When considering Martin Scorsese‘s 70’s filmography, turning one of his cinematic masterpieces into a television series seems highly unlikely. 1974’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, had a few comedic moments, but was hardly tailor made for a sitcom. Nonetheless, screenwriter Robert Getchell (Bound for Glory, Mommie Dearest) saw small screen potential in the core of the story, and ended up creating a long running, much loved series for CBS. Lasting nine seasons, Alice starred Linda Lavin in the title role. After her husband, Donald was killed in a truck accident, Alice and her 12-year-old son, Tommy (played in the original pilot by Alfred Lutter III and later by Philip McKeon), leave their home in New Jersey and head for Los Angeles.
Alice dreams of pursuing a singing career, unfortunately her car breaks down in Phoenix. We meet her soon after she has taken a job as a waitress at Mel’s Diner on the outskirts of the city. The diner’s ring leader is the gruff yet lovable owner/chef Mel Sharples. (Vic Tayback). Reprising his role from the original film, the Mel portrayed here is much softer in tone then in the film; joining Alice as waitresses are: sassy, man-hungry Flo (Polly Holliday), and scatterbrained Vera (Beth Howland).
Given that it was 1976, Alice began its run dealing with a controversial subject. “Alice Gets a Pass” finds Mel’s old college buddy coming to town for a fishing trip. Jack Newhouse (Denny Miller) is a retired pro quarterback. He and Alice quickly form a bond, but Jack is forced to admit he can’t date her because he’s gay. Alice must face her own prejudices, as she’s no longer sure she wants Tommy hanging out with Newhouse. “A Piece of the Rock” has Alice concerned that her recently deceased husband might have been having an affair, when a newly discovered insurance policy he took out was to go to a “mystery woman” in the event of her death. “Pay the Fifty Dollars” busts Alice on charges of being a hooker. The sheriff is played by Gordon Jump (WKRP in Cincinnati). “A Call to Arms” has Alice borrowing Flo’s gun, after several nights of obscene phone calls. Just who could it be?
Review” finds Victor Buono (King Tut on Batman) turning up as a food critic looking to review Mel’s cooking. Totally unaware of the critic’s presence, Mel nearly sabotages the whole thing, by attempting to pawn off soon-to-be-rotten food. “Sex Education” finds Batman himself, Adam West turning up as Tommy’s sex education teacher. Alice finds herself concerned that her son might be learning too much about the birds and the bees.
In “Big Daddy Dawson’s Coming,” Flo finds herself falling back in love with her first husband. Unfortunately for her, “Big Daddy” has developed feelings for Alice. Ditzy Vera finally gets to be at the center of an episode in “Good Night, Sweet Vera.” This episode represents as serious as the show gets, as Vera decides to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills after a falling out with her latest boyfriend. On an extremely stormy night, it’s up to Alice and Flo to keep her awake as they wait for paramedics to arrive.
“Vera’s Mortician” introduces us to her new boyfriend (Newhart’s Tom Poston. Oddly enough John Fielder (The Bob Newhart Show) also turns up. Who knew they’d both be linked to Bob Newhart. With profits falling and competition moving into town, “Mel’s Happy Burger” finds him filming a commercial in the diner in an effort to boost popularity.
Containing 24 largely funny episodes Alice: The Complete First Season represents a nice start for what would become a long running series. The interplay between Alice, Mel, Flo and Vera remains enjoyable more than thirty years after the series first aired. One hopes that Warner Archive makes the rest of the seasons available soon.
Presented in 1.33:1, the episodes look quite good, considering their age and the fact that they were shot on video. There are a couple of age related blemishes, but there’s nothing that interferes with the viewing process.
The audio is presented in a fairly vanilla Dolby Digital mono, but it’s well balanced with the dialogue rising above the laugh track.
Included in this 3-DVD set is the rarely seen “Pilot” (24:09). Featuring Alfred Lutter III as Alice’s son Tommy, he reprises his role from Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Though he was only 14 at the time of filming, it’s easy to see why he was replaced. A big kid, he looked like he was going to have a massive growth spurt at any second; passing for a 12-year-old would have been a very hard sell.