Paramount // 1981 // 451 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // September 12th, 2007
It's all perfectly normal.
In high-concept sitcoms, everything revolves around a gimmick ("I have a talking horse"). Low-concept sitcoms focus more on the characters to generate laughs (Meet Ray Barone and his family).
Bosom Buddies started out as a high-concept show -- two men must masquerade as women to score and keep a cheap New York City apartment. It was a blatant rip-off of the classic 1959 film Some Like It Hot, complete with a sexy-but-dim blonde. Presciently, its cast included an actor who would go on to become his generation's Jack Lemmon: Tom Hanks. While there developed a nice interplay among the actors, and the writers delivered some clever scripts, much of the first season's humor revolved around the patently ridiculous disguises (no one would believe these two as women) and the every-horny-guy fantasy of living in house full of beautiful babes.
In Bosom Buddies: The Second Season, the men-in-drag aspect is played down, and the show becomes a pretty well-written buddy comedy that capitalizes on the chemistry between its stars.
Kip Wilson (Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan) and Henry Desmond (Peter Scolari, Newhart) learn there's a cheap New York apartment in the building where their friend Amy (Wendie Jo Sperber, Back to the Future) lives. Unfortunately, it's in a hotel for women, so the boys become girls: Kip is now Buffy, and Henry is Hildegarde (or "Hildy"). Kip (as Buffy) meets the girl of his dreams, Sonny (Donna Dixon, Dr. Detroit), who is Amy's roommate. The guys decide to live as women for the cheap rent, but to also introduce themselves as men -- Buffy and Hildy's brothers.
Season Two starts with Kip and Henry revealing their secret to Sonny and Isabelle (Telma Hopkins, Family Matters), who runs the hotel. The boys must still be girls when they enter and exit, but they otherwise live openly as men.
In the second episode, Kip and Henry (with some help from Amy) open their own advertising agency, 60 Seconds Street (Kip is a designer, Henry a writer). Their boss from Season One, Ruth Dunbar (Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men), sort of an ad-world version of Anna Wintour, comes along as an investor/mentor/nuisance.
Bosom Buddies premiered on ABC during the post-Taxi, pre-Cheers period when networks, buoyed by the success of Three's Company and Diff'rent Strokes, threw sophistication to the wind and went with shows whose laughs depended on obvious one-liners and topical references, and characters who were types rather than recognizable human beings.
Bosom Buddies stood out over the other one- and two-season wonders of its day because of the engaging interplay among its actors (primarily Hanks, Scolari, and Sperber) and some surprisingly witty scripts.
Unfortunately, its tired, men-in-drag premise doomed Bosom Buddies from the start. Critical reception was middling to poor, and while the show developed a following and eventually back-seated the dress-up business, its ratings were far from stellar. ABC bounced it around the schedule, and it was cancelled after the 1981-82 season.
Two years later, NBC reran some episodes in prime time during the slow summer months, and then the show went into syndication. Tom Hanks had made Splash and Bachelor Party, and so people were giving his stab at sitcom stardom a second look.
And enough liked what they saw to give Bosom Buddies minor cult status.
Watching these shows more than 25 years after they were broadcast, it's clear that the rapport between Hanks and Scolari is really special. One almost wonders if they didn't ad lib some of the frequent sardonic asides and throw-away lines. Scolari and Hanks are actors, not comedians, and they play to each other rather than mugging for the audience.
The show didn't shy away from unexpectedly clever and sophisticated references to literature, philosophy, politics, and pop culture, making it a cut above the standard early '80s sitcom fare. Be warned: A lot of the humor in Bosom Buddies is very much of its time, and jokes about Euell Gibbons, "ring around the collar," Longine watches, Blue Nun wine, and the Osmond brothers have not aged as well as Holland Taylor.
If you're watching Bosom Buddies for the first time, you might find Wendie Jo Sperber to be a revelation. A gifted actress with a "trademark" chunky form, she appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, bringing her own spark to the standard fat-girl roles she often played. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 and spent the rest of her life bringing awareness to the disease, including founding a support organization, WeSpark. Sperber passed away in 2005.
There are 18 episodes on this disc. While IMDb and other Buddies sites list 19 shows for the second season, an episode where Henry gets thrown in jail for buying a stolen video recorder seems to be listed twice: once as "Call Me Irresponsible" and once as "One for You, One for Me" (the title on this set). The box also offers a slightly different chronology than the Web sites.
* "The Truth and Other Lies"
* "There's No Business..."
* "The Reunion"
* "The Road to Monte Carlo"
* "All You Need Is Love"
* "Other Than That, She's a Wonderful Person"
* "The Slightly Illustrated Man"
* "Two Percent Solution"
* "The Grandfather"
* "Kip Off the Old Block"
* "Hildy's Dirt Nap"
* "The Way Kip and Henry Were"
* "Who's on Thirst?"
* "Not with My Sister, You Pig"
* "One for You, One for Me"
* "Not the Last Picture Show"
Paramount's work on this set won't make them anyone's buddy. Like the later round of syndication, as well as the first set, the opening credits theme has been changed from "My Life" to generic R&B song "Shake Me Loose." While this doesn't change the content of the actual programs, it does somehow diminish the Buddies experience. (You can seek out the original opening on youtube.com.)
Far more egregious is that at least some of these shows have been cut. I've watched Bosom Buddies through the years, and while I'm not an authority, I picked out a number of instances where segments or bits were just gone. One of those cuts, in "The Road to Monte Carlo," is very obvious, since the missing bit is featured in the opening credit clips; in other shows, the missing footage turns up in the closing credit clips. I wonder if Paramount didn't just take the syndicated versions and package them up along with the syndication sales promo, which is included as the set's lone extra.
The picture quality is uneven, varying not only between episodes, but within episodes; certainly, no effort seems to have been made to clean it up. There are a number of points where things just don't look or sound right. At around the 21 minute mark on "Other Than That, She's a Wonderful Person," the audio goes out of sync and stays that way for the rest of the scene. Even if that was a glitch from the original run, which I doubt, it wouldn't exactly be a major undertaking to fix it. And check out the weird jump-back shot about six minutes into "Hildy's Dirt Nap."
Internet scuttlebutt has it that Hanks tried to suppress the release of Bosom Buddies on DVD. I don't necessarily buy that, and besides, it's a good show, and he has nothing to be embarrassed about here. If he were really that sensitive about his early career, one would think he'd just hire snipers to pick off people walking out of Blockbuster with copies of Bonfire of the Vanities or Turner and Hooch tucked under their arms.
Bosom Buddies was a fun, hip, well-acted little show that probably had another season or two in it when it was canceled. It deserves better than the treatment it receives in this set.
Kip and Henry, pull up your socks and be on your way.
Paramount, not so fast. The presentation on this set is tantamount to counterfeiting. Fans of this show deserve better.
Guilty for you.
Review content copyright © 2007 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 451 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Sales presentation (6:45)
* Sitcoms Online
* DVD Verdict Review of Bosom Buddies: The First Season