Why Did I Spend 14 Hours Of My Life Watching THE ROPERS?

Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Complementing our coverage on the best episodes of Three’s Company, today’s post looks at the series’ first ill-fated spin-off, The Ropers (1979-1980, ABC), which ran for two seasons and was adapted from the British series George And Mildred (1976-1979, ITV).

77757-g2

The idea of spinning off the Ropers actually began as early as 1977, during Three’s Company‘s second season, but discussions were shelved until the show had completed its first full year. When the idea was proposed again in 1978, Lindley was reportedly intrigued, while Fell was hesitant to potentially wreck a good situation. He was finally persuaded when it was agreed that the characters could return to Three’s Company if their spin-off show lasted less than a calendar year. So, as mentioned in yesterday’s post, the March 13, 1979 episode, “An Anniversary Surprise” saw Roper selling the building and planning to move away. The Ropers pilot premiered immediately after, and set up the new series: the Ropers buy an apartment in a ritzy community, much to the chagrin of their snobby new neighbor, Jeffrey P. Brookes III (Jeffrey Tambor). Tempering Brookes was his wife, played by Patricia McCormack, and their young son, David (Evan Cohen), who quickly develops a bond with Stanley. Six episodes aired that spring on ABC Tuesday nights, garnering high ratings (#8 for the year) and earning the show a definite second season. But The Ropers was moved to Saturdays at the start of the ’79-’80 season, now up against CHiPs (1977-1983, NBC), and the ratings tanked. The show lasted 22 weeks that season before being canceled in May 1980, reportedly a month after the actors’ deal to come back to Three’s Company, which had since rebounded with Don Knotts, had lapsed.

theropers26

Given the popularity of Three’s CompanyThe Ropers has enjoyed some syndication, particularly in the last decade, which has seen the show air on stations like DejaView and Antenna TV. The first season finale, which guest stars Richard Kline as Larry Dallas, and the season two premiere, in which the trio (Ritter, DeWitt, and Somers) appear, are both popular entries. Unfortunately, The Ropers is a far inferior series and, although some Three’s Company fans will defend the show out of loyalty, I must be truthful and say: the show would not have lasted a full second season if Fell and Lindley didn’t have the deal to return to their parent series. Episodes alternate between bad and blah. In addition to weak scripts and a laughably bad opening credit sequence, the show has a faulty design. The very funny Tambor is relegated to playing the series’ villain — being mean to pretty much everyone, even his boring wife, who never develops a personality beyond agreeableness — and given our already established fondness for the Ropers, it’s extremely difficult to like a character who antagonizes them. (Roper, though an occasional antagonist to the trio, was more of an obstacle: something that could be worked around, and worked over, in Helen’s case. Thus, he remained likable.) Furthermore, Stanley and Helen’s bickering, once sharp and fresh, now is tired and nasty (not to mention poorly written). There’s no variation on their dynamic. And it gets old fast. In early 1980, the series adds a young woman to the cast, Jenny (Louise Vallance), an annoying and unfunny runaway who’s designed to humanize the Ropers. It doesn’t work.

3audralindleynormanfell

The Ropers really is one of the most dire series we’ve ever covered here, but I would be remiss for not mentioning its few good qualities. Although I’m not usually fond of children, the relationship between Stanley and seven-year-old David is usually good for a few laughs.  Also, the show gets a goldmine with Dena Dietrich as Helen’s snooty sister, Ethel. She appears in six episodes, and brightens each one. And, while the creative team deserves little praise, it must be said that all of the complaints I levied above were recognized before the series came to a conclusion, as Brookes becomes less nasty and more goofy (which is good for Tambor), and the Ropers are given a few moments of genuine happiness. But, it’s too little too late — and even if the series began with this quality, it still wouldn’t be worthy of That’s Entertainment! However, seeing as I sat through all 28 episodes, I’d hate to see those 14 difficult hours be for naught. So I’ve managed to come up with three episodes that weren’t as bad as the rest. It’s the best I could do.

 

01) Episode 8: “Days Of Beer And Rosie” (Aired: 09/22/79)

A man claims to be Stanley’s son.

Written by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski | Based on a script by Johnnie Mortimer & Brian Cooke | Directed by Jack Shea

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 9.54.40 AM

This episode works because the question of Stanley having a son makes for some serious drama, grounding the comedy in a way that this series rarely gets to do. Also, the humanity of the story alleviates the script from the show’s usual cringeworthy comedy.

02) Episode 9: “Power Play” (Aired: 09/29/79)

The power is cut off just before Ethel comes to visit.

Written by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski | Based on a script by Johnnie Mortimer & Brian Cooke | Directed by Jack Shea

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 9.55.07 AM

After failing to pay the electric bill, Roper runs back and forth trying to use the Brookes’ power to trick Ethel and her husband in this episode that plays a lot like a Jack scheme on Three’s Company. Fell gives his most physical performance of the series.

03) Episode 28: “Mother’s Wake” (Aired: 05/15/80)

Helen’s mother decides to hold a wake while she’s alive.

Written by George Burditt | Directed by Jack Shea

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 9.57.05 AM

The final episode is blessed with appearances by Dietrich and Lucille Benson as Helen’s mom. Meanwhile, Tambor is likable in this episode (of course, he’s high) and there is a sweet Helen/Stanley moment at the conclusion. Undoubtedly one of the series’ best.

 

 

Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Hercules!