By Peter Hummers on March 12, 2020
One sometimes yearns for pure entertainment from the last days of the Golden Age of TV before the advent of socially conscious sitcoms such as All in the Family and M*A*S*H, like the politically uncorrect films of Rock Hudson and Doris Day, and Martin and Lewis’ Artists and Models, and the Broadway show Gypsy: A Musical Fable, or romantic comedies like Roman Holiday.
From 1965 to 1975, actors from these shows helmed two great and happy sitcoms on TV; these featured situational comedy at its best.
Before Northern Exposure, in which a Manhattan doctor set up practice in backwoods Alaska, there was Green Acres, “about Oliver Wendell Douglas (Eddie Albert), an erudite New York City attorney, fulfilling his dream to be a farmer, and Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor), his glamorous Hungarian wife, whom he dragged unwillingly from an upscale Manhattan penthouse to a ramshackle farm.
“Though many Green Acres episodes were still standard 1960’s sitcom fare, the show developed a regular undercurrent of surrealism and satire. The writers soon developed a suite of running jokes and visual gags, and characters often broke the fourth wall to address the audience” (Wikipedia).
The actors played it straight, and everybody in town, and very quickly Lisa, bought into the bizarre environment, except Oliver. The local entrepreneur, Mr. Haney, would not only sell you his shoes for the right price, but would also rent anything he couldn’t sell. Haney invariably arrives on cue every time Oliver needs an item or service, typically accompanied by a custom-made sign for each occasion. “Fred Ziffel and his wife Doris are the Douglases’ childless elderly neighbors. They have a pig named Arnold, whom they treat as their son. Fred is a cantankerous old-fashioned farmer who was born during the Grover Cleveland administration. Everything about him is no-nonsense, except for the fact that his ‘son’ is a pig” (ibid).
Oliver, the ever-exasperated straight man, farms in a three-piece suit, and would apply his business acumen to his own farming if not for the intransigence and incompetence of everyone around him, who like things done in the strange ways they’ve always been done. The opening titles are all the trailer you should need (IMDb.com).
THE ODD COUPLE (Hulu; Amazon.com) 1970 TVPG
Once in a lifetime, material, writers, and especially talent come together to create a show as delightful, funny and humane as 1970’s The Odd Couple. Like the 1968 movie, it’s based on Neil Simon’s 1965 Broadway play about severely mismatched friends who share an apartment in Manhattan.
Tony Randall and Jack Klugman (who replaced Walter Matthau in the original Broadway play) were exquisitely cast as neat-freak Felix Unger and ultra-slob Oscar Madison, childhood friends who decide to share Oscar’s apartment after both are divorced. Both Randall and Klugman had distinguished résumés from film and Broadway, and both fill their parts as though they were born to. Garry Marshall, who went on to direct Pretty Woman, Beaches, Runaway Bride, Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Mother’s Day, and The Princess Diaries, and Jerry Belson, who wrote Close Encounters of the Third Kind, several episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show; Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., and I Spy, rounded out the back office. Jazz trumpeter, composer, and arranger Neal Hefti put the cherry on top with the iconic theme song that was as familiar in the day as the Star-Spangled Banner.
But the talent wouldn’t mean a thing if the show weren’t funny; it’s often hysterically so. The situation , characters and writing added up to one of the best shows on TV.