"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, a photographer who moved in with his slovenly and sloppy friend, sportswriter 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 separated 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 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.
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 neck out for the other, if push comes to shove (as it literally did one episode when Felix dons boxing gloves on Oscar's behalf to take on a hockey-playing behemoth).
After a fourth season that was a step off the comedic pace of Simon's original, the show bounced back to finish strong, with only a handful of missteps. This is the season that featured sports broadcaster Howard Cosell in an episode where an obnoxious Felix is determined to help his friend find employment with the legend. It's also the season where Felix gets Oscar to run for city council, helps his friend fill in for the newspaper's theater critic, and all but sabotages Oscar's new job as a radio talk show host. This season's celebrity watch includes guest spots by composer Paul Williams and "Hee-Haw" staple Roy Clark, But the better-written episodes get back to what made the show click in the first place: the personality clash and banter between two friends who drive each other crazy.
Here's a rundown on the 22 season episodes, which are contained on three single-sided discs and housed in a standard-size keep case with a middle plastic page to hold the two extra discs:
1) "The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly in Vain." Oscar's secretary (Penny Marshall) is in a funk, and Felix decides what she needs is a makeover. Strong and funny season opener.
2) "To Bowl or Not to Bowl." Oscar thinks a championship is in the bag, until the team's best bowler--Felix--announces he's hanging up his bowling shoes. Perhaps the best episode of the season.
3) "The Frog." Felix's son (Leif Garrett) has a strong entry for a frog-jumping contest, but after Oscar inadvertently lets the frog go, he and Felix have to leap into action to find a replacement.
4) "The Hollywood Story." It's Oscar makeover year, and in this episode Felix appoints himself Oscar's agent after his friend lands a bit part in a movie. Very funny episode.
5) "The Dog Story." Felix kidnaps a famous dog from an abusive owner while he's on photo shoot, and that leads to a court appearance.
6) "Strike Up the Band or Else . . ." Felix comes to the rescue again when he and his group play a country-style hoedown to pay off one of Oscar's gambling debts. One of the weaker shows.
7) "The Odd Candidate." Strong episode has Felix prodding Oscar to run for city council to try to save their neighborhood playgrounds for the kids. Decent episode.
8) "The Subway Show." When Oscar writes an article about how nasty New Yorkers can be, Felix sets out to prove him wrong during a subway stall. Funny stuff.
9) "The Paul Williams Show." Weaker entry has Felix trying to keep daughter Edna (Doney Oatman) from going to a concert, and so she runs away from home.
10) "Our Fathers." Another weak episode has Felix telling the story of how Oscar's father was ordered by gangsters to kill Felix's father once upon a time.
11) "The Big Broadcast." Felix writes a fictitious script extolling great moments in sports to boost ratings for Oscar's radio show. Funny stuff again.
12) "Oscar in Love." Oscar dates a widow who tempts him to pop the question, but Felix and his friends are laying bets that won't happen.
13) "Two on the Aisle." Very funny episode has clueless Oscar subbing for his newspaper's theater critic, and getting assistance (sort of) from Felix.
14) "Your Mother Wears Army Boots." When Oscar lands a job as co-host for "Monday Night Football," Oscar hires a comic to teach him how to fire insults at the acerbic Howard Cosell. Great cameo by Cosell.
15) "Felix the Horseplayer." A new contact finally gives Oscar winning tips, and so Felix wants in on the action.
16) "The Roy Clark Show." Another weak celebrity entry, with Oscar's old army buddy visiting and impressing Felix so much with his musical ability that Unger turns him into a boring classical musician.
17) "The Rent Strike." One of the better episodes has Felix leading tenants in a strike that actually works. But management wants one concession: Felix has to move.
18) "Two Men on a Hoarse." Oscar has a throat operation but has to keep his voice low for two weeks, a task made nearly impossible by Felix's constant annoyance.
19) "The Bigger They Are." Felix's model quits, and he convinces Oscar to wear a fat suit for a weight-loss commercial.
20) "Old Flames Never Die." Felix learns that his old girlfriend is a grandma and he starts to feel old as a grandpa. And so he convinces Oscar to accompany him to a disco.
21) "Laugh, Clown, Laugh!" Oscar hosts a TV variety show with comedian Richard Dawson, whom Felix can't stand because in his mind Dawson ruined his chance for a show business career.
22) "Felix Remarries." Felix tries to prove to ex-wife Gloria he's a changed man, and to do that he plans to sleep in Oscar's messy room.
"The Odd Couple" has great production values. So many of the Marshall sitcoms on DVD are fuzzy or grainy, with color bleed and poorly defined edges. But this show looks so good it kind of makes you wonder if 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 also a notch above what we're used to seeing, with a Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono that sounds as if it could be 2.0 Stereo at times. Though it's mostly dialogue and (unfortunately) laugh-track, you really pick up on the audio quality during musical segues.
There are no bonus features--which is a surprise, since you'd think they would have included the 1993 reunion show, "The Odd Couple: Together Again."
TV's "Odd Couple" finished strong, with at least a dozen episodes that are among the show's best.