Written by Hombre Divertido
On Thursday September 24th, 1970, a television comedy about two divorced men trying to share an apartment without driving each other crazy debuted on ABC. Could a show based on a play and subsequent movie with such a simple premise, that would go through eight time-slot and day changes, and never crack the top twenty-five in the Nielsen ratings, actually last for five seasons and 114 episodes?
Yes, yes it could, by embracing two fundamental keys to success: keep it simple, and cast actors with chemistry. Jack Klugman as slovenly sportswriter Oscar Madison and Tony Randall as fastidious photographer Felix Unger embraced and embodied their characters and played off each other in simply wonderful stories for five glorious seasons. This is character-driven comedy at its best, and Paramount/CBS DVD release all twenty-two episodes of the final season in a three-disc set on November 18th.
Some shows might have lost steam after four seasons, but The Odd Couple is still going strong here, and leaves you wanting more. In fact there are some story lines that were ripe for additional episodes. In “The Hollywood Story,” the boys are off to Hollywood, which was common for sitcoms of that era. What wasn't common was that it would be left to only one episode. Said episode is full of great scenes, a wonderful monologue by Felix, and a nice cameo by Bob Hope, but having the guys spend a few more episodes in Hollywood would have been fun.
Bob Hope is not the only great guest-star in this season. We get some great music from Paul Williams and Roy Clark, some wonderful visits from Richard Dawson and Howard Cosell, some fun performances from Rob Reiner and Penny Marshall, and much more. Keep your eyes peeled for a young Leif Garret as the son of Felix, and a few visits from legendary producer and director Garry Marshall. Klugman's son even portrays the young Madison in one episode.
There are some interesting casting choices of some of the lesser known character actors in this final season in that if you watch closely, you will see the same actor playing different characters in multiple episodes. Though distracting, it does give the show an ensemble feel.
The series ends on a nice, if not trite note, with a final episode that sends Felix back to his wife, and leaves Oscar back in his bachelor pad. Most series don't get the chance to wrap things up so nicely. Those that do tend to make it into a huge event. Not so here. They kept it simple and classy to the end.
Recommendation: Though some bonus material would have been a nice addition to this collection, it's still classic television at it's best. Randall and Klugman give an acting lesson in comedic timing and are surrounded by talented character actors in each and every episode. Don't worry about any let down in the quality of the show in the final season. It's as funny and fresh as when they started.