"The Odd Couple" was a rare television show because, like "M*A*S*H," it was able to equal or surpass the popular film version. Based on Neil Simon's 1965 Broadway hit, the 1968 film gave us Jack Lemmon as the fussy and fastidious Felix Unger, who moved in with his slovenly and sloppy friend Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau). But while those two made the perfect oil and water combination, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman settled just as comfortably into their roles as two men recently divorced from their wives. In fact, the pair was so good that they both received Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for each of the show's five seasons. That's almost unheard of.
Watching the late Randall now, it's hard to think of him as anything or anyone but Felix Unger, who wears an apron while he cooks and insists that all of the men's poker-playing buddies use coasters. With every nasal passage-clearing honk and each fussy gesture, Randall made Unger his character every bit as much as Carroll O'Connor made Archie Bunker his, or Henry Winkler made "The Fonz" his own. Same with Klugman, whose enthusiasm for his sportswriting job is equaled by his powerful indifference to Felix's house rules.
Some shows from the Seventies seem as dated as those comically wide ties that looked as if they were made from draperies. But "The Odd Couple" is one of those from the Golden Age of sitcoms that's just as funny and entertaining as it was 30 years ago. That's because the humor wasn't topically based. More than other comedies from Marshall ("Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley," "Mork & Mindy"), "The Odd Couple relied upon comedy of character and witty dialogue, rather than slapstick or comedy of situation. That's one reason why the show holds up so well. Another is that the characters and relationships are so well developed. The tagline, "Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?," could have made for a simplistic opposites-don't-attract show. But Felix and Oscar genuinely like each other--enough to stick their necks out for each other from time to time.
By its third season, "The Odd Couple" was relegated to ABC's late Friday-night line-up, following "Room 222" and coming right before "Love, American Style." Maybe that's why, despite being a critical success--Klugman won an Emmy for this season's work--"The Odd Couple" never cracked the Nielsen Top-30.
Here's a rundown on the 23 episodes from Season Three, which are presented on four single-sided discs and housed in a standard-sized clear plastic keep-case with a plastic "page" insert. If there's a theme this season, it's television, as Oscar hosts his own show, tangles with TV sportscaster Howard Cosell, horns in on Felix's first TV commercial, and appears with his roommate on two game shows:
1) "Gloria Hallelujah"--Oscar decides to go on a computer date, but the blasted thing has hooked him up with Felix's ex-wife.
2) "Big Mouth"--In a funny episode that does date the show, Oscar insults Howard Cosell during Felix's photo shoot and has to apologize.
3) "The Princess"--Another funny entry has Felix honking his head off when a client who happens to be a princess actually accepts Oscar's invitation to go out on a date.
4) "The Pen is Mightier than the Pencil"--Oscar confronts Felix's night-class instructor in creative writing after reading what high marks he gave Felix for some pretty awful poems.
5) "The Odd Monks"--The two roommates decide to take a monk up on his invitation to go on a retreat in order to decompress from their hectic workloads.
6) "I'm Dying of Unger"--At a secluded cabin, writer's block, Mother Nature, and Felix keep getting in the way.
7) "The Odd Couples"--Because it would kill Oscar's mother to learn the truth, the guys pretend they're still married.
8) "Felix's First Commercial"--A very funny episode has Felix directing his first TV commercial all because of Oscar . . . who landed a big-name football player for the starring role, but insists on also being in the ad.
9) "The First Baby"--This flashback episode recalls the day that Felix was banned from the hospital the day Gloria gave birth. Another very funny episode.
10) "Oscar's Birthday"--Felix is going to throw Oscar a surprise birthday party whether he likes it or not. And it's going to have a theme.
11) "Password"--Another episode tied to pop culture finds Oscar invited to be a celebrity player on "Password" and Felix begging to be his partner. Funny!
12) "The Odd Father"--When Felix's daughter wants to do nothing but watch TV, Oscar steps in and gets her interested in becoming an umpire.
13) "Don't Believe in Roomers"--When Oscar lets a free-spirited young woman spend the night, both he and Felix develop a crush on her.
14) "Sometimes a Great Ocean"--Felix and Oscar take a cruise, where Felix takes over as activities director . . . until the passengers mutiny.
15) "I Gotta Be Me"--Like the married couple they're turning into, Felix and Oscar see a counselor who gets them to try role playing to see each other's position. Bad idea!
16) "The Ides of April"--Felix lets it slip that Oscar doesn't always file a tax return. That wouldn't be a problem, except he lets it slip to an IRS agent.
17) "Myrna's Debut"--Myrna (Penny Marshall) decides to quit working for Oscar and pursue her dream of becoming a tap-dancer.
18) "The Hustler"--Oscar tries to win back the money Felix's opera group lost on a casino fundraiser by hustling a local pool shark.
19) "My Strife in Court"--Felix and Oscar end up in court after Felix tries to unload an extra Broadway show ticket and the two of them get arrested for scalping.
20) "Let's Make a Deal"--It's game-show season, with the pair donning disguises and trying to win Felix a new bed on the popular show.
21) "The Odyssey Couple"-Felix fixes Oscar up with a date, but it's all Greek to him. That is, Oscar has to first get to know the woman's Greek family.
22) "Take My Furniture, Please"--It's furniture feud, with Felix trying to decorate the apartment in modern accessories and Oscar retaliating with junk from a discount store.
23) "The Murray Who Came to Dinner"--Murray the Cop gets thrown out of the house by his wife, and he turns up on Oscar and Felix's doorstep, wanting to live the life of a swinging bachelor.
What a pleasant surprise "The Odd Couple" was, in terms of production values! So many of the Marshall sitcoms on DVD are fuzzy or grainy, with color bleed and poorly defined edges. But this first season is in great shape, which makes me wonder whether Neil Simon insisted on their using a higher quality film stock. Whatever the reason, the picture is much sharper. Even the title sequence, which is so poor on many series, is relatively clear, with a good amount of detail. "The Odd Couple" is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is a Dolby Digital Mono that sounds a little richer than some of the flat-timbre shows on DVD, but there's a slight hollowness to the tone. Though it's mostly dialogue and (unfortunately) laugh-track, it's still relatively clear and pleasantly pitched.
No extras this season.
Watching "The Odd Couple" again just reinforced what a great job Tony Randall and Jack Klugman did in bringing Jack Lemmon's and Walter Matthau's characters to life on the small screen. Their performances are every bit as good as the A-list actors, which is why this sitcom remains an endearing and enduring show.