Neil Simon’s original play, The Odd Couple is a comedy classic that no TV sitcom incarnation has given the story any justice. The 1970-1975 version with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman came the closest, but it pales in comparison to the wit of the original. In 1982, a new “black” version of the show dubbed, The New Odd Couple debuted for an extra short season. Apparently changing the race of the main characters didn’t make the show any funnier.
Last night, CBS ran the pilot episode of yet a “new” Odd Couple that starred Matthew Perry as Oscar Madison, the messy sports radio commentator who “works” from home in his boxers. Thomas Lennon plays the ying to Oscar’s yang, the extremely tidy Felix Unger. The new show makes a valiant try of recreating the comedy borrowing the same theme song from the first TV show and storyline from the original play. But in the end, it is another flawed production for a variety of reasons.
First, the 22 minute show tries to cram in every aspect of the original two hour play which is tough to do. It tried to address about six different plot points. Second, last night, seven characters were introduced. This is a common mistake of many sitcoms as allows for virtually no time for character development. Third, the show immediately goes where all CBS comedies go these days – sex. In the pilot, Oscar meets an attractive women in his apartment complex who tells him that she really isn’t wanting a meaningful relationship – she’s just looking for someone to have sex with. Fourth, while Lennon is over-the-top in his role as Felix, (he could calm down the role a bit), Perry is all wrong for Oscar. Perhaps it is all of his years playing Chandler Bing on Friends that ruined him for this role. He just isn’t messy enough or have the right attitude, but he does have the sarcasm down pat. He would make a very good Felix though.
I do believe that a television version of Neil Simon’s work can be successful, but must have him involved in the project for it to be successful. Simon has his own brand of humor that is hard to replicate and his pace is a lot slower than today’s sitcoms allow, but it still could be done. Last night’s pilot could have been broken up into five episodes alone.
I like Matthew Perry and I hope that he will eventually land a solid role in comedy again, but this isn’t it. The Odd Couple airs Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. on CBS.