Sing along with me: "Give us any chance we'll take it (with new buddies!), read us any rule we'll break it (in Hollywood!). We're gonna make our dreams come true (anachronisms and shoddy continuity be damned!)."
The 1980-81 stretch of ABC's long-running sitcom hit Laverne & Shirley marked the year in which Penny Marshall's Laverne, Cindy Williams' Shirley, and the entire cast packed their bags for California, a season which even the most ardent L&S fans regard as the show's turning point into awfulness. Now that CBS/Paramount has finally issued The Sixth Season as a three-disc DVD set, it gives this reviewer a chance to re-experience something he vaguely remembers digging as a TV-crazy 12 year-old (perhaps this should come with a "best enjoyed while eating a plate of macaroni and cheese with hot dog slices" disclaimer).
While having its characters move out West offered a lot of opportunities for new gags and situations, Laverne & Shirley itself relies on the same slapstick-heavy plots and goofy guest characters it always had. Opening episode Not Quite New York finds Laverne and Shirley suddenly jobless when the Shotz Brewery replaces them with a high-tech bottling machine. Milwaukee is no longer a happenin' place for these groovy gals. They decide to pack it up for Los Angeles, where Laverne's dad, Frank (Phil Foster), and ex-landlady turned stepmother, Edna (Betty Garrett) are running a kitschy Western-themed eatery called Cowboy Bill's. Improbably, the girls' moronic greaser pals Lenny (Michael McKean) and Squiggy (David L. Lander) decide on going West as well, becoming neighbors in the cozy Spanish-style apartment in Burbank where they settled. Laverne's L-festooned wardrobe came along, the bulletin board came along, Boo Boo Kitty came along - the clown painting which also appeared in the Brady Bunch boys' room got left behind, however. A few episodes in, Shirley's long-time boyfriend Carmine (Eddie Mekka) also makes the cross-country journey. The season also clears some room for a pair of new regulars - Rhonda (Leslie Easterbrook), the ladies' leggy blonde starlet neighbor, and Sonny (Ed Marinaro), the hunky apartment superintendent who also serves as Laverne's love interest (Sonny disappears halfway through the season with no explanation, one of many conundrums in this show).
Laverne & Shirley's sixth year is pretty much what would be expected of a show comfortably ensconced in a groove to the point that everything is getting a little too complacent. The transition from dingy Milwaukee basement to elegant Burbank digs is handled surprisingly well. One thing that I remember being kind of jarring about this season, however, was that the time period jumped forward from vaguely late '50s to mid-'60s. Suddenly, Laverne & Shirley have crushes on The Beatles and are constantly name dropping stuff like Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. It's supposed to take place in 1965, but the fact that those shows premiered later didn't seem to bother the crew. Neither, apparently, do the abundance of fluffy hair styles and disco-era fashions (didn't know "The Jordache Look" was so popular back then). It's just a part of the show's odd watchability, however. The tightness of ensemble cast almost makes up for the routine scripts. The show could also still be counted on wringing a few genuinely funny situations between sloppy Laverne and fussy Shirley. It's pretty silly and stupid overall, but at least it holds up better than its retro-sitcom cousin Happy Days.
There are a few highlights from this season that my childhood self remembers fondly, such as Studio City. That's the one with Laverne and Shirley being employed as stuntwomen on a cheesy caveman movie, all in the hopes that they can meet their idol, Troy Donahue (who appears as himself). In Candy Is Dandy, the ladies get jobs as gift wrappers at Bardwell's Department Store, a setting that offers some Lucy Show-like shenanigans. I Do, I Do sports some unusually adult drug-related humor (at a wild Hollywood party, Laverne picks up a hand mirror covered in white powder) as Laverne and Shirley become the baked brides of two British rock musicians (Eric Idle and Peter Noone) desperately seeking a convenient tax break. In the two-part The Bardwell Caper, L. and S. attempt to retrieve an insulting letter before their boss sees it, a complicated, Mission: Impossible inspired routine that doesn't go off as planned. Out, Out Damn Plout has the return of Vicki Lawrence as the stern Army sergeant Alvinia T. Plout, now AWOL and attempting to evade her superiors with the ladies' help.
More amusing than truly funny, this Laverne & Shirley season nevertheless has a few episodes which stray from the formula in interesting ways - whether it's giving over the entire plot to supporting characters or not being so plainly sitcom-ish. The To Tell The Truth episode takes place entirely with the ladies' apartment, with the cast playing a party game and exposing each others' weaknesses. Born Too Late has Lenny and Squiggy imagining themselves in various silent movie roles (Western, World War I drama, etc.) - like I said, more amusing than funny, but the sheer novelty of a sitcom episode largely given over to sepia-toned silent comedy was very novel for 1981. Lenny and Squiggy also get a great showcase in the one where they're eligible bachelors on The Dating Game. While this reliance on the other characters might have been a sign of turmoil on the set (Cindy Williams departed the following season), it lends a little bit of variety to what otherwise is a routine "business as usual" season.
CBS/Paramount's DVD edition of Laverne & Shirley: The Sixth Season consists of the following 22 episodes, spread over three discs:
Laverne & Shirley: The Sixth Season comes packaged in a standard-width clear plastic case with a sturdy hinged holder for discs one and two. Episode titles, original air dates, plot descriptions, and DVD bonus content are printed on the inside liner.
As in earlier seasons of L&S, these discs draw from 4:3 film stock that has held up well. Not a whole lot of signs of age or damage show up in the episodes, although the color tends to look faded at times. Considering the amount of episodes on each disc, the mastering is good with little to no compression issues (the Fifth Anniversary episode has some interlacing).
The show's original mono soundtrack decently serves its purpose, aged but pleasant with no outstanding flaws. Odd sounding post-production tinkering occurs here and there - such as the isolated instances where the soundtrack has terrible generic music substituted from what was originally broadcast. One standout in this regard is the "we sure had some fun times at the old apartment" montage in the season-opener, which originally had "Yesterday" by The Beatles. English SDH subtitles are supplied, as well.
Brief, interesting Episode Promos made for Laverne & Shirley's syndicated run are supplied alongside nearly every episode (a few on disc three are lacking them). The friendly vibe on the set is well-conveyed in the funny, five-minute Gag Reel included. Previews for other Paramount TV-on-DVD releases are supplied on disc one.
Schlemeel, schlemazel, tomato, tomahto. The sixth season of Laverne & Shirley transplants the girls out of Milwaukee and into glamorous Hollywood - but is the show really any different? The new scenery does inject some pizzazz into this still-crackling cast of pros, even if the situations and the comedy are getting tired and dull. Nostalgic fans should give it a peek. Rent It.