Just in time for Christmas and less than four months after the release of Season One, Warner Archive delivers the second season of the adventures of Alice (Linda Lavin), Flo (Polly Holliday), Vera (Beth Howland), Mel (Vic Tayback), and Tommy (Philip McKeon).
Though Season One left much to be desired in the area of writing and directing, the characters and the chemistry between them combined with the sweet spot following All In the Family in the CBS lineup were more than enough to keep the gang at Mel’s Diner cooking.
Little has changed in the lives of our friends at Mel’s since last we saw them. Alice, Flo, and Vera are still waiting tables for the overbearing yet loveable Mel, while Tommy makes occasional appearances to crack a few well-timed jokes. Unfortunately, little has changed in the writing as well. Though the writers leave the edgy topics of season one off the menu this year, the stories still remain poorly prepared. It’s clear they have no idea what to do with the character of Vera, as the ignorant and naive comedic vehicle, used so successfully in other series, is simply wasted here. In many episodes the character of Vera, played with much enthusiasm and energy by Howland, garners more uncomfortable reactions rather than the intended laughs.
Episode 10 of the 24 on this three-disc release is a perfect example of the poor writing found throughout Season Two. “Oh, George Burns” features the legendary comedian who is in town to receive a reward. Riding high of the success of his recently released film Oh, God!, Burns stops in the diner for a bite, and Vera reveals that she believes he is God and quits her job to follow him. The attempts to convince her otherwise are embarrassingly contrived.
Season Two features other guest stars including Jerry Reed, Morey Amsterdam, and Desi Arnaz. The episode featuring Arnaz, who still exudes the charm and energy of Ricky Ricardo, may be the most awkward episode of all. In “The Cuban Connection” Arnaz plays Paco, a womanizing Cuban whose wife has kicked him out again. Since the couple is friends with Alice, she tries to save the day. The jokes about his accent are tired, and considering the reported exploits of Arnaz in real life, it seems a less sensitive storyline could have been found.
Season Two is not without humor, though. Flo presents plenty of grits fer kissin which in turn allows Mel to suggest she stow them. Nonetheless, many of the plots make little sense and will leave your stomach growling for substance to satisfy your appetite for quality storytelling .
The DVDs look and sound great. The packaging is consistent with the first season in that it is shoddy at best, contains no episode guide, and the set includes no bonus material.
Recommendation: If you’re passing through, Mel’s Diner is a pleasant place to stop for lunch. Too many visits are likely to upset your stomach. It’ll be another season or two before you should consider becoming a regular.