The Complete Series

CBS Blu-ray $79.99

Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple debuted on Broadway in March of 1965 and ran for more than two years, a great success story and arguably Simon’s funniest and most-loved comedy. The plot – two divorced men, one an anal-retentive hypochondriac and the other the world’s foremost slob – was inspired by the messy divorces of Neil’s older brother Danny and of close friend Mel Brooks. The Simons and Brooks had honed their writing skills on Your Show of Shows in the early 1950s.

The original Broadway show featured Walter Matthau as sloppy Oscar and Art Carney as fastidious Felix; for the 1968 film, Carney was replaced by frequent Matthau co-star Jack Lemmon. The film version was a massive box-office hit, and ABC-TV purchased the rights to turn it into a TV series that debuted in the fall of 1970, starring Jack Klugman (who had replaced Matthau on Broadway) and Tony Randall.

A reliable if unspectacular success on ABC, The Odd Couple ran for five seasons, bounced around between Thursday and Friday nights and at various time slots, for a while directly following The Brady Bunch on the early Friday night schedule; talk about your odd couple! Always popular since its cancellation via never-ending television syndication, all 114 episodes are now available in a 15-disc Complete Series Blu-ray collection from CBS/Paramount via Allied Vaughn.

There are a lot of laughs here, and it’s interesting to view the show chronologically and see the changes wrought, mainly by ABC’s tinkering. The early episodes (labeled Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple) seem to be a direct continuation of the play and movie; no “origin story” here, we join Felix Unger and Oscar Madison already at home (seemingly roomies for four years), and their poker buddies and wacky upstairs neighbors the Pigeon Sisters are on full display, although the poker games would be less frequently utilized and the Pigeons would disappear completely after the early episodes. Instead, other potential romantic partners come and go and more emphasis put on Oscar and Felix's occupations (in the series, Randall is a photographer and Madison is a sportswriter). One wonders if these attempts to tweak the ratings were doomed to failure all along, but they never helped the ratings. On a brighter note, frequent celebrity guests (Allan Ludden and Betty White in probably the series’ funniest episode, as our heroes appear on the game show Password; Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King continuing their epic battle of the sexes, this time with Oscar) add a lot of laughs, and random episodes – including an air conditioning unit that Felix is convinced is haunted, and Felix photographing a couple of little people and trying not to say “midget” – are amongst the funniest things ever written for TV. We’re also big fans of Penny Marshall, in her pre-Laverne DeFazio days, as Myrna Turner.

The Odd Couple: The Complete Series includes a nice array of bonus material, including intros by Garry Marshall, who helped develop the play and film into the series, and vintage cast appearances on talk shows and other venues to promote the show. The bad news is that musical numbers are missing from a handful of the episodes, a victim of licensing shortcomings. Even if we’ll never get to hear Parnell Roberts sing “Cocktails for Two,” this set - with impeccable sound and picture, plus sub-titles and bonus material - will no doubt be the best chance to own a collection of this fan-favorite series.