Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re beginning our coverage on the best episodes from one of the best cast sitcoms of all time, The Odd Couple (1970-1975, ABC). I’m thrilled to announce that every single episode of the series has been released on DVD.
On November 13, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. (Unger’s unseen wife slams door, only to reopen it and angrily hand Felix his saucepan) That request came from his wife. Deep down, he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday, he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison. Sometime earlier, Madison’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy? The Odd Couple stars JACK KLUGMAN as Oscar Madison and TONY RANDALL as Felix Unger.
First a play, then a film, then an award winning situation comedy, The Odd Couple seems to have a foolproof premise: two opposites forced to reside in close proximity; the conflict — the comedy — comes from the inevitable clashes between the two. Yet, with comedy rooted so definitively in the characters and their construction, it is more than imperative that the casting of the two opposing gentlemen be brilliant. And this is the principle draw of the early ’70s TV adaptation, which maintains a level of amusement — even in the worst of scripts — thanks to Klugman and Randall, who elevate all of their material. As usual, the middle seasons of the series are the best, and the first year, covered in today’s post, is certainly not excellent. In fact, as the only season shot single camera without a live audience, much of the comedy feels cooler and less accessible in this first collection of episodes. (Fortunately, a change in format was in order for Season Two, enhancing everything from the scripts to the performances.) So the debut season is nothing to write home about; the saving grace of these initial 24 episodes is the perfect team of Klugman and Randall. But I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this 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 One. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 1: “The Laundry Orgy” (Aired: 09/24/70)
Oscar and Felix’s date with the Pigeon Sisters does not go according to plan.
Written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson | Directed by Jerry Paris
This solid introduction to the television series feels a lot like both the play and the film, with all of the action taking place in one evening as the two roommates juggle dates with the flighty Pigeon Sisters and their regularly scheduled poker game. Though the direction is cold, and the script, while fast-paced, lacks the exquisite zingers that would soon become a trademark, the two stars have an excellent handle on their characters, and the construction of the poker game and its players is already in place. As for the Pigeon Sisters, they’re an acquired taste, but can be very amusing… when the writing is right!
02) Episode 10: “It’s All Over Now, Baby Bird” (Aired: 12/03/70)
Felix is devastated over the death of his beloved parrot.
Written by Dale McRaven | Directed by Jerry Paris
Wonderfully, this installment really plays up the differences between Oscar and Felix when the latter’s beloved bird dies while under Oscar’s care. There are a few funny scenes sprinkled throughout the episode as the two search for a place to bury (or, dispose) of the body, but the climax of the installment, in which the expensive pet funeral is interrupted by the reveal that the bird is actually alive, manages to be a highlight from the season. Oscar and his insistence that they continue with the dead fly — hilarious.
03) Episode 12: “Scrooge Gets An Oscar” (Aired: 12/17/70)
Oscar dreams that he’s Ebenezer Madison after refusing to participate in a holiday show.
Written by Ron Friedman | Directed by George Tyne
Holiday shows rarely impress on any truly satisfying level (at least, when it comes to comedy) and this episode is sort of par for the course. However, while the premise is tired, the execution — specifically the quality of the script — is a cut above the rest with several laugh-out-loud moments that manage to elevate this installment from many of the other mediocre installments from the year. So, for any readers who DO have an affinity for holiday episodes, this is one that you don’t want to miss.
04) Episode 13: “The Blackout” (Aired: 12/24/70)
Fifty bucks goes missing when the power goes out on poker night.
Written by Bill Idelson & Harvey Miller
One of the best things about this initial year (in which the series really struggles to tap into its well of comedy) is its usage of the poker game and its players as a source for, not only humor, but also stories. This episode is appealing because of its “ensemble-esque” design, and, though a part of the single season audience-less first season, its inherent theatricality — which keeps the proceedings fast-paced and fun (even with the potentially serious premise).
05) Episode 14: “They Use Horseradish, Don’t They?” (Aired: 01/07/71)
Felix enters a cooking competition, and Oscar dates one of his roommate’s rivals.
Written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson | Directed by Garry Marshall
This episode is perhaps the most memorable from the season, but I can’t say it’s my favorite simply because much of the comedy comes from the story (rather than the characters). And while there are many funny moments — including physical bits in which Oscar must help a paralyzed Felix fix his dish for the competition — the machinations of the recipe stealing with Oscar and the character played by Marlyn Mason, a fine actress who’s unfortunately really irksome in both of her appearances in this series, are forced and less enjoyable. Still, though, this is a cut above most from Season One!
06) Episode 16: “Lovers Don’t Make House Calls” (Aired: 01/29/71)
Oscar hopes to develop a romance with Felix’s beautiful doctor.
Written by Ron Friedman | Directed by Bruce Bilson
Another one of the season’s most solid entries, this episode is probably best remembered for its introduction of Nancy as Oscar’s regular girlfriend. (She would appear for the next year, before disappearing midway through Season Two — without explanation.) Much comedy comes from Oscar using Felix’s illness as an excuse to see Nancy, but the two funniest scenes from the episode are Oscar’s trip to her office, and when Felix comes to the restaurant to pester Nancy while she’s on her date with the other doctor.
07) Episode 17: “Engrave Trouble” (Aired: 02/05/71)
Oscar and Felix try to retrieve Gloria’s stolen watch.
Written by Peggy Elliott & Ed Scharlach | Directed by Alan Rafkin
The Elliott and Scharlach scripts from the first season (they wrote three; two made this list, and the other is an honorable mention, but almost made the list) are definitely of a higher caliber because the pair really seems to understand the characters. In an attempt to win back Gloria, Oscar encourages Felix to woo his ex-wife by engraving her old watch. But things go screwbally when the watch is stolen. A lot of fine character moments in this one, and while I don’t believe it’s as hysterical as most fans seem to think, I love the script and think the episode is well-made.
08) Episode 22: “What Makes Felix Run” (Aired: 03/12/71)
To win back Gloria, Felix takes lessons in slobbery from Oscar.
Written by Bill Manhoff | Directed by Jerry Paris
This episode is brilliant because its so rooted within the series’ premise — the dichotomy between a slob and a neat-freak. Here, Oscar teaches Felix to be more like he is (once again, in an attempt to win back Gloria — also part of the series’ core premise), and the results are hilarious. Tony Randall is superb here and the highlight of the installment is the dream sequence in which Felix meets Oscar in Heaven. Smart dialogue, great performances, and a perfect premise!
09) Episode 23: “What Does A Naked Lady Say To You?” (Aired: 03/19/71)
Felix dates a woman who, unbeknownst to him, is starring in a nude Off-Broadway play.
Written by Peggy Elliott & Ed Scharlach | Directed by Hal Cooper
Another Elliott-Scarlach script, this one happens to be a favorite as well. Oscar and his poker buddies are shocked when they learn that Felix’s new introverted girlfriend (who purports to be a librarian) is actually the star of a new Off-Broadway play called “Bath Tub” — in which the entire company gets nude. Lots of laughs — especially when Oscar actually attends the show — but there’s a slight morality that runs through the piece and hinders some of the comedy, especially in the second half.
10) Episode 24: “Trapped” (Aired: 03/26/71)
On their way to a costume party, Felix, Oscar, and Nancy are trapped in the basement.
Written by Charles Shyer & Alan Mandel | Directed by Jerry Belson
Characters trapped in a single location for an extended period of time has long been sitcom fodder (and very theatrical by design, its easy to see that this show was practically begging for a multi-camera live audience set-up). This episode isn’t brilliant, but it does manage to give an ample helping of laughs — particularly as a result of the three characters being in costumes. (Felix dressed as the devil is the funniest.) So much like the season premiere, the finale is a solid theatrical excursion that, though not great situation comedy, certainly shows promise!
Other notable episodes that missed the above list include: “The Fight Of The Felix,” in which Felix ends up in the boxing ring, “Felix Gets Sick,” in which Oscar is forced to tend for his ill roommate, “The Breakup,” in which Felix moves in with Murray and his wife (Alice Ghostley) and “I Do, I Don’t,” in which Felix and Oscar get involved in another couple’s impending nuptials.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season One of The Odd Couple goes to…..
“What Makes Felix Run”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the second season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!