Monday, May 6, 2013

Ellen Hits Its Stride With Ellen - The Complete Third Season!

The Good: Funny, Good character development, Some decent performances
The Bad: Still a lot of pretty standard plots, Crappy DVD bonus features!
The Basics: While not the best season of Ellen, the third season continues to show improvement and makes a worthwhile addition to any comedy DVD library.

Ellen - The Complete Third Season illustrates growth with the programming, but nothing at all remarkable as far as its use of the medium. Like the second season (reviewed here!) of the show, the third season of Ellen adds a new character and continues to distance itself from the first season (reviewed here!). The result is a funny show that finally lives up to much of what it can be as an ensemble comedy, though like the previous boxed sets before it, this season has dismal DVD extras. The result is a mix of decent programming that does not make good use out of the DVD medium.

Following on the heels of the 1995 San Francisco earthquakes, Ellen's shop, Buy The Book, is damaged and her cousin Spence comes to stay in the city. Spence is running away from his training to be a doctor and he finds himself hanging out with Ellen and her friends and employees, Paige, Joe, Audrey and Adam. Ellen finds herself happy to have Spence around when, shortly after his arrival, Adam is offered a photography job overseas and leaves Ellen behind.

This season, Ellen and her gang recover from the earthquakes, have a baby shower after Ellen tapes over the video of Paige's sister giving birth, deals with Paige becoming more successful at the movie studio and shooting a film at Buy The Book, and Ellen aiding the police in catching a burglar who robbed the store. Ellen - The Complete Third Season relies somewhat heavier on quest stars than past seasons, with appearances by Martha Stewart, Carrie Fisher, Mary Tyler Moore and Janeane Garofalo, among others. They come by the appearances pretty organically - like Stewart appearing to help Ellen out with a dinner party - but still the show appears to be somewhat desperate by using the celebrity factor.

That said, the show is also consistently funnier than previous seasons. The addition of Spence and the jettisoning of Adam makes the mix finally work with Paige and Spence holding their own opposite Ellen. Because of the time spent with Paige and Spence and their love-hate relationship that often involves the two quipping at one another, more time is taken away from Ellen and her constant monologues. The result is a show that does not seem like it is simply a vehicle for Ellen DeGeneres and her comedy. Instead, the characters begin to stand on their own and actually dominate the show. The show, finally, becomes about the actions and feelings of the characters as opposed to a bunch of people on film delivering lines and telling jokes. And with that, Ellen begins to truly work!

To appreciate this boxed set more, it might help to understand who the characters are this season. They include:

Ellen Morgan - The scatterbrained and likable owner of Buy The Book, she takes Spence in when he arrives and Adam leaves. She maintains her friendship with Paige, who gets her into cool parties, tolerates Audrey who is employed by her, and Joe who works the coffee counter at Buy The Book. This season, she becomes thrilled when her mother gets into therapy, becomes jealous of Adam and Paige when they are successful at their work, and makes a friend while waiting for a mammogram! She illustrates compassion when money problems make it difficult to keep Audrey and young people mob the store to mock a lounge singing act that is performing there,

Paige - Her career takes off and she finds herself involved with a number of projects with big celebrities, like John Travolta. He takes an instant dislike to Spence and becomes engaged to Matt, which guides the latter part of the season. She uses her influence and newfound celebrity to try to help her friends, when she feels like it,

Joe - Shows up and makes coffee and snide remarks,

Audrey - Perky as ever, she comes alive at Buy The Book and thrills to working there, much to the annoyance of the more even-tempered Ellen and Paige. She buys a new car, with Ellen's help,

Spence - Feeling dejected and judging himself harshly for dropping out of his medical training, Spence arrives and is instantly antagonistic to Paige. While he begins to explore a career in law, Ellen tries to help him reconcile with his estranged father,

and Adam - After garnering some career success in the States, Adam is offered a job in Europe and on his way out the door makes a revelation to Ellen.

Spence is played by Jeremy Piven and his appearance on Ellen was so good that it opened me up to later endeavors of his, like Smokin' Aces (*shudder* - reviewed here!). Piven is funny and has a true sense of comic timing that is perfect for the role of Ellen's cousin. Piven rivals DeGeneres with his ability to play witty and quick with the lines and his addition to the cast only strengthens it!

The rest of the cast, which includes Clea Lewis (Audrey), David Anthony Higgins (Joe), and Joley Fisher (Paige), is good but the addition of Piven and using him opposite Fisher makes the series take off. The writing is sharper and funnier and the plots seem both less contrived and more original. The whole cast comes together as an ensemble quite well during scenes at Buy The Book and it's enough to make the viewer wish there were better bonuses. I find myself wondering if the actors were having as much fun on the set as they appear to be having on the screen.

Ellen DeGeneres continues to rightly dominate the show, though and in this season there is a greater sense that she is establishing a character rather than recycling old standup routines. There is less physical comedy and DeGeneres is forced to play her reactions to other people's (most notably Fisher and Piven's) lines and performances. The show hits its stride with these episodes as DeGeneres plays off her fellow castmembers more, instead of simply leading the comedy. This opens the show up to a more organic feel that allows the humor to come from all of the characters and the situations, as opposed to Ellen's rambling monologues.

And there is a sense throughout this season that it is building to something, especially once Paige becomes engaged (the two-part season finale is her wedding) and the more serialized nature makes it very easy to enjoy on DVD with the "Play All" function. I tend to be biased toward serialization, so when the show begins to trend that way, I found I enjoyed it even more and it holds up better on DVD.

The only bonus feature on this three-disc set is a blooper reel and that's disappointing. The prior two seasons had at least one commentary track on an episode each and the DVD bonus features getting worse is just sloppy.

But fortunately, the programming is worthwhile and the situations Ellen gets into become classic, even though some of them - like Ellen getting Paige's engagement ring stuck on her finger - are canned. The dialogue is above par for almost anything else that was on television at the time and it easily holds up on DVD.

For other good third seasons of shows, please visit my reviews of:
Modern Family - Season 3
Friends - Season 3
The West Wing - Season 3


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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