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, HERMIONE BADDELEY as Mrs. Naugatuck and J. PAT O’MALLEY as Bert Beasley.
Season Five, despite a dreary trilogy in which Walter loses his job and overdoses on pills, is probably the most consistently amusing of the entire series. In fact, this was a hard list to make because, while there are a handful of standouts and a handful of stinkers, most of the episodes in Season Five are of a basically high standard of quality, especially in comparison to the mildly disappointing fourth season. A return to comedic heights unseen since early Season Three, this year earns my vote for having perhaps one of the most boast-worthy collections of hysterical classics, as the show (aside from a few notable bombs) does a better job of balancing its sociopolitical ambitions with genuine hilarity. The cast is, as always, phenomenal, and Ms. Arthur even won an Emmy for her work this season, beating out the expected winner, Mary Tyler Moore, who’d just finished her final season. (I actually thought Maude may have had a better ’76-’77 than any of the other series we’ve covered here.) So this is a great collection of shows, and 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 Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) All episodes are directed by Hal Cooper, unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 94: “Vivian’s First Funeral” (Aired: 09/20/76)
Vivian’s missing brooch turns up on the deceased woman at a funeral.
Written by Sam Greenbaum
What an original premise! This fan favorite episode features a beautifully original story about Maude and Vivian attending the funeral of a mutual friend whom they both hated, only to discover that the missing brooch that Vivian lent Maude has wound up on the body of the deceased as she lies in her open casket. The premise alone is hilarious, so all the script has to do is keep the stakes up. And this episode certainly delivers, especially when Arthur demands that Maude retrieve the precious jewel from the loathsome woman’s corpse. This installment is definitely among the best of the entire series, and one of the funniest TV half hours of the decade.
02) Episode 95: “Maude And Chester” (Aired: 09/27/76)
Maude and her ex-husband get locked in a room together.
Story by Sol Weinstein & Howard Albrecht | Teleplay by Pamela Herbert Chais
Aside from being an electrically theatrical installment, most of which takes place with two actors on a single small set, this episode gives viewers the first, last, and only chance to see one of Maude’s oft-mentioned ex-husbands. Martin Balsam plays Chester, Maude’s least favorite of her former flames, as they gather to resolve a property settlement and in the process, find themselves locked in a room together and reliving old times. So the story and the comedy are both dialogue driven, as two great performers bounce off each other in a fascinatingly believable and interesting way. It’s an exhilarating change-of-pace for the series — one of the most memorable.
03) Episode 100: “The Election” (Aired: 11/01/76)
As the 1976 presidential election approaches, Maude learns that Carol’s dating a younger man.
Written by Thad Mumford
Maude briefly returns to the glory of its early days with an episode that successfully combines a timely political plot and a story in Maude’s personal life with masterful finesse. Timed perfectly with the election that would put Carter in office, Maude’s focus is pulled to the fact that her daughter is dating a 20-year-old. (And a republican to boot!) With a great premise, a hilarious script, and a guest actor who does a fun Thurston Howell imitation, this episode is a diamond in the rough. Although it’s much broader than the comedy of the early years, it’s one of the few late season installments that makes an earnest attempt to thematically recapture its origins. Great one.
04) Episode 101: “The Game Show” (Aired: 11/08/76)
Maude and Vivian are chosen as contestants on a game show.
Written by Jay Folb
Truthfully, this is an exceedingly gimmicky episode that hinges on a premise driven less by character motivations and more by the structure of the story, which has Maude and Vivian competing on a game show. However, as all shows late in their runs wind up in ruts with familiar stories and routinized scripts, this episode, with its fresh setting and new faces, sticks out from the rest. And because the premise allows for easy laughs, it’s no surprise that the script is able to deliver. A fan favorite, it is, at the very least, an enjoyable outing with a deliciously unhappy ending, perhaps making the entire episode worthwhile.
05) Episode 104: “Maude’s New Friends” (Aired: 11/29/76)
The Findlays meet a couple interested in swinging.
Written by Pamela Herbert Chais
This episode was first written and produced for the third season with Gene Saks, Ms. Arthur’s then husband (who passed away just recently), and Elizabeth Wilson as the smarmy couple, but the sponsors pulled out just before the scheduled air date and the episode was shelved. Although you can view the unaired version on the new DVD, this re-shot aired entry with James Coco and Helen Page Camp goes much broader, removing some of the prior outing’s uncomfortable lasciviousness, and allowing the proceedings to play with more emphasis on the story’s comedy. It’s a mature premise; perfect for the character of Maude. (And Coco is fantastically funny.)
06) Episode 108: “Maude’s Adult Relationship” (Aired: 01/17/77)
Maude begins spending time with a handsome associate.
Written by Charlie Hauck
The strength of this episode is its adult premise, which makes for interesting performances, as the players explore the sophisticated topic with both humor and honesty. There’s not an overwhelming amount of riotous shtick, but there is a big pay-off about two-thirds of the way through when Maude proudly (with a beaming smile) announces to Walter that she and her friend are sexually attracted to each other. It’s exactly the kind of ludicrous moment that this series supremely uses to lampoon Maude’s over-the-top liberality. (But I must admit, although I enjoy this episode, this was one that I almost considered replacing with an honorable mention.)
07) Episode 110: “Maude’s Desperate Hours” (Aired: 02/14/77)
Maude worries that a painter has been making threatening phone calls.
Written by Arthur Julian
Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan are hilarious in this episode that really, more than any other episode in the series, presents them as a comedic duo in the style of Lucy and Ethel. However, this episode reminds most of an episode from the final season of The Dick Van Dyke Show, “Long Night’s Journey Into Day,” when Laura and Millie are scared to be home alone. Although the premise is derivative of things we’ve seen elsewhere, this is a very funny performance oriented episode (and it’s the one that won Ms. Arthur her aforementioned 1977 Emmy Award), and a great showcase for these women and their quietly developed comedic teamwork.
08) Episode 112: “Feminine Fulfillment” (Aired: 02/28/77)
Vivian starts catering to her husband’s whims.
Story by Joanne Greenberg & Jennie Blackton | Teleplay by Thad Mumford & Charlie Hauck
While the premise of Vivian deciding to cater to her husband’s every desire (and Maude and Walter’s accompanying reactions) is a perfect story for Maude, this installment will always be remembered for the moment where Vivian greets the Findlays at the door wearing nothing but saran wrap. Yet the episode is funny throughout with a great sequence in which Walter treats Maude just like one of the guys. But that early moment — and the scene that follows, in which Ms. Arthur does deadpan like nobody’s business — is an unrivaled fifth season highlight. For its sublime comedy and perfectly rendered story, this is the best episode of the season: iconic Maude!
09) Episode 113: “Maude’s Aunt” (Aired: 03/07/77)
Maude fears her aunt slept with Bert.
Written by William Davenport
Our Miss Brooks, a.k.a. Eve Arden, guest stars in this installment as Maude’s caustic aunt who revels in her reputation as a woman of the world. The story involves her making Maude believe that, after getting Bert drunk on an evening out, she’s taken him to a motel and slept with him, effectively cheating on the vacationing Mrs. Naugatuck. It turns out there was no actual hanky-panky, but the machinations of the story and the surprising complexity rendered for Arden’s character make this episode a really worthy entry. The two stage veterans have marvelous chemistry, and they balance the deeper moments with the script’s knack for curating laughs.
10) Episode 116: “The Household Feud” (Aired: 03/28/77)
Maude and Mrs. Naugatuck feud when the former accidentally breaks Cyril’s urn.
Written by Arthur Julian & William Davenport
As the final episode for both Baddeley and O’Malley, who was promoted to regular this season when Bert and Mrs. Naugatuck got engaged and married, this bittersweet installment nevertheless manages to be one of the funniest of the year. Harkening back to the contentious relationship between Maude and Mrs. Naugatuck when they first met (a clip from the latter’s debut is even shown) and featuring more ashes/urns comedy (as in last season’s very funny “Poor Albert”), this fantastic episode builds comedically until it reaches a touching climax, marking the official end of Maude‘s funniest era. One of my absolute favorites; great for Naugatuck fans.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “The Rip-Off,” in which the Findlays are robbed, and three episodes that give a lot to Conrad Bain, one of this series’ unsung heroes, “Arthur’s Worry,” in which Arthur worries after Walter has a dream about kissing him, “Arthur’s Crisis,” in which Arthur’s friend dies after he operates on him, and “Vivian’s Surprise,” in which we meet Arthur’s twin brother. All four of these episodes have qualifications that easily make them candidates for the above list.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of Maude goes to…..
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the final season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!