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.
Though the quality of the scripts are beginning to show strain, Klugman and Randall continue to excel in their pitch perfect characterizations of our two favorite mismatched roommates. Though definitely not my favorite season, there are several truly superb excursions here — especially in the second half of the year, which sees an upswing in premise creativity. 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 Four. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 76: “The New Car” (Aired: 10/19/73)
Felix refuses to let Oscar sell the new car they’ve won.
Story by Michael Elias | Teleplay by Lowell Ganz & Mark Rothman | Directed by Garry Marshall
Quite popular among the fanbase, this installment has grown on me with repeated viewings. While the premise of Oscar and Felix sharing a new car shows a lot of potential (and the writers launch the idea rather amusingly with the contest), it almost feel like more could have been mined from the idea — especially given their contrasting personalities. Still, there are some very funny moments here, including Bella Bruck as Pushover Page and a single-camera bit involving Oscar and a fat drunk.
02) Episode 78: “The Songwriter” (Aired: 11/02/73)
Felix writes a song for Oscar’s girlfriend, Jaye P. Morgan.
Written by Buz Kohan & Bill Anglos | Directed by Mel Ferber
Though my regular readers know that I am certainly a musical comedy man, I’m always wary of sitcom episodes in which music is prominently featured, for usually that comes at the expense of the comedy. However, this episode guarantees plenty of laughs, and the best part: they’re character laughs, coming from Felix’s exuberant determination to write a hit song. The result is “Happy And Peppy And Bursting With Love,” a tune way too catchy for its own good. Fun, but not brilliant, installment. (Oh, and Wolfman Jack guest stars.)
03) Episode 79: “Felix Directs” (Aired: 11/09/73)
Felix tries his hand at filmmaking, but gets more than he bargained for.
Written by Harvey Miller | Directed by Jerry Paris
There are several appealing things about this installment. Not only do we have an appearance by David White, better known to classic sitcom fans (and thus, my blog readers) as Larry Tate on Bewitched (1964-1972, ABC), as a smarmy producer, but we have a premise that gets a little naughty. (Now, gratuitous naughtiness is never appealing, but here it’s quite funny — because there’s a big comedic payoff.) Most excitingly, however, this is an original episode with non-predictable laughs.
04) Episode 81: “Maid For Each Other” (Aired: 11/23/73)
While Oscar recovers from an ulcer, Felix hires a no-nonsense housekeeper.
Written by Marlene Barr | Directed by Norm Gray
To be truthful, the most notable thing about this otherwise solid episode is the guest appearance of Reta Shaw (this past Saturday’s birthday girl, and the subject of last week’s Wildcard Wednesday post) as a gruff housekeeper who manages to be even too intense for Felix. Though Shaw was often typecast in these kind of roles, she always delivers — especially with a script that provides moments of amusement. This is a highly enjoyable episode, and for fans of one of TV’s greatest broads, a must.
05) Episode 82: “The Exorcists” (Aired: 12/07/73)
Felix believes the apartment is haunted.
Written by Frank Buxton & Michael Leeson | Directed by Jack Donohue
Thank Noel Coward for the sitcom’s fascination with seances and the occult. Truthfully, putting our favorite lovable sitcom characters in a kooky situation (such as a seance) is an easy laugh-getter, and that’s exactly what this episode is all about. However, the seance — very funny, by the way — occurs in the first act, and the rest of the installment includes a guest appearance by Victor Buono, and an exorcism — also, very funny. Again, no classic, but just a solidly fun episode.
06) Episode 84: “The Moonlighter” (Aired: 01/04/74)
Oscar moonlights as a short-order cook to pay off a debt.
Written by Phil Mishkin & Mickey Rose | Directed by Frank Buxton
The first half of the episode, in which Oscar hopes to keep Felix from discovering that he’s taken a night job in a greasy spoon to pay off a debt, is great. The second half, in which Oscar goes to work with Felix to repay the debt that Felix has paid, while logical and rooted in character, is not as amusing. This is not an unusual phenomenon; sometimes the comedic climax happens in the middle as opposed to the end. However, note Randall’s energy in the breakfast scene — he’s loose as a goose and it’s very funny.
07) Episode 85: “Cleanliness Is Next To Impossible” (Aired: 01/11/74)
Oscar undergoes hypnosis to cure himself of sloppiness.
Written by Lowell Ganz & Mark Rothman | Directed by Frank Buxton
Fabulous episode. Yes, this is the first time in today’s post that I can write “fabulous episode” and truly mean it. As with several installments from the past three seasons, I’m always thrilled when the series produces an episode that’s so brilliantly predicated on its premise — the clash of slob and neat-freak. This episode may be the best of the bunch, as Oscar undergoes hypnosis to curtail his sloppy ways. Many laughs along the way, and if the next episode weren’t so darned hilarious, this would be the MVE.
08) Episode 86: “The Flying Felix” (Aired: 01/18/74)
Oscar tries to cure Felix of his fear of flying.
Written by Lowell Ganz & Mark Rothman | Directed by Jack Donohue
I spoiled in my commentary above that this is the installment that I have chosen as this week’s MVE. Quite simply, this is the funniest episode of the season, and thus, one of the best installments of the entire series. It’s a premise we see occasionally on sitcoms — fear of flying — but couple that with these two expertly defined characters, and you have some BIG laughs and many twists. You may be interested to know that the original ending (instead of involving skydivers) featured a plane full of gays. The censors objected and the script was changed. Fortunately, the end result was still hilarious. (Oh, and watch out for Teri Garr.)
09) Episode 90: “The Insomniacs” (Aired: 03/01/74)
Felix’s insomnia is keeping Oscar awake.
Written by Mickey Rose | Directed by Jack Donohue
As with several other well-liked episodes, I would not consider this among my all time favorites (because I don’t think it’s exceptional like the two above). However, there’s so much that I like about the script. Chiefly, the premise is very simple and doesn’t involve any storytelling gimmicks (hallmarks of Garry Marshall’s work). This simplicity, coupled with the fact that the episode takes place on limited sets, allows the focus to really land on the performances — and that’s always a good thing.
10) Episode 91: “New York’s Oddest” (Aired: 03/08/74)
Felix takes his job as the building’s part-time patrol too seriously.
Written by Art Baer & Ben Joelson | Directed by Harvey Miller
This installment is like many sitcom episodes but reminds me of two in particular. The first is “Gilligan Goes Gung Ho,” from Season Three of Gilligan’s Island (1964-1967, CBS), in which Gilligan becomes deputy and the power goes to his head — much like Felix in this installment. And also “Lucy Cries Wolf,” from the fourth season of I Love Lucy (1951-1957, CBS), a self-explanatory installment to which Felix, by the end of this episode, could obviously relate. So, derivative premise, but funny episode.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Last Tango In Newark,” in which Felix fills in for a role in a children’s ballet recital, “The Odd Decathlon,” in which the men compete against each other for physical superiority (very funny — most deserves to make the above list), “The Odd Holiday,” a flashback to a double couple’s trip that led the Ungers to split, “A Barnacle Adventure,” in which Oscar wants Felix to invest in a new glue made of barnacles, and “One For The Bunny,” another flashback in which Felix is livid that Gloria is a Playboy model.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Four of The Odd Couple goes to…..
“The Flying Felix”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the final season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!