Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, we’re honoring Valerie Harper, who, at the time of this publication, is coming to the end of her courageous battle against cancer. Although I’m sure this talented lady will receive many glowing tributes in the weeks ahead, I wanted to take a moment while she’s still with us to note just how great a sitcom legacy she’ll leave behind.
I could talk about several different series here, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977, CBS), one of the most character-driven comedies ever created and the world’s first introduction to the iconic Rhoda Morgenstern. But I must confess that when I think of the 1970s — the decade that took us from Nixon to Carter — the first sitcom that comes to my mind is Rhoda (1974-1978, CBS). Why? I mean, it certainly wasn’t the best-written show, and despite besting Mary Tyler Moore in the ratings, only Rhoda‘s first year is consistently competitive in terms of quality. So, why is this show so emblematic of its era?
Well, aside from reflecting the decade’s fixation on spin-offs — taking a successful regular from one series and moving her to another — Rhoda also claims two of the most important TV events of the ’70s: the marriage of Rhoda and Joe… and the separation of Rhoda and Joe. While their blissful union — occurring in October 1974, just eight weeks into the run — stands as the ultimate triumph of the MTM system, specifically in cultivating a character as investment-worthy as Rhoda — their separation, once the show decided in ’76 that its leading lady was better off single after all, brings to light a broader truth about the people of the decade, and the uncomfortable ennui that set in following the culturally tumultuous ’60s. You see, Rhoda’s journey was the journey of the Baby Boomers’ American Woman. And no one could bring as much honesty to that adventure as Valerie Harper.
So, in honor of Rhoda and Harper, I’m sharing five episodes from the first season. Oh, yes, this was released on DVD in 2009. But 15 of the 25 half-hours were syndicated copies! Fortunately, the year was run complete and UNCUT on Comedy Gold in Canada, and I have all 25 of these entries beautifully restored and without edits… Now, for subscribers who comment below to alert me of their interest, I will send you digital access to these versions of five classic episodes that were each about 02:30 shorter on the DVD: “Joe,” “Pop Goes The Question,” “The Shower,” “I’m A Little Late, Folks,” and “‘S Wonderful.” As a sample, here’s a clip from “Pop Goes The Question.” It’s got about 35 seconds of new footage.
Thank you, Ms. Harper, for Rhoda
and for the entirety of your joyful work!
Come back next week for another Wildcard post! And stay tuned Tuesday for more King Of Queens!