Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing our coverage on the best episodes from Maude (1972-1978, CBS), which was just released in full on March 17, 2015!
An ultra liberal housewife often finds herself in conflict because of her outspoken social and political views. Starring BEATRICE ARTHUR as Maude, BILL MACY as Walter Findlay, ADRIENNE BARBEAU as Carol Traynor, CONRAD BAIN as Dr. Arthur Harmon, RUE McCLANAHAN as Vivian Cavender Harmon and ESTHER ROLLE as Florida Evans.
Maude enters its second season as a wiser show — one that knows where in which its strengths lie. As more emphasis is put on the relationship between Maude and Walter, the series takes time to craft a supporting cast that can provide viable stories (because Carol, though an interesting element, isn’t really a great source of comedy and Florida is being prepped for her spin-off, which takes her away in February). Thus, the decision is made to pair Arthur with Vivian, giving the Findlays another, less liberated, couple off of which to play. It’s a very smart move, even though their courtship and marriage seemingly occurs at a rapid pace (over 10 episodes). Meanwhile, the show begins the year almost as topical as it had been in its first season, but the scripts gradually begin refocusing themselves on the characters and less on the issues. It’s still a progressive series, but the shift into more lighthearted fare starts crystalizing, really taking shape in Season Three. So this year, existing between the trailblazing first and the hilarious third, is sort of a balancing act — one that produces a handful of unforgettable classics. 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 Two. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) All episodes are directed by Hal Cooper, unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 23: “Walter’s Problem (I)” [a.k.a. “Life Of The Party (I)”] (Aired: 09/11/73)
Maude fears that Walter may have a drinking problem.
Written by Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf
The series enters its second season with another gripping two-part installment that shows exactly what early Maude does best: heavy topics handled through hilarious character-inspired dialogue. This is truly one of the sharpest and funniest scripts of the entire series, evoking belly laughs one minute and real human tragedy the next. Credit must be given to the expertly truthful performances, particularly that of Mr. Macy, whose work here may be his best of the series. Part I is much superior (read: funnier) than the second part, but obviously, if you watch Part I, you should also watch Part II.
02) Episode 26: “Maude’s Facelift (I)” (Aired: 10/02/73)
Maude’s jealous of Vivian’s new facelift.
Written by Susan Harris
Susan Harris, who would go on to create The Golden Girls (1985-1992, NBC), the series for which Ms. Arthur and Ms. McClanahan are best remembered by contemporary audiences, penned this script, which was reportedly based on a suggestion by Ms. Arthur herself. Maude can barely contain her jealousy when Vivian, a recent divorcee, returns with a much younger face. It’s a hilarious concept, made even better by the envious contempt Arthur infuses into her performance as Maude. Part II is almost as good (read: funny) as Part I, and deserves to be screened immediately after.
03) Episode 28: “Florida’s Affair” (Aired: 10/16/73)
Florida’s husband fears she may be cheating.
Written by Alan J. Levitt
As one of the few episodes centered around Florida, this is one of those installments featuring a script that rises above a mediocre premise. Fortunately, Florida Evans, particularly as played by Esther Rolle, is an easy laugh-getter and an automatic boost to each and every scene. Thus, any episode that gives her a lot to do is at an automatic advantage. Meanwhile, John Amos once again proves himself to be evenly matched with Rolle, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this episode got the ball rolling on their spin-off, which premiered only four months after this episode aired. A really enjoyable outing.
04) Episode 33: “The Will” (Aired: 11/27/73)
Maude learns that she’s not the trustee in Walter’s will.
Story by Jim Simmons & Leonard B. Kaufman | Teleplay by Albert E. Lewin
Kudos must be given to the freelance pair who came up with this original story because it’s perfect for Maude. Of course, our “right on” woman would not be pleased to learn that her husband has named Arthur trustee in his will over her, and naturally, this knowledge, which comes just as Maude’s preparing to be awarded the title of “Wife of the Year,” is going to spark a fight. The funniest bit occurs when the Findlays friends walk in on their argument, during which Walter unknowingly drops his pants. It’s a big juicy loud episode; an ideal representation for the series and all in good fun.
05) Episode 35: “Music Hath Charms” (Aired: 12/11/73)
Maude and Walter refuse to fight after he is in a car accident.
Story by Lloyd Turner & Gordon Mitchell | Teleplay by Lloyd Turner & Gordon Mitchell and Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf
If there’s any episode that gives credence to the show’s label as one of the loudest on television, it’s this one. Interestingly, the episode sort of acknowledges the noise quotient by crafting a premise in which Maude and Walter try their darndnest not to blow up at each other, after Walter survives a major car accident (following a fight they had about his incessant organ playing). The second act scene in the restaurant, where he can’t stop humming and she can’t kill her headache, is a riot — another candidate for the funniest moment of the series. A really fun, classic Maude episode; this is one of my absolute favorites.
06) Episode 39: “The Wallet” (Aired: 01/15/74)
Maude snoops through Walter’s wallet.
Story by Max Hodge | Teleplay by Max Hodge, Alan J. Levitt, and Budd Grossman
Once more, the series makes use of an ingenious premise: the idea that you can learn a lot about a man by going through his wallet. Through a misunderstanding, Maude assumes that Walter is having an affair with a young girl in the city, leading to a classic encounter in which our heroine, despite her instance, turns into Joan Crawford. (Although Norma Shearer — confronting Joan Crawford — would be more apt, right movie fans?) It’s a hilarious scene and Arthur milks the moment for all that it’s worth. The final scene between Maude and Walter is a comedic highlight too. Very solid, and original, entry.
07) Episode 40: “Maude’s Revolt” (Aired: 01/22/74)
Maude makes a scene when Walter leaves her side during a party.
Story by Ken Hecht & Lloyd Garver | Teleplay by Lila Garrett
The premise for this episode harkens back to those wonderfully simple domestic sitcom stories of the ’50s, in which the women are mad that the husbands collect together at a party, forcing the wives to go off on their own. Of course, Maude isn’t going to take this lying down (although in a great recurring gag, she does!), especially since Walter has promised to stay by her side. It’s a fun episode — particularly for Ms. Arthur, who makes the installment a riot from start to finish. It’s also a fan favorite, and garners a lot of effortless laughs. 1974 is finding Maude reaching her comedic peak (as we shall see more explicitly next season).
08) Episode 43: “The Tax Audit” (Aired: 02/12/74)
Maude recognizes the man auditing Walter’s taxes as the boy who tried to rape her.
Written by Bernie Kahn
There’s a lot of mastery that goes into both the writing and playing of this episode, as a careful line is tread between lighthearted comedy and a really gruesome personal horror for Maude, who recounts the time she was almost raped. Surprisingly, the episode never goes to the dark comedic-less place into which future issue-heavy scripts (from later seasons) will descend. And, even more surprisingly, the resolution is something that you’d never be able to predict. For all that — plus the usual abundance of laughs — this episode is a season (and series) highlight; one of my favorites.
09) Episode 44: “The Investment” (Aired: 02/19/74)
Walter loses money on Arthur’s stock tip.
Written by Elliot Shoenman
This episode is seemingly all about the performances of the recently established foursome (Maude, Walter, Arthur, and Vivian). But underneath the stars is a strong script that mines big laughs — some of Season Two’s grandest — from a simple story in which Walter loses money in Arthur’s stock tip that he didn’t take himself. It’s a great indicator of what kind of material is to come for these four characters, as their interactions become the series’ prime focus. There are many choice bits, with the bickering earning some really loud responses from the audience (and deservedly so).
10) Episode 45: “Phillip’s Problem” (Aired: 02/26/74)
Maude is against spanking her grandson.
Written by Budd Grossman
Although, as regular readers know, I’m not fond of children in sitcoms, episodes centered around Phillip, Carol’s son, have a higher chance of success because the series knows how to handle him. Instead of making this story about Phillip, the script actually contends with everyone else’s reactions to him — particularly Maude, who, not surprisingly, is totally against corporal punishment. It’s a great premise for a series satirizing the uncompromising liberal, and it’s really a delight for the audience when Maude lets loose and gives Phillip exactly what’s been coming to him. Surprisingly funny episode with great dialogue!
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “The Double Standard,” in which Maude worries about Carol’s boyfriend spending the night in her room (remade from a rejected Season One episode that can be found on the DVDs), “Maude’s Musical,” the first of this series’ musical revue installments (and maybe the best of them), “The Commuter Station,” in which Arthur and Vivian are married in a train station (very funny, one act style), and “Florida’s Goodbye,” in which Florida leaves the series for her aforementioned spin-off (yes, Good Times).
All of these episodes are fantastic, but the one installment that really deserves to make today’s list and didn’t is Episode 31: “Vivian’s Problem” (Aired: 11/06/73), in which Maude ends up sparking the romance that develops between Vivian and Arthur. It’s a hysterical show that REALLY should be included among the above (and I even considered dropping one of the others to make room for it, but couldn’t), so I’m kind of cheating — for the first time in That’s Entertainment! history — by telling you that, even though I’ve already chosen ten, this episode, a “bonus” if you will, is ALSO making my list as the best from Season Two. For its great performances by McClanahan and Bain, the superb script by Pamela Herbert Chais, and the seminal romance it launches, “Vivian’s Problem” is as fantastic an installment as the ten above!
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Two of Maude goes to…..
“Music Hath Charms”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the third season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!