Alice – Television Favorites
Sound: C+ Extras: D Episodes: B
One of the great TV situation comedies of all time, Alice
is based on Martin Scorsese’s atypical drama Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
(1975), soon following as one of the biggest hit comedies in TV history. Linda Lavin took over Ellen Burstyn’s film
role as Alice Hyatt, a singer, entertainer ands divorcee who is driving to
Hollywood when her and her son Tommy (Philip McKeon) break down in Arizona in
their station wagon. It is finished, so
they “stay a while” as Alice takes a fateful job at Mel’s Diner, getting hired
by its loudmouth owner (the late, great Vic Tayback) and meets fellow
waitresses Florence Jean Castleberry (Polly Holiday in a classic role) and Vera
(Beth Howland) who are used to Mel’s mouth.
The show did the amazing thing of crossing the mature,
adult, intelligent sitcom innovations of the Norman Lear/Bud Yorkin hits like All
In The Family with women’s issues and the best comedy and sharpest comedy
writing you could squeeze in such a show.
The result is an amazing series that has only appreciated in value and
was a hit long past its peak. The show
lasted a long nine seasons, but the Flo character was only in the first four,
leaving a few shows before the end so Diane Ladd could succeed her as Belle
Dupree. Ladd originated Flo in
Scorsese’s film and after being Belle for one more year, left the series as
soon as she got an Emmy, vindicating her own pioneering work.
This single DVD from Warner’s Television Favorites
series offers six shows from the Flo-era, ending with the show where she left
for the failed Flo spin-off. The
episodes are as follows:
Alice Gets A Pass – Usually
progressive-thinking Alice is all happy when Mel’s football hero friend comes
to town and makes Tommy happy, until she greenlights Tommy going camping with
them, then finds out the quarterback is gay!
This was the second show of the series.
The Odd Couple – Episode 20 of the
first season finds Flo’s trailer robbed, so she stays with Alice and becomes
the houseguest from hell. The great
comic actor Kenneth Mars (What’s Up Doc?,
The Producers) plays Flo’s latest
Close Encounters Of The Worst Kind – This
second season show has Alice introducing basic psychology to the gang and it
backfiring when they all start to suspect each other of manipulation and stop
talking. It gets funnier when they get
together after a truce and pretend to be each other. A highlight of the whole series, it is a
Block Those Kicks – This third season show
is a mixed one in which the gang agrees to give up their vices so Mel will not
gamble the diner away. Not one of the
best or strongest shows and an odd choice for a highlights compilation.
Cabin Fever – This season four show has two
owners of the same cabin unknowingly promising Mel and the girls use of the
place at the same time. It has its
Flo's Farewell – Flo leaves in a strong
send-off show that began the slow decline of the series. The writers did not slack off here, with
plenty of laughs left.
This is one of the most perfectly cast TV series in TV
history, with endless chemistry and the show was a groundbreaker, more apparent
now after the regressive 1980s where both the working class and women in the
workplace suddenly disappeared. I even
wondered if politics were one of the reasons shows like this, Maude and One
Day At A Time were not showing up.
We miss this cast and I bet we are not alone.
Another plus for the show was that co-producers Bob
Carroll Jr. and Madeline Davis had helped to invent the sitcom in with I
Love Lucy and subsequently worked with Lucy in later years. Lucy later decried the Norman Lear approach,
but this version was a hybrid served up at its best and is a crown jewel in
Warner TV Comedy. We had this on our DVD
wishlist for this year and its great at least some of them are now available.
The 1.33 X 1 image is one of the best NTSC-to-DVD
transfers of a TV series we have seen to date, retaining the colors, look and
feel of the show throughout. This was
always one of the best-shot videotaped situation comedies ever made and you can
see the evolution of NTSC throughout the show’s run and the credits do use
footage form the Scorsese film when Alice & Tommy are riding with Elton
John in the background. You will not
hear that in the Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono, but I was very impressed with how
cleanly and clearly the old analog mono was translated into this Dolby signal,
retaining all the qualities, characters and even flaws of the original
audio. Dialogue is clear for its time
and all the jokes come through. It has
never looked or sounded so good. There
are no extras, but hopefully will be when Warner starts putting the show out
season by season. Like Welcome Back,
Kotter, this single release should go flying off shelves.
- Nicholas Sheffo