Warner Bros. // 1976 // 151 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // June 27th, 2006
There's a new girl in town...
Alice Hyatt (Linda Lavin) is a struggling single mom who has pulled up her stakes in native New Jersey, loaded up the station wagon with her possessions and son, Tommy (Philip McKeon), and is freeway bound to Hollywood. As luck would have it, the Vista Cruiser breaks down in Arizona and Alice and Tommy are forced stick around, grabbing the first apartment they find. Needful of equally quick employment, Alice spots a "help wanted" sign in the window of Mel's Diner, a somewhat greasy yet hospitable eatery. It's not quite Hollywood but it should suffice until Alice can get back on the road to fulfill her dreams of becoming a star singer. At the diner, Head Cook and owner Mel Sharples (Vic Tayback) can be gruff and a bit underdone but still has a tender side. Head Waitress Florence Jean "Flo" Castleberry (Polly Holliday) is a feisty redhead, full of spit and vinegar and eager to take Alice under her wing. Vera Gorman (Beth Rowland) is the other waitress, dimwitted yet brimming with integrity. Together, they're four peas in a pod, each working within their own means and leaning upon one another occasionally to make ends meet.
Amid the pantheon of mid-'70s sitcoms, Alice was generally just another listing in the TV Guide. The plotlines were simple if not a bit hackneyed in their approach. Played for easy laughs, the show somehow managed to run for nine seasons. Keeping up with its place in the weekly lineup was like chasing a hard-boiled egg with a spoon -- it premiered on Wednesday, aired for a year on Saturdays, then three years on Sundays, back to Wednesdays then Mondays, the Sundays again until its final season on Tuesdays. Despite the schizophrenic broadcast plan, during its fourth season the show secured the #4 spot in the Nielsen ratings. In total, it tallied up an impressive 202 episodes.
Based upon the film, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the show took a few liberties with its source material, changing characters and dropping others altogether (Flo's daughter from the film was nowhere to be found in the TV series). What made the show work, though, was its contained settings -- the diner, Alice's apartment -- and the likewise contained cast -- the four majors, Tommy, and the occasional guest stars. Mostly, the show resonated with single moms and disrupted families, offering a moment to laugh a bit at the harried lifestyle that comes following the death of a spouse (Alice's husband, Donald, was killed in a truck accident). Of course, Polly Holliday as the man-hungry Flo stole the show with her unrepentant outbursts of "Kiss my grits!" to rebuff the crass Mel. Much like the Henry "The Fonz" Winkler's "Ayyyyyy" from Happy Days or Jimmie "J.J." Walker's "Dyn-O-Mite!" from Good Times, this became the audience-favorite tagline of Alice. Soon, Mel would get a comeback line of "Stow it, Flo!" Again, the laughs were simple but effective nonetheless.
In absence of a release of complete season boxed sets, Warner Brothers Home Video seems to be floating a test balloon with this Alice -- WB Television Favorites DVD. You'll only find six episodes here, spanning seasons one through five (and only utilizing the episodes featuring Flo; that character would leave after the "Flo's Farewell" episode here for a spinoff series, namely Flo. Here's what you'll find on this compilation collection:
"Alice Gets a Pass" (Episode 1 -- Airdate 9/29/76): When Mel's old football buddy, Jack, rolls into town, Alice is smitten by his good looks and fun-loving demeanor. Unfortunately, her dreams of landing this stud for a long-term stay are cut short when Jack explains his reason for taking an end run around Alice's advances.
"The Odd Couple" (Episode 20 -- Airdate 2/26/77): After Flo's trailer home is stolen, Alice invites the cagey redhead to stay with her and Tommy. Of course, good friends often make miserable roommates.
"Close Encounters of the Worst Kind" (Episode 37 -- Airdate 1/22/78): Believing her college Psychology course has given her greater insight into managing interpersonal relationships, Alice convinces the diner crew to participate in an encounter group.
"Block Those Kicks" (Episode 53 -- Airdate 10/22/78): In an attempt to kick his betting habit, Mel agrees to go cold turkey if the waitresses agree to halt their personal addictions.
"Cabin Fever" (Episode 81 -- Airdate 12/2/79): Seeking a bit of relaxation at a fishing cabin, Mel, his girlfriend, and the waitresses find themselves struggling for elbow room in their rustic great indoors.
"Flo's Farewell" (Episode 90 -- Airdate 2/24/80): After receiving a lucrative offer to work in Dallas, Flo bids farewell to Mel's Diner.
It's a disappointment to fans that they're not getting full season collections and the apathetic transfers they'll find here are an even larger disservice. Each episode is presented in the original 4:3 full frame aspect ratio and, apparently, in the exact same video quality as was originally aired. The image is frightfully soft and lacking detail. The color saturation shifts frequently as does the contrast level. Frankly, it looks like an original broadcast on a mid-'70s CRT set. If you're one for authentic experiences, right down to the Sylvania TV experience you may have had three decades back, then this disc delivers mightily. The audio is presented in a rather muddy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. Honestly, it seems as if six episodes were queued up on the telecine and then the engineer took an extended coffee break. There are no extras on the menu.
If you're a long-time Alice fan, you'll probably be thankful for a DVD appearance of any sort, yet given the quality here -- or lack thereof -- you're likely better off to scan the cable dial for reruns. Rent this disc before you considering a purchase.
Review content copyright © 2006 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 151 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated