The second episode of the TV sitcom “Alice” was called “Alice Gets A Pass”. It was broadcast on August 29, 1976. In this episode, a famous football player, Jack Newhouse (Denny Miller) that went to college with Mel is passing through Phoenix and wants to stop by and see his old college buddy. They plan a fishing trip together for the coming weekend. While at the diner, Flo and Mel get Jack to take Alice out on a date. They have a great time, go on a couple more dates and Alice hints that she would be interested in taking their relationship a little bit further. Jack comes out as gay, to which Alice responds, “Are you sure you’re not just jolly?”
Jack confirms that he is indeed gay and hopes that they can still be friends. Alice rethinks her decision to allow Tommy to go on the fishing trip with Mel and Jack, which prompts Jack to confront Alice at the diner on her reasoning. He makes a compelling argument: “if I was straight and Tommy was your daughter, would you allow her to be around me?”, which Alice says she would have no problem with that. This causes her to rethink her position and she allows Tommy to go on the fishing trip.
At the end of the episode, as Alice and Tommy are discussing the trip, she tells him that Jack is a homosexual. Tommy is a little surprised, because everyone at school talks about how you should be able to instantly tell if someone is gay but overall he doesn’t care. He likes Jack for who he is. Alice and Tommy hug and the credits roll.
Now, I remember watching this episode as a young kid (I was eight years old when this episode originally aired), probably in reruns on a weekday morning or something. For 1976 and especially for the second episode of a brand new sitcom, this seems like a very edgy subject to tackle but it is well handled from beginning to end. The episode feels honest and I find it to be a surprisingly positive episode of the gay community. The comedic bits are handled mostly well; there’s a few 1970s era digs in there but overall the episode flows well and the message is positive. Imagine, a positive gay episode in 1976, and again, it was the second episode ever of “Alice”.
Props to the writers, cast and crew for taking that change during the bicentennial.
The reason I remember this particular episode so well is because of Tommy’s reaction at the end. His fairly nonchalant attitude towards Jack’s sexuality struck a good chord with me. In the era of Anita Bryant and the pie in her face, hearing a kid around my age speak his truth about his attitude toward gay people actually made me realize that not everyone in school, despite the taunts I would endure from time to time, was evil. There were good people out there, people that didn’t really care who I fell in love with as long as I was a good person.
This is something we all need to remember from time to time.
Now, because you know you want to sing along with it, here’s my favorite version of Linda Lavin singing the theme song from “Alice”. I have gathered nine different vocal takes of the theme song from its nine seasons, and the “second season long version” theme is my favorite. I remember when this new version debuted, I had to explain my sister the different between “Early to rise” with the first season and “Early to rise” with this version. Having a VCR back then would have made the argument much easier.