The Ten Best “Family” Sketches from THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW (Plus a Merman Surprise!)

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Today’s post examines my ten favorite “Family” sketches from one of TV’s greatest variety programs, The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978, CBS).

486992_10200210858371127_269935299_n

The “Family” was first introduced in March 1974 near the end of the show’s seventh season. Carol Burnett played Eunice Harper Higgins, the tragically white-trash mother of two, whose dreams of stardom, happiness, and fulfillment, were dashed not only by her mother, the cranky instigative Thelma “Mama” Harper, played by Vicki Lawrence, but also by Ed Higgins, Eunice’s shiftless hardware store owner husband, played by Harvey Korman. Over the next four seasons, the “Family” became one of the show’s most popular bits, and Burnett and company performed 30 “Family” sketches before the show ended in 1978. In those 30 sketches, we met three brothers — Roddy McDowall as successful screenwriter Phillip, Tommy Smothers as salesman Jack, and Alan Alda as Larry, the family’s artistic black sheep. Betty White recurred as Eunice’s stuck-up sister, Ellen, and Tim Conway played Mickey Hart, Ed’s slow and part-deaf employee. After an additional sketch with Burnett and Lawrence on Carol Burnett & Company (1979, ABC), and a 1982 TV-movie entitled Eunice, Lawrence spun-off Mama Harper into the sitcom Mama’s Family, which aired two years on NBC and four years in first-run syndication. Though Burnett recurred a few times in the NBC years, the sitcom bore little resemblance to the “Family” sketches, which were almost unanimously regarded as superior to the half-hour series.

cbshow01

I have selected what I think are ten of the best “Family” sketches, but I have not seen the first four from Season Eleven (which featured Dick Van Dyke as Eunice’s new boyfriend). Otherwise, my collection is complete. Many of the sketches can be found in the Ultimate DVD collection released by Time-Life in 2011. But a handful of episodes appear exclusively on the Columbia House Collector’s Edition sets. I will note those below. Then there are some that have never been released. I will make note of those as well. This is a subjective list, but an excellent place to start for people interested in this supreme example of brilliant sketch comedy.

8315787360_575df9ae42_h

And after my “Family” picks, stay tuned for an Ethel Merman treat!

UPDATE – 12/11/17 – Most of the clips below are no longer available, so I’ve finally gone through and supplanted the links with screenshots. Want to see the sketches? Buy the DVDs!

 

01) November 16, 1974

The family plays Sorry!

This might actually be my favorite of all the “Family” sketches. It’s just the three regulars in a room playing Sorry! So many excellent moments. Burnett is unbelievable in her ability to swing between moods in a way that’s so over-the-top but not at all disruptive to the comedy. A truly tragic character, it’s sickeningly funny to watch Lawrence bust poor Eunice’s chops. “Sorry!” (For some reason, the audio is a little low in this particular clip; turn the volume up or plug in your headphones!)

02) January 25, 1975

Mama has a new beau (William Conrad).

Giddy Mama is a hoot! Conrad does a fine job playing her new beau, but he mostly gets to react to the absurd shenanigans surrounding him. Eunice’s rage is, as usual, uproarious. And my favorite moment is her scene with Mama in the kitchen. This episode is only on the Columbia House release.

03) March 15, 1975

The family visits Phillip (Roddy McDowall) in California.

Phillip is the only Harper brother to make more than one appearance on The Carol Burnett Show. In this, the second of three appearances by McDowall, the family comes out to California for one of the most memorable sketches. From Mama’s insistent desire to watch her soap, to Eunice’s “subtle” angling for a role in Phillip’s new movie, this one is insanely funny.

04) September 13, 1975

Ed visits a massage parlor. (Guest starring Jim Nabors)

In this hysterical sketch, Eunice disrupts Mama’s TV time by announcing that she’s leaving Ed, after catching him entering a massage parlor. Nabors is gold as an addled cab driver, desperately trying to collect the fare that Eunice owes him. Conway makes his second appearance as Mickey Hart — already a hit — playing off of Korman’s Ed beautifully. Unfortunately, this episode has not been released on DVD.

05) October 25, 1975

Mickey (Tim Conway) has dinner with the family; they play charades.

In another one of the most memorable “Family” sketches, our favorite foursome engages in an acidly competitive game of charades. Lawrence and Burnett shine during the “Wait Till The Sun Shines Belly” bit. Excellent ensemble work.

06) November 15, 1975

The family has a conference with Bubba’s teacher (Maggie Smith).

Reminiscent of Everybody Loves Raymond‘s “The Angry Family,” this is one of the funniest — and most dramatically rich — of the “Family” sketches. The acrimonious trio visits Bubba’s teacher in a scene that leads to blowouts and revelations. One of Burnett’s most brilliant moments. Smith is amusing as the unfortunate witness to the ugliness.

07) September 25, 1976

The family plays Monopoly.

After the success of Sorry!, the writers again have the family playing a board game. With similar venom, this sketch manages to successfully stand on its own — perfectly capturing the cyclical antagonistic relationship between Eunice, Ed, and Mama . Burnett’s turnaround after her angry rain-soaked tantrum is choice.

08) October 16, 1976

Eunice rehearses for a play. (Guest starring Madeline Kahn)

The hilarious Madeline Kahn plays flighty Mavis Danton in this scene that finds Eunice rehearsing for a bit role in an upcoming play. Her family’s intrusions are priceless, and my favorite stuff is the run-through of the scene with Ed and Mama participating. (Mama drinking her beer while playing the Queen never fails to crack me up!) Kahn is one of the few “Family” guest stars who gets to do more than react. Great sketch.

09) November 06, 1976

The family visits Mickey (Tim Conway) at his apartment for dinner.

These four are magical together and this is Conway’s best “Family” sketch, as Eunice, Ed, and Mama come over to Mickey’s place for dinner. From Mama’s difficulty with the chair to Eunice’s fury over Mickey’s new raise, this sketch is one you won’t forget. (I kind of feel bad for poor Mickey Hart.) A classic. This episode is only on the Columbia House release.

10) December 11, 1976 

Eunice, Ed, and Ellen (Betty White) help Mama clean the attic.

Betty White shines as Ellen in this, the second of her three appearances. Probably the funniest of White’s “Family” moments, her episodes always take the sketches in an even nastier — but not totally unwelcome direction. The rivalry between Ellen and Eunice is funny and painfully raw at the same time. Love Ed’s referring to the ladies as “dragons,” and White’s delectable revelation of what happened to Eunice’s beloved Fluffy is hysterical.

 

Now as a special bonus… Here’s a clip from Ethel Merman’s (never before released) 1969 appearance on The Carol Burnett Show. (This episode also included the infamous dentist sketch with Korman and Conway.) Here are Merman and Burnett in an outstanding duet medley. Please enjoy.

 

***12/11/17 UPDATE: Since this initial publication, I’ve seen two of the four previously missing Season Eleven sketches — one, in which Eunice and Mickey attempt to coax Mama into a retirement home, which has now been released on DVD, and another, the long-clamored-for Password skit with the infamous “Elephant” joke. I’m still seeking the year’s first two Family sketches with Dick Van Dyke as Dan (09/24/77 & 10/15/77). Please let me know if you have them! 

 

 

 

Come back next Wednesday for a whole new Wildcard post! And remember to tune in tomorrow as our best Xena episode countdown brings us to number nine!

Advertisements

33 thoughts on “The Ten Best “Family” Sketches from THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW (Plus a Merman Surprise!)

  1. Thanks for these, is there ANY chance you could possibly upload the 2 sketches from the 11th season where Mama is moving to a retirement home but ends up moving in with Eunice AND where the Family plays Password and Mickey tells the elephant story, Id love to see those 2 sketches in their entirity :)

    • Hi Jonna!

      Unfortunately, those are two of the only four sketches that I do not have. I’ll let you know if I ever obtain them — I’m just as anxious as you are to see them!

  2. It’s amazing to me that in 20+ years of looking and collecting and the boom of the internet, we still don’t have access to those few episodes from the 11th season. Mind boggling, I say! It has to be due to legal reasons involving Carol’s ex, Joe Hamilton and the rights to the final season. I would LOVE to see these episodes. They seem to have completely vanished into thin air. Never included on Carol Burnett & Friends, the 30-minute syndicated show either. SO FRUSTRATING. There is a great sketch where Eunice & Mama visit Carl’s grave from Carol & CO. (1979) and Eunice appeared on the Tim Conway Show in 1980. Also, Mama & Eunice played Password Plus (IN CHARACTER) on the game show for a full week. It was pretty funny, but a bit strange :) Thanks for these clips and I hope we can stick together in locating these lost gems from the 11th season.

    • Thanks for your comment, Michael.

      I see you have found and uploaded to YouTube two of those missing four sketches. I have amended the post — as of January 04, 2014 — with links to your videos. Boundless thanks for sharing them!

      • You may know this by now, but the other pieces Michael mentioned—the graveside sketch, Carol’s Eunice appearance on THE TIM CONWAY SHOW, and “Mama” and “Eunice” on PASSWORD PLUS, have been on YouTube for quite a while now.

        • Hi, Raytown Resident! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          Indeed, I have them both. I also came close to tracking down one of the two still missing Season Eleven sketches, but it turned out to be the wrong episode someone had mislabeled!

    • JAldridge86,

      I don’t trade regularly because most of my TV collection consists of shows that have been professionally released. However, for series that haven’t been released, I usually end up paying — from sites like ioffer and sell.com.

      That said, if there’s something you’re particularly interested in, I may (depending on your request) be able to send it to you via a filesharing site for free.

      As for my musical theatre collection, I have traded in the past, but I’m happy to share anything with you.

  3. Do you remember which episode has the family taking Mama out to dinner. She asks about having to go all the way up to the salad bar for a salad and the typically sarcastic Eunice replies “you do, if you want a salad!” This episode and the family game nights hit a bit close to home around here! LOL

    • Hi, Tracey! Thanks for reading and commenting. I do remember the sketch where Ed and Eunice take Mama out to dinner. It hasn’t been released on DVD yet, but (I believe) you can find the full thing on YouTube.

      • That’s correct. As with EUNICE, the nomination (and in this case, a win) strikes me as odd. That is, there are other sketches — and whole episodes — that I would have awarded ahead of this particular one. But a win is a win — and Lawrence definitely deserved it!

  4. I notice that you didn’t include Eunice’s appearance on “The Gong Show” as a favorite. Have you seen it, and if so do you like it? It did have a depressing ending, but then most of these sketches did. My mom once said she couldn’t hear the song “Feelings” anymore without remembering how Eunice butchered it. ;)
    I’m glad the series “Mama’s Family” made the Harper clan a bit happier. Similar to how “The Honeymooners” probably had to change a bit from the sketch format, “Mama’s Family” wouldn’t have lasted 6 seasons without making the Harpers happier and their lives a bit brighter.

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, I’ve seen all the sketches with the exception of two from the final season. “The Gong Show” scene is not a favorite.

      I agree regarding the necessity of the changes that were made when the character(s) went to series. And I think the show was consistently funny, sometimes brilliantly. But the bond between Eunice and Mama was much more layered than anything we got on MAMA’S FAMILY, and therefore the comedy was less potent (even in Burnett’s few appearances). That said, I like the show very much, so stay tuned for coverage on MAMA’S FAMILY coming to Sitcom Tuesdays in early 2016…

      • You definitely need to see the first four (or you might have seen it by now) Very funny stuff.

        Btw I do agree with you on whAt you said about Mama’s Family even though I still like the show. I can tell you probably more of fan of the post Eunice MAma’s Family…maybe

        • Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          I’ve seen all but the September 24, 1977 and October 15, 1977 sketches. Do you have them? The following two sketches I eventually saw (check out the update at the bottom of the entry).

          Regarding MAMA’S FAMILY, I think the show produced strong episodes in both its NBC and syndicated years. Mama was truer to her original characterization while on NBC, but the combination of characters was superior when the show was producing for first-run syndication. As for Burnett’s Eunice, I think the character was ill-served in all but maybe one of her appearances (“Cellmates”). But more on that next spring…

    • Although there are some titles that will certainly appear, I haven’t made any official scheduling plans beyond CHEERS and MAMA’S FAMILY. You’ll have to stay tuned…

    • Hi, Jake! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Yes, I have no plans to cover the series here. While I think M*A*S*H is well produced and did what it set out to do, I think viewing the series as a comedy is disingenuous. Although it may have more often sought laughter than tears, I find the latter more potent, especially due to the blending of genres. Furthermore, it was a political piece (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but I think the comedy was always secondary to its message.

  5. One of my personal favorites did not make your list: Mama has to stay with Eunice and Ed after an accident (you probably know this was filmed while Vicki Lawrence was pregnant with her daughter). The interplay between those three core characters there is absolutely brilliant. If I were making a list I would prioritize this, “Mama’s Birthday”, and perhaps “the restaurant” before “Monopoly” and “the massage parlor”.

    We will all prefer some over others, and it’s a shame we were traded Harvey Korman for Dick Van Dyke; how wonderful though that there were so many of these fantastic little one-act plays produced for the show and that so much care went into them, and that as of this date all but TWO are available to view/own.

    • Hi, Greg! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Stars don’t suppprt — they star. And as evidenced by the short-lived tenure of Van Dyke in the final season, the series could only have one lead: Burnett.

    • I understand it’s a well-liked entry. I agree that it’s memorably “heartbreaking,” but I don’t think it’s comedically on par with the majority of the other sketches. Were the laughs bigger and more frequent, I may have included it here.

Leave a Reply