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I've never much cared for situational comedies, feeling that they're often times poorly written and suffer from highly predictable plots. There are a few however (mostly from the fifties, sixties and seventies), that I find enjoyable enough to want to revisit on DVD. Garry Marshall's production of The Odd Couple is definitely one of them, so when I caught wind that Time Life was releasing the series on home video, I jumped at the opportunity to review the set. Having not actually seen the show in several years, I was eager to see if it's still the television gold that I remembered it to be.

The Odd Couple: Season One
Feature
(Taken from the opening narration). "On November 13th, Felix Unger (Tony Randall) was asked to remove himself from his place of residence. That request came from his wife. Deep down he knew she was right, but he also knew that someday he would return to her. With nowhere else to go, he appeared at the home of his childhood friend, Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman). Sometime earlier, Madison's wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return. Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?" I believe the answer is no.

Unlike He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, this is a show that still holds up for me years later. Most striking about this first season is how well-honed it is - greatness from the very start. In the debut episode 'Laundry Orgy', the show comes into its own immediately, feeling as though it might've already been on the air for several years. I imagine that it's a rarity in the sitcom world for a series to be born into its prime, without that 'work-in-progress' feel to it. Instead of wasting the first episode spelling out the show's premise, it decides instead to hit the ground running with our mismatched roommates already moved in together. The only exposition we're given is the opening credits sequence, which tell us all we need to know. My last reflection on the debut episode is that even before we see the title appear, it's evident that these performers are exquisitely well-cast, far outshining their feature film counterparts from two years earlier.

I could spend all day listing reasons why I feel The Odd Couple has endured these thirty-odd years as a classic situational comedy, but I'll only bore you with two of them. Firstly, the source material as created by legendary playwright Neil Simon is phenomenal. Instead of going the traditional comedy team route with a straight man and a stooge (as illustrated with Abbott/Costello, Martin/Lewis, and more recently Farley/Spade), Simon tries something different by making Felix and Oscar equal parts straight man and stooge. In one episode, the audience may side with Felix in whatever disagreement is at hand, deciding that Oscar is being unreasonable. Yet in the next episode, just the opposite may be true. After all, these men are two extremes. I feel that it's this unique approach that kept the series from becoming stale and repetitive, even in its final episodes.

The Odd Couple: Season One
Secondly, this is an incredibly well chosen cast of performers. Never before have I seen anal-retentiveness made as funny as Tony Randall makes it here and the same goes for Jack Klugman and messiness. I enjoyed the feature film version very much, but am glad neither of these two actors felt compelled to mimic those performances just because they were at the front of audience's minds. Our leads are backed by a supporting set of characters and guest-stars far too vast to list here. I will take time out however to mention fantastic character actor Al Molinaro as Officer Murray Greshler, you probably know him as the second Arnold from Happy Days, another Garry Marshall production.

In all the times I've seen any interpretation of The Odd Couple, I've never before given thought to the demographic it gives a voice to, the middle-aged male divorcee. Comedy aside, I managed to find a few surprisingly inspired messages of hope about life after divorce. In 'A Taste of Money', our heroes run into two elderly-divorced men living together, not unlike themselves. Once inside their dwelling, it's crystal-clear that this could easily be Felix and Oscar in thirty years if things don't change. Surreal is the word I'd use to describe the moment as both scramble for ways to escape this fate. Not only is this show chock full of well-written comedy, but it also has a good heart at its centre.

Of the two dozen episodes spread out over these four discs, three stood out to me as exceptional examples of why this show has endured through the decades. The first episode 'Laundry Orgy' is pretty fun spin-off from the stage play with our heroes dating the 'Pigeon' Sisters. 'You've Come a Long Way, Baby' has our inept leads finding an abandoned infant and trying to feed it milk from a beer bottle using a finger from a rubber glove as the nipple (childcare at it's finest). My last favourite pick was 'What Does a Naked Lady Say to You' with Felix dating a supposed 'nice' girl who bares it all on stage at night. Oscar has to find a way to break the news to his infatuated roommate (the jokes made about the difference between meaningful art and pornography in this one cracked me up).

The Odd Couple: Season One
If you grew up with this show, I'd highly recommend asking one of your great grandchildren (once they finish reading you this review) to head over to Time Life and purchase this set for you. Then they can show you how to play it in your DVD player (cousin of your nemesis, the VCR) and enjoy it all over again (I'm only kidding the older generation). If you're a casual fan of television sitcoms and are wondering if The Odd Couple is still funny after all these years, take my word for it: it still is.

Video
The show is presented in its original full-screen aspect, coming across as clean (or as dirty) as you'd expect a series from the 1970s to appear. It actually looks fairly decent for its age. Scenes filmed inside the apartment and other sets look noticeably better than location footage, which almost never have synchronized sound. It's these blatantly-dubbed 'walking around town' shots that really make the show feel dated. Still, I'd be willing to bet that even in the worst of the 'walking around town' shots that these discs look better than broadcast reruns of the same episodes.

Audio
This first season of The Odd Couple is outfitted with the original Mono mix that accompanied the episodes so there's not much to get excited about. Most dialogue was recorded nicely by the sound department, but still nearly every episode has at least one instance of a poorly dubbed over line which comes across sounding lower in quality than the live sound. Other than theme music and dialogue, there isn't much else to listen for and consequently say here. For a Mono track, this is suitably loud and clear.

The Odd Couple: Season One
Extras
First things first: the packaging of this set is spectacular. The graphics and colour schemes of the fold-out casing are all eye-catching and tasteful. The disc images list which episodes they contain as well as the supplements (which are spread out across all four). This is a great example of DVD packaging being both attractive and practical.

Time Life has equipped every episode with an audio introduction by producer Garry Marshall. The guy may be getting up there in terms of age, but he's not yet lost his wit. These introductions are informative and entertaining to hear before going into any episode. He also does commentaries on selected shows with co-producer Jerry Belson, who's just as lively and fun as Marshall. Performers Jack Klugman and Carole Shelly also do commentaries. The wealth of information provided between his introductions and the commentaries could fill an entire first season episode guide.

On disc one, we're treated to a six minute appearance by Tony Randall on 'The Mike Douglas Show' dated 9th September 1970, just before The Odd Couple was broadcast. Randall talks about his expectations for the series and expresses his anxiousness to see how it rates with the public—a fascinating supplement. Also included is a one-minute commercial from ABC showing clips presumably from the pilot (not included here) to promote the series. Disc Two takes us back to 'The Mike Douglas Show' from 19th November 1970 with Randall and Klugman appearing. It also features another series promo spot.

The third disc is home to six minutes’ worth of home video footage from Jack Klugman's tour promoting his seemingly insightful 'Tony and Me' book. He reminisces before several audiences and takes questions. The fourth disc features a far-too-short gag reel and a scene of Randall and Klugman performing the stage play in 1993. Rounding out the set is a clip of Jack Klugman accepting his 1971 Emmy for his work on the show, which can be viewed with or without commentary.

The Odd Couple: Season One
Overall
I wouldn't hesitate to call The Odd Couple a classic sitcom—nor would I hesitate to say this one of strongest first seasons I've ever seen for any series, sitcom or not. Time Life has packaged the show well and loaded it with a substantial offering of bonus features. As a casual fan, I'm more than satisfied with this set and without reservation, recommend it to all fans of classic television.


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