Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon are no real-life Odd Couple
Friends star Matthew Perry admits his remake of The Odd Couple isn’t “groundbreaking” and may even be a “throwback” but that’s just the way he likes it.
In the decade since he played Chandler Bing, Perry’s tried a few different shows on for size, with mixed results. Drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and single-camera comedy Go On both had their fans, but failed to last beyond a season, while Perry’s own concept Mr Sunshine (another singlecamera comedy) was canned after only nine episodes.
But with The Odd Couple, Perry returns to the traditional multi-camera sitcom in front of a studio audience that was so integral to Friends’ success.
The remake, in which Perry plays slovenly sportscaster Oscar opposite Thomas Lennon’s neat freak Felix, has become a hit in the US, averaging more than 12 million viewers an episode so far.
“I tried for the last 10 years to do something different ... and then I realised the sitcom lifestyle and having an audience is just so much fun. I missed it,” Perry says. “We are doing sort of a — what’s the word I’m looking for? Just a classic kind of comedy thing … it’s not groundbreaking.”
“The only twist is that it’s really good,” adds Thomas.
“Like a throwback,” Perry continues. “Sure. I shouldn’t have said that. It’s not a throwback!” he laughs. “It’s just funny.” Thanks to a talented writing team and a cast that includes Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown, The Wire’s Wendell Pierce and NewsRadio’s Dave Foley, The Odd Couple has got more potential than most traditional sitcoms.
“A lot of our writers are from Frasier which is nice so the bar is very, very high. I’m a super critical person and a writer, too,” says Lennon (he cowrote the blockbuster film Night At The Museum), “And I’ve been blown away by every one of our scripts so far.
The Odd Couple concept has proved an enduring one since Neil Simon’s original play premiered on Broadway 50 years ago this month. There’s the Oscarnominated 1968 film, the classic ’70s sitcom with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, not to mention alternate versions with a female odd couple, an African-American odd couple and one with a dog and cat.
Perry, who developed the show, co-wrote the pilot and is executive producer, is a diehard fan of the movie, Lennon’s “obsessed” with the TV series and, with original showrunner Garry Marshall on board as a consultant, they weren’t about to radically alter the concept. “It’s more modern day and dealing with relationships and two guys in their 40s trying to date,” Perry says. “But the core of the show remains the same, which is two guys who are very, very different living together and driving each other crazy.”
Of course, you can get away with a lot more risque material on TV today. Marshall says the “all-time funniest line ever” was cut out of the 1970s sitcom by censors, where Oscar complained about Felix leaving notes everywhere: “‘ We’re all out of cornflakes. F.U.’ Took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar!”
The gag gets an outing in the first episode when Felix reprograms Oscar’s electronic sports ticker in his apartment. Weirdly, the sports-mad Perry really does have a sports ticker in his real-life apartment.
Lennon, who appeared with Perry in body swap comedy movie 17 Again, is the perfect fit for the finicky Felix. Perry says he offered him the role within 10 minutes of chatting to him about it.
“He just was the character,” explains Perry. Thomas says that was news to him.
“Right after I got the part, everyone I’d ever met said ‘Oh yes finally!’ I thought: So have I been annoying every single one of you all this time by lint rolling you and with my disorders? And apparently the answer is: Yes, everyone I’ve ever met I was bugging just a little bit.”
In another case of life imitating art, Perry’s exgirlfriend Lauren Graham ( Parenthood) plays his ex-wife Gaby on the show. It’s no big deal, insists Perry.
“I really like working with her and we have a good chemistry together. We’ve been friends for years so it’s been really fun.”
Thomas says that his real life friendship with Perry is not that far from the show.
“It’s very similar except that we, in real life ... we probably get along at least 15 to 20 per cent more than the characters do, right? Something like that.” THE ODD COUPLE, CHANNEL 10, MONDAY, 7.30PM
Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon in The Odd Couple.