Long-lived iconic 1970s slapstick sex farce/comedy of errors. 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 from 1977-1984.In order to share an affordable apartment with two lovely young ladies, Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt) and ChrissySnow (Suzanne Somers), cooking student Jack Tripper (John Ritter) 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.
Acting for Two: Sort of. In the first opening sequence, Jack gets distracted by a brunette passing by and takes a tumble on his bike. The brunette? Suzanne Somers with a wig. Justified since the show was still in pilot stages when that was filmed so they had to be frugal.
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?
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.
Fake Twin Gambit: Jack pretends to be his own twin, "Austin" the macho cowboy, in order to fool Mr. Furley so he can date his niece.
Faking the Dead: Jack pretends to be dead to escape a man who is determined to kill Jack for looking at his girlfriend. Believing it to be a ruse, he goes to see Jack's body and apologizes for terrorizing Jack. Jack gives himself away by habitually replying, "That's OK."
Faux Yay: Jack pretends to be gay so he can live with two female roommates.
Flamboyant Gay: Even when Jack is pretending to be gay in front of the land lord, he really doesn't act any different. But Mr. Roper and Mr. Furley both seem to be convinced that Jack is this trope. However, whenever Jack accidentally gives some indication of his true sexuality, he does invoke the trope a bit in order to Maintain The Lie.
Grand Finale: The two-part "Friends and Lovers", which has Janet getting married, Terri moving to Hawaii, and Jack moving in with a new girlfriend.
Have a Gay Old Time: This series probably marks the point where the word 'gay' passed from Hollywood and Theatrical slang into the popular lexicon. Lampshaded in an episode in the middle of the series:
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.
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.
Mrs. Robinson: Lana Shields, a middle-aged neighbor who had the hots for Jack in a few season 4 episodes. Part of the reason the character was quietly dropped was due to Ritter's complaints about the implausibility of Jack spurning her attentions.
Naked People Are Funny: Season 3's second episode has Janet and Mrs. Roper going attending a protest rally at a nude beach. After the police break it up, the two have to run home without their clothes on.
No Ending: One episode featured Mr Furley secretly taking in a cat, which a little girl lost that the roommates have been trying to help find for her. At the end of the episode all that happens is the girl sees Mr Furley holding the cat, and then cue credits.
When this episode plays in syndication, The Tag is cut for time. In it, the building inspector appears and sees the three kittens the roommates have collected. Mr. Furley says he is taking them straight to the pound, and the building inspector, aghast, takes the three kittens home with him. The little girl says she'll try raising goldfish instead, and leaves. But we never do find out what happened with the original kitten. It's never spoken of again in the series.
One Dialogue, Two Conversations: This is pretty much how every wacky situation in each episode happens. Mr Roper thinks Chrissy is pregnant and wants an abortion? Oh wait, she's actually talking about a wart on her finger that she wants removed!
Real Life Writes the Plot: Somers was holding out for more money so the studio just called her bluff — because they couldn't technically fire her due to the terms of the contract, they instead let it run out by moving her away.
Recurring Character: Lana Shields, Mr. Angelino, Filepe, Dean Travers, Reverend Snow, bartenders Jim and Mike.
Roommate Com: The show revolves around Jack Tripper and his two female roommates, Janet Wood and Chrissy Snow, who is later replaced by her cousin Cindy followed by Terri Allen. Their apartment is owned by married couple Mr. and Mrs. Roper, who later got their own sitcom and were replaced by Ralph Furley. Jack originally had to lie about his sexual orientation to Mr. Roper since Mr. Roper would not allow him to move in with the two women if he were straight.
Secret Keeper: Mrs. Roper finds out Jack isn't really gay in the second episode, but goes along with the charade in her husband's presence for the rest of their time on the show.
Sexless Marriage: The Ropers appear to have one of these for the most part, much to Mrs. Roper's chagrin.
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.
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 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 Jack and Janet ask Larry how he could come up with such a hostile letter off the top of his head like that. He says it was easy because he got the exact same letter that morning at the used-car dealership. 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 Three's Company, resulting in Freudian Slips on several occasions: "You need to separate the yolk from the sweater." "I just came to button up my coffee."
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.
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.
Watching the Reflection Undress: In one epsiode Jack & Chrissy are temporarily sharing the bedroom normally used by Chrissy & 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.
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.
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.