Thirty-five years before there were Two Broke Girls working as waitresses, there were three broke girls in Vera (Beth Howland), Flo (Polly Holliday), and Alice, played with an energy rarely seen on the small screen, by Linda Lavin. All three were making a living working at Mel’s Diner in Phoenix Arizona. Alice and the majority of her co-workers were around for nine years and 222 episodes.
Inspired by Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, director Martin Scorsese’s popular film of 1974, Alice comes to the small screen as a recently widowed mother of one son, who decides to move home to California in search of her big break as a singer. After experiencing car trouble in Phoenix, Alice takes a job as a waitress to make ends meet.
Linda Lavin had big shoes to fill after Ellen Burstyn took home the Best Actress Oscar for the role of Alice Hyatt in the film, and she fills them well, realizing along with producers and directors that the character would require subtle changes to adapt to a situation comedy. Adapt she does, as does the late Vic Tayback (Mel of Mel’s Diner) who would be the only cast member to jump from the big screen to the small and take up permanent residence in the wonderland of Alice Hyatt. Alfred Lutter III, who had played Alice’s son Tommy in the film, would appear in the series pilot, but would be replaced by Philip McKeon. One can only speculate as to the reason for said change, but Lutter looked older when the pilot was shot, and the character needed to be softened for a situation comedy. The blond-haired, bright-eyed McKeon was exactly what CBS ordered.
Alice had everything a ’70s sitcom needed: a talented cast with the skill, energy, and the desire to please necessary to be successful; a break-out star in Polly Holiday as Flo; and a catchphrase that would adorn T-shirts for years to come: “Kiss my grits!”
What it did not have in season one was writing, as the powers that be behind the camera clearly struggled to find the voice of the series. The 24 episodes from season one in this three-disc set from Warner Archive are trite at best and often down-right nonsensical. Part of the problem was that the writers attempted to compete with the more edgy situation comedies of the era by tackling issues such as teen sex, gun control, suicide, and more. The writers were pushing the characters to run before they had taken their first steps, and this resulted in many of the stories falling on their proverbial faces. The writers were unable to tackle a sensitive subject and wrap up the story in the limited time frame, but would move on in the following week as if they had. Luckily for the viewers, CBS recognized what they had and invested in the series.
The new release looks and sounds great right from the opening credits where we are greeted by the familiar theme song sung by Lavin. Look for fun guest appearances by Adam West, Bernie Kopell, and Tom Poston. The lack of bonus material is a disappointment, and the packaging seems a bit thrown together.
Recommendation: There are episodes in future seasons that will make visiting with these old friends more enjoyable. With the exception of the character of Vera, which is inconsistent and too much of a cartoon in season one, the characters are enjoyable and strong enough to carry the series. Fun for the true fan, but you may want to wait a year or two before you take the first timer to Mel’s.