On February 19th, a new sitcom starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon aired on CBS, The Odd Couple. The new series has apparently been a passion project of Perry’s for some time. He serves as exec producer, staff writer, and star of the sitcom. The Odd Couple was originally a play written by Neil Simon in 1965 for Broadway. Since then, it has been adapted into film in 1968 starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, a TV series in the 70s (that was remade again in the 80s), a 70s cartoon series, as well as many other interpretations. Even trying to ‘update’ the play and bring it into modern times is nothing new. Simon himself updated the play with two female roommates in 1985 for The Female Odd Couple.
When The Odd Couple was first written, divorce was becoming more and more commonplace. Single men living together while still rare, was starting to become necessary on occasion. As such, the play had something to say about society and the changing nature of male friendships and masculinity more generally. But what does it have to say now? It isn’t exactly news that many marriages end in divorce, and divorcees – of either gender – having to live together as a way to make ends meet is not uncommon. So what exactly has Perry updated in his new version of the classic tale? Nothing.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, the set-up is simple. Felix, a neurotic, tidy man is kicked out by his wife and seeks solace with his old friend Oscar. Oscar invites Felix to move in with him since Felix has nowhere else to go. Unfortunately, Oscar is nothing short of a slob, and the two roommates soon drive each other up the wall.
Modern but not enlightened
Bringing The Odd Couple into the 21st century for Perry is more about sports tickers, multiple flat screens, and iPads above updating the comedy or the message. For a sitcom these days to be making jokes about a ‘clean’ man being gay is beyond sad, it is downright offensive. If anything, having one of the characters as gay might have actually updated the premise nicely for our time. Instead of divorced straight men, one of them could have been a divorced gay man. And yes, it would have been far more interesting to have Oscar the slob as the gay man. Why not? I know just as many gay slobs as straight ones. Looking at two men living together and accepting each other’s differing sexualities is far more interesting than what we get.
What is possibly worse is the treatment of women. Leslie Bibb and Lindsay Sloane play the potential love interests for both men. Leggy blonde Bibb is Oscar’s prey as he performs creepy, stalker-esque techniques to get her attention. Not only does she find this endearing – yes, she claims to ‘really like him’ – she laughs when she discovers he tries the same outdated, manipulative strategies on potentially all the (attractive) women in the building. I’m sorry, but what self-respecting woman would laugh at that and still think he was sweet in any way? Come on, give us women we might actually relate to. And I am beyond sick of having the brunette supposedly be the ‘ugly’ one. There is nothing unattractive about Lindsay Sloane. And the supposed humorous comment she makes about her sister probably being a bulimic might as well apply to her as well – both women are incredibly thin and very attractive.
Cheap jokes and awful delivery
The comedy used in Perry’s The Odd Couple falls incredibly flat. The jokes are cheap, unoriginal, and delivered in such an over-rehearsed monotone they become so bad you almost laugh out of feeling sorry for the actors. While Thomas Lennon manages the only decent comedy in the piece with generally excellent line delivery and physical comedy, every moment Perry is meant to be funny is plain sad. The canned laughter track desperately tries to make up for the appalling jokes, being played louder and more raucous with every joke.
If the jokes aren’t relying on stereotypes, gender inequality or other inappropriate, non-PC assumptions, they are so obvious a ten year old could have written them. The brief shining moments – and trust me, they are both brief and infrequent – come with word play. Something that sitcoms like Cheers used to do with elegance. If the writers could pick up on that more so than the tired shtick of male friendships and masculinity, there might be something worth watching in the mess that is The Odd Couple. Unfortunately, it looks like those few moments of glory were happy accidents rather than a potential direction for the show to go in.
Amazingly, the awful pilot managed over 13 million viewers. However, if you take note of the scheduling – appearing directly after the most watched comedy on air these days, The Big Bang Theory, it’s easier to understand the high ratings. Apparently people are just too lazy to change the channel even for something this terrible.
Verdict: This show is so bad it’s almost funny that it ever got made. While Lennon is the one saving grace, he isn’t nearly enough to raise the show out of the very deepest pit of awful.