Valerie Curtin

Frasier (1993) s01e19 – Give Him the Chair!

I missed the writing credits at the beginning of the episode, so every time there was a particularly mean joke—usually at Maris’s expense—I got curious who wrote it. Anne Flett-Giordano and Chuck Ranberg, who’ve been the season’s sturdiest writers; outside the cheap mean jokes, they’re also saddled with a very “sitcom” sitcom episode, meaning it’s a situation only reasonable in a sitcom.

After a funny opening with Malcolm McDowell calling in as a guest on the radio show—a prominent psychiatrist (so Kelsey Grammers sucking up big time)—and a nice development when McDowell starts hitting on Peri Gilpin, we go to the apartment where the cast has gathered. David Hyde Pierce has a Maris-involved excuse for showing up, and a subsequently great scene with Jane Leeves, then John Mahoney gets home and duct tapes up his eyesore of a lounge chair, horrifying Grammer and Hyde Pierce.

After the aforementioned mean Maris jokes, Grammer gripes about the chair some and Hyde Pierce suggests they replace it in order to help Mahoney deal with his move from his own apartment to living with Grammer.

The replacement chair search is a very funny sequence and everything’s generally fine once Grammer makes the switch, until it turns out condo handyman and early nineties metal bonehead Phil Buckman threw out the old chair instead of putting it into a storage unit. The sitcom takes over here, with Mahoney enraged at Grammer for throwing out the chair; even though Grammer didn’t throw it out. It was an obvious accident and not even in Grammer’s direct control.

Mahoney then has a monologue about the chair’s importance, which is… fine. It ought to be better. But there are limits to credulity.

The resolution and chair rescue involve a fantastic guest star spot from Valerie Curtin, which is maybe better written than anything else in the episode, just all the moving parts. You could make a whole episode out of the last six or seven minutes.

It’s definitely a funny episode, but the jokes are usually easy or really easy.

Makes me wonder how it would’ve played had I known the writers during the show.

Becker (1998) s01e18 – Saving Harvey Cohen

The episode plays like writer Eric Cohen really likes “Becker.” Everyone in the cast gets something to do; even if it’s a little subplot, it’s a complete one. The main plot has Becker (Ted Danson) reluctantly caring for a sick stray cat, including some really obvious stuff when he takes it to the vet and gives the vet the same complaints about tests a patient has given him but it’s fine because it’s cute. Danson reluctantly caring for a sick alley cat equals cute.

It’s a fairly gentle main plot, mostly played through in dialogue—the cat’s only in two scenes and doesn’t do much, presumably because finding a cat who’d consent to being lifted around awkwardly isn’t a cat who’s going to then do tricks—so the episode gives literally everyone else a subplot.

Alex Désert has been having sex dreams about Terry Farrell, which Danson initially uses to embarrass Désert—which is still the easy ableist joke since Désert’s blind, but at least Danson’s not directly mocking Désert for his lack of seeing (a series trope)—but then turns into Farrell and Désert teaming up to torment hilarious scumbag Saverio Guerra.

At the doctor’s office, Shawnee Smith has decided to violate HIPAA and celebrate the patients’ birthdays whether they want to or not. It gets a few scenes and some solid smiles if not laughs, though it’s still a network sitcom so of course they cut deep on single scene guest star Valerie Curtin for being a woman in her late forties.

Hattie Winston’s story line involves her trying to find a vacation for curmudgeon Danson, which is definitely the least of the plot lines but it’s something at least.

Other significant single scene guest star? Lance Guest. It’s like old home week for early eighties movie supporting actors who didn’t make it, though Curtin is in a different class than Guest. Guest’s fine, but Curtin’s an Oscar-nominated screenwriter.

It’s a very, very busy episode but an entertaining one—Andy Ackerman’s direction helps, not to mention the lack of abject cynicism.

Three’s Company, the first unaired pilot (1976, Burt Brinckerhoff)

What a difference a cast makes. It’s hard to determine the real star of the first attempt at “Three’s Company.” It’s either Valerie Curtin or Susanne Zenor, both of whom are–to the best of my recollection–very different from the similar characters on the eventual series.

Curtin has these fantastic one liners from writer Larry Gelbart; she’s able to sell being incredibly witty and self-aware. But she doesn’t do well with her regular lines.

Zenor, the blonde aspiring actress, is strong as what’s actually the straight man. She doesn’t have zingers. She just has to hold it all together.

Eventual regular cast members John Ritter, Norman Fell and Audra Lindley are all here. Ritter’s okay; he plays well off Curtin (really laughing at a couple of her jokes), but Fell and Lindley are awful. Fell’s already obviously embarrassed.

Brinckerhoff’s direction is terrible; Curtin and Zenor make it worthwhile.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Burt Brinckerhoff; written by Larry Gelbart, based on a television show created by Brian Cooke and Johnnie Mortimer; lighting director, Truck Krone; edited by Lou Torino; music by Joe Raposo; produced by Don Van Atta.

Starring John Ritter (David Bell), Valerie Curtin (Jenny), Susanne Zenor (Samantha), Norman Fell (Mr. Roper), Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper) and Bobbie Mitchell (Zoey).


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