When Appellate Judge Tom Becker found himself stranded without food, he was glad he had that half a tuna fish sandwich in his pocket.
Our reviews of Fan Favorites: The Best of the Odd Couple (published March 8th, 2012), The Odd Couple: The First Season (published September 27th, 2006), The Odd Couple: Centennial Collection (published March 24th, 2009), and The Odd Couple: The Third Season (published January 23rd, 2008) are also available.
Felix: "Funny day, wasn't it? A sad wedding and a happy funeral. It was a nice funeral, though, wasn't it? Not the way I'd like mine, though. You know what I'd like? I would like our regimental flag draped across my coffin. And then, I hope this isn't pretentious, I'd like it drawn by a team of white horses while the band plays the grand march from Aida, because that's my favorite opera. I'd like it to go around and around the cemetery three times. What would you like?"
Oscar: "I'd like to be there."
-- From "Being Divorced Means Never Having to Say 'I Do'"
The 1970-71 TV season was a high point for TV comedy. Each network debuted programs that were smart, sophisticated, and a little edgy. CBS premiered Mary Tyler Moore in the fall and All in the Family in January. NBC's big new show was Flip Wilson.
ABC—then still known as "the third network"—based their comedy offering on a popular Broadway play that had become a popular movie. Cast were two middle-aged character actors, one a light comedian, the other known more his dramatic roles. There was also a little controversy, as the show featured two lead characters who were divorced. (Mary Tyler Moore had originally been envisioned as a divorcee, but CBS nixed the idea, fearing that people would think Laura Petrie had left Rob.)
The Odd Couple ran five seasons and won three Emmies, two for Jack Klugman, one for Tony Randall. Never a ratings champ during its initial run, the show became hugely popular in syndication. Thanks to sharp writing that never shied away from a gag and an almost miraculous chemistry between stars Randall and Klugman, The Odd Couple remains one of the funniest sitcoms to ever hit the airwaves.
In The Odd Couple: The Second Season, Klugman and Randall hit their stride and cement this series as a classic.
Facts of the Case
Felix Unger (Tony Randall, Pillow Talk), a fussy, obsessively neat photographer, has been divorced by his wife, and moves in with his friend Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman, Quincy, M.E.), an unrepentant slob who's a sports writer for a New York City daily and also divorced.
In season two, Oscar has a semi-steady girlfriend, Dr. Nancy Cunningham (Joan Hotchkis, My World and Welcome to It), while Felix continues trying to get back with ex-wife Gloria (unseen in the first season, now played by Janis Hansen, Airport). Their neighbors from season one, the Pigeon sisters, have flown the coup, but they still see Murray the Cop (Al Molinaro, Happy Days) and have the occasional poker night.
Perhaps the best line of the second season of The Odd Couple was the one heard at the beginning of several episodes:
"The Odd Couple was filmed before a live audience."
The first season of The Odd Couple was filmed with a single camera…and a laugh track. Both Randall and Klugman were unhappy with this arrangement. At their request, episode 21 of the first season, "Oscar's New Life," was filmed without the laugh track, and Randall and Klugman asked the audience to write in to let ABC know if they preferred it that way.
The vote was 5-2 against the canned laughter, and beginning with the second season, ABC switched to the three-camera, studio audience set up.
The format change was a great boon to the show. Klugman and Randall were no longer telling a joke and holding beats for the laugh track. These episodes play more like theater than television, with the writers setting up situations that capitalize on the interplay between the actors. Klugman's sloppy, down-to-earth cynicism provided the perfect foil for Randall's overly ordered, selectively sunny outlook.
The scripts were often little more than absurd situations on which to hang jokes; character histories changed to support the stories (there are at least three different versions of how Felix and Oscar met). There were no "very special episodes" or deep messages, just two great actors at the top of their games who worked hand-in-glove to create one of the best comedy teams in history. Although many jokes relied on the familiar (neatness, sloppiness, Murray's big nose), The Odd Couple rose above shtick, never having to rely on catch phrases like "Dy-no-mite!" or "Kiss my grits!" for a laugh.
There are 23 episodes included in this set.
In guest roles, The Odd Couple gave us actors whose names you may not know but whose faces you'll recognize. In one episode, John Fiedler, the meek Mr. Peterson from The Bob Newhart Show, turns up as Mr. Duke, the owner of a high-security building Oscar and Felix temporarily move into. (Duke: "If you're going to have an overnight guest, management must be informed by 10 p.m." Oscar: "What kind of a stupid rule is that? A lot of times I don't know by 10 p.m. if my guest is going to stay overnight.") Vito Scotti, Phil Leeds, Herbie Faye, Pat Morita, and Bernie Kopell also make appearances, along with the dryly hilarious Brett Somers (Mrs. Jack Klugman, at the time) as Blanche, Oscar's ex-wife and second-best foil.
The humor is silly yet sophisticated, dated yet timeless, and consistently funny. On the Web site "Jump the Shark," which tracks when programs have lost their way, The Odd Couple is number 16 on the list of shows that have never jumped.
The programs have been remastered and they look, and sound, terrific. I'd read some concerns that for this release, some of the original music might be changed. If that's the case, the changes must be very, very minor. I didn't notice it at all. The popular theme and familiar incidental music are intact, and the more "music-centric" episodes, such as "Felix the Calypso Singer" ("Once there was a man named Oscar/Oscar, Oscar, Oscar/And he turned on his best friend!/Oscar, Oscar, Oscar") and "Does Your Mother Know You're Out, Rigoletto?" play as they did originally.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
No extras? In her review of the first season set, my colleague, Judge Cynthia Boris, noted all the supplemental goodies. Here, we just get the programs, which are excellent, but come on. How about a gallery of promotional stills and magazine covers? Some commentary or interviews with Klugman, Garry Marshall, Neil Simon, Al Molinaro, or some of the writers or directors or recurring guest stars? Outtakes? Bloopers? Trivia? Promos for the second season? Feedback from fans, critics, someone at TV Land, or the authors of one of the many Odd Couple books on the enduring popularity of this program?
To release this set as a bare-bones edition is just plain disrespectful.
Walter Matthau, who played Oscar on Broadway and in the film, passed away in 2000. Jack Lemmon, who played Felix in the film, passed away in 2001. Art Carney, who played Felix on Broadway, passed away in 2003. Tony Randall passed away in 2004. Klugman, his voice ravaged by cancer, is 85, still with us, and still, occasionally, working.
Five iconic actors originated, in different media, two iconic roles. For my money, Klugman and Randall did it best.
I was fortunate enough to see Randall and Klugman together again, on Broadway, in another Neil Simon play, The Sunshine Boys, in 1998. They still had it.
If, for some reason, you've never seen The Odd Couple, pick up this set. You will laugh yourself silly.
If you have seen The Odd Couple, pick up this set. You will laugh yourself silly again.
Oh, Paramount, Paramount, Paramount, how could you (release this set without extras)?
Felix and Oscar, Tony and Jack, you are found guilty of making me laugh myself sick. You are hereby sentenced to home confinement in an apartment on Park Avenue. Your visitor list includes a cop with big nose, a sexy doctor, a gorgeous ex-wife, a sarcastic ex-wife, and "crazy" Rhoda Zimmerman.
Oscar, wipe the mayonnaise off the ankle bracelet.
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