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, 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!
In a way I compare your opinion to this season to your views on the fifth season of The Bob Newhart Show
Btw I can’t wait on your views on the fifth srason. To me I separate that season in three parts…Chrissy part, the non chrissy part and the Cindy part
Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, I think the connection between the two shows (and these corresponding seasons) is the sacrifice of logic for new stories and (potentially) bigger laughs, especially in comparison to the scripts from the preceding years. Otherwise, the shows are very different. In fact, I am much more dissatisfied with THE BOB NEWHART SHOW’s fifth season than THREE’S COMPANY fourth, because I think the former was always a show more grounded in consistent characterizations. So the slip is more glaring and the trade of logic for laughs is not an exchange that seems as worthwhile (or necessary, as it appears to have been for THREE’S COMPANY).
But I look forward to sharing my thoughts on the fifth season, which I think has several of the series’ finest installments, next week! Stay tuned…
Favorites here are Chrissy’s Hospitality (great work by Don Knotts and Keene Curtis), Handcuffed (shower scene is hilarious), Jack on the Lam, The New Landlord (great kitchen scene) and The Love Barge.
Hi, Jake! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Again, we share a lot of the same favorites, with the exception of “The Love Barge,” which features a promising premise that’s infringed upon by the senseless and overbearing characterizations, particularly Somers’ Chrissy. But “Jack On The Lam” was the hardest one to leave off; I wavered between that one and “Snow Job.”
Stay tuned next week for my thoughts on the best from the fifth season…
I read an old interview not long ago with Don Knotts, in which he discusses THREE’S COMPANY. He likened the series to sketch comedy, and commented more than once that the show “never had good stories,” though he thought it was strong in terms of gags and jokes.
He said that after Suzanne Somers left the series, the writers would sometimes give him the kind of “dumb” material they had written for Suzanne, though Knotts said he didn’t think it always suited his character as ideally as it had her. That they would have Ralph Furley saying or doing things that would have been funnier in Chrissy’s hands. He said he thought the writers had gotten used to having a “dumb” character on the show to help drive the stories and situations, and even after Suzanne left the show, they didn’t want to give up having a character like that because it was too convenient for them.
Hi, Stephen! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, Knotts would get the majority of Somers’ material when she first started missing episodes, although it’s clear to see DeWitt taking on some of Chrissy’s lines too. When the third blonde roommate was added, Janet went back to normal (for several seasons at least), but Furley retained this added zaniness for the remainder of the series. Unlike my sentiments regarding the devolution of Janet (which you’ll read soon enough), I actually think it was a good thing for Knotts’ character to be given this extra boost of comedy.
Stay tuned next week for more of my thoughts on the fifth season and THREE’S COMPANY’s life post-Somers…
I also read that some of the cast was intimidated by Din Knotts
Understandable, right? He’d already won his five Emmys by then.
Though I may be a bit ahead of things by mentioning Season 5 here, I read in Chris Mann’s book about this show that there was an early episode from that season, “And Justice for Jack”, that had a lot for Chrissy to say & do. When Somers skipped this episode, a lot of her lines were given to Ralph, so this may be where Ralph started being “The Dumb One” on this show.
Do you think it was necessary for Chrissy to become so “dumb” on this show? I find Chrissy as she appeared in the pilot a refreshing & funny character, before she started acting so “dumb”. I put that word in quotes because of course she wasn’t (as I’m sure Somers & the writers would say) any less intelligent than the others; she just saw things differently. Maybe it was just a way to get cheaper laughs.
Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, the evolution (and expansion) of Furley’s character is directly correlated to Somers’ departure, with “…And Justice For Jack” as the most obvious example of her material being rerouted to him (and, Janet as well), because it was the only episode rewritten and shot on the same scheduled production day. The other Chrissy-less episodes were changed during or before the production week — and I will cover all the details here next Tuesday! (I am fascinated by all the backstage conflict, particularly in the ways that it affected storytelling. One of my biggest wishes is to find the script that was completely scrapped. Knowing the frugality of the producers, however, I’m sure it was soon recycled and used with Cindy.)
As for Chrissy’s growing stupidity (and yes, by 1980 it’s probably fair to call her dumb), it’s modus operandi for the show: find a laugh-getting bit and milk it for all its worth. Not only do these extreme characterizations yield bigger (but as you noted, cheaper) laughs, they also open up new stories. It happens to most long running shows, but it’s particularly glaring here, and, ultimately, a liability for the audience, who must be able to suspend a reasonable amount of disbelief.
There are a lot of classic episodes in Season Four, but some of the characterizations, particularly hers, become an impediment on the show’s quality. Had she stayed, this would have likely continued… but stay tuned!
I also like Chrissy better in the early episodes of the show. It wasn’t just that she got dumb. It was more that they made her SO dumb. I liked Suzanne Somers in the part more, too, early on, before she apparently realized she was supposed to be funny and started playing the part more and more broadly and cartoonishly. Such mugging as hadn’t been seen since Mack Sennett retired. Even for this show, that her performances were increasingly lacking in anything resembling subtlety becomes more and more of a turn-off for me by the time the series reached season four.
I realize it does happen that characters sometimes get more and more exaggerated as a series ages. Another show that happened on was THE GOLDEN GIRLS, where with each season the ladies’ personal traits and characteristics were taken further and further in an attempt to mine more and more laughs.
Hi, Kayla! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I completely agree with what you wrote regarding the trajectory of Somers’ increasingly unsubtle performance. One thing I will note about THE GOLDEN GIRLS (my favorite episodes of which I will be highlighting sometime in 2016) is that, although the first two years are undoubtedly the freshest and best written, the broadening of the characters in the ensuing seasons did not act as a suppressant to the show’s comedic integrity. In other words, they always got their laughs (and most of the time, strong laughs), even if the stories were getting more and more difficult to both believe and appreciate. (I would say the same for CHEERS; again, it happens to almost every long running series…) But I am less bothered by THE GOLDEN GIRLS’ characters’ evolutions as I am by some of the ones here. Off the top of my head, there is another show that I hold in a similar esteem to THREE’S COMPANY, as it eventually became notorious for cheap laughs that came at the expense of their characters’ authenticity: FRIENDS, the best of which I also intend to feature on Sitcom Tuesdays — but not for a long while! (Oh, and frankly, I also feel the same about the majority of Lucille Ball’s post-1963 sitcom work, which — aside from LIFE WITH LUCY — has been covered here.)
Stay tuned next week for my thoughts on Season Five!