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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

'Flo' Complete Series DVD: Cowtown Holliday

Flo: The Complete Series
Warner Archive's DVD 4-disc DVD release of all 29 episodes of the '80s Polly Holliday sitcom "Flo" provides a good reminder that (mostly) no breakout sitcom character is a "Gilligan's Island."  The disappointing general truth is that sitcom spinoffs often are more like "Joannie Loves Chachi" or "The Tortellis" than "Laverne and Shirley" or "Frasier."

The better news is that "Flo" neatly falls in the middle of those extremes. The highly successful sitcom team of Dick Clair and Jenna MacMahon, whose credits include creating the "Diff'rent Strokes" spinoff "The Facts of Life" put their skills to good use regarding bringing it to life.

Continuing this indirect discussion of "Cheers" spinoffs, "Flo" is a nice hybrid of that parent show and fellow '80s small-town sitcom "Mama's Family," which sprang from skits on the uber-classic "Carol Burnett Show."

"Flo" picks up roughly one week after the events in an episode in the recently reviewed fourth season of late '70s - mid '80s sitcom "Alice" that focuses on Florence Jean Castleberry departing from that show. Like the central character from "Alice," Flo is "just passing through" her rural hometown of Cowtown, Texas when she succumbs to the temptation of buying her favorite saloon and renaming it Flo's Yellow Rose.

This turn of events quickly makes Flo the "new girl in town" with "a fresh freckled face for the neighborhood." "If things work out, she's goin' stay a while." Unfortunately, the ratings do not work out well enough to keep Flo around for more than one-and-a-half seasons. It is nice to think that she is still holding court in the bar and flirting with truckers who were born in the '80s.

Most of the action in "Flo" centers around the activity at the Yellow Rose and often involves either a personal problem of her part-time rancher bartender, her piano player, her childhood friend/waitress/bookkeeper, or her regulars.

The primary regulars include the slick and generally disreputable banker Farley Waters, who holds the mortgage on the Yellow Rose, and young naive mechanic Randy.

Having George Lindsey, who plays young naive mechanic Goober Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show" play Randy's father/boss is terrific stunt casting; as an aside, "Griffith" spinoff "Mayberry R.F.D." is another example of a show of that genre that does not even approach the fame of the show from which it spins. Of course, "Griffith" spinoff "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." fares better.

One of the better episodes of "Flo" has her two worlds collide by hiring her prissy sister Fran, who is in her mid-30s and still lives with her and Flo's mother, to work in the Yellow Rose. Fran quickly creates comic mayhem by being a Diane Chambers on speed regarding strict adherence to laws governing saloons and by generally behaving as if  the world's largest insect is residing deep in her colon.

A skunk who is living under the bar in another episode presents Flo with almost as serious an obstacle to her business' viability as Fran's employment. Seeing that animal battle Earl the bartender provides some of the best humor in the series.

The strongest connection with "Alice" comes in the form of having Flo's former boss Mel, played by Vic Tayback, stir things up when he comes for a visit. Revealing that Flo tells him "kiss mah grits" is not much of a spoiler alert.

Another carryover from "Alice" involves a "very special" two-part Thanksgiving episode in which Flo secretly invites her estranged father, with whom she reconciles in an "Alice" episode, to her family Thanksgiving dinner. "F Troop's" Forrest Tucker returns to once again play that role.

Another memorable guest star brings a handful of "Alice" elements to "Flo." Similar to country music star Jerry Reed (who was presented as Flo's former baby sitting charge) playing himself on "Alice," country music star Hoyt Axton plays himself in an episode in which truckers raving over the CB about Flo and her saloon prompts him to check out the scene.

Like Telly Savalas in an "Alice" episode, Axton actively participates in causing good-natured damage and offers to pay the expenses. A final fun element of this episode is that Axton, who sings the "Flo" theme song, offers an extended version of "Flo's" theme.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of "Flo's" opening credits and provide a good sense "isn't he the guy who was in that thing?"

The "last call" judgment regarding "Flo" is that it centers around an awesome classic sitcom character played by an even more awesome human being and has plenty of entertaining moments. Fans of "Alice" or sitcoms of that era should consider it a nice treat.

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