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Bert Gramus and Rufus Butterworth were childhood chums who decided to pool their savings and purchase a diner, which they called "Bert's Place". Originally bachelor Rufus worked as a cabdriver, while Bert and his wife Claudia operated the diner, but Rufus eventually quit his cabbie gig. Hal, Andy & Big Tom were some of their regular customers. Written by
Marty McKee <email@example.com>
Bob Denver had a long successful career playing sitcom characters who bore no resemblance to human beings. 'The Good Guys' was his only series role as a plausible human, and it flopped badly. Which is a shame, because 'The Good Guys' was an honest attempt to do something different in a sitcom: the depiction of an honest friendship between two men who were basically decent working-class guys, just barely surviving financially ... as opposed to Bilko-like connivers.
Denver was partnered here by the tragically underrated Herb Edelman, a hugely talented actor who did his best work in support. Another flaw in the format was that the two lead characters' jobs didn't complement each other; Rufus was a cabdriver, but the premise required him to hang about at Bert's Diner rather than cruise for fares.
The opening credits were clever, with a rapid montage establishing the life-long friendship of Rufus and Bert: we see a photo of two babies, dissolving into a photo of two little boys, then two teenage buddies, then Rufus and Bert as adults. Rufus (Denver) is a swinging bachelor, while married man Bert (Edelman) runs the diner with his wife Claudia. Joyce Van Patten brought absolutely nothing to the (poorly written) role of Claudia: she seemed to be the generic sitcom wife.
The first episode of 'The Good Guys' started promisingly, with a clever gag cribbed from Harpo Marx in 'The Big Store'. On a street that's obviously an interior set, Rufus drives up in his taxi and parks it directly outside Bert's Diner, in a parking space left vacant by the presence of a hydrant. Rufus gets out of the cab, then he picks up the (fake) hydrant and chucks it into his back seat.
Unfortunately, from here the premiere episode declines into one of the oldest plots in sitcom land: the one in which the boss and the flunky switch places. Bert's Diner isn't doing well, but he expects business to pick up as soon as he qualifies to join the chain of restaurants in the Howard Jackson (geddit?) franchise. The diner isn't doing any business, but - out of the goodness of his heart - Bert has hired one of those stereotypical sitcom foreigners to be his dishwasher. Get this: the dishwasher is depressed because he's been sending letters to his mother telling her he's a big success in America; now his mother is coming to see him, and she'll find out he's just a dishwasher. So guess what the dishwasher wants Bert to do. That's right; Bert pretends to be the dishwasher while Foreign Boy pretends to own the diner. His mother shows up and she's delighted to discover how 'successful' her son is. (Owning a diner with no customers.)
So, of course, the executive from the Howard Jackson chain shows up at the worst possible moment, when Foreign Boy's mama is the only person in the diner. (No wonder this place is losing money.) When she finds out that Howard Jackson's name would go over her son's name on the roof of the diner, guess what happens. 'Guess what happens' is a good explanation for why this show was so bad: the first five minutes of each episode set up the premise, and then we know exactly how it will play out.
Midway through its run, 'The Good Guys' tried to stay alive by altering its premise. Bert, Claudia and Rufus moved to a California beach resort where they ran a coffee house. This was an improvement, as it allowed Bert and Rufus to interact all the time. Also, the coffee house provided an excuse for lots of gorgeous blonde surfers (of both sexes) to hang about in skimpy swimming gear.
During the second half of its brief run, 'The Good Guys' at least had somewhat more original script ideas. In one episode, money kept disappearing from Bert's cash till. Rufus and Claudia both denied taking it ... but then both of them made some large purchases with money they claimed they had 'found' in the pockets of their clothing. Bert was sceptical, so he hid a home-movie camera in the coffee house to record the thief. It turned out that Bert was sleepwalking: in an extreme case of nice-guyness, Bert was stealing his own money from the register and slipping it into his wife's and his buddy's pockets while they slept ... then waking up to remember nothing.
I'm tempted to say I wish I could remember nothing about this series, but that's unfair. 'The Good Guys' was an honest attempt at originality at a time when many other sitcoms were derivative. The onscreen chemistry between Denver and Edelman was delightful, but not strong enough to carry this show. It's a shame that 'The Good Guys' wasn't quite good enough to succeed ... and that many other sitcoms that were far worse (step forward, Gilligan) became very successful.
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