Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re finishing 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 final season of The Odd Couple is not unlike most final seasons of classic TV series, representing a comedown in creative quality. The actors are game and putting forth even MORE than would ordinarily be required in an uphill attempt to overcompensate for mediocre scripts and alternatively tired and gimmicky (more so than usual) stories. As can be expected, there are a handful of gems among the bunch, but this is simply not a great year. It’s far from horrendous (in fact, when compared to most series, this season is still a winner), but for the standards previously established by the series itself, this one will likely leave you wanting. However, what may both interest and surprise you here is that the final episode is not a standalone installment, but actually a genuine series finale that wraps up the show quite nicely (albeit, quickly). 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. (And there are no honorable mentions this week.)
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 93: “The Rain In Spain Falls Mainly In Vain” (Aired: 09/12/74)
Felix helps Myrna win back her ex-boyfriend, Sheldn.
Written by Rick Mittleman | Directed by Harvey Miller
What may intrigue sitcom fans most about this Pygmalion inspired installment (in which Penny Marshall’s Myrna is cast as Liza and Felix is Higgins) is the guest appearance by Marshall’s then husband Rob Reiner, current star of All In The Family (coming to Sitcom Tuesdays next week), as her quirky and oft-menioned boyfriend Sheldn (without the o, and you’ll find out why here). Funny episode and a great way to start out the season — if only every episode this year could be like this.
02) Episode 94: “To Bowl Or Not To Bowl” (Aired: 09/19/74)
Felix refuses to compete with his team in a bowling tournament.
Written by Mickey Rose | Directed by Jay Sandrich
This is sort of an average episode that finds itself on today’s list because of a few fine character moments and two pretty funny bits. One is the poker game in which Oscar and the guys try to show Felix how silly his non-competitive stance on the bowling tournament is. The other is the final moments of the second act in which Felix gives a big speech to the bowlers about how foolish they’re being, only for Oscar to bellow, ‘Throw da ball!’ Adequate, but some big laughs.
03) Episode 100: “The Subway Story” (Aired: 10/31/74)
After Oscar writes an article panning New York City, he and Felix are trapped in a subway car.
Written by Lowell Ganz & Mark Rothman | Directed by Norm Gray
As the most memorable episode of the year, this one stands as probably Season Five’s strongest. Oscar has disparaged the city in print to Felix’s chagrin and the two get the chance to experience New York — or rather, New Yorkers — firsthand when they are trapped in a broken down subway car with a bunch of snarky strangers (including Barney Martin). Perhaps it’s the “one act” feel of the episode, with most of the show confined to the single set, or maybe the solidarity of the premise, but this installment is a true winner — in a season of runner-ups.
04) Episode 103: “The Big Broadcast” (Aired: 11/28/74)
Oscar gets his own sports talk radio show.
Written & Directed by Frank Buxton
Much like a supreme Frasier episode that aired 23 years after this Odd Couple installment, the big block comedy scene, that in both cases is finely executed and uproariously funny, involves a live radio program gone completely wrong! In this case, a lot of the laughs (in addition to the requisite messed up sound cues) come from Felix’s ridiculous script (he knows nothing about sports, so naturally he’d be the perfect one to write about its greatest moments). Funny, funny, funny!
05) Episode 104: “Oscar In Love” (Aired: 12/12/74)
Oscar dates a widow with two children and considers marriage.
Written by Carl Gottlieb | Directed by Mel Ferber
An anomaly for this series, this installment manages a surprising sophistication that instead of impeding on the humor or feeling poorly suited for the series, brings its own comedy and shades the characters (Oscar, in particular) in different ways. Dina Merrill turns in a smart performance as Oscar’s love interest, and there are some nice laughs (especially leading up to the ill-fated wedding). As change of pace for the series, this one’s actually funny too!
06) Episode 105: “Two On The Aisle” (Aired: 12/19/74)
When Oscar is assigned to write a theatre column, he manipulates Felix into doing it for him.
Written by Lowell Ganz & Mark Rothman | Directed by Jay Sandrich
This brilliant episode works so screamingly well because the story is not only original, but also every beat enacted by the characters is logical and in fitting with their established personas. We know Oscar has little interest in the theatre, so of course, he’s going to do whatever he can to work around his assignment — like scamming Felix into reviewing it for him. The climax on the theatre talk show is solid, though not stellar, but the strength of the script in general keeps this episode constantly funny and fresh. A favorite of mine!
07) Episode 109: “The Rent Strike” (Aired: 01/31/75)
Felix leads the rest of the building’s tenants in a rent strike.
Written by Martin Ragaway | Directed by Norm Gray
Again, this episode makes my list principally because the story and all of the beats seem befitting of the characters. (This should always be the case but often becomes increasingly NOT so as most series progress — it’s called sacrificing character for story.) Also, this episode boasts another guest appearance by Victor Buono (in a different role) as the odd couple’s villainous landlord, who brings much of the humor when he agrees to the other tenant’s demands… if Felix moves out!
08) Episode 110: “Two Men On A Hoarse” (Aired: 02/07/75)
Oscar has his throat operated on and can’t speak for two days.
Written by Martin Donovan | Directed by Charles Shyer
For all my whining that this season is inferior, I must admit that this installment is close to perfect. Oscar loses his voice before going on Dick Cavett’s show and must have an operation. At the hospital and then at home, Felix drives Oscar crazy. After days of silence, Oscar is allowed to talk quietly — but can’t raise his voice — and with Felix around (who’s lost his voice now too) that may be impossible. Add to this a pair of burglars, a remote operated hospital bed, and a confused Murray, and you’ve got one outstanding episode. A classic.
09) Episode 112: “Old Flames Never Die” (Aired: 02/21/75)
When Felix learns that his high school flame is now a grandmother, he and Oscar begin to feel their age.
Written by Buz Kohan & Bill Angelos | Directed by Frank Buxton
Episodes in which characters contending with their mortality or the idea of growing older have an immediate appeal because the themes are universal and can result in a variety of stories. The comedic centerpiece involves Oscar and Felix, in an attempt to recapture their youth, going to a club and dancing with three young modern women. Their conversation at the table is well-written and funny, and this is a valued episode — especially at this point in the series.
10) Episode 114: “Felix Remarries” (Aired: 03/07/75)
Felix tries to convince Gloria to give him a second chance.
Written by Larry Rhine & Sidney Reznick | Directed by Jack Donohue
As I mentioned in my introductory thoughts on the season, it’s sort of surprising to see this series get a true series finale in which the show returns to its roots, as Felix emerges gung-ho (after nearly three years) to reunite with Gloria by proving that he’s no longer the finicky clean freak that she kicked out years before. The wedding is pretty funny, and there’s a nice sense of closure without it being sentimental. And though the story pops out of nowhere after years of being dropped, this is an appropriate and TRULY enjoyable series finale (and I’m not usually fond of them).
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of The Odd Couple goes to…..
“The Subway Story”
Come back next Tuesday as we start our coverage of the best from All In The Family! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!