Watching the previews before the show’s debut, your writer predicted CBS’ reboot of the Neil Simon chestnut The Odd Couple would be a train wreck. I was wrong, however, or at least I underestimated how awful it would be. Instead of a train caroming off the tracks, this Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon travesty is four trains headed from four different directions to a centralized collision while unfortunate viewers are trapped inside boxcars turned topsy-turvy with a full load of loose livestock excrement.
For those readers who have come to expect a sense of decorum in this space, I apologize. For the producers responsible for The Odd Couple, I’ll do nothing of the sort. Any situation comedy intent on deep-sixing the careers of Dave Foley and Wendell Pierce—and which forces the latter to utter poo jokes—warrants both ridicule and disdain.
Mr. Pierce: The Wire and Treme called, and demand you rescue your reputation.
Mr. Foley: Your former Kids in the Hall and News Radio compatriots called, and request a career intervention.
Regarding the lead actors, we’ve seen this sort of comedy a thousand times before, mostly executed a thousand times better. One is left with the impression the series’ writers raided the dumpster of unused jokes from the far-better Two and a Half Men, the incomparable Frasier, the film and original series of The Odd Couple, and even The Ambiguously Gay Duo to concoct this simple-minded piece of dipwaddery.
Since any comparison to the Walter Matthau/Jack Lemmon and Jack Klugman/Tony Randall pairings performs unnecessary damage to these genuinely classic and extremely funny predecessors, suffice it to say that there exists no believable chemistry between Lennon (always amusing on Reno 911) and Perry (kind of funny on that one show with the girl with a trendsetting haircut) in this latest incarnation. Yes, it’s that bad.
Perry has lost his knack for comedy. Simply put, he cannot anchor a show by his lonesome. Instead of comedic acting, he offers little more than two expressions; the first evoking mild constipation and the second a far more extreme evocation of the first. Rather than delivering lines, he shouts them as if to the back row of a theater. The two stage directions Perry must’ve received are to treat every line as a well-written punch line, and when in doubt, shout.
As written, his character’s (Oscar Madison, of course) penchant for stalking attractive women in his apartment building is disturbing. A scene putting Oscar on roller skates falls flat (kaboom!) since any sportswriter with Madison’s level of success more than likely has at least played ice hockey once in the past. But, no, the desperate pursuit of the cheap laugh mandates Oscar show up at the rink and immediately plop himself on his fanny. Physical comedy isn’t Perry’s métier anyway, so this was an obviously poor choice.
Whereas Lemmon and Randall married broad comedy with a degree of subtlety in their respective portrayals of Felix Unger, Lennon is given one note to play. Although Lennon gives it a go, the material isn’t there to lift him beyond the level of annoying.
Three episodes into the The Odd Couple’s first season, I took two aspirin to alleviate the headache brought on by all of Perry’s shouting, and I called it quits. All this writer can hope for is that huge residual payments await the 87-year-old Neil Simon, who took a huge risk to his esteemed reputation by allowing two of his most memorable characters to suffer the outrageous (mis)fortune of this cheap rehash.
Now, on to something I can really recommend: HBO premiered the Alex Gibney documentary Going Clear this past Sunday. The film concerns the charlatanism of L. Ron Hubbard, the man who wrote Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, founded Scientology, and turned the nominally religious group into a celebrity-plagued cash cow that flamboozled the Internal Revenue Service out of billions of dollars in tax receipts. There isn’t much new information presented here that hasn’t been reported extensively in The New Yorker and other publications over the past several years, but the film compellingly presents evidence that the rapidly diminishing cult with a very large pocketbook is one big scam perpetrated upon the American people.