If there are two characters Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon were born to play, they would have you believe it's Oscar Madison and Felix Unger. Good thing, then, that they're playing them on CBS' remake of The Odd Couple, which premieres Thursday at 8:30/7:30c.
"The second somebody called and said, 'Hey, Matthew Perry is doing The Odd Couple and they can't quite figure out Felix, I said, 'Done!'" Lennon tells TVGuide.com. "I was very Felix Unger-y [as a roommate]. I'm a real, real pain in the ass if you have to live with me. The place is immaculate, but there are a lot of rules."
"I'm definitely Oscar, not Felix, in real life. People think I might be Felix, but no," Perry says. "I've always lived ... sort of messily."
It's no stroke of luck or result of lobbying they were cast in their respective roles -- especially Perry's case. A lifelong obsessive of the Neil Simon play and its various incarnations, Perry started developing a remake of the slovenly Oscar and persnickety Felix living and clashing together after his NBC sitcom Go On was canceled in 2013. Perry co-wrote the pilot script and serves as an executive producer. (Garry Marshall, who adapted the original series, is on board as a consultant.) "I was a huge fan of the movie and the TV show, and I thought it was time to bring it back," Perry says. "[Oscar's] a character that I've loved and thought would be fun to play. I even imitate Walter Matthau at one point in the pilot."
But is it really time? No one's really asking for a new Odd Couple, and judging by its perfectly serviceable pilot, it's not exactly the remake we didn't know we wanted. But heaven knows there are zygote viewers now who are blissfully unaware of its origins.
The basic set-up is intact: Felix, having been dumped by his wife, moves in with his old college roommate, Oscar, who's recently divorced. The new Pigeon sisters are Casey (Leslie Bibb, in a recurring role) and Emily (Lindsay Sloane), a manic, Type A kindred spirit to Felix. Oscar relies on his assistant Dani (Yvette Nicole Brown), and has poker nights with his agent Teddy (Wendell Pierce) and friend Roy (guest star Dave Foley), the latter two of whom are put off by Felix's neat-freakiness. There are some obvious, necessary modern updates -- Oscar, now a sports radio host instead of a sportswriter, has a wall of 10 TVs and a sports ticker in his living room -- but a lot of the jokes are easy and the overall feel is retro -- which is arguably perfect for CBS.
What does work well, though, are Perry and Lennon. "The greatest thing ... is immediately, we saw them together, we were like, 'That makes sense,'" Sloane says. "Their chemistry is so great together and it's so much fun. There's no part of us that thinks it's not working."
The Odd Couple is a beloved classic, but the odd couple as a concept has been an enduring formula employed to great success on TV when the alchemy of said mismatched pair is just right (see: Will & Grace). Perry and Lennon, who also played disparate BFFs in 17 Again, have ways to go before they're the next Carney and Matthau or Lemmon and Matthau or Klugman and Randall, but they play off each other like old pals. Lennon excels at being a weirdo and Perry utilizes that (not-so) thinly veiled frustration he mastered when he was teaching Joey to stop the Q-tip when there's resistance on Friends.
The Odd Couple can work with some work, just like Oscar and Felix living together. And if it does work out, as Lennon notes, Perry has proven to be an "amazing roommate on TV."
The Odd Couple premieres Thursday at 8:30/7:30c on CBS.
Additional reporting by Robyn Ross
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)