Question: How can you improve on The Odd Couple with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall?
Answer: You can’t.
Question: Does that make it entirely off limits?
Answer: No. But you’d better have a bloody good reason for trying.
I came to this 2015 remake fearing the worst, but I am generously acknowledging that it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I loved the 1970s TV original and I’m generally not a fan of current multicam comedies where the audience is laughing so hard I feel like an outcast for not joining in (Frasier was probably the last rolled gold one for me).
So there were two key factors that were unnerving me before the credits had even rolled: a new cast, and a ‘laugh track’ (of sorts).
But I remind myself that The Odd Couple was of course based on Neil Simon’s 1965 stage play, performed on Broadway with Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison (Klugman later took over the role) and Art Carney. So if the source material lends itself to various casts, is it so terrible that others are now assuming the same roles? Theatre does it all the time.
Now that I’ve seen two episodes I completely get why CBS has decided to give this classic another go -and it’s not Matthew Perry as Oscar Maddison. It’s Thomas Lennon. This guy is pitch perfect as the neurotic Felix Unger. There are plenty who could play the slovenly sports-journo, Oscar. But only Jim Parsons or David Hyde Pierce could tip Lennon as Felix.
The premise has changed little: Felix has been thrown out by his wife and arrives at the apartment of his best pal (always at the most inopportune time, when his latest conquest is about to submit). Before long the two are impossible roommates. In one sign of the times, Oscar is no longer a print sports reporter, but a sportscaster (complete with an electronic ticker above his bedroom). Felix is still a photographer. Oscar also has an assistant, Dani (Community‘s Yvette Nicole Brown) who spends more time in the apartment than any office, clearly for economic purpose.
There are also the usual ensemble pals to Oscar, one of whom is NewsRadio‘s Dave Foley.
While the punchlines are laid on thick, some thankfully hit their target, due to the comic timing of the two leads. I could take or leave Perry, who seems to be constantly striving for a star vehicle since the demise of Friends (I quite liked the short lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), but Lennon, better known for Reno 911!, hits the physical and verbal comedy with ease.
Reassuringly, the series also has original producer, the legendary Garry Marshall, as a consulting producer and Frasier writer Joe Keenan on board.
The premise of two polar opposites under one roof is one of the great sitcom classics. The Odd Couple has been revived before, animated, turned into a female version, an African-American version and hijacked by all kinds of shows including Will and Grace, New Girl, Dharma and Greg -even Frasier Crane was an odd couple with his working class father.
I don’t see this version hitting the heights of Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, but if Neil Simon’s play can be revived time and again (you listening, Shaun Micallef and Francis Greenslade?) then it could do a lot worse than Matthew Perry & Thomas Lennon.
The Odd Couple airs with a double episode 7:30pm Monday on TEN.