Judge Patrick Bromley is still holding out hope for a Mr. Furley spin-off.
Our reviews of Three's Company: Season One (published December 17th, 2003), Three's Company: Season Three (published December 8th, 2004), Three's Company: Season Four (published June 29th, 2005), Three's Company: Season Five (published January 11th, 2006), Three's Company: Season Six (published October 4th, 2006), and Three's Company: Season Seven (published October 4th, 2006) are also available.
Come and knock on our door.
How do I review a television mainstay like Three's Company? The show has been around for over 25 years, and it's still in heavy rotation on at least three different channels here in Chicago. It's safe to say that just about anyone of cognizant age with any awareness of television or pop culture knows of Three's Company. Every episode is basically the same, so if you've seen even one you basically know what you're getting. What the show has to offer is hardly news, so to review its content is futile—either you're a big-time fan and will buy this set, a casual fan who will stick to the reruns, or you can't stand the show and cringe every time you hear the theme song. Either way, your mind is made up. Take my thoughts however you will.
Facts of the Case
Three's Company follows the swinging '70s exploits of Jack Tripper (John Ritter, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter), Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt, Airplane II: The Sequel), and Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers, She's the Sheriff) living together in a single Santa Monica apartment. Along with their landlords/neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Roper—to whom they have to pretend Jack is gay so that he can continue living there—the gang is forever get caught up in what shall henceforth be referred to as "comic misunderstandings," wherein one character sees, hears, or says the wrong thing at the wrong time. This is subsequently misconstrued by all other characters—nine out of ten times as something sexual.
"Jack Looks for a Job"
"Cyrano de Tripper"
"Chrissy's Night Out"
"Janet's High School Sweetheart"
"The Baby Sitters"
"Jack in the Flower Shop"
"Jack's Navy Pal"
"Will the Real Jack Tripper."
"Days of Beer and Weeds"
"Chrissy Come Home"
"Coffee, Tea, or Jack?"
The magic of Three's Company is that it is predicated on the singular notion that sex is funny. I say this because I've noticed, having watched the show for twenty years of my life—when I was younger, my siblings and I had to sneak viewings of the show because my Dad didn't approve—and, more recently, twenty-five consecutive episodes, all of the humor revolves around sex. What's interesting is that despite its complete tunnel vision and all of its supposed dirtiness, the show today plays as downright innocent. It's harmless. Maybe it's because in this day and age we're desensitized to the kind of dirty double entendres and blatant lasciviousness that run rampant in the dialogue. A great deal of that desensitization is due in part to this show. Like it or not, Three's Company was extremely progressive in its day, showing a young man living platonically with two young women; it broke down some walls that some folks didn't want broken, and they've never been repaired (the walls, not the people. Well, maybe the people.) Perhaps it's because it's almost refreshingly foreign to bear witness to that irresponsible '70s mentality of constantly searching for the next hook-up without fear of danger, disease, or death (oh my!)
Three's Company is not the kind of show that explores any kind of character development or makes use of its season to tell a more involved story. Each episode exists independently from every other episode, generally delivering the same formula every time out—a viewer could enter or exit the season at any point and not be lost. For this reason, the show is best viewed in short bursts, which could account for its incredible longevity—viewed in reruns every once and a while, the show holds up remarkably well. It's like eating out at McDonalds: you know exactly what you're going to get, and when you're done you're satisfied but don't really feel like eating McDonalds again for some time. It's when you begin to eat McDonalds for every meal that you begin to notice just how predictable it all is; everything tastes the same. Plus, your heart explodes—but that doesn't really work for the metaphor I'm straining to achieve, so let's leave it at tedious predictability.
If the show existed today, I have no doubt that by the second season it would have begun to explore the possibilities of romantic tension amongst the roommates. First, Jack would date Chrissy, which might last for a season or two until they break up and he begins dating Janet a season or two later (come to think of it, that show is called Friends). Well, this show is too lighthearted and goofy to be bogged down by any romantic relationships—which would get in the way of all the casual dating and sex jokes. I'm glad they chose to go the way they did; for all of its repetition, having the characters date would have demonstrated a kind of creative bankruptcy. I suppose the same argument could be made towards the show delivering the same episode time and again, but I would rather have consistency than clichés. Maybe that's just me.
John Ritter, as Jack Tripper, is the comedic hub of the show—he's the axis around which all other characters and events revolve. Because of his recent passing, it's difficult to discuss Ritter in a way that's not forcibly tributary, and that's just too much pressure for me. Of course he is gone too soon, and of course it's a tragic loss. I can bring nothing new to this kind of discussion. What I can say is that the man is truly, truly hysterical—a gifted physical comedian of Peter Sellers caliber. It may be more of a comment on me than on his performance, but it's criminal how much John Ritter can make me laugh. It's more than just the way he walks into doors or trips over the couch (although that's gold, baby!)—his reaction shots, no matter how obvious or clumsily filmed, are priceless. That his film career seldom reached beyond the depths of the Problem Child series is okay; for me, Three's Company will always be his legacy.
Although Suzanne Somers quickly became the poster girl for the show (and for sex on TV in general), I've never been terribly impressed by her performance as Chrissy Snow. She's cute, I guess, but is never able to make being funny sexy or vice versa. Joyce DeWitt's Janet, on the other hand, is as underrated as Chrissy is overrated—she's kind of the unsung hero of the show, playing the thankless straight role to the other two roommates. She never got much credit for being funny—maybe because her role was written to do little more than disapprove of Jack's actions—but she manages to pull off some sly (as well as not-so-sly) bits of physical comedy, even in Ritter's shadow. She also has a real sense of chemistry with Ritter; the two are constantly goofing around between lines, and you get a real sense of genuine friendship and history when watching them.
My biggest complaint about Three's Company: Season Two is that it is entirely too Roper-centric. That may be because I've always been a Furley man—at a certain point in a man's life he's got to choose, and for my money Don Knotts is the finest bug-eyed, scene-stealing menace of a landlord ever to grace the ABC stage. Unlike the Ropers, who are often the focus of entire episodes at a time, Furley was seen only in relation to the main characters. The Ropers get far too much screen time in Season Two, and for a show accused of having only one joke they are the worst offenders. Like their latter-day incarnations, Peggy and Al Bundy, the Ropers dialogue consists of endless variations on the same two lines—she wants to have sex, he doesn't. Mr. Roper is also the source of the show's rampant homophobia; not to be anachronistic, but to watch Norman Fell mockingly bat his eyelashes and dangle his wrist in today's society is sort of disturbing. While the show does manage to acknowledge that Roper is wrong for his beliefs, it's not exactly like All in the Family, where Archie Bunker's ignorance was the joke. We were laughing at him; too often with Roper's jokes, we're meant to be laughing with him.
Anchor Bay traditionally puts out excellent discs, and their efforts with Three's Company: Season Two continue that standard. All twenty-five episodes are spread over four discs, with each episode running about twenty-five minutes including full opening and closing credits. As a side note, the opening titles are longer and feature an extended musical interlude I've never seen in all the show's years in syndication. The shows are presented in their original 1.33:1 full screen format, standard for television. Though the image generally looks good, there a few moments when the color balancing is off—everything has a greenish hue to it; otherwise, the picture is acceptable. The Dolby 2-channel audio track is fine, too, but doesn't have much to do.
While the disc's extras are nowhere near as exhaustive as some other TV sets, like this year's Freaks and Geeks release, there is a decent assemblage of bonus material found on the fourth disc. There's a sweet but altogether slight tribute to the late John Ritter hosted by Joyce DeWitt, some "best of" character montages featuring clips from the season, a commentary on the episode "Days of Beer and Weeds" by Chris Mann, author of the book Come and Knock on Our Door, an interactive trivia game (stolen from the good people at Troma!), and some talent bios. The three best extras include a blooper reel which, while not terribly funny, does show the cast interacting with the producers over a mic and demonstrates how large a role the live audience played in show tapings—which may explain why the series often plays like high school theater. Also included is a collection of stills featuring Three's Company memorabilia and merchandise, most of which seems to revolve around Suzanne Somers—the trading cards are especially amusing. Lastly, Anchor Bay has unearthed the long-lost original pilot episode, shot before the casting of Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers. The storyline is the same as the pilot that would eventually air (available on the Season One collection), but the theme song has no lyrics ("Doo do do do do dooo.") and John Ritter is playing a character named "David." Watching it, one becomes aware that the cast the producers eventually settled on had the better chemistry and versatility of the two—you wonder if that incarnation of the show would have lasted even half as long.
I've said it already, but I'll say it again—you either think Three's Company is funny or you don't. If you don't, why would you even consider this set? If you do, why wouldn't you consider it?
The Ropers are sentenced to spin-off Purgatory, but Ritter, DeWitt, Somers, and Anchor Bay are off the hook. Case dismissed.
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