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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > TV on DVD Reviews > Too Close For Comfort - The Complete Second Season

 

Too Close For Comfort

The Complete Second Season (1981-1982) (Rhino Retro Vision-2005)

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Copyright ©2005   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 6, 2005.

Too Close for Comfort was Ted Knight’s post-Mary Tyler Moore Show payback.  After many years playing pompous anchorman Ted Baxter on that classic show, Knight was one of several MTM alumni who were offered their own shot when that series ended.  (Lou Grant, The Love Boat, The Betty White Show and Mary were just some of the titles spawned by the cast, and Knight's series was one of the most popular of the spin-offs.)  Too Close for Comfort was actually Knight’s second attempt at returning to sitcom stardom, a show called The Ted Knight Show barely caused a ripple when it aired in 1978.  To make things even more complicated, Too Close for Comfort was also sometimes referred to as The Ted Knight Show.

Interestingly, Knight's castmate Nancy Dussault says on a commentary track that Knight always preferred Too Close for Comfort to his more acclaimed role.  (Knight may have been a legendary comic actor, but he would have never made it as a TV critic.)  Ted Baxter was funny, he apparently said, but he was a cartoon.  As Henry Rush, Knight was allowed to play a more realistic character.  (Knight apparently had a weird concept of realism.)  The series was based on a British show called Keep It in the Family, back in the pre-Office and Coupling days when fare from over the pond could be imported successfully.  (All In the Family and Sanford & Son were just two of the successful transplants.)   

Knight plays Henry Rush, a middle-aged comic-book artist (his creation: Cosmic Cow) who lives in a stylish San Francisco brownstone (one of the famous Painted Ladies) with his perky wife Muriel (Nancy Dussault) and his two just-past-jailbait daughters.  The complication of the series was set up in the first season; the girls decide they want their own apartment, so those crazy kids rent a dwelling on the first floor from dear old dad.  (The building must be a lot bigger than it looks in the opening credits; maybe it has the same architect as Snoopy’s doghouse.)  Luckily, the man who lived downstairs vacated the premises by dying.  (He was a Jewish transvestite!  It was so racy in San Fran in those days…)  This move puts a bit of a crimp in Henry’s over-protective nature (he literally starts to sputter any time he thinks there is even a chance that his daughters will be in a position to have sex).  After all, now when he wants to check up on them, he has to go down a flight of stairs. 

The daughters, Sara (Lydia Cornell) and Jackie (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) are generically early-80s hot (complete with the tight designer jeans and feathered hair), though they look nothing like each other or either of their parents.  In a possible first in history, all four members of one family had different hair colors.  Sara is the blonde one, Jackie is the brunette.  Sara is the naive one, Jackie is worldlier.  Jackie is the smart one, Sara is the sexy bimbo. 

“I just don’t understand today’s morality,” Henry wails to his wife as the girls gawk and bat their eyes at cute men.  You’ve seen it before, the hip mom and the uptight dad bringing up the foxy (early 80s word alert!) daughters.  In the meantime, he works at home, wearing his inevitable college sweatshirt and drawing his comic with a pen held in his Cosmic Cow puppet, which would seem like it would really get in the way of doing his art.  (“That is so stupid,” co-star Jim J. Bullock cackles in a commentary track.  “Who came up with that?”)  

The complication for the second season is laid out in the first episode, “Guess Who’s Coming to Burp?” Henry and his wife Muriel are going to have another baby even though he’s 52 and she’s 42.  “Forty-two is a number,” Henry consoles her.  “You know there are people nearly seventy-eighty years old still go to discos?”  Of course he doesn’t mention that it was 1981 and all of the discos had been closed for at least two years, but luckily the seventy-year-olds were apparently too aged to notice.

As if the brownstone wasn’t crowded enough, their wacky, hippie musician cousin April (Deena Freeman) moves in as well.  Again, she looks nothing like any of her family members (okay, maybe vaguely like Nancy Dussault, who is related to her by marriage, not by blood).  The girls let her move in immediately upon seeing her for the first time in fifteen years, because she has had such an interesting life; “Backpacking through Europe, traveling across the country, falling in love with a punk rocker… I should have known he was wrong for me the moment he took a bite out of his beer bottle.”  The best story April tells is when she bicycled from Paris to the French Riviera.  That takes about twelve hours by train.  Imagine how long it would take on a bike.  Well, just for comparison's sake, that same trip takes Lance Armstrong three weeks.  And cousin April is not built like Lance Armstrong.

Interestingly, for a man who places so much emphasis on relatives, Henry appears to be feuding with most of his extended family; his father (Ray Middleton), his brother (Robert Mandan), his niece (Freeman) and his mother-in-law (Audrey Meadows).  In fact, the first episode in which Meadows appears here (the clumsily entitled “My Unfavorite Martin”), she is so mean and snippy that Dussault acknowledges in the commentary track that she went to the writers and complained that the character went too far so that she was completely unlikable.  In later seasons, when Meadows’ character returned, her sharp edges had been sanded down.   

However, if Henry had some problems with his family, that was nothing compared to the way he felt about the girls’ best friend.  That wacky neighbor was Monroe Ficus (played by the oddly named Jm J. Bullock, although all of the packaging for this DVD set has replaced his “i” to make him Jim again.).  Monroe is perhaps the gayest character in television history, although he stays in the closet throughout the run of the series.  During this season, Monroe seems to be almost completely disinterested in meeting anyone.  As I recall, in other seasons, Monroe had a series of vague “relationships” with a sex therapist and an old woman (Selma Diamond) whose brother was the dead transvestite.  (No proof is given that these weren’t also men in drag.)  The series tries to sell us on the fact that Monroe is just shy and hasn’t met the right woman.  Or maybe it was just because he was a dork. ("Why are my pants pulled up to my nipples?" Bullock asks in the commentary to the "The Remaking of Monroe" episode.) 

The only time that he acts in any kind of a sexual way is in that episode, when he had taken an assertiveness training class and he ends up chasing Sara around the love seat in the girls’ apartment.  The action is so out-of-character and so half-hearted that you know he really isn’t trying.  Ironically, Lydia Cornell admits that she would have liked to have him catch her – apparently she had a huge crush on Jm and was the last person in America to realize that he was also gawking and making eyes at the cute guys in the cast.

The storylines in the series are sometimes a little threadbare and not really hashed out.  For example, Jackie starts dating a policeman early in the season and he is barely mentioned again until an episode late in the season when they are considering breaking off their engagement.  However, it is surprising watching these episodes for the first time in over a decade how much has stuck with you.  I still very distinctly remember an episode in which Randall Carver of Taxi plays a guy who was a loser in high school who returns to prove to Jackie that he has become handsome and cool – even though I previously did not remember which series the episode was from. 

Situation comedies have changed a lot since Too Close for Comfort was on the air.  Everything has switched into high gear in the post-Seinfeld years.  In the long run, Too Close for Comfort is not nearly as good a show as Mary Tyler Moore, no matter what Knight may have believed.  In fact, occasionally it is surprisingly awkward, though for the most part it is amusingly nostalgic.  It also proves again what a talented comedian Knight was.  Even when what he said wasn’t necessarily funny, he always was.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: June 6, 2005.