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.
Minneapolis news producer and perennial single girl Mary Richards makes her own way in a male-dominated newsroom, which includes her gruff boss, Mr. Grant, cynical copy writer Murray Slaughter, and Tex Baxter, the program’s egotistical anchorman. Complementing the fun (and filling the gap following the departure of Mary’s neighbor and best friend) are Ted’s ditzy girlfriend, Georgette, and Sue Ann Nivens, the station’s lascivious Happy Homemaker.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show stars MARY TYLER MOORE as Mary Richards, EDWARD ASNER as Lou Grant, TED KNIGHT as Ted Baxter, GAVIN MACLEOD as Murray Slaughter, GEORGIA ENGEL as Georgette Franklin, and BETTY WHITE as Sue Ann Nivens.
In addition to containing the series’ best episode, an installment that TVGuide once called the best television episode of all time, Season Six features a shockingly high number of truly superb installments. With Rhoda and Phyllis both off on their spin-offs, the remaining cast becomes tighter than ever before, as the transformation from domestic/workplace sitcom to strictly workplace sitcom is complete. Sure, there are episodes that involve Mary’s personal life, but because the rest of the cast is situated in or connected to the office, everything must originate or be filtered through the newsroom. The ensemble, which uses both Sue Ann and Georgette frequently, has never been better. Tied with Seasons Four and Five as the best season (in my mind), Season Six is classic Mary Tyler Moore, and this list was a minor challenge to make. But, 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 Six. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Every episode of this series is directed by Jay Sandrich, unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 122: “Mary Moves Out” (Aired: 09/13/75 | Filmed: 06/20/75)
Mary seeks some sort of major life change, but she doesn’t know what.
Written by David Lloyd
One of the reasons that many fans find the fifth season a bit disconcerting is that Mary spends the year stuck in her old apartment without any friends — Rhoda had already left and Phyllis only makes three appearances. Following Phyllis’ official departure, the show uses this episode to move Mary into a new high-rise apartment, marking a sort of growth for the show and the character. Though the whole thing feels like one big machination to get Mary in a new place (and introduce several potential recurring characters — who never catch on), there are still a lot of laughs in this memorable installment.
02) Episode 127: “Chuckles Bites The Dust” (Aired: 10/25/75 | Filmed: 08/22/75)
Mary is shocked at her co-workers’ reaction to the sudden death of Chuckles the Clown.
Written by David Lloyd | Directed by Joan Darling
This is the best episode of the season, and probably the funniest episode of the entire series. Truthfully, I’m almost shocked that my high opinion of this episode is completely in line with the consensus, but there’s no denying how perfectly the episode is both written and played. Finding humor in the tragically absurd death of Chuckles the Clown (he was dressed as Peter Peanut and shelled by a “rogue elephant” in a parade), the jokes are non-stop. But the true brilliance comes in the funeral scene when, following many scenes of Mary being outraged at her friends’ insensitive jests, she bursts out laughing in the middle of the preacher’s eulogy. Moore is truly outstanding, and her switch from laughter to tears is a tour de force. I laugh every time during this installment, and you will too. The best of the best.
03) Episode 128: “Mary’s Delinquent” (Aired: 11/01/75 | Filmed: 06/13/75)
Mary and Sue Ann both become “big sisters” to two juvenile delinquents.
Written by Mary Kay Place & Valerie Curtin
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m not a fan of kids in situation comedy because I usually feel that they can’t hold their own comedically with the adults. But this episode, starring two teens, is an exception, and it is largely because the show doesn’t rely on the girls for much of the installment’s humor. The premise of Mary’s girl being accused of theft is tired, but the comedy found in the individual moments is what makes this episode stand out. The MVP is Sue Ann, who tries her hardest to be “hip” when her little sister turns out to be a black girl. Lots of BIG laughs in this one.
04) Episode 129: “Ted’s Wedding” (Aired: 11/08/75 | Filmed: 09/12/75)
When Ted makes another proposal, Georgette insists they tie the knot right away — in Mary’s apartment.
Written by David Lloyd
Again, regular readers of my blog may recall that I’m not usually kind to episodes where “big events” happen. I usually feel that, in these cases, the story takes precedence over the characters, and thus, over the comedy. This is a “big event” episode (the wedding of Ted and Georgette) but the script works hard to keep it from seeming like a “big event” episode, with the tennis-playing junior preacher (played by John Ritter) officiating a wedding in Mary’s little apartment. It’s largely successful, and though I do feel there’s a little bit of saccharine involved, it’s rewarding and satisfying to see Ted and Georgette make it official.
05) Episode 130: “Lou Douses An Old Flame” (Aired: 11/15/75 | Filmed: 09/19/75)
Lou has mixed feelings when he’s contacted by an old flame who broke his heart.
Written by David Lloyd
Asner is the focus of this episode as Lou Grant is contacted by an old girlfriend who broke up with him in a “Dear John” letter. (Today it would be a “Dear John” text.) The writing is as sharp as ever, leading Lou (and us) to believe that she’s come to apologize and/or reunite with him, but of course, as good sitcom law dictates, she really’s just come to ask Lou for a loan for her boyfriend. It’s a strong scene and Asner’s great. Adding to the comedy is a subplot in which Ted begs Mary to throw him a bachelor party, since he didn’t get one before the wedding. Lots of laughs there too.
06) Episode 131: “Mary Richards Falls In Love” (Aired: 11/22/75 | Filmed: 09/26/75)
Mary tells her boyfriend that she loves him and eagerly waits for him to return the sentiment.
Written by Ed. Weinberger & Stan Daniels
Throughout the course of the series, Mary’s relationship with Joe, played by Ann Marie’s old beau, Ted Bessell, seems to be the most serious. (He even lasts two episodes!) It’s nice to see her character vulnerable in a romantic way, especially since the growth in Mary’s character, from a girl who seeks a ring to a woman who realizes she doesn’t need one, precludes her from ever entering a longterm relationship on this series. After all, Mary is TV’s iconic working girl. (Look what happened to Rhoda!) But this relationship makes her more complex, and it’s great to watch. Also, Valerie Harper makes a cameo as Mary calls Rhoda on the phone for advice.
07) Episode 133: “The Happy Homemaker Takes Lou Home” (Aired: 12/06/75 | Filmed: 10/31/75)
Sue Ann forces Mary to arrange a date for her with Lou.
Written by David Lloyd | Directed by James Burrows
If this season wasn’t blessed with “Chuckles Bites The Dust,” this would easily be the best episode of the season. In fact, it’s one of the absolute best of the entire series. The main story concerns a promise that Mary makes to Sue Ann (under tired duress), in which she agrees to set Lou up with the Happy Homemaker. He falls for the trap and ends up at Sue Ann’s place — for a riotous evening. Another screamingly funny subplot involves an interview that Mary has set up for Ted with the self-proclaimed “King of the Gypsies,” who shows up completely blotto. So much comedy in this installment, it’s absolutely astounding.
08) Episode 137: “The Seminar” (Aired: 01/10/76 | Filmed: 10/24/75)
Mary and Lou go to D.C. and hope to get together with some of his old friends.
Written by James McDonald & Robert Gerlach | Directed by Stuart Margolin
This episode is probably best remembered because of the cameo made by Betty Ford, then the first lady of the USA. (Reportedly she was difficult on the set.) But there’s a freshness and a maturity about this episode that separates it from the majority of TMTMS. Much of the action occurs in Lou’s hotel room, as he eagerly awaits a call from his high-powered Washington friends. Mary doesn’t believe they will call, and the comedic high point is her mock belief when Lou tells her that Betty Ford was in his room while Mary was out. The two work great together, and as a change-of-pace episode, it’s highly enjoyable.
09) Episode 138: “Once I Had A Secret Love” (Aired: 01/17/76 | Filmed: 12/05/75)
Mary blabs about Lou’s drunken one-night-stand with Sue Ann.
Written by Pat Nardo & Gloria Banta
Sort of another episodic continuation of the amusing date that Lou had with Sue Ann, this episode has the pair drunkenly consummating their relationship. (Off-screen, of course.) The actual premise of this episode involves Mary’s promise that she won’t tell. When she breaks her oath and tells Murray, an embarrassed Lou decides to end his friendship. (Mary, a blabbermouth? Love it when they present her as flawed!) It’s actually a little dramatic in some parts — especially in the second half — but rest assured that there still are plenty of laughs. And just the idea of Sue Ann finally bedding Lou is comedic gold.
10) Episode 143: “Sue Ann Falls In Love” (Aired: 02/28/76 | Filmed: 02/06/76)
Sue Ann’s boyfriend makes a play for Mary on the night of the Teddy Awards.
Written by Bob Ellison | Directed by Doug Rogers
Sue Ann is such an automatic laugh-getter that episodes centered around her character generally have a high comedy quotient. Additionally, this is the annual Teddy Awards episode, which generally turn out to be winners. The premise is sort of common to situation comedies: one character’s love interest makes a pass at a friend; does the friend tell? What makes this work, simply, is Betty White as Sue Ann, who gets all the delicious lines and makes the episode come alive (as usual). Also, White and Moore share a great scene in the powder room — always a delight when these two characters interact one-on-one.
Other notable episodes that didn’t quite make the list above include: “Edie Gets Married,” in which Lou and Mary go to his ex-wife’s wedding, “Mary’s Aunt,” in which Lou begins a tempestuous relationship with Mary’s visiting aunt, played by Eileen Heckart, “Ted’s Tax Refund,” in which Ted is audited, “What Do You Want To Do When You Produce?” in which Murray goes to work for Sue Ann, “Menage-A-Lou,” in which Lou tries to make his old lounge singer girlfriend jealous by double dating with one of Mary’s neighbors, played by Penny Marshall, and “Murray Takes A Stand,” in which Murray stands up to the station manager and gets fired. “Produce” and “Menage” both deserved to make the above list.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Six of The Mary Tyler Moore Show goes to…..
“Chuckles Bites The Dust”
(Tough choice. The MVE runner-up would be “The Happy Homemaker Takes Lou Home.”)
Come back next Tuesday for the best from Season Seven! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!