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, and DON KNOTTS as Ralph Furley.
Season Seven is a year of both evolution and devolution. Almost every story is built around Jack, whose career comes into its own when Mr. Angelino affords him the chance to rent and operate his own restaurant, Jack’s Bistro, which marks a maturation for the character (and the series) from ’70s kid to ’80s adult. Furthermore, the new locale promises new stories, and for the most part, it delivers, giving new environments in which the characters can play. Unfortunately, while Jack has another great season, his two roommates are getting short shrift. Although Janet is consistently given a lot of material to explore (much more than she ever got in the Somers years), Season Seven begins her transition from voice of reason to voice of hysteria, which will come to typify the role she’ll inhabit in the final year. Her changing persona is likely a result of Terri’s lack of dimensionality, as the show’s inability to write for the character becomes more pronounced. (By next season, she’s nothing more than a placeholder.) While Barnes does anchor a few stories — particularly in the second half of the year — her character has no definition. Is she clever, or is she zany? What does she like? From where does her humor come? These questions, only half answered in her comparatively stronger debut season, remain without resolution here, and thus, the handful of episodes that do center around Terri rarely deliver the necessary laughs. But, as I said, this is a strong season for Ritter and the show’s evolution, and there are a handful of surprisingly worthwhile (and perhaps underrated) offerings. 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 Seven. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Every episode this season is directed by Dave Powers unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 129: “A Night Not To Remember” (Aired: 09/28/82)
Jack fears he’s taken advantage of Janet when he wakes up in her bed.
Written by George Burditt & Budd Grossman
Although this fan-favorite episode (appealing most to the those who support the imagined subtextual relationship between Jack and Janet) features a lot of jokes that don’t land — in spite of the overly enthusiastic studio audience, it’s hard to deny the brilliance of John Ritter, whose comedic skills are renowned. So while the premise, which goes against the truth behind Jack and Janet’s friendship and paints both characters in a slightly cringeworthy light, is weak, there are a few worthy laughs. Choice for me is the moment in which Furley believes there’s something going on between Jack and Larry. Faulty episode, but ultimately worthwhile.
02) Episode 133: “Jack Gets His” (Aired: 11/09/82)
Jack’s dreams of having his own restaurant come true.
Written by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski
This is a big event episode, launching the arc of Jack having his own restaurant, a development that will extend throughout the remainder of the series. Truthfully, it’s not a hysterical offering, but its importance in Jack’s growth elevates the script and makes it seem better than it really is. And for fans of the series, it’s satisfying to see our protagonist achieve something that he’s been wanting since the pilot. The strongest scene in the installment probably occurs when Jack goes to apply for a bank loan (you’ll recognize the agent as the actress who played Jack’s girlfriend, Linda) and, naturally, makes a fool of himself. Not a superb one, but seminal.
03) Episode 134: “Opening Night” (Aired: 11/16/82)
The opening night of Jack’s Bistro looks to be a disaster.
Written by Shelley Zellman
One of the funniest episodes from the first half of the season, this installment sees the debut of the newly renovated Jack’s Bistro. The gang’s attempts to fix the place up make for some laughs, particularly Mr. Furley’s bit with the curling wallpaper. But the real comedy comes in when Larry prints the wrong date on the fliers and Janet and Terri are forced to go solicit customers, which ends with them getting picked up by a cop for prostitution. Things turn out fine in the end when Larry brings in his big Greek family — cueing the obligatory dish slamming scene, which, despite its obviousness, is comedically appreciated. Another rewarding episode for Jack fans.
04) Episode 137: “The Brunch” (Aired: 12/07/82)
Jack hopes to convince a reverend that his restaurant is morally respectable.
Story by Terry Hensey & Marshall King and George Burditt & Budd Grossman | Teleplay by George Burditt & Budd Grossman
After the two episodes that established the restaurant as a place for new stories, this installment is the first to actually capitalize on the space, featuring a wonderfully theatrical script (you know I love these one act plays!) that has Jack throwing a Sunday brunch to convince a pious reverend that the bistro is a morally upright establishment — unlike the hooker hangout that preceded it. While the salacious obstacles that Jack must overcome are admittedly tiresome, the stakes remain high and there are plenty of laughs, particularly from the feud that develops between Furley and Felipe, who makes his last appearance in this episode. Very funny!
05) Episode 138: “The Impossible Dream” (Aired: 12/14/82)
Jack gets more than he bargained for when Larry begins singing at the bistro.
Written by Shelley Zellman
Richard Kline cites this as one of his favorite episodes and it’s easy to see why: the entire story is built upon his character’s desire to sing at Jack’s restaurant. While last season presented Larry as a pleasing vocalist, his singing chops leave much to be desired here, and it’s a good easy means to obtain laughs, especially as the titular “impossible dream” takes on multiple meanings. Once again, however, the primary draw for the episode (for me) is the subplot involving Furley’s attempts to run the kitchen and Jack’s accompanying struggle. A particularly great moment for Knotts occurs when he burns his hand on a pot, but refuses to let Jack notice.
06) Episode 139: “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” (Aired: 01/04/83)
Furley and Janet panic when they learn Terri’s new beau is a convicted murderer.
Written by Ellen Guylas
Usually the misunderstandings in Three’s Company are often rooted in a breakdown of logic. This episode switches things up; Furley and Janet believe that Terri’s new beau is a murderer, and as it turns out, they’re right! It’s a surprisingly dark turn for the series, especially given its lighthearted track record. Meanwhile, the episode serves as an interesting example of Janet’s changing function; here, she’s the clown: running around (and falling off of ladders) frantically trying to save Terri from a murderer. It’s hard to ignore the comedic merit in her behavior, but the histrionics will become incredibly off-putting as it becomes more common next season.
07) Episode 142: “Going To Pot” (Aired: 02/01/83)
Jack tries to bust a crooked building inspector who demands a bribe.
Written by Shelley Zellman
Installments that weave multiple plot threads together command more respect because there’s an apparent heightened level of mastery that goes into crafting the script. The somewhat routine story of Jack trying to frame a shady building inspector who’s demanding a bribe by tape recording him is matched with a delicious complication. The cop accidentally hears Jack asking Mr. Furley to pick up a special pot for him, leading to a misunderstanding in which the authorities think they’re busting Furley for marijuana, instead of the intended bribe. It’s very funny, and one of the best scripted installments of the year. Among the season’s finest.
08) Episode 144: “Jack Goes The Distance” (Aired: 02/22/83)
Jack unknowingly challenges a winning boxer to a match.
Written by David Mirkin
The appeal of this episode exists primarily in the performance of John Ritter, whose Jack Tripper gets a nearly 25-minute opportunity to prove what a klutz he can be (as we have seen time and time again on this series). Naturally, this translates into some great physical comedy bits for Ritter, as the story climaxes in an extended sequence in which Jack faces off against his opponent in the boxing ring. The not-so-original premise isn’t one of which I’m particularly fond, but because of the laughs brokered by Ritter’s performance, the installment becomes easily memorable. For fans of slapstick — especially when done by Ritter, this will be a favorite.
09) Episode 145: “Jack’s Double Date” (Aired: 03/01/83)
Thanks to Furley, Jack’s bet to go for a week without girls is challenged.
Written by Budd Grossman
As mentioned above, a special respect is awarded for scripts that make use of multiple stories and finds a way to converge them. What starts as a bet between Jack and the girls to see if he can go for a week without girls is jeopardized when he accompanies Furley to the Regal Beagle and agrees to take Furley’s desired conquest’s companion, a buxom blonde. While Furley’s attempts to “turn on” his date are unspeakably hysterical, the particularly well designed comedy occurs when Janet and Terri find Jack back in the apartment with his new friend, whom he is able to temporarily pass off (in a great bit) as a business associate. A lot of big laughs here; a near classic.
10) Episode 146: “Janet’s Little Helper” (Aired: 03/15/83)
Jack and Terri fear that Janet is seducing Furley’s young nephew.
Written by David Mirkin
My vote for the best episode of the season, this wonderful installment returns things to Three’s Company‘s roots: a quintessential misunderstanding. In this case, Janet is giving Furley’s shy nephew advice on girls in exchange for his helping her put in a new stereo as a surprise for Jack and Terri. But when Jack sees Janet out with the young lad, he jumps to the conclusion that their relationship is of a perverted nature, leading to some wonderful comedic hijinks (among the best of the series) that are compounded by Terri’s plan to get Furley’s nephew interested in someone his own age. Naturally, the young candy striper assumes Jack is her date, and Janet is his mother! Hilarious stuff.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Jack Goes To The Dentist,” in which Terri breaks up with her jealous dentist beau, Jeffrey Tambor, just before he is to work on Jack, “Diamond Jack,” in which John Ritter does some great physical comedy on roller skates (but is let down by a ridiculous premise), and “Bob & Carol & Larry & Terri,” in which gossip spreads like wildfire in an overly theatrical installment that’s bogged down by an embarrassingly sophomoric script.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Seven of Three’s Company goes to…..
“Janet’s Little Helper”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the final season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!