You’re familiar with the premise of The Odd Couple—probably to the point where just reading that title makes you groan.
A heteronormative schlub who like sports, backwards baseball caps, and drinking beer in the morning is unlikely friends with an uptight and effeminate clean freak with serious resting bitch face. In what universe will these two wildly different guys be friends? Why, in the wacky world of sitcoms of course!
The opposites attract premise has been replicated too many times to count since The Odd Couple first debuted on Broadway in 1965, then at movie theaters in 1968, and, finally, on TV in 1970. It shouldn’t be a surprise that TV history is littered with Odd Couple copycats. “Sitcom” stands for “situation comedy”; there needs to be an established situation for laugh track-fueled hijinx to ensue from, and what situation is more ripe for hijinks than a slob living with a neurotic?
Roommates Who Clash, Hilariously. It’s a genius setup!
So genius, in fact, that it may be singularly responsible for Hollywood’s insufferable laziness when it comes to comedy programming in the years that have ensued.
In fact, CBS, the network that will be premiering the insipid, Matthew Perry-led remake of The Odd Couple on Thursday night, already has three other TV series currently airing that are, unequivocally, exactly The Odd Couple, just with different names: Two and a Half Men, 2 Broke Girls, and The Big Bang Theory.
The Odd Couple formula has, to be fair, been cleverly and, at times, even progressively remixed over the years. Kate and Allie did it with women. Mork and Mindy added a quite literal Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus twist to it. Will & Grace explored it with a gay-straight/male-female dynamic. Even the current crop of CBS rip-offs—at one point in their runs—could’ve been considered excellent, or at least provocative, programming. Hell, the formula is so easy to digest that The Big Bang Theory is the most-watched show on TV by a long shot.
But simply remaking The Odd Couple with not a single twist, sociocultural update, lick of creativity, or iota of any discernible energy is borderline despicable. This is the laziest comedy on TV—a title that is very hard to win.
Lazy, arguably, would be excusable if this new Odd Couple was funny. Though the Very Enthusiastic laugh track might suggest otherwise, this is not a funny show. It is antiquated and broad in a way that’s actively off-putting. The 22 minutes is a non-stop barrage of dad jokes, but even saying that doesn’t give credit to the humor of your dad. Sometimes dad is really funny! This is funny never.
We have Matthew Perry replacing Jack Klugman as Oscar and Thomas Lennon replacing Tony Randall as Felix. We use the word “replace” here because there is no attempt to remix or shade or modernize Klugman and Randall’s original creations.
Lennon fares far better than Perry, fully committing to the indignities of this obtuse brand of humor with a freneticism that may have developed into something actually compelling with better material. Perry, on the other hand, misconstrues continually raising the pitch of his voice as character development—like some SNL sketch satirizing Chandler Bing. By the end of the episode, only dogs can hear him.
When the series begins, Perry’s Oscar is working from home, talking to his assistant. But he’s not wearing any pants! Oh what a loose cannon, that one. When his assistant leaves, he sniffs an old sandwich and then eats it while the audience simultaneously groans in disgust and giggles wildly. Then he tosses the sandwich over his shoulder again. The frivolity!
When his hot neighbor, played with admirable gumption by Leslie Bibb, comes by, she’s disgusted by his sty of an apartment. “Wow, this is where the garbage chute goes,” she says. That apartment is really dirty!
Then, fresh from being kicked out of the house by his wife because he seems pretty damn insufferable, Lennon’s Felix shows up on Oscar’s doorstep. Immediately, you can tell that this guy is a bit much. “Oh my,” you might snicker. “He’s really going to hate Oscar’s dirty apartment.” Wouldn’t you know it? He does! He hates it!!
Soon he moves in. He cleans. He cooks. He saves the ficus on the terrace. He asks Oscar to take off his sneakers and put on booties from the bootie basket, so as to not dirty the carpet. He cooks vegan meatballs when Oscar’s buds (Matt Foley and Wendell Pierce) come over to watch the sports game. These are such sports game-watching buds, you guys. You just know they’re not going to like how uptight Felix is. When it’s suggested that the healthy meatballs will help them live longer, one says, “You’ve met my wife. Why would I want to live longer?” What fun! What offensive, misogynistic fun!
Confusingly, based on that gem, it’s the female cast members who come off the best in this. Bibb is a seasoned pro, trying her damnedest to turn turd writing into diamonds. She musters some passable costume jewelry. And Lindsay Sloane, as a possible love interest for Felix, is the closest thing this show has to funny. Bless her, she even creates a nuanced, fully realized character and everything. Poor girl—no one told her that wasn’t necessary with this show.
My best guess is that people are going to watch this show. It’s an easy show to watch. It’s on the same night as The Big Bang Theory. It’s on CBS, the only network people actually watch. It has Matthew Perry in it. It’s called The Odd Couple. The remote control is all the way over there so, fine, we’ll just keep this crap on.
It’s almost fitting, actually, that people will simply watch The Odd Couple out of habit, or because they feel some sort of obligation or vague intrigue over the former Friends star and the brand recognition of the title. It’s a lazy way to watch TV when there is so much excellent, challenging television out there that requires a semblance of effort to find and brainpower to enjoy. It’s a laziness that this show deserves. Because it doesn’t deserve anything more.