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Thursday, November 13, 2014

'Laverne and Shirley' S7: The Girls are Back in Tinsel Town

Product Details
The recent bonanza of CBS Home Entertainment DVD releases of seasons of the '70s sitcom "Happy Days" and "Days" spinoffs includes a three-disc set of the 22-episode 1981-82 seventh season of "Laverne and Shirley," which stars future film director Penny Marshall as Laverne and Cindy Williams as Shirley. (An upcoming Unreal TV post will review the DVD release of "Laverne" S8.) 

As an aside, this wave of releases continues in early December 2014 with sets of "Days" S6 and separate releases of "Mork and Mindy" S4 and the complete series of "Mork."

As the Unreal TV review of "Laverne" S6 reports, that season is the one in which the titular working-class girls/best friends/roommates move from Milwaukee to Burbank to shake up their lives and see if they have more luck finding love and greater happiness in California than Wisconsin seemingly offers.

One odd aspect of this change is that the pair follows Laverne's restauranteur father out to Burbank. It is even odder that both Shirley's seemingly committed boyfriend who (like Shirley) regularly and openly dates other people Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa (think a poor man's Fonzie) and creepy weird high school classmates/co-workers/neighbors Lenny and Squiggy follow the girls.  

The basic premise is that this homage to "I Love Lucy" has our 20-something wage slaves getting wrapped up in one wacky situation after another in pursuit of the American dream. Of course, like Lucy Ricardo contemporary Ralph Kramden of "The Honeymooners," any success dissipates at the end of the third act.

A modern example in theme (but not quality) is "Two Broke Girls," which ends each episode with a literal accounting of how far those aspiring cupcake moguls have advanced in their quest for fame and fortune.

The S7 season premiere is classic "Laverne and Shirley" in that the girls sign up for being "ta da" girls who simply shout that phrase at the end of each stunt in the act of a Latvian acrobatic troupe but find themselves frighteningly get caught up in the act.

Seeing this old school style "Laverne" that starts with comic mayhem that leads to the roomies jointly appearing on stage as mentioned above and ends with them back where they were in the opening scene.

Another notable episode has Laverne, Shirley, and Carmine returning to Milwaukee for their 10th high school reunion. The "sit" that provides the primary "com" in this one revolves around the former classmates of the girls treating them like Hollywood royalty, rather than Burbank poison.  A highlight includes the return of Laverne's earlier seasons nemesis Rosie Greenbaum, whose purpose had always been to delight in rubbing her post-high-school wealth in the face of the former.

Once again, this thrusts our leads into a wacky situation that escalates to an amusing climax and that ends with the type of moral that is fairly common in the series.

A similar episode finds the girls getting in over their heads at a fraternity party in the wake of Shirley meeting a college boy who she thinks is closer to her age. This one has a very funny scene in which said student is carded.

The S7 episode with arguably the most importance to the lore of "Laverne" has Shirley hastily planning a dream wedding in the absence of Carmine and getting him to do his part in the ceremony despite having roughly one hour notice of it.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of a scene from a separate S7 episode nicely showcases the zaniness that makes "Laverne" such good escapist fun when it follows its proven formula.

The reason for emphasizing the traditional episodes is that many S7 episodes, which effectively is the last one in which Shirley appears, either focus on Laverne, Shirley, or Lenny and Squiggy as opposed to the aforementioned teaming of the leads.

An example of the parting of the ways is the early S6 episode "The Defiant One" that opens with a scene in which Laverne is soundly sleeping on a sidewalk bench and that has her engage in a brief and casual exchange with Shirley. The real action starts when a bank robber  (played by Richard Moll of "Night Court") flees the scene of his crime with an unwilling Shirley literally in tow. Laverne only reappears in the final minutes of the episode.

The following episode focuses almost entirely on aspiring talent agent Squiggy stealing the money needed to attend a Hollywood awards show from Lenny. The participation of Laverne and Shirley is limited to watching the television broadcast of the ensuing chaos during the ceremony.

This episode is notable for having '60s star Joey Heatherton appear as herself. This follows an S6 appearance by dreamy movie idol Troy Donahue as himself.

A sweeter Lenny and Squiggy episode has Lenny fall in love with a woman who causes conflict both by clashing with Squiggy and by triggering jealousy by that man. Laverne and Shirley have even less involvement in this one than in the Joey Heatherton offering.

These episodes, along with one that introduces the father of Squiggy to the series, makes one wonder if they relate to a plan for a never-realized Lenny and Squiggy spin-off that focuses on their efforts to build up their struggling talent agency.

Laverne-centric episodes include a cute one in which an adorably nervous Laverne moves in with her boyfriend while Shirley is back home desperately trying to avoid Laverne's old-fashioned father learning of this development.

Another surprising twist expands on an unexpectedly dark S6 episode in which a party game leads to expressing true feelings that cause fairly deep emotional harm. An early S7 episode has increasing tension between the girls ending with Shirley hitting Laverne hard enough to break her jaw.

The darkness continues in which "special guest star" Charles Grodin (who plays himself) gets into an argument with the gang during a discussion in which he is trying to prove that kindness and praise are more effective motivators than criticism and punishment.

The season ends with the aforementioned traditional format but adds a fun '80s style twist to an episode in this series set in the mid '60s. This one centers around guilt that Shirley feels regarding borrowing (and subsequently losing) the favorite purse of Laverne without permission prompting a dream sequence that parodies the popular night-time soap genre of the era.

The special features consist of the always-fun network promos for every episode and a gag reel.

All of this adds up to a season that tries to build on the aforementioned "Lucy and Ethel" theme that "Laverne and Shirley" can do so well. Like most experiments, the results are mixed and do not approach the catastrophic level of blowing up in the face of anyone.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Laverne" or anything else "Days" is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.