The Nanny: The Complete First Season review by Mike Long

I don't watch nearly as much TV as I used to (due to time and the decline in quality television...thanks reality shows!), but as someone who writes about entertainment, I do keep an eye on the Nielsen ratings. Like many, I've never really understand how the ratings system works, and I find it quite odd to try and track the public's taste in television. Why? Because of the odd ways in which people find and begin watching TV shows. Usually viewers watch a show because of the actors or the genre (or for those incredibly lazy people out there, because they don't want to change the channel). However, there can be other factors which get people to begin watching a certain program. In 1993, I was going through some personal problems, and I needed a totally brainless comedy in which to escape. Thus, I began watching The Nanny, a show whose first season has recently appeared on DVD. Things are far better for me now, and The Nanny is still a silly, guilty pleasure.

The Nanny has a bizarre, yet simple premise which puts a spin on some old staples. Fran Fine (Fran Drescher) works in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens, New York, which is run by her boyfriend, Danny (Jonathan Penner). Fran believes that she Danny will marry someday, so she's quite surprised when he announces that he's seeing someone else. Fran quits her job and begins selling "Shades of the Orient" cosmetics door-to-door. She visits a home in Manhattan owned by Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield (Charles Shaughnessy). Mr. Sheffield has been interviewing new nannies for his children, and Miles the Butler (Daniel Davis) assumes that Fran is there about the job. Despite the fact that she has no experience in childcare, Fran convinces Mr. Sheffield to let her watch over his three children, Maggie (Nicholle Tom), Brighton (Benjamin Salisbury), and Maggie (Madeline Zima). Fran's brash behavior and incredibly nasal voice immediately throw the very stoic Sheffield household into an uproar and Mr. Sheffield uptight business partner, C.C. Babcock (Lauren Lane) isn't very happy to have another female vying for the boss' attention. Fran seems doomed to fail in this job, but with her down-to-Earth sensibilities and quick wit, she wins the hearts of the children and even begins to grow on Mr. Sheffield.

Since the inception of television, there have been thousands of sit-coms and on the surface, The Nanny is no different, as it contains a fairly familiar premise and a predictable stable of characters. However, if one digs deeper, one will find that there are some things which make the show if not necessarily unique, at least very watchable. If anything, the show must be given the kudos for placing someone like Fran Drescher in the middle of a prime-time program. When the show debuted, I would wager that most viewers had no idea who Drescher was, as she'd had some supporting work in film and apparently had been in some TV shows which went nowhere. (I remembered her from Saturday Night Fever and This is Spinal Tap, but that was it.) Besides the fact that she wasn't a household name, Fran Drescher is the kind of person who you either love or hate, as her nasal, some would say obnoxious, voice can easily grate on one's nerves. Yet, CBS saw fit to take a chance on this potentially annoying character, and the gamble worked, as the fish out of water/culture clash center of the show spawned many storylines.

So, why does the show work? The main plot can easily be compared to The Sound of Music, as a woman who doesn't fit in is hired to be the nanny for a hard-nosed widower. (But, we have a loud Jewish woman instead of a nun.) And, as with that film, there is sexual tension between the nanny and her employer. In that aspect, I found the show to be similar to Moonlighting, as the male and female leads spar verbally, as we the audience hope that they will admit the fact that they are attracted to one another.

This sub-plot is one interesting aspect of the show, but the reason that the program exists is to be funny and at times, it manages to be hilarious. Most of the humor in the show comes from Niles, whose dry, acerbic wit is always on display and no one is safe from his quick tongue. When Niles isn't scolding Fran, or heckling Mr. Sheffield, he's going toe-to-toe with his mortal enemy, C.C. Their exchanges are very funny and often appear to be happening in an entirely different TV show. Fran clearly has a thing for Lucille Ball and allows this influence into her comedy. She too can be very funny and does a great job with her throw-away lines. The children in the cast are OK, but at times it's clear that they have trouble keeping up with the adults in the cast. Watching the show, it's clear that Drescher (or someone involved in the show) has friends in the industry, as we are treated to cameos by the likes of Carol Channing, Dan Aykroyd, Cloris Leachman, Twiggy, and Patti Labelle. The Nanny isn't classic television, but it's a show that is consistently entertaining and provides a nice level of wit, and in this age, that can be a true rarity.

The Nanny barges onto DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. This 3-disc set features all 22 episodes from the show's first season. The shows are all presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The show was shot on tape and still looks pretty good on this transfer. The image is clear and free from any grain. The picture does showing some artifacting though and sharp viewers will spot video noise on most every episode. On the plus side, the colors look fine, most notably all of Fran's outrageous costumes. The DVD's Dolby Digital stereo audio track is adequate, as the dialogue is sharp and audible, but there isn't much in the way of stereo effects.

The Nanny: The Complete First Season DVD set contains a few extras. Fran Drescher provides audio commentary on "Pilot", "Imaginary Friend" (both on Disc 1), and "I Don't Remember Mama" (Disc 3). Drescher's insights range from benign to very detailed, as she discusses the origin of the show, how the show made to the air, and then gives details about the production process. Disc 3 also offers a 20-minute featurette entitled "The Making of The Nanny" which contains interviews with Drescher, co-creator Peter Marc Jacobson, and some of the cast. (It's interesting to see what the kids look like today.) Drescher repeats much of her story of the "Pilot" commentary, but it's still interesting to hear how she sold the show to the network.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

blog comments powered by Disqus