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 pretend he’s gay 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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: 02/15/79)
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
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
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
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.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Three of Three’s Company goes to…..
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the fourth season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!