Judge Sandra Dozier doesn't miss the simplicity of the fifties, but she does miss poodle skirts and cat's-eye glasses. Fortunately, a new Laverne & Shirley DVD fills that void.
Our reviews of Laverne & Shirley: The Sixth Season (published May 19th, 2013), Laverne And Shirley: The Fifth Season (published April 10th, 2012), and Laverne And Shirley: The Second Season (published April 18th, 2007) are also available.
"Hey! The Big Ragoo is here!"
Laverne & Shirley was a mid-season replacement that debuted strongly, with a top-five Nielsen rating for the first season laying the groundwork for consistent #1 ratings in later seasons. However, the show was roundly panned by critics, who felt it was trash comedy that portrayed blue-collar workers in a bad light. No explanation was offered for why the same group of blue-collar viewers watched the show voraciously and kept the networks interested in producing it for eight years.
Although the premise of L&S owes a nod to shows like I love Lucy (a pioneer of female buddy comedy), it definitely paved the way for future successful buddy shows with female leads, like Kate and Allie (1984) and Cagney & Lacey (1982). Most people can name several shows with two guys as buddies, but only a few with two women carrying the brunt of the success (or failure) for the show.
Best of all, Laverne and Shirley had a knack for being all things to all people—feminist, refreshingly nonfeminist, good-time girls, role models, and the all-around type of girl you wanted to hang out wiith (both for men and for women). They never laid anything on too thickly, and the show seldom indulged in heavy-handed moralizing. It was light, fun fare, and leads Penny Marshall (Laverne) and Cindy Williams (Shirley) were accomplished physical actors who only got better as the series went on.
Facts of the Case
Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney are blue-collar twentysomethings (just go with it) who live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and have jobs as bottle cappers at the local Shotz brewery by day. By night, they hang out at the apartment they share or at Laverne's family pizza parlor, which is owned by her father, Frank (Phil Foster).
Although Laverne is hooked up with Fonzie (from Happy Days) at the beginning of Season One, he soon fades into the background as Laverne starts seeing other men. Shirley is more shy and reticent when it comes to dating; she has an on-again-off-again "thing" with hunky Carmine (Eddie Mekka), but although he wants it to be official, she is hedging her bets (something she will come to regret later in the season).
The two girls live through hosting a wild bachelor party, a fiery rivalry with a stuck-up coworker, a jilting at the altar, being held hostage by their bank-robbing dates, the circulation of a nasty rumor about Shirley, a lecherous boss, volunteering as bait for a police stakeout, nursing a stranger who can't speak English, jangled nerves from the impending visit of Shirley's domineering mother, and the final indignity: Lenny and Squiggy moving into the same apartment building, upstairs.
It's enough to make you hold your Boo-Boo Kitty a little tighter for comfort.
Laverne & Shirley was spun off of the hugely popular Happy Days after Marshall and Williams appeared as guest stars on that show. Although L&S was set in the same town, it sported almost all new characters, the only carry-over being the relationship between Laverne and The Fonz (Henry Winkler), who appeared in the first few episodes as a guest star himself (probably to ensure a crossover audience).
Once in their own show, the two characters took on distinctive personalities that paid homage to another legendary comedy pair, The Odd Couple. The tall and slightly tomboyish Laverne was laid-back, crazy about boys, addicted to milk and Pepsi, and more schooled in the ways of the world. Petite, innocent Shirley was naïve, high-strung, and terribly afraid of soiling her spotless reputation. Although Marshall wasn't happy with what she considered a blandization of her tough-girl image, the revamping was comedy gold; watching Laverne endure Shirley's hysterical worrying with weary resignation or blow a raspberry when things didn't go her way was always hilarious.
The '50s, when the series was set, wasn't exactly a time for women's liberation, and many of the show's plots steer clear of any overt moralizing on this issue. Usually this is sprinkled in for those who wish to see it, such as in the episode "It's the Water," when Shirley is hired for a new job as a beer taster by a horny boss who wants to get her drunk and have his way with her. A modern show would see him packed off to jail or at least fined for his tomfoolery, but he gets off with a push down the stairs by an enraged Carmine in L&S. Still, the subtext is there for those who want to see it: Look what a buffoon this guy is for his outdated lechery, and aren't things better now?
L&S had a deliberately light tone, with fast-and-funny dialogue and well-timed, natural physical acting that kept audiences laughing. It was a good formula, and at heart the show also had a sweetness and appeal that was rooted firmly in the friendship of the two leads. Early in the season, after an emotional breakup between Laverne and her fiancé, Shirley approaches Laverne and offers her a stuffed panda, one of the toys Carmine won for her at a carnival they all went to. "I want you to have this," she says sweetly. Laverne looks at it for a moment and says, "I liked the horsie better," and Shirley rushes to get it for her, gushing that she wanted to make a little suit for the panda, anyway, and that she thinks Laverne will like the horsie just as well. The audience roars with laughter as Laverne nods in perfect acceptance and understanding. That's them in a nutshell: They will give each other the possession that is most dear to them (which can never be more dear than their friendship), and they can always be honest with each other. It's only when one of these two things breaks down that their lives get complicated.
When it comes to comedy, the other important pair in the show, neighbors Lenny (Michael McKean, looking lean and very handsome) and Squiggy (David Lander, who gleefully ramps up the annoyance level of Squiggy to a shrill whine whenever he gets a chance), cannot go without mention. Their habit of suddenly barging in without knocking (but with a perfectly synched "Helllloooo!") became a signature gag on the show, one that could be relied on for laughs every time. Despite their stuck-in-high-school doofiness, they were loyal friends who tried to do right by the girls, even as they were trying to cop a feel. Much to their own surprise, Laverne and Shirley cared about them, too. They were perfect foils for each other, and delightful to watch on screen.
The video and audio transfer for Laverne & Shirley improves greatly over the syndication prints available to date. It seems that Paramount either applied some color correction to deepen and enrich the color tones or used a fresh original for the transfer. However, the image is still slightly washed out and soft, and it does show some age-related wear. This is not too distracting overall. The mono soundtrack sounds pretty good. It is fed into the stereo channels for a more robust sound experience, and there is very little background noise or hum even at higher volume.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm really disappointed by the complete lack of extras with this release. Unless you count a brief trailer for Episode Two that appears at the end of the pilot episode, there aren't even previews thrown in that are trying to pretend to be extras. Since there were fewer episodes than a normal full-season run and since this is the debut season, some retrospective interviews with the cast would have been great. There isn't even a tried-and-true static biography section (studios probably figure this information can be found online if one is really interested).
Although Paramount has taken pains to present a careful transfer of image and sound, they do acknowledge that some of the original music has been replaced. The original theme music and music done for the series are there, but some of the jukebox and "atmosphere" music has been replaced. More than likely, this will only be noticed by fans who have watched the show in syndication and have recent memory of the original music picks, but it is worth noting if this kind of substitution bothers you.
Despite the barebones release, this is still a box set worth checking out. Attractive packaging and an improved video image make this worth having in your library if you've made any effort to check out the show in syndication since it was cancelled in 1983. Although some of the music has been replaced, these are not obvious changes that make scenes unwatchable, and they will probably be fine for most fans.
I wouldn't have the heart to pronounce these law-abiding ladies guilty, but I do advise them to keep the curtains on their window closed. Whadda they wanna do, give the neighborhood a show?!
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Scales of Justice
• Episode Two Preview Featuring The Fonz
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