Warner Bros. // 1977 // 600 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 17th, 2012
Kiss my (digital) grits!
Get ready to sling some hash in Mel's Diner! This Arizona-based eatery is home to some of the wackiness wait staff this side of the nut house. There's widowed and single mother Alice (Linda Lavin, Wanderlust); dingy naïve Vera (Beth Howland, The Love Boat); the sassy and beehived Flo (Polly Holiday, Gremlins); Alice's precocious teenage son Tommy (Phillip McKeon, older brother of The Facts of Life star Nancy McKeon); and the diner's grumpy acerbic owner Mel (Vic Taybeck, Loverboy). This working class group learns about life, love, and everything in between, as they tickle your funny bone with a heaping helping of laughter!
I had not seen an episode of Alice in more than over twenty years. As the history of television expands, it's inevitable certain shows will end up being lost to time, while reruns of Seinfeld and I Love Lucy play on dozens of channels continuously. Even with the seemingly thousands of channels now available, try to remember the last time you came across the crew of Mel's Diner while surfing with your remote. I'd venture to guess the answer lies somewhere between "not very often" and "never," which is a shame because Alice is genuine fun.
The show's simple set-up -- three waitresses and their grumpy boss in a dive diner -- offers up a whole lot of comedic possibilities. Much like Cheers, the producers of Alice knew that getting laughs didn't depend on a highfalutin' concept or complex execution. Often times, the most heartfelt comedy comes from the most mundane of situations. Since menial labor for paltry wages is something many Americans have experienced, those watching this series can easily connect with its characters.
One of the wonderful things about Alice is that the characters have distinct personalities that stick with you (even if you havn't seen the show in decades). Before I popped in Season Two, I easily pictured Polly Holiday's quintessential Flo cracking her gum and shouting out, "Kiss my grits!" Vic Taybeck is the personification of a gruff, blue collar worker who really has a heart of gold (you just have to dig deep to find it). Beth Howland's ditzy Vera -- a kissing cousin to Betty White's Rose Nyland from The Golden Girls -- plays batty as well as anyone on the planet. Each of these actors bring a special likability to their work, making Mel, Vera, Flo, and Alice not just stock comedy props, but fully fleshed out three dimensional characters.
Alice was based on the 1976 Martin Scorsese film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Though I've never seen the film, I highly doubt it's in the same spirit of the sitcom (Scorsese doesn't really do "wacky"). The show captures the grittiness of working life with the bubbly fun of the standard television sitcom. Many episodes are based on general themes most people can relate to; Mel turning 50 years old, Flo's younger ex-husband showing up (to let her know she's still married to him), and Alice dating Flo's cowboy-tinged brother. While many shows take a few seasons to bring in big name guest stars, Alice only took one, scoring heavy hitters like comedy legend George Burns (Oh, God!), good old boy Jerry Reed (Smokey and the Bandit), and TV legend Desi Arnaz (I Love Lucy).
Presented in standard def 1.33:1 full frame, the transfers look better than VHS, but are hardly paragons of exceptional image quality. Warner Archive has dusted things off, but there's still some light grain and imperfections found throughout, though one might argue this only helps underscore the feel of the Mel's greasy spoon establishment. There isn't much to say about the Dolby 2.0 Mono audio, whose dialogue, effects, and music (with a main theme sung by Lavin) are all clearly heard without concern. No alternate language tracks or subtitles are available, nor are their any extras.
Though a relic of its very distinct time (the 1970s fusion comments are a real hoot), Alice is a series that can still make viewers laugh. True, some of the writing and humor has dulled quite a bit over the years, and the frequent overacting boarders on parody. But the able bodied cast led by an always game Linda Lavin is able to raise the material, making it fun and amusing. I am happy to report I enjoyed my trip to Mel's Diner far more than I'd expected.
Not Guilty. An entertaining throwback to a simpler age of television comedy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Not Rated