Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Since every week so far this month has had a post dedicated to the late Betty White, I thought we’d continue the trend one more time with another pop-out potpourri look at a Wildcard series — the only Betty White sitcom, outside of the long-running Hot In Cleveland, that we’ve yet to discuss: Maybe This Time (1995-1996, ABC).
MAYBE THIS TIME (September 1995 – February 1996, ABC)
Premise: A divorced mom of a tween girl runs a coffee shop and bakery with her own mother.
Cast: Marie Osmond, Betty White, Ashley Johnson, Amy Hill, Craig Ferguson, Dane Cook, Ross Malinger
Creator/Writers: Michael Jacobs & Bob Young & Susan Estelle Jansen, Amy Engelberg & Wendy Engelberg, Chip Keyes, Peggy Nicoll, Steve Young, Andrew Green & Rick Singer
Thoughts: This mediocre effort with a decent premise but substandard character work hails from Michael Jacobs and a team of writers most used to penning kid-dominated comedies (like Boy Meets World, which even has a brief crossover here) — it indulges many of those types of sitcoms’ weaknesses, with a broad sensibility that doesn’t transfer into bold depictions of the characters, just a general silliness, and clumsiness when switching thoughts — inside stories that are overly familiar (if not downright clichéd) and not enlivened by well-drawn leads who could support and sustain these notions. Marie Osmond is a so-so star — she’s something of a Mary Richards, with a perky naïveté amidst her newfound independence, but she lacks Mary Tyler Moore’s deftness with comedy (learned on Dick Van Dyke) and naturalness, which renders her more of a cartoony player (again, clumsy when trying to transition from a Funny Moment to an Emotional Moment). The kid — a veteran from the final years of the lame Growing Pains — is similarly written and played, with an overbearing falseness that’s painfully off-putting. It isn’t promising that their relationship is half the series’ emotional core, next to Marie’s bond with her own mother, portrayed by the late Betty White. Initially, White’s character starts off as a cross between Rose Nylund and Sue Ann Nivens — with the latter’s sass and flirtatiousness but the former’s maternal sincerity. Yet by the end, she has no personality whatsoever (aside from an episodic gag about her being a jinx with all her past husbands — an idea that also evokes her prior, better conceived series), and she’s not able to elevate the otherwise decent relationship-based premise of three single women inside of a workplace structure. Meanwhile, Amy Hill and Craig Ferguson are funny in supporting roles, but they’re not given much to do, especially when, a few episodes into the run, the show begins adding new characters in a desperate attempt to find something more amusing and story-yielding. The improvement never comes, making this one of Betty White’s worst sitcom endeavors, never providing anyone with good material.
Episode Count: 18 episodes produced and broadcast.
Episodes Seen: All except “Stand Up Your Man”
Key Episode (of Seen): Episode #6: “Beasy Body” (10/28/95)
Why: Cloris Leachman guest stars in this memorable outing as Craig Ferguson’s Scottish grandmother. She’s very funny and in her wheelhouse when donning old age drag and an outrageous accent. It’s also a chance to wink to the audience by reuniting two former cast members of The Mary Tyler Moore Show — just like, as we discussed, so many of Betty White’s post-Golden Palace shows did in pairing her with past coworkers from either one of her major classics. (Leachman’s own series, The Ellen Show did the same thing when Betty White appeared as a guest in a 2001 episode.) It’s fundamentally a gimmick and helps corroborate my thoughts about the show’s difficulty in crafting fresh story using its leads, but as with Ladies Man’s “Travels With Aunt Fran,” guest starring Rue McClanahan, it’s hard to deny that this is the funniest episode of the series. And while a lot of that comes from Leachman, specifically her interaction with White (they have one hilarious scene), I also have to credit the script’s efforts to give Marie’s character a Mary Richards-like arc and combustion. She doesn’t do great with it, but in this case, that’s not the fault of Susan Estelle Jansen’s script… At any rate, you can see for yourself. Most of the series is available online — including this entry (directed by David Trainer) — but here’s a copy without an Osmond fan club watermark.
Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And stay tuned Tuesday for more Kate & Allie!