Coming rapidly after the first season release, CBS DVD/Paramount has put out The Odd Couple: The Second Season, a bare-bones set of all 23 episodes from the 1971-1972 season. I wrote extensively about the show for the fantastic first season release (I recommend you click here to read that review, for background on the show); this second season release, devoid of any extras, is still quite strong, due mainly to the sensational comedic acting of Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.
As I detailed in my first review of the series, this second season saw a drastic change in the production methods for The Odd Couple. Gone was the costly, time-consuming one-camera set-up that gave the first season episodes a big-screen, 35mm film feel. Klugman and Randall, both classically trained stage actors, were disappointed in the "canned" feel that resulted from that process, with both feeling that a large part of the spontaneity of the piece was missing. Both actors, wonderfully adept at playing live off other actors, missed the energy that can result from such "live" performances - particularly in comedy, where reaction shots are key to milking a laugh.
Series producer Garry Marshall (Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley) agreed, and the barely-renewed The Odd Couple was overhauled for a quicker, faster, three-camera shoot. The elaborate recreation of the 1968 film version's apartment was scrapped (no doubt for technical reasons for the three-camera shoot), and a pared-down, right-to-left apartment set was built that would remain for the rest of the series. Now, each episode could be filmed much like a mini-play. Instead of endless "movie style" set-ups where camera angles were covered and reversed for inserts, P.O.V. shots, and reaction shots, now, the production was streamlined to allow Randall and Klugman to perform as closely as possible in the manner of a stage show. The three cameras could catch every inch of spontaneous movement by the actors, and their footage could be edited to provide a seamless performance.
The difference that resulted from this changed production method, is striking. The second season of The Odd Couple doesn't look anything like the first season; it's as if it's two entirely different shows. Whereas season one had a metronome steadiness to its measured comedy (relying more on the written word for the impact of the comedy), this second season is much more physically frenetic, with the actors clearly commanding the material, and playing now to an audience, and not a single camera in an empty studio. The actual "look" of the show has changed, as well, with a blown-out, full lighting scheme that was necessary to capture all the action, wherever the actors felt they might go on the set. The set, so much smaller than the first one, is much more cramped and confined - which, in its own way, adds tension to the comedy. In the first season, there was always the understanding that the apartment was big enough (stressed also in the film version) so that Oscar and Felix could get away from each other when they were at the breaking point in their relationship. Now, they're on top of each other; there's nowhere to go but to their own rooms, so actor follows actor around the small living room and open, connected kitchen, often berating each other.
Klugman, and particularly Randall, are clearly energized by the change. I suspect that most people came to love this show precisely because of these second season and later shows (the series was only a middling under-performer in the ratings; its big success came in syndication). It's undeniable that the two actors have come into their own during this production change. Klugman, basically the straight man, is now able to give full vent to his disgusted double-takes and uncomprehending marvels at Randall's outrageous behavior. And Randall, a marvelously physical comedian, is all over the place, with a discernable fire in his eyes that's quite amazing to see. It's almost a night-and-day transformation for the actors, and clearly, at least from a visceral, gut-level comedy standpoint, it's difficult to argue with the actors' insistence on this kind of filming.
Other changes are apparent with the second season, including the critical inclusion of Felix's ex-wife, Gloria Unger (Janis Hansen). In an effort to make Felix less morose about his divorced status, and more comedically insane about it, the producers and writers wisely included Gloria to give Randall a chance to act positively unhinged any time she was involved in an episode. Now, the full extent of Felix's neatness and "pestiness" could be explored by showing how often he irritated and annoyed the beautiful Gloria. Indeed, Felix's whole reason for existing this season was to get Gloria back, and Hansen's level playing and good looks made it easy to understand why Felix was going batty trying to get her back. To balance the romance out, Oscar gets more screen time with past season love interest Dr. Nancy Cunningham (Joan Hotchkis), too, and they're very natural together. A big boost also comes from Klugman's real-life wife Brett Somers, who shows up a couple of times as Oscar's ex-wife Blanche (she's a real pro, and quite a match for Klugman). Oscar's poker buddies have been scaled back (Roy's gone), and, to my great distress, the marvelous, delectable Gwedolyn and Cecily Pigeon (played by the adorable Carole Shelley and Monica Evans), the "Coo Coo" Pigeon Sisters, are also gone. Despite Marshall's insistence that these former dates of Oscar and Felix had to go, so the audience could see the boys date "real" woman, they could have fit in nicely as the requisite "wacky neighbors" that thrive on most sitcoms.
Having moved over mid-season in its first year to Friday nights, The Odd Couple stayed there for three years, and enjoyed a modest bump in its ratings, due to its strong surrounding schedule. In a precursor to ABC's "TGIF" of the 1990s, the celebrated 1971-1972 line-up included The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love, American Style, with The Partridge Family (16th in the Nielsen's for the year) coming on particularly strong in the ratings that season (Room 222 was also a Top Thirty hit). Quite a few original fans of The Odd Couple fondly remember this family-friendly line-up, as well as some of the classic episodes from this funny second season.
With an increasing reliance on socko one-liners (something that couldn't be sold as well in the one-camera editing of the first season), this second season plays solidly to that kind of rimshot humor, and it's a credit to Randall and Klugman that they kept their characters strong in the face of piling-on one-liners (certainly, for fans at least, this season's most memorable one-liner, and one that fans repeat all the time when summing up Felix's supreme finickiness, is the immortal "I don't like pits in my juice!"). Stand-out episodes this season include: Surprise! Surprise!, where Oscar steals Felix's daughter's clown (played by the brilliant Hal Smith) for a poker game; You Saved My Life, where Oscar is pestered to death by Felix after saving his life; Hospital Mates, where Oscar and Felix are laid up at the same time (I love Felix constantly saying, "You're my eyes, Gloria!"); Where's Grandpa?, where Randall gets a dual role playing his own grandfather (watch Randall break up Klugman when he ad libs grabbing Al Molinaro's nose); Murray the Fink, where Al Molinaro's Murry the cop raids his own poker game (again, watch Randall make Klugman break character when he comes back at him with, "Sew buttons!"); Sleepwalker, where Klugman finally gets to hit Randall repeatedly; Felix the Calypso Singer, where Randall sings a very funny calypso singer ("Once there was a man named Jesse; he wore his clothes, very messy!"); and The Fat Farm, where Randall gets Klugman to a ridiculously strict health farm (watch Felix scream, "Get him! Get him!" when he rats out Oscar for sneaking in food).
Here are the 23, one-half hour episodes of the four-disc box set The Odd Couple: The Second Season, as described on its insert. PLEASE NOTE: As with most vintage TV series released by CBS/Paramount, there is a small disclaimer at the back of the DVD slimcase that states, "Some episodes may be edited from their original network versions. Some music has been changed for this home entertainment version." There is no further explanation of what cuts, if any, were made. I didn't notice anything egregious in the editing. Most of the episodes time out at a little more than 25 minutes, which is about right for the original network run times. It's possible, though, that these are the syndicated versions, which may account for the minor cuts for time. It's also possible, as quite a few of us suspect, that these kinds of disclaimers are now de facto run for legal reasons, and may (and I stress "may") not pertain to each and every box set they appear on. Edited TV shows are one of the hottest topics concerning DVD releases, and as a reviewer, I've taken both sides of the issue, depending on what title I'm reviewing. It's usually a case-by-case basis. Here, with The Odd Couple: The Second Season, the show is so enjoyable, and the fact that most of the run times seem complete, prompts my favorable rating.
Oscar's niece turns up in New York alone and pregnant, insisting she wants to deliver her child naturally...in the Bronx!
Felix's Wife's Boyfriend
With Felix away in Canada, Oscar and Nancy feel safe fixing up his ex-wife Gloria with Nancy's brother. But then Felix returns early....
Oscar is looking forward to Felix's operation so that he stops honking his nose. But when Oscar injures his ankle, they end up sharing a hospital room.
Oscar has started walking in his sleep. But while sleepwalking, he's also started to physically attack his roommate Felix!
A Grave for Felix
After he loses Felix's cemetery plot money on a horse, Oscar has to help his finicky roommate find an acceptable burial place.
Murray the Fink
Taunted by Oscar for being weak, Murray gets tough with his poker buddies and has them all thrown in jail for illegal gambling.
Does Your Mother Know You're Out, Rigoletto?
Oscar gets an opera star to appear in Felix's amateur production of Rigoletto. But when the singer is injured, Oscar must perform the title role himself.
The Fat Farm
Oscar is encouraged by Nancy to try to lose a few pounds. So Felix takes his roommate to a strict health farm, where he is caught sneaking in food.
The Odd Couple Meet Their Host
When he goes on a talk show, Oscar ends up telling funny stories about his neurotic roommate. So Felix demands equal time to get back at him.
Win One For Felix
Hoping to be a better father to his son Leonard, Felix replaces Oscar as the coach for the boys' football team...and watches the players turn on him.
Being Divorced is Never Having to Say I Do
When Oscar's ex-wife Blanche decides to remarry, Oscar is thrilled. But Felix objects to what appears to be a loveless relationship.
Felix holds his daughter Edna's 10th birthday party at the apartment, the same day that Oscar has scheduled a big poker game.
Felix the Calypso Singer
When Nancy can't go on their Caribbean vacation, Oscar takes Felix. But then Nancy arrives on the island unexpectedly and Felix becomes a fifth wheel.
And Leave the Greyhounds to Us?
When Oscar wins a racing dog in a poker game, he wants to take him to Miami and race him. But Felix would rather treat him like a pet.
After Felix and Oscar are robbed, they move into a maximum security building, which feels more like a prison than an apartment.
Speak for Yourself
Oscar tells Murray the story of how he and Felix first met, and how he had to propose to Gloria when Felix lost his voice.
You Saved My Life
Now that Oscar has saved Felix's life, Felix is killing him with kindness. So Oscar decides to turn the tables on his roommate and even the score.
Insanely jealous of his wife, Felix's grandfather flees his retirement community and comes to stay with Oscar while Felix is out of town.
Felix takes Oscar's gambling money and invests it in a successful Japanese restaurant. But then the cook quits and they are forced to work there.
Good, Bad Boy
Felix insists that a boy from the local reform school has changed...until the kid asks his daughter Edna to the school dance.
A Night to Dismember
On the anniversary of their divorce, Oscar and Blanche reminisce about the night they split up, with each telling their version of the big blowout.
Felix has been hired by Oscar to take photos of a champion Chinese wrestler. But then Felix advises the athlete to give up the sport.
Whenever he comes down with a fever, Felix becomes highly accurate about predicting the future - even predicting that someone is going to murder Oscar!
The full screen video image for The Odd Couple: The Second Season is excellent. Sure, there are screen anomalies occasionally, but overall, it's a sharp, clear, brightly hued picture, with no compression issues.
The Dolby Digital English mono soundtrack accurately reflects the original broadcast presentation, so...purists rejoice!
It has become a standard marketing practice for studios to tempt buyers to begin buying a multiple-season TV series by loading the first season release with a ton of extras (as happened in the excellent first season DVD box set of The Odd Couple), and then dumping the rest of the seasons in bare-bones presentations -- as with The Odd Couple: The Second Season. There isn't one extra included here. Now, I understand that Garry Marshall and Jack Klugman don't want to speak about every episode of The Odd Couple. That's fine. But how about some of the other regulars, like Al Molinaro? Or how about some erudite, personable TV historians giving a commentary or two (ahem: Paramount, you can reach me through DVDTalk). Or how about just a promo or two; even a commercial bumper? Of course, the realities of the DVD business are primarily economic, and weighing costs of extras versus projected profits is a valid business practice, so let's not be too hard on Paramount. They are, after all, giving us these nicely remastered seasons.
Totally different in structure and tone from the first season, The Odd Couple: The Second Season trades one-camera solidity for three-camera spontaneity, and Klugman and Randall are liberated in their spirited, manic performances. One-liners now rule the show, and Randall and Klugman silently compete with each other to see who can break the other actor out of their character. It's a marvelous sophomore season, and the two leads are the main reason. Zero extras don't help, but The Odd Couple: The Second Season is such a terrific show, you won't care. I highly recommend The Odd Couple: The Second Season.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.