Set in Santa Monica, California, Three’s Company chronicled the innuendo-laden, slapstick-prone misadventures of the affably klutzy bachelor Jack Tripper (played by John Ritter) and the two single, attractive women–one a cute, down-to-earth brunette named Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt), the other a sexy, dimwitted blonde named Christmas “Chrissy” Snow (Suzanne Somers). The three shared an apartment in order to beat the high cost of living, but Jack was also present to provide “manly protection.” Though he never broke his vow of keeping a “strictly platonic” relationship with his roommates (the three were really best friends who always looked after each other), the series was rife with double entendre suggesting they were doing much naughtier stuff.
Antagonists in this domestic farce were the trio’s downstairs landlords– the prudish Stanley Roper, an Archie Bunker-type played by Norman Fell, and later the comically swaggering “ladies man” Ralph Furley, played by Don Knotts.
The landlords were so suspicious of the “threesome” arrangement that they would not permit it until after Jack told them he was gay, a “lifestyle” against which, ironically, neither discriminated by refusing housing. Though Jack was a heterosexual with many girlfriends, he masqueraded as an effeminate “man’s man” around the near-sighted Roper, who called him “one of the girls,” and Furley, who often tried to “convert” him; this comic device played heavily at f?irst but was toned down considerably by the show’s fourth season.
When out of Roper’s and Furley’s reach, Jack and his upstairs buddy, Larry Dallas (Richard Kline), leered at and lusted after every female in sight, including, in early episodes, Janet and Chrissy. (Chrissy, especially, was prone to bouncing around the apartment braless in tight sweaters when she wasn’t clad in a towel, nightie, short-shorts or bathing suit.) The irony here was that even though sex was so ingrained in the Three’s Company consciousness, nobody on the show ever seemed to be doing it–not even the show’s only married characters, the sex-starved Helen Roper (Audra Lindley) and her impotent handyman husband, Stanley, the butt of numerous faulty plumbing jokes.
Most critics called Three’s Company an illegitimate attempt to use the TV sitcom’s new openness for its own cheap laughs. But Gerard Jones, author of Honey, I’m Home: Sitcoms: Selling the American Dream, notes that the minds behind Three’s Company intelligently responded to the times. He suggests that producers Nicholl, Ross and West recognized that even the highly praised work of producer Norman Lear’s shows “had always been simple titillation.” The producers simply went a step further. They “took advantage of TV’s new hipness” to present even more titillation “in completely undemanding form,” thus creating “an ingenious trivialization that the public was waiting for.”
Though Three’s Company jiggled beneath the thin clothing of titillation, the show was basically innocent and harmless, a contradiction that annoyed some critics. Its comedy, framed in the contemporary trapping of sexual innuendo, was basically broad farce in the tradition of I Love Lucy, very physical and ?illed with with misunderstandings. (Lucille Ball loved Three’s Company and Ritter’s pratfalls so much she hosted the show’s 1982 retrospective special). As fast-paced, pie-in-your-face farce, Three’s Company spent little time on characterization. But underlying themes of care and concern among the roommates often fueled the comedy and occasionally led to a tender resolve by episode’s end.
Three’s Company f?irst appeared on television Tuesday, March 15th, 1977 at 9:30 p.m. The remaining f?ive episodes of the f?irst season aired Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m.-never falling out of the Nielsen’s Top Ten. The show was a hit with audiences though the critics were not always as kind.
Behind the scenes three was company until fall 1980, when Somers and her husband/manager, Alan Hamel, asked for a raise from $30,000 per episode to $150,000 per episode plus 10% of the show’s pro?its. Co-stars Ritter and DeWitt, confused and angry, refused to work with Somers, whose role was reduced to a phone-call from a separate soundstage at the end of each episode (Chrissy had been sent to take care of her ailing mother in Fresno).
Though viewership dropped when Somers left, Three’s Company remained very popular, focusing more on Ritter’s physical abilities and his character’s transition from cooking student to owner of Jack’s Bistro, a French cuisine restaurant. Three’s Company, weathering key cast changes and America’s waning interest in sitcoms, remained a top ten hit through the 1982-83 season. But in 1984, after 174 episodes, a ?inal People’s Choice Award as Favorite Comedy Series and an eighth, embattled season in which it dropped out of the top thirty in the face of competition from NBC’s comically violent The A-Team, Three’s Company changed its format.
Three’s Company, though later considered tame television, pushed the proverbial envelope in the late 1970s, opening the door for sexier, if not sillier, comedies offering audiences both titillation and mindless escape.
Whether you loved watching Jack, Janet and Chrissy when you were younger or have just caught an episode or two on TV Land, you’ll love the spin the show gets from drag stars D’Arcy Drollinger & Heklina, who not only play roommates on stage, but also play business partners during the day as co-owners of Oasis.
“On some levels Three’s Company is like a time capsule”, says D’Arcy who plays Chrissy Snow and also directs. “The concept of it being so outrageous to have men and women living together seems ludicrous today. But so does the broad physicality the actors brought to it. They are essentially all clowns.”
Speaking of clowns, who better to round out the cast, but some truly larger-than-life performers and an actual clown. Adam Roy delivers a punch as Jack Tripper with his brand of physical prowess, Laurie Bushman, hot off her stint in Star Trek Live, brings The sleazy, yet lovable neighbor, Larry, to life; and the uber-talented Matthew Martin, along with Sara Moore, who was recently tapped as the new director of the Circus Center’s Clown Conservatory, are perfectly cast as Mr. And Mrs. Roper.
“D’Arcy and I both grew up on the show and still love it today,” says Heklina, who plays Janet Wood, “It made sense to put the show in our 2016 line up. It’s hilarious!”
What happens when a man pretends to be gay in order to share an apartment with two women… Whacky high-jinx, that’s what! And this show promises a lot of that!
Starring D’Arcy Drollinger, Heklina, Adam Roy & Laurie Bushman. With Matthew Martin & Sara Moore as the Ropers. Adapted and directed by D’Arcy Drollinger.
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