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Neat with a Modern Twist

Thomas Lennon, left, and Matthew Perry speak onstage during "The Odd Couple" panel as part of the TCA press tour in Pasadena on Monday. The new CBS series, in which Lennon will play Felix Unger and Perry will play Oscar Madison, will premiere Feb. 19. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)
Thomas Lennon, left, and Matthew Perry speak onstage during “The Odd Couple” panel as part of the TCA press tour in Pasadena on Monday. The new CBS series, in which Lennon will play Felix Unger and Perry will play Oscar Madison, will premiere Feb. 19. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)

“I think it’s such an elastic concept. I mean, the DNA of those two characters has seeped into television for the last four decades.”  Bob Daily

CBS – The Odd Couple

By Valerie Milano

Pasadena, CA (The Hollywood Times) 2/20/15 – With a killer lead in (courtesy of The Big Bang Theory) and a discreet 21st Century makeover, CBS introduced Neil Simon’s comedy evergreen, The Odd Couple to its all-important Thursday Night comedy line-up. If the first episode is an indicator, this Great American comedy franchise is in capable hands and ripe for rediscovery by a whole new audience. The cast is strong and the jokes are clean enough for family viewing and smart enough for mature audiences. However, those of us old enough to remember the halcyon days of the franchise will withhold final endorsement….for now.

Matthew Perry is not only an appropriately scruffy and hygienically challenged Oscar Madison, but he is also a creator of the series. However, the lynchpin of any ‘Odd Couple’ production is the character of Felix Unger, the neat freak who moves in with Oscar after separating from his wife. A long and august list of comic actors have played the role of Felix (Art Carney, Jack Lemmon and Tony Randall), so the biggest concern of any The Odd Couple fan is, who will play Felix and how will he fill the shoes of his predecessors? Thomas Lennon, (memorable as Lieutenant Dangle on the Comedy Central series Reno 911!) plays Felix and clearly understands the character and the history of the role. Additionally, he brings a flair for physical comedy that adds some extra zing to the proceedings.

With such a sure footed cast and a battle tested premise, The Odd Couple is refreshingly free of the usual growing pains of a new network sit-com. The producers and writers wisely steered away from any radical tinkering with the plotline or characters. Felix is still a photographer and world class pain in the rear with a heart of gold. The old Oscar was a newspaper sportswriter; the new Oscar is a sportscaster with a radio talk show. Modern touches include Oscar’s sports wall – replete with ten video monitors and a news ticker. The only modern touch that stretches credibility is Oscar’s crib. Hard to imagine that a radio sports jock could afford a sprawling, upscale New York apartment with a panoramic view of Manhattan; an abode which (in today’s economy) would cost seven figures easy. That being said, the set is a knockout.

On the first episode, basic plot points are adhered to, including a doomed double date with a pair of sisters who live in the building and an aborted poker game with Oscar’s bro-friends. But in the final analysis, it’s the main characters we love; their respective hang-ups are universal and great comedy fodder. The show will stand or fall with the performances of Perry and Lennon.

If you’re of a certain age, you can’t help but approach this latest roll out of The Odd Couple with trepidation. After all, the franchise has already earned its spurs as a hit Broadway play, feature film and long running TV series. One has to wonder how much fuel is left in the tank for a jaded, modern audience accustomed to snarky, putdown comedies and reality fare.

Retread or reimagined? Only time and ratings will tell.

The HollywoodTimes.net, TCA and other had the opportunity to speak to actors; Yvette Nicole Brown, Thomas Lennon, Matthew Perry, Wendell Pierce, and Lindsay Sloane and executive producer Bob Daily and Garry Marshall.

Garry Marshall was asked if he felt the franchise could hold up after five decades, GARRY MARSHALL: “Well, Neil Simon did a good job with these characters, you know, but whatever you do, you’ve got to have casting, and I think The Odd Couple is still running someplace and holds up pretty good, and now this casting is tremendous Matthew Perry, my favorite from Friends.  But I must say I really think it’s got a terrific shot, but when we did our “Odd Couple,” we weren’t allowed to have women writers. Now there are women writers on this show. And, Bob Daily runs a great ship, and I think that’s going to really improve the whole show, and it’s very exciting for me.”

QUESTION: And, Bob, just to follow up on that, in trying to take this, you know, 40- or 50 year old dynamic between Felix and Oscar and make it work in 2015, were there certain things you said like, “Maybe can’t do this? Or is this just such an elastic concept that we can just run with it no matter when it is?

Bob Daily also weighed in on the longevity of The Odd Couple , BOB DAILY: “I think it’s such an elastic concept. I mean, the DNA of those two characters has seeped into television for the last four decades. I spent five years writing on Frasier, and Frasier was basically The Odd Couple with one Oscar and two Felixes. Bert and Ernie are The Odd Couple. The Odd Couple has been repeated so many times. We’re going back to, as Garry said, the brilliant original Neil Simon source material. But I think, you know, those two characters, Oscar and Felix, are so iconic and they’re so timeless, and, it’s been 45 years. So I think it’s time for a reinterpretation and for a new generation that’s not familiar with the The Odd Couple.”

Co-star Matthew Perry talked about his affinity for the role of Oscar Madison, MATTHEW PERRY: “It’s been a dream come true to play Oscar Madison. I mean, it’s big shoes to fill, but we’re doing our own thing and playing it differently. I do a slight Walter Matthau impression in the pilot. But I think the funniest joke in the pilot was from the original source material that was in the play. So in writing the pilot, it was, you know, we came up with our own stuff. We used some stuff from Neil Simon. And the funniest joke was the funniest in the pilot was written 45 years ago. So it was really interesting.”

QUESTION: Thomas, is playing Felix as comfortable as you hoped it would be for you?

Thomas Lennon spoke the challenges of playing the iconic character of Felix Unger, THOMAS LENNON: “I thought long and hard whether it was even attemptable because Tony Randall is a hero a major hero of mine. And I was worried that I might be doing an impression of Tony Randall or something. But then when I remembered that he was really the third Felix Unger and I might be something like about the fifth, I felt like maybe there was something new to bring to it. So I did bring my cello and my yoga skills.

Lennon discussed further the individual skill sets he brought to the character of Felix Unger, “THOMAS LENNON: You know, I haven’t really played the cello in about 30 years, but once we started doing the show, I thought, oh, that’s the perfect thing that Felix would do. It was one of the stage directions was “Felix is reading a magazine,” and I thought that’s just not quite annoying enough. “