CLIP SHOW: A Paired Viewing Experience For LAVERNE & SHIRLEY Season One (II)

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday, and the second half of our Clip Show in honor of Garry Marshall. As before, I’m listing some of my favorite episodes by Marshall that we’ve previously examined on this blog, as both a prelude and celebratory tonic to our look at his later efforts. This post features gems from The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Odd Couple, so be sure to revisit the first half of this entry — with highlights from The Lucy Show (among others) — here, and stay tuned next week for the start of our discussion on Laverne & Shirley! 



07) Episode 101: “4 1/2” (Aired: 11/04/64)

Rob recalls being trapped in an elevator with a pregnant Laura and a holdup man.

Written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson | Directed by Jerry Paris

After well-received assignments on The Joey Bishop Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Bill Dana Show during the 1963-’64 season, Garry Marshall and his new partner Jerry Belson were finally granted access to the Promised Land: The Dick Van Dyke Show, the paragon of smart, funny, character-driven writing in the early 1960s, and the gig they’d been trying to book since their first teaming. Following a few contributions in the latter half of 1963-’64, this classic installment, from the series’ fourth season (1964-’65, when the pair was also contributing to The Lucy Show, Bill Dana, Joey Bishop, and even Sheldon Leonard’s Gomer Pyle), guest stars Don Rickles as a crook who tries to holdup Rob and a very pregnant Laura in an elevator. Told via flashback to Buddy, Sally, and Mel, the story is ostentatious and less truthful than Dick Van Dyke’s norm — that is, it’s more heightened than the usual “ripped from Carl Reiner’s real life” fare, or the ideas directly attached to the series’ premised givens of people, places, and things — but it’s one of this duo’s best written, as most of the show is focused on the comic interaction between Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, and Rickles, a straightforward arrangement that highlights their characterizations — two regulars, one special guest. It’s all magnificent fun, pushing big laughs while remaining believable, courtesy of sharp, easy-to-understand perspectives that make this idea-led narrative construct a little more character-forward through choices and reactions that stem from how they’re each defined. This is a cut above everything else Marshall had been able to write prior to this series, for every voice is unique and clearly delineated, a credit to Reiner’s supplied character foundation — on which Marshall’s fun ideas can dance.

08) Episode 104: “Pink Pills And Purple Parents” (Aired: 11/25/64)

Rob recalls the time when Laura first met his parents and got high off of tranquilizers.

Written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson | Directed by Alan Rafkin

Marshall would later claim that his success on Dick Van Dyke came from his ability to cater to underserved characters, and this segment is a testament to his growing abilities with, not “underserved” characters per se, but stars — particularly female stars, and most particularly, female stars who could handle slapstick centerpieces, for this is the episode where, in a flashback, Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura gets high on tranquilizers when she’s nervous about meeting Rob’s parents. It’s a truly hysterical half hour where Moore shines — it’s among Dick Van Dyke’s funniest — and these scribes know exactly how to spotlight her, crafting a Lucy-ian set piece that we actually buy because of the clear character motivation and how it plays into her established depiction, propped up by relatable continuity that’s been reiterated throughout the years from small details. This kind of meticulous character work may not show up too much in Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, but there’s certainly a link to The Odd Couple, which is also blessed with strong leads whose definition is reinforced granularly… despite being pushed into gaudy, tenuously connected centerpieces. Also, a lot of the ideas and templates popular on Dick Van Dyke would find their way into Marshall’s future shows — including the flashback device, a gimmick that nevertheless deepens our understanding of character when it supplies a history that strengthens relationships and adds apparent humanity… Thus, we can see how Marshall’s time on the most character-driven sitcom of the ’60s helped his idea-led work in the ’70s, for in keeping certain story trappings that indicate the presence of relatable and multi-dimensional leads, he can repurpose these tropes for a more purely comedic objective, showcasing stars… even without the well-defined characters or textual ethos that better supports them.

09) Episode 123: “Baby Fat” (Aired: 04/21/65)

At Alan’s behest, Rob agrees to ghostwrite a famous playwright’s new comedy. 

Written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson | Directed by Jerry Paris

Another one of the classic Dick Van Dyke episodes for which Marshall and Belson are credited, this is the second official on-screen appearance of Alan Brady, as played by the series’ creator and autobiographical inspiration, Carl Reiner. Here, they once again prove they can write for a star, especially a star who is hiding behind the mask of such a bold characterization… Indeed, thanks to Reiner, Alan Brady inspires heightened hahas, yet we believe them because of the show’s total commitment to its emotional truth, which contextualizes this larger-than-life figure as being, yes, larger-than-life, but in an otherwise relatable, realistic world. Marshall’s biggest ’70s hits will deviate from that model — intentionally — to indulge a grander, sillier aesthetic with more abandon. But this is an early chance for him to sink his teeth into such shtick, while it’s sanctioned by a sturdy, well-earned character apparatus. Also, note the involvement of Jerry Paris, a regular on Dick Van Dyke who’d become a valuable in-house director on both The Odd Couple and Happy Days, sticking with Marshall throughout much of his TV career. So, for all the reasons cited above, Marshall’s time on Dick Van Dyke would prove — next to Lucy (discussed in the previous half of this Clip Show post) — to be his most seminal, influential experience going into his first co-created show: Hey, Landlord!, which aired for one season on NBC in 1966-’67. (I mentioned it briefly a while ago; I’m hoping to revisit it during our forthcoming Laverne & Shirley study.) Landlord is pretty bad — since the characters lack definition — but it’s very much part of the Neil Simon-esque “young, urban” demographic push in the late ’60s, as it concerns two bachelor men living together in a big city apartment…


THE ODD COUPLE (1970-1975)

10) Episode 1: “The Laundry Orgy” (Aired: 09/24/70)

Oscar and Felix’s date with the Pigeon Sisters does not go according to plan.

Written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson | Directed by Jerry Paris

Following the failure of Hey, Landlord!, the pair’s next recurring TV gig was the anthology comedy Love, American Style, which also aired unsold pilots, like their 1968 version of Barefoot In The Park, a literal adaptation of a Neil Simon play. Incidentally, Barefoot was retooled and sold to ABC for a brief run in 1970 (discussed here), during which Marshall and Belson’s pilot script was used and they became credited consultants. For that same season, Paramount and ABC enlisted the duo to bring another Simon property to television: The Odd Couple, the classic story of two divorced men whose oppositional personalities clash when they become roommates. It wasn’t dissimilar to Hey, Landlord!, only now, Simon was providing two rich, uniquely distinct leads that made it possible for Marshall’s comedic sensibilities to thrive — especially when enriched by such talents as Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. Unsurprisingly, I enjoy this show largely because of its stars, for I’ve always been tougher on The Odd Couple‘s writing than its fans would like. That’s because, despite having these two anchors who play so well together and are afforded Simon’s crystal-clear characterizations, the storytelling goes for big, clichéd, idea-led narratives in the same way Marshall’s later series do, often leading to scripts that boast bold (if single-dimensional) leads who are unfortunately undermined in stories that deplete both their believability and agency in plot. And every time I fear I’m being too nitpicky, a rewatch only validates my criticism, for compared to the other sitcom giants of the early ’70s, this show is dominated by tacky, hacky, formulaic plots and only really comes alive when the stars assume total control. Nevertheless, Simon’s blueprint sets up this series to be the most character-rooted of all the comedies Marshall got to produce, and though this pilot isn’t a gem — it comes from the single-cam first season that’s not as good a vehicle for the two stars — it’s the most like the play, and it makes plain the inherent value in The Odd Couple’s constitution, which will sustain the show throughout its life and allow us to appreciate amusing ideas for what they are, merely because these characters can handle them and these actors can elevate them.

11) Episode 27: “Hospital Mates” (Aired: 10/01/71)

Felix and Oscar share a room at the hospital.

Written by Garry Marshall | Directed by Jerry Paris

From this point forward, Marshall was without his longtime partner Jerry Belson, who stepped away before the series’ second season as production also switched to the multi-camera format, which, as you know, I typically prefer because it makes the writing and playing beholden to an audience, thereby upping both the energy and the need for laugh-out-loud material. Shooting this way was obviously ideal for The Odd Couple because of the property’s theatrical origins and the specific skills of its two stars, who truly start to be well-showcased here, in the series’ sophomore collection, in part from this smart decision. To wit, “Hospital Mates” — the only script from this year that Marshall is credited with having written himself (although he was involved with every episode) — is a terrific showing for the central pair, who get high while sharing a hospital room when they both have minor surgeries: Oscar for a torn Achilles tendon, and Felix for a nose job. There’s a bit of contrivance in the narrative to get to this moment, but true to what Simon offers within the series’ very DNA, the characterizations do give support — especially vain Felix (whom Randall joyously sells) — and they’re both reliably riotous. I also like this excursion being included because it evidences the kind of comic set piece — the old intoxicated gag, seen on Lucy and in the above-mentioned Dick Van Dyke episode — that is exactly in-keeping with the style of humor preferred by Marshall on his upcoming series, and especially the slapstick-oriented Laverne & Shirley, where broadness reigns supreme.

12) Episode 58: “Password” (Aired: 12/01/72)

Felix begs Oscar to bring him along as a partner on Password. 

Written by Frank Buxton | Directed by Alex March

Garry Marshall did not write this entry, but it’s the most famous Odd Couple, and since he was “okaying” every script, it’s fair game for this post. It’s also a classic, guest starring Betty White and Allen Ludden as themselves, when the eponymous Odd Couple gets to compete on the game show Password, leading to a wonderful centerpiece that highlights the two leads’ differences, and therefore spotlights the distinct characterizations inside of this otherwise gimmicky notion. And, oh, yes, the gameshow bit — which this series would do again… later the same season! — is a gimmick, an artificial construct that’s not fully motivated by the characters and doesn’t really explore them. However, the best in this subcategory — from The Honeymooners to Friends — all use the structure of their chosen game to offer character comedy, and that’s what this installment does, making it, I think, the finest representation of this oft-repeated template, with big laughs from the established personas, who give substance to the affable-but-cheap idea, allowing this to become a great sample of the series, and in fact, one of the funniest sitcom episodes of the ’70s — easily The Odd Couple’s most memorable. And while it also gives us a good indication that Marshall’s endeavors are always going to be more idea-led than character-led, at least he does have dynamite characters to display here — including a central twosome, who, like Laverne and Shirley, are something of an iconic pair. Now, whether Laverne and Shirley are as well-defined as they are iconic remains to be seen. But that’s for next week, as we officially begin our study of Laverne & Shirley (with some relevant Happy Days talk too)…



Stay tuned next week for more sitcom fun! And come back tomorrow for a new Wildcard!