Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re continuing coverage on The King Of Queens (1998-2007), which, I’m happy to report, has been released in full on DVD!
The King Of Queens stars KEVIN JAMES as Doug Heffernan, LEAH REMINI as Carrie Heffernan, and Jerry Stiller as ARTHUR SPOONER.
As the second season in the previously defined two-year peak, Season Five’s charms have already been addressed. So, I’m going to take this opportunity to keep the year’s commentary brief. After all, I think these episodes speak for themselves… Yet, before we get to the list, what you need to remember from our previous discussion about Queens’ peak is that while I think both years each individually offer the series’ healthiest understanding of its characterizations and how they’re best used to narratively answer the central question within the show’s genre-defining thesis — and they do so while satisfying the series’ love of the outrageous comic idea without requiring too much suspension of disbelief — I made a distinction between the two seasons’ ultimate metric of superiority. I called Four the height of character, and Five the height of comedy. That is, I think Four is the literal peak of the show’s understanding of its characterizations and how to use them in story — it commits to knowing that Doug and Carrie have to lead with their mutually pungent flaws in order to affirm the thesis’ belief in their compatibility, and this is what makes everything click. But since no improvements will be made — there’s no new revelation or previously unknown story template that better elucidates who they are and why they belong together — Season Four is the apex, the top of the ride, for Doug and Carrie. Five, meanwhile, also remains generally good for character (in comparison to the rest of Queens’ run), but it doesn’t add to, or make itself more conscious of, their dynamic. In fact, if there’s room for criticism, it’s that this year actually becomes more enamored of the comedic idea, and more than ever before, it’s putting added stock in funny notions and Victories In Premise. (Example? The “faux marriage” bit — something so easy it gets repeated several times, with Doug/Arthur in “Arthur, Spooner,” with Doug/Deacon in “Business Affairs,” and with Carrie/Deacon in “Loaner Car.” And of course, the Danny/Spence relationship will settle into a variation of this concept — “mock gay” — for the rest of the run.)
Furthermore, the year’s three-week sweeps arc about the Heffernans’ house getting treated for mold — this season’s version of last year’s heart attack trilogy — is less successful than its predecessor for precisely this reason; its less about the characters and more about the comic possibilities that arise from the narrative… Thus, although I do consider this a strong year for character, I must remind that it’s not their peak, due to these rising alternative priorities… However, there’s some really good news about Season Five too, and it’s two-pronged: One) the majority of the year’s comedic ideas are incredibly funny and Two) unlike Season Six and every year thereafter, these ideas are not yet harmful to the characters or a threat to our faith in what is and isn’t outside the realm of series-specific plausibility. In other words, not only is the year’s idea-driven nature not a problem (as it will soon become in Six, when the episodic returns first decline, thereby making it a problem), it’s also so successful that the year warrants being called, to repeat, “the height of comedy…” Now, again, these episodes can speak for themselves, but if I was choosing only one list to be Queens’ champion in a battle of Sitcom Tuesdays’ finest, it would be this one, because — classics from Four notwithstanding — this is probably the truest representation of what Queens always wanted to be: a very funny show with two very funny characters at its center. (Even peripherally, this season finds added success comedically, adding Anne Meara to the recurring ensemble as Spence’s mom and casting the hilarious Rachel Dratch as his temporary girlfriend, Denise, who appears four times this year. Both are great for subplots, and with Holly around too, Arthur’s “dance card” is full.) So, though Season Five might not be the characters’ peak, it’s probably the peak on behalf of the show and its more boldly laugh-seeking comedic intentions… And on that note, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this year’s strongest. (They are, as always, listed in AIRING order.)
01) Episode 102: “Window Pain” (Aired: 09/30/02)
Carrie tries to correct a bad impression left on the new neighbors.
Written by Ilana Wernick | Directed by Rob Schiller
“Window Pain” is one of the most straightforward examples of excellence within the peak era, proving why Season Five (which has a handful of entries like this) is indeed part of the series’ creative apex. The plot finds the Heffernans — and particularly Carrie — desperately trying to impress their new neighbors (played by Marcia Cross and Michael Lowry, in their first of two appearances), an endeavor made difficult both by Doug/Carrie’s constant and loud arguing — which is impossible for the neighbors to ignore — and by Doug’s own bumbling ineptitude, when he insults the husband by pouring out good scotch and then lying about it. It makes perfect use of their imperfections — Doug is a scheming moron, and Carrie is consumed by manic rage when she’s unable to ensure that other people have a positive view of her. The crowning moment of the half-hour is Carrie’s self-aware realization that the Heffernans have replaced the Sackskys as the neighborhood freaks, for this tells us exactly what’s happened in this peak; now that Doug/Carrie are being led by their flaws, they are no longer reacting to bad behavior — they ARE the bad behavior. This is much funnier, as “Window Pain” makes clear… Oh, and also, there’s an amusing subplot with Arthur, Spence, and the subway that shows why those two characters work so well together. The first of several MVE contenders.
02) Episode 103: “Holy Mackerel” (Aired: 10/07/02)
Doug and Carrie discover the seeming magic of prayer.
Written by Ilana Wernick | Directed by Rob Schiller
Another installment that embraces the leading players’ personal defects, especially Carrie’s, who drives the action in a way that’s specific to this peak era (not exclusively, but unique in its consistency), this is a terrifically funny Doug/Carrie show with an A-one Victory In Premise. Here, petty, angry, image-conscious Carrie all of a sudden turns to prayer when she believes it was responsible for getting her a raise, while her husband, petty, bumbling, always-scheming, Doug, resents the way she’s using God and then accordingly decides to use HIS prayers to counteract hers, which he believes are un-deserving (unlike his). The prayer battle between the two of them is the highlight of the episode — one of the funniest (and least talked about) centerpieces of the entire series — and it’s something that stands out as perfect for Queens, whose tonal sensibilities and relationship between character and story allow for this kind of broad laugh-yielding fun. If you need an easy explanation for why Season Five is the peak as far as comedy goes (while still not screwing up the depictions of the regulars), “Holy Mackerel” should do it… Plus, note that Joe Flaherty, introduced in last year’s “Veiled Threat,” makes his third of five appearances as the family priest. Again, another favorite — MVE contender.
03) Episode 108: “Flash Photography” (Aired: 11/11/02)
Danny gets blamed for a prank Doug pulls at a family wedding.
Written by David Bickel | Directed by Henry Chan
Although I could classify the above as a Victory In Premise led by its idea, I nevertheless think that it uses the characters’ flaws to justify its existence. This popular outing, though, is less dependent on the characters for its comedic premise: that Doug is inspired to use one of the cameras at a family wedding to play a prank and take a picture of his genitalia. This is the kind of fare that would work on many of the era’s “dumb husband” shows, and I’m not automatically impressed with it (okay, I also hate Doug’s family)… That said, since we’ve charged Queens with helping to define this genre within a genre, even though this story might not be exclusive to the show, none could probably do it as well as Queens (which has some of the funniest versions of these personas). Furthermore, just because there are a lot of dumb husbands doesn’t mean Doug isn’t a dumb husband too, and proof of Five broadening its comic intentions (which is obviously the case here), and losing some of its character prioritization WITHOUT hampering its understanding of them, is the fact that we do believe this is something Doug might do. Also, there’s a hilarious character moment when Doug shows Carrie the picture, after she’s argued for him to come clean and exonerate Danny, and she changes her mind (because she’s embarrassed by what the photo says of her) — which, again, proves why the peak is the peak.
04) Episode 109: “Connect Four” (Aired: 11/18/02)
Doug and Carrie try to create the perfect couple from two uneven pairs.
Written by Ilana Wernick | Directed by Rob Schiller
Even though they’re quite different in terms of overall premise and their weekly story operations, I think there’s something of a comedic kinship between The King Of Queens and Seinfeld — and it’s not just the hilarious Jerry Stiller. No, both shows share a comic tonality built on irreverence — the idea that nothing is more important than a good laugh, and while Seinfeld was more enamored with how story was structured (as opposed to the purely comic idea, which is Queens‘ main interest), they both, to a certain extent, are willing to maneuver their characters in pursuit of what they consider the ultimate triumph: the funniest premise, the cleverest construction… I say all that here because I think “Connect Four” reminds of a Seinfeld idea, for the premise of Doug/Carrie looking for a new couple to hang out with and deciding that they like the wife of one pair and the husband of another, feels trivial and petty. And when Carrie is so inclined to encourage the break-up of one of the pairs so the Heffernans can create the “Franken-couple” of their dreams, it’s very reminiscent of Elaine and Jerry swooping in to keep a separated couple from reuniting (“The Wait Out”), for in this era of Queens embracing its flawed characters, Seinfeld — particularly the Seinfeld from the end of Larry David’s tenure, when everyone was nasty — doesn’t seem far out of reach. And like most Seinfeld episodes, we like this one for the funny idea and the way it’s used in story.
05) Episode 110: “Loaner Car” (Aired: 11/25/02)
Doug loans Carrie out to Deacon as a homemaker in advance of Thanksgiving.
Written by Cathy Yuspa & Josh Goldsmith | Directed by Rob Schiller
Noted above in my seasonal commentary as an example of the year’s idea-led comedic nature — not to mention the repetition starting to shape the series’ idea-led comedic nature — this, Five’s third entry with an amusing plot featuring the forcefully implied metaphor that characters other than Doug/Carrie are coupled (the “faux married” bit), is probably some fans’ least favorite of the above-mentioned trio, which also includes “Arthur, Spooner,” where Doug/Arthur are suggested as a couple, and “Business Affairs,” where Deacon is called Doug’s “work wife.” But I think, while all of these offerings are hinged, again, around a comic notion and are therefore not as inherently satisfying as the more character-rooted samples here, “Loaner Car” works the best because it does the best job (from this trio) of engaging Carrie, and making use of her flaws, for although “Business Affairs” rightfully clashes our central couple, “Loaner Car” — in addition to being the more original idea — actively exploits Carrie’s shortcomings, both with Deacon, who grows unable to tolerate her, and Doug, who relishes the free time away from her. As such, I think this is the most interesting for Doug/Carrie, and probably the funniest of the season’s “faux married” too because of this character work. (However, I’d guess that many find the other two’s ideas themselves funnier.)
06) Episode 111: “Mentalo Case” (Aired: 12/16/02)
Doug searches for a toy while everyone is confused about who’s getting what for Christmas.
Written by David Bickel | Directed by John Fortenberry
A much-beloved addition to the series’ catalogue of irreverent Christmases — which, again, I think are typically great for The King Of Queens because at this mawkish time of year, we’re grateful for this series’ instinctive tonal aversion to sentiment — “Mentalo Case” is another outing that I know would probably make many fans’ MVE… But, as with the popular “Flash Photography” highlighted above, I think this is an episode that skews more towards the year’s premise fixation, exploring how plot/idea can generate big laughs, as opposed to the characters and their central dramatic relationship. Accordingly, even though I enjoy Doug’s crusade for the “Mentalo” toy from his childhood and think it, basically, works for this not-too-bright, conspiratorial character, I also believe the script lets the premise overwhelm and guide its character moments. The same goes for the amusing, but plotty narrative with Carrie, Arthur, and Holly where they think they know what they’re receiving as gifts. We’re laughing because of the situation, not necessarily because of the people in it. And, ultimately, I don’t think we have enough of a Doug/Carrie core to make this a classic… That said, the peak era knows how to employ these funny ideas with support from (and no harm done to) the characters. Thus, I think this is an amusing, memorable installment — hard to forget.
07) Episode 112: “Jung Frankenstein” (Aired: 01/06/03)
Carrie uses Doug’s therapist to cure her husband of all the things she finds annoying.
Written by Michael J. Weithorn | Directed by Rob Schiller
Dave Foley (NewsRadio) guest stars in this underrated gem as a therapist Doug sees to help him combat overeating. Already, we’re dealing with a solid character-specific premise, for we know that Doug’s love of food is something that both he and Carrie consider a weakness, and indeed, it’s tied to the disparity in their physical appearances and how the world perceives them — which, as we know, is tied to the central dramatic question of their compatibility. So, from the jump, “Jung Frankenstein” is in smart shape… yet it gets even smarter, capitalizing on the flaws-forward design of both characters by having Carrie decide to manipulate the therapist into correcting ALL of what she perceives to be Doug’s flaws (like his addiction to TV). This points not only to the fact that Doug is obviously imperfect, but also that she, scheming in a manner that we see often with Doug (and occasionally from them as a pair) but seldom from her individually, is morally questionable, and therefore imperfect too. And this means, as we’ve seen time and again, that they are two who belong together, for they’re both terrible — and, comedically so, for as this entry indicates, the boldness within the show’s presentation of their flaws makes for boffo laughs, which is what the series wants more than anything. And by being an example of how well-defined characters and big funny ideas aren’t counterintuitive, this MVE contender makes for another exhibit in our “peak era” case.
08) Episode 119: “Cowardly Lyin'” (Aired: 03/31/03)
After being caught in a lie, Doug confesses that he’s scared of Carrie.
Written by Ilana Wernick | Directed by Rob Schiller
My choice for the best episode of the season (MVE), “Cowardly Lyin'” is exceptional for many familiar reasons, but I must confess that, unlike in past weeks, choosing just one to stand alone as this year’s best wasn’t as easy or straightforward as it has been. That’s because, you see, there are a plethora of excursions here — and again, this is the collection that I’d most want to have represent Queens if it went up against other sitcom competition — that benefit from an ability to maximize both Doug and Carrie’s imperfections so that the show is not only reinforcing the central belief at the heart of its dramatic question (that YES, they are a compatible pair), but also doing so in a way that, from heightened and boldly unflinching comedic intentions, delivers BIG laughs at the same time… So what gives this one the edge over all the rest? A couple of things. First, I like that the main A-story with Doug/Carrie directly influences the subplot with Spence and his new girlfriend, Denise (played by the hilarious Rachel Dratch, who appears four times this season), and that this subplot is actually funny and additive to the outing’s overall appeal. Second, I think the A-story with Doug/Carrie probably makes the best use of BOTH characters’ personality defects. Several of the above have gone all out in emphasizing Carrie’s temper, her pettiness, and her obsession with her own image, but this one manages to address all of that while also allowing the King (of Queens) to be just as boldly bumbling and scheming, like when he attempts to get out of going to the opera by having Deacon leave a voicemail… something that Carrie sees right through, forcing Doug to reveal that he lies to her because he’s scared of her — which speaks to a very real, and very big, flaw: her temper. (Unlike “Fatty McButterpants,” there’s no need for a fake imperfection.) And from that, there’s lot of fun stuff, like the moment where Carrie asks Holly if she’s scary, and the scene where Doug confesses all his lies (while Carrie tries not to explode). But for the absence of Arthur, I would cite “Cowardly Lyin'” as The King Of Queens in its most perfect form.
09) Episode 124: “Taste Buds” (Aired: 05/12/03)
Doug learns that he can manipulate Arthur into helping him get what he wants from Carrie.
Story by Trevor Dellecave | Teleplay by Tony Sheehan | Directed by Rob Schiller
If you’ve been following our coverage of this series over the past few weeks, you know that I typically try to feature the one installment every season that I think makes best use of Arthur in a Doug/Carrie A-story, for as we’ve seen (and can even see this year), he’s often relegated to subplots with Spence, or Holly, or (now that she’s been introduced in a recurring capacity), Veronica. Well, “Taste Buds” is the entry that I believe best fits this superior A-story bill, for it uses the Doug/Carrie relationship and showcases how Arthur fits within their dynamic as a complication. Now, to deny that this is an idea-led Victory In Premise — with more juice in its conception than its execution — would be difficult, but I just couldn’t in good conscience highlight any other Arthur offering, for while “Arthur, Spooner” is amusing and well-liked, it says absolutely nothing about the central couple, because Carrie is involved elsewhere in a subplot. And though, for instance, something like “Queens’bro Bridge” gives him added depth with the introduction of his brother, Carrie is surprisingly removed from the action (again). This is the only one that makes great use of the three primary regulars as the funny, outstanding unit that they deserve to (more often) be — and with everyone’s depiction well-drenched in their known and established flaws, Season Five once again is flexing its peak era muscles.
10) Episode 125: “Bed Spread” (Aired: 05/19/03)
When Doug and Carrie get twin beds, they start to enjoy doing things separately.
Written by Owen Ellickson | Directed by Rob Schiller
There’s a nice full-circle quality to the season, as the premiere dealt with Doug being upset that Carrie was absent from their bed (because she was in her own subplot — a separation that also accounts for the relative disparity in quality), while this, the finale, finds both characters, together, deciding to sleep apart. It’s a fun premise, and though there’s a little bit of effort to get them there (they’ve got to break the bed, go to the store where Steve Hytner’s the salesman, establish that they’ll have to stay in twins until a new bed comes, and then make the decision not to push the twins together), because the idea is so fresh, none of that actually matters. And, sure, this is another idea-led outing — but, hey, that’s what The King Of Queens tends to do best, and whenever it can do so while also saying something about the characters, we should celebrate without complaining. That’s what this episode makes me want to do — celebrate without complaining — for in the characters’ decision to do separate things, they’re giving into the idea that they’re different and perhaps incompatible, believing that recognizing this fact will make them happier. But of course, Queens is too romantic for this perspective to last (despite its irreverence, it’s still feel-good), and so the characters realize that they do want to do things together, affirming the thesis’ answer to the series’ question. It’s a wonderful ending to the year and to the show’s peak (aside from an Arthur/Lou subplot that, well, ain’t the best).
Other notable episodes that merit mention include: the much-referenced “Arthur, Spooner,” which does the amusing “faux marriage” bit with Doug/Arthur and has a fine subplot with Carrie (and Holly) in the workplace, but like “Dog Shelter,” which also has two funny ideas (including a subplot with Arthur, Spence, Veronica, and Denise), doesn’t say anything notable about Doug/Carrie — still the most important thing in this peak season. Those two were the closest to the above list, along with “Steve Moscow,” a popular showing — the end of the mold arc — that features Charles Rocket as a Russian contractor. Meanwhile, there are lots of Honorable Mention-worthy outings, including the aforementioned “Business Affairs” and “Queens’bro Bridge,” along with two premise-y shows, “Flame Resistant” and “Clothes Encounter,” and two Doug/Carrie offerings that are well-intentioned but not comedically competitive, “Attention Deficit” and “Prints Charming.”
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of The King Of Queens goes to…
Come back next week for Season Six! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday!