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Monday, November 12, 2012

'Alice' Season 2: Endorsed by Former Phoenix Resident

The DVD set of the second season of the classic '70s sitcom "Alice" solidifies my genuine desire to kiss the ring of the Warner Brothers executive who spearheaded releasing 1,000s of great television and film titles collecting dust in the Warner vaults. Aside from review copies, I have purchased numerous classic films and beloved '70s Hanna-Barbera cartoons from this wide-ranging collection.

"Alice" S2 is the latest example of terrific Warner Archives borrowing a page from the equally great Shout Factory's playbook. This helps revive a previously abandoned great show, and Archives seems to be releasing a new season every few months. I hope to be enjoying the third season set in February.

Archives was also Shoutesque in including two fourth season episodes that were intended for the second season. More "Alice" is always good, and seeing the later version of the opening credits was a treat.

Before fully expressing my thoughts on what may be the best season of this CBS staple, I want to share the reaction of a friend who visited over the weekend. 

Because my friend shares my love of classic sitcom and lived in Phoenix, which is where Alice and her fellow waitresses dished out inedible meatloaf and much better chili at Mel's, I was confident that he would enjoy watching "Alice."

I initiated watching several episodes and kept us going while working toward a particularly noteworthy offering, but my friend surpassed me in saying "one more." 

At one point, I had burned out after watching five straight episodes of "Alice" S2 on a day after we had watched several others and invited my friend to choose another show among the 1,000s in my collection. He asked to watch more "Alice," and we ended up watching two more episodes.

My friend shared that the oft-mentioned Camelback Inn is a luxury resort that at least one President Bush has frequented, that Phoenix no longer celebrated "Admission Day" in the 21st century, and that Phoenix itself has grown into the fifth largest city in the United States since "Alice" first aired. 

The classic "Alice" Christmas episode, which will find its way back into my DVD player during the holiday season, is a prime example of the series' exceptional second season that captivated my friend and myself. This clip provides a taste of the story that has the entire cast taking a road trip in an 18-wheeler so that Alice and her 13 year-old son Tommy can visit relatives in Colorado. No, the family members are not named Kenny, Stan, Kyle, or Cartman.

Humorous moments that are typical of the characters' personalities are Alice being the mom of the group by helping ensure everyone's comfort while still trying to maintain order, "dinghy" waitress Vera relentlessly reading the signs for a roadside attraction but not sharing more important information from another highway sign, and sassy tacky Texan Flo flirting on the CB, that's citizen band radio to those of you not old enough to remember the Burt Reynolds' film "Smokey and the Bandit" or the classic song about a great big convoy that is a beautiful sight heading out into the night. CONVOY!"

Meanwhile, Tommy is having a great time thinking of cavorting with his cousins in the Colorado snow. Mel's role consists of driving the truck, bantering with Flo, and telling Vera to stow it. This is not to mention his secret profit motive for the journey.

The three equally classic "guest star" episodes  were also memorable aspects of "Alice's" second season. In each case, the celebrity of the week was integrated into the plot line well and not simply there to eat at the diner and make a thinly-veiled reference to what made them a celebrity.

The episode involving veteran actor George Burns was the most unique of the three. He had just played God in the hit film "Oh God," and Vera genuinely believed that Burns was God. Burns displayed his typical grace, no pun intended, and everything worked out in the end.

An episode in which well-known Cuban philanderer Desi Arnaz played a philandering Cuban fashion photographer was very entertaining but a bit more "Three's Company" than "I Love Lucy" or "Alice." Seeing Arnaz in more of a Lucy role in being the one who has "'splainin" to do and who ends up trapped in a sofabed that spontaneously folded up was fun. As an aside, this was the second-to-last time that Arnaz ever appeared on screen.

An episode that involved Flo trying to get concert tickets to see her former baby sitting charge country music star, and "The New Scooby-Doo Movies" guest star, Jerry Reed was the most typically "Alice." Suffice it to say, mayhem ensued when Reed visited the diner.

The second season also had cameo appearances by "The Dick Van Dyke Show's" Morey "Buddy" Amersterdam and "Hogan's Heroes'" Larry "Carter" Hovis.

Consistent with my friend's comment that "Alice" held up much better than he had anticipated, the series had a nice '70s vibe without feeling unduly dated. The aforementioned use of a CB is one example. Others include an episode that had the cast engage in a (clothed) encounter group, many of the men having hairy chests and upper lips, Mel's waitresses protesting Mel paying a newly hired waiter more than they received, and a native American being referred to an Indian.

Episodes that were more "ripped from the headlines" today involved a retired mobster who was on the run from both the feds and his former associates and a rape trial that raised issues regarding how the court system and the public treated the victim.

Anyone with questions or well-intentioned comments regarding "Alice" is encouraged to email me. Anyone with something nasty to say can kiss mah grits.