11/02/2010

TV on DVD Review: The Mary Tyler Moore Show -- The Complete Seventh Season



Now Available to Own






Easily my favorite television series of all time, there's absolutely no replacing The Mary Tyler Moore Show in my heart, nor undermining its importance -- not just with regard to the sitcom format -- but also given the way that MTM inspired generations of women from all walks of life.

Obviously, one of the recurring sources of conflict and humor revolved around the fact that six o'clock news producer Mary Richards was a woman in the man's world of broadcast journalism. Yet ultimately whether you wanted to be a “Mary” or a “Rhoda” (or even a “Phyllis,” “Sue Ann,” or “Georgette”), one of the most refreshing aspects of the series was that it presented a myriad of female roles the likes of which we hadn't seen before.

In stark contrast to most contemporary series wherein the leading single lady must be happily paired off or preferably married with a suitable mate by the end of the show, from the first episode of MTM, Mary Richards arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota as a single girl and remained that way up through the end of its seven season run.


Having made the beneficial decision to ditch the urge to go for a women's lib '70s stereotype by making Mary a recently divorced individual, throughout seven seasons we realized that – like a lot of women then and now– she was equal parts old-fashioned and feminist.

And while along with Mary's disastrous parties, her checkered dating history provided reliable fodder for the talented writing staff whose creative output continues to make us laugh decades later, fortunately that never became the show's sole fixation.

No, instead of Sex and the City, The Mary Tyler Moore Show evolved into a unique hybrid that network presidents still aspire to duplicate as a sitcom with a nearly indefinable genre. Obviously, the newsroom and Mary's apartment were the two most utilized sets, but despite this MTM never followed the pattern of either a workplace comedy or one strictly centering on the exploits of friends or family.

Essentially it maintained our interest with a variety of new approaches in both style and character as the show became far more generous in moving from Mary to follow the pursuits of Lou, Rhoda, Ted, Murray, etc. in the realms of career, romance, family troubles and more.


In doing so, it ensured that even the initially one-dimensional figures of Ted and Sue Ann would grow far more surprising, tender and complex as the series developed, continually making us second guess the show and appreciate it on a different level to remind us that those two in particular were much more than just the constant butt of one-liners from Murray.

Additionally and perhaps unintentionally giving birth to the idea that one creates their own family unit among friends, colleagues, or people they "treasure" (as Lou reveals in the tearful season finale) in our ever changing society, MTM again became the (most likely) unconscious blueprint for the boom of workplace plus Friends style comedies that NBC churned out like butter in the '90s and '00s.

Even though it was unafraid to deal with hot button issues of sexuality (both gay and straight), racial equality, ageism and more in its seven year run, for MTM, the emphasis was always on humor. With this in mind, the series never failed to deliver its “message” or medicine with plenty of sugary laughs along the way as in Season 7's “Mary's Insomnia,” which finds our girl resorting to sleeping pills until Lou, Murray, and Ted stage a hilariously odd intervention.


And needless to say, the series made one rethink Midwestern cliches by forcing them to look at my home-state of Minnesota with fresh eyes. But, local pride pushed aside -- perhaps MTM's greatest legacy is in understanding the show's cultural significance in encouraging women to carve out new lives and careers for themselves on their own and without the need of a male rescuer.

A favorite of female news reporters who cite the series as the instigator in finding them switching their major to journalism just like Bill Cosby's series inspired young African-Americans to attend medical school in the late '80s, MTM also proved life-changing to female comics who realized that sometimes it's more fun, lucrative and rewarding to aspire to be "the Rhoda" in life rather than "the Mary."

Yet whatever your connection is to MTM and my guess is that if you're a fan then it's an intensely personal one, Fox's slim-packaged release of the dynamic seventh and final season makes the fitting conclusion to your DVD collection.

And while I did long for extras such as interviews or more details (perhaps a script PDF or two for your DVD-rom), this three-disc set symbolically kicks off with a birth before closing with the bittersweet day of downsizing at the station.

Generously, the writers of season seven explore fan fantasies and theories such as what would happen if Lou and Mary dated or if Mary had ended up with any of the three leading men along with granting us one more (if far too brief) reunion with Phyllis and Rhoda in addition to inventively squeezing flashbacks into a terrifically hysterical bad party episode.


Yet, the final installment also boasts some great new adventures for our leads such as the screamingly funny “Mary Gets a Lawyer,” which serves as an instant standout. And likewise, we're also given the chance to see familiar faces in new terrain when Murray becomes a producer, Ted hosts a show with his wife and Sue Ann joins WJM's newsroom.

Although it wasn't perhaps as consistent as previous seasons since by this point, you can predict some of Murray's one-liners three or four beats before Ted sets him up for the joke, it's still memorable, energetic and affectionate as ever and serves as a timely reminder of just how thoughtful and intelligent a good television series can be.


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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.