaaargh. Some awful dirge by the usually-excellent Philip Pope that sounds like a crap 80s American show. Thank fuck they changed that. It's hideous. The opening credits are visually exactly the same as the series, though, so it's doubly-odd watching them.
As though this wasn't enough, however, the pilot is preceded with a short piece with Andy and Guy telling us a bit about it, along with some of the cast (more of who below). This is worth it purely for the moment where Neil Pearson is informed that the pilot will be making it onto the DVD...
Interviews: Andy and Guy talk about various aspects of the series, along with some of the cast - Robert Duncan, Neil Pearson, Jeff Rawle, David Swift, and Stephen Tompkinson. This is split up into little separate sections, accessible from the extras menu; entitled How It All Began, Finding A Broadcaster, Title, Research, Finding A Director, Topical Elements, Reactions, and Anecdotes. And here's my main problem with this extra.
Each section is extremely interesting (especially the stuff about Liddy Oldroyd, the director)... but is also only around two minutes long. So, every two minutes, you're flipped right back to the main menu, and you have to select the next little section. In other words: this is a re-edit away from being a proper half-hour documentary on the series. Now, which would you rather watch - a proper documentary on the show, or 8 piddling little pieces you have to select manually? It's nearly there - with a bit of linking material, this could have been far more satisfying viewing. You can't fault the content, but the presentation of it leaves a lot to be desired.
Buy the damn thing. The series you just can't really fault. Ten episodes of pure joy.
With the extras, it's a bit more of a mixed bag. I won't even bother giving my own list of things I wish had been included, because various online shops (including Amazon.co.uk, who still list them) did it for me, and gave additional extras expected on the release: Writers and Cast commentaries, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, and a Gallery. I have no idea as to whether this was the online shops getting the wrong end of the stick, or whether these were originally planned, but then dropped due to rights issues. Either way, the addition of these would have made the extras package perfect. I mean, just the idea of just a Hamilton/Jenkin commentary gives me an erection. If only one had been included, even if it wasn't for all episodes.
Despite this, the fact that the unbroadcast pilot was included is a fantastic thing, and certainly the most important extra that could have been included. And the interviews, despite how irritatingly presented they are, are exceedingly interesting. It's just they could have gone that extra mile, that's all. The series deserves it.