The Ten Best THREE’S COMPANY Episodes of Season Three

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.

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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, AUDRA LINDLEY as Mrs. Roper, and NORMAN FELL as Mr. Roper. RICHARD KLINE recurs as Larry Dallas.

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When I think of classic Three’s Company, this is the season that comes to mind. Everything is clicking with regard to the characters, and this collection of episodes boasts some of the series’ absolute best. In fact, Season Three is probably my favorite. (I know many fans who prefer Season Four, but I’ll reserve my thoughts on that season for next week’s post!) After two years of sweet-natured silliness, in which all the mild sensuality of the premise (carried over from the British scripts, which served as the basis for most of the early installments) is joyously explored, The Carol Burnett Show‘s Dave Powers takes over the directorial duties as the show settles into its identity as a delightful romp of innuendo and slapstick. Additionally, the audience’s growing understanding of the characters aids the storytelling, allowing comedy to become the series’ driving force — even more explicitly than it had in the past. Somers’ Chrissy is granted the chance to do more of the heavy lifting, DeWitt’s Janet gets more development (and becomes funnier as a result), and Ritter’s Jack is blessed with even more opportunities for expert shtick. Again, everything is clicking. Meanwhile, Season Three marks the first time that Richard Kline’s Larry is used with regularity, and most notably, this is the last year with the Ropers, who leave for their ill-fated spin-off. (More on that tomorrow!) With their departure, Three’s Company enters a new era and becomes, I think, a radically different show. (But that’s for next week…) In the meantime, 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.

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Here are my picks for the best episodes of Season Three. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that every episode this season is directed by Dave Powers, unless otherwise noted.

 

01) Episode 32: “Double Date” (Aired: 09/12/78)

Jack fakes a cold to break a date, but it backfires on him.

Written by Bob Baublitz

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Three’s Company delivers another classic premise as it once again mines comedic value from a tangled web of deceit — in this case, Jack’s feigned illness to his steady girlfriend Linda so that he can go out with someone else. This episode belongs entirely to Jack, as his repeated lies (to all the girls, but particularly Linda) build in their hilarity, culminating in a pot of chicken noodle soup on his head. Also notable is an amusing subplot in which Roper believes he’s caught Jack’s imaginary cold, and thus, can’t spend time with his wife. This is a really solid start to the season, illustrating the show’s unmatched penchant for theatricality.

02) Episode 33: “Good Old Reliable Janet” (Aired: 09/19/78)

Tired of being taken for granted, Janet and Mrs. Roper head off to a nude beach.

Written by Roger Shulman & John Baskin

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Without a doubt, this is the best Janet episode of the Chrissy era, as the script seemingly acknowledges the brunette character’s function as the show’s straight man (translated here as “dependable” and “reliable”). How to prove she’s not someone to be taken for granted? Why, gather up a neglected Mrs. Roper and join a protest down at the nude beach, of course! DeWitt is fantastic, and the episode really does what it intends — loosening up Janet, making her ripe for more comedy. Also, this installment boasts many memorable moments, particularly Roper’s interest in looking at “seashells” and his seduction by a Greek belly dancer.

03) Episode 34: “The Love Diary” (Aired: 09/26/78)

Chrissy makes extra money by typing a client’s X-rated diary.

Written by Gary Belkin & Deborah Hwang

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This episode gets a definite A+ for hilarity, as the trio’s individual reactions to the pornographic private journal (written by the mysterious Wanda X) that Chrissy is typing for extra cash make for plenty of great laughs. But things get even funnier when Roper reads part of the journal and assumes, not only that Chrissy is the author, but that the unrequited crush mentioned in the text is actually on him! One of my favorite misunderstanding episodes of the season, this offering is one of the most deliciously naughty (for ’78, that is), with a lot of sexual innuendos — and a hysterical surprise twist in the final tag scene. A classic.

04) Episode 35: “The Fast” (Aired: 10/03/78)

Janet bets that Chrissy can go without food longer than Jack can go without girls.

Story by Richard Christian Matheson & Thomas E. Szollosi | Teleplay by Al Gordon & Jack Mendelsohn

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My sentiments regarding this episode have gone back and forth. We’ve seen stories like this before on other series (and covered them before — like All In The Family), and the very idea of a wager between two characters essentially makes the entire script plot-driven. In other words, the story builds to one of a limited number of win/lose combos. The key is finding character moments to spice up the proceedings. This outing does a fairly commendable job of this, although the humor employed is some of the series’ most broad to date (it feels like a Season Four episode at times), and sometimes that can be off-putting if not in the right frame of mind.

05) Episode 39: “Larry’s Bride” (Aired: 10/31/78)

Larry’s fiancé makes a pass at Jack.

Written by Martin Roth

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While fast engagements do happen in real life, it’s usually hard to believe in a narrative, where logical developments are anticipated. Thus, this story is one in which I find difficult to invest. It makes my list, in spite of the premise, because of Ritter’s memorably amusing drunk bit, which is afforded to him after Larry’s fiancé, an old classmate of Jack’s, makes a pass at him in the kitchen. Also, this is the first episode of the season with a story built around Larry, and as with many of these installments, the character development being introduced will stick for the remainder of the series. Thus, it’s both notable and comedically satisfying.

06) Episode 45: “The Older Woman” (Aired: 01/16/79)

Confusion abounds when Janet an Chrissy learn that Jack is dating an older woman.

Written by Paul Wayne & George Burditt

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A great misunderstanding drives the entire episode, as Janet and Chrissy mistake the older woman that Jack’s been seeing with the woman’s elderly (and soon-to-be-wed) mother. Interestingly, Ritter takes a back seat in this episode’s lunacy (for perhaps the first time), as the show’s funniest bit is thrown to Larry, whom Chrissy and Janet have implored to seduce the old woman away from Jack. (A lot of quotable lines in this one, folks!) With some of the season’s biggest laughs, this is one of my favorite episodes of the entire series — boasting a completely unique script, perfectly cast guest stars, and generous material for Janet, Chrissy, and Larry.

07) Episode 46: “Stanley’s Hotline” (Aired: 01/30/79)

Roper’s eavesdropping leads him to believe that Chrissy is pregnant.

Written by Sam Greenbaum

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This is the only episode of the series in which Janet does not appear, as DeWitt went on strike after she was denied a promised raise. Although things were straightened out by the middle of the production week, the producers (foreshadowing the circumstances of Fall 1980 with Somers) decided to show their actress just how unimportant she was by replacing her with Jack’s personality-less, but perfectly charming, girlfriend, Linda. Fortunately, Janet’s absence in this particular installment doesn’t really affect the amusing story of Roper eavesdropping on the kids through the pipes in his bathroom. Another highly quotable installment.

08) Episode 49: “The Harder They Fall” (Aired: 02/20/79)

Chrissy and a crippled Jack are trapped in the bedroom while Janet brings home a date.

Story by Al Gordon, Jack Mendelsohn, and Susan Sisko | Teleplay by Al Gordon & Jack Mendelsohn

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This episode contains what may be the best of the misinterpreted overheard conversations, as Jack and Chrissy eavesdrop on Janet and her new beau discussing her gorgeous “exultatas”. We, the audience, know they’re discussing ferns, but Jack and Chrissy don’t, leading to some big laughs. (However, the pair turns out to be not entirely off base, as Janet’s initial excitement over her cute date turns into disgust with his lecherous motivations.) The comedy is classic Three’s Company in its most honest and genuine state, coming just before the show transitions from late ’70s lighthearted romp to early ’80s wacky farce.

09) Episode 50: “The Bake-Off” (Aired: 02/27/79)

Chrissy accidentally eats Jack’s pie that he’s made for a competition.

Story by Jerry Kenion | Teleplay by Paul Wayne & George Burditt

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Named as one of the best episodes of the entire series by many fans, this offering probably contains the biggest and best laughs of the entire season. Produced as the last installment of the year, this episode gives all five regular cast members beautiful moments to shine — particularly Somers’ Chrissy, who’s endearingly wacky as she tries to finish off the evidence of the pie that she accidentally started eating. With a great misunderstanding about “making the bed” (another golden era Three’s Company bit) and a huge pie-fighting climax, this is pure bliss for fans of the series. (Treat here.) It’s as good as most fans say it is, and is among my favorites as well.

10) Episode 53: “Triangle Troubles” (Aired: 05/15/79)

Jack conceals his living arrangement from his new girlfriend, who has a similar situation of her own.

Written by Al Gordon & Jack Mendelsohn

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From a storytelling point-of-view, this episode is appealing for its inherent symmetry. As Jack tries to court an “old-fashioned” girl (played by future It’s A Living [a.k.a. Making A Living] star Barrie Youngfellow) from his cooking class, he must lie about his living arrangement. Little does he know that this girl has a secret of her own: she is living with two guys! Complicating matters is Reverend Snow, who, for the only time during his three guest appearances, does not serve as the story’s villain. Although there are no Ropers, this is a nice capper to the season, utilizing the two-girls-and-a-guy format to its amusing advantage.

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Helen’s Rendezvous,” in which the trio fears that Mrs. Roper is having an affair (great episode for Audra Lindley and the one that MOST deserves to make this list), “Eleanor’s Return,” in which Jack feels neglected when Eleanor returns (most notable for Larry’s streak), “The Catered Affair,” in which Jack caters Chrissy’s office party, and “Jack Moves Out,” which is commendable ONLY for a great scene where the wife of Jack’s employer hits on him under the dinner table.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Three of Three’s Company goes to…..

“The Bake-Off”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the fourth season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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8 thoughts on “The Ten Best THREE’S COMPANY Episodes of Season Three

  1. Hi again! I commented last week and here I am again. I like your list, and I’m happy to see “The Love Diary,” “The Fast,” and “The Older Woman” on here. Classic episodes!

    The only glaring omission (to me) is “The Best Laid Plans,” which is one of the best episodes in the season. In “Best Laid Plans” Jack finally makes it into the girls’ bedroom, and the ensuing hijinx of him attempting to woo Chrissy are wall-to-wall comedy gold. There’s also the hilarious Abbott and Costello-esque exchange in Larry’s apartment when Jack visits Larry to retrieve the borrowed coffee can. I find it to be one of the most tightly-plotted episodes of the season, as one mouse ties together three floors’ worth of characters and plotlines—Larry, the trio, and the Ropers.

    I’m also surprised that “Anniversary Surprise” wasn’t named even as an honorable mention. This episode is the trio/Roper last hurrah, and they make it count. Guest star Ruta Lee as the realtor makes her brief appearance memorable, and the whole Jack/Mr. Roper “come downstairs sometime, I’ll show you a sagging foundation” scene at the Regal Beagle can’t be beat. I think it’s great the Ropers’ went out on a high note.

    While I like “The Harder They Fall,” its premise seems to be an inferior duplication of Season 2’s “Janet’s High School Sweetheart” and therefore never stood out to me. I agree the “exultatas” conversation is priceless, but other than that single payoff, the other parts of this episode seem to lag or are otherwise unspectacular.

    And as an aside, I’ve always thought Chrissy’s Boss was a fun episode, but I understand why it wasn’t included. The episode doesn’t really get going until ten minutes in (when Chrissy comes home in that dress and the misunderstanding begins). Other than the slow start, the rest of the episode delivers.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write the reviews. It’s really nice to talk to someone else who takes a detailed interest in the show!

    • Hi, aah! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      “The Best Laid Plans” is one of those installments on which I’ve reversed my opinion since first viewing. With time, I’ve cultivated a distaste for the shows in which Jack is actively trying to score with his roommates. I feel this gets in the way of the comedy (threatening to add an unappealing, but currently trendy, serialization that would destroy the show’s simple and effortless charm) and doesn’t do anything for the character’s likability. Although the character’s playful libidinous has always been an established trait, by Season Three, it’s difficult to buy that Jack views his roommates as anything other than like siblings. In this episode, the scheming seems out-of-character — more fitting for Larry than Jack.

      As for “The Anniversary Surprise,” I don’t feel the episode’s humor is able to compensate for the machinations of the script, which is solely designed to set up the Ropers’ departure. But nevertheless, it’s a perfectly enjoyable installment.

      Meanwhile, I would agree that “The Harder They Fall” lacks the comedic consistency of the other episodes that made this week’s list, but because the pay-off is so strong, it does manage to elevate the entirety of the proceedings.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments! Be sure to stay tuned next week for my selections of the best from Season Four…

  2. This is my favorite Three’s Company season (I always recognize when a Season 3 episode is coming up on tv by the neat tropical percussion that precedes the theme song in only that season.), and I have a few favorites from this season.
    I really enjoy some of the dialogue from “Larry’s Bride”. (BTW, that episode’s original airdate was 11/28/78, not 10/1/78.) Here’s a nice triple for you which breaks into the real world in a way: “Happy Days”, “Good Times”, “Little House on the Prairie!”, and Jack’s drunk act was I think the funniest scene from the season next to the giant pie fight from “The Bakeoff”.
    Because of my Tuesday night Boy Scout meetings, I never got to see many episodes from this show first-run, so I never got to see Jack get his in the pie fight until Nick-at-Nite restored the original episode tags. I thought the buildup to the episode climax took forever, but Chrissy was funny trying to eat the whole pie by herself.
    “Triangle Troubles” was also a lot of fun, I thought, and it was nice seeing the Rev. Mr. Snow on the trio’s side this time.
    “An Anniversary Surprise” was the highest-rated episode of the series, and it led to the highest-rated episode of The Ropers (unfortunately its pilot, so it had nowhere to go but down after that) just after.

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      “Larry’s Bride” actually aired 10/31/78, and I have amended the post to add in the missing 3.

      Stay tuned next week for my thoughts on Season Four…

  3. “The Older Woman” is my favorite episode of all, and Larry’s botched seduction of Aunt Martha is one of my favorite sitcom scenes, culminating in Mr. Roper’s “you’re weird”. Richard Kline could have carried a sitcom of his own.

    I thought Barrie Youngfellow overacted in Triangle Troubles, but I love it anyway, along with Double Date, Love Diary, Helen’s Rendezvous (the bathroom scene is great), Chrissy’s New Boss (great Roper exchanges), The Party’s Over, Eleanor’s Return (love the cake scene), The Catered Affair (another destroyed mousse), The Bake-Off and Anniversary Surprise (“What would I do with another woman?” “Beats me”).

    John Ritter hated the bar scene in Chrissy and the Guru.

    Great season and great intelligent discussion. I have some thoughts on “The Ropers” as well tomorrow.

    • Hi, Jake! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Season Three is a wonderful year, and I see many of our favorites overlap. The only installment you mentioned for which I have never cultivated favor is the rather ordinary “The Party’s Over.”

      As for “Chrissy And The Guru,” I dislike that episode entirely — undoubtedly the year’s weakest.

      Stay tuned tomorrow for my thoughts on THE ROPERS! (Spoiler alert: I won’t have many kind words…)

  4. This series write-up is interesting reading to me. I remember watching THREE’S COMPANY in prime-time. Well, at first. Sometime after Suzanne Somers left and Don Knotts joined the cast, I eventually drifted away from it. Part of that was I never really warmed to Knotts’s Ralph Furley, a character that always kind of grated on me. Don’t know why, exactly. I liked him on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and, truth be told, Furley was, in many ways, not that far removed from Barney Fife.

    I’ve read, though I don’t remember where, that by the time THE ROPERS was cancelled, ABC had no intention of returning Fell and Lindley to THREE’S COMPANY, as they considered it quite a coup — one they never anticipated — that they were able to sign Knotts to the series.

    • Hi, James! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, there was a deal made that both Fell and Lindley could return to THREE’S COMPANY if their show lasted less than a year, but because Knotts had been a great boon to the series, ABC waited to cancel THE ROPERS until after the designated time had lapsed. You can read more about it in this week’s post on THE ROPERS.

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