Includes 26 episodes on 3 DVDs. 1979-80/color/10 hrs., 50 min/NR/fullscreen.
Nowadays Diff'rent Strokes
is best known for producing three of the most troubled former child stars in the history of entertainment, but in its day this was a top-rated sitcom. Gary Coleman wasn't just a pair of cute chubby cheeks; he had the kind of wily comic timing that could have carried his career into adulthood--if his stardom hadn't been linked to his physique, making adult roles unacceptable to his audience. But The Complete Second Season
captures Coleman at his diminutive prime as Arnold Jackson, one of two brothers adopted by a wealthy New York developer named Philip Drummond (Conrad Bain, Maude
). Bain and Charlotte Rae (as housekeeper Mrs. Garrett, who left mid-season to anchor the spin-off The Facts of Life
) delivered their lines and got out of Coleman's way; Dana Plato (as Drummond's daughter Kimberly) and Todd Bridges (as Arnold's brother Willis) acted their young hearts out, but Coleman was unquestionably the star.
A runaway success and pop culture phenomenon, the second season of Diff'rent Strokes pulled in celebrity sports stars like Muhammad Ali, Reggie Jackson, and Meadowlark Lemon, while great character actors like Dabney Coleman (Nine to Five) and James Cromwell (Babe, Six Feet Under) appeared in memorable roles. The crossover episodes with justly forgotten McLean Stevenson sitcom Hello, Larry are regrettable (though Coleman had great chemistry with Hello, Larry's husky-voiced Kim Richards, formerly the star of Escape from Witch Mountain), while the appearance of the Facts of Life cast (including a very young Molly Ringwald, prior to her teen queen reign as star of The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink) fits right in. Social topics like racism and poverty are treated with firm liberal denouncement, but the difficulties of adolescence sometimes get slightly more subtle treatment (comparatively, at least). The only complaint about The Complete Second Season is the complete lack of extras; but even without interviews or commentaries, these episodes--returned to their original broadcast length--will delight fans. --Bret Fetzer