The slightly maudlin packaging of this first season DVD of “Three’s Company” continually reminds us of John Ritter’s death, which is perhaps appropriate considering that without the genuinely inspired slapstick of Ritter’s performance, the show would be nearly unwatchable. Composed of little more than a silly series of endless narrative mix-ups, leering double entendres and displays of self-consciously “with it” cultural awareness, “Three’s Company” is candy pop television refined to its purest state. Based on the BBC’s “Man About the House,” “Three’s Company” proved quite popular with audiences while being viewed as little more than prurient trash by most critics, a dichotomy which remained constant throughout the show’s entire run from 1977 to 1984. The first season of the show, six episodes in all, covers all the plot points, conceits and frameworks that would be endlessly recycled for the next seven years: ménage-a-trois undertones (“And Mother Makes Four”), sex farce (“Roper’s Niece”), individual character dilemmas (“Jack the Giant Killer”), and the occasional hair-brained scheme (just about every episode, but particularly “It’s Only Money”). Indeed, along with “I Love Lucy,” “Three’s Company” is cited as the epitome of this tendency toward the frantically absurd, and it’s only appropriate that Lucille Ball was a huge fan of the show. Ritter redeemed the show’s rampant insipidness by relying on an over-the-top, comedic physical performance that recalled an earlier tradition of comic performances. Alongside the stupid one-liners and quickly resolved half-hour mini-disasters, Ritter created a body of work nearly unique in modern TV by repeatedly falling down with a surprising amount of practiced grace. No one since Dick Van Dyke had attempted the same kind of protracted physical humor on American television, and even during an earlier period when variety programs were based around old vaudevillian performers well versed in such “body humor,” it was rarely done with any degree of sustained success on the fledgling medium. Ritter’s comedic physical skills marked “Three’s Company” as something different by exactly being more traditional when its situational humor was all too typically contemporary. His manic flexibility came into its own later in the series’s run, but can be glimpsed at times during the show’s first season, namely a pratfall onto his back to avoid being seen in “And Mother Makes Four,” a series of self-inflicted injuries occurring in rapid succession while trying to silence a barking dog in “No Children, No Dogs,” and a startled backward leap onto a chair in “Roper’s Niece.” These fragments only hint at some of the inspired set pieces to come in future seasons, and serve to remind the viewer that Ritter and his collapsing body carried “Three’s Company” from episode one for eight years, no small feat for the star of a “trashy” sitcom.
The picture quality is fine enough for a sitcom, if a bit fuzzy. The show always had a garish design, punctuated by Audra Lindley's various grotesquely imagined fashions as Mrs. Roper, and the cartoonishness of the show's narrative misadventures is amply paralleled by the carnivalesque color palatte.
There is nothing to be found on the disc save a dedication to Ritter and a promise that the Season Two DVD will be released in 2004.
If you're a fan of the show, then the disc will be worth buying, especially when it inevitably goes on sale.