Tag Archives: Sitcoms

Classic TV Review: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Season One, Episode Four: “Divorce Isn’t the Only Thing’

16 Jul

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.

Grade: C





Classic TV Review: Mary Tyler Moore Show, Season One, Episode Three: ‘Bess, You is My Daughter Now’

24 Jun

There are two, very distinct ideas that came to my mind as I watched this, the third episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show – the obvious one, full of plot twists and turns and which is done well enough and with enough verve for it to work well but there is also another show, a show of incidental comedy moments and the further establishment of what would become the main cast of the show, seemingly shunted to the side for the majority of the episode but still managing, often to start stealing the show.

The main plot is, as I said, fairly twisty – Phyllis, as played by Cloris Leachman – who’d later be spun off into her own show but who was oddly always billed as a ‘special guest’, is concerned her daughter Bess (who figured prominently in the pilot and who, as played by Lisa Gerritsen, is pretty good there and in a more prominent role here and who would also join Phyllis, logically enough in her spin-off) will get sick when her father catches chicken pox – she pawns her off on Mary for a few days. Mary isn’t sure about it and Phyllis doesn’t make this any better by telling her she has to take care of her inline with the ‘progressive parenting’ techniques in the books she raises her child with.

Predictably enough Phyllis, it’s revealed, isn’t exactly doing the best job of things, especially when it comes to keeping Bess in line. We’re first introduced to Bess in the episode with her decked out in a wig and make-up stolen from Phyllis, a regular occurrence, it seems. And when Mary tries to suggest that perhaps the make-up doesn’t look particularly good and that it’s perhaps a bit unusual for Bess to refer to her mother by her first name she locks herself in the bathroom and again Phyllis notes it’s something that happens a lot though she notes it’s really because Mary isn’t using the books.

Bess, You is My Child Now

It’s interesting how this is all played. It’s a clear attempt to criticize a certain sort of liberal child rearing technique. Phyllis is often used in the show in their criticisms of certain effete notions, which she summarily plays wildly over the top, which is certainly true here. Phyllis does everything according to the books and their notions of independence and freedom and has no discipline in place. What is sort of odd is that the counterpoint isn’t really Mary as disciplinarian, getting the better of Phyllis – it’s Mary as a source of fun and whimsy that Bess is missing.

Mary herself, after winning Bess over in a sequence that is among the best known in first season – a montage of shopping and ice cream that, like the opening title sequence has a certain iconic flair but seems oddly out of place, to me, in the character’s universe. But whatever one might think of it, it establishes, quickly, a bond between Mary and Bess, which starts imploding for same reasons that Phyllis was so ineffective – a lack of any real discipline.

The montage:

Once Mary and Bess are attached Bess doesn’t want to leave and go back to Phyllis, which creates the crux of the dilemma of the episode. This is one of the several episodes this season where I would have been glad to see an idea get a few episodes to build but that is just not the way that this show, or shows of it’s type and time in most cases, operated in these days. So, we get in a half hour episode – Mary doesn’t know if Bess likes her, she wins her over, Bess doesn’t want to leave, Phyllis is mad at Mary, Mary wants Bess to go back and Bess ends up going back. It’s a lot of story and at times it slightly overwhelms. That said – it works.

The B plot mostly seems to be that Ted Baxter is bad at his job and screws things up. Given that’s the premise of the character, well, that’s not much of a plot. That said – the newsroom characters are all very amusing in their roles. The jokes go fast and free and are often pretty funny. Given this is only the third episode they can be forgiven for basically re-stating the role of one of main supporting characters and especially can be forgiven since it’s funny.

And that’s the second thing going on in this episode – we’re just seeing the cast play, seemingly shallow plots that are just there to provide a springboard to small comedy moments, some of which are barely even in any real context, such as Rhoda attempting to get into the Lotus Position, getting stuck and spending perhaps a minute and a half of engaging in the lovely physical comedy by Valerie Harper – who plays what could have been a oddly digressive scene so well that it’s actually one of the highlights of the episode.

And while the Bess plot is interesting and well done and has nice moments from Mary, Bess and Phyllis, I do think it’s the somewhat aimless B-plots that are the funniest bits. And that’s OK, actually – Phyllis and Bess are supporting players worthy of an occasional main plot like this but the honing of the other characters – Rhoda, Ted, Lou – here is actually more important to the show and the fact that they’re so good in small roles, filling in the spaces between the main plot, bodes well for the series moving forward from here. And those characters all, certainly have their big spotlights yet to come.

This is possibly the funniest episode of the season thus far but the pilot was likely a better episode. Still quite good, however.

Grade: B+

Quick thoughts:

The Onion AV Club recently posted an article speaking of a season five episode as part of an ongoing series on adolescents on television through the years and this stands as another Mary episode that strongly features an adolescent even if it’s a bit more about parenting than it is about being a kid.

Speaking of the kid, though, Lisa Gerritson, given a spotlight here lives up to it about as well as you can expect a young actress to- she gives a good performance and never seems out of place.


Classic TV Reviews: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Season One, Episode Two: “Today I am a Ma’am”

30 May

When we’d last left our heroine, Mary Richard’s world was in flux – she was at a new job, with a new apartment, in a new city with an entire cast full of people who seemed, maybe, just maybe to be warming to her. In a lot of ways, the pilot episode of Mary Tyler Moore was the start of a great serialized sitcom – one where over the course of a season or maybe even a sequence of episodes our protagonist would begin to make friends and get ahead in her business life, slowly but surely through a series of comic hijinks.

I think surely, if this show was being made today, that is the direction the show would have moved in. You had everything in place – Rhoda and Lou Grant were both set up as both liking but having reasons to  be wary of Mary. Lou tells her he might just fire her and while we’re meant to take it as a bit of bluster (especially by the end of the episode where he wanders in, drunk and writing a letter to his wife, though that presents a whole different realm of trouble) but he is also seen as ornery and perhaps a bit of a tough nut to crack.

Rhoda, though, especially is left in a place of competition with Mary. They do end the episode chatting and there is a last minute, out of nowhere revelation that Rhoda has an apartment upstairs (undercutting one of the stories at the heart of the busy pilot, that Rhoda wants Mary’s apartment) but there is legitimate dramatic and comic potential that exists to showing and establishing further the roots of a friendship that would be one of the core relationships of the show.

That we get none of these things in the second episode is indicative of where  things stood in 1970 for a new sitcom, no matter it’s ambitions –  it’s well acknowledged that the pilot, at the time it aired and more specifically when it tested with audiences, didn’t go over well. It seems like that audiences probably wanted the cast to just straight away like the likeable Mary and given what television had given them to go by to that date it’s a reasonable (if perhaps flawed) expectation.

So, instead we’re given an episode where it’s established early that Mary is just part of the mix at her job, where the ratings are down, slightly in a scene that starts the episode, gives a quick start to our story, as Lou explains to Mary she’s no longer in the 18-29 demographic and thus no longer young (followed up quickly by a young page calling her ‘ma’am’, which she admits soon thereafter is a first and mortifying) and then is never seen again, as the episode instead focuses on Mary and Rhoda.

Mary and Rhoda are, at the time of this episode, already best friends, in such a way that suggests that maybe the series took a jump in time from the first episode to the second. Or perhaps they just wanted to get to the heart of the show they wanted to make. Or perhaps they succumbed to pressure to make things more ‘likeable’. Nevertheless, not only are they now the best of friends but Mary, who is making a new home as the series begins seems to have a long history in her new home, even in this, our second episode.

This is not to say this is a bad episode. Standing on it’s own, as simply an episode of the show, it’s quite entertaining at times (though a bit hammy as well) and is a small scale establishment of something that would go on to be one of the principle running gags of the show – the disaster that happens any time Mary Richards attempts to throw a party. But it’s incongruous as a second episode and it’s hard not give it some thought.

Our general plot is that Mary, after suffering the embarrassment of being called out on here age at work, grouses about it to Rhoda who suggests they try and find dates, given they aren’t getting any younger. There would be something oddly sexist about the need to sate oneself through a man if not for the fact that it’s driven by Rhoda, who is being established at this point as chronically insecure. And who seems to have an ulterior motive, it seems, not too long after.

Rhoda, as well as Phyllis, with Cloris Leachmen appearing at this point to be a series regular (though she only appears, past this and and the next episode sporadically throughout the season, always billed as a ‘special guest star) try to get Mary to think of someone she might be interested. She comes up with an old flame, Howard Arnell, who Phyllis confirms was crazy about her. Mary tells us he was always quite nice.

Rhoda tells her she ought to give him a call – there is something interestingly striking about the landscape of the 1970s as opposed to now – it’s not to say it’s hard in this day and age to lose touch of someone but there is a definite anachronism about the way the whole thing plays out, with Mary breaking out a phone book and cold calling a man she’d not heard of or from for years and one who would prove to be very interested in her. This all makes sense – even up until the mid to late-90s this is how the world worked but watching it, in 2012, it was hard not to queue up the fact that our lives, at this point, are so interconnected and that there are few 30somethings out there who would lose touch in this way. It’s not a major point and it’s hardly a gripe but, to me, it stands in an odd contrast and actually, on some level, gives us a feel for the world and the era.

Anyhow Mary is unsure it’s for the best to meet Howard but Rhoda and Phyllis both push her with Rhoda doing so because she has someone she wants to give a call to herself. It seems she met a man recently… by running him over with her car. And he gave her his number, after-all he only banged up his arm (though his briefcase was ‘totalled’) she tells us, though one imagines he did it for insurance reasons. When Mary refuses to relent she’s told by Phyllis that it’s OK, she could instead help out with Bess’ (her daughter) sleepover tonight – 19 of her best friends! And 20 air-mattresses to blow up. Mary quickly decides to relent to Rhoda and give him a call. And realizes that Howard is nice. Too nice. The kind of nice that has been counting down the days since they last met. Mary is increasingly unsure this is a good idea.

Rhoda, for her part, gets some bad news as well. When she calls her would be beau, Armond Linner, she learns that he’d be glad to come over. And that he’ll bring his wife along too, if that’s OK. And thus the scene is set for an awkward evening at the Richard’s residence.

As Mary and Rhoda prepare for the ‘party’, Rhoda starts scheming to steal Armond away and when asked if maybe he has a happy marriage, Mary is accused of being a buzzkill. Part of Rhoda’s strategy is to not eat, hoping to lose ‘ten pounds by 8:30’. She’s unsure of her outfit and wonders aloud if maybe she should ‘call her date and ask what his wife’s wearing’. There is comedy to mined her and to this point they’re doing well with it without going too terribly over the top. I’m not sure that continues, however.

Armond, and his beautiful wife Nancy arrive and Rhoda promptly loses all previously held belief this is going to go well. She had said no to the chips on the table when offered, citing her diet and upon having Armond enthusiastically introduce ‘Mrs. Linton’, what he still loves to call her, he say, just weeks after their honeymoon, Rhoda breaks and slovenly inhales chips. It’s a cute moment but I think about the moment the show starts to go off the rails.

Howard arrives next, as he opens the door he takes a shot of Mary with a camera he has around his neck – because he wanted to record her reaction. And he’s over the top affectionate, as established earlier. Richard Schaal plays this all in a manic Steve Martin sort of way that makes him all too much a cartoon, for my tastes and takes things down a notch.

Howard’s obliviousness to everyone else, Rhoda can barely muster his attention to introduce herself as ‘another person in the room’ and introduce ‘my date – Mr. and Mrs. Armond Linton’ and fierce devotion to gaining Mary’s attention and affection are perhaps more annoying than they are amusing.

There is some false drama introduced in the form of the guests expecting dinner when only offered drinks. It’s quickly defused. The drama of how to get rid of Howard is blown off quickly as well – it turns out, as much as he’d love to marry Mary (a suggestion he brings up himself, out of the blue, of course) he needs his freedom and thus ought to really, as much as he’s torn, get going and maybe he’ll see Mary some other time. It’s convenient and odd in a way that makes the character only more annoying.

In the end, it’s decided, by Rhoda, that the moral of the story is that she’s no matter how lonely she’ll only accept a date ‘with a couple I really like’.

I am probably giving this episode a raw deal, there is a number of funny lines and Mary and Rhoda both get some fun moments and the concept of Rhoda’s plot is really fun and funny. But overall there remains not much to this past some funny lines and an arbitrary, silly plot. With all the will in the world I can’t say that it wouldn’t have been a lot more fun to continue the plot from the pilot and get a little more detail into how and why Mary and Rhoda become such good friends. But perhaps that’s asking too much.

Grade: B-

Give it a watch – it is, despite my protests, pretty funny –

Hulu – Today I am a Ma’am

Next time:  in a case of perhaps accidental serialization, Mary does end up watching Phyliss’ daughter Bess and, wouldn’t you know it, troubles arise from there…

Classic TV Review: Mary Tyler Moore, Season One, Episode One: ‘Love is All Around’

22 May

There are a myriad of shows in the annals of television history which have debuted with an episode not befitting the eventual stature and quality of the show it introduced to the world, however, ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ is not one. Sitcom pilots present creators with several problems, chief among them being that a pilot exists for two conflicting reasons: to prove the worthiness of the shows existence and to also, simultaneously explain the situation driving the comedy. To do so, most, if not all series have to succumb to loading their show with expository dialogue and scenes that weigh down and confuse the more comedic elements of the plot.

That said, if anything, ‘Love is All Around’ the first episode of the series, is one of the best episodes of the first season and a superb example of a sitcom pilot done right. Written by series creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, it manages to get across the necessary information to introduce the characters, their world and situation while letting those introductions drive the action of the show.

At the time the show debuted, in 1970, Mary Tyler Moore was not at the height of her fame. Having ended a long run on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ she starred in a few features in a four film deal with Universal Pictures, notably a particularly poor Elvis vehicle ‘Change of Habit’ and had starred, in a failed attempt to bring “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” to Broadway which never made it past previews. However, after a star turn on a Dick Van Dyke television variety special ‘Dick Van Dyke and The Other Woman’ she was suddenly again a hot enough commodity that CBS was interested in giving her her own show.

At the time Mary was married to Grant Tinker, who with her co-founded MTM Studios to produce the show. The original pitch for the show, by Brooks and Burns was for Mary to be a divorced woman in her early thirties adjusting to being single again-  that was shot down by the network, who were afraid, given her stint on the Van Dyke show where she was his wife that audiences would think that the premise involved her not just getting a divorce (a fairly scandalous thing in and of itself at the time) but a divorce from Van Dyke. Instead a compromise was made to make Mary a single, never married woman who was coming out of a break-up of a long term relationship.

We’re first introduced to Mary Richards, Mary’s eponymous character, via the classic opening credits, set to the song that gives this episode it’s name: ‘Love is All Around’ by Sonny Curtis. In the first season these credits also tell a short origin story for the Mary character – they show a going-away party and Mary driving toward Minneapolis, the setting of the show and finally Mary emerging iconically to the streets of the city where, at the end of the credits, as the song hits the cue to say she will, in fact, make it after all, Mary launches her hat in the air.

If there was anything I knew of the Mary Tyler Moore Show previous to my actually engaging it recently, it would be this sequence, one that, previously had seemed a bit precious and which, even with the best of will still seems to be, just a bit. That said, it works better in context than it does in isolation and I feel I’m solidly in the minority – a statue commemorating the scene stands in the place it was shot to this day. Either way the opening credits do some of the work for the show in establishing who this character is and yet creating some mystery as to her circumstances.

Once they end we’re given an opening shot of another iconic location, Mary Richard’s apartment, which she is welcomed into by frequent guest-star Cloris Leachman playing the role of Phyllis which would go on to star in one of the three spin-offs the show (and MTM Pictures) produced- ‘Phyllis’. Phyllis and her daughter Bess show Mary her new apartment and we establish for the first time the concept that Mary is, largely, playing straight woman to the larger character surrounding her, as Phyllis and Bess bicker about whether or not Mary ought to be referred to as her aunt and then whether Mary ought to have the apartment when Bess would prefer it go to Rhoda (who she gladly refers to as ‘Aunt Rhoda’, to Phyllis’ dismay). Mary is mostly an on-looker in the proceedings, her personal laughs mostly coming from Moore’s exaggerated facial reactions (which rival just about anyone’s, I think it’s fair to say).

Rhoda Morgenstern, as played by Valerie Harper is introduced when the large picture window’s in the foreground of the scene’s blinds are open to show her washing the windows of what she goes on to refer to as “her apartment”. Rhoda, in the pilot episode acts as an antagonist to Mary here and tries to convince her that she, in fact, deserves to have the apartment. It’s a matter of debate throughout the episode and as a running joke Rhoda’s attempts to obtain (retain?) the apartment works very well to introduce the character, who, to my mind is probably the series best supporting character (and, again, one of the three characters to be given a spin-off – ‘Rhoda’ which initially was as or more successful than it’s mother series and remains the only television series to ever debut as the top rated show of it’s week in it’s premiere)

Rhoda and Phyllis plainly do not get along which is a dynamic that would stay in play as long as the two remained on the series but none the less they act as exposition machines to tell the story of Mary Richards to this point. The thing being – the scene is so well played and the exposition done in an almost meta-storytelling way, with Mary begging off having her story be told to near stranger Rhoda, that it actually works quite well.

The story, as it is, is that Mary had been dating a medical student for two years, supporting him, under the promise that he’d marry her once he became a doctor, at which point he told her ‘why rush into things’ which spurred Mary to break things off with him and decide to make the new life we’re being introduced to now.

The scene with Rhoda ends with the pair’s first particularly funny back and forth as Mary works herself into a bluster asking if she thinks she’s a push-over, when Rhoda tells her she is she tells her she might just push back and Rhoda tells her ‘C’mon, you know you can’t carry that off’ and Mary… breaks and says ‘I know’ – it’s a telling moment and does a lot to cement the relationship between the two characters.

Another thing it does is establish Mary as having something of a duality of character – on one hand she is a strong, career oriented and successful 30 year old woman ‘making it on her own’ but she also has a core that is maybe a bit less tough than she’d wish to let on. There is something to be said for that being an anti-feminist statement, that for all her bluster Mary ‘can’t carry off’ being a truly strong woman but I’d rather disagree – Mary is certainly a product of her time but her greatest failings often come from not wanting to be mean, rather than a place of weakness, as seen in the scene described, where she tries to stand up to Rhoda and fails not because she couldn’t show strength but because it’d mean coming off as a bad guy, which is, consistently, shown as a role that Mary is ill at ease with.

The second scene introduces us to both the second iconic set of the series, the WJM-TV newsroom and our final major character, Lou Grant, who yet again, would in end up with his own spin-off series, in his case ‘Lou Grant’, a series which is perhaps more impressive for being a dramatic spin-off for a sitcom character, which may be the first and only one of it’s kind and is certainly the only character for which an actor, Ed Asner, would win an Emmy for both his comedic and dramatic portrayals.

Mary and Lou’s first scene together is a job interview. After we’re briefly introduced to Gavin McCloud’s Murray Slaughter (another series regular, the only one to never be nominated for an Emmy) as Mary asks where she can find Mr. Grant, who she’s scheduled to have an interview with for a secretarial position, only for Mr. Grant himself to tell her, never identifying himself to come to his office, dismissing Murray’s insistence that the position has been filled.

Once in his office and having revealed himself Lou and Mary have the best scene of the episode together. It starts with Lou offering Mary a drink and after she initially demurs she instead says to Lou, brandishing a lone bottle of hard liquor that she would take a Brandy Alexander and is offered, instead a coffee.

During the course of their extremely chemistry filled scene together we see Mary assert a backbone, telling Lou that she shouldn’t be asked her religion in a job interview and the subtext of the scene works well to create Lou as both a likeable figure and one that is slightly intimidating to Mary. She ends up being offered the job of, rather than secretary (Murray is right – the position is filled) Assistant Producer. Mary is instantly impressed but is told that the job pays a fair amount less than a secretarial one would (and that for 15 dollars less she can be a full producer, which she shoots down by saying she can probably only afford Assistant Producer).

The scene works on several levels and is the germ of much of what works about the show as a whole. Much of the scene is given to a running joke of Lou asking a question, Mary demuring or refusing to answer, only to confusingly provide the previous answer when given an even tougher question (example: ‘What is your religion’ ‘You’re not allowed to ask me that’ ‘Why aren’t you married’ ‘Presbyterian’) which builds to a lovely climax. And upon recieving the job she’s told, in one of the series (again) iconic moments, that she has spunk… and that Lou Grant HATES spunk. She’s told she will be given a trial at the job and that if he doesn’t like her and she doesn’t like him, he’ll fire her.

Much like the scenes with Rhoda this sets up a dynamic that seems promising for the future and in fact would have, one imagines, set up in modern sitcom storytelling, a rather interesting ongoing storyline about the attempts to assert herself worthy of the job. But such concerns I’ll cover in more depth in my next review.

Mary, then, comes home and excited about her new job tries to inform Phyllis, more concerned with telling her some big news. Phyllis’ fun is spoiled by Bess, however, who spills the beans – Mary’s ex- called and he wants to get back together. Phyllis is then more interested in chastisizing Bess for stealing her moment than comforting a very shocked Mary but eventually offers than she knows how she feels, to which Mary responds that she doesn’t even know how she feels. For a pilot episode it certain offers a pretty weighty hook, right off the back and one has to wonder if it went to this well so early to ease the fear by the network that we’d think her ex-lover was Van Dyke.

Never the less, we’re off to Mary’s first day at the newsroom, where she meets lead anchor Ted Baxter (who, again, in disagreeing with general wisdom, I do tend to see as being a bit overly broad and less funny for it) and tries to find something to do, finally contenting herself with breaking the tip off her newly sharpened pencils and sharpening them anew. It’s established as well that Lou’s wife is out of town and he refuses to take her call, saying he’ll talk to her when she gets back – in a month.

We’re then given one more scene with Rhoda – she has a locksmith open the door (who then, in an odd, broad and amusing moment, takes a moment to ‘memorize her face’, in case any wrongdoing has occured and exits) and re-asserts her want for the apartment and gives a bit of her own backstory – she was a New Yorker (of which, Valerie Harper’s performance gave no doubt, playing the character as a boisterous New York Jew in a way that makes it all the more odd that the characters latent Judaism is swept under the rug in her spin-off) but couldn’t find a New York apartment and having found this one in Minneapolis isn’t about to leave it. In spite of their grousing Mary concedes after some banter that she’s having a hard time disliking Rhoda, who agrees and says they’ll have to work on it. (Another element that could have well spawned longer stories, another element I’ll serialize into my next review, even if they refuse to serialize it into the episode in question)

Finally, we have our climactic scene, as Phyllis prepares Mary for her ex- Bob to arrive and tells her, in a lovely subversive moment about the joys of marriage and it’s wonders, as long as you’re ‘realistic’, ‘sacrifice’, ‘accomidate’ and finally in a lovely played moment by Leachman, who by this time is harshly squeezing Mary’s hand ‘sublimate’.

Once Phyllis makes her exit Mary prepares with one of the lovelier and dynamic throwaway sequences of the episode, unbuttoning her shirt to show a little cleavage, before rebuttoning it and declaring herself a coward. The door rings and she finds, not Bob but Lou, completely drunk. Mary puts together that he’s there to proposition her and that that’s why she got her job and is informed that she does indeed have ‘a nice caboose’ but that in fact he’s there because he misses his wife, who has the finest caboose of all.

He asks Mary to use her typewritter and she attempts to get him to leave but fails and he begins writing. The running gag of the scene is that he drunkenly finds the words to say in whatever Mary happens to say. He remains there as Bob rings the doorbell and enters, with rose in tow.

The roses, however, turn out to be stolen (or, at least traded) from a patient of his and the empty gesture only gets him so far. She mentions the Grant’s marriage in reference to being asked about Lou’s presence (she gets him out of there hair soon enough by saying ‘All My Love, Lou’ which he dutifully repeats and types and then leaves ‘to go tie one on’) and he gets very defensive about the subject. Once it’s clear he has no intention of proposing, as she’s supposed he might, he offers her a conciliatory offer of his love which she’s right to catch as being rather insincere. Then  in a sequence that could be trite but shows the lovely chops of Brooks (who’d go on to be quite the big name in sentimental comedy, from ‘Terms of Endearment’ to ‘As Good as It Gets’ but also is given credit for several of the best dramatic moments of ‘The Simpsons’ which he also helped create – a personal favorite being the climax of ‘Lisa’s Substitute’ where the titular character exits and leaves behind for Lisa a note, asserting simply ‘You are Lisa Simpson’) he chalks it up to her being better at saying things and she tells him she’s simply terrible at saying goodbye and when he realizes he’s been dismissed he tells her to take care of herself and she responds that she just did.

It’s a lovely moment that sets the tone of Mary’s character, who has been shown till now as having perhaps a deficit of backbone, instead being able to come through when it counts and muster the strength to make a big move and not, in fact, be pushed around. The scene works big, in showing Mary’s character and also in spotlightling that Lou might have more heart than we gave him credit for – the fakeout where we think he might be hitting on her is another big highlight of the episode. It’s a big profound and well played scene to end a terrific episode of television on – showing the heart, the humor and the independent spirit that was the heart of the show.

There are few television pilots that truly spell out to the viewer just what they’re in for with the series better than ‘Love is All Around’. It’s a delight and I heartily recommend giving it a watch – it’s available to be watched instantly on Hulu and I’ve provided a link at the bottom of the page.

Love is All Around on Hulu

Grade: A

Next time we’ll be dealing with Rhoda and Mary, serialization or lack-there-of, the shows portrayal of Mary’s dating life and the series second episode: ‘Today I am a Ma’am’. Hope to see you then…

Introducing: Retro TV Reviews featuring The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and explanation of why)

21 May

It’s a wonder to me, as an appreciator of good television and good sitcoms especially, that The Mary Tyler Moore Show is not better remembered. Sure, it turns up in lists of great television shows here and there but you hardly ever hear of it otherwise. It’s a shame not only because it’s a classic of the highest order when it comes to sitcoms but because, like many an old film it stands up as being tremendously good.

There seems to be a divide in the world of movies and television when it comes to appreciation of the classics. It’s seen as a shame if someone hasn’t seen a classic 70s film like ‘The Godfather’, ‘Taxi Driver’ or ‘Annie Hall’, especially if that person is a serious film fan. But old television is seen, oftentimes, as disposable. There is an audience for it, in re-runs, for a certain amount of time and there exists such things as ‘TV Land’ but it isn’t viewed as something that people with good taste gravitate toward.

Reasons exist for this, of course. Television is seen as a medium that exists to sell advertisements. And what is popular in television is often not very good. Not to mention that some of the finest television produced, when it disappoints the bottom line and doesn’t draw ratings can tend to be cancelled despite being at it’s creative peak. The cream doesn’t always rise to the top in television and while that’s true for  movies, as well, and all of pop culture, it can be more pronounced in television, especially broadcast television.

This is reason to celebrate those shows that maintan a level of high quality and manage to connect with a large audience. The Mary Tyler Moore Show is one of those shows. And yet it feels as though it’s been largely forgotten. For a show that lasted seven season, spawned three spin-offs and won and was nominated for more Emmys in it’s seven seasons than all but one other show in the history of television, this seems quite odd. And yet it’s consistent with how television, especially what is seen as old television, is treated.

I would argue that the shows contemporaries, most notably ‘All in the Family’, seem to have faired slightly better in the memories of the general public, but not by much. Old television is put out to pasture in a way that old movies never are. Even something like the aforementioned TV Land, that is supposed to celebrate the best of old television, is more interested in promoting things like Everyone Loves Raymond or The King of Queens and, it seems, see it’s older shows as more filler than filet mignon. This may have to do with the fact that there are more Film Aficionados out there than anyone who much care about the history and quality of television, especially when it comes to the sitcom, a form that is disrespected not only by audiences but by, in many cases, creators as well.

In this day and age, however, television and the criticism of it have become something that has an audience on the internet. Websites such as The Onion’s AV Club and web personalities such as Alan Sepinwall take television seriously and review it on an ongoing basis. There are flaws with this, of course, as many programs have a level of serialization that makes week to week reviews a hassle but the rise of shows ranging from Community to Mad Men have the presence of the web to make these reviews things that people (such as myself) will read and enjoy and debate. And while the AV Club’s TV Club does have a selection of ‘classics’ it reviews, as of yet there is many a fine series that has not gotten such treatment – ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ being a prime example.

Until recently, I’d not even seen the program, I’m willing to admit. It’s been a few months now since I really gave myself up to the fact that I very much enjoy sitcoms. On some level it was something that I felt a certain level of shame about. The sitcom is not the most revered of forms – it’s often viewed as a hacky, laugh tracked bad joke. At a certain point, however, I had to admit that the vast majority of what I liked on television existed in the medium of the sitcom or at least something resembling it – modern shows as distinct and interesting as ‘Parks and Recreation’, ‘Louie’, ’30 Rock’, ‘Happy Endings’ and a myriad of others are among the best things going on television today and the classic early seasons of ‘The Simpsons’ to ‘Seinfeld’ to even such things as ‘Friends’ exist as being as beloved as most any movie. I’m a sitcom fan and as one, I have recently felt a need to give myself a history lesson and one of the places I started was getting the first season of Mary Tyler Moore from Netflix where I was pleasantly surprised. So much so that I decided it needed to be shared…

It’s with these things in mind, I welcome you to an ongoing series of reviews of the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which will start soon with the pilot episode: ‘Love is All Around’. I’ll have further thoughts on the series and why I think it’s important and even, in fact relevant to today’s culture in that review, which I’ll be posting in the next few days.