Odd Absurdum (3)

By: Adam McGovern
February 18, 2015

The Odd Couple, like its warring-roommate characters, was a franchise that landed on the popular consciousness’ doorstep in the middle of the American Century and never left, recurring as a mythic meme of mismatched personalities and perspectives. As it readies to resurface as a new CBS sitcom on February 19, Adam McGovern looks at a less-remembered level on which the show’s defining 1970s iteration struck a chord with the way the modern mind works.

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The Odd Couple saw ahead into the many ways that technology could extend our subconscious pathology into the external world. The escalation of real-life court cases telecast as a kind of civic pornography, which crescendoed in the 1990s (O.J., Menendez Brothers, etc.) was enacted in a number of episodes in which Felix represents himself in petty legal disputes, seizing the courtroom as a kind of community theater in all the worst senses of that term. Losing one case, he murmurs, “Now I know how Dreyfus felt”; and when he’s not comparing himself to the most tragically aggrieved of historical figures, he’s quoting Shakespeare and other classic poets, as if the resolution knob on some old, cosmic TV is wavering so that he phases half-in and half-out of literary legend.

No camera or microphone in the 1970s could resist the self-made-caricature Howard Cosell, a sportscaster who approached mass jock entertainment with an Ivy League demeanor and assessed it like some amateur opera or ballet he was condescending to consider; sharing a profession with the fictional Oscar and a network with the Odd Couple sitcom, he was a natural foil and heaven-sent special guest (twice). But Oscar’s rivalry with him was the equal clash of two abrasive personalities, not the territorial struggle of those who want the same thing. Felix, of course, could dive into the fray with the deepest indignation since Cosell, as both the most successful sports commentator in the world and a certified intellectual, was a hybrid embodiment of everything Oscar didn’t care about achieving and everything Felix fancied himself and failed to be.

In the world of The Odd Couple everyone just happens to know everyone else; the simulated intimacy of Twitter followings is manifested in Felix just happening to have been one-half of a USO song-and-dance team with future Family Feud patriarch Richard Dawson (playing himself), or Oscar having been old war buddies with country-music icon Roy Clark, playing an unknown classical violinist whom Felix wants to nurture (sometimes, through the prism of this sitcom, already-famous figures from real life got to pretend they were someone else too).

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MORE POSTS by ADAM McGOVERN: Theater Reviews: The Honeycomb Trilogy, Love Und Greed, Nord Hausen Fly Robot, The Oracle | PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HELL, a 5-part series about characters in Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s comic Nightworld | Two IDORU JONES comics by Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri | BOWIEOLOGY: Celebrating 50 years of Bowie | ODD ABSURDUM: How Felix invented the 21st century self | CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM: C.L. Moore’s JIREL OF JOIRY stories | KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Data 70 | HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM: “Freedom” | KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Captain Camelot | KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: “Full Fathom Five,” an analysis of a panel from Jack Kirby’s New Gods | A 5-part series on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World mythos | Reviews of Annie Nocenti’s comics Katana, Catwoman, Klarion, and Green Arrow | The 10-part review series FANCHILD | To see all of Adam McGovern’s posts, including HiLo Hero items on Lilli Carré, Judy Garland, Wally Wood, and others: CLICK HERE

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