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 HERMIONE BADDELEY as Mrs. Naugatuck.
With the addition of Hermione Baddeley as the outrageous new housekeeper, Mrs. Naugatuck, the show knowingly moves away from its early days, in which social significance was perhaps the most important ingredient. As the trend towards radical early 70’s programming mellows into a broader more feel-good fare, Maude, like all of Lear’s shows, loses its consistent hardness. That’s not to say that the show doesn’t keep up with the times, because it does. Instead, serious “issues” take a backseat to the characters and their relationships. Comedy — character-driven comedy — becomes king, and because the show relies more on its players, the laugh quotient increases. In fact, I believe the 1974 episodes of Season Three comprise what is probably Maude’s most hilarious era; even though the stories themselves aren’t as daringly progressive or excitingly novel, the characters are funnier and more dimensional than they have ever been before. Unfortunately, the show sort of loses its way and runs out of steam in the second half of the year, churning out fewer fabulous episodes. But Season Three finds Maude entering its middle seasons as a huge comedic presence, enlivened by good scripts and great players. So this was a tough list to make, and it must be noted that it physically pained me to see so many great episodes being pushed aside as honorable mentions. (Please check them out below.) But there was just so much competition! As usual, 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.) All episodes are directed by Hal Cooper, unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 48: “The Kiss” (Aired: 09/16/74)
Maude and Arthur are shocked to see Vivian and Walter kissing.
Written by Elliot Shoenman
It is always difficult to describe episodes that are sheer perfection, and this installment is no exception. A tight ensemble piece, this episode takes what could be a forced premise (two people kissing their best friend’s spouse) and makes it really believable. Of course, we must also give credit to the players, all of whom are in rare form during this outing, bringing to life some of the most consistently funny writing of the entire series. The most artful moment occurs when the script makes it logical for Maude and Arthur, political enemies, to kiss. This is divine situation comedy; the cream of Maude‘s crop.
02) Episode 50: “The New Housekeeper” (Aired: 09/30/74)
Maude clashes with her new British housekeeper, Mrs. Naugatuck.
Written by Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf
Schiller & Weiskopf, who wrote for Lucy in the late ’50s and early ’60s, are responsible for this script — one of the series’ most laugh-heavy. Hermione Baddeley is introduced as the Findlay’s new housekeeper, cockney spitfire and tall-tale teller, Mrs. Nell Naugatuck, who gets along well with Walter (the “master of the house”) but immediately develops a contentious relationship with Maude. Their banter back and forth in this installment is a scream, and this debut episode remains Baddeley’s laugh-out-loud funniest appearance from the entirety of her three-year stint on the series. Hysterical!
03) Episode 51: “Speed Trap” (Aired: 10/07/74)
Walter and Arthur are arrested for speeding.
Written by Elliot Shoenman
The principal story, in which Walter and Arthur are arrested (featuring a guest appearance by a young Hector Elizondo) is not among my favorites. As regular readers may know, I think stories in which sitcom characters get arrested are often forced and cliched, and this one, though filled with laughs, isn’t exceptional. (However, Bain does get a chance to rage in an amusing climax that has him destroying their cell.) This episode makes my list because of the hilarious scenes between Maude and Vivian, who, angry that their husbands are away, decide to break their diets in the most gung-ho way.
04) Episode 52: “Lovers In Common” (Aired: 10/14/74)
Maude and Vivian compete over a mutual old flame.
Written by Pamela Herbert Chais
Clearly a tribute to Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels (1925), this episode concerns Peter Durland, an old flame of both Maude and Vivian, who writes to them that he is returning to town. Most of the story involves Ms. Arthur and Ms. McClanahan getting drunk as they attempt to convince the other that they were Durland’s preference. It’s a tour de force performance for both ladies, particularly Arthur, whose drunk bit is undeniably hysterical. Also in on the intoxicated hijinks is Mrs. Naugatuck, who takes the comedy quotient of this episode above and beyond normal limits. Screamingly hilarious — funniest episode of the entire season (maybe even the series).
05) Episode 54: “A Night To Remember” (Aired: 11/04/74)
Maude and Walter share their problems late at night.
Written by Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf
Reminscent of the Season One installments that feature only Maude and Walter, this episode expands things a bit and gives a great scene to Maude and Arthur in the kitchen. The premise occurs on an evening in which Walter is airing his grievances to Maude, only to learn that she’s considering undergoing a hysterectomy. It’s a heavy issue, but not handled with melodrama (thankfully). One of the funniest running gags involves a recurring wrong number who compounds Maude’s ire and brings some good laughs. A nice one act play with brilliant one-liners, this is a case of Maude doing what it does best.
06) Episode 55: “Last Tango In Tuckahoe” (Aired: 11/11/74)
Maude and Walter find a man hiding in Mrs. Naugatuck’s closet.
Written by Bob Schiller & Bob Weiskopf
As I wrote that Mrs. Naugatuck’s debut episode was her best, it must be said that this installment is right behind it. The premise for this one involves the spicy housekeeper’s anger at the Findlays snooping in her room, where they find a man hiding in her closet. It’s a very funny story blessed with a very jokey script, which also manages to flesh out Ms. Baddeley’s character a bit more (she’s a harmless, but chronic, liar), thus strengthening the connection between Maude and Mrs. Naugatuck. This is another of the series’ funniest, with Naugatuck and her beau’s impromptu tango as a highlight.
07) Episode 56: “Vivian’s Party” (Aired: 11/18/74)
Maude helps Vivian plan a party, only to learn she’s not invited.
Story by Barbara Avedon & Barbara Corday | Teleplay by Elliot Shoenman
As yet another one of the most laugh-out-loud funniest episodes of the season, this installment also serves as an example of what makes Maude, particularly during this “golden era,” so comedically irresistible: fantastic performances, led by the brilliant Ms. Arthur (who could read the phonebook and make it both hilarious and honest). Of course, she’s also aided here with a fun teleplay that elicits big laughs — ones that come from both the characters and the situation. A fan favorite (and deservedly so), this installment is divine character-driven comedic excellence with Ms. Arthur as the MVP.
08) Episode 60: “Nostalgia Party” (Aired: 12/30/74)
At Maude’s New Year’s party, everyone dresses up as their favorite year.
Story by Michael Morris | Teleplay by Michael Morris and Budd Grossman and Elliot Shoenman
Perhaps one of the greatest New Years sitcom episodes (and, indeed, I featured it in a Wildcard Wednesday post on the eve of 2014 — back when I had to take a screencap from a poor quality bootleg), this installment features a marvelously original premise. Maude decides that, to set her party apart from the rest, everyone must come dressed as their favorite year. There’s no real story, but the episode is both joyously hopeful and melancholically nostalgic to make it seem like a full experience. And with an appearance by Judith Lowry, the future Mother Dexter, it’s an unforgettable New Year’s classic.
09) Episode 67: “Walter Gets Religion” (Aired: 03/03/75)
Maude questions Walter’s sudden interest in church.
Written by Charlie Hauck
After a string of mediocre episodes, this episode gains points in large part because of its premise. Just imagine: Walter drags Maude to church. Naturally, Maude’s out of her element here (hey — something she and Archie Bunker have in common) and there’s a great gag where she falls asleep and snores during the service. But the story really becomes about Walter’s hidden motivations: he’s just sold the church a bunch of appliances. It’s a great idea, and the script does a pretty good job of making it fully realized. And in a surrounding comedic drought, this installment sticks out as above the rest.
10) Episode 69: “Maude’s Mother” (Aired: 03/31/75)
Maude braces for a visit from her mother.
Story by Michael Morris | Teleplay by Budd Grossman and Elliot Shoenman
Audrey Christie makes her first, last, and only appearance on this series in the difficult role of Maude’s mother. There’s a lot of expectation put onto the role, and she’s surprisingly understated: a choice that in some ways explains the animosity between mother and daughter. The parallel stories of Maude and her mom with Maude and Carol are symmetrically nice, but the comedy from this installment comes from Walter’s embarrassingly hilarious commercials as “Wow-ee Wally!” Maude’s not amused, but her mom is. Very funny installment — and a strong cap to a memorable season.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Maude Meets The Duke,” in which Maude prepares for a visit from the conservative John Wayne (a famous episode that most deserves to make the list), “Walter’s Heart Attack,” in which Maude utters the infamous SOB line at the end of a comedically solid (and Walter-heavy) entry, “Maude’s New Friend,” in which Maude’s prejudice against gays is revealed (featuring a guest appearance by the future Chester Tate, Robert Mandan), and “Walter’s Ex,” in which Carole Cook guest stars as Walter’s ex-wife, who announces that she’s getting remarried — to Maude’s wealthy uncle. Because this is the best season, it’s almost devastating that these four episodes, which would likely have made the list if part of any other season, are included as honorable mentions. They are better than most honorable mentions and are each worthy of your time and attention.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Three of Maude goes to…..
“Lovers In Common”
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the fourth season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!
Would you consider doing a countdown of your favorite sitcoms
Hi, Track. Thanks for reading and commenting.
All of the shows that get covered on Sitcom Tuesdays are among my favorites. But I have no plans to list them in order of preference — it’s difficult to justify comparing shows from the ’50s to shows from the ’00s — but I can tell you that I LOVE LUCY (1951-1957, CBS) remains my favorite.
Mine 2 and understandable. Just something I wondered
I have considered, however, picking some of my favorite individual episodes by year (i.e. The Best Sitcom Episodes Of 1974, etc.). So stay tuned, because when I run out of Wildcard Wednesday topics (unlikely), this could be a possibility!
For me, season three of Maude marks a huge change in the series. The first two seasons’ general structure can be described as weekly two scene, one act plays. I believe the only one in real time would be the season one finale. When season three rolled around, it became much more of a traditional sitcom with more than two scenes in an episode. The one where Walter has a heart attack might be the first episode that doesn’t take place over the course of one day. The laughs may have been boosted this year, but I like the first two years better than anything that came later.
Hi, thehindsightcritic! Thanks for reading and commenting. I always appreciate your astute observations.
I absolutely agree that the third season marks a major shift in the series, but I don’t find episodic structure to be an important defining point. Every season of MAUDE yields examples of the show’s theatrical roots, with episodes that play under the Aristotelian notions of unity.
But I think what your observation points toward is the series moving thematically away from issue-oriented scripts. In the first two years (particularly the 1972-1973 season), most episodes are crafted to explore a single sociopolitical topic. As MAUDE decided to become less issue-heavy, the stories expanded and the show became more of a “traditional sitcom.” (We see the same thing happen with ALL IN THE FAMILY around the same time — only farther along in its run.) Also, this kind of evolution happens on most long-running shows (like CHEERS), when a bigger budget and the need for new stories brings about more sets, more characters, and shorter scenes. I actually thought MAUDE always did a fairly good job of keeping its scripts tight.
Interestingly, while I find the initial political years of ALL IN THE FAMILY superior to the later more “traditional” ones, I position MAUDE exactly the opposite: improving exponentially when it let itself free to explore its characters independent of socially relevant stories. Unlike ALL IN THE FAMILY, this allowed the laugh quotient to increase (and unlike the last two seasons of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, which we discussed last month, I didn’t find this development in betrayal of the storytelling). However, I do understand the appeal of the more thoughtful and original early years, especially for the boldness of the writing and the foundation provided for the characters and their future development. Given these episodes’ often loftier goals, I could then support your assertion that the early seasons are more theatrical.
But comedy is king for me. As long as the characters remain multi-dimensional, the stories maintain some logic, and the scripts stay fresh, I’m always going to champion a season with more laughs than one with fewer. (As we shall see next week…)
Thats wassup I would love to see tht
Also I’m surprised that you did not pick The Emergence Of Vivian on this list
You know, I think the premise is precisely on the nose of what this series is about, but I just find the episode comedically middling compared to other offerings from the season.