Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today we’re finishing 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, and BERNIE KOPELL as Jerry Bauman.
The final year of That Girl aired during the ’70-’71 TV season, which saw the births of several soon-to-be hits: The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977, CBS), All In The Family (1971-1979, CBS), and The Odd Couple (1970-1975, ABC), all of which were multi-camera (save the first season of the latter, which was shot with a single camera, until the wise decision was made to switch). The season also saw the deaths of several long running (single camera) hits: The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971, CBS), Hogan’s Heroes (1965-1971, CBS), and Green Acres (1965-1971, CBS). ’70-’71 was the literal meeting of the new and the old, and unfortunately, That Girl was a part of the old. And that’s not for lack of trying; the show tries to incorporate more of the changing times into the fifth season by touching on slightly more risque/topical stories and evolving the relationship between Ann and Don by having them get engaged (oh, and giving Ann Marie a more modern hairdo). However, most of this is fruitless, because although these changes are not to the detriment of the series’ heart, the declining quality of the writing is inescapable. (This extends to the inexplicably horrendous lyrics given to the theme song.) Mind you — the year isn’t like the final season of Bewitched (1964-1972, ABC), but the overall level of excellence is noticeably reduced. That being said, there were plenty of episodes that I wanted to share with you today. So, I have picked ten 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 be a few surprises.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 115: “I Ain’t Got No Body” (Aired: 10/09/70)
Ann’s head is pasted on somebody else’s body in Playpen magazine.
Written by Ed Scharlach & Warren Murray | Directed by Richard Kinon
This episode, more than any other this season, features a premise with a modern sensibility. That is, a little titillation. Imagine Don’s surprise (not to mention Lou’s) when Jerry discovers that the new centerfold in the girlie magazine Playpen is Ann! Of course, as Season Two’s “When In Rome” should alert us, this is actually a composite photo: Ann’s head on another girl’s body. The comedy in this episode comes from the complications that arise after Ann has been cast as the lead in a kiddie TV show (with Kenneth Mars — one of the regulars of He & She). The entire installment is full of laughs, but this episode is most notable for its fresh (and much welcomed) premise.
02) Episode 117: “Rattle Of A Single Girl” (Aired: 10/23/70)
Ann and Don decide to attend a pre-marital counseling session.
Written by Bruce Howard | Directed by John Rich
The appeal of putting two sitcom characters in front of a psychiatrist is that the entire focus of the comedy immediately goes to their relationship. What I particularly enjoy about this installment is how, contrary to our expectations, the crux of the story and its humor, comes AFTER their visit to the counselor. It is in these scenes, where what we’ve expected to occur at the shrink’s — and didn’t — are unfolding, that both actors really shine. Also, from our 21st century conditioning to appreciate serialized plotlines, it’s nice to see episodes that further the story of Ann and Don’s engagement.
03) Episode 120: “That Cake” (Aired: 11/13/70)
Ann fears her engagement ring is baked into a cake made for the Governor.
Written by Rick Mittleman | Directed by Richard Kinon
This is one of those typical sitcom episodes — somebody loses something valuable in the worst of all possible places, and now the characters must find it. Despite any apprehension regarding a trite or too familiar premise, it’s wonderful to see how this show can take the story and not only make it unique to the series, but also quite funny. Ann’s visit to the kitchen is hilarious, and with several amusing guest stars (including a young Regis Philbin), this episode manages to be one of the season’s most memorable outings.
04) Episode 123: “Super Reporter” (Aired: 12/04/70)
Following a prank, Don must accept a prestigious award in a super hero costume.
Written by Saul Turteltaub & Bernie Orenstein | Directed by Richard Kinon
The premise for this installment was reportedly based off of a real life incident in which Marlo Thomas played a prank on writer/producer Saul Turteltaub by giving him a Superman costume and then hiding his clothes, forcing him to attend a meeting dressed as the famous superhero. The truth is sometimes stranger than fiction — and this episode is blessed to have such an original story. Also, this is a wonderful showcase for Bessell, and even though the series is That Girl, it’s comedically satisfying when That Guy becomes the butt of the jokes.
05) Episode 127: “Those Friars” (Aired: 01/08/71)
Ann’s comedian uncle wills her a trunk from his vaudeville career.
Written by Marvin Walkenstein | Directed by Alan Rifkin
This episode includes cameos by Milton Berle and Danny Thomas, father of the actress playing our heroine. Even though I’m fond of both comedians, I’m always a bit skeptical when an episode resorts to guest stars; it’s a novelty that often comes in place of genuine character comedy (see: Here’s Lucy). However, this episode actually features a lot of laughs, and unlike the Season Three family outing “My Sister’s Keeper,” does not overdose on saccharine. And while it is sweet to see father and daughter doing a song-and-dance routine, it’s also entertaining. So, it ends up being a solidly written — and very memorable — installment.
06) Episode 130: “The Shoplifter” (Aired: 02/05/71)
A conman tricks Ann into shoplifting for him.
Written by Arnold Horwitt | Directed by Richard Kinon
It is simply hilarious that a conman, played expertly by Jerry Hauser, the man who played Ricky Ricardo’s agent on several early season episodes of I Love Lucy, could trick Ann into shoplifting for him. So, already this episode is a winner based on its premise and its inspired casting. But this installment is also blessed with a (as usual, right) great performance by Thomas, who is a riot during her shoplifting. (Also, my character actress fans, look for another guest appearance by the unforgettable Bobo Lewis.)
07) Episode 131: “Chef’s Night Out” (Aired: 02/12/71)
Ann and Don come to the rescue when Lou’s restaurant staff falls ill.
Written by Bud Grossman | Directed by Richard Kinon
The premise of Ann and Don taking over her father’s restaurant while he’s away is almost a guaranteed outlet for comedy. I mean, one can just imagine the kind of havoc that could be wreaked by having two inexperienced restauranteurs — two inexperienced sitcom character restauranteurs — operating a kitchen for the first time. The result here is a wonderful fast-paced outing with amusing bits, enjoyable guests, and all of the expected trimmings.
08) Episode 133: “Stag Party” (Aired: 02/26/71)
Don’s buddies throw him a drunken and disastrous stag party.
Written by Saul Turteltaub & Bernie Orenstein | Directed by John Rich
Here we have another episode with an appeal that’s correlated to two previously mentioned phenomena. The first is that the episode deals directly with the overarching plotline involving Ann and Don’s impending nuptials. Additionally, this installment features a premise with some (potentially uncharacteristic, but not unappreciated) titillation, as Don attends his bachelor party. The comedy comes from Bessell’s capable performance as a drunk, and the relationship between Don and Lou, which comes to a brilliantly hysterical climax when — SPOILER ALERT — Lou pops out of the oversized cake dressed as a stripper. Fresh premise, pretty good script.
09) Episode 134: “Two For The Money” (Aired: 03/05/71)
Ann loses some friends’ winning racing tickets at Belmont.
Written by Sam Nichols | Directed by Roger Duchowny
Yes, this is another episode in which Ann loses something. (No, not THAT something.) It doesn’t feel tiresome here because, not only is this development perfectly in line with Ann’s lovably daffy characterization, but also because the backdrop of the horse races instills the whole installment with an original atmosphere and a unique energy. Needless to say, Thomas turns in another well executed performance, and this is probably one of the final season’s most engaging and memorable excursions.
10) Episode 136: “The Elevated Woman” (Aired: 03/19/71)
Stuck in an elevator, Ann and Don reminisce about their last five years together.
Written by Saul Turteltaub & Bernie Orenstein | Directed by Roger Duchowny
The final episode is a clip show, but I found the scenes that linked the clips together — and there is a fully developed story here — comedic in and of itself. I like the symbolism of Donald and Ann being trapped in an elevator, but, while Ann’s interest in women’s lib doesn’t seem sudden for the character, it does seem sudden for the series. (Why haven’t we seen an episode like this earlier?) So there is something strange about this episode, despite its comedy. Also, much has been said about Thomas’ own insistence to keep the show from ending with a wedding, and, though for a different reason, I’m in agreement. Finales with major events are often contrived and rarely funny. All I want is an ending that leaves the characters in a good and happy place. This episode succeeds in that.
Other notable episodes that didn’t quite make the list above include: “Counter Proposal,” in which our leads get engaged, but without the needed number of laughs, “No Man’s A Manhattan Island,” in which Ann tries to get to know her neighbors, both parts of “There Sure Are A Bunch Of Cards In St. Louis,” in which Don’s mother finally accepts Ann and Ruth McDevitt makes an amusing cameo, and “Soot Yourself,” in which Ann’s ecology group pickets outisde Don’s building.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of That Girl goes to…..
Come back next Tuesday for the best from He & She! And tune in tomorrow for another Wildcard Wednesday post!