Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re finishing 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.
By all accounts it was Mary who decided to end the show with the seventh season, opting to leave the air when the show was still at the top of its form. While The Mary Tyler Moore Show never fell from grace, it is impossible for me to say that the final year isn’t a comedown from the three (maybe even four) seasons that came before it. The stories aren’t quite as fresh (and if they are, they’re sort of gimmicky), the scripts aren’t quite as hilarious, and the impending finale seems to make the entire series self-conscious — in ways that are both beneficial and harmful. With the better members of the staff trying to salvage the slightly more popular Rhoda (this was the year that they gave Joe the oust) and bolster the only mediocre Phyllis (which would end a few weeks before MTM), the “mother show” is saddled with a handful of men who, though undeniably talented — and I can’t emphasize that enough — just don’t produce scripts of the caliber that the show once maintained. The season is nowhere near dire, but I’m going to go out and say: the show ended when it should have. (And I’ll spoil it right now, I’m not a fan of the finale, despite its reputation as one of TV’s greatest.) Anyway, 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 Seven. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Every episode of this series is directed by Jay Sandrich, unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 147: “Sue Ann’s Sister” (Aired: 10/09/76 | Filmed: 07/23/76)
A seemingly permanent visit from Sue Ann’s beautiful sister sends the Happy Homemaker into a depression.
Written by David Lloyd
Installments that center around Sue Ann are almost always guaranteed winners because her character is a one-liner machine (both giving and receiving). Pat Priest, the second Marilyn Munster, plays Sue Ann’s southern belle sister, who brings out the green-eyed-monster in the Happy Homemaker. The comedic crux of the episode occurs when the newsroom decides to visit a depressed and bedridden Sue Ann, giving TV audiences their first, last, and only view of the infamous nympho’s gaudy boudoir, complete with ceiling mirror and vibrating bed. One of the season’s (and the series’) funniest!
02) Episode 150: “One Producer Too Many” (Aired: 10/30/76 | Filmed: 08/27/76)
When Murray gets an offer to produce at another station, Lou decides to promote him to co-producer alongside Mary.
Written by Bob Ellison
This episode doesn’t produce the jokey fun like the installment featured above, but it trucks along humorously and with careful regard for maintaing honest storytelling. When Murray is offered a job at a rival station, Lou determines that the only way to keep him on staff is to promote him to co-producer. Unfortunately, Mary doesn’t take too kindly to the idea, and soon, the longtime friends are forcing Lou to make the decision about who is demoted. It’s a tense scene — well acted and believable. The funniest bit, however, concerns an on-air mix-up involving Sue Ann and a gaggle of pigs. That bit is a must-see!
03) Episode 154: “Murray Can’t Lose” (Aired: 11/27/76 | Filmed: 10/08/76)
Mary is in charge of entertainment at the upcoming Teddy Awards, while a rumor circulates that Murray is finally going to win.
Written by David Lloyd
The final Teddy Awards episode (airing in the middle of the season, like the first year’s, instead of near the end), this installment seems like one big knowing wink to the fact that, of the entire MTM ensemble, Gavin MacLeod as Murray Slaughter is the only person to never get nominated for an Emmy. (His character is much like Norm on Cheers, a functional exposition and joke deliverer, but not great fodder for stories.) More interesting about this episode is the hot rendition of “Steam Heat” that Georgette performs at the Teddy Awards. It’s totally miscellaneous, but a lot of fun. Some big laughs in this one.
04) Episode 155: “Mary’s Insomnia” (Aired: 12/04/76 | Filmed: 09/17/76)
Lou worries that Mary has become dependent on sleeping pills to counteract her recent onslaught of insomnia.
Written by David Lloyd | Directed by James Burrows
Another episode that entertains issues that seem a little heavy for this series (namely: addiction), this installment is one of a handful of shows from the final season that thinks its better than it actually is. While normally this inherent cockiness ends up exposing an episode’s shortcomings, this one seems to benefit, as the confidence seems to make everything just a bit funnier than it should be. Hands down, the best moment occurs when the men barge in on Mary while she’s taking a bubble bath. “DON’T. YOU. DARE!!!” Solid installment, with one really standout scene.
05) Episode 160: ‘The Ted And Georgette Show” (Aired: 01/22/77 | Filmed: 11/19/76)
Everyone is surprised at the success of a new talk show starring Ted and Georgette — especially Georgette.
Written by David Lloyd
It is around this time in the season that the series really begins wrapping up — dedicating episodes to each member of the ensemble (for the last time). This one is thrown to Ted, and specifically, Georgette, as the pair volunteers to star in an ultra cute talk show that becomes a ratings success. But the time away from home and the kids takes a toll on Georgette, and she doesn’t know how to tell Ted that she wants out. The first half of the installment (before Georgette wants to quit) is much funnier than the second, although Mary’s on-air attempt to stall while Ted and Georgette converse is very amusing.
06) Episode 161: “Sue Ann Gets The Ax” (Aired: 01/29/77 | Filmed: 12/03/76)
When Sue Ann’s show is canceled, she bounces around the station in various positions, hoping that the newsroom will hire her.
Written by Bob Ellison
The last episode thrown to Sue Ann Nivens, this episode also has a dark undercurrent as Sue Ann’s cancelation eerily foreshadows the entire staff’s (minus Ted) upcoming termination. Truthfully, nothing about Sue Ann getting fired is funny (especially since she’s won so many Teddy Awards in the past few years), but the horribly demeaning spots that the script puts her character in (first with the fat flirt and then with the obnoxious puppets) are so undeniably funny, that, although we feel bad for Sue Ann, we don’t take everything so seriously — thankfully.
07) Episode 163: “Mary And The Sexagenarian” (Aired: 02/12/77 | Filmed: 12/17/76)
Mary accepts a date with an older man, whom she later learns is Murray’s visiting father.
Written by Les Charles & Glen Charles
Perhaps the companion piece to Season Four’s “Angels In The Snow,” in which Mary dates a younger man, this installment presents us with the exact opposite: Mary with an older man. The cherry on top is that he’s not just any older man, but Murray’s father. Cue all of the smart remarks and Murray’s expected awkwardness. Though the premise is a little ostentatious for this series (Mary dating Murray’s father… really?), the script does provide a generous supply of laughs. And in this season, they are more than welcome. One of my favorite episodes of the season because it’s exactly as funny as it needs to be.
08) Episode 165: “Mary’s Three Husbands” (Aired: 02/26/77 | Filmed: 01/14/77)
Over drinks, Lou, Murray, and Ted each imagine what life being married to Mary would be like.
Written by Bob Ellison
Undoubtedly one of the gimmicky episodes that I mentioned in this post’s introduction, this installment backs up its forced set-up with plenty of comedy. Each character’s vision progresses in both story and comedy, which is great because none of them end up looking inferior to the others. Murray’s vision makes perfect sense, Ted’s vision has lots of laughs (and a nice meta moment), and the Lou vision is unquestionably satisfying. The best line in the whole show comes near the end, where the 87-year-old Mary Richards tells us that Rhoda is still waiting for Joe to come back… HA!
09) Episode 166: “Mary’s Big Party” (Aired: 03/05/77 | Filmed: 01/28/77)
Mary and the gang reminisce about past parties while waiting for Johnny Carson to attend her latest soiree — where the power goes out.
Written by Bob Ellison
The series’ only clip show, this episode makes the list because, not only are the clips that were chosen for inclusion (which all pertain to Mary’s disastrous parties –and there’s a lot from Season Four, which seemed heavy on parties) some of the series’ best, but the wraparound segments do exactly what they should: motivate the clips by providing a story that has a logical beginning, middle, and end. Additionally, there are lots of nice character moments (this was the last episode filmed before the finale), and though the Carson cameo does disappoint a little, the whole thing is very funny.
10) Episode 167: “Lou Dates Mary” (Aired: 03/12/77 | Filmed: 01/07/77)
Georgette suggests that the perfect man for Mary is Lou Grant, so the pair decide to go out on a date.
Written by David Lloyd
The second-to-last episode of the series, this brilliant episode gives the audience exactly what they think they want: Lou and Mary together as a romantic couple. Fortunately, as the episode demonstrates, the pair have zero romantic chemistry, so contrary to the then rumors, the series would NOT end with Lou and Mary hooking up. But, it’s such a smart idea to have the characters test this out in a way that doesn’t stretch credibility, and also doesn’t disappoint the audience. Now, I can’t say that this is a hilarious installment, but it’s probably one of the final season’s most satisfying — clever, logical, and a wise penultimate episode.
Other notable episodes that didn’t quite make the list above include: “Mary Midwife,” a BIG EVENT episode in which Georgette gives birth in Mary’s apartment, but it doesn’t have the laughs it needs, “Mary The Writer,” a solid episode that nevertheless feels like its stuff we’ve already seen before, “Ted’s Change Of Heart,” the series’ most profound episode that, again, simply doesn’t have the laughs it needs, “Mary Gets A Lawyer,” which is largely a hammy showcase for guest John McMartin, “Look At Us, We’re Walking,” which introduces David Ogden Stiers in his brief recurring role as station manager, “Murray Ghosts For Ted,” the last episode in which the writers get to play with the Ted/Murray dynamic, and “The Last Show,” which, despite its reputation as one of television’s greatest finales, is way too dramatic and weepy to be enjoyed alongside any other episode of the series — it’s self-indulgent and sentimental: the death of good comedy.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Seven of The Mary Tyler Moore Show goes to…..
“Sue Ann’s Sister”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the first season of The Odd Couple (1970-1975, ABC)! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!
Great job on this series, Jackson. I was hoping you’d pick “Mary’s Insomnia”, as it showed something that Dick Van Dyke’s “Never Bathe on Saturday” could only allow the audience to imagine (according to Carl Reiner): Mary naked in a sudsy bathtub. And the line of that episode, as you said, had to be “Don’t…you…dare!!!”. ;)
I was hoping you’d also mention “One Producer Too Many”. I don’t recall ever seeing that episode, but yesterday I happened to see that funny scene with Sue Ann & the pigs and literally (I mean this.) fell on the floor laughing! I saw it on You Tube at this link, if you or your readers want to laugh all over again:
Thanks for reading and commenting with the link! That scene is definitely on my short list as one of this season’s best moments. And while that’s definitely the comedic centerpiece of “One Producer Too Many,” the episode made my list also for the mature rendering of the Mary/Lou/Murray story, which took me by surprise the first time I screened the installment.
I know “Mary’s Insomnia” is a fan favorite, and the scene in the bathroom is probably THE funniest of the season. (That’s why I chose to include the installment here.) I just find the premise a bit heavy handed and the script not as consistently funny as some of my other MVEs. (So I gave it to “Sue Ann’s Sister,” which I think is less self-conscious and better written.) But, as far as the quality of Season Seven goes, “Insomnia” is still certainly a cut above most.
Stay tuned for five weeks of the best from THE ODD COUPLE! (And after that, ALL IN THE FAMILY!)
I hope you do The Golden Girls. I would love to know what your opinion is of each season and your picks as the best episodes.
Hi, Matt. Thanks for reading and commenting!
THE GOLDEN GIRLS will definitely be covered here on Sitcom Tuesdays, but probably not until 2016 (or late 2015 at the earliest). Lots of shows to cover between now and then!
Besides Rhoda, Phyllis and Golden Girls what other shows will you be covering?
I can say with more than 95% certainty that you will see all of the following shows covered here within the next year-and-a-half:
THE ODD COUPLE (starts next week)
ALL IN THE FAMILY
SANFORD AND SON
THE BOB NEWHART SHOW
There are certain to be additional shows covered here on Sitcom Tuesdays, given that I am always adding to my collection and auditing potential series for inclusion on this site. With complete sets of both THE JEFFERSONS and WKRP IN CINCINNATI coming out before the end of the year, there is a possibility that they may be featured here as well.
Also, several lesser known sitcoms will be covered sporadically on upcoming Wildcard Wednesdays, among them LOTSA LUCK (1973-1974, NBC) with Dom DeLuise and THE PRACTICE (1976-1977, NBC) with Danny Thomas.
Thank you for the review of the series and the progression with the characters as Mary and Phyllis left for their won series and the show became more involved with Mary and the station and addition of Georgette and Sue Ann… and thank you for the reviews in general. Bewitched and That Girl are two other favorites of mine and it is also interesting to read your reviews as we move into more “reality” based sit-coms. Also, while I prefer not compare That Girl and MTM, I’ve been watching Season 4 of That Girl and can’t help in seeing in the “I Am Curious Lemon” episode and Ann’s disasterous dinner party a pre-lude to next season’s Mary dinner party disasters
Hi, Bob. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Good point about “I Am Curious Lemon,” which I consider one of the high points of THAT GIRL’s fourth season.
And please stay tuned as I cover my favorite episodes from both RHODA and PHYLLIS! (Look for those posts sometime around Spring 2015.)
Thank’s. That’s been one of my favorites from Season 4 as well. Had picked up Season 1 of AIl In the Family at locat library and interested to read your review. While it was great to see topics that had not been tackled before was also surprised on what could be said. and looking forward to the Rhoda reviews as there were a lot of changes in the 5 seasons!
Wat u thimk of
Welcome Back Kotter
WKRP IN CINCINATTI
Hi, R. Thanks for reading and commenting.
As indicated by the list in my response to Matt’s comment above, THREE’S COMPANY and TAXI will definitely be featured on this site. WKRP IN CINCINNATI is a possibility, given the upcoming release. BARNEY MILLER will not be covered here. And the jury is still out regarding WELCOME BACK, KOTTER, but its inclusion is not likely.
TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT
LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY
I confess I thought you might include the episode where Mary gets talked into helping the hooker she met in a previous episode get a job. That final scene, of Mary in one of the hooker’s dress designs, greeting Lou Grant with a sulty, “Hi, big fella!” is priceless.
Hi, Sabrina. Thanks for reading and commenting.
The episode to which you are referring is from Season Five and is called “You Try To Be A Nice Guy.” I think it is one of the series’ funniest — a real neglected gem — and I included it on my list of the best from that season. Check that post out here: http://jacksonupperco.com/2014/08/05/the-ten-best-the-mary-tyler-moore-show-episodes-of-season-five/
I love your blog and MTM is one of my Top 5 sitcoms of all-time. I am not nearly as down on Season 7 as you are (I find it vastly superior to Seasons 1 and 2, which do have some gems but are very spotty). Just tonight, I watched “What’s Wrong with Swimming?”, a David Lloyd-penned Season 7 episode that you presumably thought was pretty weak (no mention at all here), and I actually thought it was terrific–Lou Grant at his best, letting Mary hire a female sportscaster who’d rather report on world swimming and diving results than vital Minnesota Vikings news. The Lou-Mary interplay in this episode epitomized the pure gold that this character relationship really was.
Interestingly, this was one of those rare episodes not directed by Jay Sandrich. But Lloyd wrote a good many of these Season 7 episodes, and he wasn’t exactly chopped liver (pun intended, if you recall the episode).
Anyway, I am really looking forward to the roster of series you plan on covering here, although I admit to disappointment that BARNEY MILLER won’t be one of them.
Hi, Guy! Thanks for reading and commenting.
THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW is on my top five list as well!
Yes, I do find “What’s Wrong With Swimming?” to be solid enough, but you’re correct — it’s not among my favorites.
Regarding the seventh season, without intending to bash the fine, talented writers on staff, I think the year’s lack of variety among its crew (most entries are by Lloyd or Bob Ellison) is a hinderance. However, as sitcom seasons go, this is a solid year of comedy — perhaps lacking only when compared to the show’s previously established standards.
Sorry to disappoint regarding BARNEY MILLER. I’ve only covered one show on Sitcom Tuesdays that I didn’t really love wholeheartedly, and I vowed never to do it again. I must remind my readers (and myself) that these posts are not a comprehensive look at every major American sitcom, but rather a passionate pontification on those that I consider the best of the best or for which I have a personal affinity.
But stay tuned for more of my favorites. Following our coverage on SANFORD AND SON, expect THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, MAUDE, RHODA, and PHYLLIS. And, as always, watch for more single season rarities covered here on upcoming Wildcard Wednesdays!
I think “Murray Ghosts for Ted” is the strongest episode of the season. Not only is it hilarious (“There goes one hell of a dentist…”), but the script gives the four principals equal moments to shine. In addition to giving a touching coda to the Murray/Ted relationship, it examines both men’s characters in ways we’ve never seen on the series before. And both men have grown by the end of the episode.
Hi, Don! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I don’t share your enthusiasm for this episode — particularly because I don’t find it as comedically satisfying as you do — but I do agree about the strong character moments.
Be sure to check out my thoughts on the best from the prior six seasons, if you haven’t already!
I agree with most of your choices, but I have to disagree with you on The Last Show. Yes, it has sentimentality, but it’: also very funny. The scene with Rhoda and Phyllis is pure gold, as is Mary’s phone call to the station manager.
Hi, Charlie! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, I know it’s a well-liked episode for fans of both the series and sitcoms in general, so I’m sure I’m in the minority with my general disregard for it — along with many other finales, too. (What can I say? Like Margo Channing, “I detest cheap sentiment”… not to mention expensive sentiment.)
We’ll also have to agree to disagree about the entry’s comedic merits and their compensatory value. I think the script’s self-importance suffocates the entire outing, including the gratuitously shoehorned Mary-Rhoda-Phyllis reunion, in which, I think, their old magic is not actually recaptured.
Narratively, I also credit this episode for establishing a lot of easy, misguided tropes to which sitcoms still adhere — first evidenced the very next year even with THE BOB NEWHART SHOW’s last go-’round — and that’s probably the worst thing with which I have to charge this series, which otherwise elevated the medium’s standards in ways both immeasurable and uncountable.
After season two season seven is my least favorite, and the only one I don’t have on DVD. There aren’t enough episodes I love to make me spend the money. I agree with you that it was wise to make this the last season: I think the show was convinced of its own preciousness a little too much. I also think–and I know I’m in the minority–that there is WAY too much of Ted Baxter in this season. I think the writers also weren’t as true to the characters–Sue Ann goes from being suggestively lewd to downright smutty, and Lou’s treatment of Mary is often horrifyingly mean. When he criticizes her writing, when he won’t let up about her hiring the swimmer, when he puts the blame for not hiring Sue Ann on her, and worst, when he makes Murray co-producer and then at the end says he’d pick Murray over her! I think “Murray Can’t Lose” while funny, is also cruel, considering that MacLeod is the only cast member never to be Emmy-nominated. Mary (Richards AND Moore) tend to mug a bit much, and finally, WHAT is up with Georgette’s hair?!?
Hi, Mark! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I think all of your observations speak to the general broadening that every single character underwent during this final season as part of the writers’ ongoing quest for new stories. We see this happening frequently in long-running sitcoms, even those of the caliber of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and although I consider these evolutions here to be particularly glaring (because they’re more story-driven than ever — at odds with the show’s character-centric identity), there are some fans who take issue with this broadening as early as Season Five. Personally, I think this is the first year in which the ends justify the means at a rate below the show’s figurative average. (That’s why I draw such a qualitative distinction between Seasons Six and Seven, as opposed to any place prior.)
However, the important thing to note, as always, is that descents in quality must be properly contextualized; that is, a weaker season of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW is far different (read: better) than a weaker season of, for example, RHODA, so while the disappointments they each inspire may feel the same, their respective merits aren’t.