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Monday, November 4, 2013

'Alice' S4: Fantastic Four and Prelude to 'Flo' on DVD

Alice: The Complete Fourth Season Flo: The Complete Series
The most exciting thing about Warner Archive's October 2013 DVD release of the fourth season of the mid70s-to-mid 80s sitcom "Alice" is that Archive is following CBS' lead from back then by quickly following up this release with a November 5, 2013 DVD release of the "Alice" spin-off "Flo." Unreal TV hopes to follow this trend by running a review of "Flo" soon after its release.

Before returning the focus to "Alice," the upcoming release of "Flo" requires sharing a story about the awesomeness of Polly Holliday, who portrays the titular vivacious Texan. An interview with Holliday reports that her response when fans ask her to utter her uber-famous catchphrase "kiss mah grits" is that she tells that person that he or she has heard Holliday say it many times and that she wants to hear that person's version. This grace is one reason that Polly is the most special Holliday of all.

Numerologists should be excited about the second most exciting element of this release of the fourth season of "Alice;" the number four is highly relevant regarding this season.

The most obvious relevance relates to "Alice" having a primary cast of four. Linda Lavin stars as the titular character, a New Jersey widow who ends up working a "temporary" job as a waitress in Phoenix for nine years when her station wagon breaks down on her way to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood. Fans will need to wait for Archive's inevitable release of "Alice's" ninth season to see if she (like an even more famous independent woman of the '70s) is "gonna make it after all."

Vic Tayback plays warm-hearted but gruff diner owner Melvin Emory Sharples; the rest of the crew consists of Beth Howland as waitress/"dinghy chick" Vera Louise Gorman and the aforementioned Holliday as Florence Jean Castleberry. Flo's departure roughly three-fourth into the season prompts adding Diane Ladd, who plays Flo in the 1974 feature film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" that inspires the sitcom, to the cast as the new waitress Belle. (The review of the DVD release of "Alice's" fifth season will further address aspects of adding Ladd to the cast.)

The number four is also relevant regarding Holliday's departure to star in her spin-off. The episode in which Flo bids adieu to Mel's Diner is arguably one of the top four sendoffs of a major character in sitcom history.

Henry Blake leaving "M*A*S*H" is largely regarded as the top such sendoff; the other two contenders for the "final four" are Shelley Long departing "Cheers" and Steve Carell quitting "The Office."

The four "very special" celebrity guest stars are the most fun element of this numerological exercise. "Kojak" star Telly Savalas starts this series (and the fourth season) off well in an episode in which his stopping by the diner while Vera is alone triggers the "sit" of the week. The problem is that Vera's history of false celebrity sightings results in no one believing that she met Savalas.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of when Telly Met Vera and provides a good sense of "Alice" but does not involve Savalas saying "I'll have what she's having."

Martha Raye, who stars in the recently reviewed Blu-ray version of the Doris Day musical "Billy Rose's Jumbo," shows up a few weeks later in her first of two fourth season appearances as Mel's mother. This one has her figuratively and literally inadvertently stealing Mel's fire. Raye's chemistry with Lavin is particularly strong and reminiscent of Raye's scenes with Day.

Dinah Shore shows up a week after Raye to host Mel on her talk show in one of several episodes throughout the series that revolves around Mel's fame for making exceptional chili. Even casual fans of "Alice" can see the Lavin/Shore duet coming from a mile.

"The Honeymooners" star Art Carney shows up a few weeks after Dinah in another chili-oriented episode. This one has him starring in a commercial for that product.

Another great "Alice" episode also focuses on Mel's chili. "Flo's Chili Reception" has that waitress dating Mel's competitor Barney of Barney's Burger Barn. The "sit" is that Mel asserts that Barney is only dating Flo to get her to divulge Mel's recipe for his signature dish.

"Chili" includes the usual classic sitcom humor of "Alice," may be the only episode in which the oft-mentioned Barney appears, has New Jerseyian Alice doing an amusing impression of Texan Flo complete with a red beehive wig, and nicely portrays the genuine affection that the gruff Mel and tough Flo feel for each other.

The remaining 20 episodes simply offer roughly 20 minutes of good escapist fun. Although many plots are cliched, cliches exist because they succeed. Additionally, "Alice" portrays them well.

These tried-but-true stories include Alice's teenage son Tommy developing an intense crush on Vera, the gang getting stranded in a run-down cabin just before a storm, Vera trying to adopt a more alluring personality, and the gang playing out one of the four Christmas plots that classic sitcoms ultimately portray.

A related note in this period leading up to the holiday season is that "Alice's" classic second season Christmas holiday episode "A Semi Merry Christmas" takes a more original approach to a sitcom holiday offering. It also inspires constant references to "Roscoe's House of Reptiles" on every road trip.

The final word regarding this almost always amusing, and sometimes hilarious, show that combines a good original cast and successful comedy veterans behind the scenes is that the very few among you who will not like it can kiss mah grits.

As a final aside, a policy of  lips that touch grits shall never touch mine makes good sense. 

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Alice" or "Flo" is welcome to email me. You can also follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.