Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday and more of our second annual RERUN series, designed to give yours truly a chance to get further ahead in coverage of our last few ’90s comedies. Regular programming will resume soon, but in the meantime, I’m excited to resurrect and re-examine some of my favorite Sitcom posts from this blog’s nearly six year run!
As with last year’s series (begun here), my intention is to provide a link to each original piece and then offer a tiny bit of updated commentary, either on episode picks I’d call differently now (like in my famous “Regrets” post) or on something broader, like evolving thoughts on the year/series as a whole. I’ve picked a few goodies, so I hope you’re as excited as I am about revisiting our favorites… But please be gentle! Many of the posts you’ll see were written a while ago. The standards here have changed as I’ve changed. (There are plenty of typos, juvenile “hot takes,” and places where more information would now be appreciated.)
This week, I’m rerunning… The Ten Best THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW Episodes of Season Two. Check it out here: http://jacksonupperco.com/2014/07/15/the-ten-best-the-mary-tyler-moore-show-episodes-of-season-two/
I featured a Mary Tyler Moore post in last year’s rerun series so I didn’t want to revisit the show again. But as one of my most beloved, it’s also one on which my thoughts actively evolve, for I think about it regularly and, as always, leave myself open to new ideas. (And unlike with I Love Lucy, which I vow to re-cover before this blog ends, I probably won’t have time to afford Mary Tyler Moore that same luxury.) So, I think it is deserving of renewed attention… This time, I’m looking back at Season Two, which has never been one of my favorites. I think the series improved as it came to know its characters better, and while One has novelty, Two is stuck waiting for the comedic character-driven elevations of both Three and Four… Now, that doesn’t mean Two isn’t worthwhile; on the contrary, there are many character-building entries. At the time, that’s what I thought about “Some Of My Best Friends Are Rhoda,” a dramatically memorable installment that, I believed, did great things for Mary and her relationship with Rhoda. Upon reflection though, I find it heavy-handed and not a great example of the series’ ability to make comments without shouting them. And being memorable doesn’t necessarily make a seasonal gem, especially when it isn’t a fine example of the season. Instead, if I were making the list today, I’d probably swap it with either “Baby Sit-Com,” which combines Mary’s personal and professional worlds with a comic dexterity that I didn’t fully appreciate before (because, frankly, I’m not a huge Bess fan — I think she’s extraneous to the series’ best moments), or even “…Is A Friend In Need,” which also is an interesting Mary/Rhoda show, but with a more earned character relevance… So, check out the post above again, and feel free to share your thoughts on the series and its trajectory in the comments below!
Come back next week for another Sitcom Tuesday rerun! And stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday!
What are your thoughts on the episode Feeb? I’m guessing that you’d find it to be a Victory in Premise, but I found the comedy quite worthwhile.
Hi, Charlie! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I like the premise on paper because it uses some of Mary’s primary character flaws. However, I think we’ve seen this type of story done better elsewhere on the series and I think the big handicap this time around is that it isn’t bold enough. The script opens in the restaurant with a strong depiction of Barbara Sharma’s character, indicating that she’ll be a comedic engine, only to then bring her into the office, where she’s less of a nuisance than she was before, thereby neutering the dramatic point and weakening the comic potential of Mary’s reactions to her.
In general, I’m less enthused by episodes that hinge their plots around the introduction of a guest as a source of conflict (you’ll note, for instance, that I’m not a fan of the very popular entry with Paul Sand from Season One for this same reason), especially in the early part of the series’ life, because I’m much more interested in the regulars and their interactions. (To wit, “Assistant Wanted, Female” is an early variation on “Feeb” that uses Phyllis, a character in whom we’re already invested, and is accordingly stronger, and funnier, in every way.)
I think exceptions in this category come when the guests have an inherently strong emotional pull on one of the leads — think Rhoda’s mom, Ted’s brother, Sue Ann’s sister — because that forces a sharper conflict, or when they’re simply a comedic dynamo, like future stars Georgette and Sue Ann were in their debuts or weekly players like Hamilton Camp from Season One and Barbara Colby from Season Five managed to be by inspiring story-elevating laughs. They’re worthwhile… either dramatically or comedically.
In the case of “Feeb,” again, I don’t think it’s bold enough. We don’t care enough about Sharma’s character (and neither does Mary) to create the type of worthwhile character stakes necessary for a solid Mary showing, and I don’t think Sharma’s depiction is consistently funny enough to beget the kind of laughs that could similarly make for a winner, even among Season Two’s relatively muted comedic baseline. I imagine that this last point is where we most disagree, for I don’t find the outing, in comparison to the year’s competition, comedically worthwhile.
I kind of think an episode such as ‘Some Of My Best Friends Are Rhoda’ was actually subtle through most of the episode because you had no idea why the new friend didn’t care for Rhoda. You assumed, like Phyllis, that the new friend was upwardly mobile and thought of Rhoda as too rough around the edges until the last scene where Mary called her out.
Why I also kind of liked this episode was to see Mary Frann in a different sitcom role, and I actually thought she had some comic ability in her scene with Ted Baxter. And it made me think that Joanna on Newhart should have been more like the character portrayed in this show (upward mobile, snobbish, etc)… which would have made the episodes where the writers put Joanna in an embarrassing situation even funnier.
Plus, it would have maintained the Stephanie looking down on Joanna element of Newhart (Old money looking down on New money/social climber).
Hi, Jayson! Thanks for reading and commenting.
I like “Some Of My Best Friends Are Rhoda” less and less as time goes on, finding it not a great sample of the series comedically or narratively, as it doesn’t have a story motivated by the regulars and/or their relationships, but rather by a guest and the script’s own thematic (moral) interests. That its entire plot hinges on an un-mutable aspect of Rhoda’s being (rather than any specific comic trait) is sort of why it’s unideal, especially for a series that typically does prioritize “character” by keeping its leads and their definitions at the fore, saving issue-based storytelling for other (and mostly lesser) sitcoms. Now, I think if the dramatic tension was kept between Mary and Rhoda, such that the story’s focus was a conflict between them, while the shiny distractions of the guest and her prejudice were minimized and removed, the entry would feel more congruent with both THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW’s usual operations and, more importantly, the tenets of excellent character-driven sitcommery that the series generally exemplifies.
As for Joanna on NEWHART, well, any comic definition is better than none at all, but I think making her a snobbish social climber would have pushed her very close to Stephanie’s persona, and the distinction between “old money” and “new money” would have to really be personified — and easily communicated through story — for it to feel like a difference with actual comic and narrative merit. That is, it would have taken a real concerted effort to define them as such, and ultimately, given what I believe about NEWHART based on its actual track record, I fear the two women would simply end up competing for the same types of plots rather than inspiring two separate, unique variations.