I had low expectations for this revival of The Odd Couple, and as I sat down to watch the pilot, I was in for an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. First, I’ll outline my misgivings, and then I’ll explain why I love this new version. This series had a lot going against it at first glance. First, I loved the original Tony Randall/Jack Klugman series, and I was disappointed by other attempts to revive it (the 1982 black version with Ron Glass and Demond Wilson, which was a cynical attempt to produce something ‘new’ during the 1982 writers strike…but they used the identical scripts from the earlier version) to the same production team’s highly successful (but creatively low-brow) female version, Laverne and Shirley.
The leads, Matthew Perry and Tom Lennon, have had their share of disappointing shows. Sure, Perry was a part of the classic sitcom, Friends, but he had plenty of duds before it and after. The earlier failures can be blamed on a new actor jumping at any audition that he won. The later ones, though, are harder to forgive. He insisted on playing sitcom characters with a darker edge that were either hard to warm up to (Mr. Sunshine) or stuck in a depressing concept (Go On). Even one series that seemed destined to be a sure-fire hit (the drama Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip) fell apart under the weight of its own unrealistic importance.
Tom Lennon, meanwhile, is a very funny man (check out any of his talk show appearances) who never had the confidence to rise above the broadest of characters (from the occasionally funny Reno 911!, which never fully realized its potential because it insisted on staying broad and never attempted to broaden its appeal) to last year’s disastrous Sean Saved The World, where he played another broad character that never showed any signs of developing).
I expected The Odd Couple to follow these actors’ inclination to make their audience work for the laughs and work to like them. Instead, I found a pilot episode that gave the roles of Oscar (Perry) and Felix (Lennon) a fresh new revamp for the 21st century that managed to introduce the same characters in a new way. The way Oscar and Felix became roommates in the original would be hard to pull off today, but they did it. The idea that these two opposites—one a messy take-life-as-it comes sportscaster, the other a tidy worry-about-every-little-thing photographer—could make it as roomies…actually comes off as believable by the end of the first episode. What holds the show together (as it did in the original TV version) is the writing. The storytelling is crisp, the premise comes off as realistic, and there are jokes that are actually funny! My highest hope for the show was that it wouldn’t besmirch the fine work done by Randall and Klugman back in the ‘70s. By the end of the episode, I was thinking that if they keep up the quality throughout the season, they could actually improve on it. TV Gord’s verdict: There’s a great future for this show!