The Ten Best THREE’S COMPANY Episodes of Season Five

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing our coverage on the best episodes from one of the jiggliest sitcoms in primetime history, Three’s Company (1977-1984, ABC). I’m thrilled to announce that every single episode has been released on DVD.

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Student chef Jack Tripper lives with two single girls in an attempt to save expenses, but there’s a catch: he must pretend he’s gay to subvert the suspicions of their conservative landlord. Three’s Company stars JOHN RITTER as Jack Tripper, JOYCE DeWITT as Janet Wood, JENILEE HARRISON as Cindy Snow, RICHARD KLINE as Larry Dallas, DON KNOTTS as Ralph Furley, and SUZANNE SOMERS as Chrissy Snow.


The fifth season of Three’s Company was plagued with a number of problems. The 1980 Actors Strike wasn’t settled until September, giving every primetime series a late start date. When the cast and crew finally returned to work for their first episode in early October (“A Crowded Romance”), which had been written in advance to exclude Suzanne Somers, who had a prior commitment, they likely had no idea of what turmoil was to come. Somers and her husband, Alan Hamel, were attempting to negotiate a raise from $30,000 a week to $150,000 — and 10% of the profits. (The way she spins it now is that she wanted to be paid equal to the men, but Ritter, the star, was only making about $50,000.) When the request was denied, Somers, back at work on the second episode (“Upstairs, Downstairs, Downstairs”), began making rumblings about a cracked rib she’d sustained during her Vegas engagement. As Hamel continued to press for their demands, the cast and crew set to work on the next episode (“…And Justice For Jack”). After days of rehearsals, Somers failed to attend the taping, forcing a hurried rewrite to exclude her character. Concern for her well-being turned into outrage at her insubordination when she missed the taping for “A Hundred Dollars A What?” a few days later.

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By now, everyone was well irritated and she was ordered to return to work. Although Somers was not on speaking terms with her co-stars, she attended the rescheduled “A Hundred Dollars A What?” taping and made plans to begin the next episode (“Downhill Chaser”). But when she missed the table read, her fate was sealed. She was written out of the episode and told her services were no longer needed. One more episode was produced before the show introduced a temporary third roommate replacement in the form of Cindy Snow, Chrissy’s klutzy cousin (played by a novice actress who cost 25% that of Somers). Still contracted, Somers was forced to tape seven standalone phone call scenes by herself that were interspersed throughout the remainder of the season. Once terminated, she sued for $2 million and was awarded only $30,000. Three’s Company moved on, while Somers’ reputation was (temporarily) ruined. Furthermore, a deep-seated feud set in between Somers and her two co-stars. (Somers and Ritter had only half-reconciled at the time of his death, but she and DeWitt reunited for the first time in 2012.)


It’s probably a good thing that Somers left the show when she did; her character had become a caricature, and an unlikable one at that. In fact, Chrissy’s farewell leads to better and meatier material for DeWitt, Kline, and especially Knotts, who becomes zanier than he had been in his debut season. However, because Harrison is noticeably unskilled (albeit amiable), the show’s focus subtly shifts: no longer are stories crafted around a trio of equals; now it is every character for himself, and only when they come together as an ensemble (with Kline and Knotts) does the show recapture some of its early season charm. In the meantime, Ritter seems more focused on the work, and this is probably his best individual season on the show. So while many fans (myself included) have trouble considering this an excellent season because there’s no solid third roommate, there are a lot of truly outstanding bits and a surprisingly high offering of classics. Thus, I think it’s ultimately a much stronger year than the backstage strife might lead one to believe (especially for Ritter fans). So, I have picked 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.


Here are my picks for the best episodes of Season Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Every episode this season is directed by Dave Powers, unless otherwise noted.


01) Episode 79: “Upstairs, Downstairs, Downstairs” (Aired: 10/28/80)

Jack runs himself ragged cooking separate dinners for two dates and the girls.

Written by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski

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Ritter is fabulous in this real-time episode that never leaves the apartment building. It’s an embodiment of the mini one-act! The theatrically of this installment (which was shot in realtime as well) infuses all of the performances with an unrivaled excitement. This is what the multi-camera sitcom does best, and although this offering’s humor quotient isn’t the highest, it’s nevertheless pure entertainment. Furthermore, this is the kind of classic farce that only this series was doing at the time, and with talent like Ritter’s, an episode such as this becomes a special occasion. Always been a favorite. (And it’s the last enjoyable episode with Somers.)

02) Episode 82: “Downhill Chaser” (Aired: 11/25/80)

Jack gets a crash course in skiing at a snow lodge with his girlfriend.

Written by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski

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Although this is one of the Somers-less episodes referenced above, there’s no indication that the script went through turmoil during production. (They likely had the alternate version, sans Chrissy, prepared.) This is a beautifully executed offering that brings the four present regulars to a ski lodge, where Larry tries to score with some snow bunnies, Furley tries to avoid a libidinous (and rather obtuse) masseuse, and Janet tries to teach Jack how to ski before his girlfriend, who naturally believes him to be an expert, finds out the truth. Ritter is phenomenal in several physical bits, and the script is consistently sharp. A laugh-a-minute; brilliant slapstick fun.

03) Episode 85: “Chrissy’s Cousin” (Aired: 12/16/80)

Jack and Janet need a new roommate to cover Chrissy’s share of the rent.

Written by Budd Grossman & George Burditt

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After three episodes without a third roommate, Cindy Snow is introduced and brought aboard to fill the vacancy. Harrison’s uncomplicated freshness is a palpable breath of fresh air to an obviously tense atmosphere, so we’re glad to see her. The character’s klutziness, the main source of her comedy, is immediately revealed, and since Ritter does pratfalls like no other, he and Harrison work well together. Also, this episode is a lot of fun for the surprise of Janet trying to bring in another man to take Chrissy’s place. (The show would have NEVER gone in this direction, but it sure would have been an interesting experiment, as evidenced here.)

04) Episode 87: “The Not-So-Great Imposter” (Aired: 01/13/81)

Jack accidentally gets a job using the identity of a famous chef.

Written by Michael S. Baser & Kim Weiskopf

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The joy of this episode, which is once again tailored almost entirely around Ritter’s Jack, is that the series returns to its farcical roots after a string of atypical installments that had to contend with circumventing the difficulties of losing a cast member, and then the necessary adjustments when adding a new one. While neither of his female roommates get a lot to do in the story, the show momentarily feels like its old self again, and that’s a relief. Also, this episode marks the introductions of Mr. Angelino and Felipe, both of whom will become important characters next season when Jack is working at Angelino’s. Not quite a classic, but better than most.

05) Episode 90: “Janet’s Secret” (Aired: 02/03/81)

Jack and Janet pretend to be married when her parents visit.

Written by Michael S. Baser & Kim Weiskopf

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Admittedly, this episode features an unoriginal story (how many series can you count that have used this premise?), but the script is a more consistently solid effort than many of the episodes produced around this time. (Note the numerical gaps before and after this episode on my list.) However, I don’t personally think the comedy is quite as good as the premise could have it be, as a lot of laughs are wrung from the story itself and not from the character’s quirks. But DeWitt and Ritter make an effortless team, and that’s always a joy to watch. Not surprisingly, this is a popular episode among fans of a Jack/Janet pairing (to which I am not party).

06) Episode 95: “And Baby Makes Four” (Aired: 03/10/81)

Jack and Janet believe that Cindy has gotten pregnant.

Written by Martin Rips & Joseph Staretski

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Here we have another episode with a premise that goes back to the basics. The mistaken pregnancy bit has been explored in varying degrees at least once during each of the past three seasons, but this episode is almost just as good. Why? It’s uncomplicated. The story is straightforward, and therefore, can make time for character moments. Also, it’s one of the few episodes that directly involves Cindy in the premise and, as a result, goes a long way for establishing a camaraderie between these three new roomies. It’s not often cited as a great episode, but perhaps it deserves to be. (This is Somers’ official swan song, as Chrissy has her last phone call tag.)

07) Episode 97: “Double Trouble” (Aired: 03/24/81)

Jack invents a heterosexual twin to romance Furley’s niece.

Story by Martin Rips, Joseph Staretski, & Mark Fink | Teleplay by Martin Rip & Joseph Staretski

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In a season in which John Ritter gives thrilling performance after thrilling performance, this episode, even with all that tough competition, probably represents his best work. The incredibly slapstick-y story has Jack masquerading as his fictitious twin brother Austin, culminating in an extended scene in which Ritter fools Furley into thinking that both “brothers” are there together in the same room. It’s unparalleled clowning, and unquestionably among this series’ finest half-hours. For Ritter’s performance alone, this is the season’s best (and that’s a big honor). Anyone seeking out a single episode to watch from the middle years, make it this one.

08) Episode 98: “Dying To Meet You” (Aired: 05/05/81)

Jack feigns his death to avoid a beating from a jealous boyfriend.

Written by Budd Grossman

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If not for the excellence exuded by the previous installment, this would be this season’s MVE. In fact, “Dying To Meet You” is so finely crafted that it’s painful not to be able to include it as my favorite. (But c’et la vie; better to have too many classics than too few!) What’s most appealing about this script is how finely attuned it is to the series’ penchant for giving its stars physical comedy, as much of the episode is one long chase sequence. Things take a deliciously dark comedic turn when Jack fakes his own death, but that’s only where the best laughs begin. Don Knotts’ performance is worth the price of the DVD, but everyone is in rare form. Marvelous comedy.

09) Episode 99: “The Case Of The Missing Blonde” (Aired: 05/12/81)

Jack and Janet panic when Cindy goes missing.

Written by Michael S. Baser & Kim Weiskopf

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The series is clearly on a roll, and this episode is another wonderful outing with big laughs and consistent character comedy. Not only is this one of Baser and Weiskopf’s sharper scripts (don’t get me wrong, they write funny episodes, but sometimes their stories employ less logic), the entire offering is a showcase for the brilliant teamwork of Ritter and DeWitt, whose characters, over the course of this season really, have formed the series’ most important friendship. Additionally, both Kline and Knotts are in on the fun and their mounting “disappearances” are a scream. The ending may be predictable, but it’s not a comedic letdown. Another classic.

10) Episode 100: “Honest Jack Tripper” (Aired: 05/19/81)

Jack’s total honesty vow alienates his friends.

Written by Mark Tuttle

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Once again, the series makes use of a “traditional sitcom” premise (that is, one that we’ve seen before with regularity). What I like best about this take on the idea is that the story becomes more about how the other characters react to Jack’s newfound honesty, as opposed to his struggle to maintain his promise. After causing strife with the girls and Larry, it’s really sweet — and I don’t say that often, you know — for Jack to lie and spare Furley’s feelings, recognizing that there are times in which a little white lie is a blessing. The premise naturally allows for big laughs, but it’s these nice customized moments that make the installment a true winner.


Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “A Crowded Romance,” in which John Ritter shines as a mechanical man gone awry, “Make Room For Daddy,” in which Janet dates Jack’s girlfriend’s father (and Jack and Cindy do a great bit with an ironing board), and “Night Of The Ropers,” in which the Ropers, their spin-off having been cancelled, return for one final appearance. All three are perfectly good installments, with “Daddy” as the strongest.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of Three’s Company goes to…..

“Double Trouble”

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