Cybill: The Complete First Series Review
What is it about television shows, particularly sitcoms, that prevents anyone from simply getting on with their lives without the endless baggage of previous relationships. I have, as I'm sure you have too, walked away from friendships and from affairs without ever finding out that an ex-girlfriend is now a lesbian, without ever having feelings of jealousy over their new relationship nor finding out that I'm sleeping with their teenage daughter. And yet, in an average sitcom, all of these things will happen at least once, possibly within the same 23-minute episode and all dealt with by a combination of snappy one-liners and a dollop of saccharine understanding.
Unless, that is, it's a show saved by one character. The character who, no matter the family hug that comes over ice-cream, some soul-searching and the staying awake through a midnight thunderstorm, will deliver a scathing putdown of all concerned with such bitterness that previously healthy plants wilt even before it's fully delivered. So to The Golden Girls, no matter the memories of Sicily, of St. Olaf, Minnesota or even of Blanche's latest conquest, it was Bea Arthur's Dorothy who regularly stole the show. In Curb Your Enthusiasm, which, when compared to a Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner such as this, is a bitter pill indeed, it's Susie Green's foul-mouthed tirades that one remembers. And in Cybill, it's the drunken, vindictive, sometimes lonely Maryann that, in spite of her second billing, steals the show from its titular star.
When Cybill bemoans losing the part of a tart-with-a-heart with a, "Middle-aged prostitutes are so depressing", it's Maryann who counters with a, "So much for my plans to re-enter the workforce!", replacing her empty glass with another vodka cocktail as she does so. When Cybill learns of that day's date, she complains, "It's Valentine's Day? I didn't even know it was Valentine's Day..." but it's Maryann who tops it with a, "I had no idea it was February." I doubt if you'd ever want to be involved in a relationship with her but she'd be a great friend to have. Watching her and Cybill together, the latter being very much the straight woman in this friendship, it is a comedy partnership to treasure and one that's very much at home in this Carsey-Werner production.
As a sitcom, it's not a bad one - middle-aged actress Cybill Sheridan (Cybill Shepherd) struggles to find work in a Hollywood that doesn't much care for any actress in her thirties, not to mention one in her forties. Taking a succession of dead-end jobs - murdered cop, mother in a feminine hygiene product advertisement, inmate in a nudie women-in-prison movie, victim in a vampire flick and voiceover artist for a chicken trail on the radio - Cybill finds that she's now an old woman in a town full of very young actresses and that not only is her work suffering but so too is her love life. With Maryann recommending that she have plastic surgery - a boob lift is so much less time-consuming than the less-invasive measures that she has planned - Cybill somehow ends up with both of her ex-husbands moving in, her headstrong daughter Zoey (Alicia Witt) and frequent visits from her eldest and pregnant daughter Rachel (Dedee Pfeiffer), who, taken together, form something of a family. And therein lies the situation in this sitcom, with Cybill attempting to find work whilst balancing the demands of a fairly dysfunctional lot who don't so much appear to cling to one another for support but who have been brought together purely for laughs.
And that, in spite of the comedy of the Cybill/Maryann relationship, is the problem with Cybill. Much like The Golden Girls, the situation is far too contrived to ring true - a bar like Cheers is one that you could well believe in but Rose and Blanche sharing a house? - with it being left to the writing to rescue it. Frequently, though, whilst it does bring an episode or two up to form, the characters are an unappealing lot and the forced scenario doesn't do much for them. Granted, ex-husband Jeff (Tom Wopat) is a good-natured-but-dim stuntman but does Ira (Alan Rosenberg) add anything to the series other than to complicate Cybill's life with an ex-husband who's still in love with her?
Still, when Maryann lines up the cocktails and begins spitting one-liners, then Cybill hits form. It does so again when Erik Estrada, playing a randy prison guard enjoys a soaping and suffers a stabbing at the hands of a nude Cybill. Or when Elliot Gould, as one of Maryann's neighbours that she spies upon, shows up in his dressing gown, flashes her and asks if she wants to take a picture from a little nearer. At those times, Cybill is as successful as any other show from the Carsey-Werner stable but there's often too much to sit through before striking such gems.
Fairly typical of a mid-nineties American sitcom, Cybill looks soft with colours so rich they are forever in danger of bleeding into one another. And, indeed, sometimes they do. But Anchor Bay, rather than encoding this onto two discs, which would have punished the quality of the picture, have opted for three discs, which leaves the actual transfer looking alright and certainly good enough to be seen on a big television. On the other hand, the DD5.1 and DTS options for the audio track are a curious pair with there being barely a hint of anything in the rear speakers. However, they have included English subtitles - Anchor Bay can be somewhat erratic in this respect - which are accurate throughout.
There are only two extras on this DVD, one a Photo Gallery (7x still images) and the other a set of Biographies for actors Cybill Shepherd, Christine Baranski, Alicia Witt, Dedee Pfeiffer, Alan Rosenberg and Tom Wopat as well as Executive Producers Marcy Carsey, Caryn Mandabach, Tom Werner and Bob Myer.
Not a bad set but with a poor selection of extras and a decent transfer, it's worthy of some praise but perhaps not a vast amount. However, it is now at a decent price and for three discs, it's not bad value at all.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 19:40:17