One of the simple pleasures I get from life (and, boy, after this week, I’ve been searching for all the simple pleasures I can find) are the opening credits to sitcoms. More specifically: when the sitcom opening credits have their own dedicated narrative (meaning not just using clips from the show itself) and each character gets a moment to stop, mug for the camera, and give some sort of gesture that signifies, “Hey, it’s me.”
Some of these moments are better than others. And some, just maybe, deserve special recognition.
Three’s Company was a series that ran from 1977 until 1984. Over the course of its run it had three dramatically different opening credit sequences – usually as the result of major cast changes. The first is probably best remembered for John Ritter’s Jack Tripper falling off of his bike while admiring an attractive woman, then laughing. (In college, as a part of a school-wide competition, I found myself playing the role of Jack Tripper on stage in front of 1,500 people reenacting that bike scene. All I remember is falling on the hard wood floor of the stage, instead of sand, really hurt.) The second found the cast enjoying their day at an amusement park, but also now features Don Knotts in the opening credits, replacing Norman Fell and Audra Lindley who left for their spinoff series, The Ropers.
The third opening shows the cast visiting the Los Angeles Zoo. The biggest cast change now is the addition of Priscilla Barnes as Terri Alden, who replaced Jenilee Harrison’s short run as Jack and Janet’s roommate, Cindy Snow. (Harrison was, in turn, the replacement for Suzanne Somer’s Chrissy Snow. Harrison also appears in the Zoo opening credits.)
But the best reaction in these credits belongs to Larry Dallas. Played by Richard Kline, Larry Dallas (his given name was Larry Dalliapoulos) is a used car salesman and, from what we can gather, Jack Tripper’s best friend. Larry seemed to spend most of his time either lounging at the Regel Beagle (seriously, this is still the best name for a fictional television bar) or dating women. Most of the plots involving Larry had something to do with Larry trying to convince Jack to go along with some crazy plan that would help Larry with a woman.
Anyway, in the aforementioned zoo credits, we see Jack motion to Larry and Janet to take a picture together next to an elephant. At this point, Larry seems very aware that an elephant will be part of this whole process. As Janet tries to squeeze in, she kind of gets nudged away by the elephant and decides to bail on Jack’s picture. It appears that Larry doesn’t realize that Janet has decided now not to pose for Jack’s picture, but Larry now nestles in closer to the elephant – an elephant he always knew was there. It’s at this point he looks over at the elephant, then looks back at the camera, and gives us what truly is a hall of fame reaction shot.
So the question is, does Larry really not realize he’s snuggling up to an elephant? How on Earth did he ever think that was Janet? I could watch this reaction literally all day. It makes no sense in so many ways and that’s why I love it. If Larry were really that disturbed by this realization, a normal person would run away. But not Larry, instead he makes an exaggerated face and just stands there at the elephant’s mercy. Perhaps Larry’s too frightened to run. Maybe Larry has had a lifelong phobia of elephants. But, if so, why pose for a picture with an elephant. We’ll never know because the action then moves to Mr. Furley making a face at a lion.
I’d pay good money to see behind the scenes footage of this scene being filmed. I imagine this was the fourth or fifth take, with the director telling poor Richard Kline, “No, no, I need you to be even more surprised by the elephant. Let’s see a wacky face!” Then Kline, just over the whole thing, dialing it up from a 2 to a 20 – going so over the top with his reaction that the footage could never be used. Then the director yelling, “Cut! Richard, that was perfect.”
Look, it’s been a strange, trying week, what with a guy in a Trumpmobile mailing bombs and whatnot. But the point of this post, really, was just an excuse to look at Richard Kline as Larry Dallas reacting to an elephant. We all need to take a deep breath and just watch Larry Dallas and the elephant.
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