Sordid Lives: The Series
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Sordid Lives: The Series (created by Del Shores) is the story of a small town Texas family presided over by matriarch Peggy Ingram (Rue McClanahan) who takes in the town bar singer Bitsy Mae Harling (Olivia Newton-John) who has just been released from prison.
Peggy's wild child daughter LaVonda (Ann Walker) lives with Peggy's chain-smoking sister Sissy (Beth Grant), while Peggy's good girl Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia) maintains an image of seeming perfection. Peggy's third child "Brother Boy" Ingram (Leslie Jordan) is locked in a mental institution where he performs as Tammy Wynette. He plots to escape while he attends therapy sessions with the crazy Dr. Eve (Rosemary Alexander) who believes she can dehomosexualize him.
LaVonda's white trash best friend Noleta (Caroline Rhea) lives in a trailer in Sissy's backyard with her husband G.W. (David Steen), a Vietnam vet with two wooden legs. G.W. escapes regularly to the local bar in town amidst a small crowd of regulars including brothers Wardell (Newell Alexander) and Odell (David Cowgill), Bitsy and this bar's crazy old fly Juanita (Sarah Hunley).
Latrelle's son Ty (Jason Dottley) is an actor living in Los Angeles and struggling with several therapists (Margaret Cho, Carson Kressley, Candis Cayne) to come to terms with his homosexuality. Along the way he deals with his first boyfriend (Ted Detwiler), his stalker ex-girlfriend (Sharron Alexis), a vengeful trick (Emerson Collins) and the difficulty of coming out to his straight best friend (Robert Lewis Stephenson) and his family back in Texas.
Sordid Lives is the universally relatable story of a town of family and friends and the trials and tribulations they go through as they learn to see each other for who they are instead of who they wish each other to be.
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There had been some reports of quality control problems immediately after the set was put on the market, with pixilation and out-of-sync audio issues. I have to say that on my own copy, I've noticed none of that at all (it would appear that there was an isolated bad batch of discs, perhaps?). I'm watching this on a 50-inch widescreen plasma set, and the picture looks fantastic; nicely detailed with no problems in that respect whatsoever.
The set includes three discs. The first two each include six episodes, plus a bonus feature of an extensive slide show featuring stills shot during the filming process. The third disc is all bonus material; it includes the premier's teaser and a number of complete Olivia Newton-John performances. It also includes a fairly comprehensive blooper reel and many, many deleted scenes; a satisfyingly large amount of material for viewing, there.
Some viewers expressed a bit of frustration at the time this aired on television, due to the very frequent commercial interruptions and the "bleeping" of some of the dialogue. It's quite a pleasant difference, to watch each episode in one 22-minute uninterrupted go. The DVD release is completely uncensored---and for those interested in such things, contains a bit of nudity not present in the televised version, as well. (Heh.)
Now, there are two drawbacks to this set; one is a bit of a disappointment for me personally, the other could possibly be a problem for a number of viewers. First off, there was a huge amount of promotional/behind the scenes material produced about this series, which appeared on the Logo website as the programme aired on television. I found much of the material fascinating---among other things, it included interviews with many of those involved with the show, and the vlogs creator Del Shores taped for each episode, where he would discuss the particulars of filming with co-star Jason Dottley and (on occasion) some of the other people who appeared in the episode under discussion. I don't know who owns the rights to all this footage, whether it is Del Shores or Logo, but unfortunately not a single bit of it appears in the extras on this set (and none of it is still up on the Logo website). So, that is quite disappointing. I hope it will appear on another DVD release, but have no idea if that is even a possibility.
The second drawback is a technical issue---one I've never encountered before, so I'm hoping for some input from anyone else here who has viewed the DVDs. The picture is framed in the widescreen 1.78:1 ratio, so as to fit perfectly on widescreen/hi-def television sets. (The image should be letterboxed---with black bars at top and bottom---if viewed on a standard tube television.) Now, every single DVD I have that is "enhanced for widescreen televisions" has played just fine on my own widescreen set---slide in the DVD, the picture comes on and fills the entire width of the screen, no problem. But in the case of the Sordid Lives DVDs, on all of the episodes the picture is displayed with an anamorphic squeeze---in other words, the widescreen picture is compressed to a 4:3 aspect ratio (the squarish shape of an old television screen), which is centred in the widescreen display. And oddly enough, this is only an issue with the episodes themselves---the slide-shows, and the bonus material on the third disc, have no problems with squeezing/distortion.
Now, this anamorphic squeeze is not really a problem for me, because of course every widescreen set has several pre-set aspect ratio settings---so with the touch of a button on the tv remote, I can adjust the picture so that it displays properly in the correct 1.78:1 shape (and without cropping any part of the frame). However, the point is I shouldn't HAVE to do this. And, this would seem to be a problematic situation for anyone watching the discs on a standard CRT television. I tried playing the discs on a second set-up here (standard TV, standard DVD player), and yes, the anamorphic squeeze was still present---but of course there's no way to compensate for that on a regular television. So, if that viewing method is your only option, you'll be watching a distorted image where all the people appear to have very thin faces and stand about eight feet tall.
Has anyone else had this problem with the discs? I'm most curious to know!
At any rate---absolutely love the series, and although I'm a little disappointed with the lack of some of additional content I was hoping for, I can't complain very much----I'm very pleased with my purchase. I don't know whether the particular playback problem I experienced is widespread, but anyone watching these on a widescreen set should be able to make the necessary adjustments.