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DVD Review

DVD cover

Diff'rent Strokes
Season 1


Starring: Conrad Bain, Gary Coleman, Todd Bridges, Dana Plato and Charlotte Rae
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: PG
Available 06 October 2008

Diff’rent Strokes tells the often hilarious, touching and ground-breaking story of the Drummonds, a wealthy Manhattan family headed by Mr. Drummond, who adopt their former maid’s children following her death. When Willis and Arnold move in with their new family, a comedy of errors begins that went on to become one of the most popular comedy series of the late '70s and early '80s...

Diff'rent Strokes is one of those comedy series that I remember very fondly watching as a pre-teen in the early '80s. As with most things from your childhood, I was a little apprehensive about revisiting this series as an adult. On balance though, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how well the series has stood the test of time.

Gary Coleman (who would have been around ten years old when this first season was produced) is incredible as Arnold Jackson, the cheeky little kid with the chubby cheeks. His comedic timing is spot on, and the majority of the jokes still stand up today. Sure the acting is as wooden as the sets, but I defy anyone not to fall in love with the characters.

Season One contains 24 (roughly 20 mins apiece) episodes. Highlights include:

Movin' In: The show's opening episode hits the nail on the head from the start. It also tackles the race issues well - with Willis complaining about poor black kids being helped out by a rich white guy. While all the other characters take a while to get comfortable in their roles, Conrad Bain, as Philip Drummond, and Coleman hit the ground running.

The Social Worker: While not a great episode, it does tackle the race elements well. Here the social worker assigned to the Drummond/Jackson family openly proclaims that black kids should be with black families, while white kids should be with white families. A view that I'm sure a lot of American's at the time probably thought true - and this episode tries to educate viewers to the fact that race is not important, it's love that matters.

Mother's Last Visit: Again, not a great episode, but it once again tries to educate the audience that it's not acceptable to be a bigot. Drummond's mother comes to stay, but has no idea Philip has adopted his old housekeeper's children... let alone the fact that they are poor and black. Now why should it matter that the kids are poor or black? It shouldn't, but again Philip's mother represents middle-aged, middle-class white America with all its faults and hang-ups. In the end it's shown that Drummond's mother is really just a snob, and that colour isn't really the issue.

The Trial: Willis has issues with the American justice system - which he believes only really works best for the white population. When Mr Drummond punishes Arnold for putting his goldfish in the hot tub, Willis asks that they have a trial to decide whether Arnold is innocent or guilty.

No Time For Arnold: Arnold is fed up of being ignored by everyone and, after reading a book on problem children, learns that bed wetting is often a cry for attention - so he starts pouring water in his bed in the morning so that his family will play with him once again.

Getting Involved: When Arnold sees a mugging through his telescope, his description of what he saw leads everyone to suspect that he's telling tales. Arnold secretly rings the police and it's discovered that he was telling the truth.

On the negative side, there is a rather dull two-part episode (eps 8 and 9) called Retrospective. Obviously designed to pull in new viewers, this is nothing other than a clips show.

The final episode, The Girls' School, while not a great episode, sets everything up for Mrs Garrett to leave - even though she doesn't in this episode. Fans of the Diff'rent Strokes spin-off series Facts of Life (1979-1988) will recognise this as the girls' school which Mrs Garrett would go on to be the housekeeper of.

I was quite surprised that the picture quality was as good as it is. Not only that, but the DVD producers have gone out of their way to produce some additional content that fans won't have seen before.

Extras include audio commentary on four episodes; A Look Back at Diff'rent Strokes (21 min, 56 sec featurette that interviews crew members as well as Conrad Bain, Todd Bridges, and Charlotte Rae); and Whatchoo Talkin' Bout? (5 min, 43 sec tribute to Gary Coleman, his famous line and how it came about - by accident as it happens).

While this series has many faults, those that remember it fondly may also be surprised at how well it's stood the test of time.


Nick Smithson

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