CBS DVD and Paramount have not abandoned fans in mid-stream, releasing the four-disc, 22-episode set, The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season, another delightfully witty, energetic season of one of the best sitcoms ever to show up on the airwaves. With only one more season to go, it looks pretty certain dedicated fans of producer Garry Marshall's beloved series won't have to worry about their Odd Couple collections being incomplete (unlike those poor slobs - myself included - who keep waiting in vain for Fox to release the remaining seasons of that other brilliant 70s sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show).
Although to be honest, after watching the first episode, Gloria Moves In, of The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season, I wasn't so sure if "brilliant" could be applied to this fourth go-around. Now I've written in-depth about The Odd Couple's structure and various aesthetic and stylistic permutations over its previous three seasons (you can click on Season One, Season Two, and Season Three, to get more detailed background on the show), but one never knows how long a show is going to maintain its edge. Sitcoms in particular have a fairly predictable "burn-out" rate that starts to set in around the fourth or fifth season. Worse yet, when I first opened up The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season and looked through the episode listings, only a few titles seemed familiar (whereas in previous seasons, entire sets of episodes were familiar to me verbatim). Did I not remember them because they weren't that memorable to begin with? Was The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season the beginning of the end of this sitcom's dazzling run?
You might think so, after watching Gloria Moves In. First off, most distressingly (to die-hard Odd Couple fans), the funny, familiar narration that played over the title credit sequences, telling the story of how two divorced pals came to live in the same Manhattan apartment, was taken out for this fourth season (one can assume that producer Marshall felt that by that point, most viewers knew the series' basic set-up). And equally unsettling is the thin new arrangement for composer Neal Hefti's classic theme. Where are the brassy horns and the playful, uptempo jazziness of earlier versions of this theme that we all know so well? Unfortunately for this fourth season, it sounds more like a Muzak version of that favorite, putting the viewer right off the expectant fun that jazzy little tune always seemed to conjure up.
But the theme wasn't the only element that seemed thin in this kick-off episode. Quite evident was Tony Randall's lowered energy and off-timing for this season opener. If you're familiar with previous seasons of the show - particularly the third season - you know that Randall was unhinged in his portrayal of finicky Felix Unger. But sadly, he seems off his game in Gloria Moves In (you can see Jack Klugman almost willing him along, carrying the tone of their individual scenes), with noticeably diminished interest and a genuinely tired air about him. Add to that a script which didn't really take advantage of what should have been an Odd Couple classic moment - Felix living with Gloria again in Oscar's apartment - and all ominous signs seemed to point to a perceptible falling off of the show's quality.
But then...it got funny again. And fast. Each succeeding episode became sharper and cleaner, with wittier lines and some classic moments between expert comedic foils Klugman and Randall. Some viewers may not know this, but TV series, particularly from this period, often times showed episodes out of order from their production dates. The first episode filmed at the beginning of the production year might not actually be broadcast on TV until much later in the season. Checking the production order versus the broadcast order of episodes for The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season, though, the two matched fairly closely (with Gloria Moves In indeed being the first episode shot by the production), indicating that rarest of occurrences in a network TV season: episodes that got better as they progressed through the season. Often with sitcoms, the writers' best work comes early on, with the mounting pressures and stress of putting out script after script during the actual production stage sometimes affecting the quality of later scripts. But no so here with The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season. Even by the second disc, some of the series' best episodes are present, with the season's final episode, One for the Bunny, an hysterical, personal favorite.
Trying to understand how that came about, why the scripts became funnier, and more importantly, why the actors seemed more energetic, more loose, more playful as the season progressed, rather than the opposite, which is usually the case for many series and their actors (due to the increasing grind of putting out a weekly TV series), I remembered something Klugman said in a previous interview: Randall and Klugman never knew from season to season, if The Odd Couple was going to get picked up for a renewal. Never. It's hard to believe now, considering the cult status the series enjoys today, but during its five year run on ABC from 1970 to 1975, The Odd Couple was considered a pleasant, but marginal, ratings disappointment. Just another sitcom during the last golden days of network TV dominance of the airwaves (before cable, VCRs and DVDs, and the internet slowly but surely diminished "The Big Three"), The Odd Couple may have wowed the critics (and found a relatively small but loyal original fan base - mostly families due to its traditional Friday night time slot), but it couldn't crack the coveted Nielsen Top Thirty once during its five-year run.
ABC, the perennial last-placed network until a new round of sitcoms in the mid-seventies catapulted it to the top of the ratings' heap, kept The Odd Couple around because it was cheap to produce, the critics liked it (back when networks still coveted media acceptance), and quite literally, they didn't have anything better to replace it with on the schedule. And as Klugman stated, every year it would be coin-toss as to whether or not they'd be back on the ABC schedule. Perhaps that constant uncertainty about their status gave the performers - two seasoned pros used to the ups and downs of an actor's career - a devil-may-care attitude that translated into a "hey, we're not going to be here long; let's have some fun!" atmosphere. It certainly seems that way, watching the episodes in The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season. These aren't actors moping around, preoccupied by imminent cancellation. They're flying. By the end of the season, Klugman and Randall, in another classic Odd Couple courtroom scene from One For the Bunny, are as good as they ever were together. Maybe believing they weren't going to get renewed, and that these 22 episodes were going to be their last together as a team, kept the actors (who were great pals off the set, as well) focused on just enjoying the experience. Four years was a respectable run for a series back then; maybe they just were happy to be together, performing at the peak of their skills, in well-written, snappily directed mini-playlets. They certainly seem so here (watch the fade-outs and freeze-frames at the end of the episodes - many of them show the actors smiling at each other).
A few other changes mark this fourth season of The Odd Couple as a special one. Regular viewers may notice the increased location work for these episodes, with Randall and Klugman often shown on the real means streets of Manhattan for the purposes of linking scenes together (this was done for Season One, but all but abandoned for Two and Three). One episode, The New Car, where Felix provides the info for Oscar to win a new car from a radio quiz show, has extensive location work in New York, including even a couple of staged gags designed specifically to take advantage of the location shoot. These real-location linking montages help give Season Four a much more open feel (unlike the rigidly theatrical feel of previous seasons), which might have been interesting if the producers had done more shooting like this.
Felix is still dating Miriam Welby (Elinor Donahue) this season (frankly, this rather reticent character never really fit in with the series' established tone), while his ex-wife Gloria (Janis Hansen) is a steady, welcome presence. Equally welcome is Klugman's real-life wife Brett Somers as Oscar's ex-wife Blanche, who shows up a couple of times here in flashback episodes, of which there are several more this season (she's terrific with Klugman). Oscar gets a pretty new girlfriend, Phyllis (Janice Lynde), for a couple of episodes later in the season, but she won't be around next year. And Myrna (Penny Marshall) and Murry (Al Molinaro), given more screen time in the Third Season, are again frequent co-stars here, developing good timing between the pair as the Murray character loosens up even more this season, cracking jokes right along with Felix and Oscar.
Highlights for The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season include Last Tango in Newark, where ballet superstar Edward Villella teaches Oscar and Felix how to dance (Oscar as the Hunter in Swan Lake is priceless). That Was No Lady features a funny turn by football great Alex Karas as a dangerously violent, jealous husband. Odd Holiday is a great flashback episode to a vacation from Hell for Oscar, Blanche, and Gloria, thanks to Felix's meddling (Randall is hysterically repulsive as Felix here). Felix Directs is a series' standout, when Felix fails to realize, even while he's shooting, that the film he's directing is a porno (I love the guy who asks Oscar if he saw him in Last Tango; Oscar replies, "In Paris?" to which the guy answers, "No, Tampa."). The Pig Who Came to Dinner sports a funny, funny turn by 1940s tennis champ and 1970s media sensation, Bobby Riggs (Billie Jean King shows up, too). The Exorcists features Victor Buono in an amusing turn as a hep psychic (his weekly calendar includes a visit to Weight Watchers and putting a hex on his landlord). Cleanliness is Next to Impossible uses that old sitcom standby - altered behavior due to hypnosis - to good comic effect when Oscar rapidly goes from super-neat (and insulting) to super-sloppy at the snap of finger. The Flying Felix is a series' highpoint, with Randall absolutely hysterical as the afraid-to-fly Felix, quite literally flipping out on a plane (the "build" to this episode is just terrific, with one joke topping the next, all to great effect).
Shuffling Off to Buffalo, another not just season but series' highlight, features a wonderful performance by that great comedic actor William Redfield as Floyd, Felix's bubblegum factory owner brother (Felix's contribution to the business? "Great Moments in Opera" trading cards, including number 16, 'Mimi gets tuberculosis.'). The Insomniacs is yet another series best, with Randall firing on all pistons as the terminally tired, wired Felix. And certainly my favorite from Season Four, One for the Bunny, is a brilliant flashback episode detailing Felix's brief stint as a Playboy photographer...of his wife, Gloria. The courtroom scene at the end, obviously patterned after Season Three's My Strife in Court (they even used Curt Conway again as the exasperated judge), is one of the funniest scenes I've seen this year. When Felix, trying to destroy Oscar's credibility on the witness stand, says, "I think I speak for this entire courtroom when I say you make me sick! Get off the stand!" you don't think there's anyway they can top that moment of Randall's inspired performance - until Klugman does when Felix tries to be nice again, and Klugman rages, "You maaaaake meeeee siiiiiiiiick!" It's been a long time since I laughed that hard; those two moments alone - amid all the genuine gems in The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season -- were worth the price of admission.
Here are the 22, one-half hour episodes of the four-disc box set The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season, as described on its insert. Just for fun, I've included some of my favorite lines from the episodes here. 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 did notice one rather obvious cut; in Gloria Moves In, there's a noticeable edit during the hotel poker game. No music was playing during the scene, so I'm not sure if we can say it's license-related (perhaps it was there from the original materials). Most of the episodes, though, time out at a little more than 25 minutes, which is about right for the original network run times. 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. As always, the final decision should stay with the consumer, and what he or she is willing to put up with as far as refusing to buy cut series, or enjoying what's out there. It's usually a case-by-case basis. Here, with The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season, the show is so enjoyable, and the fact that most of the run times seem complete, prompts my favorable rating.
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.
Felix, whining hysterically to Oscar and his poker-playing friends after Gloria threw him out of his own apartment: "I could have been here sooner, fellas, but I though, 'Why should I impose all this misery on my friends...and then I though, why not?'"
Last Tango in Newark
When a famous male ballet star is late for a children's performance of Swan Lake, Felix realizes he must dance the lead role himself.
Felix's image of Edward Villella shattered: Felix: "Champagne, Eddie?" Edward Villella: "Uh, you wouldn't mind if I had a beer, also, would you?" Felix: Oh no, don't say it!"
After Oscar causes Felix's health insurance to increase, Felix challenges him to see who is in better physical condition.
Felix, admiring one of Oscar's shirts: "Here's a good game: find the original crease."
That Was No Lady
Felix starts seeing a woman, but doesn't realize she's the neglected wife of a jealous football player, who will crush Felix's skull if he finds out.
The Eternal Odd Couple lament: "Oh, Oscar, Oscar, Oscar." "I know, I know, I know."
Oscar recalls the time the Ungars and the Madisons vacationed together and Felix tried to save Oscar's marriage, just as his own was crumbling.
Blanche discussing Felix's bedtime ritual with Oscar: Blanche: "He makes your bed check list look like a dream." Oscar: "What do I do?" Blanche: Gargle, belch, and punch the pillow."
The New Car
With Felix's help, Oscar wins a new car in a radio contest. But then it becomes difficult to find parking, and Felix won't let Oscar sell it.
Dick Clark, introducing his radio quiz subject: "Opera is the subject of our quiz today. And for you kids, that's music with a lot of killing."
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.
Felix to Myrna, explaining why there were no baby pictures of himself on a bearskin rug: "I was always allergic to animals. Even stuffed ones." Myrna: "What did you curl up in your crib with?" Felix: "A sponge."
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.
Felix, trying to find a rhyme for a song lyric: Felix: "What 'jumps and rolls?'" Oscar: "A frog with a hernia."
When Felix makes a documentary film about his roommate Oscar, a producer flips for it and wants Felix to direct his next picture.
Felix admiring Oscar's sartorial splendor: Felix: "You've got holes in your socks!" Oscar: "It's summertime!"
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.
Bobby Riggs, Mr. Sensitive, on the phone setting up a bet: "No, I haven't boxed in twenty years, but I'll get down to the gym, I'll work out. Don't worry about me, I'll kill her! By the way, does she cut easy?"
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 to him by hiring a nanny.
Felix commenting on Oscar's brown-bag dinner: Felix: "What new heights of masochism have you planned for tonight?" Oscar: "Chili dogs, burritos, and enchiladas. And for dessert: a chocolate Fudgcicle." Felix: "Set a match to you and you'd go off like the Hindenburg."
When strange noises in the night keep him awake, Felix is convinced the ghost of the former tenant is living in their air conditioner.
Myrna to Oscar, inviting him to join their séance: Myrna: "Don't you want to get in contact with another world?" Oscar, carrying a six pack: "Yeah, and these are going to help me, baby!"
A Barnacle Adventure
Oscar's dentist 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.
Oscar, under sedation at the dentist's, spots Felix coming in: "I feel like a big, big balloon...and here comes the pin."
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.
Felix, grilling Oscar on his latest girlfriend: "What's she like? Is she tall? Short? Thin? Fat? I like them fat."
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.
Felix, telling Oscar about the joys of being a neat freak: "You'll love being neat; it's fun! We'll vacuum together. We'll dust together. I'll teach you how to use glass wax. This will be great! It'll be just like when I was a kid with my brother. They called us Spic and Span!"
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.
A terrified Felix, reading the lips of the airplane's mechanic: "I...much...fear...trouble...in...the...fuselage...Frederick."
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.
Felix, asked by opera singer Marilyn Horne, if Oscar will be attending the opera: "Will Mr. Madison be there?" Felix: "Mr. Madison likes midget wrestling."
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 bubblegum factory.
Felix inquiring about Oscar's touch-football game against the Playboy Bunnies team: Felix: "How'd the game with the Playboy bunnies go?" Oscar: "We lost. 87 to nothing. But we set an all-time record for unsportsmanlike conduct."
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 on it, too.
Felix, with his favorite cry of anguish: "Oh boy, what a gyp!"
Felix comes down with a bad case of insomnia. So Oscar, Myrna, and Murray do everything they can to help him fall asleep.
Felix, finding out that Gloria is seeing a man named Herzog: "I'll kill him! I'll kill every Herzog in New York!"
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.
Felix, simulating his judo skills on Oscar: "Ha! Broke your neck! Your head is now totally inoperative!"
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!
Oscar, in one of the greatest line readings of all time, to Felix: "YOU MAKE ME SICK!"
These full frame, 1.33:1 remastered transfers for The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season look as good as previous seasons. Grain is apparent, but it's to be expected considering the original source. Colors are bright and vibrant, with a sharpish picture. No compression issues.
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track accurately recreates the original broadcast presentation. All dialogue is crisp and clean. Close-captioning is available.
Unfortunately, there are no extras for The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season.
After a shaky first episode, The Odd Couple: The Fourth Season picks up steam like a freight train and delivers some of the series' best episodes. Randall and Klugman, not knowing whether or not this was going to be their last season together (there would be one more), relax even further into their characters, coming up with some truly inspired comedic acting. A winner all the way down the line. I highly recommend The Odd Couple: The Fourth 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.