Incredibly underrated comedy series
Laverne & Shirley was one of several spin-offs of the popular 1970s Miller/Milkis series Happy Days and centered on two blue collar women living in Wisconsin in the late 1950s/early 1960s. The show was quite popular although it was dismissed by serious critics at the time and returning to it years after the fact only highlights its success. The women, played to perfection by Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, were good-hearted, hard-working individuals making their way in the world on their own power. The show features lots of slapstick humor - which was looked down upon at this time - but it is because of it that this show actually holds up better than such controversial critical darlings of the period such as All in the Family or Maude, which come off as far more dated - even annoyingly so. After this show's demise, it would be many years - until the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, that two talented actresses would again headline a comedy series featuring copious slapstick. Marshall usually got the best lines which she could hit out of the ballpark, but Williams was a tremendous comedienne herself and an able straight man to Marshall's antics - an issue fully realized when the show was without her in its final season. They were ably supported by a venerable cast featuring the idiotic greasers upstairs Lenny & Squiggy (the immortal Michael McKean and David L. Lander), Shirley's steadfast boxer/singer boyfriend Carmine (cute Eddie Mekka), Laverne's bull-headed father Phil Foster, and kind landlady and Laverne's future stepmom Betty Garrett. Guest visits by Carol Ita White as the bane of Laverne's existence - Rosie Greenbaum - were hilarious. Particularly memorable series moments abounded, but two of the best included a murder mystery-themed train trip and a crossover episode with Happy Days featuring a side-splitting square dance. The series started to deteriorate when producers moved the action to save costs from Milkwaukee to California, with all the regulars improbably in tow. New semi-regulars were added to little avail including Leslie Easterbrook as a blonde bombshell named Rhonda Lee and Ed Marinaro as a beefcake neighbor with designs on Laverne. Both actors were perfectly fine, but the writers never seemed to know what to do exactly with Easterbrook and Marinaro ultimately vanished with barely a nod. The talented and criminally underused Garrett left the show with little fanfare as well. Then the final nail was the departure of Williams after acrimonious contract disputes in a ridiculously improbable scenario which left the show without its trademark dynamic. While Marshall was a talented comedic actress, a straight woman was desperately required. A rotating roster of guest stars including Vicky Lawrence, Carrie Fisher and Laraine Newman made their way through, but none of them sparked like Williams did and the show finally whimpered out of existence. Even on that note, the majority of the seasons preceding are definitely filled with hilarity and uplifting fun.
- Apr 1, 2010
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