Twenty years ago, TV series Friends began. Ten years ago, Friends ended.
Since then Matthew Perry’s career has been a series of answers to trivia quiz questions:
What was the name of Aaron Sorkin’s failed series about a comedy show?
What was the name of the film where Zac Efron played an adult who was 17 … again?
What the hell is Mr Sunshine?
(Answers: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip; 17 Again; a comedy series about an entertainment venue manager that was neither comedic nor entertaining, but did have a great cast – hi Allison Janney as a drunk rich widow!)
Meet the ‘Odd Couple’
Fifty years ago, The Odd Couple was a play by Neil Simon that debuted on Broadway.
Forty years ago, it became a TV series that lasted for five seasons and countless repeats.
Since then it has had some bizarre failed sequels and become the model for a number of shameless sitcom rip-offs (Hi Two and a Half Men!)
Then one day when this actor met this old show, and they knew that it was much more than a hunch, that these two would somehow form … possibly the most retro comedy on television ever.
For watching The Odd Couple is like slipping into a daggy old jumper that has been used for years to line the dog bed.
Everything about it oozes old, out-of-fashion and a desperation to be liked. But it is very, very comfortable … with the occasional flea.
Perry, who also acts as one of the writers, plays Oscar Madison – the slob – while Thomas Lennon, who is a more experienced writer but doesn’t write on this, plays Felix Unger – the neat freak.
They have a good chemistry together and both have superb comedic timing.
Surrounding them is Community star Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays Felix’s assistant, Leslie Bibb from Good Christian Bitches as his love interest, Lindsay Sloane as her sister and Wendell Pierce from The Wire as Felix’s agent.
Which is to say, this is a group of actors who know their stuff.
Prepare your time machine
There are times, too many in the first two episodes certainly, that this feels like a museum piece.
Not only is it a classic (i.e old-fashioned) multi-camera sitcom centred almost entirely around Felix’s sofa, but some of the lines feel like they’ve been found down the back of it from script writers’ meetings last century.
At one point in the first episode the camera does show the “fourth” wall, and it is full of modern technology.
That’s the only time we see it though and it’s as if the show is wilfully acknowledging the present before carefully putting it aside again.
For that is the charm of The Odd Couple, it is unabashedly old school.
Sure, they have modernised the two divorced guys living together set-up a fraction, but in reality it’s still a relevant scenario.
And people are still neat or messy. The modern frills are stripped back to let the characters do the heavy lifting.
Sometimes it really works. There are moments when this Odd Couple has a fresh personality, skipping from slapstick to cynical one-liner with ease.
Then there are times it doesn’t.
Usually when the writers have clearly gotten too comfortable and make lazy choices.
Too often this show makes them, and given that it is treading such a familiar path, that is a cardinal sin.
A golden oldie in the golden era of television
This is not great television. This is probably not even good television. But it is good enough to be really easy television.
The Odd Couple, 2015 edition, gives us something that is becoming almost too rare.
A bite-size half-hour of lightweight, easily forgettable TV fluff.
It won’t matter if you see every episode. No one will be eliminated in a shock reality television twist.
No one will be burnt to a cinder by Daenerys’ dragons having revealed a crucial plot point.
Drop in halfway through episode five and you won’t be confused for a second.
Each episode Oscar will be a slob. Felix will be on the spectrum. They’ll be funny. And you’ll laugh. Though you won’t want to tell anyone you are.
After all, you’re wearing a jumper from the dog’s bed.
The Odd Couple, Monday, 7.30pm, on TEN.