I never watched ‘8 Simple Rules’ when it was on the air nor have I really caught it in syndication. After binging on the entire first season of the series on DVD, I am actually a bit disappointed that I wasn’t watching it when it was on. Whether or not you’ve ever watched ‘8 Simple Rules,’ you probably know that this was the series that John Ritter was working on when he died of a heart attack. I have always been a fan of John Ritter, having grown up watching reruns of ‘Three’s Company,’ a show I was too young to fully understand but enjoyed nonetheless. I was pleased to see that Ritter brought his skill at comedic timing, facial expressions and humorous warmth to his role in ‘8 Simple Rules.’
'8 Simple Rules’ centers on Paul Hennessy (John Ritter), his wife Cate (Katey Sagal), daughters Bridget (Kaley Cuoco) and Kerry (Amy Davidson) and son Rory (Martin Spanjers). In the premiere episode we learn that Paul has begun working from home as a sports columnist. He was formerly a sports writer but decided to work less so he could be home more for the kids so his wife Cate could return to work as a nurse.
The whole first half of the season essentially focuses on Paul’s adjustment to being more involved in his kids’ lives. His daughters, Bridget and Kerry are both teenagers. Bridget is the stereotypical blonde popular girl. She dates a lot and obsesses over her social life. Kerry is the quintessential angry middle child. Slightly younger than Bridget, she uses sarcasm to mask her insecurities and despite being just as beautiful as her older sister, is sort of a loner, preferring to spend less time socializing and more time working on her art and making fun of Bridget. Their younger brother Rory is about middle-school age. He enjoys spying on his sisters, tattling on them every chance he gets, and begging his parents to let him have a monkey.
They’re a well-rounded family and a perfect fit for the typical American sitcom. The bulk of the comedy in the show often has to do with Ritter’s character desperately trying to relate to his daughters. While he’s often frustrated by their teenage-girl attitudes, he almost always shows genuine concern for their well-being. In the episode titled “Wings,” Paul becomes too protective over Bridget when he tries to delay her from getting her driver’s license. There are occasions in other episodes when Paul becomes blinded by his own selfish motives. In “Son-In-Law,” Paul goes out of his way to encourage Bridget to date the son of a famous baseball player, even letting her stay out later than usual to be with him.
My two favorite episodes of the season were “Come and Knock on Our Door” and “Give It Up.” In “Give It Up,” the Hennessys each agree to give up something and whoever can go the longest gets to decide where the family goes on vacation. Paul gives up his remote, Cate gives up coffee, Bridget gives up the phone, Kerry gives up being sarcastic and Rory gives up tattling. The episode basically showcases a key part in each of the characters’ personalities. In “Come and Knock on Our Door,” Paul dreams about his family as though they were characters on ‘Three’s Company.’ The episode was a hilarious spoof of the old sitcom.
The contrast in personalities of Bridget and Kerry often serve to drive the plot of the episodes forward. Bridget’s the dumb one, Kerry’s the smart one. Bridget’s the “pretty” one, Kerry’s the “plain” one. Etc. Etc. While both girls fall into certain stereotypes, both characters prove to be good people. In the midst of whatever drama the girls are going through, the family often overlooks Rory. He’s definitely not overlooked on the show though. His bratty-brother persona adds some much needed humor even during the most serious scenes.
As for Cate, I am pleased to say that there is not a shred of Peg Bundy in Sagal’s role on this show. As much as I was a fan of ‘Married With Children,’ I think ‘8 Simple Rules’ brings out a different type of humor and beauty in Sagal. Cate works a lot but still looks out for the kids and her husband as much as she can.
There are a number of guest appearances in the first season. Among them are Nick Carter, Jason Priestly, Cybil Shepherd and Patrick Warburton. Carter plays Bridget’s drum teacher in two episodes. While his acting is subpar, it's evident that he’s there to appeal to the teenage viewers. You can hear the girls in the audience go nuts when he first appears on screen. Priestly plays a famous race car driver in “Every Picture Tells A Story.” His character has a goofy southern drawl and long list of ex-wives. Shepherd plays Cate’s moody sister in “Sort of an Officer and a Gentleman (parts 1 and 2). Warburton has a recurring role as Paul’s boss. In addition to being Paul’s professional superior, Warburton’s character also has a bunch of teenage daughters and thus, shares some of Paul’s pain on occasion.
‘8 Simple Rules’ is a straight-up family comedy. The laughter does occasionally feel a bit canned but for the most part, the writing is great. Having watched the entire first season, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the second season on DVD. I realize that Ritter died during the second season and that his death was written into the show. The fact that he played such a key role in the first season makes me very curious to see how the series does without him.
The packaging for this DVD set is colorful but simple. The outside jacket has a picture of the Hennessys looking cheerful and inside you’ll see the episode guide and photos of the cast. All three discs fit into one regular sized DVD case. There aren’t any inserts though and you have to take disc one out to read the episode list but that’s a minor inconvenience and almost isn’t worth mentioning.
When you pop in disc one of the DVD set, you’re treated to a bunch of previews for TV shows and movies that would appeal to people of all ages. This is appropriate as ‘8 Simple Rules’ is, for the most part, a family friendly show. You can hit the “next” button on your DVD remote to skip past the previews you’re not interested in or hit the “menu” button to bypass them altogether. You can also find the previews from the main menu by selecting “Sneak Peaks” on disc 1. The previews offered are for the Jungle Book (Platinum edition on DVD), Ratatouille (In Theaters), Meet the Robinsons (Coming soon to DVD), ‘Home Improvement’ (The Complete Sixth Season and Seventh Season on DVD), ‘Ugly Betty’ (Season 1 on DVD), and The Invisible (DVD).
The main menu shows a still image of the Hennessys’ mantle with framed photographs on it. There’s a 35 second loop of music playing in the background, which includes the brief theme song and some of post-commercial-break score.
You have the option to “Play All” which will start you at the first episode and play continuously from episode to episode. There’s also an option for “Episode Selection,” which is pretty self explanatory. Each disc has three episode menus that you can jump through, each containing three or four episodes. The “Set-up” option allows you to change the audio from English to French or add subtitles, which include English (for the hearing impaired), French and Spanish.
In terms of bonus features, the only thing this DVD set has to offer is a blooper reel, which is on the third disc. Generally I’m not a huge fan of blooper reels but given the untimely death of Ritter, this one is a bit more enjoyable if you’re a fan of his. It’s nice to see that he appears to have had a good time working on this series. One thing I would recommend for the second season DVD set might be a video montage celebrating Ritter’s work on the show. That could’ve been on this set but since he passed away during the production of the second season, I can kind of understand why there wasn’t any acknowledgment of Ritter’s death on this set. I’m hoping they’re saving that for The Complete Second Season on DVD.
As for what else could have been on this set, it would have been nice to see some clips of the cast auditions, script read-throughs and other footage that shows the cast bonding as they worked on the first season of the show. While the DVD set is short on bonus features, the set makes up for that with 28 half-hour episodes spaced out on the three discs.