Laverne & Shirley debuted in 1976 as a spin-off of Happy Days (itself having spun-off from a Love, American Style episode). 'Fonzie' even guest-starred in the show's first three episodes. It quickly became a hit in it's own rights, even surpassing Happy Days to become one of the most popular shows of the 70's. Laverne & Shirley updated The Odd Couple's (also by Garry Marshall, Penny Marshall's older brother) sitcom formula, focusing on the lives of two mismatched roommates: Laverne DeFazio (Marshall), the street-smart, tough and cynical one, and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams), the innocent, naive and sweet one.
Ironically, The Odd Couple formula wasn't the only thing that Garry Marshall re-used, since Penny Marshall originally played Oscar Madison's secretary, Myrna Turner, and the same apartment set used for The Odd Couple was transformed into Laverne & Shirley's apartment. However, most of the comedy is generated by how these two funny and talented actresses' characters complement one another, rather than conflict with each other. Marshall and Williams chemistry together is really evident, even in this First Season set.
Working as bottle-cappers at the Shotz brewery, in Milwaukee, Laverne & Shirley provided blue-collar laughs (Laverne and her "L" monograms on everything, Shirley and her good-luck charm Boo-Boo Kitty), as well as, a cast of truly unique supporting characters, the main two being "Greasers" Lenny (Michael McKean) and Squiggy (David Lander), the girls scheming co-workers and neighbors. Rounding out the cast were Phil Foster as Laverne's father and the owner of the Pizza Bowl, a pizzeria-cum-bowling alley and Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa (Eddie Mekka), who was a boxer, singer, dance instructor and recurring love-interest of Shirley's.
The episodes included on this Three-Disc set are:
Episode 101: "The Society Party": Milwaukee beer factory workers Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney set out to crash high society when Tad Shotz, a nephew of the owner of the Shotz Brewery, invites them to a gala party. But their chance to mingle with "society Folk" goes awry when they rent gowns from the not-to-be-trusted Lenny and Squiggy, and Laverne picks Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzarelli as her "classy" escort.
Episode 102: "The Bachelor Party": When pizzeria owner Frank DeFazio is called out of town, Laverne and Shirley agree to run The Pizza Bowl in his absence. All goes smoothly until The Fonz rents the establishment for a wild bachelor party.
Episode 103: "Bowling for Razzberries": It's the annual Shotz Brewery Bowling Championship, and star bowler Laverne is determined to beat a team headed by Karen, the Shotz Brewery's snobby tour guide. But it looks like a bad cold will keep Laverne out of the competition… or will it?
Episode 104: "A Nun's Story": Laverne stubbornly refuses to attend her class reunion until Shirley reports that their wild high school pal, Anne Marie, will be coming in from Chicago for the event. Anne Marie's participation guarantees a raucous time for the reunited trio – but Laverne and Shirley are in for a big surprise.
Episode 105: "Falter at the Alter": Sal Malina, a sailor who's been dating Laverne for two months, asks for her hand in marriage. Laverne's father, Phil, is ecstatic – but roommate Shirley is less than enthusiastic about Laverne's potential husband-to-be.
Episode 106: "Dog Day Blind Dates": Romance is in the air when Laverne arranges dates for herself and Shirley. But their night on the town quickly sours when the girls are taken hostage by their beaus – two bank robbers who plan to blow a hole in The Pizza Bowl's wall to gain access to the bank next door!
Episode 107: "Once Upon a Rumor": Shirley is flattered when she is besieged by phone calls from a long line of male admirers who want to ask her out… until she discovers that Lenny has started a rumor around the Shotz Brewery that she is a "fun" date.
Episode 108: "One Flew Over Milwaukee": Despite Laverne's aversion to pets, Shirley brings home a sick canary, dubbed "Duane" with plans to nurse the bird back to health. But tragedy strikes when Laverne leaves the apartment's door ajar and Duane flies the coop.
Episode 109: "Dating Slump": Laverne decides to intervene when Shirley becomes a housebound recluse and swears off dating after discovering that her reliable boyfriend, Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa, has apparently been seeing another girl behind her back.
Episode 110: "It's the Water": A Shotz Brewery executive with ulterior motives on his mind promotes Shirley to the position of "official beer taster" at the brewery – but Laverne is suspicious of the new job's late-night hours and the exec's plans to personally "supervise" Shirley in her new duties.
Episode 111: "Fakeout at the Stakeout": Laverne and Shirley's apartment is burglarized and, much to Shirley's chagrin, Laverne decides to help the police by acting as a decoy. Is she really a concerned citizen pitching in to help fight crime – or is she doing it because of the handsome police officer assigned to the case.
Episode 112: "Hi, Neighbor": Chaos erupts at Laverne and Shirley's apartment house when, in a moment of wekness, Shirley suggests to Lenny and Squiggy that they move into the vacant apartment upstairs – and the two boys quickly discover after settling in that they are less-than-compatible roommates.
Episode 113: "How Do You Say "Are You Dead?" in German": Pandemonium reigns at the apartment house when a deliveryman faints while dropping off a delivery at Laverne and Shirley's apartment. The victim is unable to speak English, Shirley applies questionable emergency medical procedures, and the ambulance ends up driving off with the wrong patient!
Episode 114: "From Suds to Stardom": Determined to win a spot in the talent lineup for the Shotz Brewery Talent Show, Laverne and Shirley enlist Carmine to help them rehearse a wild Calypso number they've chosen for their audition. But they face tough opposition from Gloria, a longtime nemesis and the chief organizer of the show.
Episode 115: "Mother Knows Worst": Shirley is in desperate need of Laverne's moral support when a telegram arrives announcing that Shirley's domineering, critical mother, Lily (Pat Carroll), is coming to Milwaukee to spend a weekend with the girls.
While some of the comedy may seem old-fashioned now, you just can't help but laugh at the slapstick humor and shtick that goes on. Laverne & Shirley often took the most basic sitcom clichés, and due to the talent and chemistry of the shows costars, raised them up to comedy classics. The show may have been built around The Odd Couple's premise, but became something uniquely it's own. On a side-note, it also features one of the most memorable and hum-able theme songs ever.
Picture: Laverne and Shirley: The Complete First Season is presented in Full Screen (1.33:1). The transfer seems to be spot on, with bright crisp colors, even looking better than when I remember watching it on my family's old Zenith with the "rabbit ears."
Audio: The audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, which sounds fine.
Extras: There are no extra features on this DVD set. Apparently, the Studios need to keep their costs down to make these DVD sets profitable, but at least they're getting released.
Conclusion: Despite personal differences that later developed between the show's stars, Marshall and Williams, Laverne & Shirley: The Complete First Season is television at it's best. The show had instant and widespread appeal, and the 15 episodes included in Laverne & Shirley: The Complete First Season continue to entertain, making them true classics worth adding to your collection.