On Thursday night, the brightest and wisest minds of our culture will once again take up a question that has plagued philosophers for generations:
“Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?”
All right, maybe this isn’t exactly the Riddle of the Sphinx. But it’s the familiar tagline of one of TV’s great sitcoms, The Odd Couple. The series, which ran from 1970 to 1975, featured real-life BFFs Tony Randall (as Felix Unger, the obsessively neat one) and Jack Klugman (as Oscar Madison, the hopelessly sloppy one). During its run, the show was canceled by ABC year after year, only to be repeatedly renewed because the ratings of its summer reruns were so high. Since then, in syndication, it’s become one of the most beloved series of all time.
Now, CBS is hoping that the mismatched duo will once again make television magic when Felix and Oscar room together in the network’s new version of The Odd Couple. The new show stars Matthew Perry (who, as one of the six Friends, is no stranger to sitcom success) as Oscar and Thomas Lennon (formerly of Reno 911 and one of today’s brightest comic minds) as Felix.
The famous roommates first rose to prominence on Broadway in Neil Simon’s classic play, The Odd Couple. And since the original TV adaptation left the air, Felix and Oscar have been reunited on the small screen several times, from an African-American version of the show to an animated, Saturday-morning edition. None, however, have captured the luster of the Randall/Klugman pairing.
While that original show ran for only five seasons, it still boasts a cadre of fiercely loyal fans, all of whom can tell you why Aristophanes is ridiculous (a line from the classic Odd Couple episode “Password,” once ranked by TV Guide as one of the top five greatest sitcom episodes ever made) or what caused Felix to change the name of his musical combo from “The Sophisticados” to “Red River Unger and his Saddle Sores.”
What do these fans think of the upcoming remake? Members of an online “I Love The Odd Couple” forum reflected upon what made them adore the original series, while looking ahead to the new one.
“It was the natural chemistry between two actors who were so obviously the best of friends in real life,” said John Massaro when asked what made him such a devotee of the Randall/Klugman Odd Couple. “The way they played off each other—no other cast could ever recreate that kind of magic.
“I have absolutely no hope for the new show,” he said. “I give it four episodes.”
Forum member Michael Nagle was more hopeful. “Matthew Perry has said that he’s a huge fan of the (original) series, and he’s a great comedic actor,” he said. “I’m optimistic with his involvement, and my only hope is that they do right by these great characters. Good luck to them.”
Jeff Zapata made an observation echoed by other forum members, citing the show’s setting as part of its appeal. “It’s the deep friendship, the extreme personalities, and classic 1970s New York humor,” he said. “It was very true to the attitude in New York at the time. Everyone was a comedian and we all tolerated each other with sly humor. The Odd Couple reminded me of this so much.
“It was the worst and best time to be a New Yorker,” he said. “Shows like Barney Miller and Taxi captured that spirit as well. I hope the new show captures at least the dynamics of the Felix/Oscar relationship, if not the original New York attitude.”
“I hope it’s a good show,” said Kathleen Ducey of the new series. “It will never be the original. No one will ever replicate that. This just may be good in its own way. I do hope they manage to pay homage to Jack and Tony in an episode.”
Can Perry and Lennon share a sitcom and drive us crazy with laughter? Their show is based on a time-tested formula, but the new duo definitely has a tough act to follow.