Judge Patrick "Bubba" Naugle resents any comparisons to sitcom stereotypes.
The family that complains together, stays together.
It's another season of Thelma Harper's rule over her roost in Mama's Family: The Complete Fourth Season. This season finds Thelma (Vicki Lawrence, The Carol Burnett Show) taking the reigns in her own life and getting a higher education via night school. Thelma's locksmith son, Vinton (Ken Barry, Mayberry R.F.D.), and his sexpot wife, Naomi (Dorothy Lyman, All My Children), are looking for something better than living in Mama's basement while young Bubba (Allan Kayser, Night of the Creeps) continues to be, well, typical lunk-headed, girl chasing, money grubbing Bubba. Home is where the heart is, and when it comes to Mama's Family, that heart needs to be ready for a homespun zinger or two!
Mama's Family is back and, not surprisingly, it's exactly what you'd expect if you've stuck around for the previous three seasons. The fourth season of the show ran between 1987 and 1988, and cantankerous old Mrs. Harper is just as snappy and tart as the previous seasons, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever sat through this quintessential 1980s show. This season finds Thelma, Vinton, Bubba, Naomi, and Thelma's best friend, Iola (Beverly Archer, Major Dad), in the middle of even more shenanigans, including Thelma getting sucked into buying trinkets and baubles through late night infomercials, the death of Uncle Oscar and the pet parrot he leaves behind, and Thelma's appearance on the classic game show Jeopardy! which includes a guest cameo by real-life host Alex Trebek (playing himself).
A small dose of Mama's Family goes a long way. On one hand the show takes me back to being a kid again—we watched it at my grandparent's house in the middle of rural Indiana. Just hearing the bouncy theme song reminds me of my days on the farm. We would laugh almost uncontrollably at all of Thelma Harper's shenanigans, which at the age of 10 were drop-dead hysterical. Yet, the truth is that Mama's Family isn't particularly well written or acted and has aged about as well as a lump of goat cheese sitting out in a dish in the middle of an Arizona summer. Mama's Family's broadly drawn characters (caricatures, really) and light-as-air stories (Bubba has a double date! Vinton and Naomi move out the basement!) aren't very substantial; Mama's Family is not the kind of show where a "very special" episode is going to show up tackling AIDS or child abuse. This is a sitcom with a capitol "S."
The performances are all what you'd expect from a sitcom firmly rooted in 1987. Vicki Lawrence totally commits to the role of Thelma "Mama" Harper, and her presence in the show is the series' highlight. Even with the most anemic of material, Lawrence is able to fling zingers like a skilled major league pitcher. Ken Barry and Allan Kayser play dim bulbs about as well as any actor, and Beverly Archer as Thelma's homely best friend Iola is quite possibly the most sexually repressed looking character ever to grace television screens. Everyone seems to enjoy mugging for the camera and wouldn't know the meaning of subtly if it walked up to them and sat on their faces. That, in a nutshell, is exactly what Mama's Family is about: broad, bawdy comedy that's never very offensive, always mediocre, and just decent enough to tolerate the next episode. In Mrs. Harper's own words, "it's comfort food for the soul"…if what your soul desires is a Country Buffet equivalent.
Each of these 25 episodes are presented in 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are all passable, but hardly impressive. Each of these episodes have been filmed on video tape and the low quality medium tends to show. The colors and black levels are all decent and the image is fairly clear. I'd say this show looks about as good as when it was broadcast over 25 years ago. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. Each of these episodes are easily heard, and little else—the audio mixes are hardly what you'd call exciting. No alternate soundtracks or subtitles are included in this set.
Extra features include a featurette on the characters from the show ("Mama's Family Tree: The Neighbors"), an interview with actress Beverly Archer, and a reunion with the cast of the show ("Under One Roof: A Mama's Family Reunion").
Mama's Family is what it is: fluffy, 1980s sitcom silliness. If you like that kind of thing, this is an easy recommendation.
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