I was just a kid when Laverne and Shirley became a successful spinoff from Happy Days in the 1970’s, and while I remember that it was on often in our home I could not have recited any episodes from memory. Like most of my generation, I remembered the enigmatic opening rhyme from the show’s opening segment, and like most kids then I couldn’t pronounce it and still can’t; don’t even ask me to spell it here. The Cyndi Grecco saccharine ballad was a hit for a while, playing far too often during the summer pool months.
Laverne and Shirley began on Happy Days as dates occasionally for Richie and Fonzie. They were both bottle cappers at the Shotz Beer Brewery in Milwaukee. They were also roommates, following somewhat in the Oscar Madison/Felix Unger model. Penny Marshall, who was the sister of the show’s producer Gary Marshall actually had a regular role on The Odd Couple. She played Laverne De Fazio, a rather loose party girl who had a penchant for wearing large L’s on her skirts and drank cola and milk together. Shirley Feeney, played by Cindy Williams, was a more typical Midwest girl who was often too innocent for her own good. A great deal of the humor surrounded the pair’s incompatibility and their dreams of a better life some day. Shirley’s love interest was Carmine “The Big Ragu” Ragusa, who was a professional dancer. Shirley’s father owned a local hangout called The Pizza Bowl. The girls often worked part time to help out. The most entertaining characters had to be upstairs neighbors Lenny and Squiggy. These were greaser wannabes who were often as short on brains as they were on cash. Finally, their landlady and Frank’s romantic interest was Edna Babbish, played by All In The Family alum Betty Garrett. It was a smart cast, but the series never was able to break any of its own molds. While I remember laughing in those days, little beyond the characters remained memorable 30 years later. The show was often compared to I Love Lucy, with Laverne being Lucy and Shirley being Ethel. Whether or not the comparisons are valid is arguable, but it is all too obvious that there was a certain intent there to create that chemistry. The problem is that Marshall and Williams never seemed to click. I got the uneasy impression the two might not have liked each other very much and it carried over into the performances. There’s a lot of upstaging going on between the two.
As I watched this fourth season, I couldn’t find one episode I recognized. There were some nice comedic moments in this release, however. I actually really enjoyed the season opening 2 parter, The Festival. Perhaps it’s because the show moved away from its stale environments and hit the road for an Italian festival in New York City. Playing The Roxy was another standout episode as Shirley thinks she’s a famous stripper after a head injury. It was a mold breaking episode, allowing Williams to play against type. In The Robbery Laverne’s date ends up knocking over a grocery store during one of their outings. Laverne and Shirley Move In shows us how the pair ended up together. In Who’s Popa, Shirley begins to suspect she was adopted. All in all the season worked best when it attempted to expand its universe.
Each episode of Laverne and Shirley is presented in its original full frame broadcast format. There’s a lot of wear evident in these prints. You won’t need to look far to find grain. Colors are a bit soft. It’s an old print, and not a lot of money was invested in any kind of restoration. What you get looks pretty much on par with the broadcast results, if you had had digital cable back then.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is basically there to service the dialog, and it does. I didn’t catch any distortion, and again my expectations for this sort of thing are low to begin with. There’s nothing in the audio that will take away from your enjoyment of the shows.
Laverne and Shirley is OK nostalgic candy, but like any sweet, it doesn’t take very long before you’ve had your fill and suddenly it doesn’t taste that good anymore. The series hasn’t aged well and seems out of step today. If you’re just curious, there really isn’t anything here to warrant spending the money. If you have better memories of the series, you might want to consider buying and finding out if your memories match what comes out of your DVD player. “Plug that sucker in and see what it looks like.”