An "Odd" Revival - NBC Bay Area

An "Odd" Revival

The latest TV version of “The Odd Couple,” with Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon, raises hopes that fans will be the winner in the rematch of neat vs. sloppy.

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    Near the end of the play and movie version of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple," Felix Ungar scoffs at roommate Oscar Madison for mistaking a plate of linguini for spaghetti. 

    Madison hurls the plate, and declares, "Now it's garbage!" as the linguini clings to the kitchen wall, silent witness to their bickering.

    Pasta squabbles aside, the one thing even Felix and Oscar could agree upon is that the scene marks a high point in the comedy and a low point in the relationship of the two mismatched, but enduring characters.

    Nearly 50 years after the play's Broadway debut and 40 years after the initial television adaptation left the air, a new TV version is set to arrive Thursday on CBS, starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon. The test for the reboot: sticking like that spaghetti – um, linguini – and avoiding dripping down the wall, becoming a mess that even Felix can't clean up fast enough.

    The revival marks the latest rendering of Oscar, a slob of a sportswriter who slurps beer out of the can, and Felix, a neat-freak photographer who doesn't like "pits, pits, pits" in his orange juice.

    It's not a story of opposites attracting, but rather clashing, drawn to live together less than by friendship than by the underlying sadness of divorce.

    Times have changed, but the story might be more relatable now, even in an age where much of friendship is conducted online: In 2012, 42 percent of adults in New York, Oscar and Felix’s home, lived with non-related roommates – up five percentage points from a decade earlier, and light years from 1965 when nearly 75 percent of American homes were occupied by married couples. 

    The only number that matters in “The Odd Couple,” though, is the comic chemistry compound of two: Art Carney and Walter Matthau in the play. Jack Lemmon and Matthau in the 1968 movie. Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in the original ABC 1970-1975 TV series, never a ratings powerhouse but a syndication favorite.

    Other "Odd Couple" attempts didn’t do near as well. "The New Odd Couple," an early 1980s revival with two great sitcoms actors, Ron Glass ("Barney Miller") and Demond Wilson ("Sanford and Son"), both of them African American, was canceled too soon.

    Simon’s mid-1980s female version of the play enjoyed only middling success. Even a kiddie cartoon rendering, "The Oddball Couple," featuring a neat cat ("Spiffy") and a sloppy dog ("Fleabag"), didn’t last long enough for those of us old enough to have watched Saturday morning cartoons in the mid-1970s.

    A 1993 TV movie reuniting Randall and Klugman, and a 1998 feature film sequel with Lemmon and Matthau, couldn't reignite the flame to linguini-making temperatures, despite the valiant efforts the actors, by then all in their 70s.

    So Lennon (Felix) and Perry (Oscar) have their work cut out in breaking what Oscar might have called “The Curse of the Cat People.” Both are strong performers, and Perry shot to fame playing a roommate. But “The Odd Couple” isn’t “Friends” – it falls on the sitcom continuum somewhere between “The Abbott and Costello Show” and “Seinfeld,” whose title character seemed more interested in his cereal at times than in his dysfunctional pals.

    Cereal plays the key role in the other marquee food fight from the play and movie of "The Odd Couple," in the climatic scene when Oscar erupts over a note left on his pillow: “We are all out of cornflakes – F.U.”

    “It took me three hours to figure out that ‘F.U.’ was ‘Felix Ungar!’” Oscar raged.

    They may be out of cornflakes, but not out steam. Let’s hope the curse has lifted and that the latest battle of neat vs. sloppy leads to another victory for “Odd Couple” fans.

     

     

    Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.