The Odd Couple: Season Three
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The Odd Couple: Season Three

Television series come and go. Most have little if any impact of the people who watch them. Occasionally a few come along that become classics, others move up to the exalted status of a cult favorite. Then there are the rare few that transcend even that and become part of our collective consciousness. The TV sit-com ‘the Odd Couple’ has reached that pinnacle of series. This show never did all that well during the five years that it was on. Every year it was in danger of cancellation only to find a reprieve with bigger rerun ratings. Looking back at it now after over three decades have passed and it is obvious that this is one of the most beloved television shows to air. The premise is brilliant it its simplicity. Two divorced friends, Felix Unger (Tony Randall) and Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) share an apartment as roommates. They are complete opposites. Oscar is fun loving, into sports and a complete slob. On the other hand Felix is an uptight clean freak who demands a place for everything in life and everything in its place. Although they would seem to have little if anything in common they put up with one another because underneath it all they are best friends.

There is something else that is that makes this series so rare among the myriad of shows. ‘The Odd Couple’ started its life as a highly successful Broadway play penned by the award winning Neil Simon. It was then turned into a hit movie in 1968 starting Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau in to role of Oscar. With such a heritage the chances of a television series even coming close to the quality that came before was slim to none. Then in 1970 the near impossible occurred. With the casting of Klugman and Randall in the leads the series managed to exceed its predecessors. While the original film and play casts had chemistry it was nothing compared to how the two TV actors played off of each other. This was a match made in entertainment heaven and the people responded to it. Randall and Klugman became the characters on screen. They were so completely natural in their roles that it didn’t seem like you were watching a show at all. It seemed more like the production company hid cameras in the apartment of these men and just sat back filming. Previous actors were excellent in playing their roles but these two men just came across as living the lives of their characters. We have all known people like this so in many ways the public saw them as their crazy, quirky uncles or friends. Paramount continues their commitment to bring the most well regarded television series to DVD. Now they are the third season of this show ready to go and for the legion of die hard fans out there the rejoicing can begin.

There were regulars who popped in on the lives of the two roommates, most notably are Oscar’s secretary Myrna Turner and his ex wife Blanche (Brett Somers). There are also their poker buddies Speed (Garry Walberg) and Murray the Cop (Al Molinaro). Every so often we also got a peak at Felix’s ex-wife Gloria (Janis Hansen). While they add to the merriment of the series this is mostly a two man show. That may be part of why this series worked so well. It came from origins on the stage and many of the episodes were presented like a two man play. Fortunately the two leads were more than up to the challenge. Instead of trying to clutter the stories with a constant stream of extraneous characters the writers focused on the strength of the premise the balance of annoyance and friendship between these two men. Most comedy is best when things are kept simple and this series excelled in the execution of this concept.

There were some episodes that required some of the regular cast or guest stars to work. The first episode of the season is one example. In this one Oscar is tired of trying to met women the old fashion way. This one starts in a typical fashion with Myrna entering Oscar’s room. As always it looks as if a bomb full of clothing just exploded. Slowly one of the piles on the bed stirs and Oscar appears. Myrna tells Oscar about a computer dating service and he decides to give it a try. When he is set up with Gloria on a date Felix goes ballistic but in his uptight manner tries to hide it. Oscar had taken Felix and his current girlfriend, Miriam (Elinor Donahue), along so now Felix has to deal with his girlfriend and ex-wife at the same table. In another episode a running gag is part of the story. Oscar, as a newspaper sports writer, has had a long standing rivalry with television sportscaster Howard Cosell. It begins with Oscar stopping by Felix’s photography studio to borrow money. While there Cosell comes in for a commercial photo shoot with a couple of beautiful models. Oscar and Cosell get right into a bitty exchange of quips. It escalates to the point where Cosell storms out running Felix’s job. Felix has to get Oscar to apologize to his bitter enemy.

Two of the best episodes of the series are included in this season set. They are among the ones that highlight the one-on-one chemistry that Randall and Klugman possessed. The first is called ‘The Odd Monks’. Oscar has been under a lot of pressure at work and his ulcers are kicking up. Felix comes in from work in an unusual state of dishevelment almost unable to move. Just then a monk, Brother Ralph (Richard Stahl) comes in collecting for his mission. He sees how exhausted the two men are and cooks diner for them. He then invites them to come on a retreat to calm down. Oscar and Felix agree. It turns out that Felix can annoy even the noble monks. The head of the monastery assigns them some tasks that have to be done in complete silence. Watching these two talented actors perform such a level of comedy without dialogue was is brilliant. It harkens back to the great silent film comedians and remains one of the best sit-com moments ever. The next has Oscar and Felix trying to get away from things in a secluded mountain cabin. Having the two trapped there is an amazing bit of television. Oscar wants to get over a writer’s block and Felix wants to take in some fresh air. It seems as if Mother Nature herself is out to ruin the weekend.

Yet again Paramount is to be thanked for bringing series like this to DVD. All 24 half hour episodes are here. The one downside is there are no extras presented. The full screen video has held up very well. There was a little grit on the screen every so often but typically the picture was better than ever. The colors had stood the test of time and are brighter than many other DVD sets of TV shows of this time. The Dolby mono sound track is clear but understandably unremarkable. This is one of the great TV series ever and deserves to be part of every collection.

Posted 01/07/08

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