Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing our coverage on the best episodes from one of my favorite sitcoms of all time, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977, CBS). I’m thrilled to announce that every single episode of the series has been released on DVD.
Following the end of a serious relationship, Mary Richards moves from her hometown to Minneapolis where she takes a job as an associate producer of a local news show. At the office she contends with a gruff boss, a cynical writer, and an egotistical anchorman. At home, Mary hangs out with her neighbors, a spunky New Yorker and a flighty housewife.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show stars MARY TYLER MOORE as Mary Richards, EDWARD ASNER as Lou Grant, VALERIE HARPER as Rhoda Morgenstern, TED KNIGHT as Ted Baxter, GAVIN MACLEOD as Murray Slaughter, and CLORIS LEACHMAN as Phyllis Lindstrom.
Though always a well-written series, MTM doesn’t really tap into its funny bone until the third season, when, following two years of excellent character development, the series finally begins having fun with its premises, putting greater emphasis on the comedy. As Mary’s new hairdo signifies a growing independence for the character, the show becomes slightly more topical, and thus, more realistic. While Leachman cuts down her appearances drastically, more and more of the stories are set in Mary’s workplace, necessitating clever and creative ways of keeping Rhoda in on the action. Meanwhile, Ted’s part begins to expand (adding to the comedy), and he’s given his first regular girlfriend midway through the season with the addition of Georgia Engel as Georgette Baxter. While the series isn’t yet in its “classic” phase, this collection of installments is the best yet. So, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify this 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.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Three. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Every episode of this series is directed by Jay Sandrich, unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 49: “The Good-Time News” (Aired: 09/16/72 | Filmed: 08/04/72)
At the behest of the station manager, Mary develops a new upbeat format for the news.
Written by Allan Burns & James L. Brooks | Directed by Hal Cooper
It’s more than appropriate that the season launches with not only a new look for Mary, but a new look for WJM’s “Six O’Clock News” as well (albeit, a temporary one). The new station manager appoints Mary in charge of implementing a more relaxed and casual format for the news (against the wishes of Lou and Ted). Gordy is promoted to co-anchor, and the show’s funniest scene has Ted purposely sabotaging the new format, until Mary lets loose and tells Ted to shut up — on-the-air. It’s one of the season’s biggest laughs — and it’s always great to see Mary showcase that much discussed spunk. Fun start to the season.
02) Episode 54: “Rhoda The Beautiful” (Aired: 10/21/72 | Filmed: 06/30/72)
Rhoda, having lost twenty pounds, decides to enter a beauty pageant.
Written by Treva Silverman
This episode is a fan favorite, as most people like both the topicality and sentimentality of Rhoda overcoming her body image issues and winning a beauty contest. That’s all well and good (especially for the character’s development), but I’m more concerned with the laughs. Fortunately, there is an ample supply — thanks, in large part, to Leachman’s Phyllis, who, as it must be noted, does a hysterical and (delightfully unwarranted) rendition of “Ten Cents A Dance.” This is a well written episode that thankfully overcomes its saccharine roots with genuine and character-based humor.
03) Episode 55: “Just Around The Corner” (Aired: 10/28/72 | Filmed: 06/16/72)
Mary is thrown for a loop when her parents decide to move to Minneapolis — a block away from her house.
Written by Steve Pritzker
The events of this episode, specifically Mary staying out all evening with a date and not getting in until the late morning, were later referenced on Maude to great comedic effect. Yes, the series becomes slightly more explicit (though never crude) in presenting Mary as a woman of the ’70s — a sexually active woman of the ’70s. We meet her parents for the first time, and while Fabray as her mom is delightful, Mary’s dad is too emotionally distant to be funny. (This will come up in a later episode, in which the series becomes topical again when Mary admits to being on the pill.) Amusing, progressive, (maybe not brilliant though).
04) Episode 57: “Farmer Ted And The News” (Aired: 11/11/72 | Filmed: 08/18/72)
Lou regrets his decision to allow Ted to do commercial spots when they begin airing on the news.
Written by Martin Donovan
Not only is this the first season to really play around with the dynamics of the newsroom, but its the first year in which Ted is utilized in an equal capacity to Lou. This episode, about his desire to branch out and do television commercials, is principally focused on getting laughs and it does a great job of earning them. Naturally, the crux of the comedy occurs when Ted’s awful commercial spots (see the title for a clue) begin airing in the middle of the news. Much like the premiere’s “Shut up, Ted!”, the disastrous happenings on WJM’s news never fail to amuse.
05) Episode 62: “Rhoda Morgenstern: Minneapolis To New York” (Aired: 12/16/72 | Filmed: 09/15/72)
Mary goes into denial when Rhoda announces that she’s moving back to New York.
Written by Treva Silverman
As a guy who usually doesn’t find humor in episodes in which characters actually depart from their series, any episode which builds to that conclusion, and then takes it away, only feels like a waste of time. That’s what I anticipated going into this installment. Instead, I found a smart episode that gives us some great comedy — especially from Georgette, who makes her debut as a guest at the surprise party. She steals the episode, and elevates it to solidarity. (Also, watch the way that Harper and Moore continue on with their scene after a spilled salad. Love that live studio audience!)
06) Episode 63: “The Courtship Of Mary’s Father’s Daughter” (Aired: 12/23/72 | Filmed: 10/13/72)
Mary and Rhoda go to an engagement party hosted by one of Mary’s ex-boyfriends.
Written by David Pollock & Elias Davis
The professor that Mary dated in last season’s “Room 223” returns in this episode, which features a brilliant first half, and then loses its humor and becomes too cloying in its second. Mary runs into her ex in an elevator with his fiance. He invites her to their engagement party, so she and Rhoda decide to go along. There, the couple gets into a huge fight about Mary’s presence. The uncomfortableness of the situation and freshness of the premise are golden. When Mary and the professor reunite and things get serious, it feels both rushed and anti-climactic. This episode would be brilliant with a better second act.
07) Episode 65: “My Brother’s Keeper” (Aired: 01/13/73 | Filmed: 10/27/72)
Phyllis goes into mourning when her visiting brother begins dating Rhoda.
Written by Dick Clair & Jenna McMahon
Phyllis makes her fourth and final appearance of the season in this phenomenal installment that plays upon the adversarial relationship shared by Phyllis and Rhoda when the latter dates the former’s brother. Mary throws one of her disastrous parties, and Georgette is back to deliver some hilarious lines (including a brilliant exchange with Phyllis — perhaps the only moment these two share), and the twist ending is not only shocking (especially for audiences of ’73) but funny as well. Lots of laughs in this great installment that I can honestly say is a series classic.
08) Episode 66: “The Georgette Story” (Aired: 01/20/73 | Filmed: 11/03/72)
Mary and Rhoda interfere when they believe that Ted is taking advantage of Georgette’s kindness.
Written by Ed. Weinberger | Directed by Peter Baldwin
In only her third appearance, Georgia Engel gets a whole episode centered around her character, and once again walks away with the show. (I didn’t recall her character being so amusing, but she’s truly a breath of fresh air — one that’s around to soften Ted and give some great laughs playing against Mary and Rhoda.) The scene between the three gals in Mary’s apartment is brilliantly executed, and the newsroom machinations aroused by Mary’s interfering are well handled, while Ted and Georgette’s final scene is both funny and honest. (“Wanna have a pillow fight?”) Nice episode for developing Georgette.
09) Episode 71: “Put On A Happy Face” (Aired: 02/24/73 | Filmed: 12/08/72)
Mary is nominated for a Teddy Award, but she’s hit with a sudden streak of bad luck.
Written by Marilyn Suzanne Miller & Monica Johnson
Mary was so smart to fill her series with a host of assorted loonies with which her straight-man character could interact. (That’s a large part of this series’ success — the ensemble.) But every now and again, Mary gets an episode that shows us just how brilliant of a comedienne she actually is. In probably her best performance of the entire series, Mary — perfect little Mary — is thrown one disaster after another. It’s not only a satisfying watch, but a truly hysterical one, as it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before from this series. Reportedly, one of Moore’s favorite installments, this may be my favorite too.
10) Episode 72: “Mary Richards And The Incredible Plant Lady” (Aired: 03/03/73 | Filmed: 12/22/72)
A friendship is strained when Mary loans Rhoda money to open up a plant shop.
Written by Martin Cohan | Directed by John C. Chulay
The focus of this episode is the friendship between Mary and Rhoda, which, although starting out a little to unbelievably for my tastes, is usually written pretty truthfully. This realism is most evident when their friendship is strained; it never feels forced because everything is motivated. In this episode (also blessed by the presence of Engel), Mary lends Rhoda money to open up a plant shop (“Rhoda’s Dendren”). As sitcom 101 would tell us, lending money to friends is rarely a good idea, but when its as amusing as this episode, who cares? (Also, look for a great scene with Louise Lasser.)
Other notable episodes that didn’t quite make the list above — and there are a few, since this was a stronger season — include: “What Is Mary Richards Really Like?”, in which Mary is interviewed by a columnist, “It’s Whether You Win Or Lose,” which centers on Murray’s gambling problem, “Have I Found A Guy For You,” in which Mary dates a separated half of one of her previously coupled friends (and most deserves to be on the above list), “Operation: Lou,” in which Lou bonds with Ted while in the hospital, “Lou’s Place,” in which Lou buys a bar, and “What Do You Do When The Boss Says ‘I Love You’?”, in which the new female station manager falls for Lou.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Three of The Mary Tyler Moore Show goes to…..
“Put On A Happy Face”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from Season Four! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!