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Saturday, November 29, 2014

'Laverne and Shirley' S8 DVD: Laverne Surely Goes Solo Final Season

Product Details
This review of the 1982-83 eighth and final season of the "Happy Days" spinoff "Laverne and Shirley" is an apt subject for the last entry in a series of reviews of CBS Home Entertainment DVD releases of "Days" shows. This group began with "Joanie Loves Chachi" CS, moved onto "Days" S5, and then covered "Laverne" S7. An earlier post on "Laverne" S6 includes the most in-depth discussion of the premise of that series.

Television historians and most folks with even a passing familiarity with "Laverne" know that the evolution of this sitcom begins with the titular working-class '50s Milwaukee gals making an appearance on "Days," getting their own series about their daily lives and efforts to achieve better ones while working in a Milwaukee brewery, moving to beautiful downtown Burbank in S6, and Shirley Feeney portrayor Cindy Williams leaving Laverne DeFazio portrayor Penny Marshall to finish out the series on her own early in S8.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of a hilarious scene from the final episode in which Williams appears. Including this goofy fun in this outing provides her the best possible send off from the series.

Once Shirley leaves Laverne in the three-episode arc that begins with the season premiere, the latter continues getting herself into the wacky/precarious sits that provide most of the com in the series. These include getting trapped in an anti-gravity suit, babysitting a monkey, and undergoing the selection process for a job as a bunny at the Playboy Club. ("Star Wars" star Carrie Fisher surprisingly guest stars in the Playboy episode.)

Although seeing "Laverne" continue without Shirley (and keeping her name in the title throughout the entire series) is odd, the writers aptly adapt by creating solo physical schtick in which Laverne can engage.

This transition is very akin to the Los Angeles years in the classic sitcom "The Lucy Show" (which CBS also released on DVD) when Lucille Ball's Lucy Carmichael moves out to California on her own, leaving Vivian Vance's Vivian Bagley behind.

A "very special two-parter" continues the tradition of a dark episode each season beginning with the "Laverne" move to California; this one has Laverne comically getting involved with a group of '60s radicals and ultimately ending up on death row as a result of a wacky misunderstanding. Aside from requiring the ultimate degree of suspension of disbelief, the stakes in this one are surprisingly high in a series in which dignity (and perhaps blue-collar employment) typically are at risk.

A lesser dark note relates to an episode that explains the previously unaddressed absence of the stepmother (and former landlady) of Laverne. The odd circumstances related to the departure of this cast member are a bit more serious than an expected reason, such as having to choose between staying around and pursuing a lifelong ambition or moving back to Milwaukee to care for a sick relative.

The absence of cast members who have been around since the first season continues with creepy and dim-witted stooge Squiggy largely going solo without sidekick Lenny. Folks who are familiar with the classic Bowery Boys comedy films can think of Squiggy as Slip and Lenny as Sach from that Unreal TV reviewed series.

A classic sitcom plot involving aspiring talent agent Squiggy has him called into action to perform in place of the Russian ballet dance who is his doppelganger.

Regular Shirley suitor (and aspiring singer) Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa stays around and continues in his persona of a big sweet lug. One interesting thing regarding his eighth season episodes is that they show that he seems more comfortable and overall has more chemistry with Marshall's Laverne than Williams' Shirley.

Carmine fully takes center stage in two late-season episodes. One has guest star Jay Leno as a Dick Clark style teen music show host catapulting Carmine to stardom in an episode that is very similar to a "Days" outing in which resident James Dean clone Fonzie becomes an overnight sensation. A clear reference to that '70s icon in that "Laverne" outing strongly contributes to that vibe.

Carmine takes center stage even more in the penultimate episode in which he makes a major life change that further promotes his career. The fact that the series finale includes an apparent continuity error suggests that the one in which Carmine carries the show is the intended "Laverne" finale.

The aforementioned finale involves another classic sitcom plot in that it has Laverne's father Frank DeFazio being the political rookie who runs against the long-term incumbent in a local election. One spoiler is that no one gets married or has an exceptionally significant life change in this one. Similar to the classic "Cheers" season finale, one leaves "Laverne" with the sense that the characters are largely going to continue leading the same lives that they have during the eight-year run of the series.

All of this amounts to S8 being the one that brings the most changes to both the format of "Laverne" and the characters that inhabit that world. It also shows that the writers keep things entertaining until the end.

The special features consist of episode promos and a gag reel.

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