Saturday, March 9, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Mary Tyler Moore - Season 4

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Introduces the last main character; lots of funny episodes
Cons: Last season with Rhoda
The Bottom Line:
The main characters
Together for one season
So many great laughs

Laughing on All Eight Characters

By season four of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the set up is familiar. Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) works at WJM news in Minneapolis. Despite the efforts of the crew, including news writer Murray (Gavin MacLeod) and producer Lou Grant (Ed Asner), the show is constantly last in the ratings, thanks in large part to bumbling anchor Ted Baxter (Ted Knight). On the home front, Mary lives in a building with her best friends Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis (Cloris Leachman). Rounding out the cast are Ted's girlfriend Georgette (Georgia Engel) and WJM's answer to Martha Stewart (before she made any kind of name for herself), Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White).

Season 4 of the Mary Tyler Moore Show is my favorite of the seven seasons. It's the last one before Rhoda leaves for her own series set in New York and the season that introduces us to Sue Ann. That means this is the only season to feature all eight of the series main characters. And it features some of the best laughs of the show.

While Mary has given some bad parties before, this is the first season to really play up her ability to give a lousy party. It starts right out with the first episode, "The Lars Affair," when Phyllis' husband hooks up with Sue Ann. In my opinion, the best of these bad parties are on disc two. Mary must give "The Dinner Party" when a congresswoman accepts her invitation to dinner. She talks Sue Ann into cooking, only to have too many people show up for the actual event. Then, in "Happy Birthday, Lou!" she decides to give a surprise party for her boss, only to discover he hates birthdays and surprises.

Another standout episode is "The Co-Producers." Mary and Rhoda are given the green light to work on a Sunday afternoon talk show. The catch is they must use egotistical Ted and Sue Ann as the co-hosts. Georgette's final line in this one is classic.

Speaking of Georgette, she gets a chance to shine in "Almost a Nun's Story." After seeing Ted kissing another woman, she decides to join a convent. The final scene is hilarious and shows she is much smarter then she normally appears.

"Better Late...That's a Pun...Than Never" is another classic. A tired Mary writes a flip obituary, only to have it read on the air the next night.

And I can't forget "Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite." After finally winning a local award, Ted thinks that his idol has come to offer him a network job.

The show takes on some serious topics in this season as well. Most noticeably, Lou's wife leaves him and files for divorce. This is the first real story arc of the series, and plays out over several episodes, starting with "The Lou and Edie Story" in disc one. Some, like that one, are more somber. Some play up the comedy, such as Mary finding Lou a date old enough to be his mother in "Lou's First Date."

The writing has really gelled here, and all the returning characters are at their best. Sue Ann, intended to be a one episode guest star, is still developing. She isn't quite as snide as she is in later seasons, but her basic overbearing personality is in place.

The actors do a great job as well. They know their characters, take the great work by the writers, and make it shine. The result is a show that is hilarious and touching about a group of people we really come to care about. This season also features an impressive list of guest stars, including Brett Somers and a before they were famous Henry Winkler (Fonzie on "Happy Days") and Bruce Boxleitner of "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" and "Babylon 5."

This set is just like the season three set. Unfortunately, that means no extras. Fortunately, that means the picture is sharp and the mono sound track is clear.

While there are still classic episodes of this sit-com to come, I've always felt the show looses something once Rhoda leaves. Therefore, I treasure Mary Tyler Moore's fourth season when any character can walk into an episode at any time. It's wonderfully funny. Any fan of the show will love this set.

Season 4 Episodes:
1. The Lars Affair
2. Angels in the Snow
3. Rhoda's Sister Gets Married
4. The Lou and Edie Story
5. Hi There, Sports Fans
6. Father's Day
7. Son of "But Seriously, Folks"
8. Lou's First Date
9. Love Blooms at Hemple's
10. The Dinner Party
11. Just Friends
12. We Want Baxter
13. I Gave at the Office
14. Almost a Nun's Story
15. Happy Birthday, Lou!
16. WJM Tries Harder
17. Cottage for Sale
18. The Co-Producers
19. Best of Enemies
20. Better Late...That's a Pun...Than Never
21. Ted Baxter Meets Walter Cronkite
22. Lou's Second Date
23. Two Wrongs Don't Make a Writer
24. I Was Single for WJM

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