"On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to remove himself from his place of residence.
Of course they're not the eight I'd have picked (save for one or two...maybe), but they're probably not the ones you'd pick, either, so.... CBS DVD and Paramount have released Fan Favorites: The Best of The Odd Couple, an eight episode collection culled from the five seasons of ABC's Tony Randall / Jack Klugman classic―one of the funniest sitcoms to ever air on network TV. According to the back of the disc case, these episodes were selected in a poll by participating Facebook® fans; they include: The Blackout, Security Arms, I'm Dying of Unger, Password, Take My Furniture, Please, The Murray Who Came to Dinner, Cleanliness is Next to Impossible, and The Insomniacs. Transfers used here are the same ones available in the single season sets (with edits included), so there's no need to double dip for the fans.
I don't really need to do a synopsis of the series, do I? After all, who doesn't already know this show (or at least the set-up) from either Neil Simon's Broadway smash play, the 1968 Walter Matthau / Jack Lemmon hit movie, or this 1970-1975 incarnation that has been in syndication for almost 40 years (as well as its innumerable take-offs and parodies)? The above opening narration used for the first few seasons sums it all up perfectly, and if anyone is interested in more detailed background on the show, I've written extensively about the series' five seasons (you can read those reviews here for background).
As for this CBS DVD / Paramount Fan Favorites collection (one of many currently out for other Paramount-controlled titles, like Cheers and Happy Days), with the entire Odd Couple series available on disc for several years now, I can only assume these "fan favorites" efforts are marketing tools to keep the titles' name recognition current (...before a possible re-release of the series on Blu-ray?). A vintage television title like The Odd Couple, to be honest, isn't going to attract too many newer, younger fans unless older fans "pass down" the viewing experience to them, so a small, limited effort like Fan Favorites: The Best of The Odd Couple is curious, to say the least, for the show's hard-core fans. Advertised as selected by fans on Facebook®, which no doubt will leave out many viewers who aren't particularly interested in social media, a collection like Fan Favorites: The Best of The Odd Couple is probably most useful as a spur for on-line buzz from "fan boys" (does The Odd Couple even have fan boys?) bitching about the selections here―an admittedly fun past time, to be sure.
After all, isn't that what you do when you read those ridiculous "Top Ten" motion picture lists every year, or those "newspaper and magazine critics" (hee hee!) polls of the Most Important Science Fiction Films Of The Past Century or the Most Romantic Comedies Of All Time? They're usually worthless, with obvious choices mixed in with arbitrary clunkers that reflect either bad taste or shamelessly manipulative efforts to goad audience reactions. Luckily, Fan Favorites: The Best of The Odd Couple doesn't have that particular problem: every episode here is consistently funny, with one or two being what I would consider series best...although that's relative context, since The Odd Couple during its five-year run had a remarkable number of classic, stand-alone episodes. No, anyone new to the series would get a fair-to-good idea from Fan Favorites: The Best of The Odd Couple of what the series was about, and they'd have plenty of laughs.
...it's just that these aren't my episode picks. And they should be my picks. I should be in charge of these things. I should select what's best for you from The Odd Couple. And if you think that sounds ridiculously egomaniacal, I'm only writing what you're thinking, too. Anyone who really loves a TV series thinks they know what's best and worst about it; I'm just taking a page out of Felix Unger's book and telling you upfront I know best (now if that isn't designed like all those phony Top 100 lists to goad reader reactions, I don't know what is...). Watching these eight episodes again (for about the 100th time), only Password and The Insomniacs rate as "series' best" in my book, or perhaps more correctly, as "favorites," although again, it's important to note that all eight here are quite funny outings. In Password, when Oscar snarls, "Aristophanes!" as a clue to Felix, who looks completely bewildered until he gets it and replies, "Ridiculous", bouncing up and down in childlike glee, or in The Insomniacs, when Felix, holding his plastic-wrapped teddy bear "Mr. Friend," tells story-reading Oscar at bed time, "Louder―he can't hear through the cellophane," it's difficult to come up with better examples of actors and their material reaching such a transcendent comedic level.
However, there are so many other episodes I would recommend over the remaining six (and maybe over The Insomniacs, too) found here on Fan Favorites: The Best of The Odd Couple. Obvious carps out of the way first: where's Season Five here? There are quite a few gems that would have fitted nicely on this disc: Our Fathers, with Randall and Klugman, sans toupees, having a ball in a Roaring Twenties gangster take-off ("You don't get to the top of the eye game without nerves of steel," Randall-as-Felix's dad drones); Felix the Horseplayer ("Why should I risk my savings on blue chips, mutual funds, and treasury bonds? I've got a midget named Harry!"); Two Men on a Hoarse (a classic "hospital" episode with this priceless exchange: "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 Hollywood Story, with Randall's "ad-libbed" 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!"); and of course, the series' finale, Felix Marries...even if it's missing Oscar's Singin' In The Rain, due to copyright issues (clueless Murray responding to Gloria not wearing white this time around―"I guess it's hard to keep things white with kids around,"―may be one of the series' funniest lines). Any of those would be superior to the six other episodes chosen here.
And while we're at it: where's Blanche in this collection? Murray's here, and all of Oscar's and Felix's poker buddies in that first season episode (no delicious Cuckoo Pigeon Sister, alas...), and even Gloria, but no Brett Somers? No Being Divorced is Never Having to Say I Do, or A Night to Dismember, or The Odd Couples, or Odd Holiday (Blanche: "He [Felix] makes your bed check list look like a dream." Oscar: "What do I do?" Blanche: "Gargle, belch, and punch the pillow."). If there ever was a match for Klugman, it was Somers, and her absence here is puzzling. And what...no Odd Couple "courtroom" episode here? You're telling me fans didn't overwhelmingly choose something like My Strife in Court, perhaps the finest adversarial encounter between Felix and Oscar, as Felix humiliates Oscar on the stand by making him recount how he couldn't get a date ("I tried very hard, Felix," as Oscar only just manages to keep from strangling his roomie); where we learn that Felix's nickname as a boy was "Felix the Pest," and that in school, he was voted "The Boy Most Likely to Interrupt." Or One for the Bunny, a brilliant flashback episode detailing Felix's brief stint as a Playboy® photographer...of his wife, Gloria. In the final courtroom scene, 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!" That didn't make it into the Facebook® fans' top eight choices?
There are so many others―The Fight of the Felix, where Felix boxes a hockey player; Oscar the Model, with Albert Brooks guest-starring as a "now, happening" advertising exec; It's All Over Now, Baby Bird, with the absolutely brilliant James Milhollin as a funeral director for pets; one of the best Christmas sitcom episodes of any TV series, Scrooge Gets an Oscar ("And I hope your reindeer eat you, you fat creep!"); Surprise! Surprise!, with a hilarious Hal Smith as Felix's clown-for-hire; Hospital Mates ("You're my eyes, Gloria!"); Sleepwalker ("I don't like pits! pits! pits! in my juice! juice! juice!"); Felix the Calypso Singer ("Messy, messy Jessie!"); Let's Make a Deal ("Oh! A rotisserie! Oh, I've always wanted that! Oh, we blew it!"); The Odd Monks, with the paralyzingly funny Richard Stahl ("Thou shalt not fink,"); Felix Directs (Felix: "You've got holes in your socks." Oscar: "It's summertime!"); The Flying Felix ("I...much...fear...trouble...in...the...fuselage...Frederick!"), Shuffling Off To Buffalo, with wonderful actor William Redfield as Floyd, Felix's bubblegum factory owner brother (Felix's new idea for Floyd? Great Moments in Opera trading cards, #16: Mimi Gets Tuberculosis)―any of these would have been better choices than the six episodes that join Password and The Insomniacs here in Fan Favorites: The Best of The Odd Couple.
But then again: you probably have your own Odd Couple favorites in mind....
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.