If the show is indeed Three's Company, Judge Bryan Pope wonders why this boxed set comes with "Best of" Jack, Chrissy, Janet, Larry, and Furley featurettes.
Our reviews of Three's Company: Season One (published December 17th, 2003), Three's Company: Season Two (published May 24th, 2004), Three's Company: Season Three (published December 8th, 2004), 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.
"Oh, I think this is the episode of Three's Company where there's some kind of misunderstanding." -Chandler Bing, Friends
By 1977, the American situation comedy had come a long way, baby. All in the Family was dragging the nation's closeted bigotry out into broad daylight, Maude was smashing social taboos, Good Times was tackling inner-city poverty, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show was showing a woman being single, independent, and successful. Just when it seemed the sitcom was becoming a bellwether for the nation's social conscience, along came Three's Company, a silly sex farce with more fizz and less substance than a Tab soda. Now, with the release of the series' complete fourth season on DVD, Jack, Janet and Chrissy again stand before this court.
Ah, Three's Company. Indeed, we have been waiting for you.
Facts of the Case
What a difference a year makes. Jack Tripper (John Ritter) and Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Sommers) haven't changed a bit, and neither has Larry Dallas (Richard Kline), Jack's purported best friend. He's still a greasy horndog whose scruples are as loose as the top three buttons on his polyester shirts. But Ms. Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt)? In stark contrast to previous seasons' curly do and earth mother façade, she sports a pixie cut, hoochie mama makeup, and roller boogie getups. She wears short shorts, but she's still no match for new next-door neighbor Lana Shields (Ann Wedgeworth), the hot-to-trot middle-aged vixen who has had designs on Jack ever since taking him on as her reluctant lust muffin.
The biggest change this season, though, is the absence of landlords Stanley and Helen Roper, who have been sent packing to their own (mercifully) short-lived spin-off. Setting up shop in their old digs is Ralph Furley (Don Knotts, the show's only mid-series casting coup), the would-be ladies' man who wears the most ghastly leisure suits.
With this bunch, you can just imagine the crazy hijinks in store at the most swingin' little apartment complex this side of the Regal Beagle.
Television critics were right on the money when it came to Three's Company. At least mostly. The writing was crass, juvenile, and coy regarding its sexuality. The show teased with its nudge-nudge-wink-wink premise, but it never delivered on its many delicious possibilities. The characters were as complex as swizzle sticks, and the laughs were built almost entirely around pratfalls and exaggerated double-takes. Critics tried to warn us that we were being hoodwinked into thinking the show's low-brow humor was naughtier than it actually was, and they were right. For eight seasons, Three's Company trampled across the progress sitcoms made during the 1970s.
So, as a critic I am obligated to turn my nose up at this show. As a viewer, though, I laughed myself silly through the entire fourth season. Oh, I tried at first to keep a straight face and retain my self respect, but, in the end, the skilled cast won me over. Nobody does a pratfall like Ritter or reacts like DeWitt. Somers may have made the covers of all the magazines, but, without the right costars to provide much-needed balance, her bubblehead shtick would have quickly worn thin. As it stands, the threesome makes even the most far-fetched gags soar. The famous "shower curtain scene," featuring Jack, Chrissy and a guffawing Mr. Furley, is a perfect example of a scene that shouldn't hold up, but does, and splendidly.
Speaking of Mr. Furley, he does a lot of guffawing and popeyed double-takes his first time at bat. Knott's character was a pitiful little putz, but also a warm and worthy adversary for Jack. Who else could pull off a scene that culminates in a "he who barks the loudest wins" showdown without sacrificing his dignity? It's a credit to Knott's talent that he slid into the void left by the Ropers and, by season's end, had us asking "Stanley and Helen who?" By contrast, Wedgeworth's Lana is fun for a few episodes, but ultimately has little to contribute (no reflection on Wedgeworth's va-va-va-voom performance), which probably explains why she was dropped from the cast toward the end of the season.
It's hard to argue with critics' complaints that the storylines were simple-minded and contrived. True, the misunderstandings were never more than one question away from being solved, but isn't that the nature of farce? Why take Three's Company to task for a crime that countless other entertainments have committed? The joys are in the performances and the chemistry of the cast. Of course, 25 years later, it's also an amusing time capsule (check out Joel Brooks' hilariously pimped out Dr. Prescott in "Jack the Ripper" and "The Root of all Evil"). Call it a guilty pleasure, but Three's Company is still a charmer after all these years.
Three's Company—The Complete Fourth Season is spread over four discs. The episodes are presented in their original full-frame format, and they look every bit as good as they did when they first aired. The Dolby Digital Mono audio is as crisp as you can hope for from a 25-year-old sitcom that was filmed live in a front of a studio audience.
Season four is blessed with a few extras, but they're a mixed bag. The two most noteworthy are an audio commentary and an interview with Ritter's former spouse, Nancy Morgan Ritter.
The commentary, by Come and Knock on Our Door author Chris Mann, runs during the episode titled "Chrissy's Hospitality" (an arbitrary choice considering each episode is much like the next), and it's a good listen for fans. If Mann doesn't dish as much as you'd expect from a fanboy who literally wrote the book on the series (indeed, his tone verges on professorial), he does provide an interesting peek at the nuts and bolts of the show.
The interview with Morgan Ritter, which is prefaced by a warm intro from DeWitt, is a nice inclusion. Morgan Ritter fondly recalls her ex-husbands and takes viewers on a 20-minute journey through his career.
The set also includes a joint interview with Knots and Kline and a separate interview with Wedgeworth. Fans will enjoy the Knots/Kline interview, but they may grow impatient (as I did) with the chainsaw editing applied to the Wedgeworth interview. Every third word seems to be intercut with clips from the series, resulting in a herky-jerky viewing experience. In two separate, rather dry featurettes, the producers briefly discuss working with Knots and Somers. The set wraps up with a series of clips highlighting the season's funniest moments.
Three's Company is one of the rare cases where a crackerjack cast spins comedy gold out of lazy writing. Is that enough to warrant a purchase when the show is on cable at almost any hour of any day? For most people, no. But fans will likely savor the mostly enjoyable extras. At less than $40, it's not a bad purchase.
Jack and the gang are free to go, but the writers are detained for further questioning.
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• Audio commentary for "Chrissy's Hospitality"
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