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Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Situation Comedy > Drama > Alice - Television Favorites

Alice – Television Favorites

 

Picture: C+     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:

 

1)     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.

2)     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 boyfriend.

3)     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 great show.

4)     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.

5)     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 moments.

6)     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


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