Iconic 1970s Roommate Com
/slapstick sex farce/comedy of errors series. Frequently dismissed as the archetypal Jiggle Show
, it's also marked by clever writing, strong performances and fantastic physical humor. Based on the Brit Com
series Man About The House
, it originally aired on ABC
In order to share an affordable apartment with two lovely young ladies, Janet Wood
(Joyce DeWitt) and Chrissy Snow
(Suzanne Somers), cooking student Jack Tripper
) must pretend to be gay around Stanley Roper (Norman Fell), the repressed, bigoted landlord
. Roper, in turn, frequently finds himself fending off the advances of his good-natured but sexually frustrated wife Helen (Audra Lindley), who knows Jack's secret but likes him and the girls enough to keep mum. Complications are introduced through a variety of misunderstandings and mishaps, often caused by the thinking-impaired apartment mates or their cumbersome friends. Everyone in this series suffers from Genre Blindness
at one point or another, which is expected considering the show is essentially a comedy of errors. The show launched the careers of Ritter and Somers, and revived that of Don Knotts
(who joined the cast as new landlord and wannabe-swinger Ralph Furley after the Ropers left for their own series
following the third season).
Codified, if not actually created, an entire set of plot tropes
based on silly misunderstandings and leaping to conclusions. Lucille Ball
was a huge fan of the show thanks to its pitch-perfect use of sitcom tropes and physical comedy, and even appeared to host a Clip Show
In later years, it's almost more famous for the behind-the-scenes issues with Suzanne Somers' contract dispute: she demanded top billing for being Ms. Fanservice
despite John Ritter having always been the main character, and after Somers made shooting next to impossible, producers retaliated by showing her in no uncertain terms just how unwelcome she was (see below for details). Overall, the series endured many cast changes, nasty backstage disputes and overall changing tastes in television to become one of the most fondly-remembered (and frequently emulated) shows of the era.
"Come and knock on our tropes..."
- A-Cup Angst: Janet; one episode revolved around her deciding to get breast implants.
- Absentee Actor: Chrissy was largely missing from the fifth season, due to contract fights with Suzanne Somers. They squeezed around it by having her appear in the last two minutes of every episode on the telephone so that her roommates could recap the day's events. Somers was made to film these scenes several hours removed from the rest of the cast in a completely empty studio with a crew that was visibly angry at having to work late. When the season was over, Somers' contract was quietly let go and Chrissy was Put on a Bus forever.
- Afraid of Doctors: Mr. Furley refuses to go see a doctor about his aching back because he doesn't trust them. When he finally decides to see one, the doctor turns out to be Jack in disguise, trying to impress his grandfather who he lied to about being a doctor.
Mr. Furley: I don't trust doctors. They stick in their needles and take out your money. They're all crooks, why do you think they wear masks?
- After Show: Three's a Crowd.
- The Alleged Car: The rust covered Ropermobile. We hear about in an episode in which Roper tries to sell it to Jack and the girls, and actually see it in action in the pilot episode of The Ropers.
- Annoying Laugh: Chrissy's snort.
- Ascended Extra: Larry started out as a guest star, but got more appearances over time and a promotion.
- Bank Toaster: Parodied. Janet says that she's so terrible at accounting, her bank offered her an alarm clock to move her account elsewhere.
- Beach Episode: Setting the show in Santa Monica gave the producers the perfect excuse to parade the female leads around in skimpy bathing suits.
- Bedsheet Ladder: The trio tries to escape with one when trapped in the bedroom by diamond thieves, but they accidentally throw the whole sheet out the window.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Felipe, Jack's jealous assistant chef at Angelino's who smiles to his face and pretends to be a loyal worker but is always trying to get him fired so he could be head chef.
- Becomes somewhat subverted later on, when the two actually do become friends. Helps when Jack gets his own restaurant and is no longer competition.
- Brainless Beauty: Chrissy
- Breaking Bad News Gently: Jack lies to his grandfather about being a doctor to impress him, but it backfires when his grandfather visits and wants to see him at work in his office. When Terri refuses to sneak him into an empty office at the hospital, he attempts to guilt her into cooperating by calling his grandfather and pretending to leave a message telling the truth. He drags out the message, beginning by asking the hotel operator to ask his grandfather to sit down before reading it, until Terri finally agrees.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Despite his clumsiness in just about every other setting, Jack is a very talented chef.
- Casanova Wannabe: Several of them, including Larry, Mr. Furley, and often Jack himself.
- Catchphrase: Jack: "Oh lordy, lordy, lordy..."
- Mr. Furley: "Now hear this!..."
- Censor Steam: Mentioned
Mr. Furley: You mean Lana saw me in the bathtub?
Chrissy: You don't have to be embarrassed. The little bubbles hid everything.
- Parodied when Jack walks in on Chrissy in the bath and tells her she needs more bubbles when she kicks him out.
- Chained Heat: Jack and Janet accidentally handcuff themselves together, and Jack has a date to keep.
- Chivalrous Pervert: Jack Tripper
- Christmas Episode
- Clip Show: "The Best of Three's Company", hosted by Lucille Ball.
- The Couch
- Cure Your Gays: Mr. Furley thinks his friendship with Jack did the trick when, in the finale, he moves in with a woman.
- Cute Clumsy Girl: Cindy
- Dating Service Disaster: Jack, under the alias Duke Bradford, tries computer dating and is matched up with Janet, who is using the alias Desiree. After they find out what happened, they decide to continue the date anyway.
- A Day in Her Apron: Inverted. The girls are used to Jack doing the cooking for them. But on one occasion when he's not around, they are forced to feed themselves. Hilarity Ensues.
- Heel-Face Revolving Door: Felipe
- High-Class Call Girl: Chrissy's friend Darlene happens to be one, but Chrissy doesn't know. When Janet and Jack find out, they try to hide it from Chrissy to avoid disappointing her (since Chrissy looks up to Darlene highly.) They lie and convince Chrissy she is an airline stewardess, which becomes a problem when Chrissy decides it would be fun to go to work with Darlene to see what her job is like.
- Hilarious Outtakes: A quite infamous one where Jack falling onto a bed while wearing shorts resulted in one of John Ritter's testicles briefly being visible. It was digitally covered up in syndication, to which Ritter had the priceless response that they should alternate both versions, since "Sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don't."
- Homage / Actor Allusion: A 2003 episode of John Ritter's later sitcom, 8 Simple Rules, has his character dreaming he and his family are in a Three's Company episode...with himself as Mr. Roper. They even rebuilt the set for the episode.
- Earlier in the 1992 film Stay Tuned, John Ritter plays a man who gets Trapped in TV Land. At one point, John's character stumbles through a channel onto the set of Three's Company. Two women dressed as Chrissy Snow and Janet Wood shout "Where have you been?", a snippet of the Theme Song plays, and he screams in terror and changes the channel. (This clip ended just about all versions of the trailer and assorted ads for the film).
- Hospital Hottie: Terri the nurse, who may well have been the only blonde in the show to have a brain.
- How Many Fingers?: Jack and Janet administer this test to Chrissy after she falls and hits her head in the bathtub. They are shocked to hear Chrissy reply "five" when Jack is only holding up two fingers, but Chrissy clarifies that two fingers are straight up, and three are folded behind Jack's hand.
- I Ate WHAT?: One episode had Mr. Roper eat some dog food he mistook for a stew Jack had whipped up. He reported it was much better than his wife's cooking and asked Jack to give her the recipe.
- In a later episode Jack bakes a sawdust cake for what he thinks is a party for Eleanor, the former roommate (it's actually for him). He tries to get back the fake cake from the guests, but Roper has already eaten some. He asks his wife why she can't bake something that good....
- Idiot Ball: Everyone at some point, usually thanks to mishearing a conversation or misinterpreting a situation.
- I Have to Wash My Hair: A lady who Mr. Furley has a date with uses this excuse to cancel their date. Janet suggests Mr. Furley ask her to go out the next day, to which Mr. Furley replies that she told him that was the day she dries her hair.
- Informed Ability: Jack was supposedly a boxer in the Navy, but the closest we ever see him come to actually using this skill is when he calls a tough guy's bluff and the situation ends without a fight. It's hard to imagine him being that coordinated, given how clumsy he usually appears.
- Innocent Cohabitation: Not that the main characters can really convince anyone that is the case. The show was largely a response to the growing trend in The Seventies of nonsexual, opposite-sex roommates, which just a decade before was almost unheard of. Which brought up an amusing Double Standard when Jack finds out that a girl he is seeing is living with two men, and he refuses to believe that it's strictly innocent.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Larry.
- She's Got Legs: Joyce DeWitt had a gorgeous set of gams and always wore pantyhose on the show, refusing to appear bare-legged even when her character Janet was supposedly naked under a towel. She even appeared in several commercials for L'eggs.
- Skeleton Key Card: Jack's date gets upset at Jack and locks herself in the bathroom. Mr. Furley tries to help by unlocking the door with his credit card, but Jack's date takes the card when he slides it through the crack between the door and the frame.
- Sneeze of Doom: Jack fakes his death in an episode to escape from a jealous boyfriend who's intent on revenge after spotting him looking at his girlfriend. He needs to resist sneezing while in the casket after one of his "mourners" brings flowers.
- Spin-Off: The Ropers had the title characters moving into a swanky townhouse; Three's a Crowd followed Jack's adventures with his new restaurant and live-in girlfriend. Both were based on spinoffs of the British version. Neither was particularly successful.
- Spiritual Successor: Modern Family, which also has most of its comedy revolve around wacky misunderstandings, also features gay characters (except they're actually gay), and is just as popular as Three's Company was back in the day.
- Starving Student: This is why Jack moves in with the girls. He's a starving cooking school student.
- Statuesque Stunner: Cindy. 5'8" Jennilee Harrison actually stood taller than John Ritter in heels, and absolutely towered over petite Joyce DeWitt.
- Strongly Worded Letter: In "Out on a Limb," a food critic comes into Jack's Bistro, takes a quick bite, and leaves, causing Jack to worry that the critic hated the food and is going to give him a bad review. Larry suggests that Jack send the critic an angry letter, with Janet typing it. Larry starts the letter with "Dear Sleazebucket," and it goes downhill from there.note Of course, the critic loved the food and gives Jack a great review, so the gang has to retrieve the letter before the critic can see it. Oh, and Janet actually toned it down.
- In another episode Mr. Furley says that he's written many strongly worded letters to his brother complaining about not having enough money to maintain the building. He then says that if his brother doesn't shape up soon he's going to start mailing them.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Cindy for Chrissy. The only real difference between them was that Cindy was a klutz. Terri is an aversion. Though a blonde, she was quite intelligent.
- Supreme Chef: Jack, presumably. It would certainly explain why they keep him around instead of finding a female roommate (or, you know, an actual gay guy).
- Sweater Girl: Jack was often distracted by sweater girls on this show, resulting in Freudian Slips on several occasions: "You need to separate the yolk from the sweater." "I just came to button up my coffee."
- Thematic Theme Tune / Title Theme Tune: "Down at our rendezvous / Three's company, too!"
- Throwing Out The Script: Mr. Furley does this to the over-the-top sentimental speech Larry wrote for him to read at the trio's moving away party.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: After trying on a blonde wig and seeing the attention she gets, Janet starts to more and more embody the Dumb Blonde. Problem is, unlike Chrissy or Cindy, she gets downright obnoxious and insulting. Fortunately, she has a Heel Realization in the end and cleans up her act.
- Trans Atlantic Equivalent: of the series and both spinoffs!
- Two-Timer Date
- The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Bart Furley is rather short. His daughter is full-sized and very attractive.
- An early episode had Jack getting involved with Mr. Roper's hot niece.
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: There were multiple episodes throughout the series giving off hints that Janet and Jack might have a thing for each other, but nothing ever really came of it, and in the finale they both end up marrying other people.
- Vow of Celibacy: In one episode Jack makes a bet with the girls to refrain from having relations with girls for a certain amount of time. The girls then try to find ways to make him lose the bet.
- Watching the Reflection Undress: In one epsiode Jack and Chrissy are temporarily sharing the bedroom normally used by Chrissy and Janet, but there's a mouse in the room that Janet is afraid of. Chrissy tells Jack to turn away so she can get into bed, so he turns and looks right at a mirror which shows him Chrissy in her skimpy nightie.
- Wedding Day: The first half of the two-part series finale depicts Janet's wedding to Phillip, a guy she met at the flower shop.
- What Did I Do Last Night?: In one episode Jack is having a noisy party. Mr. Roper arrives to tell him to quiet down, ends up joining in the festivities, and wakes up the next morning in bed with Jack.
- You Are Number Six: One scene has the girls gossiping with Mrs. Roper about various tenants having affairs with each other, and they refer to all the tenants by their unit number.
- You Look Familiar: Jeffrey Tambor, now fairly well known for playing George Bluth Sr., appeared in several episodes, each time as a different character. And that's not even counting his regular role on the spinoff The Ropers.
- Jordan Chaney appeared in a third-season episode as a used-car dealer who employs Jack as a live-in cook (and whose wife keeps hitting on him), before becoming a semi-regular as Jack's boss Mr. Angelino.