The Five Best RHODA Episodes of Season Five

Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re concluding our coverage on the best episodes from Rhoda (1974-1978, CBS), the first spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977, CBS). The first four seasons have been released on DVD, and, as of this writing, the 13-episode fifth season is available on Youtube. 

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Rhoda Morgenstern is there to lend support during her sister’s engagement and her parents’ surprise separation. Rhoda stars VALERIE HARPER as Rhoda Morgenstern,  JULIE KAVNER as Brenda Morgenstern, NANCY WALKER as Ida Morgenstern, HAROLD GOULD as Martin Morgenstern, RAY BUKTENICA as Benny Goodwin, KENNETH McMILLAN as Jack Doyle, and LORENZO MUSIC as Carlton, the Doorman.

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A mere thirteen episodes were produced for this truncated final season, four of which only aired in syndication. But, with two definite story arcs, in which Brenda gets engaged to Benny and Martin leaves Ida, plus a reinforced commitment to the comedy, one can’t help but wish that the series finished the season to bring things full circle. Although the show sort of acknowledges the fact that Rhoda is now more of a reactor than an active participant, an engagement and a separation are interesting fodder off of which she can respond (because, well, obviously…) The series addresses this subtly several times, but a wedding for Brenda would have been appropriate for balance and closure. But, enough of what might have been, for these 13 episodes, although hit and miss, are infinitely fresher than the dribble from Season Four: better stories, bigger laughs, and a funkier arrangement of the theme song. So I have picked five 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.

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Here are my picks for the five best episodes of Season Five. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) Note that I will update the screencaps if/when the final season makes its way to DVD.

 

01) Episode 98: “Martin Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (Aired: 09/23/78)

Rhoda and Brenda learn that Martin has left Ida.

Written by Charlotte Brown | Directed by Tony Mordente

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From the first scene, this episode feels like a breath of fresh air after two years of palpable sadness. Although the idea of Martin leaving Ida isn’t a happy prospect, Nancy Walker is such a powerful comedienne that the pain turns into laughs — in ways that Rhoda’s depression couldn’t. While Benny is vindicated here as Brenda’s main love interest, the episode really strengthens the bond between the three Morgenstern girls, reinforcing their dynamic as the series’ most important element and the only real through line that connects all five seasons (despite that lapse in Season Three). Big improvement and strong start to the season.

02) Episode 100: “Rhoda Vs. Ida” (Aired: 10/07/78)

Rhoda objects when Ida dates a younger man.

Written by Bob Ellison | Directed by Tony Mordente

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A lot of the humor in the post-Joe era of Rhoda comes from the legendary Nancy Walker, so any episode that either crafts a premise around Ida or gives her a lot to play is generally going to be more enjoyable than the rest. This installment features a classic sitcom premise: the May-December romance, with Ida as December. There’s inherent comedy in the story, but the narrative works because it’s filtered through the relationship between Ida and Rhoda, whose response is understandable — and comedically works because she assumes the parental role usually fulfilled by Ida. This one is memorable for great stuff between mother and daughter.

03) Episode 103: “Ida’s Roommate” (Aired: 10/28/78)

Ida finds herself attracted to her new roommate.

Written by David Lloyd | Directed by Tony Mordente

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Another episode centered around Ida, this installment has bigger laughs than the one above. So in terms of hilarity, this episode is superior, and one of the final season’s highlights. Of course, there’s a big leap we have to make with regard to the story: Ida’s agreement to live with a single man. Yes, this is 1978 (with new hairstyles and a jazzy new opening arrangement to prove it), but Ida is still a comparatively conservative character and it’s not something so easily reconciled. Once again Rhoda has to take the moral high ground, (not a great look for her), but Ida’s sexual desires are an unqualified hoot, and that ultimately makes the episode worthwhile.

04) Episode 106: “Martin Swallows His Heart” (Aired: 12/09/78) 

Martin swallows a heart-shaped charm he’s bought for Ida.

Written by Bob Ellison | Directed by Tony Mordente

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Although most episode guides list this as one of the four unaired episodes, my research shows that this is ACTUALLY the final one broadcast by CBS. (It’s “The Total Brenda” that never aired.) It’s also the funniest of the entire fifth season. In addition to furthering the Ida/Martin separation arc, as the pair seems to officially reconcile, there’s great comedy as the Morgentern clan barges in on a doctors’ poker game, where Ida tries to match up the single Rhoda. It plays upon all of the established character traits, and thus, works well. Note that this is one of three scripts by the wonderful Bob Ellison, whose efforts work comedically better than most.

05) Episode 110: “Brenda Runs Away” (Aired: SYNDICATION ONLY)

Brenda is overwhelmed by everyone’s input on her life.

Written by David Lloyd | Directed by Tony Mordente

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As the final episode produced for Rhoda, viewers will invariably look for some sort of closure. There isn’t any, but I suppose it could be argued that the episode contends with Brenda’s growth as a character, becoming more like Rhoda was at the start of the series. Meanwhile, Rhoda shows an acute understanding of her sister and comes into her own as the mature woman that this final season has been painting her to be. And, once again, it all comes down to the three Morgenstern girls, who share an enjoyable final scene in a dark movie theatre. Not a great conclusion, but seemingly more important because it is the end (unfortunately)…

 

Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Martin Comes Home,” in which Martin returns to Ida (in this installment that MOST deserves to make the above list), “Jack’s New Image,” in which Jack dates an attractive woman, and “The Date In The Iron Mask,” in which Rhoda’s date gets a space mask stuck on his head.

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*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of Rhoda goes to…..

“Martin Swallows His Heart”

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Come back next Tuesday for the best from the first season of Phyllis! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!

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7 thoughts on “The Five Best RHODA Episodes of Season Five

  1. Thanks for covering another memorable sitcom, though one that I haven’t seen nearly as much as its parent sitcom. I see that you’re covering Phyllis next, which also had a nice article covering it in the thiswastv blog under “Fun Flops”, mentioning its tragic cast losses among other things. I’ve been trying to find in your past posts the schedule of future sitcoms you plan to cover here. I remember that counting up the seasons, it seemed that it would run into 2016. When you have time could you share that list again? I’d love to know which sitcoms to look forward too. Thanks!

    • Hi, Jon! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Following our two week coverage of PHYLLIS, expect Sitcom Tuesdays to feature THREE’S COMPANY, SOAP, TAXI, WKRP IN CINCINNATI, and THE JEFFERSONS. That will take us into January of 2016 and my favorite sitcoms of the ’80s…

      • I got a question. Since the first season of Threes Company has 6 episodes are you going to review the first two seasons on the same day like you did on Our Miss Brooks season 2 and 3

        • Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.

          Yes, the first two years of THREE’S COMPANY will be featured together; I’ve chosen two episodes from the first year and our usual ten from the second.

          I’ll also spoil two upcoming Wildcard Wednesday posts and confirm that both THE ROPERS and THREE’S A CROWD will be featured!

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