Monday, February 27, 2006

Whooo Is Iiiit?

The two-DVD set of the complete series "Action" was worth getting for a lot of reasons, but one reason was just the chance to see (in the making-of featurette) the creator of the show, Chris Thompson. Somehow he looks and acts the way I'd expect -- sort of a weather-beaten stoner with a deeply cynical and misanthropic view of the world.

Thompson, you see, is one of the odd ducks of the sitcom world, a man known for injecting a kind of unique strangeness into even the most conventional-looking sitcoms. His most famous credit is "Bosom Buddies." After writing and producing for "Laverne and Shirley," Thompson created "Bosom Buddies" for two of the producers of "Laverne and Shirley," Edward Miller and Thomas Boyett. Miller and Boyett would spend most of the '80s as the kings of bland wacky sitcom fare -- "Perfect Strangers," "Family Matters," "Full House" -- and "Bosom Buddies," the Some Like It Hot-ish story of two guys dressing up as women to live in an all-girl apartment building, by all rights should have been equally bland. But almost from the beginning, Thompson was putting in bits of bizarre humour and his young stars, Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari, were being encouraged to cut loose and ad-lib.

By the time "Bosom Buddies" hit its stride, the cross-dressing stuff had become more of an occasional gag (Hanks and Scolari were actually funnier in regular clothes, just riffing and playing off each other), and the focus of the show was on the insane improvised business between Hanks and Scolari, and on the unusually inventive stories and dialogue. Much of the dialogue doesn't even make sense on paper but is absolutely hilarious in context; a poster at Home Theater Forum collected some of the better "Bosom Buddies" lines, and I'll cut-and-paste them here:

"A bird with a hat - a very powerful aphrodisiac."

"I'll cherish this gift long as it lasts. Does anyone have 15 'D' batteries?"

"Could I have your name?"
"You could, but it would be an incredible coincidence."

"But we were gonna live on Cheetos and develop respiratory infections...!"

"I was quite the bohemian at Vassar."

"What do you think of this piece here?'s the flag of Japan!!!"

"Mint donut?"

"Bosom Buddies" had, overall, probably the best cast of any '80s sitcom: Hanks, Scolari, Wendie Jo Sperber, Holland Taylor and Donna "How did Dan Aykroyd manage to get her to marry him" Dixon. All the performers cut loose so much, and the dialogue was so offbeat and nutty, and the plots so crazy (sample plot: a character tries to prove he's not uptight by throwing a water-balloon out of the window onto a car; the car belongs to ex-President Nixon, and the characters get hauled off by the Secret Service) that it was like a weekly subversion of the Miller-Boyett formula, a Chris Thompson middle finger extended to the conventional sitcom tradition that spawned him.

"Bosom Buddies" is for some reason not on DVD yet -- it can't have anything to do with Hanks, who is proud of the show and still friendly with the surviving cast members; it might be a problem with licensing the theme song, Billy Joel's "My Life". If it ever comes out, grab it.

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