Monday, May 20, 2013

TV on DVD Review: The Mary Tyler Moore Show - Season 6

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Many funny episodes
Cons: A little too much Ted at times; little continuity with previous seasons
The Bottom Line:
Mary and the gang
Are still funny this season
Get ready to laugh

Chuckles Finally Bites the Dust in Season Six of The Mary Tyler Moore Show

This is the set that fans of the classic TV sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show have been waiting for.  Season six has what many consider to be the best episode of the series and some would argue the best sitcom episode of all time.  While it doesn't top my list of either one, it is certainly funny.

I'm talking, of course, about "Chuckles Bites the Dust."  This episode takes black comedy to an art form when Chuckles the Clown, a character we've only seen once but heard mentioned more than that dies rather unexpectedly.  He is leading a circus parade as a peanut and gets squashed by an excited elephant.  The jokes the characters tell are downright funny.  I laugh almost as hard as the studio audience every time I see it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Not that this classic needs much in the way of an introduction.  By season six, the show pretty much revolves around the work life of Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore) since her two friends outside of work have now moved out of town (and to their own sitcoms).  She's the producer of the six o'clock news at WJM in Minneapolis.  She, her boss Lou Grant (Ed Asner), and the news writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod) have to put up with the bumblings of their arrogant anchor, Ted Baxter (Ted Knight).  Recurring this season are Ted's girlfriend Georgette (Georgia Engel) and happy homemaker (think a 70's Martha Stewart) Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White).

Quite a bit actually changes in the course of these 24 episodes.  Mary moves out of her studio apartment to an apartment with a real bedroom.  In one of my favorites Ted and Georgette get married on the spur of the moment in Mary's apartment.  Lou's ex-wife gets remarried in one of the most awkward episodes of the season.  Latter, Lou douses an old flame, literally.  Man hungry Sue Ann finally beds the man of her dreams - Lou.  Mary's aunt, a respected journalist, shows up for a couple of episodes.  And Mary actually has a boyfriend who sticks around for more than one episode in a row.  (He lasts two.)

Because the writers and actors are so familiar with the characters, they really hit it out of the park sometimes.  As I already mentioned, I do enjoy "Chuckles" and "Ted's Wedding."  But my favorite episode of the season (and one of my top in the series) is "What Do You Want to Do When You Produce?"  This episode finds Murray taking a job as producer of Sue Ann's show, which he discovers is a menial job.  While I saw the climax coming the first time I saw the episode, it still made me laugh so hard.  And there are several other very funny moments earlier in the episode, too.

Frankly, turning Sue Ann from a one episode guest star character to a recurring character was one of the best things the show did. Betty White steals just about every scene she is in here.  For example, I love watching her try to turn ghetto in "Mary's Delinquent."  Since her character is so focused on men and sex, plenty of her lines are double entendres.  I'm a little surprised at some of what they got away with in 1975 and 1976 when these episodes first aired.  Yes, they are pretty tame by today's standards, but parents might want to remember the show was pushing the envelop as far as they could at this point.

Of course, the downside of focusing on work is we see more of Ted.  Don't get me wrong, he can be a funny character, but his arrogant personality can get old quickly.  He's best used in small doses, but with fewer characters, they need to use him more.

My other complain about the season is that the lack of continuity really catches up with them.  They recast a guest star character for one episode.  But the worst example as far as I am concerned is an ex-boyfriend who comes back to town in one episode.  According to that episode, he and Mary were engaged until he called it off.  Gee, you'd think we would have heard something about that along the way.  Granted, we had seen the character twice before, but I still have to go back to watch those episodes to remember him.

You can tell the cast has worked together for a number of years and all got along.  It shows with how easily they play off each other.  The acting from all the regulars is spot on; they really don't miss a trick.  Guest stars this season include before they were famous appearances by John Ritter, Jeff Conaway, and Penny Marshall, as well as a cameo by First Lady Betty Ford.  Valerie Harper and David Bessell make appearances as their characters in the spin off series Rhoda.  Finally, the hated Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch shows up in the first of his three appearances as Ted's adopted son David.

All 24 episodes of the season are preserved here on three discs.  And that's it.  We don't get any bonus features at all.  With as long as it has taken to release this set, I'm just happy we get them at all.  The picture is full frame and the sound in mono.  The picture looks like it's been cleaned up a bit.  It's not perfect, but it's good enough for a 30+ year old show.  While we still don't get episode summaries, we do at least get an episode list broken down by disc here, so it is easy to find an episode you are looking for.

My favorite seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show are the early ones, but every time I sit down to watch the later seasons, I am reminded just how funny they are as well.  Any fan of this show will be happy to add season six to their collection.

Season Six Episodes:
1. Edie Gets Married
2. Mary Moves Out
3. Mary's Father
4. Murray in Love
5. Ted's Moment of Glory
6. Mary's Aunt
7. Chuckles Bites the Dust
8. Mary's Delinquent
9. Ted's Wedding
10. Lou Douses an Old Flame
11. Mary Richards Falls in Love
12. Ted's Tax Refund
13. The Happy Homemaker Takes Lou Home
14. One Boyfriend Too Many
15. What Do You Want to Do When You Produce?
16. Not with My Wife, I Don't
17. The Seminar
18. Once I Had a Secret Love
19. Menage-a-Lou
20. Murray Takes a Stand
21. Mary's Aunt Returns
22. A Reliable Source
23. Sue Ann Falls in Love
24. Ted and the Kid

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