I found this to be an odd episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. On first viewing, a few months ago I remember liking this episode quite a bit, in fact I’d go so far as to call it a favorite. But now, having gone back to it, I see the positives but the negatives flare out a bit too much for me to be too enthusiastic.
The plot for this episode basically is that Rhoda finds out about a Divorced persons support group and tries to get Mary to join, due to the fact that they give discounted airline tickets to France out. Mary, against her better judgment tries to go along and just join and get the tickets but of course it’s not that easy.
Eventually Mary is roped into being the vice president of the club by an overenthused divorced dentist Dr. Walter Udall, played by Shelly Berman and honestly, if nothing else, his weird, over-anxious and over the top portrayal in a more supporting role is probably the thing that sinks this episode.
That said – there is another in a series of great physical gags with Rhoda and Mary at one point, where they are working out, Mary in tight tights and doing everything just so, Rhoda in baggy sweats barely able to make anything work. These scenes and scenes like them are the show at it’s very best – funny, character based comedy that somehow feels detailed in spite of it’s broadness.
The main story is amusing, certainly, in concept. It’s a classic sitcom ‘getting in too deep’ scenario, as the characters attempt to scratch the surface of something and end up falling deep into it. It’s just that we aren’t shown some of the key moments and the humor doesn’t always quite register when we do.
Some of this might be the premise of a ‘Divorced’ club, not playing to the same laughs in 2012 as it did in 1970. At the time the idea of divorce was controversial enough that it was vetoed that Mary be divorced, as she was originally intended, for reasons of thinking that she’d either be seen as having divorced long time TV husband Dick Van Dyke or seen generally poorly for having been divorced in the first place.
The supporting players here are mostly guests, which might be part of the problem, as generally the show gets by on the strength of it’s great ensemble – as noted Berman doesn’t work. If nothing else he seems to be playing it flamboyantly gay and thus his obsession with Mary (even if it’s most notably about her teeth) never quite is able to be bought. He ends up a slightly weird, creepy figure, really.
Pat Finley as ‘Sparky’ (well… her name is Frances Franklin, but everybody calls her Sparkie. She doesn’t know why. She guesses it’s cause all her friends say she sparkles and bubbles. They say ever since I’m divorced I’m like another person, all sparkling. Thats why they call her Sparky! – she repeats this several times and it’s a fun runner) is much better. She reoccurs as an entirely different character (who is, actually almost exactly the same character but still…) later on and is very broad and silly but she works.
There is a sad lack of the supporting characters here though, except for Rhoda. And as fun as it is having it be the Rhoda and Mary show for an episode, it doesn’t quite work without quality people to bounce off of.