Come and Knock on My Door

June 20, 2006

I got to thinking about Three's Company today. And I've decided that a big part of why it's no big deal for people of my generation to have opposite-sex roommates is that our parents spent so much time in 1979 defending Jack's right to cohabitate with Janet and Chrissy. I know this sounds ludicrous, but I remember that it really was a controversy when that show was a prime-time series.

My parents would have been of that age where they are about 10 years older than our fictional Southern California friends. I now know that people in their 30s want to think that they are as young and hip as the attractive people in their 20s that they see on the television every week. I bet a good many of those people had drawn-out debates with their own parents about the morality of this silly little sitcom.

Fast forward 20 years, and their own kids want to live the lifestyle that the parents convinced themselves was moral way back when. Three's Company changed how they perceived "living in sin."

(That sounds preachy, but unintentionally. In fact, I strongly recommend a childless live-together period for all young couples before getting married.)

It's often commented on that the plot of every episode revolves around an eavesdropper overhearing a piece of a conversation, misinterpreting it, usually in a sexual way, followed by the ensuing hilarity. The running gag that is less often mentioned is the unfulfilled sexual advance. Jack would get shot down by Janet (Janet? Is that the best looking brunette they could find?) and Chrissy. Lana would get shot down by Jack. Larry would get shot down by pretty much everyone -- although he hooked up regularly with extras, Mr. Ferley would get shot down by extras on a regular basis, and Mrs. Roper is probably the only wife in the history of the world who constantly got shot down by her own husband. Good stuff.

It's hard to understand whether Mr. Ferley and Mr. Roper were conservative fuddy-duddies, or pretty progressive dudes. On the one hand, they would put their foot down and disallow a heterosexual cohabitation. Mr. Roper was especially adamant about it not happening under his roof. But on the other hand, they had no problem with the perceived open homosexuality of Jack. I'm pretty sure that there were episodes where they assumed that other males were with Jack.

This brings me to the profound conclusion that Mr. Roper -- of all people -- is more open minded than the current President of the United States, who as you have probably heard, has proposed amending the constitution in a way that protects the rest of us from the dangers associated with homosexual couples being able to inherit each others belongings, share an insurance plan, or visit each other in the hospital.

I wonder if the President was a Three's Company fan, and how he would compare himself to Mr. Roper. (He certainly did better in the wife-picking department. But wouldn't you pay a hundred bucks to see what Laura looks like in a muu muu?)

An what was Mr. Ferley's problem with a heterosexual living with two girls? He fancied himself a playa, and would have engaged in out-of-marriage intercourse as often as he could get it. So what, exactly, is his problem with the living arrangement upstairs?

It occurs to me now that I should have given John Ritter a little mention on this site when he passed away. Not because he was one of the last masters of the pratfall -- which he was, and not because his similar minor characters in Sling Blade and Bad Santa helped push those movies from good to among my favorites of all time -- which he did.

No, the real reason that he deserves to be singled out is that he is the biggest celebrity to have shared a birthday with me. In fact, now that he's passed, I don't know of another celeb with a September 17 birthday (that's a hint -- mark your calendars).

One Summer during my college days, I lived with my buddies Jerry and Eddie. Jerry spent most of his time at a girlfriend's, so it was usually Eddie and me hanging around the apartment. Every day when I would get in from work, Eddie was winding up an hour-long session of back to back episodes of Three's Company. We would pretty much start drinking beer right then.

One day, one of us decided to check directory assistance for the town where Three's Company was set. I don't remember which Southern California city that was any more, but we called looking for the phone number of a Jack Tripper with no luck, then of a Chrissy Snow, again with no luck. But what do you know, there was a Janet Woods listed. Of course, we gave her a call.

Eddie called that first night and seemed to have a nice chat about liking flowers, living with a closed-minded landlord, the importance of getting the whole story before making decisions based on one's eavesdropping, etc. When he finally hung up, I was insanely jealous of not having been the one to think this up.

He mentioned that she seemed not to know what he was talking about. As if she never considered the coincidence of her unfortunate name.

You will just have to imagine an old, drugged out "I don't accept." Your browser doesn't support this plugin. We continued to call her, but I suggested that since we were rather poor college students, that we call collect. So every night, after getting a buzz, we'd dial her up via the collect call operator. The way it worked was that a voice tells you to say your name. Some piece of equipment makes a recording of what you say, and then when the person answers the phone, the voice says something like, "Press 1 to accept a collect call from..." and then plays back your recording. At the part where you record your name, we would always yell something like, "THIS IS MR. FERLEY, AND I NEED YOU TO PAY THE RENT!" or "THIS IS MR. ANGELENO! TELL JACK TO GET TO WORK!" Janet sounded like an older, tired, possibly drug-addled Californian. She was nothing at all like the Janet that we know from the series. Her answer was always the same words, but I can't do them justice by just typing them here. I've made a little sound file of my impression of the answer. Listen and enjoy. To this day, referring to any young, dark-haired, sort chick as Janet Woods cracks me up.