Let’s talk about Oscar Madison.
You know, the fictional sportswriter. Cigar-smoker, beer-drinker, poker-player, buddy to Murray the Cop.
Forever cranky roommate to fussbudget Felix Ungar.
Oh, yes, that is the crux of the long-lived male tale born in the mind of playwright Neil Simon for the 1965 Broadway production “The Odd Couple,” with Walter Matthau mixing it up with Art Carney as Felix.
And that title went on to become a hit movie in 1968, America further falling for the eccentricities of both characters.
The cinematic version starred the already craggy-faced Matthau as Oscar, and the makers were wise to pick fastidious Jack Lemon as Felix. That pair already had big screen chemistry in 1966’s “The Fortune Cookie.” Buddy movies, indeed. That give-and-take smartly carried on for more great tension and humor for generations thereafter. Grumpy old men, anyone?
The popularity of the characters was picked up by TV moguls, and ABC enlisted Jack Klugman to play Oscar and Tony Randall to annoy him as Felix for five seasons, from 1970 to 1975. Klugman had replaced Matthau in the sportswriter’s role late in the Broadway run, but according to WikiPedia, Simon still was against the storyline being adapted for bite-sized sitcom pieces. But by the end of the run, says the bio, Simon even made a cameo appearance.
And Oscar and Felix were a part of American psychology. The messy one and the neat one. The loud one and the nervous one. The don’t-care and the care-too-much. Baseball cap vs. stylish haircut. Untucked vs. tucked. It goes on today, does it not?
All this stereotyping, by the way, I’m not so sure how good it did or does our society. For comedy, though, pure gold. And for me, personally, as I rose through junior high and high school, watching the snippets of Oscar’s version of covering the New York Mets in the press box sure did nothing to deter my dreams of becoming a sportswriter. I went away to college to study journalism, I liked to drink beer. I got a job covering sports. My apartment may have been a bit messy … Yes, indeed, I came down mostly on the Oscar side of the equation. Nowadays, I’ve morphed some in the everyday aspects of living, by the way, and found that life can be truly grand when you’re man enough to be Oscar here and Felix there.
TV being TV, ABC naturally came up with “The New Odd Couple” in 1982, featuring a pair of popular black actors. Garry Marshall, who produced the original show and then mega-hit “Happy Days,” brought on Demond Wilson, the ever-suffering son from “Sanford and Son” and Ron Glass, the sharp-dressed detective from “Barney Miller” as Oscar and Felix, but the show only lasted 13 episodes. In fact, if not for Wiki, this one would have continued to sit squarely in my sitcom blind spot.
We continue to recycle here in our U.S. of A., though, so that brings us to this Thursday, 8:30 p.m., and one particular CBS’ mid-season add-on.
Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar are coming back. “The Odd Couple” will star Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon. Perry’s the big name, of course, and he also developed the series and is listed as an executive producer. My guess is that he got to pick his role. He’s Oscar.
I’m not buying Matthew Perry as my Oscar Madison.
To me, Perry is the fussy one, the neurotic. He’s forever Chandler Bing on “Friends,” mixing it up with Joey Tribbiani and Ross Geller and Rachel Green and Phoebe Buffay before marrying Monica Geller.
Yeah, I know, Perry played a radio sports talk host for one season on NBC’s sitcom “Go On,” and I liked him, and the show. But he was plenty neurotic and way more Felix than Oscar.
Here’s the link to the Wiki history of “The Odd Couple.”
I offer my opinion after watching the first two episodes at that link.
Are you a fan of the play, movie or original TV series “The Odd Couple,” and why? Are you an Oscar or a Felix, and why? Do you buy Matthew Perry as Oscar, and why?