Soap on DVD
The First Season
Soap generated controversy even before it debuted on ABC TV back in 1977. A
spoof of daytime soap operas, it promised to be groundbreaking in its treatment
of such taboo subjects as homosexuality, infidelity, and more, and this generated
a lot of hype.
In the end, perhaps it was groundbreaking. Perhaps not. Today, it seems mild.
But even better, and more important, Soap was funny - darn funny, and its treatment
of homosexuality, infidelity and more was much the same as its treatment of
just about every other issue on which it touched - as fodder for laughter. Nothing
was sacred, no sacred cows were spared, and the laughs were broad and came from
Soap tells the tale of two families, the rich, white collar Tates and the middle
class, blue collar Campbells. Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) and Mary Campbell
(Cathryn Damon) are sisters. Jessica is an airhead, but she has a heart of gold
and just when you least suspect it she puts things together in her head and
suddenly seems like the smartest person on the show.
Mary is a lot smarter, but then again shes married to Burt (Richard Mulligan),
who in many ways makes Jessica seem like she should be a Nobel laureate. Isn't
Then theres the rest of the extended Tate family: Chester (Robert Mandan)
- the philandering hypocrite of a husband, Corrine (Diana Canova) - the confused
and promiscuous daughter, Eunice - the other daughter, a journalist whos
leading a secret life with a politician, and Bobby - the teenaged boy whos
probably the most normal person in the family. The family is kept together by
crusty butler Benson (Robert Guillaume).
Besides Burt and Mary, the Campbells have a prime crew of people, too: Jodie
(a very young Billy Crystal) - the homosexual son who wants to be the heterosexual
daughter, Danny (Ted Wass) - a decent guy who got in with the wrong crowd and
whose efforts to get away from them lead to some pretty bizarre situations,
and Chuck (Jay Johnston) - Burts son from a previous marriage, a ventriloquist
whose dummy, Bob, is an obnoxious, foul mouthed alter ego who insists on being
treated as a separate charcter. Chuck and Bob are this reviewers favorite
Richard Mulligans Burt was also an audience favorite, for his combination
of manic energy and extreme oafishness.
We wont get into the storyline here because its complex and interwoven
and not only wont it not be done justice but we dont want to spoil
it for you. Suffice it to say theres plenty going on, and its all
very, very funny - though with enough humanity cropping up to keep you rooting
for - or against - the characters.
Season one is 25 episodes spread over three discs, leading up to a cliffhanger
finale thatll make you sweat until Season two is released.
Incidentally, Robert Guillaumes character was later spun off to his own
series: Benson. We never saw it, so cant comment on whether or not it
was any good - but his crusty character in Soap is very enjoyable.
The ensemble works very well together and, though some characters would undoubtedly
have been more fun to play than others, no one here gets or gives short shrift.
Soap was naughty at times, but never at the expense of the fun - and any naughtiness
or controversial topics were handled with wit and charm, and they
were all essential to the plot. No soapbox moralizing here at all, just good
characters and situations, and lots of laughs.
The DVD is pretty good, though the old videotaped episodes are definitely showing
their age. The picture quality, overall, is good, but it makes you wish theyd
shot the show on film back then because it stands up better.
The aspect ratio, obviously, is 4:3 full frame, so it isnt 16x9 TV compatible.
The subsequent stretching/zooming doesnt help the pictures flaws,
but its easy enough to live with.
Audio is straightforward mono and is fine considering the source.
There are no extras, alas; wed have loved some commentary tracks or background
information - especially cast members and creator/writer Susan Harris, but twas
not to be. You do get a listing of the episodes with a few words of description
(in very small type) and a cast/crew list, but it isnt enough.
Still, its wonderful to see this old show again.
Season 1 set the bar high, but the second season of Soap doesn't disappoint.
In fact, in many ways, it's funnier than the first season!
We pick up with the resolution over the first season's cliffhanger ending.
Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) has just been convicted of murder and it looks
as if she's going to rot in jail. Yet we know she didn't do it and that the
murderer is one of five people. But which one?
Well we aren't going to spoil that, of course!
The murderer's identity is revealed early on, and the perpetrator is sent up
the river in Jessica's place - but that doesn't mean we lose a major character:
in fact, we meet even more bizarre and larger than life people as the cast stampedes
off in a variety of directions and a variety of situations.
Here's just a little of what happens, without spoiling the fun for you:
Chester (Robert Mandan), thanks to a brain tumor, loses his memory while Jessica
falls in love with the detective (John Byner) she hires to find Chester after
he mysteriously disappears. Meanwhile, Jodie (Billy Crystal) learns that he's
knocked up his friend Carol (Rebecca Balding), while his mother Mary (Cathryn
Damon) suspects Burt (Richard Mulligan) of having been unfaithful. And Corrine
(Diana Canova) and her husband, former priest Tim (Sal Viscuso) have a rather
unusual baby - and then Burt finds himself kidnapped by - well, you'll just
have to watch to find out.
And don't forget Chuck and Bob!
Some of the situations seem extremely contrived on the surface, but co writer-creator
Susan Harris manages to pull it off with aplomb. Okay, it isn't exactly believable,
but it isn't meant to be. Rather, it's very silly and very, very funny - and
that's just fine with us.
Not only that, but Season 2 also features surprising depth and compassion
in the characters and situations - and the performances are first rate. Our
favorite is Mulligan as Burt, whose body language and movements bring to mind
the best of Art Carney as Ed Norton in the Honeymooners. High praise indeed!
Alas, the DVDs' picture quality isn't nearly as good as the show deserves.
Perhaps because it was originally recorded on videotape rather than film, the
picture shows some color banding in many scenes and while it looks generally
pretty sharp on a 4x3 aspect ratio TV (the show's original full frame aspect
ratio), if you watch it on a 16x9 TV, stretched to avoid burn in of the TV set,
the picture gets very soft and quite smeary at the same time. Rats!
Audio is Dolby Digital mono and it's fine.
Bonus features include the original series pilot, which is a nice touch, and
a 20-minute featurette in which Harris and coproducers Paul Witt and Tony Thomas
talk about how the series was brought to life under adverse conditions. It's
But it's the episodes that really count, and they're simply great!
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think