DVD Review: Laverne and Shirley (The Fifth Season)

Supposedly there’s one golden rule in network television: Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden ratings. Laverne & Shirley. The series was in a golden spot on Tuesday night snuggled between Happy Days and Three’s Company. The show was always at the top including two straight years at number one. Then someone at ABC got a brilliant idea to move it to Thursday at 8 p.m. for its fifth season. What could go wrong? Everything. The show sunk like a rock and didn’t even crack the Top 30. Were Laverne (Penny Marshall) and Shirley (Cindy Williams) doomed to ride The Super Train outta Hollywood? ABC brought it back to Tuesday nights at mid-season, but the magic was gone. It was now stuck in the middle of the pack and no longer the powerhouse. Laverne & Shirley: The Fifth Season might be new to viewers who only watched The Waltons on Thursday nights.

This is one of the few times that a viewer needs to hit the bonus features before watching the regular episodes. “Shotgun Wedding” starts out as a Happy Days episode. Richie and the Fonz hook up with a pair of farmer’s daughters. What they don’t understand is that farmer daddy has a double shotgun for both of his future son-in-laws. The L&S episode makes the girls arrive to save Fonz from losing his bachelorhood. They must convince the farmer that they’re engaged to the boys. Except they might have to get hitched to prove their love. “One Heckuva Note” makes the frightening discovery of love letter from Carmine behind the stove. What’s shocking is he wrote it to Laverne and not his girlfriend Shirley. “Fat City Holiday” is slapstick at a weight loss center. “You’ve Pushed Me Too Far” nearly busts up Lenny (Michael McKean) and Squiggy (David L.Lander). What could do it? Squiggy pushes Lenny out an open window. There’s fun at a wax museum during the make up scene.

“The Wedding” is more marriage hijinks. This time Frank and Edna are getting hitched for real. The wedding is a comedic mess. “We’re In the Army, Now” gets the girls enlisted in the military on a screw up. What can they do to get out? Can the military handle their trail of destruction? This hour long episode would be premise of the animated Laverne and Shirley Saturday morning cartoon. “Take Two, They’re Small” puts Lenny and Squiggy in the computer dating business. They set their friends up with Mr. Rights. Except their two candidates barely reach the girls’ navels. “The Fourth Annual Shotz Talent Show” lets the brewery workers show off their entertainment skills. This turn into a talent show for the regulars. Does appear all the musical numbers are intact.

“Not Quite South of the Border” takes the ladies down to Mexico for a nightmare vacation. The resort proves to be not close to the brochure. “You Ought to Be In Pictures” has them discovered for a movie. Turns out the plot is about how soldiers need to avoid catching VD from hookers. Guess what role the ladies land? “The Beatnik Show” transforms Shirley into a hipster in black and beret. “Why Did the Fireman?” is a sad episode. Laverne dates a fireman (Ted Danson of Cheers) who wants to marry her. But things really go bad for the guy. “Murder on the Moose Jaw Express” is a comedy with a body count on a train. The one guy who doesn’t turn up dead is Scatman Crothers (Hong Kong Phooey). “The Duke of Squiggman” makes Squiggy not merely sleepwalk, but become royalty at night. “The Diner” puts the gang in the restaurant business when Lenny inherits a greasy spoon. It gets greasier when Laverne takes over the kitchen.

TV programmers should never forget the lesson of Laverne and Shirley: The Fifth Season. Don’t mess with number one. After the move, 60 Minutes took the crown. The Fifth season deserved a bigger audience. The fact that they had a bittersweet episode showed they were willing to make creative risks and not always stick to the formula. Fans were in for a bigger shock when Season Six moved Laverne and Shirley from cold Milwaukee to sunny Southern California.

The Episodes
“Shotgun Wedding,” “One Heckuva Note,” “Fat City Holiday,” “Upstairs, Downstairs,” “What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor?,” “You’ve Pushed Me Too Far,” “The Wedding,” “Bad Girls,” “We’re in the Army, Now,” “Take Two, They’re Small,” “The Fourth Annual Shotz Talent Show,” “Testing, Testing,” “Not Quite South of the Border,” “You Ought to Be in Pictures,” “The Beatnik Show,” “The Right to Light,” “Why Did the Fireman?,” “The Collector,” “Murder on the Moose Jaw Express (1),” “Survival Test,” “The Duke of Squiggmann,” “Antonio, the Amazing,” “The Diner” and “Separate Tables.”

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The image brings out plenty of details to the basement apartment. The Happy Days episode doesn’t look nearly as nice. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The levels lets the theme song blast. The episodes are subtitled.

Previews (0:32) are given for all the episodes.

Gag Reel (3:11) has the screw ups mixed with producer Garry Marshall making odd statements on camera.

Laverne and Shirley: The Fifth Season should have been a triumphant threepeat at the top of the ratings. Instead it was moved from its timeslot and nearly vaporized. The episodes are much better than the ratings would have you suspect. They even kill off a lovable character. The best episodes always seem to have Lenny and Squiggy taking the lead.

CBS DVD presents Laverne and Shirley: The Fifth Season. Starring: Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams, Michael McKean and David L. Lander. Boxset Contents: 25 episodes on 4 DVDs. Released on DVD: April 10, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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