My Top Five Favorite Sitcom Odd Couples
The “odd couple” has been a sitcom trope since even before The Odd Couple was a sitcom. An odd couple refers to two people who are complete opposites, but due to circumstances beyond their control, they have to either live or work together (or both). The mixing of their drastically different personalities and habits leads to a veritable smorgasbord of comedic delights. Here are my top five favorite sitcom odd couples of all time.
#1: Felix & Oscar – The Odd Couple
Of course, I can’t talk about odd couples without discussing the original The Odd Couple sitcom, based on the movie based on the play. The show stars Tony Randall as Felix Unger, the finicky, neurotic neat freak, and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison, the laid back, lazy slob. These two brilliant actors set the template for odd couples for decades to come. Persnickety Felix constantly frets over Oscar’s messy room, the way he leaves his clothes strewn around the apartment, and how he likes to flick his cigar ash on the floor. On the other hand, Oscar’s annoyed by Felix’s “honking” sinuses, constant cleaning, and nagging calls to Oscar’s office asking when he’s coming home for dinner.
Despite their regular arguments about the state of their apartment, Oscar’s weird taste in food, and Felix’s bizarre rule about not washing your hands in the kitchen sink, the two of them are the best of friends. Even when it seems like they’re going to break up for good, they always make up when they realize how much they need each other. In fact, the pair acted so much like a married couple that at one point, the network was concerned the audience might think they were gay, leading them to add a voiceover to the opening credits that explained they were both divorced.
Side Note: I would also like to give a nod to the short-lived 1982 reboot, The New Odd Couple, starring Ron Glass (known for Barney Miller and Firefly) as Felix and Demond Wilson (Lamont from Sanford and Son) as Oscar. These two hilarious actors were perfectly cast, and they did an excellent job with the recycled scripts they were given. It’s too bed the writers didn’t try to make the show more original. It might have lasted longer than 18 episodes.
#2: Larry & Balki – Perfect Strangers
Perfect Strangers took the odd couple trope to a new level by making one half of the couple an immigrant from another country. Mark Linn-Baker plays Larry Appleton, an aspiring photographer from a large family in Wisconsin, who moved to Chicago to start a new life on his own. Bronson Pinchot plays Balki Bartokomous, Larry’s distant cousin from the fictional Mediterranean island of Mypos, who shows up at Larry’s door one day and announces he’s moving in with him.
Larry is nervous, uptight, and conservative, while Balki is friendly, outgoing, and completely clueless about the world outside of Mypos. While initially it seems like Balki is the one who needs to learn a thing or two from his cousin Larry, it’s often the other way around, with Larry learning important life lessons from Balki. Their different personalities perfectly complement each other, and they help each other in their lives, careers, and relationships.
#3: Patty & Cathy – The Patty Duke Show
I talk about The Patty Duke Show a lot, probably because it’s the ultimate sitcom. It combines an odd couple with a “fish-out-of-water” premise that’s a little bit “country mouse, city mouse.” Patty Duke plays both Patty and Cathy Lane, two cousins who coincidentally happen to look exactly alike and apparently never knew about each other until Cathy’s father sent her to live with Patty and her family.
Patty is a fun-loving social butterfly who’s always plotting cunning plans and crazy capers, while Cathy is shy, quiet, and reserved. Before she moved in with Patty, Cathy traveled around the world with her journalist father, and she feels out of place among the everyday American teenagers in Brooklyn Heights. Despite their differences, these two identical cousins are inseparable and can’t imagine living without each other.
#4: Carter & Stuart – Spin City
The odd couple trope gets even more interesting when you make one of the pair gay and the other a homophobe, which is exactly what Spin City did. Michael Boatman plays Carter Heywood, a sophisticated, intellectual gay rights activist, and Alan Ruck plays Stuart Bondek, a classic “Loveable Lech” character whose tastes run more toward beanbag chairs, TV dinners, and novelty paperweights shaped like breasts. When both Carter and Stuart find themselves strapped for cash, Stuart loses his apartment, and Carter starts looking for a roommate to help pay his rent. When Carter’s only applicant ends up robbing him, he begrudgingly agrees to let Stuart move in with him.
The best thing about Carter and Stuart’s relationship is the way they exchange barbs, insulting each other for their disparate personalities and quirks. Their arguments tend to sound like two comedians ribbing each other, and it makes for comic gold.
#5: Billy & Josh – The Comedians
Speaking of two comedians ribbing each other, in The Comedians, legendary actor and stand-up comic Billy Crystal plays himself, an old fashioned comedian who grew up idolizing Jackie Gleason, Jonathan Winters, Alan King, and Ernie Kovacs. Josh Gad also plays himself, a young, up-and-coming comedian who’s struggling to live down his failed sitcom (1600 Penn) and make a name for himself as more than the voice of a CGI snowman in the Frozen franchise.
These two very different comedians are suddenly thrown together as the stars of a new sketch comedy show. At first, they’re reluctant to work together, thinking their contrasting styles would clash, but when they finally agree, they create comedy magic, not just on The Comedians but on the fictional show within the show, “The Billy and Josh Show,” with sketches like “Turkey Poison” and the side-splitting musical number, “Kiss an Old Man.” They each learn something about comedy from each other, and they form an unlikely friendship that survives network censoring, trash-talking behind each other’s backs, and even embarrassing viral videos.