This controversial late 70′s sitcom written by Susan Harris had 32,000 letters of protest before it even aired its first episode on September 13, 1977. Those who have never seen this satirical series except through syndication will quickly realize that Soap just doesn’t syndicate very well, and thus is the reason it hasn’t been syndicated very often. The syndicated shows I’ve seen revolve around the same 20 or 30 episodes taken mostly from season two. Previously Soap was only available for sale on many VHS tapes like the original Star Trek (when is Paramount going to release that on DVD?),
Soap has a talented cast list that features: Billy Crystal (playing the homosexual son, Jodie), Richard Mulligan (Burt), Robert Guillaume (Benson), Katherine Helmond (generously busty Jessica), Cathryn Damon (Mary), Robert Mandan (Chester), Diana Canova (Corinne), Jimmy Baio (Billy) and Arthur Peterson (The Major), Jay Johnson (Chuck & Bob). The first season was nominated for 4 Emmy Awards and won for Outstanding Art Direction in a comedy season.
The various plots and subplots run the gamut in this humorous shot at the soap opera genre: Jodie is in secret love with a football player and contemplates a sex change, but then the famous quarterback decides to marry a woman so the press doesn’t learn he is gay, Peter the tennis coach, and Burt’s son, is giving lessons in adultery to Jessica and also playing off court with Jessica’s daughter Corinne. There’s even a Who Done It murder, but I won’t spoil that plot line. Then there is Chuck and Bob who are probably my two favorite extra characters. Chuck is a ventriloquist who believes – really believes – that Bob, his dummy, is alive. There’s a particularly memorable scene where Jodie hides Bob in the refrigerator and Chuck is panicked. Benson, the African American butler, deals in his own clever way with the various racial blasts and stereotypical reactions that he encounters. And what about The Major, who still thinks the war is happening! I’m hard pressed to name another never ending, thirty minute television show that has all the plot twists and turns that Soap had, before or since it has gone off the air. This was thirty minutes of grab your popcorn, dim down the lights fun. At the end of the week you’d be looking forward to what would happen next week.
Unfortunately, this DVD suffers in the no extras department. My guess is that this one is going to be re-released, assuming the sales are positive, with much more than this three disc skeleton. There are a couple of trailers, but no behind the scenes commentary, no discussion on what has happened to any of the actors nor the people who worked on the show. No writers, no directors, nothing. I did a search and found that Jay Johnson (Chuck & Bob) is still performing professionally and is considered one of the greatest ventriloquists of all time. Richard Mulligan, who was probably the most nervous actor I’ve ever seen, and was a master with physical comedy, unfortunately passed away a couple years ago. Cathryn Damon, who played his wife Mary in the show, died of cancer in 1987. This is one DVD release that seems almost criminal to put out with no extras, foreground or background. Apparently writer/creator Susan Harris was miffed that the show was cancelled abruptly its 4th season when it was still getting good ratings and perhaps she is still bitter all these years later? She went on to produce four other series for ABC after this that bombed, so maybe that was her revenge.
Some of Soap is silly and over the top and perhaps even crude at times, but they manage to cover a lot of human topics with a surprising amount of compassion, common sense and realism. This DVD should perhaps be priced $10 less sans the extras but it is still my favorite DVD purchase of the year to date. And even with its lack of DVD extras this one is a must for any DVD collection of classic TV series. Grade A-