Laverne and Shirley: Season Three
Of all the successful television sit-coms created by Gary Marshall one remained closest to their original premise, ‘Laverne and Shirley’. While the producers and studio executives felt the need to alter the focus of ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Mork and Mindy’ they pretty much leave ‘Laverne and Shirley’ alone. Sure later on they changed locations and in the final season the cast had a major change but for most of its run it was a simple series about two young women trying to make their way in the world. In earlier years of television it would have been unheard of to have to young women living in an apartment and working. Back then a girl went from her father’s home to her husband with a possible little detour for school. This series showed that a young woman was able to live and work in the real world. The time was right for such a show on the tube. Feminism was experiencing a revival and women were making their own mark in the world. This was also a very blue collar series. The average working Joe, or Joan as the case may be could identify with topics like making the rent that month or trying to find a date. These were characters the audiences around the world could readily identify with. Because of these factors this was the longest running television series with a female principle cast until it was dethroned much later on by ‘Charmed’.
The series was initially set in a working class neighborhood in Milwaukee. The protagonists Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) and her life long best friend Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall) worked as bottle cappers in Shotz, a local brewery. The girls lived in a modest apartment owned by the on the premises landlady Edna Babish (Betty Garrett). Their male neighbors Lenny Kosnowski (Michael McKean) and Andrew "Squiggy" Squigman (David Lander) were a constant source of annoyance but the girls did find them useful at times for heavy lifting or other manual projects. When the girls were not at work or home they often hung out at a pizza place/bowling alley owned by Laverne’s father Frank (Phil Foster). Laverne would frequently help out in the restaurant waiting tables. Laverne also had a childhood sweetheart and on again-off again boyfriend Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa (Eddie Mekka). He was buff, a former boxer and currently wanted just to make it as a song and dance man. There was also a running character ‘Big’ Rosy Greenbaum (Carole Ita White) whose role was greatly diminished in the third season. She was hated by Laverne especially when Rosy called her a bimbo.
At the heart of the series were the relationships between the central characters. This was also what gave stability to the show. Even though Laverne and Carmine dated every so often they were far from exclusive. This opened things up for many failed attempts at dating for her and Shirley. The only two male regulars, Lenny and Squiggy were so repulsive that there was no chance of romance with the girls. A sure way to ruin a series like this is to have a stable relationship grow. The writers set things up to make this almost impossible. There was a growing flirtation that leads to romance between Frank and Edna but it never got in the way of the story lines with the girls. It was this stability with the characters that allowed the series to stay on the air so long. People could tune in expecting a zany little comedy and they knew they would not be disappointed with any attempts at drama or romance.
There was a working contrast between Laverne and Shirley that gave the actresses a lot to work with. Laverne was more out going. She was a tomboy growing up and therefore better equipped to deal with any man they encountered. She was not above picking up a guy at a bar no matter what the social sensibilities of the late fifties dictated. Laverne did not delude herself into thinking of a great life somewhere down the line. She accepted her place in the world and just wanted to have fun and make the best of it. For Laverne it was all about her. She wore flared skirts or tight blouses always monogrammed with her initial ‘L’ prominently displayed. In contrast Shirley was more demure, more of a pristine girly-girl. Unlike Laverne she would barely kiss on a date. She was also the eternal optimist whose perky and sweet disposition frequently got on Laverne’s nerves. For anyone growing up in an immigrant neighborhood you know the character of Frank. He spoke in a thick, almost non-understandable Italian accent. For him life was all about his place of business and his daughter. Edna was more worldly having been married and divorced numerous times. Most television series depicted the divorcee as a vamp but here Edna was just a fun loving older woman. As for the boys they were also right from the childhoods of much of the audience. Squiggy was always plotting and planning to get rich quickly. The problem is his skill set was far from making any of these dreams come true. Lenny is a beer truck driver and is basically a nice guy. He is also not the brightest bulb around which is something to say especially since he is always with Squiggy. The only young male around with any hopes of betterment is Carmine. He has talent enough to get gigs in local joints and has the drive to keep going.
This series was heavily formatted but in this case it was a patterned that worked. The girls would get in over their heads and their friends and family would help bail them out. This may seem like mindless repetition but the cast made it work. There may be a little nepotism at work here but the best scenes and lines always went to the daughter of the series’ creator Penny Marshall. The thing is she deserved the attention even if she was related to the boss. Marshall has a natural comic wit and slap-stick ability that carried the series. This also made her a director whose comedies are always fun to watch. Williams may be the second banana here but she is also enjoyable to watch. Another source of great enjoyment was Michael McKean and David Lander. They are the definition of wacky. Their characters never seem to make sense and they point is they didn’t have to. They were just a blast to watch.
Paramount adds the third season of this series to their ever increasing list of popular television series DVD season sets. As with the other sets they release the full frame video is bright and better than most will remember. The Dolby 2.0 audio is nothing special but does get the job done well enough. There are no extras provided. This is something that you can watch with the family. It may be a little dated but it holds up well.