The Odd Couple: Season Five
There have been more sit-coms shown on television than any other genre. They are the backbone of programming for every major network. The main reason is they are popular. People in the audience just want to forget their day at work, kick back and have some laughs. One of the most popular in this extensive genre was a little show called ‘The Odd Couple’. It never really did well in the ratings and most likely would have been cancelled if not for the success in the summer rerun season. Most sit-coms depicted a family but this one took a drastically different direction. It was about two divorced men who together formed a highly dysfunctional friendship. It did have a better lineage than most half hour comedies on TV. In 1965 it was a hit Broadway play written by master playwright Neil Simon. In this version the character of Oscar Madison was originally played by Walter Matthau while Felix Ungar was done by Art Carney. It was so successful that a film was made in 1968 staring Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau as Oscar. Normally it is almost impossible for a film to make the transition to TV successfully. Sure there was M*A*S*H but that was an exception. In 1970 the executives over at ABC decided to give it a try and ultimately television history was made. Matthau and Lemmon had appeared in several films and were considered the quintessential Oscar and Felix. Nobody really expected Jack Klugman as Oscar and Tony Randall as Felix to be able to match that notable pair. What happened was magical; they not only matched them film actors many people would agree that they exceeded their performances. It just showed people that sometimes the ratings don’t tell the whole story about a TV series. This show remains one of the most popular and beloved in television history. Paramount has been releasing DVD season sets for a few years now. The time has come for the release of the final season. This is something every fan will want to have and will help make of fan out of those few who have never seen the series.
This series had just about everything going for it. The writing was crisp and intelligent. It provided witty banter between the characters that became its trademark. It was directed in a simple, straightforward fashion that often had the look and feel of a stage production. The single most important element of the series that has made it transcend cult classic status to becoming part of our culture was the chemistry between Randall and Klugman. For the time they were on screen together they were not actors playing a role they were Felix and Oscar. They donned their roles as easily as putting on a favorite old pair of jeans. This show seemed more like Cinema Veritá than a television sit-com. It was amazingly easy to forget you were watching TV; you might think that they just installed cameras in the apartment of these two men and recorded what happened. The performances were that natural and realistic. Of course a show of this type couldn’t make it if it wasn’t funny. It is impossible to watch an episode without laughing out loud.
Like most things of pure genius the premise was amazingly simple and realistic. As explained in the opening of every episode Felix is kicked out of his home by his wife and soon thereafter finds himself divorced. With nowhere else to turn he shows up at the apartment of his also divorced friend Oscar. The source of the humor stems from how different the two men are. Felix is a fastidious, controlling neurotic. Oscar, on the other hand is, to put it bluntly, a slob. Everything is planned down to the smallest detail by Felix. Oscar is prone to find an old sandwich in his bed and resume eating it. They are constantly on each other’s last nerve. What made this show special is despite their differences they are the closest of friends and always there for each other. It is said that opposites attract and this show takes it to the male bonding tact. Over the five years of this series the audience came to known these men well. This would seem like a one note theme that would play out in the first few episodes but the writers managed to keep up the quality of the show throughout its run. Unlike other sit-coms that just fade away when cancelled the production company had enough respect for the loyal legion of fans to bring the story to a conclusion with the final episode showing Felix re-marrying his ex-wife and leaving the apartment.
In the first episode of this last season Oscar’s secretary, Myrna (Penny Marshall) is upset that her boyfriend left her. The men take come up with different solutions. Oscar wants the more direct approach while Felix seems to want to pull a Pygmalion and change the uncultured Myrna into a lady of class and distinction. In another one the age old theme of jealousy rears its ugly head. Oscar is part of a group of sports writers selected to have a bit part in a movie. Felix has always seen himself as an actor and tries everything possible to be included. One episode has Felix doing a photo spread of the famous Silver the Wonder Dog. He is appalled by the cruel treatment the animal receives at the hand of his owner and steps in taking the dog. A typical plot device is Felix’s need to control and improve everything. At one point he tries too turn a square dance into a more sophisticated form of music. Many times this brings him in direct conflict or competition with Oscar. One such case is when Felix gets his own sports talk radio show. Oscar is an expert sports writer and rightfully resents Felix getting something he covets. There is a turnabout in another episode where Oscar is assigned to fill in for a theater critic. Since Oscar know nothing about the theater he gives his tickets to Felix and takes notes on his reaction publishing it in the column as his own reviews. Finally Felix finds out that his ex wife Gloria (Janis Hansen) is planning on marrying her current boyfriend. Felix cannot stand the idea of someone else being her husband or father to his children Leonard (Leif Garrett) and Edna (Doney Oatman). He reconnects with Gloria and the pair are reunited with Felix leaving Oscar’s apartment.
This is the closing act in television history. This was a gentle, family oriented show the likes of which will never be seen again. There were a few tries to resurrect the series but they all failed because without the talents of the leading actors there was no hope. This season was funny and just the thing to make you forget the day and relax.