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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

'Laverne and Shirley' S6: 'Lost' Episode and Groovy '60s Era Guest Stars Make Season Memorable

The DVD release, which is coming out on May 21, 2013, of the sixth season of the '70s/'80s comedy set in the '50s/'60s "Laverne and Shirley" wildly exceeded all fairly high expectations.

"Laverne and Shirley" was a spinoff of "Happy Days," and both series were part of ABC's "must see" Tuesday night line up in the late '70s and early '80s. "Three's Company" followed them in the 9:00 p.m. slot, and other less successful series followed "Three's Company." The 9:30 p.m. programs included the Madeline Kahn sitcom "Oh Madeline" and the Walter Mittyesque (Google it millenials) show "Reggie."

"Days" and "Laverne" creator, and brother of "Laverne" star Penny Marshall, Garry Marshall has stated that setting the series in an earlier period prevented them from looking dated. That succeeded and added to the enjoyment of the "Laverne" sixth season episodes, which were set in 1965.

The premise of "Laverne" was that the titular characters were high school friends who became roommates after graduating and split their time off from dead-end blue collar jobs dating men in the hopes of finding their princes and generally trying to literally move up from the cellar. This often led to hijinks that have fairly been compared to the antics of Lucy and Ethel on "I Love Lucy."

The sixth season was one of the more pivotal for "Laverne" because it was the one in which the 20-something Milwaukee girls packed up and moved to "beautiful downtown" Burbank, which was not very far from Beverly. Hills that is.

Watching the episodes on DVD was a real treat because many of them seemed a bit longer than syndicated versions. Several episodes had epilogues that I had not remembered despite having watched them on the Hub network last year, there were other scenes that I had not recalled, and the great placement shots seemed more numerous. It seemed too that a brief shot of new regular Sonny (more on him below) that will excite his fans was excluded from the opening credits on the syndicated versions.

The sixth season DVD set was also unusual in that it included special features, which later season sets of series generally lacked. A gag reel of joking, flubs, and curses was entertaining. Episodic previews added a nice nostalgic touch.

Rather than being a jump the shark moment, moving to California gave the series a great jump start and an awesome new opening credit sequence to the series' truly iconic theme song. Hearing the catchy optimistic "Making Our Dreams Come True" at the beginning of the season premiere evoked a nice smile.

Buyers of the DVD should watch the credits for the first three episodes to see the transition in them.

On arriving in California, the girls moved into a one-bedroom apartment that was much nicer than their dreary Milwaukee digs. The duo also quickly made friends with their new neighbors, who became series regulars.

Hunky, rather than dreamy, Sonny managed the building and was a professional stuntman. It was nice to see this thoroughly charming hunk o' beefcake portrayed as being perhaps the smartest character on the show. Adding him to the cast also provided veteran character Carmen "The Big Ragoo" Ragusa a buddy and roommate.

The girls' next door neighbor was a blonde statuesque party girl/wannabe starlet named Rhonda. Rhonda was not evil but was so self-absorbed that she took advantage of the girls' kind natures largely without being aware that she was doing so.

The very weird and not-so-bright fan favorites Lenny and Squiggy moved into the building's fourth apartment. The writers substituted an interconnected doggy door for the dumb waiter that had run between the girls' and the boys' Milwaukee apartments.

Many sixth season episodes retained the slapstick schtick nature of previous seasons. Early episodes had Laverne wreaking havoc after getting drunk from eating rum-filled candy during her first day as a gift wrapper at a department store and getting stuck out on a ledge. Another episode had the girls thrashing about when an earthquake hit their apartment building.

This was also the season in which the girls planned and executed a complex "Mission Impossible" style caper to retrieve a nasty letter that they had written their boss.

Similar episodes had Shirley working as a knife thrower and Laverne being the target of said projectiles at the grand opening of the barbecue restaurant that Laverne's father and stepmother Frank and Edna DeFazio had purchased. That scene was hilarious, and an ongoing bit regarding the characters being too frantic to properly welcome Carmen to California in that episode was equally amusing.

Some other episodes had more mature themes. A surprisingly dark one had the gang deeply hurt each other while playing a game that required brutally honesty in answering questions about other players. The "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" vibe got so strong that Laverne began the process of kicking Shirley out of their apartment.

A rarely syndicated "lost" episode entitled "I Do I Do" involved the girls attending a party at which "Mary Jane" was in the absurdly smoky "jolly" room, there were several explicit references to smoking marijuana, and the girls inadvertently ate several pot-laced brownies. Until watching that episode, I never thought that I would have seen Lenny and Squiggy get stoned.

Another episode had "The Dating Game" contestant Squiggy using bleeped out explicit language to describe how he would incorporate honey into a date if the female contestant chose him. This was offset with scenes of Laverne, Shirley, Carmen, and Sonny hilariously positioning themselves with tin foil to get decent reception on the girls' television set.

The "I Do" and "Dating Game" episodes also had some of the great '60s era guest stars from sixth season episodes. Peter Noone of the '60s pop group "Herman's Hermits" and Eric Idle of the "Monty Python" comedy troupe played the British pop duo who hosted the party in "I Do." "The Dating Game" host Jim Lange played himself in the episode that revolved around that game show.

Additionally, dreamy '60s matinee idol Troy Donahue played himself in a classic episode in which the girls, who had never performed a stunt, conned their way into jobs as stunt women in a low-budget pre-historic film that starred Donahue.

The changes described above showed that Garry Marshall generally had good instincts aside from making "Days'" Fonzie a water-skiing daredevil, and that Marshall was not afraid to add mature themes to his bubble gum shows.

Any with questions or comments regarding "Laverne," or "Days" is encouraged to email me.