The Best of The MTM Gals

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Today’s post is inspired by the recent reunion of the Mary Tyler Moore gals on last week’s Hot In Cleveland. All five of these incredibly talented women not only had the honor of appearing in one of the best written sitcoms of all time (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), but they have also each starred in other successful shows — both before and after MTM. In this post, I will list the best Mary Tyler Moore Show performance by Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Betty White, Georgia Engel, and Cloris Leachman, as well as the best performance from another one of their successful series.

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Mary Tyler Moore

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Before The Mary Tyler Moore Show, this beautiful brunette starred in another excellent sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show. As Dick Van Dyke’s wife, she was beautiful, charming, and not above utter loony-ness! Moore is probably one of the luckiest sitcom ladies of all time, as both of these series are beyond brilliant. (We won’t mention her other unsuccessful TV comebacks!) But with five years as Laura Petrie and seven years as Mary Richards, Moore got 12 years of consistently strong scripts. Which character do you prefer? It’s almost impossible to choose!

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Season 3, Episode 23: “Put On A Happy Face” (Aired: 02/24/73)

Mary is nominated for a Teddy Award and her journey to the ceremony is fraught with disaster, but she doggedly perseveres.

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Mary’s great in “Chuckles Bites The Dust,” but this episode, unlike most from this series, gives Mary the opportunity to do excellent physical comedy. With a script that’s funny from beginning to end, this is Mary Tyler Moore’s favorite episode… and maybe mine too.

The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966)

Season 1, Episode 16: “The Curious Thing About Women” (Aired: 01/10/62)

Rob uses Laura’s faults as a premise for a comedy sketch.

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This episode, like the one above, lets Mary exercise her physical comedy skills. I recently showed this episode to a handful of 19-year-old friends and they laughed throughout the entire episode. Expertly written with a great build. Mary’s phenomenal here.

 

Valerie Harper

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This talented lady will forever be remembered as Rhoda, lovable loser and sarcastic friend of perky Mary Richards. Harper was the first of the MTM stars to be spun-off into her own series, and the first season episode of Rhoda where she marries Joe (her love interest of only eight episodes!) was one of the most watched TV moments of all time. Though the series ran out of steam and changed formats, it was never as good as that initial first season. (But still better than her domestic sitcom from the ’80s, the ill-fated Valerie.) Rhoda and Valerie Harper will be remembered forever.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Season 1, Episode 2: “Today I Am A Ma’am” (Aired: 09/26/70)

At Rhoda’s urging, Mary tries to deal with her singles blues by reluctantly throwing a party for all their eligible male friends.

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Though the character became more defined and got better stories as the series progressed, this early episode sets up exactly who this character is and provides the first of many Rhoda laughs. She takes charge of the episode, which features her expertly.

Rhoda (1974-1978)

Season 1, Episode 2: “You Can Go Home Again” (Aired: 09/16/74)

Rhoda faces the impossible task of finding a cheap apartment in New York.

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The best episodes of this series feature Rhoda prominently (you’d think every episode would, but that’s not the case). This early episode explores the relationship between the Morgenstern women and gives Harper a chance to be as good as she was on Mary. Maybe the best script of this entire series.  

 

Betty White

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Everyone knows Betty White. She began on live TV in the late ’40s and had sitcom success in the ’50s with Life With Elizabeth and Date With The Angels before she married Allen Ludden and became a regular Password contestant. Mary Tyler Moore revived her sitcom career and led to her second GIGANTIC success as Rose Nylund in The Golden Girls. White can currently be seen in TVLand’s Hot In Cleveland. The poster girl for classic TV, White is one of the most well known television stars of today.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Season 6, Episode 13: “The Happy Homemaker Takes Lou Home” (Aired: 12/06/75)

Sue Ann pressures Mary into helping her land a date with an extremely reluctant Lou, who finds himself in the Happy Homemaker’s lair.

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I could have picked so many episodes — “Sue Ann’s Sister” (with her vibrating bed) was a close second. What makes this episode a real winner is our glimpse into Sue Ann’s date with Lou, where she gives him one of TV’s funniest smooches. Hilarious!

The Golden Girls (1985-1992)

Season 1, Episode 13: “A Little Romance” (Aired: 12/14/85)

Rose’s interest in a very small man is completely reciprocated, so her only hangup is more a difference in altitude than attitude.

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This early episode was one of the reasons that White won an Emmy for her work in Season One. The show is centered around her character, and like another hit from a few weeks later, “In A Bed Of Rose’s,” White is excellent. Her shock at being dumped by a little person is hysterical. (Of course, her three co-stars provide laughs a plenty too — making this episode a series classic.)

 

Georgia Engel

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This sweet lady’s career is also still going strong! In addition to recurring alongside White in Hot In Cleveland, Engel just had a successful three year run as Amy’s conservative mother on Everybody Loves Raymond. A featured player on stage and screen (both small and large), Engel’s distinctive style has been immediately recognizable since her days as Ted Baxter’s bubbly girlfriend, Georgette. There’s nobody like her!

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Season 3, Episode 18: “The Georgette Story” (Aired: 01/20/73)

Mary is angry with the way Georgette allows herself to be manipulated by Ted and tries to straighten her out with Rhoda’s help.

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One of the character’s first appearances is actually one of her funniest. With a personality that just leaps off the screen — totally unlike anyone else in the series — Engel establishes herself as a reliable recurring character. Such honesty in her portrayal too — completely believable.

Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005)  

Season 9, Episode 15: “Pat’s Secret” (Aired: 05/09/05)

Robert learns a surprising secret about his mother-in-law, Pat, when Amy’s parents visit to celebrate their daughter’s birthday.

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This is the second-to-last episode of the entire series and one of the few that’s centered on Pat. This episode is special because it takes Engel’s persona and adds a completely surprising dimension — she’s a closet chain smoker. This episode, along with “The Bird,” shows us that this lady really knows comedy.

 

Cloris Leachman

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Cloris Leachman is probably the most naturally funny MTM lady. In addition to playing Phyllis Lindstrom on both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off, Phyllis, fans remember her as Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein (1974), and for her Academy Award winning role in The Last Picture Show (1971). After an Emmy winning recurring role as Grandma Ida on Malcolm In The Middle, Leachman currently stars as Maw-Maw on FOX’s Raising Hope. Though I could include clips from any of those series, I think the best representation of her God-given comedic flair is her UPROARIOUS 2008 stint on Dancing With The Stars.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Season 5, Episode 18: “Phyllis Whips Inflation” (Aired: 01/18/75)

Pampered Phyllis is horrified when Lars takes away her credit cards.

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So many episodes to choose from. This was Leachman’s last Mary Tyler Moore episode before the spin-off. Leachman goes everywhere in this episode — big moments and quiet moments. Her scene with a young(er) Doris Roberts is great, and the tension-filled moment where she confronts Sue Ann is supreme.

Dancing With The Stars (2005 – )

Season 7; Week 1, Night 1 (Aired: 09/22/08)

Cloris and her partner Corky dance the foxtrot.

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As the oldest contestant ever, Cloris’s first dance and subsequent interaction with the judges is out-of-this-world. Take a look.

 

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This list just scratches the suface. For every episode I did choose, there were five more that I wanted to. Look for these series on future Situation Comedy Tuesday posts!

 

 

Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And remember to tune in tomorrow as our Xena countdown continues!