Sunday, February 26, 2006

Don Knotts & Darren McGavin

The loss of two class acts over the weekend has me just a little bit bummed today.

When people think of Don Knotts, Barney Fife probably comes to mind first and foremost. Not me - I think of Mr. Furley from Three's Company. I'm just a swingin' Furley kind of guy, I guess. I've always been a huge, unapologetic Three's Company fan, and strangely enough, if you were to ask me Roper or Furley, I'd always say Roper...until today. The kind of good will Don Knotts inspires is the kind that forces me to put aside my fanboy love for Mr. Roper and honor Mr. Furley.

Here's a great Furley observation: No sane Three's Company fan would dare argue that Priscilla's Terri Alden was superior to Suzanne's Chrissy Snow. It's just a given fact - Suzanne Somers was irreplacable (and Jenilee Harrison isn't even in the equation). Despite my love for Norman Fell, a "Roper or Furley?" debate/argument is well worth getting into, because Don Knotts was so damn perfect for the role and he brought a special kitchy lack of style to a series that was shifting with the times. Furley was a leftover from the mid-70s; he didn't realize that Reagan was president, disco was over, and the times they were a changing. This is a gag that lasted some five plus years on the show and never petered out.

One of my favorite eps of the series was when Jack and Furley were locked together in the freezer at Jack's Bistro, and to stay warm a certain amount of "closeness" was required, and in the process Jack revealed to Furley that he was in fact not gay. When they finally got out of the freezer, Furley insisted it was only because Jack thought they were going to die and was willing to lie to Furley to make him feel better, so they could huddle together for warmth. Yeah, I know, it sounds stupid to read (what Three's Company plot doesn't on paper?), but John Ritter and Don Knotts sell the entire premise down the line.

If you dislike Three's Company, I'd like to recommend the film Pleasantville, which was one of Don's final great performances, and it's fitting that so late in his career he was cast in a prominent role alongside such actors as Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William Macy, Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen and the late J.T. Walsh.


Darren McGavin's Carl Kolchak is one of the great genre TV characters. So great was McGavin in the role, that the revival series from last fall was quickly canceled not because the show itself wasn't any good, but because Stuart Townsend's take on Kolchak was constantly overshadowed by memories of McGavin. There wasn't a candle to hold, and the series never had a chance.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker has been directly credited as being the inspiration of The X-Files and in fact McGavin guest-starred on the series a couple different times. Luckily, last autumn, the entire Kolchak series was released in a DVD box set, and also available is an MGM double-feature DVD of both original Kolchak TV movies, The Night Stalker & The Night Strangler. I know what I'm going to watch tonight. Some of you may want to check him out as the dad in A Christmas Story.

Two iconic men have passed on, but what great vid fodder they left behind for us to enjoy.