Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 17, 2008)
For more fun with The Odd Couple, we head to four discs of shows from the series’ fourth season. This set compiles all 22 episodes from 1973-74. I’ll look at them in the order broadcast, which is how they appear on the DVDs. The plot synopses come straight from the package.
Gloria Moves In: “While her house is being repainted, Felix’s ex-wife Gloria moves into the apartment, and Felix thinks he can convince her to take him back.”
“Moves In” creates a conscious throwback to the series’ origins, though with a twist. Gloria throws out Felix again, but this time she evicts him from a home that’s not her own! This should make “Moves In” stale, I suppose, but it never is. Instead, it provides a ton of laughs and becomes a great launch for Season Four.
Last Tango In Newark: “When a famous male ballet star is late for a children’s performance of Swan Lake, Felix realizes that he must dance in the lead role himself.”
Occasionally The Odd Couple turned self-indulged as it fit in some of Randall’s personal interests. That occurred with “Tango”, which feels too much like propaganda to advocate the ballet. Nothing wrong with ballet, of course, but the show sacrifices some of its laughs and integrity for its dance theme. The result is sporadically amusing but not a great program since it too often becomes Dance Appreciation Class.
Odd Decathlon: “After Oscar causes Felix’s health insurance to increase, Felix challenges him to see who is in better physical condition."
“Decathlon” includes one of my favorite gags when Oscar cracks that Felix once made an insurance claim because the barber took too much off the top. I also love the concept of “Lloyd’s of Lubbock”, the shady insurance agent, and plenty other bits on display here. “Decathlon” turns into a fine episode that rebounds well after the lackluster “Tango”.
That Was No Lady: “Felix starts seeing a woman but doesn’t realize that she’s the neglected wife of a jealous football player who will crush Felix’s skull if he finds out.”
“Lady” proves a little sappier than most Odd Couple, but not by much – and not nearly as much as one might expect from a story of failed love. Felix’s tale could’ve gone down a sentimental path, but it stays offbeat enough to succeed, partially due to a hilariously crude turn from Alex Karras. The show is a consistent winner.
Odd Holiday: “Oscar recalls the time the Ungers and the Madisons vacationed together and Felix tried to save Oscar’s marriage, just as his own was crumbling.”
Isn’t this the 97th episode that details the demise of various relationships? Maybe not, but it feels like it; the series loves flashbacks to explain how Oscar and Felix lost their wives. Despite that potential staleness, “Holiday” delights. It’s great to bring back Brett Somers as Blanche; the then real-life Mrs. Klugman always exhibited a great prickly chemistry with Jack. Felix’s pushiness amuses as always in this fine episode.
Note that “Holiday” appears to be missing a few seconds of footage. When the story initially goes into the past, it cuts somewhat abruptly – and loses the “wobbly flashback” gag. I’d guess that the show originally cut to music that wasn’t cleared for use on the DVD. It doesn’t ruin the episode, but it zaps a good joke.
The New Car: “With Felix’s help, Oscar wins a new car in a radio contest. But when Oscar decides he wants to sell it, Felix won’t let him.”
While I don’t think “Car” belongs on a list of the series’ best episodes, it has its moments. I like the very New York subject matter, and a fun guest turn from John Byner adds laughs. The show doesn’t quite excel, though.
This Is the Army, Mrs. Madison: “Explaining why Oscar’s not in his wedding photo, Felix tells Myrna the story of how Oscar came to propose to Blanche while they were in the Army.”
If you watch the whole series, you’ll find about 726 different tales about how Oscar and Felix met; The Odd Couple beat that thread to death even more than how the marriages ended. Some of these “when Felix met Oscar” shows make it impossible for them to have been Army buddies, but when the episode provides as many laughs as we find here, I don’t care. From start to finish, “Army” is a gem; it might well be one of the series’ all-time best programs.
One complaint: couldn’t the writers come up with a more creative last name for Blanche than “Somers”, the actor’s actual moniker?
The Songwriter: “Oscar dates a singer looking for an uptempo song for her act. So budding songwriter Felix pens a tune he’s absolutely sure she will love.”
Was Jaye P. Morgan ever actually a successful singer? Folks of my generation remember her best as a game-show participant, but “Songwriter” demonstrates that she was famous for some other reason. She was a fairly annoying personality, but the program succeeds nonetheless. “Happy and Peppy and Bursting With Love” remains a favorite tune/gag, and more than a smattering of amusing moments crop up along the way. It’s not on a par with “Army”, but it works.
Felix Directs: “When Felix makes a documentary film about his roommate Oscar, a producer flips for it and wants Felix to direct his next picture.”
“Directs” hearkens back to “Felix’s First Commercial” in that it shows an ambitious side of our pal Unger. Nonetheless, it branches off in its own direction pretty well, so it doesn’t come across as a repeat of the earlier show. Although I don’t think it’s a great episode, it entertains.
The Pig Who Came to Dinner: “After Oscar loses everything in a bet to tennis star Bobby Riggs, Felix vows to win it all back. But if he loses, he’ll have to become a male chauvinist.”
Wow – another ‘70s flashback! I don’t know who comes across as the bigger period relic, Riggs or Jaye P. Morgan. If you weren’t around back then, you’ll likely not know of either. “Pig” is the more dated show of the two, simply because it relies on a knowledge of Riggs’ shtick; you can have no idea who Morgan is and it doesn’t matter, but you’ll lose something here if you’ve never heard of Riggs. That hamstrings “Pig” somewhat, but Riggs is an amusing personality. Add to that all of Oscar’s failed bets and the program becomes very funny.
Maid for Each Other: “After Felix stops cooking for him, Oscar binges on junk food and is hospitalized for an ulcer. So Felix makes it up him by hiring a nanny.”
The series often pulls off gimmicky concept episodes like this one, but “Maid” just doesn’t zing like it should. Even the worst Odd Couple shows have some laughs, so you’ll find the occasional chuckle here. Unfortunately, they’re more few and far between than usual.
The Exorcists: “When strange noises in the night keep him awake, Felix is convinced the ghost of a former resident is living in the air conditioner.”
While the episode generates some mirth with its jabs at the supernatural, too many of the gags seem a little easy. The show never quite gets into gear, as it seems hung up on its premise more than anything else. Expect a decent show but not an especially strong one.
A Barnacle Adventure: “Oscar’s dentists has invented a new type of glue made of barnacles. At first Felix is hesitant to invest, but then presents the idea to a big glue company.”
Hmm… I recalled “Barnacle” as a really good episode, but now that I’ve seen it again, I don’t agree with my prior belief. Oh, it’s certainly an acceptably good program, but it just doesn’t get any better than that. I like the concept and a couple of the bits; the overall package just lacks oomph.
The Moonlighter: “In order to pay back a loan, Oscar gets a second job at a greasy spoon diner, until Felix hires him to be his assistant at the studio.”
Perhaps I expect so much from The Odd Couple that only great episodes stand out from the crowd – or maybe the series was just in a minor funk by this point. Like its last few siblings, “Moonlighter” provides another perfectly entertaining but not especially memorable show. It just feels padded, as the episode stretches out its plot longer than it should. As usual, a few gags emerge as winners, but nothing here turns into a particularly strong presentation.
Cleanliness Is Next to Impossible: “Oscar dates a girl who is turned off by his sloppy lifestyle. So he tries everything he can to turn over a new leaf and be as neat as Felix.”
It feels like the series did a theme such as “Impossible” in the past, but maybe not. It feels like such an obvious thread for an episode that it’s hard to believe the show didn’t touch on it before now. And “Impossible” pays off almost as well as expected. It packs a lot of good comedy into its 25 minutes, and we even get to see Klugman’s son Adam as a young Oscar.
The Flying Felix: “Felix’s fear of flying gets the better of him when he bails on a flight to Houston. So Oscar reluctantly agrees to fly there with him.”
If you’re looking for the best Season Four episode, “Flying” might be the one. Like many of its siblings, it takes a very simple concept, but unlike some of the others, it really runs with it. Randall’s histrionics on the plane make the entire show worthwhile, but they’re not the only attraction in this solid show. Look for a young Teri Garr (billed as “Terri Garr” here) in a small role, too.
Vocal Girl Makes Good: “Oscar’s colleague, a shy restaurant critic, has a major singing voice. But she’ll only star in Felix’s production of Carmen if Oscar appears in it too.”
I’ve never liked the episodes of Odd Couple that attempt to inject culture into the series, and nothing about “Vocal” changes that preconceived notion. The show combines lots of Marilyn Horne’s caterwauling with a lot of cheesy sentimentality. It doesn’t go anywhere, and it becomes a pretty flat show.
Shuffling Off to Buffalo: “Felix has had it with his job. So he takes his brother up on an offer to move upstate to Buffalo – to work for a bubble gum company.”
Is it just me, or is it a little strange that we’re near the end of the series’ fourth season and this is the first we’ve heard of Floyd? Granted, The Odd Couple was never known for its continuity, but matters stretch credulity when a significant relative is introduced like this.
I’d mind less if “Buffalo” worked better. It flies higher as a concept than a show, partially because William Redfield offers a flat performance as Felix’s brother; he seems too bland to be an Unger. Overall, “Buffalo” has potential but feels like a missed opportunity.
A Different Drummer: “When Oscar’s invited to present a sports segment on a nostalgia show, Felix tries to get his college band to appear in it too.”
As much as I love The Odd Couple, the series sure was a repository for music I can’t stand. I never liked opera, and the old-time garbage Felix often trots out bores me just as much. The presence of Monty Hall – and a rare example of real continuity – bolsters this one a bit, but it’s too reliant on the crummy music to really succeed.
The Insomniacs: “Felix comes down with a bad case of insomnia. So Oscar, Myrna, and Murray do everything they can to help him fall asleep.”
I think The Odd Couple worked best when it left out music, guest stars and all that nonsense and simply concentrated on the sparks between Randall and Klugman. That factor makes “Insomniacs” delightful. Al Marinaro gets in a few good bits as well, but the show mostly entertains due to the chemistry between its leads.
New York’s Oddest: “After Felix delivers a baby and Oscar gets mugged, they both get fed up with citizen indifference and join the police department’s civilian unit.”
With Felix in full fascist mode, “Oddest” turns into a good episode. It’s too bad it peaks at its start; there’s nothing else here quite as funny as the fact a woman names her baby “Unger Woo”. Nonetheless, Felix’s over the top pursuit of justice ensures plenty of nice comedy.
One for the Bunny: “Oscar tells the story of how years ago Felix sued a girlie magazine that was going to print his photograph of Miss April – his wife Gloria!”
Flashback episodes tend to be dodgy, but The Odd Couple always seemed to pull them off well. While “Bunny” isn’t one of the best in that vein, it still amuses. The courtroom scene flies the highest, as Felix’s pathetic attempts to prevent the publication of the photo.