Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday and the start of our look at Mad About You (1992-1999, NBC) — currently available in full on DVD!
A pair of young marrieds enjoy and endure the little things in life. Mad About You stars PAUL REISER as Paul Buchman and HELEN HUNT as Jamie Buchman. This year’s ensemble cast includes ANNE RAMSAY, LEILA KENZLE, RICHARD KIND, and TOMMY HINKLEY.
By the time I finished the first draft of my Mad About You coverage, Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt had both finalized deals for the series’ potential “reboot” — making it the latest addition to TV’s roster of proposed revivals. Admittedly, I was confused (if not surprised), for I found this show an odd choice for contemporary revisiting; while the new iterations of both Murphy Brown and Roseanne have commercial ambitions rooted in their desires to creatively capitalize upon a marketplace wherein politics have become increasingly personal, the forthcoming Mad About You presumably has a much more earnest calling card — pure nostalgia. However, with shows like Roseanne and Murphy Brown (and even Will & Grace) framing their returns through the politics of this present era, their weekly narratives have inevitably lessened the positional dominance of character: the only legitimate place from which we can maintain emotional investment. In Mad About You’s case, character is all it really has to offer… aside, of course, from that good ol’ nostalgia. Based on this point, I still remain somewhat surprised; surely, of all the shows in NBC’s ‘90s arsenal, I can think of several that make more sense to resume. After all, Mad About You never cracked an annual Nielsen Top Ten (even during its two seasons opening the Peacock Network’s Must See TV Thursday block), didn’t see a complete home video release until 2016, and hasn’t enjoyed the same kind of syndicated exposure as Seinfeld, Frasier, or Friends… contemporaries that made several yearly Top Tens, have been available in full on DVD for over a decade, and can still be found multiple times a day on basic cable — in other words, series that currently retain a more popular appeal than Mad About You.
Okay. These posts are designed to celebrate the show — not bash it — and, frankly, contemporary popularity has no bearing on my perception of quality… But sometimes there can be broad associations made. That is, viewers gravitate towards “quality” if it’s indeed made available, and there’s likely a reason that Seinfeld, Frasier, and Friends were more popular with audiences both then and now. For the purposes of this single commentary (and not those ahead, I promise), I’m interested in exploring where Mad About You fits in with this crowd of unforgotten ‘90s mainstays, particularly the aforementioned trio. And at the risk of doubling down on what is shaping up to seem a backhanded compliment, I think it’s important to set the terms (as I see ‘em, of course): Mad About You is not as narratively clever as Seinfeld, as sharply character-driven as Frasier, or as emotionally feel-good as Friends — and it’s not as laugh-out-loud funny as any of them either. (For more on Seinfeld and Frasier, check out past Sitcom Tuesday posts. And stay tuned for Friends, coming up here in July!) Yet, despite the comparatively lesser laugh-quotient — something with which we have to contend while seeking the series’ best (more on this below) — I’d also posit that Mad About You is a (mostly) satisfying synthesis of all three of its popular NBC contemporaries and their respective styles, and for this reason, it indeed serves as a potent and honest ambassador for the Must See TV nostalgia. By looking at the series — for this post, especially — in a context that acknowledges more visibly available works (that also do certain things better — like comedy), I think it’s easier to find what can honestly be celebrated here over the next seven weeks…
I presume you know this show and the particulars of the plot, but what’s important to note is that it was created by star Paul Reiser, a stand-up comic who had previously been on My Two Dads (1987-1990, NBC), and Danny Jacobson, whose prior credits included Soap, My Sister Sam, Roseanne, and Davis Rules. Their chosen subject matter was familiar; heck, the 1992-’93 season was loaded with romantically driven couple shows — Love & War, Flying Blind, and Hearts Afire among them. But Mad About You was the only one concerned with actual matrimony (which made it a modern take on the Barefoot In The Park template popular in the late ‘60s via shows like Love On A Rooftop, He & She, and to a wackier extent, Occasional Wife). And with a more “mature” pilot, including a risqué gag involving the main couple enjoying each other atop a kitchen island, the series was scheduled at 9:30 on Wednesdays, and paired with another sitcom starring/co-created by a stand-up: Seinfeld, which was about to see its popularity explode. This positioning only heightened comparisons between the two series — beyond their similar leads (Reiser was a far better and more experienced actor though), the shows also shared a setting (New York City), a general aesthetic (multi-cam), and a professed fixation on the trivial, mundane, and ordinary. Both shows took their stories from the “little things” in life — for Mad About You, the “little things” in married life. And while both series would naturally grow over the course of their respective runs, they each retained low-concept premises, and in the beginning of their lives especially, enjoyed many “rebellious” non-story stories… What does this mean? Well, in early Seinfeld, we’re talking really small narratives that often operated within the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action — simple and relatable.
Regular readers of this blog know that I rejoice at such notions; I typically hail any series here that adheres to the Aristotelian unities, for this plays into the power of the multi-camera format, which I think represents television at its most authentic. And in this regard, Mad About You is one of the proudest multi-camera sitcoms of the entire decade… But how it projects its premise through the weekly stories takes (at least) a whole season to calibrate. Sometimes low concepts can be too low. (Yes, I said it!) In fact, several of these early episodes are emotionally alienating because of how light they are on plot. A great example is “Sunday Times,” about the happy couple trying to decide what to do while reading the newspaper. In theory, this everyday conceit looks to provide a playground for character. In practice, though, the idea doesn’t work because it’s too early in the run for us to invest in a scenario with so low stakes, for we don’t yet have the backlog of character understanding to support the half-hour. In this period, we need a clearer link between the regulars and the stories they can motivate, for we’re still getting to know who they are. There are two conclusions, then, to be drawn from this observation. The first is that these kinds of episodes will work better in later years, when the characters are better defined. Of course, by that time, such simplicity will grow to become itself a narrative gimmick (best evidenced by the real-time construct you all know I adore). However, in contrast to Seinfeld, whose initial claims on realism were spoiled by a heavily stylized form of storytelling, Mad About You is seldom as ambitious in its plotting. Yes, there will be arcs to discuss — some misguided, to be sure — but Mad About You stays faithful to its humble origins longer than Seinfeld does, and, thus, a third season real-time installment, for example, feels as much like a gaudy episodic experiment as it does a valued extension of the series’ brand.
The second conclusion here involves the first season’s attempt to remedy its early story-less directive with what truly are narratively ostentatious episodic gimmicks — namely, big-name guest appearances. There are three main offenders in this category, with luminaries such as Jerry Lewis, Barbara Feldon, and Regis Philbin. One is terrible — Lewis’ appearance suffocates truth — while the other two are acceptable, aiming for specific character goals (in both, the continued fleshing out of peripheral players), even if the end results don’t completely satisfy. Their relative inferiority keeps the first season from shining as bright as it could and makes the early part of the year, with its own lingering scent of unmodulated storytelling, seem less troublesome by default… Fortunately, this trend is put in check for a while; these hacky offerings, however, do indicate vital parts of the series’ forming identity, for the show will never be above stunt casting. (We can address this habit in later weeks on a case-by-case basis.) What these guest appearances point towards, though, is Mad About You’s love affair with television and, more precisely, the multi-camera situation comedy. We’ll see in weeks to come how this motif becomes more explicit (I’m sure you all remember Season Three’s unsubtle “The Alan Brady Show”), but there’s already a palpable knowledge of the medium via arcane references and, in stories like the one featuring Barbara Feldon, intentional lampoons of past works… You may be wondering if this is corrosive to the show’s realism. After all, it’s a form of metatheatricality not so different from Seinfeld’s hyper-realistic brand of self-awareness, which actually went against its stated (but nevertheless false) “show about nothing” premise and in turn made the series less connectable.
Mileage varies here. Personally, I do think the show’s brand of wink keeps it from totally existing in the premise’s relatable, über-real, and oh-so-trivial intended space. That total truth is now pierced. But I don’t think it’s harmful to the show… For a few reasons. One: the series celebrates the genre and the form, and its “smarts” (in contrast to Seinfeld’s) feel less self-obsessed. Two: we saw how the show couldn’t function as initially premised, so a move to something more stylized seems appropriate. And three: I am fine with any applied aesthetic as long as it’s not counterintuitive to the depiction of character. Thus, the issue is bumped down, again, to the “case-by-case basis” court, wherein we’ll find that silly little self-referential gags are not the primary cause of characterization turmoil. (Hint: it’s usually story, and the relationship between character and story.) So, while the show telegraphs and seeks to derive a part of its comedic identity from the adoration-sparked acknowledgment of its televisual confinements (and, therefore, wants to secure some respect, like Seinfeld, from this kind of projected intelligence), it also delineates for us the elements to which it hopes to remain faithful: not story structures or genre conventions, but the leads’ emotional trajectories and their central relationship. It’s important, then, to laud Mad About You for how it positions (or tries to position) its characters — well, Paul and Jamie, anyway. And here’s where we bring in Frasier, the MTM descendant that, as discussed, so embodied its well-defined titular lead that its writing often took on the traits associated with Frasier Crane himself… Similarly, Reiser’s involvement in Mad About You‘s creation ensures a fidelity between the show’s voice and his character’s, but Hunt’s Jamie is also perfectly of this world — thanks to the Academy Award recipient’s four-time Emmy-winning performance, and to the chemistry she shares with Reiser. So, the series doesn’t just become synonymous with Paul… it becomes synonymous with Paul and Jamie. Basically, Mad About You is Paul and Jamie; Paul and Jamie are Mad About You.
Now, the series can’t quite boast the same quality of writing as Frasier — because of how character in the latter could more readily both motivate story and supply comedy — but the marriage between the show’s identity and its two leads, played expertly by a pair whose chemistry may in fact be the best of the decade, elevates our perception of the text’s quality too, for now relative failures (episodes, stories, jokes, etc.) are nevertheless sustained by a foundation of character-based humanity that dominates some of the external demands placed upon the genre (for a while, anyway). In other words, by predicating the show in such a human place — like Frasier and all the other MTM descendants — Mad About You is able to offer the audience a theoretically pleasing alternative for the instances where shortcomings in story, humor, and peripheral characterizations might ordinarily encourage divestment… because Mad About You isn’t any of that — Mad About You is Paul and Jamie, and they’re still worthwhile. This won’t totally mitigate all our concerns — especially when story becomes more troublesome in later seasons — for as seekers of quality, we have to retain some kind of external standard. However, just as with Frasier, this valuable infrastructure, based as much on character as on the strength of the individual performances (and I’ll say it one more time: Reiser and Hunt’s chemistry makes the writing seem a whole lot better than it is), grants the show a sense of class and prestige — one that’s compounded by the perceived sophistication of the low-concept humane premise, for young marrieds are a lot more sophisticated than “singles in the city”… even if they’re only five years older, live in the same neighborhoods, and pal around with singles themselves…
…Which brings us to the ensemble. If there’s a downside to the show being so built for the relationship between its two leads, it’s that there’s nobody else who garners the same kind of emotional interest, or can provide commensurate comedic strokes and dramatic stakes. As we’ll see, Mad About You will forever be searching for side players that it can use more often, and by the time of the finale in 1999, there will indeed be a long list of recurring faces who’ve added something to the show throughout its run… Here, some fans may appreciate that Mad About You cultivates such a deep bench of supporting players off of whom Paul/Jamie can bounce — players who enter and exit at a rate more realistic than the medium’s “every week” norm. I, however, remain unsatisfied — and I take my cue from the show itself, which projects an aura of instability, going through phases where certain characters appear more than others, but never quite locking down a modus operandi that works best. More importantly, the fact that no other character is around enough to even come close to achieving as much complexity as Paul and Jamie hinders the storytelling… We’ll discuss changes in the ensemble in future posts, but, here, I’d like to leave three major thoughts. One, the first season rightly decides in media res that Paul/Jamie surrounded by a longer-married couple (Mark and Fran), his friend (Selby), and her sister (Lisa) — isn’t a sustainable concept; by the end, the friend is dropped, and Mark and Fran, mutually amusing but undefined, are split (before Richard Kind departs the main cast). Two, the first season also appears to suggest that the best-defined characters are the family members — particularly Jamie’s sister Lisa and Paul’s cousin Ira, the latter of whom is born in the year’s back nine and is added to four episodes, where he’s clearly positioned for greater usage. This implies a different strategy going forward. (Yet, as we’ll see, while Paul’s relatives will be better fleshed out in Season Two, it’ll be a while before Mad About You truly becomes a show dominated by family.)
And three, I believe this ensemble issue is something the series never fully solves — it will never have a satisfying group of main players, like in Frasier or Seinfeld, to fill out the leads’ weekly world and help spark episodic story. For after struggling in Season One to figure out what kinds of plot best reflected the premise and these characters (while also trying to increase viewership — note: despite an early renewal, the year’s last eight episodes were shown in a Saturday night death slot), Paul and Jamie still need an ensemble so that the pressure of providing story is taken off them, and they can retain their “relatable, realistic” depictions, which will become the series’ thesis (character, not concept or story). Also, any problems here are made more glaring by the fact that, once again, Mad About You just isn’t as funny as the above. Yes, we could argue that it eschews big laughs for real ones (especially right now), and that it prioritizes humanity over comedy. But with regard to the latter — humanity vs. comedy — I think Frasier indicates that these ideas don’t have to be positioned against each other. The leads in Frasier were designed with humanity, but they also got big laughs, too… Actually, Mad About You’s desire to avoid the “extremes” typical of the sitcom genre — even the kind of believable “extremes” indicated by Frasier/Niles opposite Martin — is what inevitably keeps Paul and Jamie, and the scripts they anchor, from being a laugh riot… Is this lamentable? No, as long as there is comedy and the character beats work. In fact, I’d note that Seinfeld, in its first three or so seasons, also avoided defining its characters in extremes… Of course, Seinfeld was always a funnier series than Mad About You — and this has as much to do with character as it does attitude.
Yes, attitude. For all of Seinfeld’s narrative posturing, its real rebellion actually came from its irreverence: the “no hugging, no learning” mandate. Thus, a lot of its humor, even in the early days, stemmed from its rejection of sentiment. The same can’t be said of Mad About You, which makes space for hugging and… if not learning (it’s no morality play, thank goodness), then unabashed feeling. Heck, its premise — young marrieds — all but guarantees romance, an emotional optimism. In this regard, Mad About You adheres to a tonal conceit that would be more obvious on Friends, which I’m not going to discuss too much right now because full coverage begins soon. Suffice it to say, Friends is also tonally antithetical to Seinfeld because it’s a show where feelings matter, relationships are sacred, and no wink shall be allowed to undercut a dramatic moment between two characters. It takes itself seriously in a way that Seinfeld doesn’t. (Although Seinfeld‘s self-adoration clouds the matter.) Mad About You takes itself seriously, too — because it takes Paul and Jamie seriously. Even though the show has its own brand of wink (regarding the medium), it’s never going to jeopardize the integrity of its central couple. And, like in Friends (with all its ubiquitous coupling), the undercurrents of romance and optimism are forever prevalent — primarily in unfortunate story-minded arcs where the show takes itself more seriously than it should. In these moments, Mad About You’s overarching sentimentality really cries out for a counterbalancing comedic punch (something Friends was generally good about maintaining as part of its thesis — the other side of its emotionally forthcoming accessibility), for AWWWW is not the same as HAHAHA, especially in a genre that, by definition, demands the latter. Once again, though, if character remains well-reinforced by the action, and we buy the linkage, then as fans, we adjust our comedic expectations accordingly.
Ultimately, it’s this shared relationship-valuing point-of-view that really connects Mad About You to Friends, the poster child of the MSTV “singles in the city” cliché (even though Mad About You’s main city-dwellers are not single), and, by proxy, the Peacock Network’s legacy of ‘90s sitcoms. More than the premise/story similarities with Seinfeld — and its character-rooted prestige reminiscent of Frasier’s — Mad About You’s natural embracing of the same themes that Friends would later espouse more vocally is exactly why Mad feels like a genuine representation of this era and satisfies the kind of nostalgia many now feel for all of these shows. Mad About You may not be as funny, but it’s funny enough — and it’s got terrific character moments played by stellar performers, an appealing low-concept premise that’s relatable and embraces the specifics of the multi-camera genre, and an optimistic, romance-filled, youth-oriented perspective indicative of its time. I can only hope that it returns next year to offer the same riches… In the meantime, though, let’s focus on the best of the original series, starting here with Season One, which came in among the Nielsen Top 70 but was well-liked enough to earn an early renewal (and secure Helen Hunt the first of her seven consecutive Emmy nominations). In addition to creators Reiser and Jacobson, the most important scribes this year were Co-EP Jeffrey Lane (Ryan’s Hope, Cagney & Lacey, Bette), who’d be promoted to EP for the show’s Golden Age; Co-EPs and one-season-wonders Sally Lapiduss & Pamela Eells (Family Matters, The Nanny; Lapiduss: Hannah Montana; Eells: The Suite Life Of Zack And Cody); and Billy Grundfest (That’s Life, Exes & Ohs, various award shows), the only scribe here, aside from the creators, who remained with the series beyond its Golden Age. You’ll see some of their work below… So, as always, I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the season’s strongest.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season One. (They are in AIRING ORDER.)
01) Episode 1: “Romantic Improvisations” [a.k.a. “Pilot” a.k.a. “Mad About You”] (Aired: 09/23/92)
Paul and Jamie’s plans for a romantic interlude are halted by an unwanted dinner party.
Written by Danny Jacobson & Paul Reiser | Directed by Barnet Kellman
Even with plenty to discover (namely how to best feature the ensemble and narratively reinforce the terms of the thesis, established here), this memorable, simple, and well-constructed pilot already has the basics figured out: this is a modern Barefoot In The Park featuring a pair of amiable, relatable neurotics grounded by incredibly human portrayals. The show is about the “little things” in their lives — like trying to find time to connect (specifically: have sex — this is a 9:30 show, folks) amidst all their other obligations, most of which come from their circle of friends (who, for our purposes, are essentially “singles in the city”). As an opener, this sets the table perfectly. And for a first season entry, it’s on the stronger side of the comedic spectrum.
02) Episode 2: “Sofa’s Choice” [a.k.a. “The Raisin Fiasco”] (Aired: 09/30/92)
Paul and Jamie shop for a sofa with Fran and Mark.
Written by Danny Jacobson & Paul Reiser | Directed by Barnet Kellman
Despite the shortcomings posed by the ensemble, some of the strongest installments we’ll highlight here are the ones that act as if Paul and Jamie are indeed surrounded by a well-functioning group of supporting players. Outings like this one, which plays to the concept’s two couple structure (old-hat, but workable if everyone’s well-defined), prove both the need to have a viable ensemble (and what simply going through the motions can do) and why the series would be better if it had a stronger one. As for this offering, it’s a thematic extension of the pilot, but taken outside the apartment and built for the couples — choices that, in contrast to the similarly low-concept “Sunday Times,” help give the ideology more tangible beats upon which to hang both story and character. Thus, it’s a better affirmation of the premise than most in this era. (And a Seinfeld connection: Estelle Harris, shortly before her debut as Mrs. Costanza, guests.)
03) Episode 5: “Paul In The Family” (Aired: 10/21/92)
Jamie is anxious over a visit from her parents.
Written by Daryl Rowland & Lisa DeBenedictis | Directed by Paul Lazarus
By the metrics with which we’d judge Mad About You in its peak form, this is one of a handful on this list whose mediocrity can’t be denied; that is, this isn’t an excellent showcase for the series, but it’s worth highlighting in a study of the series because it’s the first to toy with the notion of using family as a source of conflict between Paul and Jamie. True to the era, the narrative stakes are low, but because blood is thicker than water, there’s an emotional hook that the Mark/Fran outings, for instance, can’t claim. Also, this is one of the first shows to zero-in on Jamie, who, in this period, isn’t as narratively represented as Paul. (Incidentally, this is also the only appearance of the first of three pairs to play Jamie’s folks: Nancy Dussault and Paul Dooley. The upcoming re-castings offer relevant looks at evolutions within the show’s identity.)
04) Episode 7: “Token Friend” (Aired: 11/04/92)
Paul feels guilty that a former classmate now works in the subway.
Written by Sally Lapiduss & Pamela Eells | Directed by Paul Lazarus
Steve Buscemi guest stars in this episode as an old classmate of Paul’s that now works as a token clerk in the subway — a fact that makes the latter feel guilty. Don’t be fooled by the story, which starts relatably; the premise seems crafted only to set up the second act centerpiece: Paul and Jamie struggling to operate the subway counter by themselves. For a sitcom that defined its terms in the pilot as such, this seems like a gaudy departure — and to be fair, it is. But the truth is the show needs something a little bit bigger at this time, and, because the idea is rooted in character, takes advantage of one of the show’s particulars (its NYC setting), and doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence, it’s permissible. Not the year’s finest, but among its most memorable.
05) Episode 8: “The Apartment” (Aired: 11/11/92)
Jamie asks Paul to finally give up his bachelor pad.
Written by Danny Jacobson & Steve Paymer | Directed by Barnet Kellman
For sitcom fans, I suppose the value of this offering is the chance to see Seinfeld throw a bone to NBC and agree to participate in one of the Peacock Network’s trademark cross-promotional endeavors, as it’s revealed here that Paul has been subletting his apartment for years to a man named Kramer. It’s a bit of a gimmick that only heightens the aesthetic comparisons between the two shows (which in turn reveals which one is stronger), but Kramer’s appearance actually is more valuable to Mad About You scholars than anything else; this helps connect the series to the MSTV brand and looks toward some of Mad‘s own defining characteristics that we’ll be discussing in future weeks. Plus, once again, it’s born from a legitimate place — character.
06) Episode 10: “Neighbors From Hell” (Aired: 12/09/92)
Paul and Jamie try too hard to be friends with their new neighbors.
Written by Paul Reiser & Billy Grundfest | Directed by Dennis Erdman
In this survey of the series, my notes on this episode were appropriately succinct: “funniest thus far.” Given what we’ve already stated about the nature of Mad About You‘s comedy, in comparison to the shows with which it’s often associated, any time that I can celebrate an entry with a greater number of laughs, I’m thrilled — especially, and this may perhaps be unique to this early baggage-free era, when there’s no trade-offs to be made on behalf of character. This particular installment introduces across-the-hall neighbors Maggie and Hal (#1), who’ll be a reliable presence and mild annoyance for the leads throughout the series’ run (if, as with everyone else, lame story-providers), and it benefits from the inherently amusing premise.
07) Episode 11: “Met Someone” (Aired: 12/16/92)
Paul remembers how he first met Jamie.
Written by Danny Jacobson | Directed by Barnet Kellman
Although one must come in to Mad About You braced for everything that we discussed at length above, I have a low tolerance for these flashback shows. Yes, I could argue against myself and say that they’re always focused on Paul and Jamie, which means they’re meeting their obligations to the premise. Yes, I could also argue that they’re paying homage to great sitcoms of the past, specifically The Dick Van Dyke Show, which takes on greater importance later. And, yes, I could also argue that the nature of the show’s ensemble (and their inability to drive stories) allows the series to indulge in structural contrivances more often. But the truth is, if it’s not genuinely character-revealing (let alone more saccharine than amusing), I’m not interested. This, the first flashback, is the only one I really enjoy, because I feel like the audience needs what this offering shows us about its couple — especially because, up to now, the low-concept weekly plots have reinforced the humanity, but not their individual definitions. Thus, if you’re going to watch one flashback, make it this one. (Also, Lisa Kudrow guests… but not as Ursula!)
08) Episode 15: “The Wedding Affair” (Aired: 02/06/93)
Paul causes drama when he and Jamie attend a friend’s wedding.
Written by Billy Grundfest & Paul Reiser | Directed by Linda Day
Notable in the grand scheme for being the offering that introduces Ira, who comes on strong (not strong in comparison to what’s on multi-cams of the era, but strong in comparison to everyone else here who’s been positioned as a lead or recurring presence), this outing is actually a solid Paul and Jamie show. As with several of the installments featured above (and below in the Honorable Mentions), the entry does a favor to the audience by taking the couple out of the apartment, thus giving them a richer environment in which to play — and more importantly, where we can learn more things about them. Learning more things about the characters is precisely this episode’s narrative goal, too, and by every measure, it’s a success.
09) Episode 16: “Love Among The Tiles” (Aired: 02/13/93)
Paul and Jamie get trapped in the bathroom on Valentine’s Day.
Written by Sally Lapiduss & Pamela Eells | Directed by Linda Day
My choice for the strongest example of the season, “Love Among The Tiles” feels like one of the year’s smarter episodes, knowing exactly where its strengths are, finding ways to use what’s not-as-strong so that it’s less obvious, and reflecting the series’ premise as intended without being ham-fisted about the low-conceptness. (And all this while simultaneously getting to benefit from what the first 15 episodes have already revealed about character.) A good part of the charm here is actually allowed from its structure — the entry literally locks Paul and Jamie together for an episode of one-on-one time, where the two performers can do what they do best and the show can represent the multi-camera format proudly, while judiciously interrupting their trivial conundrum with a B-story that uses the ensemble members without force (not contorting their definitions, that is) and feels thematically compatible. Basically, this illustrates an enhanced understanding on behalf of Mad About You — Paul and Jamie are the core, and their interaction can remain low-concept, as long as there are other characters who can participate meaningfully and carry some of the slack regarding genre conventions (i.e. the need for more story and bigger laughs). Also, another Seinfeld connection: Patrick Warburton guests.
10) Episode 22: “Happy Anniversary” (Aired: 05/22/93)
Paul’s anniversary plans with Jamie may be complicated by Mark and Fran.
Written by Sally Lapiduss & Pamela Eells | Directed by Barnet Kellman
The season finale, credited (as with the MVE) to the pair of Co-EPs who’d depart after this year for The Nanny, this is one of those solid but unspectacular offerings — included here because it can be enjoyed without any other qualifying “buts…” Coming just after the installment that reveals the sad (and unmotivated — because we haven’t seen it in story, and the characters are too undefined to make it work, anyway) separation of Mark and Fran, this excursion uses that development to both its comedic and dramatic advantage, and does a better job than its predecessor of positioning the plot in a way that affects the central couple, Paul and Jamie. Both thematically and narratively, this episode also serves as a companion piece to the pilot, and we can see how the year has reconciled its premise’s “little things” with elements that are ultimately more helpful for the characters. And, while Ira makes one of his four appearances, the show reveals its maintained dissatisfaction with the ensemble by exploring a new potential couple (Warren and Connie, who work with Paul). A fair representation of the season.
Other notable episodes that merit mention include: “Maid About You,” a well-liked entry whose developed comedy can’t quite overcome some of the triteness of the story (and the guest performance), along with three simple and theatrical Paul and Jamie outings that I like better in principle than practice — the first two of which are credited to future “Golden Age” EP, Jeffrey Lane — “Sunday Times,” “Riding Backwards” and “Weekend Getaway.” (Also, though not great, two of the aforementioned gimmicky guest star shows are worth noting again — “The Man Who Said Hello,” which is bogged down by its gaudy premise, but does introduce Paul’s father and build up Ira, and “The Spy Girl Who Loved Me,” which furthers the show’s TV-focused fascination via a campy guest appearance by Get Smart‘s Barbara Feldon, but further aims to define the recently created Ira.)
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season One of Mad About You goes to…..
“Love Among The Tiles”
Come back next week for Season Two! And stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday!
Hello again! Thank you for covering this show. It’s not as LOL as “Seinfeld” or “Frasier” or even “Friends” but there are some really sweet, funny moments.
I found your commentary fair and smart, as usual. The ensemble is weak(er) than most, but Paul and Helen really work magic, and there are a few years upcoming with half a dozen really mindblowing epsiodes, I think.
What do you think of Anne Ramsay? I find her very underrated and the best of this ensemble probably –next of course to Cynthia Harris, who is AMAZING.
P.S. I’m so happy that you picked “Love Among The Tiles” as your MVP. It think it’s the year’s best too. XD
Hi, GaryK328! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I think Lisa is the best defined of this era’s ensemble — not great for sparking story, but comedically able to carry some weight, and designed with more of an emotional pull on Paul and Jamie than the others. (If only she had been better cultivated to exhibit it!)
Watched this show a bit first run. May have to check out the DVD’s if your posts are persuasive.
I agree that many of the other NBC hits at the time were funnier but I seem to remember a few gems in the middle of the run. I stopped watching by the time the baby came around but tried to tune in a bit during the final year after HH won an Emmy and an Oscar in the same season. She really was terrific.
Never liked the guest stars though. Even though I love Carl Reiner and Carol Burnett, et.al, it just seemed to cheapen the Paul Jamie-stuff, which was believable most of the time. (And funny *some* of the time).
I actually think that WINGS (another mid-level effort from the Must See TV block, may have been funnier but this was the better written show of the two. Worth watching… for a coupla years at least.
Hi, Nat! Thanks for reading and commenting.
There are two years I might recommend revisiting; stay tuned…
Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser really made this show work, for me. They had great chemistry. I remember watching and liking this show when it was on, at least for the first few seasons. However, I tried watching it on DVD and I just couldn’t get into it.
I hadn’t noticed it before, but you’re absolutely right about the supporting characters. Fran and Mark, especially, were really lack luster friends.
I’m looking forward to reading your reviews in the coming weeks.
Hi, JC! Thanks for reading and commenting.
There’s still good stuff here — you just have to know where to find it; stay tuned…