The Ten Best THREE’S COMPANY Episodes of Season Eight

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re concluding 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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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.

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The final season of Three’s Company, with recycled stories, thinning characterizations, and a growing schism between the easy going titillation of the late ’70s and the coming sleekness of Reagan’s ’80s, is indicative of a show past its prime. While there are a handful of enjoyable shows with “throwback” premises, the series begins shedding its constructs, focusing more on Jack, and reducing the other characters to unnecessary time-fillers. As Janet devolves into a whiny loon who drives far too many of the misunderstandings to ever be called, as she once was, the “straight man” or “the voice of reason,” Terri suffers from a disease that plagues so many underdeveloped characters: personality-less-itis, which grows more and more dire as the show progresses. Who is Terri? With only a few stories in which she’s integral, and even fewer laugh lines per episode, Terri is emblematic of the show’s running out of steam: neither here nor there, but here and there anyway.

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Meanwhile the finale, which exists only to set-up the spin-off Three’s A Crowd (which we’ll discuss in tomorrow’s Wildcard Wednesday post), is one of the situation comedy’s worst, with forced laughs and bizarre “big event” developments, marring a vital ability to enjoy the last few episodes as the classic Three’s Company episodes they should be. But despite my harsh complaints, there were plenty of worthy episodes to include in today’s list, because even though the scripts are noticeably weaker, the cast, and Ritter in particular, still manage some BIG laughs. And each of the shows highlighted here offer something special or worthwhile; the comedy can still be found. 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.

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

 

01) Episode 151: “Jack Be Quick” (Aired: 09/27/83)

Jack’s girlfriend asks him to father her child.

Written by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski

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Joanna Kerns guest stars in this episode as Jack’s girlfriend who propositions him with a unique offer: the chance to father her child. With extended scenes between Jack and his girlfriend, this launches a growing trend towards more Jack-centered stories. (It’s even more obvious with hindsight, of course.) However, the moments between the regular characters still manage the most laughs, as the misunderstandings that develop (Janet thinking Jack has already gotten the woman pregnant and is refusing to marry her) carry much of the comedy. It’s a surprisingly adult episode — one of the few this season that feels fitting for these maturing characters and doesn’t insult the sensibilities of the audience or the logic of the characters. Well done.

02) Episode 152: “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” (Aired: 10/04/83)

Larry convinces Jack that one of his roommates has the hots for him.

Written by Arlan Gutenberg & Babette Will

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Most appealing about this episode is its theatricality; this is one of the few shows without any guest stars. It’s just Jack, Janet, Terri, and Larry, as the foursome contends with a rather basic premise about a magazine quiz that seems to implicate that one of the girls is crushing on her male roomie. In addition to the shades of “A Black Letter Day,” this installment also invokes memories of cabin-living in “A-Camping We Will Go,” also from Season Four. Based on a traditional and nicely plotted misunderstanding, this is Three’s Company at its comfort television best, making us laugh with simple stories and an effortless execution. It’s not really appropriate by this point (and for characters who know each other so well), but it’s uncomplicated fun.

03) Episode 154: “Out On A Limb” (Aired: 10/25/83)

Jack tries to steal back a nasty letter he sent to a food critic.

Written by David Mirkin

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Exactly how many shows have done episodes about a character trying to steal back a hastily written piece of mail before it arrives to the sender? (It’s a rhetorical question, because the answer is too high to count.) Despite the unoriginal premise, this installment once again benefits from its theatrical staging, which allows the farcical nature of the proceedings to play with appropriate broadness. Furthermore, this is one of the few true ensemble shows of the season, with great bits given to Jack, Janet, and yes, even Terri. Without a doubt, it’s one of the funnier, and fresher, offerings from this mediocre-at-best Season Eight. (Incidentally, this episode rated a series low, ushering in a wave of less-than-impressive numbers.)

04) Episode 155: “Alias Jack Tripper” (Aired: 11/01/83)

Larry takes Jack’s place on a date with Janet’s friend.

Written by Mark Tuttle

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Although we value episodes that feature a much needed recognition of the characters’ maturity, the truth is that the best and funniest installments are built on misunderstandings, the classic Three’s Company template, and those general arise from a breakdown of logic. This episode makes use of mistaken identity, as Larry masquerades as Jack (giving Richard Kline the opportunity to relish in his John Ritter impression, which he does exceptionally well) to take out Janet’s old friend, whom they anticipate to be homely. Naturally, things are complicated when the woman stays in town longer than anticipated, forcing Jack into some fancy maneuverings to keep Janet from learning about their deception.

05) Episode 156: “Hearing Is Believing” (Aired: 11/08/83)

Janet thinks Jack’s girlfriend is a hooker.

Written by Neal Marlens

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This is undeniably one of the most laugh-heavy installments from the final season, no doubt due to both the tried-and-true misunderstanding format and the show’s increasing ability to be a little bit more direct about its sexuality (Jack’s date is a sex therapist!). Unfortunately, this is the episode to which I most often point in illustration of Janet’s loss of sanity, as her hysterics force us to reshape our image of the once smart and put together roommate. (I blame some of this on the writers not being able to write for Terri, forcing Janet into this zany role.) If you can get past the machinations that force Janet’s overboard shtick, this will be a favorite, for it’s everything else that a good Three’s Company should be, with a fresh premise in support.

06) Episode 157: “Grandma Jack” (Aired: 11/22/83)

Larry enters Jack in a females only baking contest.

Story by Garry Ferrier & Aubrey Tadman | Teleplay by Mike Weinberger | Directed by Bob Priest & Michael Ross

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Admittedly, as the second episode in which Jack dons drag (the other was Season Four’s “Jack On The Lam,” which deserved to make that year’s list, but didn’t due to the high volume of classics that season), this installment is inferior to its predecessor in every single way. However, Season Eight has less competition, and because of the infectious fun that John Ritter has as Grandma Tripper, this becomes a classically silly episode of Three’s Company — one that hinges entirely on his clowning and subverts the otherwise unbelievable plot beats (not to mention the simple fact that Jack Tripper does not make a convincing woman, no matter how hard he bakes). It’s definitely not a personal favorite, but it’s strong for this season.

07) Episode 159: “The Odd Couples” (Aired: 12/06/83)

Terri lies to thwart the perceived advances of her boss.

Story by Neal Marlens | Teleplay by Ellen Guylas & Shelley Zellman

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As perhaps the only episode of the season that puts Terri at the focal point of the story (and even gives her a lengthy scene at the hospital without either Jack or Janet), this installment automatically sticks out from the rest. Otherwise, it’s another really broad farce, as Terri spins a web of lies when she suspects her boss of making passes at her, leading to a visit from the doctor and his wife, as Jack pretends to be Terri’s crippled husband and Janet and Larry play a pair of French houseguests. Unfortunately, Jack’s girlfriend and some other predictable obstacles, like the doctor’s wife’s proficiency in French, make this rouse a difficult one to last. A delightful one-act. Dumb, but enjoyable, and this year’s only Terri showcase.

08) Episode 163: “Itching For Trouble” (Aired: 01/10/84)

Jack’s old flame’s husband suspects his wife of having an affair.

Written by Chet Dowling & Sandy Krinski

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Despite the declining ratings, one thing noticeable about the final season is how many episodes feature large sequences on non-regular sets, which means that the show must have had a bigger budget (and the writers were desperate seeking new stories). In addition to a park set, this episode also builds the living room of a couple’s house, where Jack’s clandestine meeting with his old flame is difficult to hide from her jealous husband when the pair comes down with poison oak, from the park bush in which they earlier hid. What I appreciate most about this episode, aside from the performance by Don Knotts (who may be MVP), is the freshness of the premise. In a year of recycling, originality — not to mention laughs — are most valued.

09) Episode 164: “Baby, It’s Cold Inside” (Aired: 01/17/84)

Jack and Mr. Furley get locked in Angelino’s freezer.

Written by Chet Dowling & Sandy Krinski

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Here we have a story that we’ve seen all over the place on sitcoms before and since. I sometimes refer to them as “bunkhouse episodes,” which trap two characters in one location for a seriocomic dialogue. In this case, Jack and Mr. Furley get trapped in the freezer at Angelino’s when they are held up by a burglar. Knotts and Ritter share a wonderful and unique chemistry, and they carry the entirety of the episode, which, honestly, isn’t brilliantly written. But there are plenty of laughs, and more surprisingly, moments of dramatic weight (that actually play, and don’t feel hokey or forced — as they sometimes do on shows not accustomed to the transition). So it’s a special installment, and an understandable fan favorite.

10) Episode 166: “Jack’s Tattoo” (Aired: 01/31/84)

Misunderstandings abound when Jack goes in for elective surgery.

Story by Ron Bloomberg & Al Gordon and Prudence Fraser & Robert Sternin | Teleplay by Ron Bloomberg & Al Gordon

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Without a doubt, the funniest episode of the season! This installment features multiple layers of brilliantly constructed misunderstandings, incorporating all the characters, including Terri and her occupation as a nurse. When Jack gets drunk with his old navy buddies and gets an embarrassing tattoo on his butt (“The Love Butt”), he goes in to have it removed. Janet overhears a conversation and jumps to the conclusion that Jack is having a vasectomy, while Mr. Furley overhears another conversation and believes Jack is having a sex change. There are some gigantic laughs in this episode, particularly from DeWitt and Knotts, who are driven by their separate mistaken beliefs to hilarious crescendos. Brilliance — this show’s last great showing.

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Janet Shapes Up,” in which Jack is blackmailed into dating Janet’s new boss at an aerobic studio (unenjoyable story, but lots of great moments for Ritter), “Jack Takes Off,” in which Jack poses nude for a neighbor’s art class (ditto to the above), “Forget Me Not,” in which Jack feigns amnesia after wrecking Janet’s car (jokey, but very unoriginal and gimmicky — an insult to brains), and “The Heiress,” in which Janet meets Phillip (and there are some surprising laughs, despite the series’ obvious maneuverings).

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

“Jack’s Tattoo”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the first season of Soap (1977-1981, ABC)! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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14 thoughts on “The Ten Best THREE’S COMPANY Episodes of Season Eight

  1. Good job in this series my dude. Personally I wish the writers thought of a different finale., eccept for that lousy spin off.

    Anyway I cant eait til you review Soap which is probably imo ine of the most influential sitcoms ever. I remember how you said Redd Foxx elevates his material in Sanford And Son, but after rewarcjinv the show I gotta say Richard Mulligan elevates his material too. Esp in the third season. But credit goes to the whole cast.

    Anyway I cant wait for that review

    • Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I look forward to sharing my thoughts on SOAP, and I share your enthusiasm for Mulligan’s consistent portrayal. Stay tuned…

  2. Joyce DeWitt stated that her & Priscilla Barnes’ days w/ Three’s Company seemed to be numbered when she saw the print ad (in TV Guide) that instead of John Ritter w/ her & Priscilla instead had John w/ Joanna Kerns. She & Priscilla were being pushed aside for the “girlfriend of the week”.
    Despite the failure of several stories in this season, I did enjoy a few of these episodes quite a bit. I liked both the story and the incredible set (a 2-story cabin w/ lake big enough for both Jack & Larry to fall in) from “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not”. I also loved seeing “Grandma Jack” w/ longtime character actor, Parley Baer, in a prominent role. The outright farce in “The Odd Couples” was fun too. I hated the plot idea for “Forget-Me-Not” (wrecking someone else’s car is NOT funny to me in any way), so I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than a few minutes of that one.
    Do you think the finale had any redeeming qualities? It did give all the cast members (except maybe Terri) pretty good final scenes, and Vicki made a pretty good partner for Jack. I haven’t seen much of Three’s a Crowd, but I loved the theme song, and Robert Mandan was pretty funny too, I thought.

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’ll preempt my thoughts on THREE’S A CROWD for tomorrow’s post, but I will say one thing I like about THREE’S COMPANY’s finale: Jack and Terri share a nice quiet scene on the steps outside Furley’s apartment. Otherwise, the two-parter, along with “Cupid Works Overtime”, could be considered my least favorite offerings from the entire series. This has nothing to do with Vicky/Bradford/Phillip or any of the new characters, but rather the ways in which they were introduced. Granted, a whole summer came between the airing of “Cupid” and the finale, during which we could suppose the characters had time to grow closer to their respective partners, but it still feels forced.

      So insulting are both parts of “Friends And Lovers” (with another one of those tacky apartment weddings), that I credit them with informing a lot of what I feel a good series finale should be: resolution of tone, not of story. I don’t need BIG THINGS TO HAPPEN TO ALL THE CHARACTERS ALL OF A SUDDEN; I just want to know they’re in a contented place. I find the former to be worse than an unresolved cliffhanger (like SOAP’s), for at least our imaginations can continue to believe that the characters are continuing on as is. As far as I’m concerned, THREE’S COMPANY, with no objective other than preparing for the spin-off, got it wrong. These final episodes are hard to watch…

  3. I’m glad Three’s Company has gotten its due in your reviews of the series, so thank you for that.

    I gotta say that I wholeheartedly disagree with you about “Grandma Jack,” as I think this time around the drag gimmick is played to perfection. It is my favorite episode of Season 8, as it is the only episode that truly stands out among the rest.

    I think the finale was ridiculous, as well. The Jack-centric attitude culminates in Janet interrupting her own WEDDING to make sure Jack and his girlfriend of two weeks were happy…..but the suspension of disbelief had left the building by that point, anyway.

    You mentioned sets—did you notice that bathroom scenes completely disappear after Season 7? This was due to the move to a different studio. I guess the producers also got sick of Jack’s restaurant and the Regal Beagle (I noticed we saw less and less of the Beagle by the last half of Season 8). So I don’t know if extra sets were due to a budget increase more than writers running out of road. Many of the sets were re-used and/or re-dressed from older seasons and episodes, so there wasn’t much “new” about any of it. I have a feeling they were trying to revitalize what could not be resurrected.

    Thanks again for the reviews—good reading. Always nice to see what another young person’s view of series is.

    • Hi, aah! Thanks for reading and commenting,

      I noticed the biggest change in sets at the start of the seventh season, when they moved lots. I think the look of the videotape very noticeably also changed around this time as well: it’s softer and the studio seems not lit as bright. I’ve always chalked up the diminishing Regal Beagle scenes to the incorporation of Jack’s Bistro, which didn’t yield as many stories as it initially promised, but took the former’s spot on the stage when used. The redressing of sets is common, but the frequent use of new settings always means more money is being spent. (A great example of this is the third season of WKRP IN CINCINNATI, which, to make up for time lost during the Actors Strike, opened with a string of single camera, audience-less episodes that didn’t take place in the station. After production caught up, the show was forced to do a bunch of episodes that never left the station, because they’d overspent their budget in the first third of the year and had to cut back.) But as I noted above, I agree with you: more than anything else, the newer locations are evidence of the series running out of ideas. I personally think less is more, so all the distractions are white noise (and I feel similarly about WKRP’s third season, which also was creatively starved — but more on that this October).

      As for “Grandma Jack,” I do prefer “Jack On The Lam,” but I think I could see why the former has your preference: it’s more focused. On the other hand, I find it difficult to appreciate the incorporation of the drag gag, because it’s a retread of what we’ve already seen. I much prefer an original premise, like in “Jack’s Tattoo,” which I think, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the year’s best meeting of laughs, logic, and lunacy.

      Stay tuned next week for the start of our coverage on SOAP!

      • Yea come to think of it there were a lot of episodes in WKRP Third season with a single camera set up or just a laugh track

        • Yes, and even when they went back to audience shows, the humor quotient left a lot to be desired. Fortunately, they returned to form in their final season… Stay tuned!

  4. I’m a big fan of The Odd Couples, Alias Jack Tripper, She Loves Me She Loves Me Not and Jack’s Tattoo (what about that cringeworthy hospital scene of random woman handing off her baby to Janet so she can visit her husband?). I probably enjoy more episodes from this season than from Season 7, even though I can’t recall the Joanna Kerns episode and a few others don’t stand out either. Did they ever use a laugh track or did they keep the live audience the whole time?

    Thanks for discussing this series so intelligently (it can be done) and I’m looking forward to WKRP and if you have Cheers, Taxi and Raymond in your future plans that would be great.

    • Hi, Jake! Thanks for reading and commenng.

      They taped in front of an audience for their entire run, and I can’t think of any episode in which a significant part seems shot without one. Of course, like every multi-camera series, they were not above sweetening the responses that were already there.

      I intend to cover all three of the series you mentioned! CHEERS will be up in January, and TAXI is coming soon this September. Stay tuned…

  5. So SOAP, TAXI, CHEERS and WKRP are all coming up in the next six months? The three best sitcoms of the late ’70s and the best one of all-time.

    • Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes. SOAP in August, TAXI in September, WKRP IN CINCINNATI in October, THE JEFFERSONS in November, and CHEERS in January.

      You’ve made it clear more than once here that CHEERS is your favorite. It’s definitely in my top five (I LOVE LUCY has yet to be usurped from the #1 spot), so I look forward to sharing with you my thoughts on the best episodes. As with I LOVE LUCY, I know the show backwards and forwards, so I don’t anticipate that selecting my favorites will be difficult (save the agony of having to leave strong episodes out of each ten). Stay tuned…

  6. Jackson,
    I don’t know if you’ve seen this Antenna TV special, celebrating 40 years of Three’s Company. It addresses a lot of what you’ve said about this show, including its theatricality and its farce, and how both these factors sped up the show’s pace:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=senDLyrWRTQ&t=9s

    After my 10-week vacation from Sitcom Tuesdays, I’m looking forward to your season-by-season analysis of SEINFELD.

    • Thanks, Jon! Yes, I saw it last month when it was first released.

      More revealing, I think, was the dishy episode that this same company of four did on Priscilla Barnes’ personal podcast for the series’ anniversary, which confirmed more of what we already inferred about Barnes’ own behind-the-scenes drama with the producers and provided a more generally honest look at all the personalities involved. You can listen to it here, if you haven’t already: http://www.spreaker.com/user/6733116/threes-company-40th-anniversary-cast-reu

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