The Third Season
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Reviewed by Jeff Giles
uring its third season, “Laverne & Shirley” hit Number One in the Neilsens, eclipsing even its parent show, “Happy Days,” and cementing its status as a full-fledged phenomenon in the bargain – which begs the question: What the fuck were American television audiences thinking during the 1977-78 season? For that matter, what were they thinking during the remainder of this show’s inexplicable seven-year run? You may remember “Laverne & Shirley” being a slapstick-heavy show, hammy in a charming sort of way, and if you do, you’re right – minus the “charming” part. The broad-as-a-barn-door writing and unbelievably over-the-top acting in these episodes makes “Three’s Company” look like something Steven Wright wrote on a cocaine bender.
Taste is subjective, of course, but come on. People could not have been this undemanding in the late ‘70s, could they? Watching these 24 episodes, it’s hard not to blame “Laverne & Shirley” for the so-called “death of the sitcom” in the early ‘80s. It isn’t at all out of the question to imagine that people might have watched the “Laverne & Shirley” cast mug its way through “Tag Team Wrestling,” for instance, and simply decide that looking to television as a source of laughter was no longer worth the effort. Writing funny scripts – hell, even two-dimensional scripts – was mostly more trouble than it was worth for the “Laverne & Shirley” writing staff, after all.
The bitterest rub is that there was real talent involved in this show. Penny Marshall, of course, was savvier than the “L”-emblazoned doof she portrayed on the series; and Michael McKean, a.k.a. Lenny, is arguably one of the greatest comedic minds of his generation. “Laverne & Shirley” creators Garry Marshall and Lowell Ganz were also responsible for Pretty Woman and Splash, among many others, and the rest of the cast and crew weren’t exactly slouches, either. So what gives? Why are these episodes so painful?
There isn’t any answer, really. It isn’t as though every other sitcom of the era was this purposely dumb. In fact, a lot of them were sharper and more subversive than much of what the networks air today. Chalk it up to Marshall and Ganz understanding that there’s always an audience for crap like this – just ask Dave Coulier’s agent – and consciously deciding to exploit that audience for as long as possible. And at the end of the day, “Laverne & Shirley” was never malignant – for a lot of people, it presented an opportunity to just switch off their brains and laugh without thinking for half an hour, and in that context, it’s no worse than “Full House” or “According to Jim.” Just don’t go into these DVDs expecting the episodes to have aged well, because they really haven’t.
Hardcore fans should also brace themselves for the usual TV-to-DVD disappointments. CBS has subbed stock background music for many ofthe period songs featured in the original broadcast episodes, in some cases forcing jarring edits (case in point: the opening scene of “Laverne’s Arranged Marriage,” which has been excised entirely), and the remastering isn’t particularly impressive. Still, it’s listed at under $40, and it’s got every episode from what could be described as the show’s best season, all in one place. They may not have done it your way (yes, your way), but this is bound to make a few fans’ dreams come true.