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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

'Alice' S9 DVD: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

The Warner Archive March 12, 2019 DVD release of the ninth and final season of the 1976-85 sitcom "Alice" is the latest example of Archive both adopting TV Land shows that Warner Prime abandons after DVD releases of the first few seasons and seeing these series to the (usually not bitter) end. Of course Archive similarly is in the homestretch regarding sets of the (reviewed) 1986-93 sitcom "Perfect Strangers," don't be ridiculous. 

"Alice" is loosely based on the much more serious film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore." Our kids-of-all-ages friendly version centers around New Jersey native/widow/aspiring singer Alice Hyatt and her son Tommy taking a seemingly permanent detour in Phoenix when their station wagon breaks down there on the way to Los Angeles in her an attempt to become the next American Idol.

Our titular chanteuse takes a job at greasy-spoon Mel's Diner to put snickerdoodles on the table. A "Three's Company" style revolving door regarding the third waitress working for gruff and cheap but inherently good-natured Mel finds southern-friend former trucker/tomboy Joleme hanging around to sling hash with mother-figure Alice and ditzy cinephile Vera.

The ninth season includes many staples of "Alice." A series of comically unfortunate circumstances results in the diner sustaining severe damage in one episode only to look in the next episode as if nothing had happened. We also get the annual self-imposed crisis of college-boy Tommy. In this case, our golden-haired boy succumbs to the temptations associated with attending top-ranked party-school ASU. This leads to the standard "Tommy, I'm very worried about you" hand-wringing by Alice. 

We additionally get a threefer in a  "very special" episode. This one begins with Mel once again facing crippling competition from another low-cost restaurant. A related development has the waitresses having to decide which of them gets a treat that cannot accommodate all three of them. Those two factors converge to Mel being resigned to losing the diner only to have a last-minute miracle save the day.

Another episode indulges the apparent fetish of series-star Linda Lavin to portray an alternative character. In this case she makes her final appearance as Debbie Walden, who is the stereotypical Jewish-mother former landlord of Vera. The "sit" that provides the "com" this time is that Debbie becomes the tenant of highly reluctant landlady Vera. 

Finally, we get a storyline that gives Alice a reasonable basis for believing that she is getting her big singing break. In this case, a series of highly improbable circumstances leads to this show-tune lover appearing with essentially a country-bear jamboree.

The first conspicuous absence this season its the lack of an episode in which a present or former A-lister almost always appears as him or herself. This Hall of Fame includes George Burns, Art Carney, Robert Goulet, Dinah Shore, Joel Gray, Art Carney, Jerry Reed, Desi Arnaz, and Florence Henderson. 

A parade of past and future B (and C) listers partially fills in the guest-star gap. Fred "Rerun" Berry plays a member of a break-dancing group that is scheduled to perform at the diner. We also get Jonathan Prince of the 1986-88 syndicated sitcom "Throb" (which also stars Jane Leeves and Paul Walker) as a new diner regular. 

We additionally see Rue McClanahan of "Maude" and "Golden Girls" fame playing the sweet and wholesome owner of a daycare center next to the diner. "Girls" fans know that Blanche would have wonderful fun with the Bo Peep outfit and shepherd's crook of Mother Goose, 

"Alice" S9 has has two treats for Trekkers. Robert Picardo of "Voyager" has a recurring role as cop who often stops by; Armin Shimerman of "DS9" makes a one-shot appearance as an unnamed man attending an auction at the diner. 

Another obvious absence is that lack of an appearance by Hollywood royalty Martha Raye in her oft-recurring role as Mel's mother Carrie Sharples. 

The series finale wraps things up in the traditional '70s to present-day sitcom model of having every major character simultaneously undergo a game-changing life experience. This prompts an essentially Paley Center style panel as Mel, the girls, and Tommy form a semi-circle facing the camera as they reminisce about many of the "sits" that provide the "com" of the series. We additionally get to see Tommy portrayor Philip McKeon go through puberty and move onto young adulthood in roughly 30 seconds. 

"Alice" shows class in including clips of fan-favorite departed waitress Flo; many of these include her uttering her catchphrase "Kiss my grits." More love is shown in an earlier episode that makes a reference to the role of Flo portayor Polly Holliday in "Gremlins."

A slight occurs regarding the lack of any clips of interim waitress Belle, who can be considered the Cindy Snow of Alice. This likely is due to Diane Lad, who also portrays  Flo in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," not working or playing well with Lavin during the relatively brief tenure of Ladd on the sitcom 

This reasonably comprehensive review of "Alice" demonstrates that it is a fairly traditional workplace sitcom in which everyone generally gets along and rarely if ever even jokes about dipping their pen in the company ink. It is nice if this time capsule inspires similar fare of equivalent quality. 

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