Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! Today, we’re continuing our coverage on the best episodes from Maude (1972-1978, CBS), which was just released in full on March 17, 2015!
An ultra liberal housewife often finds herself in conflict because of her outspoken social and political views. Starring BEATRICE ARTHUR as Maude, BILL MACY as Walter Findlay, ADRIENNE BARBEAU as Carol Traynor, CONRAD BAIN as Dr. Arthur Harmon, RUE MCCLANAHAN as Vivian Cavender Harmon and HERMIONE BADDELEY as Mrs. Naugatuck.
Maude slides into the second half of its run with an arc designed to rejuvenate the show, in which our titular heroine decides to run for political office, thus jeopardizing her relationship with Walter. It’s a natural boost of energy to the formerly directionless show, but it doesn’t quite provide for the laughs that the scripts need. (Fortunately, it’s only five episodes. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of proceeding installments whose comedy matches what we’ve seen in past seasons.) Also, this is the year when the series, just like All In The Family, begins wavering in tone from episode to episode. No longer are big topics subliminally slid into hilarious scripts; now these heavy issues are explored in heavy scripts, many of which are both ridiculous and humorless (see both parts of “Maude’s Moods”). By the same token, the other “lighter” episodes become sillier and more trivial — lacking in gravitas or organic character development. So it’s a difficult dichotomy to navigate, especially when seeking the best installments. It’s not a terrible year, just a comparatively inferior one. But I have picked ten 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.
Here are my picks for the ten best episodes of Season Four. (They are in AIRING ORDER.) All episodes are directed by Hal Cooper, unless otherwise noted.
01) Episode 71: “Consenting Adults” (Aired: 09/15/75)
Maude visits Walter at his his bachelor pad.
Written by Karyl Geld Miller and Pamela Herbert Chais
After an unfunny premiere which sees the Findlays separating, thus launching the arc in which Maude runs for state senate, this episode treats us to two very funny halves. The first has Maude visiting Walter at his not-so-tastefully furnished bachelor pad, during which they have a heart-to-heart and decide to divorce, while the second part has the pair meeting with their lawyers and attempting to make the split a jovial procedure, until their understandable hurt turns into a screaming match. It’s a very performance-driven installment, and therefore more enjoyable than some others.
02) Episode 72: “Rumpus In The Rumpus Room” (Aired: 09/22/75)
Maude and Walter each bring dates to the Harmons’ party.
Written by Marilyn Suzanne Miller
This installment is a lot of unabashed fun as Maude and Walter each bring dates to the Harmons’, who are throwing a party to celebrate their new rumpus room. Most notable is Walter’s date, played by a young Bernadette Peters (who would go on to star the following season with Richard Crenna in the forgotten Lear sitcom, All’s Fair). Her interactions with Maude are a highlight, as are the drunken shenanigans of Walter and Arthur, leading to a prime misunderstanding that carries over into the next episode. This may be my favorite episode from this entire storyline; it’s the funniest.
03) Episode 75: “Viv’s Dog” (Aired: 10/20/75)
Vivian’s dog dies while in Maude’s care.
Story by Jay Moriarty | Teleplay by Charlie Hauck
Although pet deaths are often harder to make funny than real deaths, this episode manages to do just that, as Maude panics when Vivian’s annoying dog (whom nobody but she can stand) dies while the Harmons are out of town. This is a really well written script with a great recurring gag about a dog on the roof, and one of my favorite lines of the season: “D-O-G spelled backwards will get you for that.” In addition to fabulous performances by the regulars, this episode is also blessed with a guest appearance by the up-and-coming Teri Garr. An under-appreciated classic, it’s the strongest installment of the season.
04) Episode 76: “For The Love Of Bert” (Aired: 10/27/75)
Mrs. Naugatuck has been crafting ways to get money out of her friends.
Written by George Tibbles
As one of the better post-Season Three episodes thrown to the always amusing Mrs. Naugatuck, this installment brings back the divine J. Pat O’Malley (whom we met in several episodes from last season) as her recurring love interest, Bert. The script benefits from a palpable mystery, as Mrs. Naugatuck’s clear extrapolation of money from her loved ones leaves the characters (and the audience) guessing. The funniest scene occurs in the middle of the script when Bert, whom the Findlays think is deaf, comes over and they start shouting at him. Solid comedy.
05) Episode 78: “The Analyst” [a.k.a. “Maude Bares Her Soul”] (Aired: 11/10/75)
Maude pours her heart out to a shrink.
Written by Jay Folb
Bea Arthur gives the best performance of her television career in this episode that exists as a 25-minute monologue, which Maude delivers to an unseen psychiatrist. Through her discussion, Maude traces her current feelings for Walter back to unresolved resentment towards her father by way of Rodgers and Hart’s haunting “Where Or When.” It’s a brilliant turn, and though the episode is not close to being a hilarious classic, this is a powerful piece of taped theatre and a testament to the leading lady’s unbelievable talent. Deserves to be seen by all.
06) Episode 82: “Poor Albert” (Aired: 12/08/75)
Maude receives the ashes of her late husband.
Written by Fred S. Fox & Seaman Jacobs
This episode is another black comedy dealing with death (which this series does incredibly well), as Maude’s husband, the titular “Poor Albert”, dies and sends his ashes to Maude for her to scatter. Unfortunately, the day he wants to be scattered is the day that Walter is planning on throwing a big sale at the store. The Findlays decide to fit both activities in on the same day, but through a mishap, the ashes end up getting flushed down a toilet. It’s hilarious development, but that’s not the only twist! Funny, well-written, original script. Silly, for sure, but comedically delightful.
07) Episode 83: “The Christmas Party” (Aired: 12/22/75)
Walter worries that Maude’s feminist friend will spoil the Christmas party.
Written by Woody Kling
Holiday episodes can sometimes get too saccharine for my tastes, so I appreciate the reaction taken by a lot of ’70s sitcoms: unsentimentally. This episode involves an ultra-feminist friend of Maude’s, (who makes our protagonist’s views seem conservative), who threatens to spoil the Christmas festivities. While the character isn’t comedic (she’s exaggerated, yet still understandable — but never likable), she makes Maude, a feminist in her own right, look like a more complex character. Thus, it’s a good episode for connecting the series back to its progressive roots and putting Maude into a unique context.
08) Episode 84: “The Case Of The Broken Punch Bowl” (Aired: 01/05/76)
Everyone has different accounts as to how Maude’s punch bowl was broken.
Written by Elliot Shoenman
A take on Rashoman with competing recollections as to how Maude’s punch bowl got broken at a party with Vivian, Arthur, Mrs. Naugatuck, Carol, and Carol’s date (played by Lyle Waggoner), this installment is perhaps the most beloved episode of the season. Indeed, it is consistently funny with some of the best (albeit big) performances. I don’t, however, think it’s the best of the season, simply because the design is gimmicky and Maude’s not an active enough presence. It’s a great showcase for the ensemble though, and the script is loaded with undeniably superb comedy. A certifiable classic.
09) Episode 91: “Maude’s Rejection” (Aired: 03/01/76)
Maude can’t comprehend the fact that somebody dislikes her.
Written by Jay Folb
The strength of this episode exists in the delicious story, in which Maude has difficulty letting go of the fact that a famous author, whom she reveres, can’t stand her. It’s a perfect premise for Maude, whose bleeding heart tendencies co-exist with a deep need to be liked. Of course, as she points out to her hater, everyone can relate to the need for acceptance. It’s a truthful episode, and because of the performances — particularly Bea Arthur’s — a very comedic one as well. However, it’s the premise alone that remains the episode’s triumph.
10) Episode 93: “Maude’s Ex-Convict” (Aired: 03/15/76)
The Findlays hire an ex-con as a temporary housekeeper.
Written by Charlie Hauck | Directed by Anthony Chickey
Bob Balaban (whom you may remember from an arc on Seinfeld) plays an ex-convinct whom Maude brings in to replace Mrs. Naugatuck as housekeeper while she’s on vacation. Of course, Maude’s pleasure in rehabilitating the man is quelled by the knowledge that their new housekeeper, who’s currently serving them a homemade dinner, was charged with poisoning his former employees. It’s a big, broad episode, not a subtle affair, but highly enjoyable. (And one of the few later season episodes not directed by Hal Cooper.) Fun, performance-heavy change-of-pace.
Other notable episodes that narrowly missed the list above include: “Maude’s Big Decision” and “The Election,” both of which conclude the story arc of Maude running for senator, and “Walter’s Stigma,” in which Walter is falsely arrested for indecent exposure. All three, particularly the latter two, could have made the above list.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Four of Maude goes to…..
Come back next Tuesday for the best from the fifth season! And tune in tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday post!