A Not So Odd Couple Of TV Classics
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 11/29/02
The Professor Lives!
up I watched alot of tv- not more than your average kid, but that’s still alot.
Some of the earliest tv shows I recall are those my mom & dad watched: The
Lawrence Welk Show, The Carol Burnett Show, & other such variety
shows. When I hit 4 or 5, though, I started watching shows on my own: Sesame
Street, The Banana Splits, Underdog, & other Saturday
morning kids shows come to mind. Then there were the repeats I would see in
early evening. I believe my favorite hour was the 6-7 pm slot on WNEW- old
Channel 5, now a New York City FOX- TV affiliate, but then an independent
station. Or, it may have been WPIX- Channel 11- the station that, then,
broadcast New York Yankees games. Nonetheless, I recall at 6 pm they would air
the old wacky game show Beat The Clock, after which would follow the
cornucopia of silliness that was Gilligan’s Island. A year or 2 later I
would discover Star Trek in the same time slot- but that was definitely
on Channel 11, so GI must have been Channel 5- ah, the memory!
About a year later, say 1971-72, I recall discovering 1 of my other all-time favorite shows- just starting up its great network tv run: The Odd Couple. TOC was part of a great Friday night tv lineup, back in the days when great tv was run on Fridays: CBS had shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, & The Carol Burnett Show (such creative titling, eh?), while ABC had The Brady Bunch (produced by GI’s helmsman Sherwood Schwartz- more on him later), The Partridge Family, TOC, & Love, American Style. While all the shows produced fond memories it was the LA-produced, but NYC-set TOC that embedded most deeply into my psyche- from its basic premise, to its jazzy opening score, to the very palpable chemistry between its 2 lead protagonists. The show was at the very beginning of the 1970s heyday of smartly-written adult sitcoms, just as GI was at the center of the 1960s ‘High Concept’ goofball sitcoms. Yet, both shows’ successes owe to their archetypal characters, the main comedy duos of Gilligan & the Skipper & Oscar & Felix, their indebtedness to modern theater, & their relative brief network runs, which did not allow for either show to go stale.
Let’s tackle some of these assertions briefly, then delve in to both shows, compare them & then summarize. GI was at the center of the 1960s ‘High Concept’ brand of comedy. This term referred to an almost absurdist approach to comedy- make the characters so over the top & put them in situations so wacky, that either audiences loved or hated them. This produced a skein of very hit & miss television: The Beverly Hillbillies (HIT), The Addams Family (MISS), My Favorite Martian (MISS), I Dream Of Jeannie (HIT), My Mother The Car (MISS), The Monkees (HIT), Get Smart (HIT), F-Troop(MISS), Bewitched (HIT), The Munsters (MISS), & GI (HIT), among the more noted shows in this class. The shows were about (respectively) nouveau riche white trash, ghoulish fetishists, an alien, a genie & an astronaut, reincarnation (or, technically transmigration), a Beatlesian faux pre-MTV rock band, a stolid spy, a band of incompetent post-Civil War Wild West U.S. Army regulars, a domestic witch, a clan of monsters, & 7 moronic castaways on an island. Yet, all the shows, save for GI, seem dated. It was the only show not embedded in the 1960s culture- it is classically timeless- not unlike The Honeymooners- another archetypal & brief tv masterwork. TOC, by contrast, was 1 of the 1st of the adult sitcoms of the 1970s. These were shows where the laughs were primarily based on situations & people all of us might experience (& often rooted in the milieu of the day). The other shows in this genre were The Mary Tyler Moore Show (& its spinoff & soulmate shows such as Rhoda, Phyllis, The Bob Newhart Show, etc.), the socially conscious Norman Lear sitcoms (All In The Family, Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons, etc.), plus other shows such as the Vietnam War parable MASH, among the more well-known. As with GI, the reason TOC has survived better than all the others (save for MASH) is that it rarely made direct references to the pop culture of the day.
Both shows made their bread & butter off the use of archetypes. On GI there have literally been classes taught on this subject. The 7 castaways all represent different parts of society- a view advocated & advanced by creator Sherwood Schwartz. Gilligan is the not to bright proletarian, the Skipper is the dependable but ineffective leader, Mr. Howell is the cut-throat & exploitative industrialist, Mrs. Howell is the old money idle rich heiress, the Professor is the ever-resourceful, somewhat naïve, but always doomed, intelligentsia, Ginger is the celebrity & All-American male fantasy- the girl you wanna bed, while Mary Ann is the All-American Dream- the girl all men wanna marry & raise a family with. The Ginger-Mary Ann debate is 1 that has raged for decades- essentially the argument over whether males prefer lust or love. Usually, in most polls, Mary Ann wins. However, as a male I can tell you that this is exactly the kind of question where men lie through their teeth. In truth, Ginger is the babe all the men wanted. TOC, too, is chock full of archetypes. Oscar is the male id- sloppy, carefree, genial, & into ‘male’ activities- a sportswriter. Felix is the female ego- neat, organized, anal, fussy, & into ‘female’ activities- cooking. There are also archetypes in the recurring characters- such as dimwitted Murray the cop, Oscar’s shrewish ex-wife Blanche, Felix’s earth motherish ex-wife Gloria, & drudge-next-door secretary Myrna Turner.
But if archetypes were the 2 shows’ staples it was the main comedy teams of Gilligan-Skipper (Bob Denver-Alan Hale, Jr.) & Oscar-Felix (Jack Klugman-Tony Randall). Along with The Honeymooners’ duo of Ralph Kramden-Ed Norton (Jackie Gleason-Art Carney) these teams are the Golden Trinity of tv comedy teams. Their big screen equivalents are Laurel & Hardy for Gilligan-Skipper, because, like L&H the GI team was basically wholly dependent on slapstick. The fat man (Hardy & the Skipper) would often do great ‘slow burns’ whenever the skinny moron (Laurel & Gilligan) would fuck up. The big screen equivalent for the TOC team was Abbott & Costello. Like A&C the TOC team’s comedy came mainly out of great verbal sparring, with a little slapstick to boot. Can any TOC fan ever recall the duo’s Password episode where the name Aristophanes is used for high comedy?
Both shows also are very indebted to the modern 20th Century theater. GI is, truly, the only American television example of true Absurdism- not only the endlessly recycled plot elements, but in the fact that the show’s run being cut short left the castaways forever stranded, without any resolution of their fate. Yes, forget about the 1970s & 1980s reunion tv films- GI is the lone tribute to Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, & Eugene Ionesco. On the other side of the coin TOC literally started as a comic play- by playwright Neil Simon- 1 of the giants of American theater in the last 40 years. The original Oscar & Felix were Walter Matthau as Oscar & Art Carney (of Ed Norton fame) as Felix. When the play became a film Matthau was retained as Oscar but Jack Lemmon was brought in as Felix. The tv version of the show & characters hewed quite a bit to the play, even as it worked in aspects of the new Oscar & Felix’s character traits- such as Jack Klugman’s love of gambling & Tony Randall’s passion for opera.
Another aspect to both shows’ enduring success is their brief tv runs. GI ran from 1964 to 1966- 3 seasons where it was constantly moved around, yet always was a big ratings grabber. Myopically bad reviews, however, had CBS executives cringing- even as the public loved it. The show fully expected a 4th season- then, without warning or ceremony, it was over. CBS decided to save Gunsmoke & shoot GI. TOC ran 2 seasons longer & was never the ratings smash GI was, although it was a respectable Top 20 show. But, neither of the 2 leads wanted the show to go stale, so they ended it after season 5. TOC is 1 of the very few tv shows that fans of the website JumpTheShark.com have said never jumped- that is never peaked & went downhill. The boys quit while they were ahead.
Now, let’s look a bit more in depth at the 2 shows. 1st up is Gilligan’s Island. Alot of what follows in the next section was gleaned from Sherwood Schwartz’s 1988 book Inside Gilligan’s Island, as well as the websites of Bob Denver (Gilligan) http://bobdenver.com/ , & Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) http://www.dawn-wells.com/ .
It had taken SS a few years to get GI on the air. The original
pilot was filmed in 1963 but languished. TV execs were sensitive to the accurate
& portentous 1961 description of tv as a ‘vast wasteland’ by FCC
Chairman Newton Minnow- where SS got the delicious idea of tributing him by
naming the Skipper’s ship after him. CBS executives though the show so moronic
they were even embarrassed to air it. But, space needs filling & the execs
finally relented. The show debuted 9/26/64 & ran 3 highly rated seasons,
ending its network run 9/4/67. Ratings persisted despite embarrassed CBS execs,
& despite a near constant switching of the show to different nights- its 1st
year on Saturdays from 8:30-9 pm, year 2 on Thursdays from 8-8:30 pm, & its
last year on Mondays from 7:30-8pm. Its constant creep toward earlier hours
reflected CBS’s wish to justify canceling the hit by even pushing it out of
traditional prime time slots- 8-11 pm is prime time on the East Coast- the
standard these hours reflect. But, faced with axing GI or the lower-rated Gunsmoke,
CBS decided to forever strand the castaways & carry on with the lower rated
western. A dumb immediate move, but 1 which actually helped immortalize the
show. These days the show would be running in to its 11th season with
Gilligan & the 2 babes still practicing celibacy. Then syndication took over
& made GI a phenomenon. Overall, the show filmed 98 shows (Over 4 season’s
worth by today’s 22-24 episode standards)- 36 black & white episodes in
year 1, & the 62 remaining episodes in color. 3 bad telesequels were to
follow in the late 1970s & early 1980s, with only the original Ginger (Tina
Louise) failing to reprise her role, bitter over the show’s killing her chance
to be taken seriously as a film star- a cruel irony.
As for the overall theme of the show? Well, its opening & closing theme songs pretty well describe it:
The Opening Theme Song:
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip,
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailing man,
The skipper brave and sure.
5 passengers set sail that day
For a 3 hour tour, a 3 hour tour.
The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed,
If not for the courage of the fearless crew
The Minnow would be lost, the Minnow would be lost.
The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle
With Gilligan, The Skipper too,
The millionaire and his wife,
The movie star
The professor and Mary Ann,
Here on Gilligan's Isle.
The Closing Theme Song:
So this is the tale of the castaways,
They're here for a long, long time,
They'll have to make the best of things,
It's an uphill climb.
The first mate and the Skipper too,
Will do their very best,
To make the others comfortable,
In the tropic island nest.
No phone, no lights, no motor cars,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
As primitive as can be.
So join us here each week my friends,
You're sure to get a smile,
From seven stranded castaways,
Here on “Gilligan's Isle.”
interesting side note is that during Season 1 the penultimate line read ‘and
the rest’, but was changed to ‘The Professor and Mary Ann’ because the
actors portraying those characters were considered unspecified ‘supporting’
characters, according to their contracts. By Season 2 they became ‘lead’
& just who were the lead characters & the actors who played them?
The Pirandellan cast of GI was the S.S. Minnow’s Skipper Jonas Grumby (Alan Hale. Jr.), 1st Mate Willy Gilligan (Bob Denver- note that his 1st name was never used in the series, only purported by creator SS), millionaire industrialist Thurston Howell III (Jim Backus), Eunice ‘Lovey’ Wentworth Howell (socialite & heiress), film star Ginger Grant, Professor Roy Hinckley, & Kansas farm girl Mary Ann Summers. An 8th (often overlooked) cast member was the lone announcer heard on the castaway’s radio, voiced by Charles Maxwell. Let me now sketch some facts about each character, gleaned from SS’s book, some websites, remembrances of the show, & then try to explicate a little more deeply on things.
Jonas ‘The Skipper’ Grumby
The Skipper seems to have been a WW2 Navy vet, serving against the Japanese in the Pacific. It is unclear as to where the Skipper & Gilligan hooked up. I don’t believe the show ever tells (Navy or charter boat industry?) but certain fan sites claim the Navy, where Gilligan saved the Skipper’s life. This meeting doomed this modern Jonas to a fate worse than the Biblical Jonah. Some sites also claim background info on the character being a poker shark, a high school football star, a musician, & that upon retirement the Skipper took his savings & bought the S.S. Minnow. He is also prone to beliefs in the supernatural. This leads to some of his flawed leadership. AS portrayed by Alan Hale, Jr. the character is 1 of the most beloved in tv history, despite his poor leadership; but then, that’s what Gilligan’s for- the dumber foil all leaders can foist their shortcomings on. The character is classic archetype & almost a total ripoff of the Oliver Hardy persona, yet who really cares? This is Absurdism & Oliver Hardy as leader seems apropos. Many a hater of the show points to many of the logical gaps in the show, foremost being how could a supposed Navy vet not even build a decent raft, nor- by dead reckoning- divine the group’s location? Of course, that’s a silly question in light of the show’s ridiculous premise. On to the titular hero.
First Mate Willy ‘Little Buddy’ Gilligan
Thurston Howell III
Mr. Howell is a classist and snob, actually a billionaire industrialist
who was known as ‘The Wizard of Wall Street’. He & his wife are
long-time marrieds, own many homes & corporations, & is the epitome of
the ‘Rockefeller’ Republican. His main purpose on the island is to serve as
the foil that the others rally against. He cares little for the others’
feelings, although he sometimes displays surprising affection for his fellow
castaways, despite constantly seeking to manipulate every aspect of their island
lives. How he managed to stow away so much money & things is a point of
irritation to logical purists. To devotees of the show it is merely more fodder
for the lovable lunacy.
Mrs. Eunice ‘Lovey’ Howell
Mrs. Howell is old money
personified, claiming lineage back to Columbus’s crew. She is, in ways, more
snobbish than her husband, yet also more sociable. She acts as mother hen to the
3 younger castaways: Gilligan, Mary Ann, & Ginger.
Professor Roy Hinkley
The Professor is also a Ph.D., & high school science teacher, with degrees in chemistry, botany, biology, psychology, & geography. He is in his mid-30s, speaks many languages, & is seemingly oblivious to sex, despite being the island’s resident heartthrob to Mary Ann & Ginger. He was on the Minnow because he was researching a book on tropical plant life. He is the Island’s equivalent of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock- logic itself. Without him the castaways would probably have died within a few weeks. Despite that, it is curious that he has never been able to construct a decent boat or raft for the Skipper to navigate back to the mainland.
The movie star & resident sexpot. Usually seen in her skintight
jewel-studded gown, Ginger is never not dressed & made up to the 9s. She is
sexuality itself. If any man had to pick just 1 of the castaways to be marooned
with Ginger would win in a landslide. Despite her constant need for male
attention Ginger claims to have become a ‘star’ on her talent alone- no
casting couches for her! Yet, she is always willing to wrap the island’s men
around her fingers to get what she wants, & onlty fails with the Professor,
who is oblivious to her pursuits. She & Mary Ann share a hut, but have an on
& off again rivalry.
Mary Ann Summers
Mary Ann is an
All-American country girl & general store clerk from Winfield, Kansas. She
lived with her Aunt Martha & Uncle George (in very Wizard Of Oz-type
fashion), was a member of the 4H club, & has an unrequited crush on Gilligan.
Mrs. Howell has often taken her under her wing. She is Americana itself. She is
the most good-hearted of all the castaways. She is also the resident gardening
expert whose skills keep the others healthy & well-fed.
An interesting side note is that a # of social critics have taken the 7
castaways to be the embodiment of the 7 Deadly Sins. I even did a poem on this
notion- with the 7 main Star Trek characters as their counterpart
Virtues. But my poem is not necessarily the standard for this discussion.
Let’s chuckle at this proposition. The most obvious candidate is Ginger as
Lust. In the 1960s & 1970s there was not a single American schoolboy whose
main reason for watching GI was Ginger & her slinky dresses, & ‘come
hither’ appeal. Yes, the show was funny- but Ginger was the main reason why
men watched it. Period. Envy describes her hut-mate Mary Ann- after all, there
was a whole episode in which Mary Ann delusionally thinks she’s Ginger.
Another obvious choice is Greed- Mr. Howell. Period. Although, truthfully, he
also could be Pride & Sloth. But let’s give Sloth to his wife. Mrs. Howell
certainly was as lazy as they come. That leaves Pride, Gluttony & Anger to
be divvied up between the Professor, the Skipper, & Gilligan. Yes, the
Skipper was a tub of lard with a voracious appetite- but let’s be fair,
Gilligan ate more, was far more gluttonous. He lucked out by having a
hyperactive thyroid. Why else would so many episodes show him whizzing around at
super speed? The Skipper can take Anger, since he was always slapping Gilligan
around with his Captain’s cap. Then we come to the problem of the Professor-
there is no sin of Sexual Stolidity so we’ll have to wedge him in to Pride.
Not as good a fit as the others, but serviceable. After all, he kept plugging
away at his devices & rescue attempts even though the gods had pre-ordained
that Gilligan was gonna fuck things up in the end. Oddly, another poll thought
the Professor most obviously as Pride, & assigned Anger & Gluttony to
the Skipper alone, reckoning his wide body could carry the load. So, where did
that leave Gilligan? The answer was Satan, himself.
Now that we know the who, let’s examine some of the whys:
The charter boat S.S. Minnow, out of Honolulu, Hawaii, was on a sightseeing tour when it was caught in a storm & shipwrecked on an uncharted South Pacific island. Numerous questions abounded for nitpickers who found the show’s simplicity annoying- chief among them were: If the cruise was only supposed to be for 3 hours, how & why did the passengers pack so much? Well, obviously they did not. Each episode, in a way, is a self-contained vignette, not necessarily related to the others, although some are. Producer Sherwood Schwartz has tried to cast his show as a sort of tv version of the Grimm Bros. fairy tales- with each show teaching a lesson. Others believe GI is akin to the Genesis myth- yet farcical rather than dramatic. GI shows a group of castaways exiled from the paradise of modern America, filled with fast food, modern appliances, & entertainments galore. Marooning replaces exile but instead of finding themselves lost from history they end up severed from their modernity. In truest Biblical fashion they long for Salvation- not of their souls, but of their corpi. & like mankind, eternally doomed by Adam & Eve’s sin, the castaways are doomed by Gilligan’s stupidity, & their own ethics for not offing him. In a way Gilligan & Co. are living cartoons- occasionally over-the-top Tex Avery toons, but more often the Nietszchean hell of the Roadrunner & Wile E. Coyote. Despite the failures, the castaways always survive- not unlike the numerous personae of Buster Keaton, or more aptly Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp. Most often it’s Gilligan’s failings that doom the castaways. But others’ failures abound: the Skipper’s need to be in control, Mr. Howell’s need to manipulate, Mrs. Howell’s need for routine over pragmatism, the Professor’s Rube Goldbergian devices, Ginger’s need for attention & approval, & Mary Ann’s naïve-té.
So, the query is- if the characters are so dumb & predictable, why are they so beloved? Because they are archetypes, not stereotypes- despite the absurd plots. Even when treated to the stand-bys of doppelgängers or ‘certain’ doom, the viewer knows the episode will end just where it began- not waiting for Godot, but salvation. Still, the characterizations are so strong, that by the 3rd or 4th episode we know how every character is going to react to a certain premise. This would kill most shows- witness the dull meanderings of the 1980s mega-hit, The Cosby Show. But, being set with such a wacky initial premise allowed each episode to go off on increasingly absurd branches without viewer backlash against the characters. This allowed producer SS to moralize without being preachy- unlike, say Bill Cosby’s show. This absurdism also allowed SS to have a retinue of occasional stock actors to play many parts- the most notable recurring actor being Vito Scotti- who made a handful of outrageous appearances as different characters. In a way, GI’s fantastical plots allowed a lot of subtextual social commentary to go on without being heavyhanded. In this way, GI resembled another all-time tv classic- The Twilight Zone. On TTZ writer & producer Rod Serling could slip in political messages under the guise of an extraterrestrial storyline, that he could never slip by the network censors were he overtly writing about McCarthyism or racism. Similarly, GI could tackle greed, vanity, materialism, & relationships by using far out scenarios to comment on more prosaic dealings with such things. This is why viewers were drawn into the show in its network run, & have never let it go since. Despite the absurd silliness we all know versions of the 7 castaways in our own lives. This made them REAL, despite their often caricaturized state. Add in the fact that the castaways never really learn their lessons, & the parallels to reality could become depressingly obvious, were they not so hilarious. Never before nor since has tv been so existential, & simple, at the same time. The show was about total illogic, yet it made perfect sense, especially the more its slapstick & absurdism pushed the pedal to the metal.
Let’s look at a few episodes & examine why they are such classics. Episode # & title are included:
9) The Big Gold Strike-
As per the title gold is discovered on the isle & Mr. Howell employs
Gilligan to mine for it. The
Minnow’s rubber life raft, meanwhile, floats ashore. Then gold fever strikes
the castaways. Mr. Howell displays his avarice by charging gouge-worthy prices
for supplies & food. The Castaways respond by taking bits of gold for
themselves as The Professor repairs the life raft from the Minnow. When they get
in, hoping to return home, the weight of the smuggled gold sinks the raft. The
morale is about greed’s perils. This was probably the 1st overtly
didactic episode in the series, yet the castaways, despite all kyboshing their
collective dream- by the next episode- forgave all. This episode also hints at
the existential flavor of the whole show by being so blatantly didactic, &
being a self-contained piece with no necessity to have had backstory nor
influence on what follows. Other later episodes would follow this template.
14) Water, Water Everywhere- Long live Samuel Taylor Coleridge! The island is in a drought. The
gang pools together their remaining fresh water. Gilligan bungles, then saves
the day when he finds a frog, & a fresh spring that it comes from. 1 of the
classic good coming from bad episodes- a staple of fables everywhere.
15) So Sorry, My Island Now- The castaways are captured by a Japanese sailor who thinks that WW2
never ended. When the gang captured, Gilligan saves them. This episode is
notable mainly because it was 1 of the many episodes originally hooted at as
implausible, yet in the 1970s sporadic cases of marooned graying Japanese
soldiers in the Pacific did turn up. Unfortunately, a racist portrayal by a
white character actor stands as proof to the era the series was made in.
36) A Nose By Any Other Name- Gilligan falls from a coconut tree & his nose swells to immense
proportions. Distraught, he asks the Professor to do plastic surgery on his
nose. The Professor pretends to so but merely puts a bandage on the nose,
allowing it time to heal. When the bandages are removed, Gilligan is happy
to have his old nose back. This episode not only shows a streak of Hans
Christian Andersen, but is an episode where the characters go beyond their
caricatured selves, to really show empathy for another’s feelings.
38) Beauty is and Beauty Does- The gang holds a beauty contest- the Skipper says Ginger’s the most
babeolicious, the Professor stumps for Mary Ann, & Mr. Howell posits the
Mrs. The 3 guys try to sabotage the others’ favorites. Gilligan is set up as
judge & Solomonically picks Gladys, his pet ape- stating she’s the only
true native. A classic episode in which ‘a little boy shall lead them’.
42) Quick Before it Sinks- The Professor thinks the island is sinking, because sticks he was using to measure the water’s depth seem to indicate the water rising. But, it was just Gilligan moving the sticks for his fishing traps. Another episode where the castaways become humanized in the face of presumed mortality acoming.
54) The Postman Cometh-
The radio announcer states that Mary Ann's boyfriend in Kansas is getting
married. She has been sending messages in a bottle for months. Rationalists
ask where was she getting all those bottles? Wouldn’t most of the glass
bottles have broken in the storm that stranded the gang? Anyway, Mary Ann
overhears the others talking about her beau, but mistakenly believes she’s
dying, & has fantasies. But, the truth comes out, Mary Ann is not
dying, her beau is not her beau- she just wanted people to feel she was loved. A
surprisingly touching episode in a series derided as being without substance.
55) Seer Gilligan- Gilligan discovers a bush that produces seeds which, when eaten, give the gang the ability to read each other’s minds. Total honesty wreaks havoc. Gilligan, again, shows uncanny wisdom by burning the bush. A very Becettian episode with deep ethical themes in it.
76) Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow- Gilligan wakes up with white hair, that later falls out. Bald, he is
upset beyond words. The Skipper berates him for overreacting until he goes bald
too. The Professor saves the day & the duo’s hair. Another episode where
the reactions of the characters, while overdone, are true to human failings.
82) All About Eva-
The best doppelganger episode- this time it’s a Ginger look-alike in the
classic ‘frump-cum-babe’ theme. Yet again, she- like so many others-
escapes, & leaves the Castaways behind. She decides to resume Ginger
Grant’s career. This episode is 1 of many of the recurring trope episodes-
which adds to the overall Absurdism & Surrealistic aspects which make the
show a classic.
87) Lovey's Secret Admirer- Mrs. Howell receives anonymous love letters. Mr. Howell is furious,
until it- of course- he turns out to be the admirer. Another episode where some
of the true affection between the characters is displayed.
96) The Pigeon- A
very haunting episode, & mildly disturbing. Sterling Holloway plays Burt, a
prisoner whose homing pigeon flies between the island & the prison. The
Professor sees rescue in this providence. Assorted travails occur but the pigeon
makes it back just as Burt is released. He frees all his birds, including the 1
with the castaways rescue. The episode ends with the mantra of ‘Free!’
ringing in antichorus to the castaways’ dilemma. An episode at once at the
root of the show’s being, & apart from it.
98) Gilligan, the Goddess- The last episode. It ends as ever. The show looked primed for another
season. Alas. Some racism rears its head as native island King Killiwani comes
to the island looking for a White Goddess. Ginger & Mary Ann are
rejected by the castaways since they will be sacrificed. So, Gilligan does drag,
trouble ensues, but all ends up well. Nietszche is smiling.
But the last episode of
the show was not the end of the GI phenomenon- the 1970s saw the show
return as a Saturday morning cartoon called The New Adventures of Gilligan,
& another later cartoon set in outer space, called Gilligan’s
Planet- can you guess the premise? Then, the late 70s & early 80s saw 3
bad GI tv movies surface. They were most noted for having replaced Tina
Louise’s Ginger Grant with an actress named Judith Baldwin- where is she now?
All in all GI has been durable, in its many guises. But so has this essay’s
other tv classic.
The Odd Couple
Now, on to the other neglected classic- whereas GI was Absurdism’s tv
treasure, The Odd Couple was its modern sophisticated turning point,
debuting on 9/24/70 & ending 7/4/75. I started watching it during the 2nd
season of its network run, but have seen all the episodes many a time in reruns.
TOC was 1 of the 1st- if not the 1st- sitcoms to
effectively rely on its own internal mythos to sustain laughs. 1 need not be
aware of the tenor of the times to enjoy it, & it was not wholly dependent
on the absurdism of GI, nor the slapstick of I Love Lucy or The
Honeymooners, nor be attuned to the political climate of the day- like The
Monkees or Get Smart. It was crisp smart dialogue between the 2 main
characters that drove this show. TOC was
an early example of the sophisticated, well-written, character-driven sitcoms
that dominated the 1970s. But it was an anomaly in that while it was
transcendent of its era while still being relevant- dealing with issues like the
generation gap, singles’ sex lives, working class people & their problems,
aging, loneliness, & divorce in a very adult & funny manner. Were the
show to debut nowadays it would undoubtedly be laced with snide sexual innuendos
& relentless gay jokes. It was also- like MASH, which followed 2
years later- 1 of the early successful tv sitcoms based on material from another
medium, in its case the Broadway play & film. Critically acclaimed during
its network run, the show did not receive its due of popular recognition until
syndication. A few years ago the sitcom Seinfeld was lauded, on its
ending, for being a show that did not indulge in the faux warmth & moralism
of many post-1980s sitcoms- despite its relentless steals from The Abbott
& Costello Show of ½ a century before. TOC used much of that same
zeitgeist decades before Seinfeld, yet its characters were truly likable,
although only to their audience- neither Oscar nor Felix ever learned to
appreciate each other’s good qualities- at least they never let it show to
each other. There were no end-of-show soulful talks, no forced hugs or
speechifying- just the eternal conflict between slob & priss. Even in the
last episode, after Felix leaves, Oscar does not wax poetic about his pal- he
just joys in his freedom from the neat freak.
As with GI, however, the basic setup of the show was reiterated in the show’s opening for the 1st few seasons. This is an important point to recall because TOC is noted for being 1 of those shows that had many ‘continuity errors’ from show to show. Yet, if the opening monologue’s set up is to be taken as a fresh entrée in to the TOC universe, then it does not really matter about the inconsistencies. Here’s the basic intro (narrated by William Woodson), which went through some minor modifications through the years:
November 13th, Felix Unger 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. 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?
accompanied by Neal Hefti’s trademark jazzy theme song, & its distinctive
piano opening. Hefti had become hot in the tv score biz when a few years earlier
his theme to the Batman tv series became a radio hit.
TOC was never a Top 10 hit in the way of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or the powerhouse All In The Family, but it was a consistent Top 40 show, despite bouncing around the ABC schedule. During its 5 year run the show aired in 6 different slots! Here’s a breakdown via EST: From September, 1970 to January, 1971, it aired on Thursday nights at 9:30. From January, 1971 to June, 1973, it aired on Friday nights at 9:30. From June, 1973 to January, 1974, it aired on Friday nights at 8:30. From January, 1974 to September, 1974, it aired on Friday nights at 9:30. From September, 1974 to January, 1975, it aired on Thursday nights at 8:00. From January, 1975 to July, 1975, it aired on Friday nights at 9:30.
Important to note is that the tv show slowly evolved away from the play’s & movie’s premises. Especially after the 2nd season started filming in front of a live audience. I’ll address some of the differences in the separate TOC universes later. But, now, a bit of the characters that made TOC such a great show.
Felix (Tony Randall) is a commercial photographer [portraits a specialty is his business’s catchphrase] who is also an anal retentive neat freak. He lives for cleanliness- this is what kyboshed his marriage. He’s also a hypochondriac whose unstable temperament often leads him to start ‘honking’ his nose when he’s upset. He also has spinal problems, & would probably be seeing both a therapist & a chiropractor in today’s world. But this was the 1960s era. His catchphrase, used to rebuke his pal, is “Oscar, Oscar, Oscar”. He also loves the opera, & fine cuisine. These are characteristics not in Neil Simon’s original characterization, but molded to suit TR’s wishes.
Oscar (Jack Klugman) is a sportswriter for the New York Herald (a fictive tabloid). He is the archetypal sloppy male. He is also well-known in the fictive New York- as this allowed for TOC to bring in celebrity guest stars on the premise that Oscar hobnobbed with them. TOC made better use of these cameos than any show I can think of. Among the invited were football star Deacon Jones (in a memorable episode where he & Oscar filmed a shaving cream commercial), Howard Cosell, Bobby Riggs & Billie Jean King (in the memorable Felix in Bondage episode), David Steinberg (the Little Orphan Annie song- recall?), Dick Cavett, Monty Hall, & Rob Reiner- as his then-wife Penny Marshall’s (the Myrna Turner character) love interest. Oscar loves cigars, horse racing, gambling of all sorts, & just tossing off his clothes wherever. These latter traits were also molded to fit JK’s own persona.
Murray (Al Molinaro- later Al in Happy Days) is an obese, balding, & dumb Jewish NYC flatfoot. He is the butt of good-natured jokes by the others, often for his large schnozz. Originally he was just 1 of the boys’ poker pals, but he gained in prominence & was featured in several episodes, especially 1 memorable courtroom episode where he tried to arrest the boys for their weekly poker game, despite his own participation.
Myrna (Penny Marshall) is Oscar's plain Jane secretary at the New York Herald. She is a minor character whose traits include a grating & nasal Bronx accent, & the worst laugh in tv history- excepting for Welcome Back, Kotter’s Arnold Horshack.
Miriam (Elinor Donahue) is Felix's sometimes girlfriend & neighbor in their apartment house. Her character was never really developed & was dropped from later episodes. An interesting point of humorous debate revolves around the fact that ED’s character’s father in Father Knows Best was played by Robert Young, who later starred in the 1960s & 70s teledrama Marcus Welby, M.D. Was ED’s TOC character also the daughter of that doctor? The show never makes clear whether this was a coincidence or running in-joke.
Nancy (Joan Hotchkis) was Oscar’s girlfriend early in the series- her high point being the classic ‘Hocaloma’ episode where the trio vacation in the Caribbean. As with Miriam, little was made of her character & she & Oscar split up.
Holdovers from the play & film, this duo of wacky British sisters never made it past the 1st season. Gwendolyn & Cecily Pigeon (Carol Shelly & Monica Evans) met Oscar when the three of them were stuck in an elevator- in the original play. They live upstairs from the boys & they all double dated a few times; yet both sisters prefer Felix.
Gloria (Janis Hansen) is Felix's gorgeous ex-wife (a former Playboy bunny). He has never gotten over her & none of his female companions ever matches up to her. She divorced him over his neuroses, although she still loves him. In the last episode she takes him back.
Played by JK’s real life ex-wife Brett Somers, Blanche is Oscar's ex-wife, & lives in California. Some classic episodes revolve around her & Oscar. Although they love each other (Oscar once interrupts her re-marriage even though it means Oscar’s dreaded alimony payments- in which he is always late on- would end) they know they are not right for each other. In another memorable episode Blanche sends Oscar a hilarious singing telegram threatening to jail him if he doesn’t pay his alimony on time. Blanche was probably the most well-developed female character on the show, owing, in large part, no doubt, to the real life chemistry between Brett Somers & JK.
Speed, Vinny, & Roy
This trio was prominent in season 1, but rarely showed up after that, as the poker angle decreased. Speed (Garry Wahlberg) is an even worse gambler than Oscar, & is ashamed that his real name is Homer Deegan. Vinny Barella (Larry Gelman) is a plump bespectacled little nebbish with little personality, while Roy (Ryan McDonald) is Oscar’s bespectacled accountant & also rather bland.
Edna is Felix’s daughter, played 1st by Pamelyn Ferdin (the redhead) who later voiced the Charlotte’s Web film & many other cartoons. The role later was portrayed Doney Oatman (the blond), after puberty struck. A noted episode had Edna falling for 1970s musical schlockmeister Paul Williams. The character at 1st disdained Oscar, but as she grew up, rebelled against Felix & saw Oscar as really cool.
Leonard is Felix's son, & Edna’s little brother. He was played by Willie Aames (of later Eight Is Enough & Charles In Charge infamy), & then by Leif Garrett (of even worse late 1970s pinup teenybopper infamy). His character was never developed as much as Edna’s was.
Now that we’ve got the basics down, let me briefly run down some of the
major reasons the show has endured- the arguments over the show’s relation to
the play & film, & some of the continuity errors I mentioned previously.
1st, the show vs, the play & film. the movie & the show were based on the play, produced by
different folk, & as such, should be seen as interpretations of the original
play- not dependent upon it or each other. The movie & play were written by
Neil Simon & almost solely under his aegis. The tv show was producer Garry
Marshall’s baby- he bought the rights from Simon. Thus, as in Baz Luhrman’s
recent filmic retake on Romeo & Juliet, fidelity is not needed. The
following points are culled from a # of online TOC fan sites, & given in no
particular order nor importance:
the movie & the show were based on the play, produced by
different folk, & as such, should be seen as interpretations of the original
play- not dependent upon it or each other. The movie & play were written by
Neil Simon & almost solely under his aegis. The tv show was producer Garry
Marshall’s baby- he bought the rights from Simon. Thus, as in Baz Luhrman’s
recent filmic retake on Romeo & Juliet, fidelity is not needed. The
following points are culled from a # of online TOC fan sites, & given in no
particular order nor importance:
***In the film Felix is a tv
newswriter; in the tv series he’s a commercial photographer.
*** In the film Felix spells his last name Ungar; in the series it is Unger.
***In a later telefilm Felix’s daughter is Hannah; in the series it’s Edna.
*** In the film Oscar has 2 kids; in the series he has none.
***In the film Felix’s wife is Frances; in the series it’s Gloria. Blanche is Oscar’s ex in both film & series.
***In the film Felix’s wife throws him out in July; in the series he was tossed on November 13.
***In the film Felix’s brother lives in Buffalo & is a doctor; in the series his brother lives in Buffalo, but runs a bubble gum company.
***At the end of the film Oscar throws Felix out of his apartment; in the show Felix is still living there.
***In the film the boys have dated the Pigeon sisters regularly, but in the series opening episode they appear to be dating them for the 1st time. But this is SOP in tv shows made from films, as the 1st episodes often recap the film’s basic premises.
***In the film only Oscar is divorced, Felix is merely separated; in the series both men are divorcees.
***Both the film & series inspired later sequels which were totally at odds with the others’ universes- with factoids too diverse to digress in to. The point, though, is that there were clearly 2 TOC mythos’s going.
As with GI’s logical inconsistencies these continuity errors are no
real problem if 1 accepts that both shows are works of fiction- a simple
realization. & TOC’s inconsistencies could also be seen to be a connection
to the more Absurdist approach of GI. 1 of the online sites sums up the
philosophy of the competing TOC cosmoses very aptly:
‘Your Mother Wears Army Boots’. Felix quotes this phrase by Ralph Waldo
Emerson: ‘Foolish consistencies are the hobgoblin of little minds.’ The
writers of the show certainly took this phrase to heart, as you can see by the
vast number of inconsistencies in the show. It seems that they didn't exactly
keep track of certain details of Oscar and Felix's lives, which has caused many
episodes to contradict each other.
Here are some more inconsistencies that have churned on for years:
***When did TOC actually meet? In a 1970 episode it’s
claimed the boys met in 1963 (7 years ago) on a jury. Another episode that year
claimed the boys were pals for 15 years; meaning they met in the mid 1950s, or
so. Another episode posits the early 1950s, & the show’s opening claims
they were childhood pals, although a later episode shows they met each other as
kids, but had forgotten the incident!
***In 1 of the Blanche Madison episodes the boys were supposedly Army pals (during WW2?) since both men seem to be in their late 40s-early 50s during the show’s run). Other shows mention this, too, even though other shows contradict this point. Felix also claims to have served in England & Greenland, yet other episodes reveal he served in Anzio, Vichy France, & Guadalcanal. Felix Unger was either a superspy or a great fabulist! Oscar was a little less well traveled, but he seems to have served in Okinawa, & never left the States, having spent his tour in Connecticut, along with Felix!
***Speaking of Blanche, Oscar seems to be very hazy in regards to his ex. He cannot recall salient points of their union- such as their wedding day- sometimes it’s Christmas day, but also it’s claimed to have occurred during baseball season. Another time they got married while Oscar was in the Army. In another episode Oscar apparently married Blanche in a Tuxedo, because he remembers he never returned the rental suit, yet in the episode ‘This is the Army, Mrs. Madison’ Oscar married Blanche in his army uniform, then had get back to camp for inspection. Blanche had her wedding photo taken with Felix.
***How old is Oscar? In a 1973 episode Oscar turns 40, meaning he was born in 1933- but, how could he have served in WW2- when he would have been 8-12 years old? Another episode uses a flashback to show that the boys were born during prohibition (1919-1933). & both the play & film clearly state Oscar was 43, so if he was 43 at the series’ start, he should have been 46 in 1973. The real JK was born in 1922. Oscar also claims to have been a native New Yorker, yet other episodes state both Felix & Oscar were Chicago natives, & another states Oscar was a Philadelphian by birth.
***More marriage messes: In an episode called ‘The Odd Holiday’ the boys went on a vacation with their wives, during which Gloria told Felix that she wanted a divorce. Yet, this violates the entire premise of all 3 TOC universes- where Oscar was already divorced, & invited Felix to stay with him. Another Gloria paradox seems to be when Oscar introduced her to Felix- 1 episode states it was the early 1950s yet another claims Oscar knew Gloria for only about 10 years- the early 1960s. Still another episode has Felix claiming he met Gloria on a photo shoot. In a 1972 episode Felix states Oscar’s been divorced for 3 years, or since 1969. Yet in another episode he mentions Oscar’s been paying alimony for 8 years, which means that he was divorced in the mid-60s. Oscar says he’s been divorced for 8 years, as well- but at various points in the show’s 5 year run- meaning the writers were consistent in the years since divorce, but forgot that what was 8 years in 1972 was not 8 years later on. & which of the boys married 1st? 1 show flashes back to a married Felix during Gloria’s pregnancy- & Oscar is a bachelor, yet Oscar supposedly married Blanche in the Army- the 1940s? & what were the 2 ex-wives’ maiden names? Various episodes state Gloria’s was Schaefer or Fleener, while Blanche’s was Jefferson or Somers. & which of Felix’s kids is older?
***The change from Season 1 on brought some errors in continuity, as well. The apartment changed. Did the boys move to a different apartment during the summer break? If so, then why are all the flashbacks from Seasons 2-5 set in the 2nd apartment? & did they change apartment buildings. The boys’ apartment house is sometimes at 1049 Park Avenue & other times at 74th Street & Central Park West.
Even with all of the factual faux pas TOC was very consistent in the
quality of the verbal dash between the characters, especially Oscar & Felix,
who were remarkably consistent to themselves. This was long before the days of
‘Very Special’ episodes of tv shows, where characters became antithetical
didacts to their personae. TOC’s writers took the approach that whatever facts
were necessary for a particular episode were all that were needed.
But TOC, as said, was not just the classic tv show- it began as the play penned by Neil Simon. It opened in the year of my birth, 1965, & was a smash comedy on Broadway. Walter Matthau was Oscar Madison & Art Carney was Felix Ungar. Simon won a Tony Award for best author, director Mike Nichols won for best director, & WM won the best actor Tony. The play is reputed to be the most produced play in community theaters since its premiere. A little known fact is that Jack Klugman- the tv Oscar- actually took over the Broadway role of Oscar after WM left the part to film a movie. In 1968 the play was made into the movie starring WM as Oscar, & Jack Lemmon as Felix. 2 years later the tv show premiered, written by Garry Marshall & Jerry Belson of The Dick Van Dyke Show fame. Originally Martin Balsam was slated to play Oscar & Art Carney would reprise his role as Felix. Carney bowed out & was replaced by Tony Randall. When Balsam also bowed out the role of Oscar was offered to Mickey Rooney, who declined. 3rd choice Jack Klugman accepted, & you know the rest. The show never finished in the top 25 in the Neilsen ratings- its highest seasonal rating was during the 1972-73 season, when it finished at #36. But TOC lasted 5 seasons & 114 episodes. But, like GI, it was in syndication that the show became a hardcore cult favorite- airing in countries around the world, & on cable channels non-stop. Its 2 leads were recognized as the premier comedy team of the day & their verbal repartee drew comparisons to Abbott & Costello. Both TR & JK won awards for their portrayals. TR won an Emmy in 1975 for Lead Actor in a Comedy, & JK won that award twice- in 1971 & 1973. & in 1974 JK won a Golden Globe in the same category.
Yet, few know that TOC universes include more than just the canonical trio of the play, film, & classic tv series. There were other versions of the show- not unlike GI- & aside from the reunion film. The early 1980s saw a ‘black’ Odd Couple tv series called ‘The New Odd Couple’. It aired from October, 1982 until June, 1983. The show recycled mostly old classic TOC scripts & was canceled after 13 episodes. It featured Ron Glass (Detective Ron Harris of Barney Miller fame) as Felix, & Demond Wilson (Lamont Sanford from Sanford & Son) as Oscar. That same decade saw a new version of the play- an all-female version written by Neil Simon. The 2 leads were renamed Olive Madison & Florence Ungar- & the play centered on their Trivial Pursuit pals, rather than poker buddies. The new version debuted on Broadway in 1985, but did not last long. &, like GI, TOC also inspired a Saturday morning cartoon series- ‘The Oddball Couple’- which aired from September 6, 1975 to September 3, 1977. Its 2 leads were not named Oscar & Felix, but a sloppy dog named Fleabag, & a neat cat named Spiffy (although Felix/Felis would have seemed a natural).
Like GI, TOC left its mark on pop culture. Oscar & Felix- the names alone- invoke the archetypes of slob & neat freak, wild id & anal retentive ego. The famous episode where the boys appear on the game show Password, is still remembered for Oscar’s slow boil-come-to-a-head-clue of Aristophanes to elicit Felix’s reply of ‘ridiculous’. The most famous quote from the series was the great line: ‘Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.’ This line was Felix’s in the episode ‘My Strife in Court’. Felix was in court for scalping opera tickets to a woman. While cross-examining the woman in court, Felix asked the woman if he told her he had been selling the ticket. The woman says she just assumed he was. Felix pounces & nails her with the ‘assume’ quote. Legend has it that the line originated with the show, but in truth it had been a sort of bon mot for decades before. In an interesting twist of fate, it was a later Garry Marshall tv show- Happy Days- that actually did originate a pop cultural term. The term nerd- meant to describe a nebbishy person- was a word that the show- set in the 1950s- used regularly. But there is no evidence that the word was ever used before the tv show popularized it upon its mid-1970s debut. Another connection is that both shows’ 1st seasons were filmed with laugh tracks, but then switched to live audiences. HD, however, was a show that was a #1 smash. Unlike TOC, however, it has faded from view because it was a show of little quality.
Other TOC points of interest were that, like GI, it used recurring stock actors in assorted parts. The 2 most noted were stage & film actor John Fiedler in 2 tv parts- most memorably as the manager of a security apartment building. He had played the original Vinny Barella in the film version. The other noted recurring actor was Richard Stahl, who appeared in 8 different episodes as 8 different characters- with the boys never noticing this rain of octuppelgangers. 4 times he was a priest: In ‘I Do, I Don't’ he was the priest at the wedding of Felix’s friend, in ‘Being Divorced is Never Having to Say I Do’ he was the priest at Blanche and Roger’s wedding- the episode where Oscar objected, in ‘This is the Army, Mrs. Madison’ he was the priest at Oscar and Blanche’s wedding, & in ‘The Odd Monks’ he was Brother Ralph. In ‘Engrave Trouble’ he played Wally the florist & gangster, in ‘Murray the Fink’ he was a cop, in ‘Cleanliness is Next to Impossible’ he was a shrink, & in ‘The Frog’ he owned a pet shop.
After the show was canceled Producer Garry Marshall served up mostly banal sitcoms, yet all were ratings smashes: Happy Days, Mork and Mindy, Laverne and Shirley, & Joanie Loves Chachi. He then went on to produce even blander feature films. His partner, Jerry Belson, was a bit more daring- & far less successful. His greatest post-TOC success was The Tracy Ullman Show, on the fledgling FOX tv network. JK returned to tv drama by starring in NBC’s Quincy, M.E. TR starred in the well-written but short-lived The Tony Randall Show in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s he starred in the critically acclaimed, & groundbreaking NBC show Love, Sidney, the 1st tv show with a lead gay character. All in all TOC was a both a milestone in American tv comedy & the best ‘comedy duo’ sitcom ever.
Let me bring this essay in to port by tying together some of the
commonalities that these 2 seemingly disparate tv comedies share. Both shows
were laden with archetypes- GI in its 7 stock characters, & TOC in its lead
duo. Both shows were well-written- GI in a very Absurdist bent, & TOC in a
very adult contemporary comedic way. Both shows were consistent in their
visions, true to their characters, & went off the air before decline could
set in. GI’s characters never learned from their errors. Gilligan, especially,
was an unfailing- but lovable- idiot from start to finish. Oscar was an
irritable slob, & Felix a nagging prudish priss from start to finish. GI is
that rare example of pop art stumbling in to true artistic greatness, with
depths to explore (much more so than the many 3 Stooges courses)- it’s
great pop schlock, unlike, say, the contemporary cable show, The Anna Nicole
Show, which is dumb & DULL. GI was always a riot. TOC is, in a real
sense, a tv show with no true predecessor & no true heir. It is a pinnacle
of sublime sitcom television. The duo of Randall & Klugman are the tv
equivalent of any great filmic duo you can name, & I’d say even better,
yes, than my own beloved Abbott & Costello. In a way, GI, is also a show
without precedent or heir. Of all the ‘High Concept’ sitcoms of its era,
only GI is still beloved & watched daily. GI took the theater’s stab at
Absurdism & pushed it even further in the newer medium- being less
pretentious & not nearly as self-conscious. It was a flesh cartoon. 1 need
only look at Bob Denver’s later Dusty’s Trail (a sort of GI-F-Troop
hybrid, replete with FT’s Forrest Tucker in a Skipper-like role) to see how
difficult this achievement really is. TOC’s greatness is apparent with its
status as 1 of the few tv shows to never have Jumped The Shark. Both show’s
inconsistencies have provided decades of fodder for their fans. & both
show’s producers also had great success afterwards- GI’s Sherwood Schwartz
with the kitschy (not absurdist) The Brady Bunch, & TOC’s Garry
Marshall as previously noted.
Yet, to this day, both shows have suffered unfathomable disrespect. GI is literally hated by many. That such a good-natured & upbeat show should be so reviled is odd- I mean GI is not Barney the Dinosaur. It is filled with violence & stupidity. TOC, however, has seemed to suffer a worse fate. Despite being popular in reruns it is almost always passed over in discussions of tv’s greatest shows. Contemporary shows such as MASH, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, & All In The Family may have run longer, garnered bigger ratings, & been more obviously groundbreaking, but none had the consistent quality of TOC. MASH descended into bathos in the latter ½ of its 11 year run, TMTMS was never the same after Mary’s foils- Rhoda & Phyllis- left for their own spinoff sitcoms, & All In The Family’s glorious 1st 5 years towered over its last 8 years (in various guises) of ignominy & hanging-on.
So why do these 2 shows need an essay like this to argue for their greatness? I think it’s because of a very simple fact. The viewing public- aptly emblemic of humanity in general- is filled with morons. People are just not smart. Even GI’s hardest core fans probably will not get some of the points I’ve made in defense of their beloved show. & while TOC’s fans may be a bit more savvy, in truth, there are far more dumb tv watchers than smart- or why would TOC never have climbed higher in the ratings? But, idiots aside, both of these shows deserve their long-lived status in the rerun universe because in 50, 100, 500, or 50,000 years the 7 castaways of GI, & the nonpareil archetypal duo of Oscar Madison & Felix Unger, will still resonate deeply with human audiences, despite intervening advances. We will all see the 7 Sins, or such, that the Gilligan’s Island Castaways can represent, & we will all see aspects of our ids & egos in The Odd Couple. If you want to explore some of these ideas more deeply, go ahead- they are worth the plumb. This essay has merely been a prod to direct some of you that way. As for me, I have those reasons & a more personal 1 to recommend these great shows: they remind me of a time in my youth when laughter was only gotten from a flickering black & white television screen, when joy was found on an island of fools, or bickering buddies. They remind me of a past that never was, but could be. Thus is tv’s truest power, rarely exercised, but fully felt when it does. Enough sentiment- Goodnight Gracie!
Thus Spake The Professor!
& this from an Odd Couple alumnus!
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