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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > TV on DVD Reviews > Three's Company - Season One

 

Three's Company

Season One - 1977 (Anchor Bay-2003)

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Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: September 19, 2004.

Three’s Company was television’s answer to the sexual revolution. Like most televised entertainment of the time – and like most Americans’ attitudes toward sexuality even today -- it was geared toward an eighth grade mentality, littered with giggles and – for want of a better word – titters, including lots of elbowing, fumbling and teasing. Like a burlesque show, it showcased quick flashes of skin, a wink and a promise and that’s all, folks. Everybody walked away happy, and there was no harm done. Three’s Company was a victimless crime.

The series was exactly what it was, even though put in more caring hands, it really could have been something more. Despite the fact that it was muzzled by lazy writing and gun-shy TV executives, it was an immediate ratings sensation. This was ABC’s most successful peep-show for the masses, a pre-mature ejaculation in its infamous tits-and-ass programming of the late seventies.

By today’s standards, the six episodes of their first season (now available on DVD) would barely raise an eyebrow. However, when it premiered in the spring of 1977, (along with other cock-teasing offerings like Charlie’s Angels), it took its network from the limp dick of the industry to the heights of ecstasy.

The formula clicked like no other television concept that came before it. Usually, television ideas were conceived out of desperation. In those last days before VCRs, pay-cable services and home-delivered porno, the nation was addicted to even the mere suggestion of sex. And although the name “Jiggle TV” eventually went away, from that point onward network television and its viewers became voyeurs. Just listen to the studio audience of those early episodes, sounding as if their hearts may stop any minute from the bawdiness of the three roommates who were always seemingly one double entendre away from falling into bed with each other. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife, but unfortunately, it was a butter knife. As the landlord’s wife, Mrs. Roper, purred about the arrangement, “it’s something delightfully kinky that only three can play.” The kisses were indeed hers and hers and his, but it never went beyond that.

Of course, as lowest-common-denominator as the show was at its start, it would only get worse. Like most successful ABC shows of this period (Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley), the original cute, innocent idea would continue to devolve into pure embarrassment, with it’s target audience getting younger and younger and its ever-changing casts phoning it in, collecting their paychecks, and sleepwalking through comatose-inducing situations.

However, at its humble beginnings, Three’s Company was charming and entertaining enough. This was due in large part, of course, to the genius of John Ritter, who has been deservedly honored countless times since his recent death. Ritter had gone on to a satisfying career in television, but he is best remembered for this role, in which he miraculously rose above the material and the lesser talents of his co-stars. By the time he had won the part of the sole male roommate, he was no stranger to series television (playing a minister on The Waltons and a minister in the classic episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in which Ted and Georgette get married). Here, he was able to showcase his adeptness for physical comedy, and he was able to pull it off despite the fact that Lucy-like pratfalls seemed hopelessly outdated and corny by the late seventies. His sense of comic timing was fortunate, as he was able to physically and literally act rings around those surrounding him.

His character, Jack Tripper, posed as gay so that his Archie-Bunker-like landlord, Mr. Roper (Norman Fell), would approve of the mixed-gender arrangement. This allowed for much pre-politically-correct type teasing and insulting, and some flagrant showboating by Ritter, which is actually pretty funny, even today. Back in the day, everything was up for grabs, even though nothing was ever grabbed.

Tripper, who in these early episodes was a culinary student, predicted that he would be the “Galloping Gourmet of 1980.” This is in addition to other wow-wee little gems that were hidden beneath the endless stream of double entendres, including the fact that their monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica was $300, a night in a local hotel cost $30, and a cab ride from the airport was $2.75. This just goes to show that nostalgia can hurt as well as heal.

As the Ropers, Norman Fell and Audra Lindley were just what the script had ordered: he the clueless, impotent schlub, she the sex-starved hausfrau who basically “got” the kids. The gist of their relationship can be summed up with the following: she says, “Fix the doorbell, Stanley. It’s time somebody’s chimes rang in this house.” And when she asks him, “Did you tell [the doctor] about your pain?” he replies with “No, we didn’t talk about you.” You can just smell the inevitable spin-off brewing, and it came to pass; however, it must have been awful for it didn’t last long, even with the help of cast-mate Jeffrey Tambor.

Long before her notorious departure from the show, Suzanne Somers’ dumb-blonde character, Chrissy Snow (talk about your metaphors), developed a slow slide into moronic numbness. However, in the series' first six episodes, she was still cute enough and had half a brain. When the kids were figuring out how to make the rent, she says, “I have only one thing worth selling and I was saving that until I got married…my grandmother’s wedding ring.” She, and the blondes who eventually replaced her, usually delivered lines like the following: “That paperboy was so thoughtful. He waited until I bent over and picked up the paper before he rode away.” As the plainer Jane roommate, Joyce DeWitt had a tendency to overact and overcompensate, as if she was trying to tell America, “Look! I’m here too.” She had a right to feel dwarfed, but had she played it down a few notches, she would have won. However, it always looked like she was trying too hard.

Most episodes, as everybody knows, revolved around a misunderstanding due to an overheard conversation taken in the wrong context (usually sexual). In all cases, the reaction of the victim to the misfed communication is what would cause the howls of laughter from the studio audience, and the clearing up of the misunderstanding and the final explanation would result in a group hug. Cue credits. Repeat next week.

Of course, the world has long-since changed due to AIDS and other terrible things that brought down the sexual revolution, but you would never truly know this from the horny subsequent generations television had spawned. Even in the last decade, Monica, Joey and their friends, the gang on Seinfeld, and its clones were as horny as they wanted to be – without hardly a mention of a condom or a hepatitis scare. Even most of the casts of today’s prime-time lineups are still enjoying guilt-free, disease-free, casual sex and one-night-stands with near strangers, as if 1977 never really went away. However, they go way further than Jack, Janet and Chrissy ever could imagine, and the audience is laughing harder than ever.  

As Jack Tripper had asked over twenty-five years ago when he failed yet again to get into Chrissy’s pants, “Whatever happened to the sexual revolution?” Chrissy had answered, “Your side lost!”

Of course, Chrissy was wrong. On TV, it seems like nobody loses ever, except for the viewers.

 Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: September 19, 2004.