Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Can 2 divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

With CBS airing a new version of THE ODD COUPLE starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon beginning tomorrow night, here's a post from 2008 when I was just starting to watch season 4 of THE ODD COUPLE on dvd, and I declared that the show, in my opinion is the second greatest American sitcom ever. That's right, I said it.
After MARY TYLER MOORE, no other US sitcom is more consistently funny, well-acted or holds up as well over the years. Based on Neil Simon's Broadway play and adapted into a 1968 feature starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. The TV version, starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall premiered on September 24, 1970 and ran for five seasons in a variety of timeslots on ABC - usually on Thursday or Friday nights. The series was never a Top 10 hit, and actually was in danger of cancellation every season it aired. The first season is quite unremarkable, having been filmed with one camera and an added laugh track. The show really came to life in season two, when a live audience was added to react to the mis-matched antics of Oscar and Felix.
The show really took off in popularity in the late 1970s when syndicated reruns aired on local stations. Channel 11, WPIX air four episodes a night. Two in early evening and two at 11PM. I watched them all, repeatedly. And watching them again now on dvd is, to quote a friend of mine "a sheer delight".
What makes the show so great? Well, Felix and Oscar are such great, unique characters - and because of that, so many later sitcom characters borrow freely from them. You can certain see traits of fastidious Felix in Sheldon from BIG BANG THEORY and Niles from FRASIER. Oscar's grouchy brashness has influenced a whole generation of cranky comedy curmudgeons, notable EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND's Frank Barone. While the show lacked continuity in so many instances (don't get me started!), the interplay between the two leads and excellent supporting players make this the best thing Garry Marshall has ever been part of. While the show "jumps the shark" with celebrity guests (Monty Hall, Howard Cosell, Paul Williams, etc.), it makes up for it with clever plots that incorporate the guest stars into the world of Felix and Oscar. Since Felix is a portrait photographer and Oscar is a sportswriter, it makes sense that they encounter these folks in New York City. Why not? I once rode in an elevator with Howard Cosell. He had big ears. AND I was a contestant on the most recent version of LET'S MAKE A DEAL! (Even though that happened in L.A. and Billy Bush-yuck!-was the host, but Monty was there. See photo below)But enough about me. While I was watching the classic PASSWORD episode recently, with guests Betty White and Allen Ludden, I wondered if any other MARY TYLER MOORE alumni ever appeared on THE ODD COUPLE. With a little research I discovered that in addition to Betty White ("Herself" on OC,"Sue Ann Nivens" on MTM), there was Bill Quinn ("Dr. Melnitz" on OC,"Dr. Walter Richards," Mary's dad on MTM), Penny Marshall ("Myrna Tuner" on OC, "Paula" on MTM), Barbara Colby ("Monique" the drunk bartender on OC, "Sherry" the hooker on MTM) and the late, great Brett Somers ("Blanche Madison" on OC and "Aunt Rose" on MTM). Not bad, considering the shows aired on different network during roughly the same period.
Both actors won Emmy Awards for their roles. Jack in 1971 and 1973, Tony in 1975 - after the show was cancelled. The duo reunited for a misguided 1993 CBS TV-movie called THE ODD COUPLE: TOGETHER AGAIN. I guess ABC's miserable MARY & RHODA reunion movie was payback. Jack and Tony had become best friends in real life, and after Tony's death in 2004, Jack wrote a memoir about their relationship, called Tony and Me: A Story of Friendship. The book has been hailed as a touching portrait of a professional partnership that, in the end, became deeply personal. The book includes over 50 photographs, many from Jack and Tony's private collections, and a DVD of never-seen-before outtakes from THE ODD COUPLE.
In the 1980s, THE ODD COUPLE was revived - with an an almost all African-American cast. Demond (SANFORD & SON) Wilson is Oscar and Ron (BARNEY MILLER) Glass is Felix. THE NEW ODD COUPLE could have been a descent show if they didn't decide to recycle scripts from the original series that were already considered classics by fans of the show. Ironically another black version of a Neil Simon play, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK only lasted 12 episodes on ABC in 1970, also airing on Thursday evenings. I'm holding out for a new version of THE SUNSHINE BOYS with James Earl Jones and Samuel L. Jackson.

And now it's 2015 - and THE ODD COUPLE is back on Thursday nights - this time on CBS. Will the third time be a charm?


Thalia Menninger said...

When I was a little girl in a Catholic school in small-town extremely rural Indiana, I idolized Rhoda Morgenstern. I never missed an episode of her spinoff, and I have never gotten over Joe leaving Rhoda on the season premiere, 1976.

In the first and second grade, I used to sneak my mother's hippie-ish scarves in my bookbag, secret myself in the little girls' room, and emerge as The Portrait Of Morgenstern: a gaily printed headscarf atop my drab school uniform. Oh, I would get in so much trouble for my Rhoda-related defiance.

To this day, my standard greeting is "Hiya!" and my sister and I refer to our mother as "Ma."

doug said...

A point I forgot to bring up is that Mary & Rhoda are kinda sorta the female version of Felix & Oscar. Mary is neat, polite & perfect - but not neurotic. Rhoda is bold and full of wisecracks - but not sloppy. In an alternative TV world how great would it have been to see a crossover episode where the foursome go out on a double date? Of course, it would have to be Felix & Rhoda and Mary & Oscar. Oscar, of course, was an old buddy of Lou Grant's. In the end, Sue Ann Niven would wind up with Murray the cop. (Don't tell his wife Mimi!)

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Suzanne said...

In New York, after the show was cancelled on ABC, The Odd Couple enjoyed a long run on WPIX in syndication. I grew up on this classic.

I'm glad to hear there are DVDs. I need to go pick those up. Somehow, I think I'll sit down and the time machine will bring me back to the den in my Mom's old house, watching TV with my Dad after dinner.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

doug said...

hey mr. frank david -

fuck off.