Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing 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.
As the show shifts from a single camera audienceless set-up to that glorious multi-camera live studio audience, the quality of the whole production — scripts, performances, direction, etc. — improves dramatically between the first and second seasons. This is The Odd Couple that deserves our attention: fun, funny, and with two of television’s finest performers (and I say that without exaggeration). Perhaps my favorite season of the series (and the only other viable contender for that honor is next week’s Season Three), this is where newbies should begin. So 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 Two. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 26: “Felix’s Wife’s Boyfriend” (Aired: 09/24/71)
Felix pouts when Oscar sets Gloria up with Nancy’s brother.
Written by Ron Friedman | Directed by Jerry Paris
The first episode to introduce us to Gloria, Felix’s ex-wife, this important episode features a premise with a wonderful build that kind of dissolves once Felix does indeed find out about the fix-up. However, the rest of the episode is saved, and the real reason it makes today’s list, is because of the wonderful performance by Tony Randall — comedic and with pathos — setting up the idea that Felix may never be over his ex-wife, an important thread that will carry through to the rest of the series.
02) Episode 27: “Hospital Mates” (Aired: 10/01/71)
Felix and Oscar share a room at the hospital.
Written by Garry Marshall | Directed by Jerry Paris
I think this is the first truly hysterical episode of the season and of the series. And I mean, so far, it’s the most consistently funny from start to finish. As Felix is going to have surgery to fix his deviated septum, Oscar injures his foot and ends up in the hospital bed next to him. While the best scene in the episode occurs in the room when the men get high on the anesthesia (some big laughs in this one, folks), the episode continues with a nice bit in which Felix is blindfolded. Great installment!
03) Episode 28: “Sleepwalker” (Aired: 10/08/71)
Oscar’s sleepwalking turns into violent attacks against Felix.
Written by Mickey Rose | Directed by Jack Donahue
This seems to be a very popular episode among the fandom and I think I understand why: it hits to deeper themes about the two characters’ psychological incompatability. Oscar is beating Felix in his sleep — obviously there’s some unconscious loathing going on there. Personally, while I applaud the premise and the performances, I find this episode a little too sentimental. (As is always the case with episodes in which characters consider moving out or moving away.) But, it’s still an enjoyable outing.
04) Episode 29: “A Grave For Felix” (Aired: 10/15/71)
Oscar loses the money for Felix’s funeral plot on a horse race.
Written by Perry Grant & Dick Bensfield | Directed by Hal Cooper
This brilliant episode works because in addition to a very funny script (and, as is always the case) wonderful turns by the entire cast, the premise is completely rooted in the design of these two characters. Finicky Felix is obviously the type who would have specific notions about where he wants to be buried, and irascible Oscar, of course, is going to lose his friend’s funeral plot money on a horse race, thinking it’s a sure thing. One of my absolute favorites.
05) Episode 32: “The Fat Farm” (Aired: 11/12/71)
Felix and Oscar go to a fat farm, against the latter’s will.
Written by Albert E. Lewin | Directed by Mel Ferber
Episodes in which the characters go away somewhere will rarely be my favorites, simply because more of the comedy comes from the location or the situation rather than the characters. (And this goes for every series.) However, there are always exceptions to the rule, and this is one of them. This is the type of episode that doesn’t have to work very hard to be funny; it just is — from start to finish. Oscar’s diet is natural fodder for comedy, as is Felix’s strict attempts to make him adhere to the rules. Classic.
06) Episode 33: “The Odd Couple Meet Their Host” (Aired: 11/19/71)
Oscar does a comedy routine about Felix on David Steinberg’s talk show.
Written by Bill Idelson & Harvey Miller | Directed by Hal Cooper
While the two other major sitcoms of the season — The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All In The Family — seem more contemporary because they either embody or address hot-button issues, The Odd Couple features its fair share of period references to people, events, and trends; as a result, while the premise is universal, certain episodes don’t hold up as well. (That doesn’t bother me, but I know it bothers some.) Fortunately, you needn’t know who David Steinberg is to enjoy this very funny episode which features a story rooted in character and a lot of very funny moments.
07) Episode 37: “Felix, The Calypso Singer” (Aired: 12/24/71)
Felix feels like a third wheel on a vacation with Oscar and Nancy.
Written by Perry Grant & Dick Bensfield | Directed by Jack Donahue
Another fan favorite, this campy episode finds Felix joining Oscar on a trip to the Caribbean after Nancy is unable to attend. But when Nancy is able to go at the last minute, Felix begins feeling like a third wheel — cue Tony Randall’s clowning. Though sillier than most installments, there are a lot of fun moments here — plus an unforgettable musical number. Incidentally, this is the last time we see Nancy, who disappears with only one mention after this episode. Also, look for the late Barbara Colby (future MTM gal) at the island bar.
08) Episode 39: “Security Arms” (Aired: 01/07/72)
Felix and Oscar move into a maximum security building following a burglary.
Written by Jerry Belson | Directed by George Tyne
Probably the strongest script of the season, this is another episode that shoots comedy at its audience from start to finish. The episode opens hilariously as Oscar finds Felix bound and gagged, and culminates in a sequence in which the two roommates are locked inside their new maximum security ultra-safe apartment. John Fiedler is brilliant as the strict manager, and steals the show away from its two superb regulars. (A difficult feat.) One of my favorite episodes of the entire series — this one doesn’t disappoint.
09) Episode 41: “You Saved My Life” (Aired: 01/21/72)
Felix goes overboard with gratitude after Oscar saves his life.
Written by Bob Rodgers | Directed by Jack Donahue
This is another very popular episode that I’m not as crazy about as others seem to be. (Maybe it’s a matter of expectations, but I’m usually pretty good about viewing each episode evenly and without prejudice.) While so totally rooted in the characters, I find Felix’s behavior too obnoxious to really be funny. And while his actions are supposed to be obnoxious, it alienates me from the humor. That said, I think the script and the story is classic Odd Couple — using its characters the way they are designed and meant to be used.
10) Episode 45: “A Night To Disremember” (Aired: 02/18/72)
Oscar, Blanche, and Felix tell alternate accounts of the Maddisons’ break-up.
Written by Rick Mittleman | Directed by George Marshall
Though sitcom episodes modeled after Rashomon are gimmicky from the jump, they often work better than other gimmicks — chiefly because these scripts give the writers a chance to explore perception as it pertains to the individual characters. And since all great comedy comes from characters, installments like these are usually chock full of laughs. This episode is no exception, and features the show’s best performance by Match Game‘s Brett Somers (Klugman’s real-life wife) as Oscar’s ex, Blanche.
Other notable episodes that didn’t make the above list include: “Natural Childbirth,” the season premiere that already demonstrates an upswing in quality from the previous year, “Murray The Fink,” which is very funny despite a premise that I feel is completely in opposition to the characters and who they are, “Being Divorced Is Never Having To Say I Do,” in which we meet Blanche, “Speak For Yourself,” a flashback episode involving Felix and Gloria’s courtship, “Where’s Grandpa?” in which Tony Randall gets to play dual roles, “Partner’s Investment,” in which the odd couple invests in a Japanese restaurant (and most deserves to make the above list), and “Psychic, Shmychic,” in which Felix begins having premonitions.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Two of The Odd Couple goes to…..
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the third season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!