A blueprint for feminist television sitcoms, The Mary Tyler Moore Show is a brilliant show that highlighted the changing social mores for women in the 1970s. Mary Tyler Moore starred as Mary Richards, a bright and resourceful woman who gets hired at WJM-TV and moves her way up to producer throughout the five years. Mary’s family is her coworkers: her boss Lou Grant (Ed Asner), writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod) and TV newsman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). She also has the support of her friends, including the acidic neighbor Phyllis Lindstrom (Cloris Leachman).
In the fifth season, TMTMS moves on with the departure of Mary’s best friend, Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper). Her presence is missed, and there’s a bit of a revolving door of best girlfriend confidants that take her place. Despite the loss of such an incredibly important and endearing character, the show carries on beautifully. In this season, Mary gets a promotion, goes to jail to protect a secret source and tries her hand at being an onscreen reporter. Because this is a fantastic ensemble the other folks at WJM-TV all have compelling plots, as well: Lou dates a sexy bar chanteuse, Murray adopts a Vietnamese boy, and Ted gets roped into gambling and proves himself to be surprisingly adept.
TMTMS is considered the quintessential “comfort” show – even though warm comedy is its trademark, there are interesting social critiques of gender roles on the show. In “Lou and That Woman” Lou Grant is dating a lounge singer (guest star Sheree North), who has a “past.” Unable to shake off his hang ups, he decides to end the relationship. What ensues is a fascinating and timely debate on the double standards regarding men and women and sexual histories. In “A Son for Murray,” Murray decides he suddenly wants a boy after having three girls, but his wife, Marie is not interested in any more children. This spurs a fantastic argument about social rules regarding husbands and wives, and who should make the decisions about children.
Each episode is consistently funny. There’s nothing iconic like “Chuckles Bites the Dust” but overall, the quality is refreshingly consistent. The cast is a huge reason for this: Moore is an incredible anchor – a wonderful comedienne, who plays Mary as strong, intelligent and vulnerable – it’s clear why Mary Richards became a TV icon; Asner is also superb as the gruff Mr. Grant, allowing for peaks of humanity and affection to creep out from underneath his armor of irritability; Knight is a comic wonder as the pompous and stupid Ted Baxter; and the underrated MacLeod also does wonderful work as the sadsack Murray.
In light of Rhoda’s departure, the other female supporting characters must take up some slack, and the actresses are all more than up to the task. Leachman is nothing short of brilliant as the snobby, brittle Phyllis. TV legend Betty White takes the unlikable character of the Martha Stewart-like SueAnn Nivens and does wonders – White’s got a nack for lobbing barbed insults at the others and nails every mean oneliner. As Ted’s love interest, Georgia Engel is also great as Georgette, with her awed, hushed delivery.
A quick perusal of its amazon.com page shows a near-universal love of the show, but a volley of anger for 2oth Century Fox for its bare-bones release of the fifth season. There are no specials and the packaging is simple. The rancor is a bit weird, as the strength of the show is in the episodes, and there is no need for bells and whistles to distract buyers. A nice featurette or two would be nice, but overall, this set is still a great buy for classic TV.