Fox // 1976 // 612 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // October 14th, 2010
"I cherish you people."
Murray: Being fired is like being violated.
Sue Ann: Leave it to Murray to find a bright spot.
After seven years and too many honors and awards to list, Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore), Lou Grant (Ed Asner), Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White), anchorman Ted Baxter (Ted Knight), and his wife Georgette (Georgia Engel) say one final good-bye to the WJM newsroom. But before Mary turns out the lights one last time, they give us plenty of reasons to remember why The Mary Tyler Moore Show is considered among the finest sitcoms of all time.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Seventh Season contains all 24 episodes spread over three discs.
"Mary the Writer"
"Sue Ann's Sister"
"What's Wrong With Swimming?"
"Ted's Change of Heart"
"One Producer Too Many"
"My Son, the Genius"
"Mary Gets a Lawyer"
"Murray Can't Lose"
"Look at Us, We're Walking"
"Lou's Army Reunion"
"The Ted and Georgette Show"
"Sue Ann Gets the Ax"
"Hail the Conquering Gordy"
"Mary and the Sexagenarian"
"Murray Ghosts for Ted"
"Mary's Three Husbands"
"Mary's Big Party"
"Lou Dates Mary"
"The Last Show"
By the standards of virtually every other sitcom, the seventh and final season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show is an accomplishment. The jokes are funny, and the cast is impeccable. However, judging by the show's own standards, there's something a little lacking here.
While there's nothing really wrong with this season, and it sports some very funny, memorable episodes, there's a sense that Moore was right to have bowed out when she did. There's a feeling that these characters, familiar and rightly beloved as they were, had gone as far as they could go. There's a lot to like, and almost any individual episode could be held up as an example of how to do sitcomedy right, but especially compared to seasons past, there's a whiff of staleness creeping in; too often, the show seems on the brink of giving way to the genre conventions it had always transcended.
Part of what made The Mary Tyler Moore Show so special is that it allowed its characters to grow and to go through changes that were very real. Unlike most sitcoms of the time -- and a great many since -- problems were not presented and resolved in half an hour. Changes -- whether it was Lou's marital break up, Rhoda's weight loss, or Mary's need to prove herself professionally -- became part of the make up of the characters and were there even when the episodes weren't directly focusing on them, and this added a complexity and sophistication to the show. The fact that all this was acted by one of the absolute best casts ever assembled for a sitcom helped mightily. This season, though, the writers -- perhaps knowing it was the last -- were a little less adventurous, sticking more to the familiar one-shot sort of format, and occasionally presenting situations that were more typical sitcom than usual.
Thus, "Mary Dates Lou," a development that, given the characters' history, just doesn't feel right. Well-acted and -written as this one is, it just can't escape its queasy premise. Similarly, Mary's dalliance with Murray's father in "Mary and the Sexagenarian" ends up being a bunch of May-December relationship jokes. "Mary the Writer," in which Mary tries to sell a story she'd written about her grandfather, ends up falling flat, a thin echo of the superior Season Four episode "Two Wrongs Don't Make a Writer," wherein Mary's takes a creative writing class with Ted, resulting in one of Knight's funniest moments. Eileen Heckart makes a welcome return as Mary's Aunt Flo, and she has some great scenes with Ed Asner's Lou Grant; unfortunately, "Lou Proposes," something that just makes the episode feel phony. There's also a "message" episode, "Mary's Insomnia," in which our girl becomes "addicted" to sleeping pills. Moore generally shied away from such things, leaving the preaching and topicality to the now-dated All in the Family and comedies from the Norman Lear factory, although the show did kinda awkwardly tackle anti-semitism in Season Two's "Some of My Best Friends Are Rhoda." All these episodes offer their share of laughs -- "Mary's Insomnia" has moments that are flat-out hilarious -- but their concepts just seem forced and aren't up to the level of what made this show a classic.
This isn't to say it's a bad season, though -- far from it. Even the weaker episodes contain really funny and memorable moments. When "Sue Ann's Sister" visits and goes on a date with Lou, the Happy Homemaker takes to her bed, and the gang's visit to her evidently well-traveled boudoir is hilarious. Mary offends Lou by commenting on his weight in "Mary Midwife," and Asner's reactions are priceless. In one of the best episodes, after years of sorry soirees, it looks like "Mary's Big Party" will finally be a success, thanks to a famous guest -- until something goes terribly wrong.
Of course, there are some really great episodes here that could stand beside the best of the previous seasons. When Mr. and Mrs. Baxter are given "The Ted and Georgette Show" on WJM, the results are not so good for them, but great for us. "Mary's Three Husbands" is a funny departure for the show -- fantasy sequences in which Lou, Ted, and Murray, imagine what life would be like married to "idealized woman" Mary; it veers perilously close to "very special" territory, but the talented cast, as always, keeps it afloat. "Ted's Change of Heart" is a deft blending of comedy and drama. "Sue Ann Gets the Ax" -- in which the Happy Homemaker's show is canceled, leaving Sue Ann adrift and having to accept degrading jobs at the station -- is a great showcase for the superb Betty White and a perfect example of everything that made this show so memorable. Gavin MacLeod -- perhaps the most underrated player on the MTM team -- gets several opportunities to shine this season, including "Murray Can't Lose," in which the writer thinks he's a shoo-in for the Minneapolis "Teddy" award (MacCleod was also the only cast member never to have been nominated for an Emmy; Georgia Engel was the only one to have been nominated but never win); "Murray Ghosts for Ted," in which anchorman Baxter takes credit for an article written by Murray; and "One Producer Too Many," in which the writer's dream of becoming a producer ends up being a nightmare.
Then, there's "The Last Show," which created a gold-standard for comedy series finales that, in my opinion, has yet to be topped. Remarkably, this funny and poignant good-bye was accomplished in the usual half-hour running time. This was no super-sized behemoth packed with last-minute plot twists and special guest stars (though Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman make appearances, and appropriately so). The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended its run with the same grace and wit with which it began. I've heard that people wept during this episode, and who could blame them? Whatever faults this season might have had, "The Last Show" is an outstanding send off and an iconic television moment; can anyone ever hear "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" without thinking of this show?
This release from Fox is efficient: three discs, eight shows per disc; the shows appear to be complete, but the full frame transfers look a little battered and were clearly not restored.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show is that rare TV series that actually deserves the title "landmark," and its final season -- with its moving, graceful exit episode -- resonates culturally and as an entertainment standard. So why has Fox not capitalized on this and not put out a Special Edition with some supplemental material? I know there have been reunions and retrospectives that they might have licensed, reams of articles have been written, Mary Richards is a feminist icon, plenty of contemporary actresses (such as Tina Fey) cite the influence of this show, and except for Ted Knight, all the original cast members are still with us. Minimally, "The Last Show" rated a commentary, and the show won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series -- one of the few to do so in its last season -- and I'm sure there's archival footage around. Releasing this bare bones just seems like a missed opportunity.
Incidentally, the case promises the Final Curtain call from "The Last Show" -- Moore came out and introduced the cast to the studio audience, which I believe was only broadcast once -- but hell if I could find it. "The Last Show" played through, the credits ran, the logo came up, and that was that; if it's an Easter egg (and why would it be?), I couldn't locate it. Maybe it's just a misprint on the box. Or maybe it's yet another missed opportunity.
Even if it doesn't quite consistently reach the heights of the previous seasons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Seventh Season is great classic TV that still holds up beautifully. Fox's lazy release is unfortunate; maybe down the road there'll be set of the entire series with cleaned up transfers and meaningful bonus material, but for now, at least we've got the episodes.
I don't know how anyone could find The Mary Tyler Moore Show guilty of anything besides elevating the quality of TV situation comedy; I also don't know why Fox didn't give this set the respect it deserves. Mary, Lou, and the gang are not guilty, but the folks at Fox owe us one.
Review content copyright © 2010 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 612 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated