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.
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, PRISCILLA BARNES as Terri Alden, RICHARD KLINE as Larry Dallas, JENILEE HARRISON as Cindy Snow, and DON KNOTTS as Ralph Furley.
Priscilla Barnes is added to the cast as Terri Alden, the smart and sexy nurse who joins Jack and Janet as the third (and final) of the show’s blonde roommates. She’s a breath of fresh air for the aging series, and one must give credit to the producers for NOT crafting a character similar to the ditsy roommates that had come before. Unlike her predecessors, Terri brings a sense of playful sophistication to the proceedings, and although she never gets developed with the multi-dimensionality that the show initially promises, this season is benefited by her frequent use in the stories. It’s exciting: for the first time since Chrissy left the apartment, the show utilizes stories that require all three roommates, who are each shown a slightly elevated sense of narrative equity. (This, of course, will not-so-gradually decline in the last two years, as Terri gets used less and less.) Meanwhile, the quality of the scripts is generally an improvement over last season’s, with material that showcases each character properly — including last year’s temp roommate, Cindy, whom the show keeps on in a recurring capacity for the length of the season, establishing a heretofore unseen sense of continuity. (But Harrison’s novice performing skills are made more glaring by the new ensemble and the stronger scripts.)
Yet Ritter maintains comedic priority, and in the trend that really began after Somers’ departure last season, the stories are specifically crafted to afford him the opportunity for some of the best physical comedy of his career. This skilled slapstick was not imperceptible to Lucille Ball, who respected Ritter’s talent enough to host a two-part retrospective at the end of the season. And it must be said that this is one of both Ritter’s and the show’s best years. In fact, it’s Three’s Company last great showing. 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.
Here are my picks for the best episodes of Season Six. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Every episode this season is directed by Dave Powers unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 104: “Professor Jack” (Aired: 10/27/81)
Terri decides to move out following her belief that Jack is sleeping with a married woman for money.
Written by Laura Levine
Three’s Company returns to its farcical roots with an episode that gives its audience the naughty misunderstandings that the series had been lacking during the year of Cindy, who was too young to carry off the sex jokes. But this episode is a comedic tour de force, with each scene seemingly building upon the prior, as two misunderstandings (Terri mistaking Jack’s attempts to give a married woman cooking lessons with sex lessons, and Jack and Janet believing that Terri is moving out to live with a married sugar daddy) blend together for a riotous climax. It’s a classic premise, a fun script, and a great episode for Terri, coming really early in her run.
02) Episode 106: “Lies My Roommate Told Me” (Aired: 11/10/81)
Larry begs Jack to arrange a date for him with Terri.
Written by George Burditt
Another episode that works because of Terri’s relative greenness, the premise has Larry asking Jack to arrange a date for him with Terri, and then being so nervous that he begs Jack to tag along for support. The bargaining chip: a date with the oft-referenced, but seldom seen, Greedy Gretchen, a deliciously ridiculous bombshell. Things are complicated by Larry’s hiring of Furley to take out Janet (so that Jack can get out of cooking her dinner), and their ending up, naturally, at the same restaurant. As with the above, multiple misunderstandings collide in a hilarious fashion. With this well-structured story, Three’s Company is firing on all cylinders.
03) Episode 107: “Two Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (Aired: 11/17/81)
Jack and Janet mistake Terri’s psychiatrist friend for a mental patient.
Written by Shelley Zellman
A string of hysterical episodes begins to emerge with this, one of the funniest half hours of the entire series. Jeffrey Tambor (whom you’ll remember from his regular role on The Ropers) plays a psychiatrist who accompanies Terri home for some much needed relaxation. But Jack and Janet, because of his strange behavior and Terri’s mention of the psych ward, come to the conclusion that he is actually a patient. At the same time, Tambor’s character begins to wonder the same thing about Jack, especially after he and Janet track them down at a fancy seafood restaurant. If not for another brilliant episode later in the season, this would easily be my MVE; it’s classic farce.
04) Episode 108: “Eyewitness Blues” (Aired: 11/24/81)
A cop stakes out the apartment after Jack is held up in an armed robbery.
Written by Michael S. Baser & Kim Weiskopf
What appeals most about this installment is the one-act design, something that this show, with its few sets and emphasis on slapstick, often does with great ease. Although the first act has scenes in the flower shop and police station, the crux of the story occurs in the apartment, where Jack, Janet, and Furley mistake the undercover cop the agency has sent to protect them from a dangerous burglar who has a vendetta against Jack with the burglar himself, thus allowing the real crook to come wreak havoc. Smartly, the episode also weaves in a sublot involving Terri and a blind date, arranged by Cindy, who ends up (shockingly) saving the day.
05) Episode 109: “Boy Meets Dummy” (Aired: 12/01/81)
Jack pretends to be married to avoid the advances of Angelino’s daughter.
Written by Ellen Guylas
As with several other installments over the course of the series, the premise of this outing involves Jack’s attempts to discourage the advances of an off-limits female. This time it’s Angelino’s daughter, who doesn’t buy Jack’s alibi that he’s married until the always helpful Felipe invites her over to meet Jack’s wife. When both Janet and Terri are unable to fulfill the role, Jack takes advantage of a CPR dummy, allowing Ritter to do a brilliant physical bit with an inflatable woman. Naturally, things are complicated when both Janet and Terri arrive home, each ready to play the part! Again, we’re back to classic Three’s Company and it’s refreshing.
06) Episode 117: “Urban Plowboy” (Aired: 02/09/82)
Jack joins the gang for a weekend on Cindy’s aunt’s farm to avoid a woman’s jealous boyfriend.
Written by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski
Like “A Camping We Will Go” from the fourth season, this slapstick-heavy installment finds the entire company venturing to a new environment, this time Cindy’s aunt’s farm, in an ensemble play that allows everyone moments of great character comedy. Of course, Ritter is the star of the proceedings, as Jack tries to avoid the ire of a jealous boyfriend who’s after him, once again, because of Larry’s penchant for never using his real name. There are a lot of great bits in this installment, but I’m particularly fond of the stuff with the tardy Furley, who develops a relationship with Cindy’s amusingly unique Aunt Becky, who demands he kill her a chicken.
07) Episode 122: “Paradise Lost” (Aired: 03/16/82)
Larry and Furley team up to stop the trio from moving to a nicer apartment.
Written by Shelley Zellman
Admittedly, the premise for this episode, centered around a move that never happens (a story that many shows inexplicably use during their runs), has never been one which I have found particularly enjoyable or generally conducive to comedy. However, this episode gains distinction for a smart script by Shelley Zellman, one of the best writers from the last three seasons of the series, and for the fact that both the story and the laughs are thrown to Richard Kline and Don Knotts, who get a really funny drunk scene as they mourn the potential departure of their friends, and later engineer a plan to make them stay. They’re a swell pairing — a rare delight.
08) Episode 123: “And Now Here’s Jack” (Aired: 03/23/82)
Jack makes a fool of himself (with the help of Janet and Terri) in a live TV cooking demonstration.
Story by Hank Bradford and Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski | Teleplay by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski
This is a premise (characters making fools of themselves on television) that’s worked on everything from The Honeymooners to Cheers, and the Three’s Company crew makes it their own by imbuing the script with exactly what the series does best: ensemble comedy and nuanced slapstick. While the entire script operates on an elevated level of humor, the clear highlight of the show is the trio’s disastrous TV appearance, in which stage fright and misplaced note cards facilitate some expert clowning by Ritter, DeWitt, and Barnes, who function as a delightful comedy team in one of their most effortless performances of the series. Great theatrical fun.
09) Episode 125: “Up In The Air” (Aired: 05/04/82)
Jack embarrasses Janet when he takes tranquilizers before attending a swanky party on a private island.
Written by Shelley Zellman
John Ritter gives perhaps the best performance of his entire career in this expertly constructed installment that grants him a drunken musical tour de force in the middle of the second act — something of the calibre unseen since the days of Lucy Ricardo and Rob Petrie. The premise has Jack, against Terri’s professional advice, taking tranquilizers to minimize his fear of flying, as he accompanies Janet to a ritzy island party where she hopes to score with a client, played by Greg Brady (Barry Williams). In an effort to wake himself up, Jack takes a swig of a wild drink that ends up leading to an extended sequence of brilliant physical comedy. Ritter is a comedic titan, and this episode is him at his absolute best. Unbeatable.
10) Episode 126: “Mate For Each Other” (Aired: 05/11/82)
Jack and Janet get paired up by a computer dating service.
Written by Ellen Guylas
Unlike many Three’s Company fans whom I’ve encountered, I am not in particular support of subtextual relationships between Jack and any of the roommates. This episode is immensely popular among fans of the imaginary Jack/Janet pairing, but that’s not why this episode makes this list. (In fact, it’s here in spite of it.) The installment features fine performances by all involved, and aside from the stilted opening scene with Jack and Janet’s married friends, features a superior script that maintains the comedy within the established sensibilities of the premise. And, even better, the episode wisely incorporates Terri in a second act misunderstanding.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Macho Man,” in which Jack winds up in jail after overcompensating for Terri’s emasculating takedown of a masher at the Regal Beagle, “Strangers In The Night,” a fan favorite episode (that some people probably expect to make the above list) in which Jack mistakingly serenades a fat woman (but the funny premise is spoiled by too much false sentimentality), and “Hearts And Flowers,” which is only mentionable due to an amusing climax in which Jack, Terri, and Furley scheme to show up an efficiency expert in front of Janet’s boss.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Six of Three’s Company goes to…..
“Up In The Air”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the seventh season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!