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Thursday, April 11, 2013

'Alice' Season 3: A Season of Firsts



Warner Archive's  recent DVD release of the third season of "Alice" gives fans of that true '70s show genuine reasons to rejoice.

This strong season was the last full one that featured sassy Texas waitress Florence Jean "Kiss Mah Grits" Castleberry. Further, this release coming a few months after Archive's release of the second season indicates both that the fourth season will see the light of day in July 2013 and that Archive will ultimately release all nine seasons.

Even better potential news regarding this release is that it indicates that Archive will continue its tradition of offering highly valued rarities by releasing Florence's, better known as Flo,  eponymous spin-off that has her running a Texas bar. It is very nice to know that Flo's other catchphrase "when donkeys fly" no longer applies to the possibility of this series becoming available.

The 1976-1977 first season of "Alice," which I gave a very positive review, established the show's premise. It opened with recent middle-aged widow Alice Hyatt taking a waitress job at the textbook Phoenix greasy spoon Mel's Diner to support herself and her preteen son Tommy until she launched her singing career.

Both the first and second seasons included "very special" episodes on social topics such as women's right to equal pay for equal work, recognizing that a personal attitude toward homosexuality is not as enlightened as desired, and a surprisingly dark offering in which "dinghy" but very sweet waitress Vera overdosed on sleeping pills after being dumped.

Although "Alice" abandoned its serious side by its third season, director William Asher utilized his experience on "I Love Lucy" and numerous other classic sitcoms to maintain good quality. This is even true regarding the creative slants on the numerous sitcom cliches that appeared during the third season.

One could see the pay-offs a mile away in episodes in which numerous characters hid fully clothes in a shower, Flo proudly announced that her hilariously tacky pantsuit was a "one-of-a-kind" original, and Flo was stuck working alone at the diner on New Year's Eve. However, Asher and the talented cast made us laugh at the inevitable.

The classic episode from that season was the Thanksgiving offering in which comically stingy Mel agreed to cook dinner for a group of orphans for the free publicity. The cliched moment related to Mel inadvertently buying live turkeys and Vera bonding with the animals.

Fun surprises in addition to the nature of the turkeys' salvation were Nancy "Jo" McKeon and a young bright-eyed Corey Feldman playing two of the orphans. Nancy was the younger sister of Philip McKeon, who played Tommy.

Seeing how the orphans handled being deprived of turkey was hilarious and adequately heart-warming to make the episode special without being inducing nausea.

An episode in which the cast spent the weekend at Alice's small apartment to kick their individual vices was another standout because of the creative ways in which the characters tried to secretly indulge those harmful activities.

This episode was memorable as well due to its similarity with one from an earlier season in which amateur psychologist Alice organized a (fully clothed) weekend encounter group in her apartment. Further, the twist in the final seconds in the bad habits episode was laugh-out-loud funny.

The third season's drifting into a more traditional sitcom model also introduced several elements that became staples of the show. The season premiere in which Tommy moved in with Mel was the first episode in which Alice introduced her male drag character Sam Butler, who would reappear to save the day in a later third season episode.

An episode in which Alice worked a late-night shift introduced Dave "Reuben Kincaid" Madden (you millenials know by now that I will invite you to Google that one.) as Earl the high school basketball coach and one of Flo's countless gentleman callers.

Veteran actress Martha Raye rounded out the trifecta of firsts by making her first appearance as Mel's mother Carrie. This episode had Mel building up enough courage to stand up to his mother's domineering attitude toward him. The spoiler alert is that Carrie did not fling wire hangers at Mel.

As always, folks with questions or comments regarding "Alice" are welcome to email me. Please remember that rude remarks or inquiries run the risk of either an invitation to kiss mah grits or a response of "stow it."