BCI Eclipse // 1973 // 312 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // December 5th, 2007
For 30 years, we have been hanging out with Jack, Chrissy, and Janet at the Reagle Beagle in California. Now it's about time we have a pint with Robin, Jo, and Chrissy at the Mucky Duck in England.
How many of you are fans of the 1970s-80s series Three's Company? I happen to be a huge fan, and think it's one of the one of the funniest sitcoms ever on American television. (Plus, you can all say what you want, but I think the overrated Friends ripped it off in the worst way.) Few of you are probably aware though that the John Ritter TV classic was in fact an Americanized version of a popular British sitcom that debuted in 1973. The show was called Man about the House, and it lasted for six series in England, and even spawned two long-running spin-offs: George and Mildred (1976-1979) and Robin's Nest (1977-1981).
That's right: Jack Tripper was originally named Robin Tripp (Richard O'Sullivan, Cleopatra), a young Englishman studying to be a chef who comes to live with two sexy (and smart) birds named Chrissy (Paula Wilcox, Scoop) and Jo (Sally Thomsett, Straw Dogs). While this was the swinging '70s London in all its openly sexual glory, Robin had to act gay so that his pompous landlord George Roper (Brian Murphy, Last of the Summer Wine) is ensured that everything is platonic in the flat. In addition, George had to contend with his sex-starved wife Mildred (Yootha Joyce, A Man for All Seasons).
After almost 35 years, Man about the House finally makes its American debut on DVD, in a two disc set from BCI Eclipse and Fremantle Enterprises. I suppose the big question is will it attract to American audiences despite the fact it is seriously outdated and passé, not to mention a virtual duplication of Three's Company, even though it came out four years before the latter version. This is what I say: for fans of British comedy and Three's Company in particular, this show is a must-see, with plenty of laughs and a thoroughly charming cast. The truth is that I found very few weaknesses and flaws with Series One and Two, which were all directed by Peter Frazer-Jones (Land of Hope and Gloria) and written by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke. There are 13 episodes in all, and they run approximately 24 minutes each:
* "Three's A Crowd"
After a wild party, Chrissy and Jo wake up to find Robin Tripp sleeping in their bathtub. The three soon get acquainted, and Robin gets offered to be their new flatmate, though they mostly deal with pompous landlord George Roper, who won't approve of a bloke living with two birds. At the last minute, they decide on one solution: Robin must pretend he's a "poof."
* "And Mother Makes Four"
Robin is moving today, though when Chrissy's mum pops in for a visit, the roomies must scramble to figure out what to do with Robin before the latter freaks out.
* "Some Enchanted Evening"
Jo is convinced that she is losing her sex appeal before having a big date with a bloke, though Robin offers to cook a meal to impress him. In the meantime, Robin and Chrissy must deal with playing Monopoly with the Ropers as Jo is entertaining her guest.
* "And Then There Were Two"
Chrissy has a feeling that Robin fancies her, which she is comfortable with as long as Jo is around. However, when Jo must go out one night, then Chrissy must deal with Robin who may (or may not) seduce her.
* "It's Only Money"
When Chrissy and Robin come home, they think the place was burgled because the rent money is missing. In desperation, Robin decides he is going to get a bank overdraft...at a bank he doesn't even have an account in!
* "Match of the Day"
Robin is excited that a spot is open on his technical college's rugby team, though soon afterward he contracts the flu, and must deal with Chrissy's rather unorthodox treatment of mystical remedies.
"No Children, No Dogs"
Robin's friend Larry gives him a dog to look after, though as adorable as Robin and the girls think it is, they can't keep it because of Mrs. Roper's rule on no children or dogs in the apartment.
* "While The Cat's Away"
George and Mildred announce they are going away for the weekend, so Robin and the girls decide to throw a swingin' party (complete with a couple of gay men)...and Robin and Chrissy end up getting quite close in the Ropers' apartment. Take a guess what happens.
* "Colour Me Yellow"
While Robin and the girls are redecorating, they decide to go down to the Mucky Duck for a pint on break. When an unlikable, brawny mate hits on Chrissy, Robin decides to stand up for her, but he chickens out. Needless to say, it bothers him, especially when Mr. Roper was able to "stand up" to the same guy. This was remade as "Jack, The Giant Killer," a first season episode of Three's Company.
* "In Praise of Older Men"
Chrissy is seriously involved with an older man, though Robin and Jo decide to do the right thing and tell her that he is in fact married.
* "Did You Ever Meet Rommel?"
WW2 veteran Mr. Roper is celebrating his birthday, and so Robin and the girls decide to host a dinner for him. However, they get an unexpected guest from George's war days who causes complications.
* "Two Foot Two, Eyes of Blue"
Robin and Chrissy are forced to babysit after Jo forgets and goes out on a date with a bloke. To make matters worse, they must contend with no TV, a locked liquor cabinet and, of course, a crying baby all night.
* "Carry Me Back To Old Southampton"
Series Two ends with Robin failing his final cooking exam and facing the reality of moving back in with his parents in Southampton. Who will be the girls' new roommate then? Well, Larry seems to be available...and of course, the girls have qualms with the idea.
I'm on vacation in Sydney, Australia at the moment and at the hotel I was staying at, I was able to meet a British couple on holiday. They both grew up in the 1970s and fondly remember Man about the House and other shows of the period which reflected how people were freely expressing themselves at the time in terms of sex and relationships. As a matter of fact, it sounded like it wasn't all that different than America in the early 1970s, when the sexual revolution was in full swing and casual sex was prevalent. Of course, the old fashioned types (such as the Ropers and Chrissy's mum) were horrified that orgies existed in an ever-changing society where the young crowd felt like they could get away with anything. While Man about the House is hardly shocking today, it still remains delightfully cheeky and naughty, with enough double-entendre jokes to satisfy those interested.
Jo and Chrissy are two "modern women" who are more than comfortable with having Robin come and stay with them, while at the same time controlling his playfully innocent indulgences. It must be noted that while Jo is the blonde of the female duo, she is not the stereotypically dumb-blonde in which the American Chrissy (played by Suzanne Somers) crystallized in Three's Company. They both have different personalities, however, with brunette Chrissy being saucy and sassy, and Jo being sexy and intelligent. The writers keep them strong and quick-witted, even while Robin is being the occasionally charming chauvinist pig. And Paula Wilcox and Sally Thomsett, the actresses who play Chrissy and Jo, respectively, are bubbly and bursting with lovability.
As for Richard O'Sullivan, he is immensely talented, and while it was rare for him to do physical comedy on the series, he still managed to mine laughs on his good-natured demeanor alone. However, as good as he was, I must break down and say that he is no John Ritter, one of the most gifted actors and physical comics who ever lived, I think. Unlike Jack Tripper, however, O'Sullivan's Robin Tripp doesn't lust after either of the girls, but fancies and respects them. Downstairs, Brian Murphy and Yootha Joyce are also terrific as George and Mildred, with their sexless marriage constantly being joked about and George's inability (or rather unwillingness) to give in to his wife's urges.
While it's inevitable that I would make comparisons with Three's Company, it would be impossible for me to say if one is better than the other. I've always been a fan of British humor, yet most Americans don't like it and I think that stems from the fact that Americans don't understand the references, which renders the humor dry to them. The '70s pop culture jokes will no doubt just whisk over American viewers' heads, though that doesn't mean they still can't enjoy Man about the House. Much of it was translated well to Three's Company with only the slightest modifications in the scripts, though certain scenes (like Robin in the bathtub) were obviously deemed too suggestive for across the pond, so they were replaced with other more "appropriate" scenes. Naturally, all the British slang was dropped including several profanities...for example, in "No Children, No Dogs," the word "bitch" is used twice, which would never happen in a 1970s American show. All of the characterizations are a hundred degrees different than their American clones (which is expected), and that is part of the reason why I liked it so much. The Ropers in particular, are vastly different, with George being less grumpy (and thus more of a schnook) than Norman Fell's Stanley, and Mildred is much more sexually suggestive (and aggressive) in her dialogue than Audra Lindley's Helen.
Man about the House has been available for years on Region 2 DVD, and in fact the final series was released only a few months ago in the UK, along with the complete box set of all the seasons. However, it has never been seen or released in the States until now, so it will be interesting to see how well it does. BCI Eclipse and Fremantle Media Enterprises presents Man about the House: The Complete Series One and Two in a two-disc set with all the episodes released from 1973 to 1974. As for the episodes' quality, the openings and outdoor sequences have all the 1970s grain and dirt that would expect of a British show at this age, though the scenes shot on the sets hold up quite nicely. I'm sure most of you won't be surprised that there are special features to be found here -- hell, there are not even any subtitles, audio options, or previews, which feels really cheap. Still, those who are being first introduced to the show probably won't mind anyway, though a retail price of $25 seems a bit much, if you ask me. The truth is you would all benefit more from a rental.
In closing, I must say that the biggest thing that hurts this show's ability to do well in the States is not because of the lack of special features, but just for the simple reason that it may have come across the pond a little too late. Granted, Three's Company is still a fondly remembered and loved show by many people, though at this point it may be asking too much for them to watch the same version British style, even if Man about the House was the original show. While I did find Man about the House consistently funny with every episode, it never really got as uproarious as Three's Company, though I did watch the former with a smile on my face when I wasn't laughing. Some of the laughs don't get the punch line that they do in Three's Company, however, like some dialogue in "In Praise of Older Men." When Jo says, "You know, if women ran the country we wouldn't have any of these silly wars," Chrissy responds by saying: "Yeah, all the countries would nag each other to death." It's a hell of a lot funnier in Three's Company just because they give the second line to Stanley Roper.
Man about the House is still highly recommended by the court, whether you are a fan of British comedy or not. Now it's time for a pint. Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2007 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BCI Eclipse
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 312 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Not Rated