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.
The Odd Couple is firing on all cylinders in this season that, like the previous, makes excellent use of its two remarkable leads, but also manages to develop a mini company of recurring players — Murray, Miriam, and Myrna — and uses them quite wisely as well. Though I think I prefer Season Two for its freshness in both story and comedy, Season Three is perhaps the funniest of the entire series. And while the show becomes increasingly gimmicky — a word I often use to describe stories or gags that are easy laugh-getters but lack any real originality or finesse — it is still often painfully funny. (Much of this, as usual, must be credited to Klugman and Randall.) 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 Three. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 49: “Big Mouth” (Aired: 09/22/72)
Round one of Oscar Madison vs. Howard Cosell.
Written by Art Baer & Ben Joelson | Directed by Jerry Paris
The Odd Couple is much closer to Here’s Lucy than it is to other notable multi-cam sitcoms of the early ’70s, (like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All In The Family), in both its silliness, and its more frequent usage of contemporary guest stars. Here, we have an episode centered around Howard Cosell, a divisive personality, who is very funny in this script that pits our lovable slob Oscar up against “the mouth.” Fans of Cosell will like this episode especially, but the laughs are universal — coming from the characters, and that’s always the best way to go about situation comedy.
02) Episode 51: “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Pencil” (Aired: 10/06/72)
Oscar thinks Felix’s creative writing teacher is a fraud.
Written by Jack Winter | Directed by Bob Birnbaum
This is an amusingly simple episode that shows the series in an incredibly flattering light; it doesn’t try too hard to be funny; it just is. As usual, both leads shine in a script that keeps them completely in character and mines humor from their established traits. Also, while the always enjoyable Elliot Reid plays Felix’s potentially crooked teacher, Randall’s old Mister Peepers (1952-1955, NBC) co-star makes a cameo appearance as a student who reads aloud a chapter from his erotic memoirs. It is the highlight of the episode.
03) Episode 52: “The Odd Monks” (Aired: 10/13/72)
Felix and Oscar join a monastery.
Written by Garry Marshall | Directed by Jerry Belson
I mentioned in the introduction for this season that the show is slowly devolving into gimmicky, cheap humor. (This is a trademark of Garry Marshall’s post-1966 work.) This installment is the perfect example of that — with a ridiculous premise that really makes little sense for the characters and serves as a cheap ploy to force the story into a monastery, where easy laughs can be had. To be fair, the laughs do come from the characters, but the machinations of putting them into this situation are off-putting. Funny episode, but not an example of great writing.
04) Episode 53: “I’m Dying Of Unger” (Aired: 10/20/72)
Felix proves to be a distraction as Oscar sets out to write his book.
Written by Joe Glauberg | Directed by Mel Ferber
As is the case with most sitcoms, the more locked in a premise is to the characters and who the show has established them to be, the more successful the episode — no matter how simple the premise or how funny the script. (This seems especially true of The Odd Couple, whose entire premise is hinged upon the clash of two opposing characters.) This is a good, solid episode of the series that allows the actors to do what they do best. There are lots of laughs, and you never feel like the characters are behaving out of their elements.
05) Episode 54: “The Odd Couples” (Aired: 10/27/72)
The Ungers and Madisons feign that they’re still married when Oscar’s mom visits.
Written by Harvey Miller | Directed by Hal Cooper
This is one of those stories that you’d expect to come up earlier in the series’ run; it’s almost a requisite: The divorced couples must pretend that they’re still together when one of their parents comes into town. It’s an uncomplicated farcical premise that lends itself to expectedly humorous interactions between the characters — who, as is the case with Oscar and Felix — are designed to clash. Thus the humor from the episode, and it IS a good one, comes more from expectations than execution. However, it’s firmly in keeping with the series’ overall premise and consistently amusing.
06) Episode 58: “Password” (Aired: 12/01/72)
Felix begs Oscar to bring him along as a partner on Password.
Written by Frank Buxton | Directed by Alex March
Probably the most well known episode of the entire series, this installment guest stars Allen Ludden and Betty White as themselves when Oscar and Felix compete on the game show Password. This episode matches our knowledge of the character’s quirks and juxtaposing personalities with our knowledge of the structure of the game itself to provide some wonderfully well-executed comedy. Aristophanes, in particular, is a gem of a gag. (This episode is fresh and original, unlike a later game show story, this season even, which feels more gimmicky than comical.) Classic comedy — funniest of the season.
07) Episode 62: “I Gotta Be Me” (Aired: 01/12/73)
The odd couple goes to group therapy — where the doc suggests role reversal.
Written by David W. Duclon & Joe Glaberg | Directed by Mel Ferber
I think this is perhaps the best representation of Season Three, and even the series. It has a gimmicky plot which builds to a hilarious sequence that makes the whole thing worthwhile. The gimmicky plot finds the odd couple going to a therapist who recommends role reversal. To give you a clue how gimmicky this plot is — it was done on both The Mothers-In-Law and Here’s Lucy. But the hilarious sequence, in which Klugman’s Oscar is a neat-freak and Randall’s Felix is a slob, renders the episode another full-fledged classic.
08) Episode 63: “The Ides Of April” (Aired: 01/19/73)
Felix fears the worst when he’s summoned by the IRS.
Written by Lowell Granz & Mark Rothman | Directed by Bob Birnbaum
Sitcom characters running into conflict with the IRS is a common story — everyone from Ralph Kramden, Dick & Paula Hollister, Ted Baxter, and Blanche Devereaux have gone through this. But this excursion is totally unique. Yes, we have the obligatory worry from Felix, but given the nature of his character, it’s only natural that he has the neatest records in the state. The real comedy comes from his accidental tattling on Oscar, whose record keeping is, again, naturally, one big mess. Very funny episode with great character moments.
09) Episode 65: “The Hustler” (Aired: 02/09/73)
Oscar and Felix wind up in a pool hall.
Written by Lowell Granz & Mark Rothman | Directed by Jerry Paris
One of the most interesting things about The Odd Couple, and this is directly the result of the design of its two characters, is that there are many episodes that deal with sports — sporty people and sporting events. But there are also many episodes that deal with “high art,” and most often, opera — the shows and its people. This episode features both of those two contrasting beats. Because of an opera, Felix and Oscar wind up playing a sport: pool. The final scene, in which Felix drives the hustler insane, is a hoot, and Randall is definitely the installment’s MVP.
10) Episode 69: “Take My Furniture, Please” (Aired: 03/09/73)
Oscar detests Felix’s new decor for the apartment.
Written by Harvey Miller | Directed by Jack Winter
Again, this episode works because it has an ordinary premise that both comes from the differences between Oscar and Felix and provides ample room for the existence of natural comedy that arises as a result from these said differences. Several sight gags involve the men’s contrasting decor selections, but Felix’s are probably the most extreme, and therefore the funniest. Once more, credit must go to the pre-existing designs of the characters, how the story and the script play upon them, and the expert ways in which Klugman and Randall bring them to life.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Gloria, Hallelujah,” in which a computer matches up Oscar with Gloria, “Oscar’s Birthday,” in which Felix arranges a This Is Your Life birthday party for Oscar, “Myrna’s Debut,” in which Felix convinces Myrna to follow her dream of being a dancer, “My Strife In Court,” in which the odd couple are arrested for ticket scalping (but is too gimmicky), “Let’s Make A Deal,” in which the odd couple go on the eponymous game show (but is also too gimmicky), and “The Murray Who Came To Dinner,” in which Murray moves in with the guys after a fight with his wife (and most deserves to make the above list).
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Three of The Odd Couple goes to…..
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the fourth season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!