Life Lessons from Three’s Company
In syndication, it immediately followed reruns of The Muppet Show. Which brought forth the assumption that Three’s Company was tailor-made for my young, impressionable gray matter — gray matter that wasn’t exactly busy at the moment, seeing that my mom was up to her elbows in meatloaf and I had already set the table.
Though I was only in grade school, I could smell the show’s sexual tension a mile away. Like a bottle of Hai Karate aftershave. Truthfully, I didn’t know exactly what I was sniffing. I probably mistook it for the scent of freshly-chewed Hubba Bubba “Isn’t it swell how we really just enjoy each other’s company?” bubble gum.
And then there was Jack Tripper. Who tripped. A lot. Or fell over the couch. Or banged his head into the front door. Every single week. That had to be meant for me, too! Because, as kids know well, slapstick is the highest achievable level of comedy in prime time television. And grown-ups were supposed to watch witty, high-brow stuff that made them laugh like “Har-dee-har-har-har.” Followed by a sigh and “Ooooohhhhhhhhhhhh, dear.”
But Three’s Company was much more than pants-piddling hilarity over a-person-on-a-date-while-secretly-handcuffed-to-his-roommate (classic). In the many years I spent watching Three’s Company, I learned a lot about life through the roommates’ love, laughter, friendship and velour rompers.
Life Lesson #1: People are not replaceable. In season six, Chrissy Snow (aka Suzanne Somers), following contentious contract disputes, exits the show. And after her adorable and clumsy cousin Cindy moves in, things change in apartment 201. Even I knew that. The sexual tension plummeted, as did the show’s ratings. Later, roommate Nurse Terri enters the scene and makes it all better. Still, things were never quite the same once Chrissy left, taking her signature nasal snort with her.
Life Lesson #2: People are not replaceable . . . unless they’re replaced by Don Knotts. Aside from perfectly reacting to shenanigans in one swift, mouth-gaping expression, the man rocked those ascot-accented pantsuits! The Ropers could certainly hold their own on the show . . . although apparently not their own spin-off show. (Side note: I’d like to shout it from the rooftops that the Ropers were the unauthorized character models for Al and Peggy Bundy. FROM THE ROOFTOPS!) But even taking into account the Ropers’ own worthy fashion contributions (notably, floral MuuMuus and old man cardigans), I contend that Don Knotts as Mr. Furley took the show’s big misunderstandings to a whole new level of outrageousness.
Life Lesson #3: Diamonds cut glass. Who would’ve thought, while kicking back with my pals from The Regal Beagle, I’d be taking in practical, real life Mr. Wizard-like lessons in geology? In season seven, Jack unknowingly hooks up with a jewel smuggler because of, you guessed it, a big misunderstanding. And after this episode, I could not pass mirrors or storefront windows without feeling a compulsion to rake my mom’s left hand against them.
Life Lesson #4: Life is all about big misunderstandings. Do we ever really know what’s going on? Let’s all just calm the hell down here. No sense jumping to conclusions. Perhaps that woman is dating your happily married buddy. Or perhaps she’s just your buddy’s out-of-town sister . . . who likes to kiss family on the mouth. Does it matter that that guy’s into men? Certainly not! Unless of course it’s just an act so he can bypass his tenant lease agreement.
Life Lesson #5: Men and women can be “just friends.” Yes, the roommates proved it. Men and women can have platonic friendships. Even cohabitate. Honest! No funny business involved. Wait a minute . . . hold on . . . what’s that?
Nearly thirty years later, I think I’m detecting a whiff of Hai Karate.