Friday, October 18, 2019

The Odd Couple Review

"The Odd Couple" was a rare television show because, like "M*A*S*H," it was able to equal or surpass the popular film version. Based on Neil Simon's 1965 Broadway hit, the 1968 film gave us Jack Lemmon as the fussy and fastidious Felix Unger, a photographer who moved in with his slovenly and sloppy friend, sportswriter Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau). But while those two made the perfect oil and water combination, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman settled just as comfortably into their roles as two men recently separated from their wives. In fact, the pair was so good that they both received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for each of the show's five seasons. That's almost unheard of.

Watching Randall now, it's hard to think of him as anything or anyone but Felix Unger, who wears an apron while he cooks and insists that all of the men's poker-playing buddies use coasters. With every nasal passage-clearing honk and each fussy gesture, Randall made Unger his character every bit as much as Carroll O'Connor made Archie Bunker his, or Henry Winkler made "The Fonz" his own. Same with Klugman, whose enthusiasm for his sportswriting job is equaled by his powerful indifference to Felix's house rules.

More than other comedies from Marshall ("Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley," "Mork & Mindy"), "The Odd Couple relied upon comedy of character and witty dialogue, rather than slapstick or comedy of situation. That's one reason why the show holds up so well. Another is that the characters and relationships are so well developed. The tagline, "Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?," could have made for a simplistic opposites-don't-attract show. But Felix and Oscar genuinely like each other--enough to stick their neck out for the other, if push comes to shove (as it literally did one episode when Felix dons boxing gloves on Oscar's behalf to take on a hockey-playing behemoth).

After a fourth season that was a step off the comedic pace of Simon's original, the show bounced back to finish strong, with only a handful of missteps. This is the season that featured sports broadcaster Howard Cosell in an episode where an obnoxious Felix is determined to help his friend find employment with the legend. It's also the season where Felix gets Oscar to run for city council, helps his friend fill in for the newspaper's theater critic, and all but sabotages Oscar's new job as a radio talk show host. This season's celebrity watch includes guest spots by composer Paul Williams and "Hee-Haw" staple Roy Clark, But the better-written episodes get back to what made the show click in the first place: the personality clash and banter between two friends who drive each other crazy.

Here's a rundown on the 22 season episodes, which are contained on three single-sided discs and housed in a standard-size keep case with a middle plastic page to hold the two extra discs:

1) "The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly in Vain." Oscar's secretary (Penny Marshall) is in a funk, and Felix decides what she needs is a makeover. Strong and funny season opener.

2) "To Bowl or Not to Bowl." Oscar thinks a championship is in the bag, until the team's best bowler--Felix--announces he's hanging up his bowling shoes. Perhaps the best episode of the season.

3) "The Frog." Felix's son (Leif Garrett) has a strong entry for a frog-jumping contest, but after Oscar inadvertently lets the frog go, he and Felix have to leap into action to find a replacement.

4) "The Hollywood Story." It's Oscar makeover year, and in this episode Felix appoints himself Oscar's agent after his friend lands a bit part in a movie. Very funny episode.

5) "The Dog Story." Felix kidnaps a famous dog from an abusive owner while he's on photo shoot, and that leads to a court appearance.