One of television's funniest, classiest, wittiest sitcoms, comes to a fitting close. CBS DVD and Paramount have released The Odd Couple - The Final Season, a collection of the last 22 episodes of the series' fifth and final 1974-1975 season. A theory that's often trotted out when discussing TV sitcoms stipulates that a show begins to show signs of noticeable decline in or around its fifth season, but The Odd Couple - The Final Season is as strong a showing of this delightful, sophisticated comedy as any of the other previous seasons. A remarkable number of fan favorites and classic episodes come from this last go-around, with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall clearly enjoying to the hilt, their final season together. Loyal fans, however, will be dismayed yet again at some very crude - and crucial - music edits that seem to be part and parcel of most Paramount vintage TV releases today. As always, it's up to the consumer as to whether or not these missing minutes are deal-breakers for purchasing the set.
I've written in-depth about The Odd Couple's structure and various aesthetic and stylistic permutations over its previous four seasons (you can click on Season One, Season Two, Season Three, and Season Four to get more detailed background on the show), so I won't go into a lot of detail setting up the show. The premise is simplicity itself. Five years prior, uber-slob Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman), a divorced New York sportswriter, invited his friend, uber-neat-freak Felix "The Pest" Unger (Tony Randall) to live with him in his Manhattan high-rise apartment when Felix's wife, Gloria (Janis Hansen), throws him out, requesting that he never return. Felix, a compulsive nudge who drives everyone absolutely insane with his persnickety perfectionism and his vast array of psychosomatic illnesses, has never gotten over his ex-wife Gloria, despite his on-again, off-again relationship with upstairs neighbor, Miriam Welby (Elinor Donahue). Live-and-let-live Oscar, on the other hand, has absolutely no intention of ever getting back together again with his battle-ax ex-wife, Blanche (Brett Somers), so he spends his days covering sporting events, gambling to excess with his friends, including mentally-challenged police officer Murray Greshler (Al Molinaro) and inveterate gambler Speed (Garry Walberg), and most importantly, trying to block out the constant, incessant whine of Felix's complaining.
Watching the fifth season of The Odd Couple, what struck me yet again about the show was the emphasis on "adult" humor - not "sexual" adult humor, but humor written for adults. Juvenile concerns don't exist in The Odd Couple world, and with the exception of a couple of brief appearances by Felix's children, the stories are centered around comedic situations that resolutely refuse to pander to "youth" audiences. Perusing the latest hit sitcoms that now grace our airwaves (with "hit" being a highly ironic term, considering these new shows pull in numbers which are probably less than what the then-"unsuccessful" Odd Couple garnered back in the early '70s), it's difficult to spot any show that features older actors acting like grownups. Yes, of course, The Odd Couple's Felix and Oscar act silly and childish at times; it is, after, a farce. But in comparison to salacious, tasteless dreck like Two and a Half Men, Felix and Oscar are positively quaint - in the best sense of that word. Equally ironic, of course, is the fact that The Odd Couple became a huge, smash hit in syndication (far bigger, in fact, than it ever was during its initial network run) with young viewers who appreciated the show's classical humor, regardless of its "adult" orientation. It's a curious TV footnote that The Odd Couple's run ended on the very cusp of TV comedy changing over almost exclusively towards attracting juvenile audiences - courtesy of, in large part, by The Odd Couple's very own producer, Garry Marshall, who along with ABC's Michael Eisner, increasingly focused on youth-oriented, "high-concept" sitcoms like Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley that took the Nielsen ratings by storm in the mid-to-late 1970s, a movement that still influences how TV sitcoms look today. Gone are the days of The Odd Couple's emphasis on a mixture of classical theatrical farce elements, vaudeville shtick, and witty, urbane word byplay, to be replaced today by tired, obvious double-entendres, ever-increasingly sexually explicit one-liners and rimshots, and poorly executed slapstick. No wonder TV networks are dying.
Not everything is perfect here in this last go-around for The Odd Couple, though. While the series continues to "move outside" with more location pick-up shots that open up the show's sometimes claustrophobic atmosphere, the loss of The Odd Couple "acting troupe," if you will, further deflates the theatrical "family" feel of the show. In earlier reviews, I made no bones about missing the delightful "CooCoo Pigeon Sisters" when they were written out of the show after the first season, and by this last season, reoccurring characters are pared down to the absolute minimum. Often times, the episodes are largely two-person comedy playlets between Randall and Klugman alone, with perhaps an occasional brief stop-off by Murray the cop or whatever star happens to be guesting that week, to set up a joke or a situation. Oscar's poker buddies, Vinnie and Speed, show up only once each here (with Speed not even gambling!), while Brett Somer's Blanche Madison (such a big pick-me-up in her previous few turns), is nowhere to be seen (wouldn't she have shown up for Felix's wedding???). Gloria is absent from the entire season, save for the final episode, while Miriam makes a few odd, brief, largely unexplained appearances - appearances that make no sense whatsoever when we see the final episode (did Felix drop her? Did she dump him? We'll never know). Oscar's secretary Myrna (Penny Marshall), takes a powder on the season's very first episode (and then mysteriously reappears a couple of times, since the episodes aired out of production order). While I adore Klugman and Randall together, I miss that theatrical "family" feel of reoccurring characters that could be relied upon for consistent laughs.
And, unfortunately, things are far from perfect with the DVD release of The Odd Couple - The Final Season, either, as hard-core fans of the series (as well as dedicated Paramount vintage TV release-haters) already know. Yes, serious, crucial music cues have been awkwardly excised out of classic episodes from The Odd Couple - The Final Season. And the comedy does suffer from their loss, unquestionably. In the hilarious Strike Up the Band or Else..., the entire point of the episode - that country gambler/thug Pernell Roberts would choose to sing a sophisticated Cocktails for Two when Felix, forced with his band to play country music for Roberts, was sure Roberts' request would be a country tune - is utterly lost when the episode abruptly ends, the musical number obviously (and crudely) eliminated. In the wonderful The Subway Show, we miss out on hearing one of Scatman Crothers' jumpy little tunes (again, rather coarsely edited out), while most egregiously, the final episode, Felix Remarries, seriously damages perhaps the series' single best joke, as Oscar's exuberant Singin' in the Rain, under the leaky pipes, is chopped off right when he's at his most elated at finally getting rid of Felix (these moments are gone, but Paul Williams' warbling remains intact...?). These and other bits (why did they eliminate Oscar wiping his feet on the dirty clothes?) are expected, anticipated moments that jar fans right out their nostalgic reveries, and brings them crashing down to earth, fully aware again of the absolute core of all network TV: not art, but profit.
Of course, those who kept their old tapes of the series won't care, but for the rest of us, who's to say that The Odd Couple, in its complete form, will ever see the light of day again? I hate to break the news to some readers of a "certain age" (of which I also, unfortunately, include myself), but we "kids" who grew up on this stuff are really the only consumers for titles like The Odd Couple. As much as we'd like to think that a classic like The Odd Couple or The Mary Tyler Moore Show or All in the Family would have consumers of all ages beating down the doors for them, that just hasn't happened. Sure, The Odd Couple and other shows like it are timeless, because they're expertly crafted and lovingly performed. And they can still make people - young viewers, too - laugh (my kids adore this show). But seriously; what average kid or teenager or twentysomething has even heard of The Odd Couple series, unless a parent or (gulp) grandparent, either showed it to them, or told them about it (because it hasn't been on cable for quite some time)? We're it for shows like The Odd Couple. And since a company like Paramount has already apparently determined that, at least for their bottom line, it doesn't make economic sense to shell out more money for music licensing rights than they'll garner in sales, this may be the only form of The Odd Couple we'll see in a major release. Even more chilling, once some marketing team determines that the "retail window" is closing for consumers like ourselves who buy these shows from decades like the '60s and '70s, series like The Odd Couple might conceivably disappear forever into that ever-gaping maw of American pop culture history that needs constant feeding with new product. Passionate consumers of vintage TV never want to hear this reality - I certainly don't enjoy writing it - but I suspect it's true.
So...what do we do, then, with something like The Odd Couple - The Final Season? Do we express our outrage? Certainly. Do we curse Paramount? We can, but it won't make any difference (and besides, the last, few remaining capitalists in America know you can't make a profit on a product that costs you more than it garners). And finally, do we make a stand and not buy the product? Again - yes, if you feel that strongly about it, and more importantly, if you're willing to lose out on 558 minutes of The Odd Couple because of the 2 or 3 other minutes, total, that are missing. Taking a cue from our protagonists, though, maybe we should try to curb our Felix-y bitching and pissing and moaning about everything that doesn't turn out perfect, and try to be a bit more like Oscar, who would probably say, "So what? I'm going to live my life and enjoy myself, Felix! So stop bugging me, will ya?" That's not treating the matter lightly; it's only advice for living in an imperfect world with compromised vintage TV releases (Jesus, I'm John Tesh all of the sudden).
And there's a lot of gold in those 558 minutes or so that'll you'll miss, should you pass on principle, The Odd Couple - The Final Season. Before I sat down to watch this fifth season, I tried to remember episodes from it, but frankly, the only one that came immediately to mind, obviously, was the last one, Felix Remarries. One of the rare 1970s sitcoms that actually ended with a thematically relevant final episode, Felix Remarries is beautifully scripted and performed, but it's far from the only gem here. After enjoying all 22 episodes on the three-disc The Odd Couple - The Final Season, I was amazed at how many classic, fan-favorite episodes showed up here - until I made the obvious leap that this is true because every season of The Odd Couple is so strong: classic, hilarious episodes are numerous throughout all of its five seasons. Highlights here include The Dog Story, which features yet another classic Odd Couple courtroom scene (you can just tell that the actors begged the writers to keep coming up with these courtroom scripts), with Felix humiliating Oscar yet again on the stand. The Subway Show has some great location work of Randall and Klugman in New York City, with Randall getting abused by passerbys (Garry Marshall has a funny cameo as a typically disgruntled New Yorker). Our Fathers is a big fan favorite, with Randall and Klugman (both sans toupees) having a ball in this Roaring 20s take-off on gangsters and opthamologists ("You don't get to the top of the eye game without nerves of steel."), with personal favorite Barbara Rhoades looking particularly statuesque and delectable.
The Big Broadcast has a beautifully satirical take-off on old time radio serials (you can tell that Randall loved doing this one), while Your Mother Wears Army Boots features a well-tuned Howard Cosell getting the one-up on both Felix and Oscar (the great Jack Carter has a terrific short cameo, as well). The Roy Clark Show features some amazing picking by that multi-talented artist, Roy Clark (his version of Malaguena is amazing; Randall's stunned reaction to it looks genuine). And Old Flames Never Die includes some very funny shots of Felix and Oscar getting down at a discotheque (check out Felix doing "The Robot"). Not only season but series highlights here include the hilarious Felix the Horseplayer, where Felix gets the gambling bug when Oscar rides an incredible lucky streak. Two Men on a Hoarse is a beautifully constructed episode, with Oscar and Felix battling not only in the hospital, but also at home when they're tied up and robbed (watch Klugman openly "corpse" when Molinaro gives the line reading of his life, "I'm DEAF!" when both Felix and Oscar lose their voices). Two on the Aisle is another hysterically funny "Oscar and Felix on a talk show" episode, with the added delight of having Randall personally insult real-life critic Dan Sullivan and of all people, critic icon, John Simon (!). How or why he turned up here is anybody's guess (perhaps at the behest of theatre performer and producer Randall?), but his final insult at the hands of Felix - "Mr. Madison would like to respond: your mother wears combat boots!" - is especially funny when one considers the erudition (and cruelty) of Simon's own real-life critical barbs (even more bizarre is the silent appearance of none other than...Neil Simon, the playwright of the original The Odd Couple. Everything I've ever read about or from Simon said he never came near this series - because he wasn't cut in on the money. I guess he forgot about this funny cameo!). The Hollywood Story is a particularly brilliant episode - one of the series' all-time best - where Oscar goes to Hollywood to play a bit part as a sports reporter in a movie starring beefy George Montgomery (who's wonderfully funny here). Randall, essaying a perfect "Felix-as-annoying-a**hole," has several career-high moments here, including his final ad-libbed speech in front of the cameras (see below in the episode guide). When Oscar flubs his take, and smashes the lockers, causing them to domino down and almost knocking Montgomery on his ass, with the director (Allan Arbus) screaming, "Cut!", Felix raises his arms in deluded, surreal triumph and bellows, "PRINT IT!" in what has to be the funniest TV scene I've watched this entire year. Even Bob Hope gets in on the act, with an as-expected funny cameo with Oscar and Felix, as they paw through his garbage. And of course, the final episode of the entire series, Felix Remarries, may feature the definitive performance of Felix by Randall, who has a field day switching from whiner Felix, to romantic Felix, to complainer Felix, to sniveling Felix, to utterly insane Felix, all with lightening speed. I know Oscar singing Singin' in the Rain is missing, and I hate that. But Felix reading a sign in Oscar's closet ("Please don't turn off the heat lamp. It keeps the rolls fresh.") is here. As is Randall grabbing Leif Garrett's face passionately and intoning, "Oh, Leonard!" kissing him repeatedly. And Molinaro getting off one of the best "Murray-isms" ever, regarding his inquiry as to why Gloria isn't wearing white ("I guess it's hard to keep things white with kids around."), is here. As well as the supreme moment in the episode, where Randall, after telling the minister to, "Go ahead," isn't getting through to him, finally bellows, "GO AHEAD!" in an insane rage. All of those classic, classic moments are here in Felix Remarries, even though Oscar gets his brief song cut out - as well as countless other hysterical moments in The Odd Couple - The Final Season. Even if things aren't perfect with the episodes, it would be a shame to miss them.
Here are the 22, one-half hour episodes of the three-disc box set The Odd Couple: The Final Season, as described on its insert. Just for fun, I've included some of my favorite lines from the episodes here:
The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly in Vain
Oscar's secretary Myrna is upset over the loss of her boyfriend. So Felix gives her a makeover in order to win him back, and changes the way she walks and talks.
Myrna, dejected over failing Felix's makeover: "I can't be a lady. I sit like a frog. I talk nasal, and I have an unproud bust."
To Bowl or Not to Bowl
With Felix as their top bowler, Oscar is convinced their team is going to take home the championship trophy - that is, until Felix announces that he's quitting.
Felix to a pouting Oscar, after Felix has quit the team: "We've learned to talk to the Russians. We've learned to talk to the Chinese. Can't we talk to each other?" "Are you going to bowl in the finals?" "No." "Then go talk to the Chinese."
Felix's son Leonard needs his frog to win the big frog-jumping contest. But when Oscar lets the frog escape, he and Felix scramble to replace it.
The brilliant dead-pan comedic actor Richard Stahl - a favorite on many Odd Couple episodes, typically walks away with the show. As a decidedly off-beat pet store owner, he flatly intones, with his arms held high, "Kill all the animals but don't hurt me!" when Felix walks in with a handkerchief over his face. He also has this exchange with Felix, who asks about a frog Stahl is pushing on them: "A Yugoslavian Swamp Frog? Is he a good jumper?" "He got out of Yugoslavia, didn't he?" Stahl, as familiar and welcome a face as any I can remember from my childhood TV watching, unfortunately died two years ago. He will be missed.
The Hollywood Story
When Oscar lands a bit part in a movie, he and Felix fly to Los Angeles. But once there, Felix appoints himself Oscar's agent and gets him fired.
A truly classic Odd Couple moment - Felix ad-libbing a baseball story: "You couldn't afford any equipment! So you made a catcher's mitt out of a satin pillow reading, 'Greetings from Yellowstone Park.' You couldn't afford a bat! So you used your little brother. The other kids wouldn't play with that brave little lad with the weird mitt and the talking bat!"
The Dog Story
After a photo shoot, Felix kidnaps a famous dog from its abusive owner. When he and Oscar are arrested, Felix must defend himself in court.
Felix, in another beautifully perverse courtroom appearance, humiliating his only friend, Oscar, who sits on the stand: "I apologize to the court for parading a person like this before it. Witness dismissed. You may slink away."
Strike Up the Band or Else...
After losing at poker to a Texas football team owner, Oscar can't cover his debt - until he gets Felix and his group to play the owner's country-style hoedown.
A memorable, oft-repeated Felix retort: "Stuff your 'sorrys' in a sack, mister!"
The Odd Candidate
Felix wants Oscar to run for city councilman in order to save the neighborhood playgrounds. At first Oscar is skeptical, but then throws his hat into the ring.
Felix, extolling the totally fraudulent virtues of ex-serviceman Oscar: "But who wouldn't love the brave hero of Anzio who single-handedly saved an entire platoon - the famous 143rd 'Melting Pot' platoon? Italians, Jews, Puerto Ricans - you name 'em, he saved 'em!"
The Subway Show
Oscar writes an article about how mean New Yorkers can be. When he and Felix get stuck in the subway, Felix tries to prove him wrong.
"Beat the hell out of Miriam!" is a classic Felix, while the subway ride from Hell has Felix's "Harvey Hanky" puppet getting smacked by Garry Marshall's unadorned fist, called "Harry Hit."
The Paul Williams Show
Felix won't allow his daughter Edna to attend a concert by singer Paul Williams, so she runs away from home and becomes a groupie.
That synopsis alone is the funniest part of The Paul Williams Show, but Felix does have a funny encounter with a bouncer/door guard: "I have to see Paul Williams or I'll die!" "It's always a matter of life or death with you groupies."
Felix tells Oscar an outrageous tale he heard from relatives in Chicago - how Oscar's father was ordered by gangsters to kill Felix's father.
Felix's father on the phone with Felix, who's upset that his elderly grandmother is spilling the bouillabaisse: "Why don't you use that nice new sponge I got for your birthday?"
The Big Broadcast
After Oscar reluctantly allows Felix to help boost ratings of his radio show, Felix writes a fictitious script dramatizing great moments in sports.
Felix to the newly christened "Mr. Venom," Oscar: "Just remember one thing: be mean, be hostile, be yourself."
Oscar in Love
Now that Oscar is dating an attractive widow, Felix convinces him to pop the question. But their friends are laying odds that the wedding won't take place.
Speed "calling" the wedding like a horse race is hilarious, but too brief. And while Felix's question to Oscar about why he uses a spoon to put on his shoe ("Because a fork leaves four holes in my sock.") is great, Murray has them beat when he mournfully intones, "No reception? I ate light."
Two on the Aisle
After Oscar is ordered to writer theater reviews for a vacationing critic, he tricks Felix into doing it. But when the reviews are a hit, Oscar takes the credit.
Felix's rejoinder to none other than John Simon ("Your mother wears combat boots") is an all-time classic.
Your Mother Wears Army Boots
In order to land a job as co-host of Monday Night Football, Oscar hires a comic to teach him how to fire insults at sportscaster Howard Cosell.
Cosell, of course, gets off the best insult here: "By the way, Unger; your apartment is furnished in questionable taste."
Felix the Horseplayer
After years of losing at the track, Oscar has a new contact who has been giving him great tips. And now that he is winning, Felix wants in on the action.
Felix, proudly rejecting a safe investment strategy: "Why should I risk my savings on blue chips, mutual funds, and treasury bonds? I've got a midget named Harry!"
The Roy Clark Show
When Oscar's old army buddy visits, Felix discovers the prankster can play the violin. So he turns him into a serious - and boring - classical musician.
Kalnikov to Oscar, when he finds out Oscar's "in baseball" "Are you Hank Aaron?"
The Rent Strike
Felix offers to lead the other tenants in a rent strike, which proves effective when the building manager agrees to their terms - but only if Felix moves out!
Two renters amazed at the arrival of Murray the cop (with the rather prominent nose): "Look! He showed up just like the calvary!" "Yeah, look at that bugle!"
Two Men on a Hoarse
Oscar finally gives in and has a throat operation, but he must keep his voice low for two weeks - which proves difficult now that Felix has lost his voice.
Oscar and Felix have this classic exchange, as Oscar lays in his hospital bed, after having received a most unwelcome procedure: "They even shaved me." "Well...you want to look nice for your operation." "I'm not talking about my face. "You don't want to take any chances." "Well, that's a pretty big margin for error!" "Why didn't you stop them?" "I was sound asleep! It was 3:00 in the morning...I thought it was a nice dream."
The Bigger They Are...
When his overweight model deserts him, Felix convinces Oscar to don a fat suit in order to shoot "before" and "after" shots for a weight-loss commercial.
John Byner threatening Felix: "Either you find another tubbo tonight, or your cousin becomes 'Fatman of Alcatraz'."
Old Flames Never Die
When Felix finds out that his old girlfriend is a grandmother he starts to feel old, so he convinces Oscar to go to a hip discotheque in order to recapture their youth.
Felix explaining a childhood nickname, given to him at a picnic, to Oscar: "The other kids called me 'Felix the Cat.'" "Why, because you were clean?" "No; once the other kids tried to drown me."
Laugh, Clown, Laugh!
Oscar hosts a televised variety show with comedian Richard Dawson, who Felix despises; he claims the comedian ruined his chances for a career in showbiz.
A clueless Murray to Felix, after a particularly bad showing on Felix's part: "I want to shake your hand! What a gift!"
Felix makes one last effort to try and reunite with his ex-wife Gloria. And to prove that he has changed, he even plans to sleep in Oscar's room.
There are too many funny lines in this hilarious episode to pick one out, so just watch Tony Randall forcibly shoving chocolates into Leif Garrett's face to ruin his complexion. Timeless.
For the most part, the full-screen, 1.33:1 video transfers for The Odd Couple: The Final Season look quite good, with solid color, a reasonably sharp image, and no compression issues to speak of. However, I did notice some scratches and dirt here and there (with a rather noticeable, large vertical scratch running for a few minutes during The Rent Strike). Overall, though, quite an acceptable presentation.
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 Final Season.
One of the brightest, wittiest, most urbane sitcoms from any decade, comes to a triumphant close in The Odd Couple: The Final Season. Ending on a high note, with many episodes the equal of the best offerings from other seasons, The Odd Couple: The Final Season wraps up the saga of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison in a most satisfying - and hilarious - fashion. Jack Klugman and Tony Randall rank right up there with TV's greatest comedy duos; they're a wonder to watch. Unfortunately...there are significant music cuts (crudely accomplished) to several important episodes (most egregiously, the series' finale episode, where Felix remarries Gloria), which can't help but negate the impact of these delightfully written and executed shows. How you respond to such tampering is entirely your concern, but far too much of The Odd Couple: The Final Season is worth celebrating, and more importantly, worth enjoying, despite the two or three minutes missing here. With that significant caveat, I highly, highly recommend The Odd Couple: The Final 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.