The Ten Best THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW Episodes of Season Two

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, I’m pleased to present my selections for the best episodes from the second year of the two-season sitcom, The Mothers-In-Law (1967-1969, NBC). I’m also thrilled to announce that every single episode of the series has been released on DVD.

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Eve and Herb Hubbard’s daughter, Suzie, marries next-door-neighboors Kaye and Roger Buell’s son, Jerry. But marital bliss seems difficult with the constant interference from the mothers-in-law! The Mothers-In-Law stars EVE ARDEN as Eve Hubbard, KAYE BALLARD as Kaye Buell, HERBERT RUDLEY as Herb Hubbard, RICHARD DEACON as Roger Buell, JERRY FOGEL as Jerry Buell, and DEBORAH WALLEY as Suzie Hubbard Buell.

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Most notable about the second (and final) season of NBC’s only multi-camera sitcom of the ’68-’69 season is the recasting of Roger Buell. Roger C. Carmel, who played the role of Kaye’s husband in the first year, left the series following a dispute with Arnaz over the forsaking of a promised raise. In his shoes came Dick Van Dyke‘s Richard Deacon, a funny-looking performer who should have been an able replacement. However, Deacon — shockingly — brought little to the role (and many fans have since blamed this recasting as part of the series’ decline in quality), making the writers’ shortcomings more painfully obvious than before. Simply, Carmel was an individual; given that the only characters with fully developed quirks and nuances were Kaye and Eve, his distinction was a major benefit. So while the mediocre material certainly wasn’t doing Roger (or the rest of them) any favors, Deacon didn’t do the material any favors either — certainly not in the way Carmel did.

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However, the fault in The Mothers-In-Law rests not on any performers, for as Hamlet said, “the play’s the thing…” The show had a premise that exhausted itself out of story ideas in mid Season One. So, what do the writers do to bolster Season Two? Well, predictably, they make the mothers into grandmothers. This obvious ploy (linking the series once again to I Love Lucy) produces a string of middling episodes, but it isn’t unless the scripts deviate away from the thinly-drawn newlyweds that the series really finds genuine comedy, and even then we have to sift through a lot of tripe. However, what may be most surprising about the second season is the consistency — maintaining the adequate quality that the show found in late Season One. (Most of this year’s gems, however, come during the very beginning and very end of the season, indicating that perhaps the series may have been no worse off had it been renewed for a third season). So, once again, this was a tough list to make — with many episodes easily summarized as “good, but not great.” But, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the season’s strongest installments. For new fans, this list will give you a place to start. For seasoned fans, there might be a few surprises.

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Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Two. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)

 

01) Episode 31: “Here Comes The Bride, Again” (Aired: 09/15/68)

The mothers-in-law stage the kids’ mock wedding for Kaye’s elderly Italian grandmother.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis | Directed by Desi Arnaz

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The season opener smartly reminds viewers of its premise by having the kids get married — again. This time it’s at the behest of Kaye, whose elderly grandmother has come to town for the wedding (unaware that it actually took place a year ago). Naturally, complications ensue, and the best bit from the episode has Kaye and Eve hiding the elderly woman’s unconscious body (played by Jeanette Nolan) in the window seat. This is also the episode that introduces Suzie’s pregnancy, setting up a storyarc that lasts the majority of the season.

02) Episode 32: “The Match Game” (Aired: 09/22/68)

The in-laws try to help Jerry at his new job at a matchmaking agency.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis | Directed by Elliot Lewis

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This amusing episode guest stars Paul Lynde as Jerry’s new boss at a struggling matchmaking company. The premise has the meddlesome in-laws each deciding to pop in with disguises and give Jerry some business. (Kaye goes as Irish, Eve goes as Italian, Herb goes as French, and Roger goes as British.) Not surprisingly, the agency pairs Kaye with Herb and Eve with Roger. Predictable antics… but funny nonetheless, made better by the appearance of the always delightful Lynde.

03) Episode 35: “I Didn’t Raise Myself To Be A Grandmother” (Aired: 10/13/68)

The in-laws begin feeling elderly with the prospect of becoming grandparents.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis | Directed by Elliot Lewis

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The first few episodes of the year feature a lot of meddling from the mothers following Suzie’s announcement, and it often gets tiresome. This episode is a cut above the rest because it humanizes the characters in a way this series has yet to do — the Hubbards and the Buells must face the fact that they’re growing old. There are a few laughs throughout, but the episode crescendos with an entertaining sequence in which the couples perform “You Make Me Feel So Young,” rendering the whole episode worthwhile.

04) Episode 36: “Even Mothers-In-Law Have Mothers-In-Law” (Aired: 10/20/68)

The kids decide to turn the tables on their mothers by inviting their own mothers-in-law to visit.

Written by Fred S. Fox & Seaman Jacobs | Directed by Elliot Lewis

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Finally, an original story directly related to the series’ premise! The kids call up their paternal grandmothers to keep the mothers-in-law off their backs. Barbara Morrison and Doris Packer turn in fine performances as Kaye and Eve’s respective mothers-in-law, but my favorite moment is Kaye’s not-so-subtle fury at Roger’s insistence that his mother spend more time with her. However, despite the freshness of the premise, the episode lacks a hysterical climax and suffers as a result.

05) Episode 42: “Hail, Hail, The Gang’s Still Here” (Aired: 12/15/68)

The Hubbards are infuriated when neighbors use their color TV set to watch Roger’s soaps.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis | Directed by Elliot Lewis

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This episode works because it takes a premise from one of its characters’ defining attributes — in this case, Roger’s job as a television writer. The Hubbards, after lying to the Buells about going out, are trapped upstairs as neighbors descend upon the living room to watch Roger’s show on their glorious color set. The next night, the Hubbards decide to avoid the same scenario by moving the TV to the bedroom. This time, however, they find themselves trapped under the bed, as the neighbors (including Shirley Mitchell) traipse up the stairs to watch the addictive soap. There are some riotously funny moments in this superb and freshly made episode.

06) Episode 43: “Didn’t You Used To Be Ozzie Snick?” (Aired: 12/22/68)

Kaye reunites with the orchestra leader responsible for her “big break.”

Written by Fred S. Fox & Seaman Jacobs | Directed by Desi Arnaz

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Ozzie Nelson guest stars in this installment as Ozzie Snick, the bandleader with whose orchestra Kaye constantly brags about having sung. Naturally, she didn’t tell the whole story: she only sang with him for ten days! This is an amusing episode, allowing the ladies to do their favorite thing — sing. And with the entire episode centered around Kaye, there are a lot of delightful moments, even if the climax is more musical than comedy. Nevertheless, an entertaining installment!

07) Episode 46: “And Baby Makes Four” (Aired: 01/19/69)

The mothers try everything in their power to be with Suzie during her delivery — of twins!

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis | Directed by Elliot Lewis

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Regular readers of my blog may have noticed that I’m often wary of sitcom ‘event’ episodes, because they, more often than not, resort to gimmicks over comedy. I’m inclined to say that this episode is no exception — the fact that Suzie has twins is revoltingly cutesie — but there ARE more laughs here than in most Mothers-In-Law episodes. Also, this installment boasts great stars: Avery Schreiber, Alice Ghostley, and Vanda Barra. It feels like we’ve seen all this before, but the episode still has moments of hilarity (as usual).

08) Episode 52: “Two On The Aisle” (Aired: 03/16/69)

The in-laws fight over possession of two aisle tickets to a renowned play.

Written by Sydney Zelinka | Directed by Elliot Lewis

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Nearing the end of the season, the series begins to pick up some more life; some of this is the result of episodes deviating away from the boring kids and their new twins, and part of this has to do with scripts by several new writers. This breath of fresh air is nowhere more evident than in this installment, which, although reminiscent of an I Love Lucy, features a high quota of laughs and a quartet of motivated performances. One of the best of the season.

09) Episode 53: “Take Her, He’s Mine” (Aired: 03/23/69)

Both mothers become jealous when their husbands fight over use of a beautiful secretary.

Written by Bob Carroll, Jr. & Madelyn Davis | Directed by Elliot Lewis

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The busty Joi Lansing, one of The Bob Cummings Show‘s regular beauties, plays Barbara, an envy-inducing secretary, first hired by Roger, and later borrowed by Herb. When the two fight over who gets to use Barbara full time, Kaye and Eve, thanks to a misunderstanding involving a tape recording pen, do everything to keep the secretary from choosing their respective husbands. There are some big laughs in this one — including the bit with a sleeping Herb, and the hilarious taped conversation. Excellent episode!

10) Episode 55: “The Charge Of The Wife Brigade” (Aired: 04/06/69)

Eve and Kaye get jobs at a department score after the husbands cut off their credit cards.

Written by Bob Fisher & Arthur Marx | Directed by Elliot Lewis

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The premise of this very funny installment is reminiscent of the sort of schemes cooked up by Lucy and Ethel in the early days of I Love Lucy. The opening scene where the men cut off the women’s credit cards is a hoot, and the scene with the pair making fools of themselves in the department store is even better (also featuring some nice physical comedy). Though that scene is the comedic crescendo, the rest of the episode is packed with smart one-liners (many of which seem to go past the studio audience). Really strong installment — especially for this point in the series’ run.

 

Other notable episodes that almost made the above list include: “A Little Pregnancy Goes A Long Way,” which features a hilarious bit as Kaye and Eve are trapped on a departing ocean liner, “Love Thy Neighbor… If You Can’t Make Them Move,” a gimmicky flashback episode that is at least memorable and creative, “The Matador Makes A Movie,” in which Desi Arnaz makes his fourth and final appearance, “The First Anniversary Is The Hardest,” which features a tired premise but some very amusing performances (and most deserves to make the above list), “Void Where Prohibited By In-Laws,” a seemingly fan favorite that has a few nice moments, but is ultimately overpowered by its ridiculousness, “Show Business Is No Business,” which guest stars Don Rickles, and “The Not-So-Grand Opera,” in which the mothers-in-law make pests of themselves in an opera with Marni Nixon.

 

*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Two of The Mothers-In-Law goes to…..

“Hail, Hail, The Gang’s Still Here”

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Come back next Tuesday as we begin our coverage on the best of Here’s Lucy! And tune in tomorrow for another Wildcard Wednesday post!

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6 thoughts on “The Ten Best THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW Episodes of Season Two

    • Hi, John! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Pop out those DVDs and give a few a watch. Might I recommend the penultimate disc — which houses the second season’s final eight episodes? Some surprisingly good ones in that bunch!

  1. Thanks, Jackson, for some great analysis again here. Despite the cast change, I found myself laughing out loud to a lot of the action in the season premiere, especially when (in grandma’s mind, just married) Suzie announced she was pregnant. This also showed that tv had passed where it was in the 1950s where Lucy could only be “expecting”.
    I didn’t see you make any mention of “Guess Who’s Coming Forever?” here, meaning that you placed it in the bottom half of this year’s episodes. It was perhaps the most controversial episode of the series, with its pre-All in the Family take on race relations. Do you think the series handled it well or badly? As for my own opinion, I thought it was interesting, though not uproariously funny. I’d love to know your take on it.

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I’m glad you brought up “Guess Who’s Coming Forever?” Interestingly, the original draft of this post (written in early February) included the aforementioned episode among the honorable mentions. But when I did my final edit, I decided to shuffle around which episodes made my list of the ten best, and I ultimately decided to cut this one from the honorable mentions.

      While it is fascinating to see the series approach a topical premise, the episode is uncomfortable to watch — chiefly because the script lacks the necessary humor. Yet, it’s a bit of a Catch-22. The series’ tone was always light and cartoonish; in the writers’ attempts to do a rare story with heavier motifs, they’d either have to alter the tone or alter the story. The odd jumble — in which the tone is undecided and the story is neutered — simply doesn’t work for me.

      As you said, it’s not very funny, and that’s principally why I couldn’t include it here in good conscience. But, I agree with you: it is an interesting one!

  2. I used to love this as a kid. As an adult, I ordered the DVDs with great anticipation and, well …

    I think what appealed to me as a child, and still makes this show stand out, is it has great energy, and that makes it fun even when the scripts are a bit weak. Between the frantic theme song, the over-the-top performances from Ballard and Carmel (Ballard sometimes seems to scream every line), the shrieking audience, and, as you mention, the bright colors, this show wants you to pay attention to it. You really have a feeling you are watching people give their all to put on a show, and that’s appreciated. It’s also why the musical episodes kind of make sense and work.

    But the area where that fails, in my view, is in its commitment to physical comedy. Lucy was willing to hang from a roof, dunk herself in water, whatever it took to make people laugh. Hell, in two classic scenes (the shower and the grape-stomping), we’re told she nearly drowned. I haven’t rematched every MIL episode, but in what I’ve seen, Ballard and Arden don’t do anything near that. Maybe they weren’t asked to. Maybe they didn’t want to. Maybe they couldn’t pull it off. But there are a bunch of bits that start to get going (like the garage door), but never really go as far as they should. Lucy would have been hanging upside down from that thing.

    The one criticism of this show I always hear that always puzzles me is it was considered old-hat for its time. That may be true, but wasn’t the Lucy Show still a hit? And didn’t Here’s Lucy go to 1974?

    • Hi, AnotherShmuckTweets! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      I consider the series old-hat because of its writing: its comedic notions are familiar, its storytelling is clichéd, and its characterizations are defined in ways more congruous to material of the ‘50s than the ‘70s. As with every show, I try to go into an episode with properly adjusted expectations, knowing the above, so that I can take my enjoyment wherever I can find it — accentuating the positive, of course!

      I’d say the exact same things about Ball’s work in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with the only distinction being that THE LUCY SHOW and HERE’S LUCY had at least one thing THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW did not — Lucy — a star so beloved that her presence alone could drown out many textual shortcomings. I mean, we like Eve and Kaye, but we *love* Lucy.

      Also, just because people watched Ball until the mid-‘70s doesn’t mean the shows with which she was associated continued to be brilliant (popularity ≠ quality) or fresh (popularity ≠ originality). A show can be quite popular, like THE LUCY SHOW, and still be more predictable and hackneyed than I’d like, just as a not-so-popular one, like THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW, can be the same.

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