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Too Close for Comfort, Indeed
November 3, 2011 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Previously, we discussed the strangely serious 1985 Too Close For Comfort episode titled: For Every Man, There's Two Women - a show of note in that one of its main characters, Monroe Ficus (Jm J. Bullock), is kidnapped and raped by two obese women with a jello fetish. At the time of the previous post, no footage of the episode could be found online. Recently, however, the entire episode [part 1] [part 2] was uploaded to YouTube. Trigger warning: the episode, though it deals with a serious subject, often plays the abduction/assault for laughs. [via]
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (72 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Wadsworth Constant takes you to the relevant bit.
posted by odinsdream at 8:13 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The whole premise of the show - a father trying to keep his adult daughters from having sex - is unfathomable today.

I was probably one of the few who found Walter Hill favorite Deborah van Valkenburg more compelling than Lydia Cornell.
posted by Trurl at 8:21 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ted Knight was a national treasure
posted by Mick at 8:36 AM on November 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


The whole premise of the show - a father trying to keep his adult daughters from having sex - is unfathomable today.

It was pretty unfathomable to me at the time. Same thing with Three's Company. Why on earth does Mr Roper care if men and women are living together?
posted by DU at 8:36 AM on November 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Same thing with Three's Company. Why on earth does Mr Roper care if men and women are living together?

I find it even more astounding that the rent for that two-bedroom apartment was only $300.
posted by orange swan at 8:40 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


You must live in NY. 20 years later, I had an apartment that was about that nice (two bedrooms including a master suite and an extra bath, balcony, etc) for only $600/mo.
posted by DU at 8:45 AM on November 3, 2011


Even better question, when Mr. Furley, a self styled swinger, took over the building why did Jack still pretend to be gay?
posted by Ad hominem at 8:47 AM on November 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Monroe Ficus (Jm J. Bullock), is kidnapped and raped by two obese women with a jello fetish

Was this a common problem in the 80s?
posted by mazola at 8:48 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Monroe Ficus (Jm J. Bullock), is kidnapped and raped by two obese women with a jello fetish

Was this a common problem in the 80s?


If by "this" you mean "Jm J. Bullock being in things," the answer is yes, but not as common as you might think.
posted by AugieAugustus at 8:50 AM on November 3, 2011 [32 favorites]


I just want to know why it was Jm sometimes and Jim some other times. I remember from his time on the John Davidson "Hollywood Squares" that J. stood for Jackson, however.
posted by inturnaround at 9:13 AM on November 3, 2011


Wow. Until I watched that clip, I thought this was just an incredibly elaborate internet running joke.

The 80s were not only weirder than I remember, they were weirder than I could possibly imagine.
posted by murphy slaw at 9:13 AM on November 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Why do I have the feeling Herman Cain studied this episode for talking points?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:27 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The closet was so deep back then that you could have as a main supporting character a flamboyant single man who lives in San Francisco and never have the question of his possible gayness come up.
posted by Trurl at 9:30 AM on November 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


I had forgotten about the weird telephone, but I was able to whistle along with the theme song.

I loved this show as a 10-year old and I must have seen this episode because I watched it faithfully. I am sure I had no idea what it was about, however.
posted by cabingirl at 9:30 AM on November 3, 2011


You must live in NY. 20 years later, I had an apartment that was about that nice (two bedrooms including a master suite and an extra bath, balcony, etc) for only $600/mo.

No, Toronto. For about $400 you might be able to rent a room and share facilities in someone's home, or share a very basic one bedroom apartment with a partner. Crappy one bedroom basement apartments with 6' ceiling clearances cost over $600.
posted by orange swan at 9:38 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow. Until I watched that clip, I thought this was just an incredibly elaborate internet running joke.

No, it is. It's just way more elaborate than you thought.
posted by odinsdream at 9:47 AM on November 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


I used to bring up this episode all the time to friends, but they never remembered it. It's among those classic (?) weird sitcom episodes, like when Gordon Jump (from WKRP) molested Dudley on Different Strokes, or the episode of All in the Family where Edith is attacked by a rapist in the house, while the rest of the family is next door.
posted by stifford at 9:59 AM on November 3, 2011


That previously thread is one of my favorite Metafilter threads of this year, but the fact that I'm so excited that this episode has been uploaded onto YouTube is almost as disturbing as the episode premise itself. Ever since this episode being discussed happened around the same time I discovered Too Close for Comfort was being rerun locally, I've been scanning the episode descriptions to see if it came up, but not, of course, actually watching it, because, as I noted in the original thread, that show sucks even measuring it against the yardstick of cheesy 80s sitcoms. It makes Bosom Buddies look like Some Like It Hot.*

Then one week I tuned in and all of the sudden, Henry and Muriel had moved to Marin County, he'd bought a newspaper, and a plot contrivance led to Monroe living as their tenant in an entirely different apartment, at which point I realized that I'd discovered the repackaged version of The Ted Knight Show, which became a repackaged sixth season of Too Close for Comfort in syndication and I figured I'd either missed it or they had skipped over showing that particular episode.

* Speaking of things you can learn on Wikipedia, I found this little tidbit pretty hilarious when trying to figure out what song was used as the theme for Bosom Buddies when it wasn't Billy Joel's "My Life" -- "Shake Me Loose" by Stephanie Mills; the story itself is a bit of a derail but it does illustrate the f'd up nature of the television business around the same time:

The series was conceived by Miller and Boyett as a male counterpart to their hit sitcom Laverne & Shirley. They originally pitched it as a straightforward buddy comedy done in what they described as "a sophisticated Billy Wilder kind of way." When ABC executives asked Miller and Boyett to explain what they meant by the comparison to Wilder, the producers mentioned Some Like It Hot and ABC bought the show on condition that it would include men in women's clothing, just like that movie. "We weren't there to pitch that", Miller recalled. "And they jumped on it! We drove back to the studio in the car saying, 'Oh my god, what are we gonna do? We have to do something in drag.'"
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:05 AM on November 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


Those high waisted jeans are a crime against humanity.
posted by elizardbits at 10:08 AM on November 3, 2011


when Mr. Furley, a self styled swinger, took over the building why did Jack still pretend to be gay?

Did he? I thought the Jack-Is-Really-Gay thing only lasted through the first season or two. Didn't the remainder of the series usually pivot on Jack's failures with women? (True story: in the seventh grade, assigned by my English teacher to write on a topic she chose for the class, i.e., an episode of Three's Company, I flatly refused to do so out of some combination of boredom, nerd-rage, and hipper-than-thou-ism. For that I was mocked by my classmates for failing to appreciate such a cool show.)

I only have the vaguest memory of Too Close For Comfort. Don't think I ever actually watched it.
posted by octobersurprise at 10:09 AM on November 3, 2011


Did he? I thought the Jack-Is-Really-Gay thing only lasted through the first season or two. Didn't the remainder of the series usually pivot on Jack's failures with women

They never told Mr Furley Jack was straight. Mr Furley was always making jokes about about Jack being gay. Of course the joke was Mr Furley had even worse luck with women than Jack, who he thought was gay. One episode they had a pick up line contest, of course Jack protested that he had no idea how to pick up women. Jack won and Mr Furley was incensed. For the record, Jack's winning line was "do you know what I like about you? My arms"
posted by Ad hominem at 10:27 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even better question, when Mr. Furley, a self styled swinger, took over the building why did Jack still pretend to be gay?

I have always assumed Jack actually was gay, and was deeply closeted.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:32 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have always assumed Jack actually was gay, and was deeply closeted.

Yeah, there is a theory that Jack was in denial and his failures with women were self sabotage. Don't know how much to read into a show where every damn episode was the same though.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:44 AM on November 3, 2011


According to wikipedia:

"Jack continues the charade when new landlord Ralph Furley takes over the apartment complex because Mr. Furley insists that his hard-nosed brother Bart (the building's new owner) would also never tolerate such living situations."
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 10:49 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


It was pretty unfathomable to me at the time. Same thing with Three's Company. Why on earth does Mr Roper care if men and women are living together?

He's afraid God will burn down his tenement with offended lightning blasts.

It's among those classic (?) weird sitcom episodes, like when Gordon Jump (from WKRP) molested Dudley on Different Strokes, or the episode of All in the Family where Edith is attacked by a rapist in the house, while the rest of the family is next door.

Your comment makes me want to start making things up about TV shows that I "remember."

"Remember when Cliff Huxtable accidentally killed a man in his basement then bricked it up for forbade his family from ever mentioning it again?"

"Dan Fielding once participated in a weird sexual fetish that required eating the flesh of a dead man. He wouldn't stop talking about it for weeks."

"There was that episode then Cliff Clavin started going off about the 'Great Old Ones,' and everyone thought it was just Cliff being Cliff and they all pooh-poohed him -- until they encountered the Thing in Norm's Basement!"

(I could have included a few examples that actually happened just to troll. Like when Alex Keaton had a breakdown, and they filmed an entire episode with him in a black void talking to a therapist with different sets coming into and out of view. Or when Cliff Huxtable ate too much of a hoagie before going to bed and he had an episode-long, Jim Henson-narrated dream where he was harassed by Muppets, including the Great Gonzo.)
posted by JHarris at 10:53 AM on November 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


There seem to have been three writers for the episode. Earl Barret wrote novels, plays and for 33 television series. He was out of the business within 4 years of writing this episode. Bill Davenport wrote for dozens of series going back to Ozzie and Harriet. He committed suicide within 4 years of writing this episode. Arne Sultan wrote for 22 different series. He was dead within a year of this episode.
According to the IMDB trivia page Ted Knight protested this episode. He died one year after this episode.
This is something like Ringu. In fact, I'm not feeling so well myself after having watched it.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:53 AM on November 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


I have always assumed Jack actually was gay, and was deeply closeted.

I've read that Ritter complained that it made no sense for his character to shun the constant advances from Lana. But in that pre-MILF era, a sexually aggressive woman in her 40s could only be played for comic horror.
posted by Trurl at 11:00 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Same thing with Three's Company. Why on earth does Mr Roper care if men and women are living together?

That may have been a holdover from it being based on a show a few years prior, from a slightly more buttoned-up nation.

Like when Alex Keaton had a breakdown, and they filmed an entire episode with him in a black void talking to a therapist with different sets coming into and out of view.

Should I be concerned that I actually know the name of that episode was "A My Name Is Alex"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:00 AM on November 3, 2011


Like when Alex Keaton had a breakdown

The episode where he took amphetamines to help him study and dug holes in the lawn? That also happened on the Fresh Prince, Carlton took amphetamines he found In Will's locker at school.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:02 AM on November 3, 2011


They did "main character gets hooked on speed" episodes on All in the Family and M*A*S*H too.

It was one of those plots that got used a lot - like "has to deliver a baby in an elevator" and "has to land a plane without a pilot".
posted by Trurl at 11:09 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Like when Alex Keaton had a breakdown

The episode where he took amphetamines to help him study and dug holes in the lawn?


No, this was an episode where his best friend had been killed in an accident and he was grieving.

WHY DO I KNOW THIS
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:10 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Your comment makes me want to start making things up about TV shows that I "remember."

"Remember when Cliff Huxtable accidentally killed a man in his basement then bricked it up for forbade his family from ever mentioning it again?"


I can see the sweater now.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 11:24 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Like when Alex Keaton had a breakdown

What about when Tom Hanks was visiting, and got all drunk on Vanilla Extract, and then punched (slapped?) Alex?
posted by stifford at 11:27 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dan Fielding once participated in a weird sexual fetish that required eating the flesh of a dead man.

I'm pretty sure this WAS a real episode.
posted by DU at 11:28 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "A My Name is Alex" episode was actually one of the best "very special episodes" ever done. Michael J. Fox isn't all that good at dramatic roles (comedy is his forte), and the writing wasn't quite there, but the Family Ties team really made an effort to seriously explore Alex's grief and existential crisis over the loss of his friend instead of making some trite, shallow tribute to it in between jokes and commercials, and they came very close to succeeding. And that's all the more impressive because the sitcom format just didn't lend itself to serious subjects at all.
posted by orange swan at 11:29 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, this was an episode where his best friend had been killed in an accident and he was grieving.

"WHY AM I ALIVE?"
posted by bondcliff at 11:37 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, if we're comparing notes about well-done "VSE"s, the WKRP episode where they address the Who's concert disaster in Cincinnati was pretty good. No heavy-handed moralizing, just kind of a "damn, this kind of...sucked."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:43 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Exploring societal reactions to rape through the simple narrative ploy of gender-role reversal... what's so weird about that? I find this episode rather commendable, actually. Yes, they're playing rape for laughs, and of course that's terrible. But think about how rape victims were treated back then (not to mention in our supposedly enlightened age) and I think you have to recognize that the writers/producers were using the tool at their disposal, hackneyed and flawed though it may have been, to try to address something important and maybe make people think a little.

I'll also go to the mat for Mr. Bullock in this episode. Not a lot of room in that character or between all those lame jokes to inject real feeling, but he did. And the additional role reversal of having Knight defend him was also effective.

And yes, the closet was deep in those days, but c'mon everyone knew Monroe was gay--it was telegraphed in the title of the show, for goodness sake.
posted by dust of the stars at 11:46 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Exploring societal reactions to rape through the simple narrative ploy of gender-role reversal... what's so weird about that?

How about: they're playing rape for laughs, and of course that's terrible.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:49 AM on November 3, 2011


Also, I thought the jello thing was weird.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:51 AM on November 3, 2011


Have to strongly disagree with orange swan as it regards the "A My Name is Alex" episode of Family Ties. That episode has to go down as one of the worst, most manipulatively contrived attempts at "drama" in the name of a ratings stunt ever.

Seriously, the whole episode dealt with Alex's reaction to the death of his lifelong best friend. The "best friend" who was such a close confidant and important person in Alex's life that in the several previous years the show had been on the air he had never appeared or even been mentioned once. Instead, the writers invented the character for the sole purpose of killing him in a cynical attempt at a "Very Special Episode" sweeps stunt that was in no way earned.

Boy, did I hate that episode.
posted by The Gooch at 11:51 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the part where Ted Knight is trapped inside the collapsible bed.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:54 AM on November 3, 2011


They did "main character gets hooked on speed" episodes on All in the Family and M*A*S*H too.

This was one of the serious tragedies of my childhood: later in my 20s, when I had to deal with a loved one on drugs, I just assumed that he would be off them within an hour or so just like on TV, that when he said "gee, I think I'll stop now," that he actually would. Fuck you, 80s television.
posted by Melismata at 11:57 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


And also all the jokes about his beeper being broken.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:58 AM on November 3, 2011


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: "Exploring societal reactions to rape through the simple narrative ploy of gender-role reversal... what's so weird about that?

How about: they're playing rape for laughs, and of course that's terrible.
"

Agreed, as I said. But....context. If a 1940s or 1950s comedy had broached the subject of racism, even while playing it for laughs in a way we'd cringe at today, we'd recognize that at least they were thinking a bit outside their cultural box. We might even commend those creative types for being ahead of their time in terms of attitudes, while also recognizing that they still had a long way to go. That's all I'm saying here.

I'm not putting this up there with Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, but it seems to me it came from a similar intention.
posted by dust of the stars at 12:08 PM on November 3, 2011


Ya know, guys...
"Funny" last names are almost never funny.
It's always some wack shit like "Neitzelbomb" or "Jorbelfinkler" or something like that.
Subpar Mad Magazine schtick.
But making Monroe's last name "Ficus" actually elicited a real-life LOL from me.



Maybe it's just me.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:16 PM on November 3, 2011


Jorbelfinkler is pretty funny.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:17 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


you have to recognize that the writers/producers were using the tool at their disposal, hackneyed and flawed though it may have been, to try to address something important and maybe make people think a little.

I'd be more willing to buy that argument if the perpetrators in this case weren't comically unrealistic characters who rape their victims in tubs of jello. Seems like, if anything, the writers were possibly even parodying the "Very Special Episodes" that were popping up in 80s sitcoms. Pretty much every opportunity to insert an obvious joke was taken, and I didn't see a lot of restraint or insight. If we put on our 1985 helmets and try to imagine what the viewer of that era would get out of this episode, I'm guessing a small fraction would be thinking "man, men getting raped is serious" while the great majority of viewers would be thinking "that dude got raped by those fat chicks in a tub of jello! Classic!"
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:19 PM on November 3, 2011


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: "Seems like, if anything, the writers were possibly even parodying the "Very Special Episodes" that were popping up in 80s sitcoms.

Gotta admit this hypothesis is alluring!
posted by dust of the stars at 12:31 PM on November 3, 2011


Why on earth does Mr Roper care if men and women are living together?

That did not seem weird to me at the time. I'm not sure if it's because I was 10 years old and just accepted the reality of what was presented to me, or if it's because we lived in a small town in Virginia where a lot of people would have shared Mr. Roper's views. Probably both.
posted by smoothvirus at 12:32 PM on November 3, 2011


Gotta admit this hypothesis is alluring!

Let's track down the writers and see if we can get any insight. Oh, right...
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:34 PM on November 3, 2011


They did "main character gets hooked on speed" episodes on All in the Family and M*A*S*H too.

I think the M*A*S*H finale counts as one of these weird episodes as well. I hadn't thought about it for years until Alan Alda was on 30 Rock and they actually did a joke that called back to the whole "chicken that turns out to have actually been a baby" from that show. I was a bit gobsmacked.
posted by Naberius at 12:36 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


That hair!
posted by madajb at 12:50 PM on November 3, 2011


They did "main character gets hooked on speed" episodes on All in the Family and M*A*S*H too.

WKRP did on and I think handled it pretty well. It involved the station accepting advertising from a store that sold speed in the guise of herbal remedies. It's where I learned what "keeled over" meant.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:57 PM on November 3, 2011


They did "main character gets hooked on speed" episodes on All in the Family and M*A*S*H too.

And, famously (infamously?) on Saved by the Bell
posted by The Gooch at 1:18 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: "Actually, if we're comparing notes about well-done "VSE"s, the WKRP episode where they address the Who's concert disaster in Cincinnati was pretty good. No heavy-handed moralizing, just kind of a "damn, this kind of...sucked.""

And holy shit is that a killer of a twist if you're a kid who had no idea what was going to happen. They come back from the commercial and Mr. Carlson is walking around with that stupid mask and then... just wow. I didn't know until the end titles that it was based on a real event, and I just thought it was a super depressing episode, and then to find out it was based on a real event made it all the worse, especially since I couldn't have been more than 7 or 8. Brutal.

Episode discussed and linked here.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:01 PM on November 3, 2011


sexually aggressive woman in her 40s could only be played for comic horror.

Why did i read that as "cosmic horror", and be very happy for a second? ;)
posted by usagizero at 2:12 PM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Deborah van Valkenburg more compelling than Lydia Cornell.


Not the only one, felt the same here, and rewatching that she stands out still.
posted by usagizero at 2:17 PM on November 3, 2011


"chicken that turns out to have actually been a baby"

I didn't watch that, I was laying in bed trying to go to sleep, adults were watching it in the next room. Laying in the dark listening to that show as a young kid freaked me the fuck out.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:18 PM on November 3, 2011


"chicken that turns out to have actually been a baby"

I was sort of idly watching that episode with my family, mostly because such a big deal had been made about it being a Historic Television Event... I was young enough that most of the jokes on that show went over my head, but old enough that I could tell they were funny. During that last episode I remember feeling vaguely betrayed and thinking "This isn't funny AT. ALL."
posted by usonian at 2:27 PM on November 3, 2011


"I don't want to be a joke."

The famous last words of Jm J. Bullock.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:05 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Properly, giving the context, it should be Jm J. Bullock.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:09 PM on November 3, 2011


Oh, you got it right!
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:10 PM on November 3, 2011


"I don't want to be a joke."

Foam Pants: The famous last words of Jm J. Bullock.


I assume this is a joke that's gone over my head? Mr. Bullock is alive and well and acting on soap operas and stuff.
posted by tzikeh at 4:12 PM on November 3, 2011


This joke is not over your head, it's just that it's not a very good one.

"I only make jokes for myself."

The famous last words of Foam Pants.
posted by Foam Pants at 4:42 PM on November 3, 2011


Watching Ted Knight -- who, to me, is always and forever Judge Smalls from Caddyshack -- trying to play the serious defender of Monroe and chastise his daughter and wife for their double standard is the most fucking strange and surreal thing ever.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:42 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pshaw, Eighties VSEs. Nothing will ever hold a candle to "Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue" and Jessie's caffeine psychosis on "Saved by the Bell."

I'M SO EXCITED! I'M SO EXCITED! I'M SO...SCARED!
posted by nicebookrack at 4:59 PM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


No, this was an episode where his best friend had been killed in an accident and he was grieving.

Not only did he have to do some horrible "naturalistic" acting in that episode, but he did it on the future set of Lars Von Trier's Dogville with moody artistic lighting.
posted by sonascope at 5:09 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find this episode rather commendable

Having just watched the first half now, I concur with your whole comment.

Also from the period: the made-for-television feature, The Rape of Richard Beck
posted by Trurl at 6:29 PM on November 3, 2011


The Rape of Richard Beck
Richard Beck (Richard Crenna) is a police detective who believes that rape victims are to blame for the crime. He is later raped by two of the suspects he had been chasing. Ultimately, he changes his beliefs about rape victims.

What.
the.
fuck.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:12 PM on November 3, 2011


Bunny: There is a character named "Blastig" in that film. What?
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:51 AM on November 4, 2011


Why did i read that as "cosmic horror", and be very happy for a second? ;)

You were thinking about Cosmic Cow.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:25 AM on November 4, 2011


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