The Ten Best SOAP Episodes of Season Four

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re concluding our coverage on the best episodes from Soap (1977-1981, ABC), perhaps the most controversial sitcom of the ’70s. I’m pleased to announce that the entire series has been released on DVD.


“This is the story of two sisters, Jessica Tate and Mary Campbell. Jessica lives in a neighborhood known as “rich”. Jessica likes life, the only thing about life she would change if she could, is that she would set it all to music. The Tates have more secrets than they do money. We’re approaching Mary Campbell’s house. Mary, too, likes life. Unfortunately, life doesn’t seem to be too crazy about her. As you can see the Campbell’s don’t have nearly as much money as the Tates. They do, however, have as many secrets.” Soap stars KATHERINE HELMOND as Jessica Tate, CATHRYN DAMON as Mary Campbell, RICHARD MULLIGAN as Burt Campbell, ROBERT MANDAN as Chester Tate, BILLY CRYSTAL as Jodie Dallas, TED WASS as Danny Dallas, JENNIFER SALT as Eunice Tate, ARTHUR PETERSON as The Major, JIMMY BAIO as Billy Tate, JAY JOHNSON as Chuck (and Bob) Tate, ROSCOE LEE BROWNE as Saunders, and DONNELLY RHODES as Dutch Leitner.


The final season of Soap does not show the series in a favorable light; very little is clicking — from the unexciting story lines, to the distracting new characters (sorry, Gregory Sierra’s El Puerco is not a welcome replacement for Corinne), and even the tired scripting, which pushes harder and comes up with less… Soap is in a creative recession. (And unfortunately, it wasn’t ever given the chance to recover.) Many have speculated as to what exactly went wrong with the series, but as discussed a bit last week, I think the metaphorical scale that measured the balance between satire and substance got a bit wonky. While the second half of last season tried to find comedy in ordinary soap stories, this season seems to be trying to find comedy in wacky soap stories. Meanwhile, the show’s serialization, its trademark, has caused an unfavorable convolution — one that makes us yearn for nothing more than simple conversations, especially between the two sisters (whose relationship is strained by one of the tortuous plots to which I was previously referring).


With every series delayed by the 1980 Actors’ Strike, Soap only aired 11 episodes before it was pulled from its Wednesday night spot in January and put on a six week hiatus, returning at 10:00 on Monday nights starting March 09, 1981. Because there were still 10 half-hour episodes left to run, ABC made the decision to air them in five hour-long blocks. Surprisingly, the ratings increased (as did the quality of the writing, which seemed to get slightly more focused and laugh-driven). But because of the general decline in ratings over its four year run, and the simple fact that the rates for ad space on the series had never been high (due to the controversy surrounding its premiere), ABC cancelled the series without fair warning. Some cliffhangers have never been resolved. And while I’m less bothered by that than the noticeable decline in creative merit, it wasn’t difficult to pick out the good moments — and, don’t worry, there were plenty. So I have chosen 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 ten best episodes of Season Four. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) All episodes this season are directed by J.D. Lobue. Remember that each installment is listed by the number it is given on the DVD set, and original hour-long offerings — whether split or conjoined on disc — are considered two separate entries. (This is not only because they would be split into two during syndication, but also because I do not think it fair to compare episodes of varying lengths.) Also, the clip show special that opened the season (and featured Bea Arthur as an angel) is not considered an installment, although it has been released on VHS.


01) Episode 70 (I) (Aired: 11/12/80)

Jessica is revived; Burt and Danny find themselves in a compromising position.

Written by Susan Harris & Stu Silver and Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon

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Like the second season premiere and third season finale, this fourth season opener was produced and broadcast as a single hour-long installment. Although the last half of the prior season was a unanimous disappointment, this year begins with an amusing installment that extends itself from the cliffhangers but more consciously injects comedy. While the blackmail story with Danny and Burt is too shamefully broad for the series, the situation surrounding Mary’s new son, who may or may not be an alien, is deliciously original, and it’s never funnier than it is here, as a black nurse raises her eyebrows when Mary seems relieved to learn that her baby is white.

02) Episode 70 (II) (Aired: 11/12/80)

Eunice wins Dutch; Jodie gets custody of Wendy.

Written by Susan Harris & Stu Silver and Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon

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Shockingly, both parts of the opening installment are superior enough to make today’s list, as the comedy quotient continues throughout the year’s whole premiere hour. Highlights from this half include Eunice and Corinne drawing cards to see which one of them gets Dutch. (Eunice wins, as Diana Canova was leaving Soap to star as the lead in her own Witt-Thomas-Harris series, I’m A Big Girl Now, which co-starred Danny Thomas, Martin Short, and Sheree North, and lasted a year.) And the scene between Mary and Jessica, where the latter talks about how she visited their mother in heaven, is on a short list of the pair’s best scenes of this season.

03) Episode 74 (Aired: 12/10/80)

Billy sets out to rescue Jessica; Jodie hires a detective to help him find Wendy.

Written by Susan Harris & Stu Silver and Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon

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Barbara Rhoades, a familiar face to all TV lovers of the era, makes her first appearance as Maggie, the fast talking private detective whom Jodie hires to help him track down Carol and Wendy. Rhoades is a jolt of energy for the series, and although their storyline will get a little gratuitously strange as it progresses, she shares good chemistry with Crystal and their scenes together are a highlight. While the scene of Jessica moseying through the jungles of Malaguay is fun (because, though outrageous, it’s in character), the best stuff here occurs in the scene in which Jodie introduces Maggie to his crazy family, which includes several big and well earned laughs.

04) Episode 79 (Aired: 01/21/81)

Jessica and Chester’s divorce is final; Leslie makes another attempt on Billy’s life.

Story by Susan Harris & Stu Silver and Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon | Teleplay by Susan Harris & Stu Silver and Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon and Barry Vigon & Danny Jacobson

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While there aren’t a lot of truly memorable moments in this particular offering, it is one of the most consistently rendered, with laughs and character beats that seem reminiscent of Soap in its halcyon days. There are too many characters in the series at this point, but this episode does find ways to allow all of them to be served. As for the plot developments, Chestier and Annie announce their engagement following the finalization of his divorce from Jessica, and Danny gets shot by Leslie at a party that Jessica has thrown for El Puerco, setting up the storyline that will change the course of the series — which most fans believe was NOT for the better!

05) Episode 81 (Aired: 03/09/81)

Burt goes after Tibbs; Mary tells Chester that he’s Danny’s real father.

Story by Susan Harris & Stu Silver and Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon | Teleplay by Susan Harris & Stu Silver and Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon and Barry Vigon & Danny Jacobson

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This is the first part of the hour-long show that followed a six week hiatus and the “Who’s Danny’s father?” cliffhanger, and it wastes no time in revealing his identity: Chester. But this storyline doesn’t produce much of the comedy. This episode gets most of its laughs from the scene in which Burt, with a baseball bat in tow, goes after Tibbs, who’s at a dinner party that gives the writers carte blanche to parody The Godfather. Other scenes of note include the conversation between Jessica and El Puerco on premarital sex (and the two types of women) after she catches him with a prostitute, and the scene where Mary tells her gynecologist that Scottie may be an alien.

06) Episode 83 (Aired: 03/16/81)

Jodie proposes to Maggie while waiting for execution; Mary relives the past.

Story by Susan Harris & Stu Silver and Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon | Teleplay by Susan Harris & Stu Silver and Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon and Barry Vigon & Danny Jacobson

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A funny installment, this was first half of the hour-long block in which it originally aired. In addition to some hilarious scenes between Eunice and Dutch in which the pair try to spice up their sex life by role playing (the From Here To Eternity one, with the Major’s intrusion, is of particular note), this episode boasts the show’s only original flashback, as Mary remembers the events surrounding Chester’s decision to marry Jessica. The whole thing is camp fun, as the actors and writers leave their metaphorical tongues in their cheeks with regard to the authenticity of the time and look that Mary is recalling. It’s a bit gimmicky, but the laughs don’t feel cheap.

07) Episode 86 (Aired: 03/23/81)

El Puerco and Jessica spend the night together; Chester and Annie announce their marriage.

Written by Susan Harris & Stu Silver

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Airing as the second part of the hour long block in which it was broadcast, this is unbeatably the funniest episode of the year, with every scene giving its characters big laughs. Jessica and El Puerco share their best scene, which occurs following their first night together when she answers honestly his question about his performance. Meanwhile, Mary and Burt are driven apart by his rising snobbery and her increasing dependency on booze, and Eunice is riding Dutch ragged in their role playing attempts. (There’s a Wizard Of Oz joke.) But the best scene is certainly the last one, in which Jodie is hypnotized into believing he’s a 90-year-old Jewish man named Julius Kassendorf. It’s the funniest story of the season, and helps give the last few episodes most of its finest moments.

08) Episode 87 (Aired: 04/13/81)

Danny bonds with Annie; Burt is offered a job by the Governor.

Written by Susan Harris & Stu Silver

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Following the strength of the previous episode, this installment, which aired first in its original hour block, continues the recaptured trend of consistent and humorous storytelling. Almost every scene is a winner, with the golf course scene between Burt, the Governor, and Gene as a great showcase for the two new characters. Also, we get a couple of amusing conversations — one between Dutch and Chester, where they discuss the latter’s lingering feelings for Jessica and another between Danny and Annie, who are clearly being prepped for a romantic liaison (that follows shortly). And then, Julius is brought home to meet the Campbell family… Hilarity.

09) Episode 88 (Aired: 04/13/81)

Danny and Annie fall in bed together; Maggie meets Julius.

Written by Susan Harris & Stu Silver

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After spending most of this season embroiled in a story-driven plot with El Puerco, this episode, which aired second in its original hour block, gives us a taste of classic Jessica, as her conversation with Burt about his marital problems is a flighty delight, filled with jokes about Phil and Marlo (sister of producer Tony Thomas). But the rest of the scenes pretty much deliver too, with Danny and Annie’s affair the most memorable, and Maggie’s first encounter with Julius (her last scene on the series) as the funniest. Also, there’s a great Burt scene, in which he addresses a panel of senators, that deserves the distinction of being his best of these final ten offerings.

10) Episode 89 (Aired: 04/20/81)

Jessica is taken hostage; Julius comforts Mary.

Written by Susan Harris & Stu Silver

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As the penultimate episode of the entire series, this installment aired as the first part of the hour long broadcast — the show’s last original showing. As with the final few episodes, Billy Crystal’s performance as Julius Kassendorf is probably the most amusing and original, but there are a couple of other memorable bits, particularly in the scene where Jessica is unknowingly kidnapped by El Puerco’s opposition and the following scene in which the family reads the ransom note for her that they left behind. Unlike the final half hour of the series, this episode has more time to be funny, and doesn’t have to be so story heavy (and cliffhanger geared).


Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: Episode 73 (Aired: 12/03/80), in which Eunice and Dutch marry, Annie moves in with Chester, and the photos of Burt and Danny show up in the newspaper, Episode 75 (Aired: 12/17/80), which features a hilarious (and not PC by today’s standards) scene in which Burt and Danny don disguises and infiltrate one of Elmore Tibbs’ brothels, where Danny meets Gwen, and Episode 76 (Aired: 12/31/80), in which Chester tries to have an estate sale of household furnishings to raise some much needed cash. All three have fine moments, but are generally not as consistently produced.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Four of Soap goes to…..

Episode 86

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the first season of Taxi! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!