Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, I’m thrilled to present my selections for the best episodes from the brilliant single season multi-camera classic, He & She (1967-1968, CBS). This show has not been released on DVD, but I have syndicated copies of 25 of the 26 installments in my collection, and I am more than happy to help subscribed readers obtain particular episodes.
Cartoonist Dick Hollister lives in New York with his daffy wife Paula, a social worker at a travel agency. Their best friends include egotistical Oscar North, star of Jetman, the TV adaptation of Dick’s cartoon, Harry Zarakartos, a firefighter who works in the building adjacent to the Hollister’s window, and Andrew Hummel, an elderly handyman who seems to do more damage than repairing.
He & She stars RICHARD BENJAMIN as Dick Hollister, PAULA PRENTISS as Paula Hollister, JACK CASSIDY as Oscar North, KENNETH MARS as Harry Zarakartos, and HAMILTON CAMP as Andrew Hummel.
If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I’ve mentioned He & She several times over this past year. Simply, it’s one of the greatest single season sitcoms ever produced. Shot with multiple cameras in front of a live audience, television historians often cite the smartly written He & She as the missing link between The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966, CBS) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977, CBS). At a time when most sitcoms were shot with a single camera and centered around the silly, rural, or supernatural, the realistic He & She featured a sophisticated (and childless) working couple, played by real life marrieds Benjamin and Prentiss, as they went about their quirky lives amidst the hustle and bustle of New York City. Though a critical darling, He & She was an anachronism in the 1967 TV landscape, and unfortunately never found a sizable audience. Shortly after its cancelation, the series was nominated for five Emmy Awards: Best Leading Actor (Benjamin), Best Leading Actress (Prentiss), Best Supporting Actor (Cassidy), and two for Best Writing. The series won in the latter category. Following the ratings war of early 1970 that resulted in a shift towards programming that targeted the hip, young, metropolitan demographic, CBS realized what a blunder they’d made in canceling He & She, and aired reruns as a summer replacement, where it found a new and appreciative audience. The series was truly ahead of its time.
He & She aired a few times on cable in the ’80s and ’90s, and that’s from where my recordings come. I have 25 of the 26 installments in my possession, and I screened the missing one at the UCLA Archives this March. You can read about it here. (If anyone does own a copy of this episode, Number 15: “Easy Way Out,” I’d love to add it to my collection!) In my audit of the series, I was figuratively floored at how mature and sophisticated the scripting was — with stories that, in addition to being truly original, balanced true-to-life situations with charmingly heightened hijinks. Essentially, EVERYTHING A GOOD SITCOM SHOULD BE. Meanwhile, the ensemble shared excellent chemistry — from the sardonic Benjamin, to the utterly indescribable Prentiss, and the deliciously vain Cassidy (the inspiration for the Ted Baxter character). Though a few episodes don’t work as well as they should, every single installment has laugh-out-loud moments and bits that truly impressed me. But, I have picked twelve episodes that I think exemplify the series’ 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 twelve best episodes of the series. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every single episode is directed by Jay Sandrich, excluding the first three aired, which are credited to creator Leonard Stern.
01) Episode 2: “The Second Time Around” (Aired: 09/13/67)
Dick and Paula plan to renew their vows on their anniversary.
Written by Jim Parker & Arnold Margolin
Even better than the pilot episode in introducing the characters, this installment matches requisite ’60s romance (but with a mature slant — seeds of Mad About You) with snappy dialogue and riotous antics. Dick and Paula’s attempt to renew their vows is threatened by a frugal accountant, an ultimatum-making boss, a pair of rival best mans, and a fire alarm that occurs at the worst possible time. Clever, original, funny episode — with some genuinely sweet (but not sticky) moments. (And this series is always supreme in the ‘little things’ — like how when Harry runs off with the rings, Oscar steps up to the plate with a pair of gaudy Jetman rings.)
02) Episode 4: “The Phantom Of 84th Street” (Aired: 09/27/67)
Oscar’s original Picasso is stolen from the Hollisters’ apartment.
Written by Arnold Margolin & Jim Parker
The second and final episode to feature Orestes Ponopolis, the Greek immigrant that Paula helped stave off deportation in the pilot, this installment features many delectable bits, like Orestes’ confusion of the word “friends” with “freaks.” But the BEST moment is Oscar’s silent (but violent) temper tantrum when Dick alerts him in the dressing room about his stolen painting. The shrine Oscar has to himself is unbearably funny, and Cassidy is absolutely brilliant, as is the whole cast, in this original and highly memorable excursion. Very funny!
03) Episode 7: “Dick’s Van Dyke” (Aired: 10/18/67)
Dick and his buddies make a bet to see who can keep their facial hair the longest.
Written by Allan Burns & Chris Hayward
Husbands (or in the case of That Girl, boyfriends) growing beards is typical sitcom fodder. This series gives the premise a unique twist by having Paula actually approve of the facial hair (and the word “sexy” is indeed bantered about). The comedy comes from, and we’re borrowing from another sitcom premise, Paula’s strange and sudden allergy. If Dick wants to enjoy a connubial homecoming with his wife — and it’s explicitly stated that he does — he’ll have to shave and lose the bet with Andrew and his accountant, Murray Mouse (who has a wife named Minnie). Clever, adult, hilarious!
04) Episode 9: “Vote Yes Or No” (Aired: 11/01/67)
Dick and Paula find themselves on opposite sides of a political debate.
Written by Chris Hayward & Allan Burns
This episode isn’t quite as hysterical as the few above, but it’s so tightly written: brilliantly interweaving the characters into a cohesive story with an appealing fluidity and an amusing build. Dick, his boss (Mr. Nugent), and the newspaper, are in support of a politician who intends to deny firemen their intended raises. Paula, sticking up for Harry, decides to protest outside Dick’s building — chasing Dick’s boss into an elevator where she, Mr. Nugent, Oscar and Dick are trapped between floors. Guess who comes to the rescue: Harry.
05) Episode 11: “The Coming-Out Party” (Aired: 11/15/67)
Paula plays matchmaker for her single coworker and Dick’s doctor.
Written by Chris Hayward & Allan Burns
This is the episode that won the series an award for Best Writing. Paula sets her friend (played by Mariette Hartley) up with their doctor (John Astin) at a spontaneous party designed to matchmake the two. But their romance turns sour following an argument — the night before Astin’s character is scheduled to take out Dick’s tonsils. Benjamin is hilarious as he frantically tries to calm the over-hyped Astin and reunite the feuding lovebirds. As usual, the dialogue is particularly snappy with an abundance of laugh-out-loud lines. Fresh storytelling that provides great comedy; superb!
06) Episode 12: “Deep In The Heart Of Taxes” (Aired: 11/22/67)
Dick learns of Paula’s undeclared horse racing winnings when they are audited.
Written by Joe Bonaduce
I featured this episode in my second Wildcard Wednesday post back in June of last year! This episode impresses in its seamless merging of two seemingly unrelated stories: Dick’s creation of a new villain for Jetman and the Hollisters’ impending audit, for which Paula reveals that she has undeclared winnings from the horse races. The connection is shockingly unexpected — the auditor is a dead ringer for the cartoon villain that has the country divided. Now the question is, will this coincidence work in their favor? Again, such a creative premise and execution!
07) Episode 17: “45 Midgets From Broadway” (Aired: 01/03/68)
Jetman is to be made into a Broadway musical starring Oscar North.
Written by Arnold Margolin & Jim Parker
One of the best remembered installments — especially by Broadway buffs — this installment features performances of several original numbers by the series’ own musical comedy man, Jack Cassidy. In addition to the wonderfully catchy and Broadway-caliber songs, this episode boasts a realistic knowingness of the theatre, as the installment concerns Oscar’s disastrous performance in the Jetman out-of-town tryouts. (Also, watch for Stuart Margolin’s hilarious performance as the frustrated composer — realistic and so very funny.)
08) Episode 18: “A Rock By Any Other Name” (Aired: 01/10/68)
The Hollisters exchange birthday gifts: she gets an expensive fur coat and he gets a rock, which he then proceeds to lose.
Teleplay by Milt Rosen & Arne Sultan | Story by Treva Silverman & Peter Meyerson
I featured this episode in a Wildcard Wednesday post this March on sitcom episodes focused on birthdays. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote: “It’s the perfect example of the series at its smartest. Dick makes a fuss about he and Paula buying each other cheap gifts for their upcoming mutual birthdays. Dick forgets and buys Paula an expensive fur coat, only to learn that Paula has gifted him with a rock. (A very special rock, mind you, with a sweet and clever backstory.) Of course, sitcom hijinks necessitates that Dick then loses the rock. With sharp dialogue, an outstandingly premise, and nice slapstick thrown in, this is great situation comedy.” Clip here.
09) Episode 23: “Dog’s Best Friend” (Aired: 02/21/68)
The Hollisters dog-sit for their separated friends.
Written by Milt Rosen
Here is an interesting episode with a sophisticated premise. Dick and Paula’s married friends (played by the equally funny Larry Storch and Bonnie Scott, That Girl‘s original best friend) split up, so the Hollisters, depsite Dick’s initial refusal, agree to keep their dog. Expectedly, Dick ends up developing an emotional attachment to the pet, just as the couple reunites and comes to take him back. While the beginning of the episode is quite funny, this episode is surprisingly sentimental, as Benjamin gives a stirring monologue in the second act about his childhood dog. Mature premise; achingly real script.
10) Episode 24: “It’s Not Whether You Win Or Lose, It’s How You Watch The Game” (Aired: 02/28/68)
Dick and Paula must scramble together 30 tickets for a college football game.
Written by Peggy Elliot & Ed Scharlach
This episode is riotously funny from start to finish. Following a mix-up, Dick and Paula have to find some way to scrounge up 30 tickets to the Northwestern-Michigan State game (the Hollisters and the Benjamins are alumni of the former) for a college reunion. There are several stand out moments. The bit where Paula outlines for Dick how she is going to get the tickets is a comic tour de force, and Dick’s hopeful delight at the potential injury of his classmates is hysterical. And the build-up to the shenanigans that occur outside of the game is wonderfully executed. Again, such clever writing — smart and funny!
11) Episode 25: “Knock, Knock, Who’s There? Fernando, Fernando Who?” (Aired: 03/06/68)
Harry sees Paula in a compromising position with Fernando Lamas.
Written by Allan Burns & Chris Hayward
As the only episode of the series centered around a famous guest star, this installment works in spite of Lamas’ brief appearance. The opening scene with Dick, Paula, Harry, and Faith playing musical car seats at the drive-in movie is a hoot, and it’s the connection between Harry’s jealousy with Dick’s jealousy over Paula’s dalliance with Fernando that really makes the episode work as a narrative. Harry is told to have faith in Faith, just as Dick tries to be nonchalant about Paula’s potentially scandalous moment with the Latin star. Not a phenomenal episode, but a tight and original one.
12) Episode 26: “What’s In The Kitty?” (Aired: 03/13/68)
Dick and Paula host the Nugents for a disastrous dinner party.
Teleplay by Arne Sultan, Milt Rosen, & Leonard Stern | Story by Paul Mason
The final episode of the series, this episode introduces us to Norma Nugent (Alice Ghostley), wife of Dick’s boss Norman (Harold Gould), when the pair spend a disastrous evening having dinner with the Hollisters. When a stray cat is ill, Dick fears that something may be wrong with the fish that he and Paula are serving for dinner (since the cast feasted on the meal earlier in the day). Hijinks ensue. (Once again, the strength of this episode lies in the details — like Norma and Norman’s silly nicknames: Bunny and Bobo. I’ll leave you to find out which is which.)
Other notable installments include: “The Old Man And The She,” the pilot episode, which features some GREAT physical comedy in the second act, “He And She Vs. Him,” which gives Prentiss some riotous Lucy-like antics in which to engage (closest contender — would be #13), “Don’t Call Us,” which features a truly original story, but a little too much saccharine for my tastes, “The White Collar Worker,” which begins with a very funny story, but again, gets a trifle too sweet in the second act, and “What Do You Get For The Man Who Has Nothing?” which features nice work by the ensemble.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from He & She goes to…..
“A Rock By Any Other Name”
RELEASE THIS SHOW ON DVD, HBO. (I know you own the rights.)
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the first season of The Mothers-In-Law! And tune in tomorrow for another Wildcard Wednesday post!