Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing our coverage on the best episodes from one of the jiggliest sitcoms in primetime history, Three’s Company (1977-1984, ABC). I’m thrilled to announce that every single episode has been released on DVD.
Student chef Jack Tripper lives with two single girls in an attempt to save expenses, but there’s a catch: he must feign homosexuality to subvert the suspicions of their conservative landlord. Three’s Company stars JOHN RITTER as Jack Tripper, JOYCE DeWITT as Janet Wood, SUZANNE SOMERS as Chrissy Snow, ANN WEDGEWORTH as Lana Shields, RICHARD KLINE as Larry Dallas, and DON KNOTTS as Ralph Furley.
With the Ropers off on their own series, Three’s Company bumps Larry up to regular status, brings on a sexy cougar to chase around Jack, and introduces Don Knotts as the trio’s new landlord. The addition of Knotts, and to a lesser extent, Wedgeworth (a Tony winning actress), adds a bit of credibility to the series. This is vital now, as Season Four marks the moment in which the show begins shedding its IQ points. Let me rephrase: the characters begin shedding their IQ points, as the writers go for easier laughs and sillier stories. While the dumbing down of Chrissy Snow had always been a gradual process, her character really becomes a caricature here, and as always with elements of artifice, it’s harder to relate to her. (In fact, her characterization, along with the dumbing down of the others, sours a few fan-favorite installments, including “The Root Of All Evil,” which loses its logic as a result.) Meanwhile, the scripts go broader and push harder, and for the first time, there is a frequent supply of gimmicky jokes that are actually cringe-inducing. (As always, these moments occur when the characters become inauthentic and the show veers away from believability.)
At the same time, this unflappable drive to produce big laughs does cultivate a lot of undeniably hysterical moments, particularly for John Ritter, who plays well off of both his new castmates. Unfortunately, while Ralph Furley is a comedic slam-dunk for the series, Lana, from conception, is a one-note character, and far beneath the talents of the brilliant Wedgeworth; she disappears from the show in December. Nevertheless, Season Four is most often cited by fans as their favorite. Why? The laughs are BIGGER. Thus, there are a lot of classic installments, many of which contain two or three memorable bits. (Also, the honorable mentions are particularly notable this season.) 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 best episodes of Season Four. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Every episode this season is directed by Dave Powers unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 55: “Love Thy Neighbor” (Aired: 09/18/79)
Jack becomes a male escort to a horny divorcée.
Written by Mark Tuttle
Lana is introduced in this hilarious outing that features a smart script and a mildly risqué premise. In need of funds, Jack becomes a paid escort to Lana, a sexy divorcée who’s had her fair share of husbands. To avoid Lana’s advances, Jack pretends that Larry is his beau… but that’s not enough to dissuade the cougar. Ritter would later cite it ridiculous that Jack would be so adverse to Lana’s pursuit of him, but the biggest problem is that the situation doesn’t provide enough room for her character to grow. However, Wedgeworth gets a lot of great dialogue, and because of the strength of the script, seems like a comedically ripe addition to the series.
02) Episode 56: “The New Landlord” (Aired: 09/25/79)
The trio tries to fix a bad impression they’ve made on their new landlord.
Written by Michael S. Baser & Kim Weiskopf
Don Knotts joins the cast as the building’s new manager, Ralph Furley, a wannabe womanizer who quickly develops a passion for Lana, who’s still after Jack. After accidentally selling Furley’s furniture in a garage sale, the trio tries to remedy the situation by arranging a date for him with Lana, who’ll only participate if Jack stays with her the whole night. Cue a not-so-intimate dinner for three, with Janet and Chrissy bungling things in the kitchen. Note that this is very broad storytelling with some uproarious comedy — particularly when Chrissy throws the roast out of the window. Yet it’s a dynamite showing for Mr. Knotts and the fourth season.
03) Episode 57: “Snow Job” (Aired: 10/02/79)
Chrissy tries to sell cosmetics as Furley hosts a strip poker party.
Written by Rowby Goren
The central premise of this episode is an unspectacular one that has Chrissy attempting to give up secretarial work to sell cosmetics, despite having no talents as a door-to-door saleswoman. However, the show’s real comedic meat involves the strip poker party down at Furley’s, which features Larry, two of his bimbos, Jack, Lana (who wins), and a layered-up Furley. This installment makes the list because of the conclusion, in which Chrissy’s cosmetics story dovetails nicely into the poker story, leading to an unforgettable climax in which Furley gets arrested in front of the building for indecent exposure. Very funny episode, despite a few cringes!
04) Episode 58: “Jack The Ripper” (Aired: 10/09/79)
Jack takes a course on how to be more assertive.
Written by Gene Perret & Bill Richmond
Tired of being pushed around, Jack visits a quack of a doctor who teaches him to be more assertive by literally barking at his foes. Naturally, this comes to a head in a hysterically escalating scene in which, to the complete shock of the audience, Furley begins barking back at him. The idea of Ritter and Knotts barking at each other (and Janet’s ordering them to “Heel!”) is enough to make this episode a winner, but the script is nice and tight, with each scene — and almost each line — necessary for the proceedings. Meanwhile, in addition to the comedy, the script isn’t as predictable as some others this year, and that’s an automatic plus.
05) Episode 61: “A Camping We Will Go” (Aired: 11/06/79)
An exhausted Jack is hassled at a mountain cabin by the ensemble.
Written by Michael S. Baser & Kim Weiskopf
Although John Ritter gets an untouchable block of physical comedy with an uncooperative hammock, this episode really belongs to the cultivated ensemble, as Larry drags a sleep-deprived Jack up a mountain cabin to appease his wannabe actress girlfriend (who thinks Jack is a director and spends the entire weekend auditioning for him), only to be followed by Janet, Chrissy, Furley, and Lana. Everyone gets a moment to shine, and although I think the episode (like several of the Baser-Weiskopf scripts) features a shortage of brains, there’s no denying that this is a classic, with the year’s best laughs and worthy showcases for all the characters. My favorite.
06) Episode 62: “Chrissy’s Hospitality” (Aired: 11/13/79)
When Chrissy hits her head and goes to the hospital, Jack and Janet fear the worst.
Written by Mark Tuttle
In addition to a very funny opening scene in which Furley overhears a potentially incriminating, but obviously innocent, conversation in which Jack and Chrissy try to install a shower curtain, this episode is blessed with a charming performance by Somers and great chemistry between Ritter and DeWitt, who establish a partnership that will really develop following Somers’ departure in the following season. There are many big laughs, and though I find the episode’s premise way too heavy (the threat of Chrissy dying, though not a worry to the audience, is not one we want to see Jack and Janet fearing), it’s another strong fourth season showing.
07) Episode 68: “Larry Loves Janet” (Aired: 01/08/80)
Janet tries to discourage Larry’s new crush on her.
Written by John Boni
It’s woefully difficult to believe that Larry would all of a sudden fall in love with Janet. This is clearly a “sitcom” story (that is, unrealistic, but convenient for the narrative and forgotten by the next episode) and we have to accept its unbelievability early on to appreciate the great comedy that this episode offers. DeWitt’s Janet is allowed to be silly for one of the first times in the entire series, and it’s ultimately very rewarding. (And it’s the best Janet episode of the season.) With appearances from only the trio and Larry, this is a nice intimate offering with a comedically ripe script by freelancer John Boni. Despite the premise, it’s — surprisingly — a favorite.
08) Episode 70: “The Love Lesson” (Aired: 01/22/80)
Furley tries to convert Jack by teaching him to like girls.
Written by Mark Tuttle
This underrated installment has one of the jokiest scripts of the season, and thankfully, it never comes at the expense of the character’s logic. The one minor story point that must be overcome is Jack’s inability to foresee that he would have to move if Furley was successful in converting him. (Like Roper, Furley’s allowing the trio to love together is contingent, particularly at this point in the series, on his believing Jack to be gay.) Otherwise, the laughs in this episode are truly spectacular, and all of the interactions between Furley and Bobby (Joanna Kearns) are brilliant. So many quotable moments; one of the show’s absolute funniest installments.
09) Episode 71: “Handcuffed” (Aired: 01/29/80)
Jack and Chrissy get stuck in a pair of her cousin’s handcuffs.
Story by Len Richmond | Teleplay by Michael S. Baser & Kim Weiskopf
Many fans cite this episode as one of the series’ most memorable, and I’m actually in agreement. Although the story has been done to death on television sitcoms by this point (like I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners), it’s ideal for Three’s Company, and in some ways, no series does it better because it’s built entirely on physical comedy and thus seems tailored for the talents of Ritter. Unlike most scripts, the comic centerpiece of the episode occurs in the middle of the installment when Jack (and an attached Chrissy) go to meet his date at the Regal Beagle. Ritter and Somers are absolute pros here, and they make the proceedings hysterical. Fantastic offering.
10) Episode 72: “And Baby Makes Two” (Aired: 02/05/80)
Jack and Chrissy think Janet is interviewing potential baby daddies.
Written by Ellen Guylas
Three’s Company is often remembered for stories hinged on misunderstandings. This misunderstanding, in which Jack and Chrissy think Janet has placed a personal ad to find a man to inseminate her, is probably the funniest. It works so well because there’s logic behind the confusion. That is, the script is so well plotted that none of the characters look idiotic for not putting things together sooner. With this reasonable undercurrent of logic, the comedy is allowed to be as silly as it wants, evoking some rollocking laughs that make for some of the show’s best. I rarely see this one listed as anybody’s favorite, but I think it’s among the series’ sharpest.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Jack On The Lam,” in which Jack dons drag to evade the FBI, and “Mighty Mouth,” in which Jack pursues a gymnast with a bulky (and overly protective) brother. Both episodes are great showings for Ritter and his physical comedy genius, and they’re perhaps on par with the ten episodes listed above. (“Lam” is the one I most wanted to include.) Other strong, but less consistently excellent installments, include “Ralph’s Rival,” in which Chrissy poses as Furley’s wife, and “Jack’s Graduation,” in which Jack finally graduates from cooking school.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Four of Three’s Company goes to…..
“A Camping We Will Go”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the fifth season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!