Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! With the conclusion of Three’s Company on Sitcom Tuesdays, we turn our attention to another unsuccessful spin-off. As touched upon in yesterday’s post, the producers decided during the eighth season that they wanted to take the Jack character and give him a new love interest and a new show, just like the British producers did at the conclusion of Man About The House. The result was Robin’s Nest, in which the Anglicized Jack (called Robin, obviously) moved in with his girlfriend and had to contend with her overbearing father, who owned his bistro. NRW took essentially the same premise for Three’s A Crowd, which features Jack living above the bistro with his stewardess girlfriend Vicky (Mary Cadorette). Complications in their daily lives include her disapproving father James (Robert Mandan), who owns the building, Jack’s surfer dude assistant, E.Z. (Alan Campbell) and James’ recurring ex-wife, the vapid Claudia, played by future Arrested Development star, Jessica Walter. The show lasted the full 1984-1985 season for 22 episodes and was renewed for a 13 episode second year. But Ritter declined to continue unless they got a full order, and ABC refused, opting instead to cancel the series which had only garnered modest ratings against NBC’s The A-Team.
Most histories of Three’s A Crowd make a lot of the shoddy way in which the producers kept the series’ development from the Three’s Company cast, namely Joyce DeWitt, who was particularly hurt. However, I’ve truthfully gotten tired of that angle; yes, we know how awful the producers of the series were to their female talent, but a Jack/Janet show wouldn’t have worked either, and that never-to-be impossibility clouds our ability to look at Three’s A Crowd on its own merits. While would be difficult to examine the series without a knowledge of the characters and from where they came, it must be noted that they’re both entirely different shows. Three’s Company touted itself as an ensemble show (but became more and more about Jack as the series wore on), while Three’s A Crowd makes no attempt to hide that this is absolutely a John Ritter vehicle. Cadorette’s Vicky doesn’t get to take charge of a lot of stories, and perhaps as a result, isn’t ever afforded the character development required of a leading lady. In fact, many look to Vicky as the root of the show’s denied longevity. Having seen all 22 episodes, I actually find Cadorette charming and think that it was the writers’ responsibility to make her as complex and interesting as Jack.
What I personally found off-putting about the series (aside from the inclusion of the obnoxious E.Z., who is an unlikable caricature) is part of the premise. Like The Ropers, this series decides to give our protagonist a clear antagonist. This time, it’s Mandan as Vicky’s father. While it could be argued that the landlords were an obstacle for the kids on Three’s Company, there was genuine affection, and those oppositional stories were downplayed as time went on. With a regular villain, it’s difficult to find the type of comedy that warrants fondness and the type of familiarity necessary for a weekly series. The series seems to realize this, and this conflict is mitigated near the end of the run, as the sparring between Bradford and his ex-wife, whose inclusion is one of the show’s few highlights, becomes more of a factor. It must be said, however, that this show is much better than The Ropers because Ritter is obviously capable of carrying the show, and so there are a few pretty good episodes (which I’ll be sharing below). Surprisingly, this focus is what keeps the show from working. The premise requires growth and maturation on Jack’s part, and the series can’t figure out the degree to which he needs to develop. If he doesn’t progress, the concept doesn’t work and the comedy becomes trite; if he progresses too much, his character is diluted and loses his comic edge. My gut tells me that if Vicky was better defined, this clash could be played out in the text as opposed to the design, as Jack’s emotional maturation could itself become the primary source of comedy.
But I have picked six of the better episodes from the series, which has enjoyed mild syndication but is still yet-to-be released on DVD. Every episode is directed by Dave Powers.
01) Episode 6: “Vacation From Sex” (Aired: 11/13/84)
Vicky and Jack try enjoying each other’s non-sexual interests.
Story by Budd Grossman | Teleplay by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski
Following a comment from Bradford, Jack and Vicky try to prove to themselves that they can enjoy each other’s company without sex. It’s a great mature story for this live-in couple, and the script climaxes with a hilarious scene at a classical music concert, in which Jack and Vicky can no longer contain their desire for intimacy.
02) Episode 10: “A Foreign Affair” (Aired: 12/11/84)
James tries to marry Claudia off to an Italian business acquaintance.
Written by Rich Reinhart
It’s a pleasure seeing Ms. Walter on this series and her presence elevates all of the episodes in which she appears. This is one of the best offerings to feature her character, for the premise stems from James’ attempts to avoid paying alimony by hooking Claudia up with a wealthy Italian. In other words, her character is well used!
03) Episode 12: “Father Knows Nothing” (Aired: 01/08/85)
E.Z.’s puppy is pregnant, but Jack thinks it’s Vicky who’s expecting.
Written by Marty Farrell
Of all the episodes produced for this series, this is the one that is the most narratively reminiscent to Three’s Company, as the entire story revolves around a farcical misunderstanding. As the aforementioned series proved, these types of plots can yield big laughs, and this episode proves just that. Among the series’ funniest.
04) Episode 17: “September Song” (Aired: 02/12/85)
James is arrested for public urination after he and Jack get drunk.
Written by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski
Characters getting drunk is a cheap way to get laughs, but it very rarely fails to deliver. Actually, what makes this episode most enjoyable is the final scene in the court room, in which Priscilla Morrill (better known to MTM fans as Edie Grant) plays the judge who’s presiding over Bradford’s public urination case. Very humorous installment.
05) Episode 18: “Deeds Of Trust” (Aired: 02/19/85)
Vicky pretends not to be jealous when Larry invites Jack to a swinging party.
Written by Mark Tuttle
This is the episode that will appeal most to Three’s Company fans because of the appearances of both Larry Dallas and Greedy Gretchen, who was in only one episode of the parent series but mentioned with frequency. As it stands, this is the only offering from the series that has the self-awareness to note Jack’s history (which, really, needed to be addressed a tad bit more).
06) Episode 22: “A Star Is Born” (Aired: 04/09/85)
Jack causes problems when Vicky is cast in a commercial.
Written by Michael Ross, Bernie West & George Burditt
The final aired installment, this is a broad outing that finds Jack wreaking havoc on the set of a commercial that’s starring Vicki. Jack’s clashes with the director are the crux of the comedy, and with Ritter as the focus of all the hijinks, the episode is an effortless example of his ability to make due with only adequate material.
Other notable episodes include: “The Maternal Triangle,” in which Walter makes her first appearance as Claudia, “James Steps Out,” in which Mr. Bradford dates a younger woman, “A Case Of Sour Grapes,” in which Jack gets a job at a Japanese restaurant, and “Jack Gets Trashed,” in which Jack and James get into a debate on the radio about a trash rate increase.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Hercules!