Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 28, 2004)
No matter how trashy or inflammatory something may seem when originally created, eventually tastes will turn enough to make that same material appear quaint. After all, “Rock Around the Clock” once caused riots. We see that theory in action with this DVD of the first season of TV’s Three’s Company.
The disc includes an abbreviated roster of shows. Company started as a late-season replacement series, so only six episodes appeared as part of the first season. Here are the six episodes involved, with plot synopses taken straight from the disc’s notes:
A Man About the House: “Brunette Janet (Joyce DeWitt), who works in a florist shop, and Chrissy (Suzanne Somers), a guileless blonde typist, find Jack (John Ritter) asleep in their bathtub following a party for their ex-roommate. The two girls, who lack culinary skills, decide to share the apartment and expenses with Jack when they learn he is studying to be a gourmet chef. But first they have to find a way to overcome objections from their landlords, Stanley (Norman Fell) and Helen Roper (Audra Lindley), a romantically frustrated couple who live downstairs.”
And Mother Makes Four: “While Jack Tripper is moving in to share the apartment with Janet and Chrissy, Mrs. Snow, Chrissy’s mother, phones to announce that she will be there in moments. Chrissy, whose father is a minister, panics at the news that her mother is coming. Janet is elected to take Jack to the local pub and keep him there until Mrs. Snow departs. As the evening lengthens, Chrissy’s mom decides to spend the night.”
Roper’s Niece: “When Mrs. Roper accuses Mr. Roper of showing his visiting niece Karen a boring time, Roper decides to introduce Karen to Jack. Meanwhile, Jack is organizing a birthday party for Janet. Later, Jack isn’t on time for the party and Mr. Roper kicks him out of the apartment when he catches Karen and Jack kissing. Jack is saved when Karen admits she attacked him and he gives Janet a present bought with Roper’s money.”
No Children, No Dogs: “When Jack brings home a puppy, roommates Janet and Chrissy remind him that landlord Stanley Roper doesn’t allow pets on the premises. While the three tenants try to hide the puppy from Mr. Roper, Jack fails in attempts to give the little pooch away. Then Chrissy gets an idea when Mrs. Roper mentions that her husband will forget their approaching 20th wedding anniversary.”
Jack the Giant Killer: “While Janet, Chrissy and Jack are taking a break from weekend chores at the Regal Beagle pub, Jeff, a large chap, approaches their table to make a rude play for Chrissy. His size intimidates Jack. The situation becomes more embarrassing for Jack when the Ropes drop in and Roper, ill tempered from a toothache, puts Jeff in his place. But Jack feels he may have acted cowardly by avoiding a fight.”
It’s Only Money: “Jack, Janet and Chrissy, believing a burglar has stolen their rent money, frantically try to avoid landlord Stanley Roper until they can replace it. After Jack and Janet find their apartment door unlocked and the cash missing, Chrissy arrives and insists that she left the envelope containing the rent money on a shelf. Jack calls the police. While the three roommates worry about trying to get a loan, Mrs. Roper convinces her husband to invite them out to dinner.”
Once judged as one of television’s sexiest and tawdriest shows, it now comes across as positively quaint. Its many sex references don’t seem too daring these days, and we start to see how much the series depended on those cheap laughs. The show provides an almost relentless parade of double entendres and misunderstandings related to sex, and it doesn’t exactly seem politically correct. Mr. Roper prefers to refer to gays as “fairies”, and he delivers that term with a swishy flourish. I can’t say this offends me, but I don’t see much humor in it, especially since the show never presents Roper as an ignorant oaf in the Archie Bunker mode; Company doesn’t present him as a terribly positive character, but it doesn’t do anything to denounce his opinions.
Actually, Norman Fell probably offers the show’s best performances, at least in its early run. He lends a nicely understated quality to Mr. Roper and tends to portray him with a quiet simmer rather than an open burn. Audra Lindley feels a little broader as Mrs. Roper, though the pair interact reasonably well.
Death tends to change perceptions, and John Ritter’s unfortunate demise has already made that alteration in his legacy. Actually, there’s not a huge change, as Ritter had turned into a reasonably respected talent in recent years. Still, there’s some revisionist history at work in the way people now seem to view him as a comic giant rather than as just a fairly talented but unexceptional comic actor.
Of the series’ three leads, though, Ritter easily provides the best work. He does exhibit a nice talent for physical gags, and though he overacts a lot of the time, he’s definitely the best of that bunch. Whatever excesses he displays seem positively non-existent compared to the relentless mugging and overplaying from Joyce DeWitt. While Suzanne Somers doesn’t display great comedic talent, I can better understand her casting since she was a babe. DeWitt lacks similar physical charms, which makes me wonder why they couldn’t find a more talented average-looking actress to play Janet. DeWitt easily provides the series’ most annoying and unlikable moments.
When Company first aired, I enjoyed it a lot. Because of my age – I was 10 when it debuted – I’m sure I missed a lot of the adult jokes, but it still entertained me. Now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I get all the gags, but I fail to see the humor. The comedy in Three’s Company basically ranges from lame to puerile, and nothing about the execution of the material raises it above the level of sub-mediocrity. Clearly, the show could have been worse; it included the work of enough talented people to make it relatively palatable at times. Nonetheless, it remains a silly and tacky series that hasn’t aged well.