The Anna Nicole Show-Volume 1 (2002) (NTSC)
Main Menu Audio & Animation
TV Spots-Anna Nicole Speaks On...
Bonus Episode-Anna Bares All
|Year Of Production||2002|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Multi Disc Set (4)
|Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||None Given|
Anna Nicole Smith
Howard K. Stern
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||Yes|
|Action In or After Credits||Yes|
Anyone who has seen this show, and liked it, really should skip ahead to the Transfer Quality section immediately.
Are they gone? Good.
Disclaimers first - I have a deep, unironic love for bad movies and bad TV. I imported a copy of Manos: the Hands of Fate and I own DVDs of 19 of the IMDB's 100 worst movies. I placed a special order once to get my hands on Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I paid to see Battlefield Earth at the cinema - twice. I stayed up late to watch every episode of Paradise Hotel, and if I'm home during the day I'll still tune into Passions. While I'd never seen an episode before, this is what motivated me to pick The Anna Nicole Show off the review pile - everyone who'd seen the show described it as a train wreck, and it had all the elements that made The Osbournes a reality TV classic. Besides, if it was no good, how bad could it really be?
You'd be astonished.
Anna Nicole Smith was born Vickie Hogan, and lived the trailer park life. She dropped out of high school, married (a co-worker at a fried chicken takeaway), had a son and divorced, before meeting billionaire J. Howard Marshall while working in a strip club. She became a Playmate of the year, a Guess? Jeans model and a part-time actor (bit parts in The Naked Gun 33 1/3 and The Hudsucker Proxy), but weight gain, pain medication taken for a ruptured breast implant and injury derailed her career. She married the octogenarian Marshall in 1994 but he soon fell terminally ill. Citing her inability to care for him, one of Marshall's sons was awarded his father's guardianship, and Smith moved from Houston to Los Angeles.
On Marshall's death - after thirteen months of marriage - Smith stood to inherit almost half a billion US dollars, except that Marshall had willed her nothing. Feeling that this was not the issue, Smith set out to claim what was rightfully hers. Only fate, the courts and Marshall's family could stand between Smith and her money, and after almost seven years of legal battles and a brief bankruptcy in 1996, Smith was awarded $US 88 million in March 2002.
The Anna Nicole Show picks up the story a few months later. Smith hasn't been paid the dividend of the estate yet, but obviously has sufficient allowance to live sumptuously. The first episode of the series shows her looking for a mansion, and introduces the core of her entourage - Attorney, best friend and de facto houseboy Howard K. Stern, assistant and dogsbody Kim Walther, actual dog, Sugar Pie (who appears to rank above Walther in terms of status) and Anna's son Daniel Smith, who generally has the good sense throughout the series to appear on camera only when he can't reasonably avoid it. Unfortunately it also shows us Smith, who staggers around appearing severely overmedicated, self-centred and profoundly unaware that a world continues to operate where she is not directly involved in it. Sadly, this is a nigh-perfect introduction to the series.
Geoffrey Atherden, the writer of Mother and Son once said that in order for a situation comedy to work properly, it has to have sympathetic characters reacting to outlandish situations with perfect internal logic. As the first of the celebrity reality series of this type, The Osbournes held strictly to this formula. You came to care for the individuals in the family, however dysfunctional they were as individuals. The father that was trying to do the best for his children, but who was too befuddled to do so. The kids who were cocooned in privilege, but who were never excessively offensive. The mother who fought tooth and nail for her own. The family genuinely cared for each other, and while the individuals may have been bizarre in their own way, the audience could empathise with them from the outset.
Smith, however, is a case study in self-gratification run amok. While her wealth (as with Ozzy's kids) allows her to be shielded from societal behavioural expectations, Smith takes this as an unparalleled opportunity to indulge herself. She appears unaware that her only friends are the people who have a financial interest in remaining by her side. Her petulance leads to expectations that everyone near her show obeisance, to the point that she demands her 'friends' have her image tattooed onto them and that they call her 'mama'. She has promotional posters for her show hanging on her foyer wall. She throws a temper tantrum when caught cheating in an eating contest, appearing to decree that the important issue is whether or not she is above question - naturally, the one who is being paid by her falls into line. She appears to fail to conceive of her 'friends' other than as the part of her fanbase that is closest - and expected to be most loyal - to her. The reality of the situation can be seen when Stern and other friends are standing out of Smith's sightline. Despite the cameras, the looks Smith receives when she speaks are those of despair and contempt - whether of Smith or themselves, I can't say.
Throughout this, Smith stumbles around in an obvious daze, brought into sharpest relief in the first episode when her abhorrent antics are punctuated by interjections from a far more lucid Smith sitting on a porch. Everyone has watched a friend stumble around drunkenly, trying to do things obviously beyond them - get home, buy a kebab, strike up a meaningful conversation. It's funny for about ten minutes. Three hundred is beyond painful, especially when the tasks are as difficult as buying a house and trying to pass a driver's licence test. The New York Post recorded that half as many people watched the second episode as watched the first. I'm frankly surprised that anyone who watched the first episode found themselves able to press on. I was physically unable to watch more than one episode at a time, as I just became too uncomfortable at the 13-week joke that appeared to be being played out at Smith's expense and never got to a punchline.
Even though secondary characters receive substantial screen time, Smith's narcissism crowds out any time for the development of more than one note to the character. Stern as Smith's interface with reality. Walther, who seems to have an immature, unformed crush on her employer, appears to have no personality at all. Bobby Trendy, Smith's screamingly camp and completely incompetent interior decorator whose self-obsession is blatant enough that it's unable to be completely crowded out by Smith's, appears to exist within the show only to try to encourage some audience sympathy for Smith and Stern, but by the time of his ludicrous appearance in the second episode, it's already far too late.
The poker-faced treatment of the material involved in the reality series fails to deadpan the show into the realms of comedy. There are laughs to be had at the director of the series - the urn containing half of Smith's late husband's ashes, for instance, is blurred out of the "UNCENSORED FOOTAGE (No Bleeps. No Blurs!)" (sic.) in the show, but the cheerful metallic balloons Smith ties to it are shown. Likewise, identifiable products that are blurred out of early episodes are clearly shown in later ones - presumably after they paid the placement fee. Smith's attempts at uninhibited debauchery, including the desperate fondling of those who'll permit it (who, for the most part, appear to have artificially depressed their impulse control at least as far as Smith has) is more depressing than titillating, and the scorn heaped on a rival TV crew who appear with Smith's cousin in tow to gather footage for an "unauthorised biography" documentary (Dark Roots: the Unauthorized Anna Nicole) has a cruelly callow edge to it that isn't attractive. The high point of the series features in the eighth episode, when the three protagonists arrive at a radio station to be interviewed by the morning DJs. It appears that at least a couple of episodes of the series have already aired by this stage, as the DJs ask two questions that viewers of the series want to know - is Smith on drugs and how did she gain so much weight, compared to her modelling days. In possibly her only reasonable reaction of the series, Smith is offended by both questions and leaves immediately.
Rarely have the two words 'Season One' been so redolent with menace. In researching this review, I found that in addition to the Christmas special included as a 'bonus episode' with this set (Smith hosts a celebrity Christmas party with a guest list that the commentary reveals includes people she's never met), channel E! commissioned a second series of this drek. In order to try to prevent the same disaster, the press release mentioned that the second series would revolve around set pieces rather than just filming Smith embarrassing herself in a succession of limousines and slurring her way through self-righteous tirades. I have no intention of finding out whether or not this was successful.
The discs themselves are somewhat oddly put together. Four episodes are on discs one and three, loading six onto disc two, which leads to disc two having some digital transfer issues (see below). All episodes must be accessed individually, and consist of a single chapter. Each comes with 'deleted scenes', which generally add little, except in the case of the radio interview mentioned above, which has Stern storming out threatening the DJs that they'll appear badly on "our show" - presumably expecting the editors to cut more favourably to Smith than they did. The most mundane of these "deleted" pieces - from the same episode - was over two minutes of soundless footage of Smith sitting in the back of a limousine, next to Walther who was eating a McDonald's breakfast). Review requirements state that all commentary tracks require rewatching the DVD. Fortunately, the only one of these was from the final episode featuring the Christmas party. It speaks to Smith's lack of self-consciousness that in this commentary she criticises her cousin for attention seeking, and Smith also points out the staged nature of the 'party' by stating that she didn't know who would be in attendance, and didn't even know some of the guests. Other than this and pointing out two staged scenes (which, although this special was filmed separately to the main series, throws into doubt the level of 'reality' of the show in the first place), the commentary consists largely of pauses. This is not the welcome relief it seems, as during these pauses the original audio is faded up. A bonus disc is also included, featuring a 40-minute documentary also made by channel E! after the second series of The Anna Nicole Show, called Anna Bares All. In it, Smith discusses the way that she lost weight after the first series of the show, setting in train her public embarrassment at the 2004 American Music Awards.
A friend who was justifying his love of porn to me once quoted Nabokov in saying that there is "nothing more exhilarating than philistine vulgarity". Unfortunately, there are limits, and The Anna Nicole Show is a swamp that I recommend never, ever permitting yourself to wade through. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to remove my eyeballs and scrub my brain with Domestos and steel wool.
The video is generally as one would expect of a television series, although it suffers some digital transfer failings, especially on disc two.
The discs are presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and are not 16x9 enhanced. Note that although it's not mentioned on the packaging, this transfer is NTSC, so your equipment will need to be NTSC compatible in order to view these DVDs.
The series is generally no better than one would expect for a video-filmed TV series. Shadows are often somewhat murky, but regularly (once or twice an episode) a transition from a well-lit to dimly-lit area (or vice versa) would lead to a filter slipping over the camera lens that was very noticeable.
Colours are well-produced, but not always consistent when a cut is made.
Aliasing and macro-blocking are represented throughout the series - especially on disc two, where the video appears to be substantially overcompressed and these artefacts are much more obvious, especially in outdoor shots.
There is no subtitle track on this disc.
RSDL changes appear to be between shows.
The only audio track on these discs is a Dolby Digital stereo track, which is not surround encoded, however the left and right tracks are identical, meaning that the recording is effectively mono.
Dialogue is clearly reproduced, and is relatively good considering that this is largely from cordless lapel microphones.
Backing music is clearly reproduced, but can be intrusive. It never obscures dialogue, however.
Surround channels are not used.
The subwoofer is called on very occasionally - and only for the background music. When it switches on, however, the effect of the previously-absent bass notes can be somewhat jarring.
|Surround Channel Use|
The main menu animation and audio loops are drawn from the series' opening credits and, combined with watching the credits in full four or six times a disc, quickly becomes irritating.
Each episode has a brief synopsis on its entry page (there is no "play all" feature). This is useful both in finding a particular episode (as there is no booklet or liner notes) or in simply finding out what happens in an episode so that you can skip it entirely.
As mentioned above, these scenes generally add little to the show, and although they are usually expansions of scenes partially included in the shows, they can be very mundane indeed.
A series of 'teaser' promos for the show, taking the form of a narrator sonorously intoning "Anna Nicole on..." and the topic of the day, followed by Smith saying something mundane. Fortunately, these are very short.
The Australian version of this disc features a bonus disc with a documentary, as mentioned in the Plot Synopsis above. It is noted that this disc does not feature a menu.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on the bonus disc mentioned in the "Extras" section of the review, whereas the Region 4 disc misses subtitles in both English and Spanish. While I may personally feel that forty extra minutes of Anna Nicole Smith would make the R4 version inferior to the Region 1 equivalent, I believe that site policy demands that I mark the R4 disc the 'better' version.
While adequately presented, this is a no-win title. While I make a habit of finding enjoyment in 'bad' television, The Anna Nicole Show is not only bad, it's boring and irritating. This series has been compared to a train wreck by many others, but that indicates an unfortunate situation that you find yourself wanting to, but unable to look away from. Fortunately, that is not a problem in this case.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-535, using S-Video output|
|Display||Panasonic TX-86PW300A. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Pioneer VSX-512.|
|Speakers||Wharfedale Diamond 8.3 fronts, Wharfedale Diamond 8.2 rears, Wharfedale Diamond 8 centre, Wharfedale 12" sub|