straddling The Seventies
and The Eighties
, set in a diner and starring Linda Lavin as Alice Hyatt. Loosely adapted from Martin Scorsese
's 1973 dramedy film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
— no, really! — the series ran from 1976 to 1985, a total of 202 episodes in nine seasons.
Alice Hyatt was a widowed mother and aspiring singer whose car broke down in Phoenix, Arizona while she and her son Tommy (Philip McKeon) were en route from New Jersey to California. Her waitressing job at Mel's Diner was meant to be temporary while she got her singing career moving, but it stretched out to nine seasons. During that time, we met penny-pinching hothead Mel Sharples (Vic Tayback), the diner's owner; ditzy Cloudcuckoolander
waitress Vera Gorman (Beth Howland); and wise-cracking, slightly over-the-hill, good-time-girl waitress Flo Castleberry (Polly Holliday). In the midst of all the schemes and hilarity that ensued at the diner, it was always Alice who remained level-headed and somehow always came up with a solution.
The series became quite popular, particularly because of Flo, who left for her own spinoff
a few years in. In her place came a Suspiciously Similar Substitute
, Belle Dupree, who was basically a blond version of the character. Although they (re)cast the actress who played Flo in the original movie (Diane Ladd), Belle didn't last long, and was replaced by Jolene Hunnicutt (Celia Weston). Jolene had a similar outspoken temperament to her predecessors, but was younger and less obviously promiscuous.Alice
is remembered for making the Catch Phrase
"Kiss my grits!" (as uttered by Flo) enormously popular for a short while. The show also gave Linda Lavin many occasions to show off her singing skills, and occasionally let her masquerade as other characters to give her a break from playing the ultra-normal, non-threatening Alice.
No relation to the SyFy
2009 miniseries Alice
Tropes served up at Mel's Diner:
- The Cast Show Off: Linda Lavin was cast specifically because of her singing talent.
- The Cameo / As Himself: One memorable episode featured George Burns visiting the restaurant. Vera thought he was God (having starred in the Oh, God! movies.)
- Art Carney appeared in another episode in which Mel had a scheme to can and market his infamous chili under the name "Chili Con Carney".
- And another instance with Robert Goulet, whom Alice was impersonating as part of a Zany Scheme.
- Actor/dancer Donald O'Connor appears to cheer on Vera as she attempted to break the world record for marathon tap dancing.
- Catch Phrase: The infamous "Kiss my grits!" The writers attempted to give the other characters catch phrases, none of which caught on to anywhere near the same extent. Mel's "Stifle it!" was the only other one with any staying power.
- Mel later added "bag it, Blondie", directed at Jolene.
- Cloudcuckoolander: The "third waitress", Vera, generally caught all the "dumb" lines, but was also weird enough to qualify as this trope.
- Crossover: Boss Hogg and Enos Strate, of The Dukes of Hazzard, somehow make their way from Georgia to Phoenix in one episode. Boss Hogg is said to be Jolene's cousin.
- Disappeared Dad: Part of Alice's backstory is that her truck-driving husband was killed in an accident, leaving her to raise Tommy alone.
- The Ditz: Vera
- Enormous Engagement Ring: Flo was once romanced by an oil sheik who gave her an engagement ring. The stone was so large the other waitresses thought it had to be fake. But then they did the "cut glass" test where Mel took the ring and scratched on the glass door to the diner. He tapped where he had just scratched with his knuckle in triumph. Then the circle he had just scratched fell out of the door.
- Failure Is the Only Option: Alice's showbiz career. One episode explored the trope by giving Alice several opportunities to join a traveling show, only for her to develop a severe case of hiccups every time she attempted it. Turned out it was a psychosomatic reaction, because she didn't want to leave her new life behind.
- George Jetson Job Security: Mel's toughness as a boss drove many of the plots, as did his waitresses – especially Vera and Flo – always seeming to be on the firing line for whatever offense was the main plot of the week. On several occasions, he did follow through with threats to fire them, but he always hired them back as he realized Vera and Flo (and later waitresses Belle and Jolene) were members of his extended family. Interestingly, Alice never seemed to be on the firing line, although she and Mel at times had heated moments.
- Grand Finale: In the final episode, Mel sold the diner to the government as part of a freeway project. Just in time to free up the girls to go their separate ways; Alice decided to go on tour with her country music singing boyfriend, Jolene came into some cash and decided to open a beauty parlor, and Vera was quitting anyway because she was pregnant.
- Greasy Spoon: Mel's is one of the crowning examples of the type.
- Hear Me The Money: Vera could do this to any stack of currency, no matter how big or how many different denominations mixed into the stack, and determine its exact total instantly.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mel
- Lighter and Softer: This has more comedy and less drama than the movie.
- One-Note Cook: Mel made a mean chili. Everything else was mocked mercilessly.
- Really Gets Around: Flo
- Recurring Character: Several regular customers, including Earl Hicks, telephone lineman Henry Beesmeyer, and police officer Eliot Novak; Mel's mother, Carrie, and his girlfriend, Marie; Alice's mother, Mona.
- Spin-Off: Flo. It didn't last long, and Flo never came back to Alice despite the character's popularity.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The two waitresses who replaced Flo: Belle, and then Jolene, Both of them were sassy Southerners, like Flo, but Jolene was clearly not supposed to be as sexually available as the other two.
- Thematic Theme Tune / "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: "There's a New Girl in Town", sung by Linda Lavin.