Alice serves up a second season of comedy on DVD
Have you been waiting and waiting for the second season of ‘Alice’ to come out on DVD? Well, the wait is over as the Warner Archive Collection serves up another season of laughter.
There’s a new girl in town, with a brand new style.
She was just passing through,
but if things work out she’s gonna stay awhile.
Debuting in the fall of 1976, the classic sitcom Alice finished out its first season just barely cracking the Top 30 (it ranked 30th for the season), but in a TV landscape that was much different than today’s, CBS gave the show another shot … which proved to be a good move as the show ended the 1977-1978 season in the Top 10 (number 8). Now, the Warner Archive Collection has rescued the series from obscurity (there has previously been a “Best of” DVD and a complete Season One released at the retail level with sales figures that didn’t warrant future mass releases) with its Manufacture On Demand program. If you’re not yet familiar with the MOD program, this service makes available various movies and TV shows to consumers that may not normally get a general release at the retail level. These DVDs are basically made-to-order and it gives movie and TV fans an opportunity to own some titles they thought they’d never see on home video (and the Archive Collection has just released their very first two Blu-ray movies). Alice is one of those shows that has a devoted fan base, but not enough to justify a major retail release, so the Archive Collection is releasing Season Two, and hopefully there will be seven more to follow.
If you’re not old enough to remember Alice, the show centered on a New Jersey housewife, recently widowed, who decided to head west with her son to pursue her career as a singer. Breaking down in Phoenix, Alice stumbles upon Mel’s Diner, is offered a job and decides to stay. Mel’s is run by gruff (but soft inside) Mel Sharples (Vic Tayback), and the staff includes waitresses Flo (Polly Holliday), the sassy Southerner with the catch-phrase “Kiss my grits,” and Vera (Beth Howland), the dim bulb who Mel often refers to as “ditzy chick.” Alice (Linda Lavin) basically becomes the “straight man” to all of the antics going on around her, and that includes the regular customers, like phone company employee Henry (Marvin Kaplan), as well. Phillip McKeon (Nancy’s brother) makes sporadic appearances as Alice’s son Tommy.
The second season consists of 24 episodes on three DVDs. For the purposes of this review, I randomly picked a few episodes just to see how the show holds up 35 years later. The answer is: surprisingly well. Not only were the shows still very funny, but the season kicks off with a doozy of a subplot involving Alice and a flasher. After being accosted at the bus stop while coming to work, Alice swears the guy has come into the diner for a meal. She tries everything she can to prove he’s the guy but in the end she believes she made a mistake … until he flashes her again and runs out. Of course it’s all in the name of comedy, but the episode takes a bit of a detour into some serious territory when the police come to take Alice’s statement, and through his questioning determines that Alice was to blame for the incident because of how she was dressed! I have to say I was really surprised by that turn of events.
I had to check out a couple of the other episodes including a bit of absurdity that involved an earthquake forecast (a strange episode that was totally set within the diner), and another that had Alice taking psychology classes at night and psychoanalyzing her coworkers by day. Needless to say, things do not go well as they all end up not speaking to each other, so Alice has to stage a group therapy session that turns comic as they each act out how they see their coworkers. Alice also drew some big name guest stars to the diner, including an episode with George Burns, as himself, shortly after his movie Oh, God! was released (poor Vera believes he’s really God). Being an I Love Lucy fan, I had to check out the episode that guest starred Desi Arnaz as a Cuban fashion photographer with a wandering eye and a wife (Alice’s best friend) who was not happy about it. What I was happy to discover while watching this and the other episodes (I picked this one first because of Arnaz) was that Bob Carroll and Madelyn Davis, the original writers on just about every single episode of I Love Lucy, were the producers of the show beginning with the second season. In addition to them, I Love Lucy directors William Asher and Marc Daniels also helmed several episodes. I guess that explains why I have such an affinity for Alice. (I should also mention that one of the show’s writers was Tom Whedon. Yes, the name is the same. He is, in fact, Joss’ father and he also wrote for The Golden Girls.)
The quality of the show itself, as far as the video presentation on the DVDs, is fine for the most part. Having been shot on video, the show probably looks as good as it can after 30-plus years. It certainly looks like a show that was shot on video, but it doesn’t look bad. The main body of the show, in fact, looks just fine but you can tell from the opening titles on some episodes that those seem to have been duplicated several times. The quality will change almost anytime there are titles superimposed over the image, but this isn’t the fault of Warner Brothers or the DVD duplication — it’s just the nature of the beast, and after so many years, we’re lucky to even have these tapes in good enough condition to put on DVD. Hopefully the folks at the Warner Archive Collection are preserving the remaining seasons before it’s too late to save them. Overall, it’s great to finally have another season of the show available on DVD, so fans should snap this up so more will be released, and if you’ve never seen the show I do recommend picking up this set. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the first season, but I suspect replacing the original producers with Carroll and Davis brought a whole new tone to the show. Even after 30 years, Alice still manages to serve up a lot of laughs.