Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re continuing our series on the best episodes featuring Ann Marie, a.k.a. That Girl (1966-1971, ABC). Fortunately, every episode is available on DVD.
Aspiring actress Ann Marie leaves home and moves to New York City against the wishes of her overly protective father. Determined to make a career as a performer, Ann Marie finds herself cast in a whole lot of strange and quirky predicaments — much to the amusement (and at times, exasperation) of her supportive and loving writer boyfriend, Donald.
That Girl stars MARLO THOMAS as Ann Marie, TED BESSELL as Donald Hollinger, LEW PARKER as Lou Marie, ROSEMARY DECAMP as Helen Marie, BERNIE KOPELL as Jerry Bauman, CAROLAN DANIELS as Ruth Bauman, and RUTH BUZZI as Pete.
With a new producer, new writers, and an even stronger sense of identity, That Girl strides into its second season with full confidence. The stories are more original, the scripts have more laughs, and the performers continue to elevate any material that lacks either humor or heart — this show’s two most important ingredients. Additionally, Ann and Don get a pair of best friends in Jerry (first seen last season) and his wife Ruthie (functioning a lot like the Judy character did in Season One) — played by Kopell and Daniels. On the whole, Season Two is, I think, the best season of the series, housing the largest number of standout installments. As a result, this was a very difficult list to make, and though I’ll have a large list of honorable mentions, most of those honorable mentions could very well have made the official list if the competition wasn’t so fierce. What ultimately influenced most of my decisions were these questions: is the story fresh and does the storytelling (dialogue, structure, performances) make me laugh frequently? (The latter part is most important!) So, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might — probably WILL — be a few surprises.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Two. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 31: “Pass The Potatoes, Ethel Merman” (Aired: 09/07/67)
In addition to landing a spot in an Ethel Merman show, Ann is flabbergasted when the star accepts her invitation for dinner.
Written by James L. Brooks | Directed by James Frawley
If you’ve been following my blog, you know I like Merman. However, her appearance didn’t automatically guarantee this episode’s inclusion on my list. In fact, it almost had to work harder. Sitcom episodes in which the story is built around a celebrity can often be forced and unfunny. Fortunately, that isn’t the case here; not only does the script provide plenty of laughs, but the chemistry between Merman and the regulars is wonderful. Sure, it’s a little too Merman-slanted to be considered the ideal That Girl episode, but this is probably (one of) the series’ most memorable installments — funny, well-written, and just… entertaining.
02) Episode 32: “The Good Skate” (Aired: 09/14/67)
Ann and Donald find themselves both cast in a new soda commercial — but they have to do the entire thing on roller skates.
Written by Tom & Helen August | Directed by Jeffrey Hayden
Sitcom characters on roller skates is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s a rather easy gag — almost a certified laugh-getter. The key to keeping the bit from seeming cheap is to motivate the exposition that leads to the skates. Here, the roller skates are for a commercial, and the payoff gag has less to do with skates and more to do with Don’s bad acting. Yes, this episode notably includes Don in on the shenanigans, and the best scene occurs off-skates when Ann tries to teach him how to act using sense memory. Original idea and very funny execution!
03) Episode 39: “The Collaborators” (Aired: 11/02/67)
Ann and Donald decide to collaborate on a play about her life, but creative differences pose serious setbacks.
Written by Ruth Brooks Flippen | Directed by Bruce Bilson
Naturally, when two sitcom characters choose to collaborate on something, they’re going to face some creative difference that — if the writing is good — will be amusing, and also truthful. (That is, not one of those forced “sitcom” arguments.) By and large, this episode IS truthful, and the audience isn’t forced to leap too much with regardg to character behavior. Of course, the entire story feels like setup to get Ann and Don rooting through the garbage, but as the whole affair is quite amusing, the machinations aren’t distracting.
04) Episode 40: “When In Rome” (Aired: 11/09/67)
Ann is overjoyed to be cast in a new film by a famous Italian director… until she learns that the role requires her to perform a scene in the nude.
Written by Saul Turteltaub & Bernie Orenstein | Directed by Hal Cooper
I’m fond of episodes that deal with Ann’s career and the (changing) morality that accompanies the industry. In this episode, Ann receives what could be her big break when she’s cast in the latest film of an important Italian director. But her refusal to do a nude scene — after thinking it over (albeit, not seriously) — means she can’t do the film. There are a few comedic moments (and a few zingers), but the real triumph of this episode is that the plot is MODERN. And though Ann is a goody two-shoes and won’t do it, it’s refreshing to see this type of storytelling.
05) Episode 41: “Thanksgiving Comes But Once A Year, Hopefully” (Aired: 11/23/67)
Ann struggles to cook an elaborate Thanksgiving meal for both the Maries and the Hollingers with disastrous results.
Written by Peggy Elliot | Directed by James Sheldon
As we’ve discussed before here, Thanksgiving (and all family-oriented holidays) is an excellent device for the situation comedy — forcing conflicting loved ones to interact with each other in a contained and mockingly jovial environment. In this installment, Ann hosts not only her family, but Donald’s as well. So in addition to some predictably disastrous and amusing cooking bits with Ann, we also get a helping of those marvelous guests — including the always letter-perfect Mabel Albertson. This is a series highlight.
06) Episode 42: “The Mailman Cometh” (Aired: 11/30/67)
A substitute agent sets Ann up on a publicity date with an unknowing Dick Shawn.
Written by Danny Arnold & Ruth Brooks Flippen | Directed by James Sheldon
It is always hit or miss when an episode gives a lot of meat to one of its guests — thereby giving the outsider almost sole responsibility for the success (or lack thereof) of the installment. (Of course, the guest has to be blessed with a good script.) In this episode, brimming with originality, Ann hires a rookie agent (played by Don Penny) who desperately schemes to get his new client publicity by skillfully faking a date for her with Dick Shawn. In addition to the wonderful premise, Penny is, fortunately, great, making for many laughs in this enjoyable excursion.
07) Episode 49: “Sixty-Five On The Aisle” (Aired: 01/18/68)
A misunderstanding erupts when Lou Marie plans to surprise his daughter with a large party of hometown friends for her Broadway debut.
Written by Ruth Brooks Flippen | Directed by James Frawley
This is classic That Girl. The plot centers once again on her career as an actress (Ann has been cast in a hit long-running play) and her relationship with her father (who is so excited that he’s bringing a large group of Brewster folk in to see her). But, since the party is so large, the management insists on shortening the play (for that performance only) by removing Ann’s dialogue. So the situation goes back and forth: every time Lou switches the reservation so they can see the full play, Ann’s lines are cut. Things finally get straightened out, but Ann, Don, and Seymour get stuck in an elevator and almost miss the performance. Great premise, funny script, wonderful guests (including Norman Fell) — just a classic episode.
08) Episode 50: “Call Of The Wild” (Aired: 01/25/68)
Ann questions her sex appeal after some backhanded compliments by a producer who has just cast her in a soap commercial.
Written by Milton Pascal | Directed by Hal Cooper
Once again, this series is particularly fascinating when it uses topics that have a certain topicality — most notably, sexuality. (Remember, however, that Ann is somehow a perennial virgin.) In this episode, which boasts a famous scene in which Ann is caught doing a mock striptease in front of her mirror, Ann doubts her sex appeal after being cast in a commercial because of her non-threatening “well-scrubbed” look. Of course, the resolution is predictable, but Thomas’ performance and the surprisingly funny script help make this meekly modern installment a true delight.
09) Episode 51: “The Other Woman” (Aired: 02/01/68)
After Lou escorts Ethel Merman to a formal event, the tabloids lead Helen to believe that her husband and the Merm are philandering!
Written by Richard Baer | Directed by Andrew McCullough
This, Ethel’s Merman’s second and final appearance on That Girl, may very well be the funniest of the season. While her former entry was well-written and feel-good (and, again, perhaps more memorable), this episode goes for some big laughs and succeeds admirably. Admittedly, the story is weak. (Helen believes that Merman and Max — I mean, Lou — are an item because she reads it in the tabloids?) But the comedy is so strong — whether you’re a Merman fan or not — that it’s impossible not to burst out laughing several times while watching this wonderful installment.
10) Episode 53: “Odpdypahimcaifss” [a.k.a. “Oh, Don, Poor Don, Your Pants Are Hanging In My Closet, And I’m Feeling So Sad”] (Aired: 02/22/68)
A scandal erupts when Mrs. Hollinger discovers a pair of Donald’s pants hanging up in Ann Marie’s closet.
Written by Richard Baer | Directed by Hal Cooper
The series’ least realistic thread was its insistence that the relationship between Ann and Donald was nonsexual. It’s understandable that this was a standards and practices necessitation, but it’s almost silly to watch today — and not in a nostalgic or romantic way, but in a “this is completely unbelievable” way. So, episodes like this must be appreciated for the ways that the writers were able to make the pair’s wholesomeness amusing. In this classic excursion, Mabel Albertson is back, as Don’s mom visits and finds his pants hanging in Ann’s closet. How exactly did they get there? We know it’s innocent, but the parents don’t! Really fun installment with some great performances.
Other notable installments that nearly made the list above include: “Black, White, And Read All Over,” in which Lou has objections about Don’s unpublished novel, “To Each Her Own,” which has Ann and Don in the classic ’60s sitcom premise about computer dating, “There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of But Freud Himself,” in which Don tries to psychoanalyze Ann and the Baumans, “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, You’re Under Arrest,” in which a holiday misunderstanding has Ann and Don arrested, “Fur All We Know,” which is largely memorable for an iconic line that Ann Marie repeats at a party, “The Rivals,” a rather serious look at why Lou isn’t incredibly fond of Donald, “He And She And He,” which is notable for a hilarious dream sequence in which Ann has two husbands, “Just Spell The Name Right,” which has good guest stars, a nice premise, but an average script, “The Beard,” which is exactly like it sounds — a typical sitcom story, but manages some good humor, and “The Drunkard,” in which Sid Caesar plays a character not unlike himself.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Two of That Girl goes to…..
“Sixty-Five On The Aisle”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from Season Three! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!