The complete first season of the TV series Diff'rent Strokes
More than just a ratings hit for NBC, the Norman Lear/Bud Yorkin-produced Diff'rent Strokes
was a pop-culture phenomenon, thanks largely to the wise-beyond-his-years performance of star Gary Coleman. And while the show has languished of late in syndication in a heavily edited form, Columbia's first-season set amends that situation by packaging all 24 uncut episodes on a three-disc set with some interesting extras. Launched in November 1978 as a mid-season replacement for the failed Joe Namath series The Waverly Wonders
, Diff'rent Strokes
vaulted to no. 27 in the Nielsen ratings; audiences responded to the warmth and humorous culture clash between wealthy Philip Drummond (Lear vet Conrad Bain) and Arnold and Willis (Coleman and Todd Bridges), the sons of his late housekeeper whom he adopted. Though Bain, Bridges, Dana Plato (as Bain's daughter), and Charlotte Rae (as housekeeper Mrs. Garrett) all delivered solid performances, it was Coleman's charm, his timing, and most of all, his catch phrase "Whatchoo talkin' bout?" that drew in viewers.
The series was so successful that NBC used it to launch or boost two other shows: The Facts of Life, which sent Mrs. Garrett to run a girls' school (its pilot, "The Girls' School," is episode 24 on the third disc), and the McLean Stevenson program Hello, Larry, which followed Strokes on the network (the two-part cross-over episodes are featured on disc 3). Though perhaps best known to current audiences for the unfortunate luck suffered by several of its cast members after the show's cancellation in 1986, this first-season set offers a pleasant reminder of the show's charms. The set is rounded out by two featurettes featuring interviews with many of the show's stars and producers (though Coleman is notably absent), and commentaries by story editor Fred Rubin. --Paul Gaita