Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 12, 2009)
All good things come to an end, a sad fact we discover with Season Five of The Odd Couple. Though most folks don’t remember it as well as Seventies brethren like M*A*S*H or The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I think The Odd Couple was at least the equal of its sitcom siblings. It’s certainly a rare program that never “jumped the shark” and became a parody of itself.
So let’s enjoy the series’ fifth and final time around the track. This set compiles all 22 episodes from 1974-75. I’ll look at them in the order broadcast, which is how they appear on the DVDs. The plot synopses come straight from the package.
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.”
As implied by the title, “Rain” goes the My Fair Lady route – and it’s a great show for its first and final thirds. Like Sheldn himself, it strays at times, but the opening and closing sequences delight. The show also actually offers a character change, as Myrna marries and moves on with her life. The program’s hilarious but also surprisingly sweet, as the chemistry between Penny Marshall and then-husband Rob Reiner adds heart. I wish the episode didn’t dip in the middle, but it remains a winner.
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 he’s quitting.”
You know why I love The Odd Couple? Because it comes so chock full of great material that it can afford to throw away funny lines. For instance, early in the show, Murray makes a hilarious comment about his son’s preparations to play a decayed tooth in the school pageant; most shows would play up the gag, but this program lets it stand without accentuation.
In addition to that good bit, the rest of “Bowl” amuses. Felix’s neuroses delight, and Oscar’s attempts to fix his pal work very well. This becomes another fine episode.
Cheapness in casting 101: during “Rain”, we saw Bo Kaprall as a bachelor who tried to pick up Myrna. He must work fast, because here he plays a guy who just got married. No, I don’t expect great continuity from the series, and this is far from the only instance of the same actor playing different parts, but the timing makes the situation more bizarre.
The Frog: “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.”
Speaking of casting inconsistencies, I think Leif Garrett presents the third Leonard to date. Funny – none of the Ednas went on to any success, but both Garrett and prior Leonard William Aames became stars.
“The Frog” comes with one of the series’ least creative titles, but it turns into a fairly amusing episode. As usual, the interaction between Felix and Oscar works the best, especially when they try to psych out the lethargic Yugoslavian Swamp Frog. Though not a classic, “Frog” entertains.
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.”
More than three decades after I first saw “Hollywood”, I still want to visit Pahrump, Nevada to commemorate the show. Taking Felix and Oscar to Hollywood is an obvious conceit, but it works pretty well, especially since we get a fun cameo from Bob Hope. While never a classic episode, “Hollywood” is a winner.
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.”
Sometimes The Odd Couple pulls concepts out of nowhere, such as when Felix declared his love for a pet bird we’d never heard of prior to that episode. At least the series set up Felix’s fondness for dogs back in Season Two when he and Oscar owned a racing greyhound.
Felix’s passion comes through again in “Dog”. The best parts come from the courtroom session, as Felix’s inspired defense of his dog-napping creates great amusement. This show produces a good number of laughs.
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.”
“Band” turns into a pretty average episode. It loses some points due to the silly concept, but it still throws out a decent number of laughs. If nothing else, Oscar’s crummy square dance calling makes it worth a look.
Footnote: as I mentioned in prior reviews, some Odd Couple lost music due to potential rights issues. Rarely have the cuts seemed as awkward as they do here. The episode sets up an ending song but then abruptly fades without fanfare. The show’s still entertaining, but this crummy ending damages it.
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 he throws his hat into the ring.”
I must admit “Candidate” sounds better as a concept than as an episode. Like virtually all Odd Couple, it contributes some decent laughs, but it never quite lives up to the plot’s potential. Expect a decent but unexceptional program.
Character footnote: “Candidate” features the first appearance of Felix’s girlfriend Miriam (Elinor Donahue) in quite some time. I’ll be curious to see if the series disposes with that relationship before the season ends; I suspect the show will simply let things fade away, but maybe they’ll actually dissolve the couple before Felix remarries in the final show.
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.”
Episodes that put Felix at odds with others usually fare well, and that proves winning here. His attempts to win over the other subway riders really amuse, especially when he brings out “Harvey Hankie”. Add to that the welcome sight of Oscar pretending to beat the annoying Miriam and this is a good program.
The Paul Williams Show: “Felix won’t let his daughter Edna to attend a concert by singer Paul Williams, so she runs away from home and becomes a groupie.”
In the history of unlikely sex symbols, pint-sized, cherubic Paul Williams has to be one of the unlikeliest. I’d like to say Williams compensated for his looks with his talent, but I think he made schlock, so I can’t endorse his bland music. Does his episode of The Odd Couple do okay for itself at least? Sure, it’s not bad. His appearance feels gimmicky – which it was – but Williams was a decent comedic actor, so that side of things helps balance out his dreadful, inevitable singing appearances. We do find way too many of his mawkish, maudlin tunes, though – how did this no-talent ever become a star?
Our Fathers: “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.”
This sort of goofy flashback has a good potential to flop, but “Fathers” manages to succeed fairly well. Admittedly, the story involved is pretty silly and doesn’t exploit the situations as well as it could, but it’s fun to see Klugman and Randall play the characters’ parents. Heck, we even get to see those actors’ real hairlines, as both go without rugs when they perform as their fathers! It’s not quite as good as I’d hope, but it’s entertaining.
The Big Broadcast: “After Oscar reluctantly allows Felix to help boost the ratings of his radio show, Felix writes a fictitious script dramatizing great moments in sports.”
With “Broadcast”, we find an episode that features a good concept but suffers somewhat from spotty execution. It puts Oscar through so many different radio program variations that it doesn’t get to explore any of them well, though the final drama is pretty good. Still, I think it might’ve worked better if it stayed with one theme such as Oscar’s attempts to be the crude shock jock; it rushes through too many of its elements too quickly for them to have an impact. At least the closing dramatization of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” amuses.
Terrible Moments in Odd Couple Continuity Part 56: at the start of the season, Myrna quit her job. However, here she’s simply away for a period, with a temp secretary in her place. Huh? Also, look for Stanley Adams as the radio station employee with the smoker’s cough. He played a pool shark with a smoker’s cough in Season Three’s “The Hustler”. Yeah, I know the series loved to use the same actors over and over in small parts, but Adams stands out because a) he only appeared on the show twice, and b) he was so memorable as Sure-Shot Wilson that it’s weird to see him again.
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.”
At times, “Love” veers into the territory of sentiment. Nonetheless, it manages to handle its emotion pretty well and doesn’t become too schmaltzy. It’s nice to get to see Klugman give Oscar a more human edge, and it still comes with some good comedy bits, especially when Speed calls the wedding like a horse race.
Two on the Aisle: “After Oscar is ordered to write theater reviews for a vacationing critic, he tricks Felix into doing it. But when the reviews are a hit, Oscar takes the credit.”
So what the heck was the deal with Myrna? She quits at the start of the season, gets referred to later and actually reappears here. My guess: Penny Marshall left the series but decided to come back when it seemed clear that the show’s days were numbered. She may not have wanted to stick with Odd Couple as a long-term project, but she was willing to return for a few swansong appearances. It seems weird that she didn’t show up for Oscar’s wedding, though.
Anyway, after the drama of “Love”, the series goes back to its zanier side with “Aisle”. And this creates a successful return to form. We get to see good old bickering between Oscar and Felix, and Felix’s chutzpah when he learns of his critical success. The show’s a winner if for nothing other than the hilarious tag-team TV appearance Felix and Oscar make.
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.”
I’ve always bemoaned the series’ attempts to shove “culture” down our throats, and I won’t change this close to the end. At least that part comes and goes early in the show, and it boasts enough good comedy to overcome the tedium of the opera lesson. Oddly, it ignores the fact that Cosell already appeared on the show a few years earlier, but he and Klugman had a good chemistry, so all is forgiven.
Note that “Boots” seems to be more heavily affected by the loss of music than most episodes. It runs less than 24 minutes, whereas the usual Odd Couple program zips past the 25-minute mark. It also demonstrates some weird fades and cuts intended to hide the lost material.
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.”
No one seems less suited to big-time gambling than Felix, and “Horseplayer” exploits the subject well. From his initial reticence to his over the top enthusiasm, Felix’s runaway emotions carry the show. It provides a consistently amusing experience.
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.”
Oy – these guest star episodes are getting old! It doesn’t help that Roy Clark’s “Wild Willie” is one of the more annoying characters to appear on the series, and he seems even more irritating when he becomes smug and serious about music. Add to that way too many musical performances, a loud, grating turn by Albert Paulsen as the music impresario, and this becomes one of the season’s weakest shows.
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!”
While a rebound after the blah “Roy Clark”, “Rent Strike” never quite excels. Sure, it tosses out a mix of decent laughs, but it’s not especially memorable. Still, it’s reasonably entertaining; just don’t expect great Odd Couple.
Inconsistency alert number 329: in this episode, Felix claims he’ll never see any of the money he loaned to Oscar over the years. However, Oscar repaid all debts in full two shows ago.
Two Men on a Hoarse: “Oscar finally gives in and has a throat operation, but must keep his voice low for two weeks – which proves difficult now that Felix has lost his voice.”
The Odd Couple works best when it pits Oscar and Felix against each other. That factor makes “Hoarse” a pretty good show. Felix’s antics on The Dick Cavett Show amuse, and the conflicts that occur when Oscar returns home also delight. The sparks between Randall and Klugman turn this into a very entertaining show.
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.”
“Bigger” exists for one reason and one reason alone: to stick Klugman in a fat suit. While this limits the show’s comedic potential, it still amuses. Felix’s attempts to coerce Oscar entertain; the show may be one-dimensional, but it’s still fun.
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.”
The scenes at the “hip disco” may present the most dated visuals ever captured in an Odd Couple episode. The show’s theme fits Oscar and Felix well, though, especially as Unger goes through various mood swings; from cocky to depressed to arrogant again, Randall delights. This becomes another fine episode, though the status of Oscar’s secretary remains confusing; apparently Tina is back as his assistant, with no mention of Myrna.
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.”
With only one more episode left in the series’ run, you’d hope The Odd Couple could muster something terrific. Unfortunately, “Laugh” feels like a rehash. How many times has Felix tried to get his big show biz break? How many celebrities from his or Oscar’s past can they bring up, though we’ve never heard of that connection? The show rambles too much and comes across like something we’ve already seen, though it still musters a few good laughs.
Felix Remarries: “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!”
Few series boast such a neat and logical conclusion as The Odd Couple. Since the tale started when Gloria booted Felix, it makes sense that it ends with their reunion.
I very much like that sense of closure, though I can’t claim “Remarries” presents a good episode. Still, it’s an amusing one, and it caps the series well.
By the way, earlier I wondered if the series would give any closure to the Felix/Miriam relationship. Nope – that subject remains completely unexplored. Given that Miriam appeared through so much of the series’ run, it would’ve been nice for the producers to formally end things.